Notre Dame has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the season, but they took their first big hit earlier this week when they announced that Zach Auguste will be out indefinitely while dealing with an academic matter (reportedly not a suspension). While Jerian Grant is the headliner for the Irish, Auguste comes close in terms of his impact as the 6’10” junior has been averaging 14.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this season. Without Auguste, the Irish are very short up front (relatively speaking of course) with 6’5″ Pat Connaughton. While they were able to sneak out of Georgia Tech with a win without Auguste on Wednesday night things will get significantly tougher for them in the coming weeks in the ACC. If Auguste is unable to return, this would be the second straight season the Irish were undone by academic issues as Jerian Grant had to temporarily leave the school last year as the result of an “academic misstep”.
James Madison dismissed junior guard Andre Nation from its basketball team on Wednesday saying “he no longer fits within our program and the vision we have for the future”. We are not sure what made Matt Brady finally come to that decision, but it had been a rough season for Nation as he was suspended for the first five games of the season following an arrest for disorderly conduct and misdemeanor assault (which as JMU Sports Blog pointed out at the time was not exactly something new) and saw his scoring drop from 15.4 points per game last season to 9 points per game this season. Nation will remain on scholarship through the spring semester, but we would not be surprised to see him turn up at another mid-major school very shortly given his proven ability to score at that level.
If you wanted a reminder of the difference between the haves and have-nots of the college basketball world, we would direct you to Adam Himmlesbach’s look at Kentucky‘s trip to the Bahamas this year. The eight-night trip that included games against a French pro club and the Dominican and Puerto Rican national teams at the Atlantic Resort in the Bahamas cost $792,845.68. While some of this was offset by 57 boosters who agreed to pay $6,000 to fly along, but that only generated a little over $347,000 when combined with the nearly $18,000 from their share of ticket revenues the overall cost to the school was $431,836.10, which is nearly three times as much as North Carolina (certainly not paupers) spent for a trip the year before. While some of the costs were from the flying out opposing teams and providing them with hotel rooms and meal money, the Wildcats certainly treated themselves well from John Calipari’s $1,550-per-night suite to the $150 per diem for meals the players and staff members received (compare that with the $124 per diem NBA players received in 2013). We aren’t aware of the costs of trips for other schools, but outside of Duke’s ridiculous 2011 trip to China and Dubai that included a chartered Boeing 767 with an estimated charter price of over $1 million we have a hard time seeing anybody approaching a trip that might exceed the overall budget of the basketball program of their first opponent in the NCAA Tournament.
Speaking of big sums of money, Kentucky might be spending it, but Kent State will be collecting it after an appeals court ruled in their favor saying that Geno Ford will have to follow the terms of his contract requiring him to pay the school $1.2 million for leaving them for Bradley in March 2011. That figure is the result of Ford’s 2008 contract that required him to pay back his salary multipled by the years remaining if he left before his contract expired. So when Ford left the school a year after renegotiating a five-year deal that was worth $300,000 per year he opened himself up to the clause. Before you feel too bad for Ford, he is making $700,000 per year at Bradley even though he is just 42-74 at the school and we are pretty sure he can find an accountant who will find a way to let him write off the $1.2 million over a couple of years.
One of the most confusing things about college basketball recruiting over the years is why cities like Chicago and New York City don’t have better college basketball teams. Regardless of how you feel about which city produces the best talent it is clear that these cities underachieve on the college level. New York has one decent program in St. John’s, but Chicago can’t even claim that much. Adam Doster of Grantland has a good piece on why a city that is so loaded with basketball talent cannot produce a single respectable college basketball program. While much of it is attributable to the administrations at the schools and how much they are willing to invest in the program, some of it also falls on the coaches in and around the city who have not been able to make local talent and high school/AAU coaches buy in. If a young coach (like Chris Collins) really wanted to make a mark, there are certainly worse places to set up shop than the Chicago area.
Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 14th, 2014
Louisville Courier-Journal: The top game of the weekend for entertainment value has to be tonight’s father-son coaching matchup between Rick Pitino and Richard Pitino as Louisville and Minnesota meet in the Armed Forces Classic at U.S. Air Base Borinquen, in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. The two Pitinos have met before in 2012 when Richard was in his first year at Florida International, in a game arranged to help out the younger Pitino’s program with exposure and a nice paycheck. Obviously this is a somewhat different situation, with both schools in power leagues focusing on trips to the NCAA Tournament next March. Instead of money and exposure as the main motivators, this is a chance to honor the U.S. Armed Forces, share a little family time, and get an early look at how each squad stacks up against good competition. With all that in play, whichever Pitino wins may not feel too bad about beating the other.
DailyProgress.com: Credit should be given to Tony Bennett as Virginia is the lone ACC school that will open its season on an opponent’s home court. The Cavaliers will make the one-hour trip up to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to play intrastate rival James Madisontonight. As this article points out, last year’s Virginia performance was the classic case of the sum being greater than the parts. Four of those parts will be missing tonight, counting graduated starters Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell along with suspended players London Perrantes and Evan Nolte. But as this game preview points out, the Dukes will also be without two suspended players because of an off-campus altercation with each other in October. One of those suspended was James Madison’s leading scorer from last year, so, even on the road, the Cavaliers may not face too tough of an opener after all.
WRALSportsFan: After a second consecutive year of negative preseason issues surrounding his program, at least Roy Williams doesn’t have to face the same roster uncertainty that he had to deal with in 2013-14. It remains to be seen if the dark cloud of scandal will have a major effect on a North Carolina team that appears poised for a special 2014-15 campaign, but expect Williams to continue to field questions after tonight’s game against North Carolina Central that are unrelated to on-court performance. UNC’s opponent is coming off its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, so this may not be a total mismatch, but as NCCU coach LaVelle Moton indicated at a recent press conference, he is not sure how good team is with so many transfer players and preseason injuries. We will be on press row for opening night at the Smith Center, so follow us on Twitter (@rtcACC) for live updates during the game, and more importantly, for reports from Williams’ postgame press conference.
Greensboro News & Record: Duke is the only ACC team that will play back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, as the Blue Devils host Presbyterian and then Fairfield as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer preliminary round. This article notes that freshman Tyus Jones looks to have already established himself as Duke’s starting point guard. The writer goes on to say Jones will be the first rookie starting as a Duke point guard since Austin Rivers began there in 2011-12, a common misconception. Rivers was never a point guard in his one year at Duke although he was often mentioned as one, perhaps in part because of his famous father, Doc Rivers, who was a longtime NBA point guard. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how Duke’s team chemistry works in these first two tune-up games before heading to Indianapolis to face Michigan State on Tuesday night. We will be in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night to see how Duke’s veteran guards, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, adjust to coming off the bench, so follow us on Twitter (@rtcACC) for additional live in-game and postgame coverage.
BostonUSA.com: On Sunday, Boston College will take on Massachusetts in the middle game of the second annual Coaches vs. Cancer Tripleheader in Boston’s TD Garden, home of the NBA’s Celtics. The Minutemen only return two starters from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, but they have three others who played at least 30 games in 2013-14, so there’s some decent experience available for Derek Kellogg. It will be the second game of the season for both teams, as Boston College opens with New Hampshire in Conte Forum tonight, while UMass hosts Siena. It will be interesting to see if new coach Jim Christian’s Eagles display improvement on the defensive end, an area where ex-coach Steve Donahue’s teams always struggled. Probably the best team at Sunday’s event will be Harvard, which plays Holy Cross in the last game of the day.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll examine and critique some of the more intriguing preseason conference polls. Here, we take a look at the good, the bad and the weird coming out of the Colonial, Conference USA and Summit League polls.
There are plenty of question marks in the CAA this season. (Christopher Szagola/US Presswire)
The voters got it right at the top, tabbing Northeastern as the favorite in the CAA, followed by William & Mary and Hofstra. The Huskies are the one unit in this league to add more proven talent than they lost, not only bringing back the vast majority of last year’s roster – including Defensive Player of the Year and rebounding monster Scott Eatherton (15.9 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.8 BPG) – but also regaining Quincy Ford, who was one among the CAA’s best all-around players before missing most of last year. Still, the recent departure of fourth-leading scorer Demetrius Pollard, combined with the fact that Bill Coen’s club went just 11-21 last season, makes you wonder if Northeastern can actually live up to its top billing. William & Mary also has an argument for the number one spot after finishing third in the standings a year ago and narrowly losing the CAA title game, welcoming back the conference’s best player (Marcus Thornton) and CAA Rookie of the Year (Omar Prewitt). Hofstra is rightfully slotted at third; despite last year’s 10-23 campaign, an influx of talented transfers and recruits, including former Niagara guard Juan’ya Green (16.5 PPG), justifies the anticipated climb.
Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can also find his musings online on Twitter @markrselig.
Since the last CAA game — a James Madison championship that its fans waited nearly two decades to see — the league has officially said goodbye to perennial powers George Mason (off to the Atlantic 10) and Old Dominion (now in Conference USA in a football-driven move), and hello to intriguing newcomer College of Charleston (formerly of the Southern Conference). Based on last year’s RPIs, the CAA won’t immediately suffer, but Mason — with a Final Four appearance last decade — is obviously a more high-profile program than Charleston. ODU is too. The swap is just the latest in the CAA’s geographical shift. The league is losing its Virginia members (VCU exited before last season) and seems to be trending south.
New Niagara coach Joe Mihalich is just one of several newcomers to an ever changing CAA. (AP)
The league also said goodbye to Mo Cassara, Hofstra’s hard-luck coach who took the job in tough circumstances (replacing Tim Welsh after a DUI) and was let go in equally difficult ones. His replacement? Longtime Niagara coach Joe Mihalich, who said he’ll have to donate all the purple wardrobe accumulated from 15 years with the Purple Eagles to JMU coach Matt Brady (ironically, Mihalich and Brady both have wives named Mary, and both have three sons, including a set of twins — with the same May 30 birthday!). Brady, meanwhile, parlayed his CAA title into a four-year contract extension, although the talks were a bit drawn out, nearly lingering until his previous contract expired. As for a new coach joining Mihalich in the league, second-year Charleston coach Doug Wojcik becomes every CAA reporter and copy editor’s worst nightmare. Wojcik (I’m already getting the hang of it), is no stranger to the CAA, having played with David Robinson at Navy in the 1980s.
The final goodbye from the CAA was to the city of Richmond — home of the league’s last 24 postseason tournaments. The league offices are still located in Richmond, but the CAA will host its annual playoff in Baltimore this year. Trying to establish Charm City as a sort of hub for CAA hoops, the conference held its media day at the Renaissance Baltimore, a swanky hotel overlooking the Inner Harbor. “Crab Cakes and basketball. That’s what we’re going to do here in Charm City,” Towson coach Pat Skerry, channeling a Wedding Crashers line, said during a lunchtime speech at media day.
After initially indicating that they would seek a family hardship waiver for Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez, Miami announced that they no longer intended to seek such a waiver for the upcoming season. The school did not specify why exactly they decided to withdraw their application for a waiver–they cited Rodriguez’s nagging injuries–because although Rodriguez’s hardship seems questionable at best–moving to Miami to be closer to his native Puerto Rico–with the way that the NCAA has been granting hardship waivers we would not have been shocked to see the NCAA approve it. What the decision means for the Hurricanes is that they will most likely be in the bottom half of the ACC this season, but will have Rodriguez available for two seasons to play with Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan, who will also sit out this season and will have two seasons of eligibility remaining when he comes back for the 2014-15 season.
In contrast to Miami, Florida followed through on their request for a hardship waiver for Rutgers transfer Eli Carter, who left the school in the wake of the Mike Rice scandal, and yesterday the NCAA granted Carter a hardship waiver enabling him to play for the Gators this coming season. Although we have been critical of how easily the NCAA has been granting hardship waivers, Carter’s seemed certain given the public reaction following the release of videotapes showing Rice physically and verbally abusing his players in practice. As for Carter’s role on the Gator team, there is no question that he can score (averaging 14.9 points per game last season), but it remains to be seen how well he can play within the Gators system as he was a high-volume, low-percentage shooter (38.4% FG and 32% 3-point) at Rutgers. If Billy Donovan can find a way to rein him in and utilize his scoring ability in a more efficient manner, he could be a significant addition to the Gators lineup, but that could be a big “if”.
We normally do not pay much attention to minor preseason injuries, but the report of a “stress reaction” in Jahii Carson‘s right tibia caught our eye. As the article mentions the injury is reportedly a low-grade one, but given the quickness that Carson relies on it would be a major issue going forward if it continues to linger. According to both Carson and Arizona State, Carson could play on it if necessary, but that does not mean that he would be able to play through it for the entire season. It seems like an issue that most likely will resolve, but it is worth keeping an eye on.
Larry Krystkowiak might have a way to go before he turns around a floundering Utah program, but at least he is making a difference in his community. According to reports, the 6’9″ second-year Utah coach apprehended a local bike thief, who did not appear to put up much resistance. After catching him, Krystkowiak called campus police, who subsequently discovered five stolen cell phones on the thief. After his weekend adventure, Krystkowiak tweeted about the incident comparing himself to Barney Fife although we assume that Krystkowiak is significantly more imposing than Don Knotts ever was.
Following their surprise run to the CAA Conference Tournament title and First Four victory, James Madison was looking at a rebuilding year as they only had one returning starter: Andre Nation. Unfortunately for the Dukes they will be without Nation for the first 15 games of this season after he was suspended for a violation of an unspecified athletic department policy. The sophomore guard, who averaged 9.3 points and 3.1 rebounds per game last season, showed signs of his potential in the team’s First Four victory against LIU-Brooklyn as he went for 14 points, seven rebounds, five blocked shots, and four assists. Now the team will have to adjust to playing with five new starters to begin the season as Nation is not scheduled to return until a January 7 game against the College of Charleston.
I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #1 Indiana and #16 James Madison. You can follow him on Twitter at @IRenkoHoops.
Three Key Takeaways:
In Case You Were Wondering, Indiana Can Score — The best offense in the country unleashed its full arsenal this afternoon, bombarding James Madison with drives, post feeds, threes, and pull-up jumpers. Getting to play their first non-Big Ten defense in 20 games seemed to release a pressure valve for the Hoosiers, and the scoring came pouring forth. The rub is that their defense remains a step behind their offense, and teams that are physical, slow the game down, and pound the glass pose a threat. Temple may not be able to pull off the upset, but looking down the line, a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Syracuse is a real concern for the Hoosiers.
Yogi Ferrell celebrates after making a three-point basket against the James Madison Dukes. (Getty)
IU’s Size Advantage Paid Off — The Dukes have big strong guards, but in part due to injuries, they are sorely lacking in size inside. They paid for it against IU, getting outscored 36-20 in the paint and 16-2 at the free throw line. The Hoosiers had lots of offensive tools that they deployed in this game, but a feed to Zeller in the post almost always resulted in a bucket or free throws. And at the other end, the Dukes, who normally make 65 percent of their shots at the rim, managed to shoot just 33 percent in the first half on layups. Struggling to gain traction inside, they turned into a pure jump-shooting team, taking only three shots at the rim in the second half. The Dukes’ leading scorer, 6’6″ power forward Rayshawn Goins, was particularly ineffective, scoring only two points on 1-of-6 shooting.
Will Sheehey Was On His Game — Will Sheehey, the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year, is a key X-factor for Indiana. The Hoosiers’ offense is that much more complete when Sheehey is on his game. He’s been prone to disappearing lately, scoring just two points in three of IU’s last seven games, and seeing his scoring average dip into single digits. But today, he came off the bench to score 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting. If he can repeat this kind of performance against tougher opponents, IU could be Dancing all the way to Atlanta.
Star of the Game: Freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell is the oft-forgotten man in IU’s formidable starting five, but he made a grand debut on the NCAA Tournament stage, scoring 14 of IU’s first 18 points and assisting on the other four by feeding Zeller for dunks. Ferrell’s one-man onslaught gave the Hoosiers an early, impregnable lead. He finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. With all four of his starting mates likely to leave IU, the former McDonald’s All-American and top 25 recruit will be Indiana’s focal point and leader in the coming years.
Quotable: Indiana coach Tom Crean on the worry that bruising Big Ten season would wear Indiana down too much: “That goes through your head. I’d be lying to say it didn’t.”
Sights & Sounds: The NCAA allows teams a very specific number of bench seats, so Indiana was forced to put a half dozen of its players — including two scholarship athletes — in the stands behind the scorers’ table. The biggest victim of this unusual situation was the petite IU fan, decked out in a Hoosiers jersey, who got stuck sitting behind seven-foot freshman center Peter Jurkin and spent the game trying to crane her neck around him.
Wildcard: Although the Hoosiers have been the second-best three-point shooting team in the nation over the course of the season, they’ve hit just 33 percent of their attempts over the last six games, during which they’ve gone 3-3. This afternoon, they shot 9-of-22 from behind the arc.
What’s Next? Indiana will return to Dayton Arena on Sunday to face Temple, looking for the 22nd Sweet Sixteen appearance in school history.
I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Dayton after Wednesday’s play-in game between Long Island and James Madison. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
Three Key Takeaways:
LIU Was Never Able to Get Its Offense Going Tonight (credit: G. Shamus/Getty)
JMU Won the Tempo Battle – Long Island likes to play at a breakneck pace, ranking in the top 30 in the country in tempo and routinely scoring in the 80s or 90s. At yesterday’s pregame press conference, James Madison coach Matt Brady emphasized the importance of slowing the game, and the Dukes largely succeeded. LIU scored just 55 points, its lowest total of the season, and the game ended with about 60 possessions per team, also quite low by LIU’s standards. And though the Blackbirds managed to get out on the break here and there, JMU was almost as effective in transition, particularly during a critical 9-0 second half run when they erased LIU’s only lead of the game with four straight transition buckets.
No Rayshawn, No Matter — JMU’s leading scorer, forward Rayshawn Goins, was suspended for the first half tonight, the fallout of a Sunday evening arrest that put a damper on the Dukes’ otherwise exciting Selection Sunday. The odd half-game suspension and the effect on the team was a major pre-game storyline, but proved to be largely irrelevant. JMU more than compensated for Goins’ absence in the first half with its stellar shooting, and in the second half, Goins’ contributions were marginal. Though he pulled down eight rebounds, he struggled to score and looked out of sync on offense for much of the half. He finished with just four points.
LIU Couldn’t Find the Right Defensive Formula — Though Long Island scores a lot of points, they also give up a lot of points. They don’t stop shots, they don’t force turnovers, and they don’t rebound well. And tonight, they just couldn’t find the right defensive formula. They alternated between man and zone defenses in the first half, but no matter what they tried, the Dukes were able to crack it with their great shooting, hitting several jump shots and knocking down 40 percent of their threes en route to a 32-31 halftime lead. In the second half, the Blackbirds relied primarily on a zone, and while the Dukes’ outside shooting cooled a bit, they held their lead by dominating the glass, rebounding 55.5 percent of their own misses. At the end of the day, it’s tough to win an NCAA Tournament game with a defense ranked outside the top 300.
Star of the Game: After averaging 15.9 points per game last year, JMU senior guard A.J. Davis struggled to find consistency for much of this season. He scored in double figures in just nine of his first 25 games, but since then, he’s hit double digits nine straight times. His offensive resurgence continued tonight, as he led the Dukes with 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-10 from three-point range. Davis also stuffed the stat sheet with five rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block.
I. Renko is an RTC columnist and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
This is part two of our TO26 bracket analysis, focusing on the 17 non-power-conference teams that populate the East and Midwest regions. The teams are grouped into five rough categories, and, within each category, they are ordered by their likelihood of advancing. For our analysis of the South and West regions, see here.
These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.
St. Louis (#4 Midwest) — The Bilikens are flying a bit under the radar, but this is a team that should be a favorite for a Sweet 16 run. They have one of the best defenses in the country, a group of experienced guards who can attack and shoot (Kwamain Mitchell, Mike McCall, Jordair Jett), a surprisingly effective post presence in Dwayne Evans, and a pair of pick-‘n-pop big men (Rob Loe, Cody Ellis) who can drain the three. It should be said, though, that the Bilikens’ draw is not necessarily ideal. A first-round game against New Mexico State presents some matchup quandaries (see below), as does a potential Third Round game against Oklahoma State — both teams are prepared to bang and grind with the Bilikens down low. Ultimately, I think the St. Louis’ defense is strong enough to get them to the Sweet 16, where their steady guard play gives them a non-trivial chance of knocking off the Cards.
Can Rotnei Clarke Lead Butler Back to the Final Four?
Butler (#6, East) — Yes, they’re back. Neither Bucknell nor their potential Third Round opponent (Marquette or Davidson) will be an easy team to conquer, but all three of these teams will give Butler an important reprieve from its biggest vulnerability — a tendency to turn it over. Bucknell and Marquette will also play at the kind of grinding pace at which the Bulldogs excel. And they’ll focus their offense on the areas of the floor where Butler’s defense is strongest — the paint. Butler also has the shooters — Rotnei Clark, Kellen Dunham — to bombard Marquette’s compact defense and the rebounders to exploit Marquette’s weakness on the glass. If anything, Bucknell may pose a bigger matchup problem, as they tend to chase teams off the three-point line and they don’t give up much on the offensive glass. The Bison will be a tough opponent, but when you look at Butler’s pod as a whole, a Sweet 16 run looks well within reach.
One and Done
These teams have at least a 50/50 (or better) chance of picking up a win, but are unlikely to get two.
Colorado State (#8, Midwest) – I would actually bump the Rams up to the tail end of the “Regional Threats” group if not for the uncertain status of starting point guard Dorian Green. The team’s unquestioned floor general, Green suffered an ankle injury in the first round of the MWC tournament, and though he played in a semifinal loss to UNLV, was ineffective. With a fully healthy Green, the Rams’ have a good chance of toppling Missouri. The two teams are somewhat similar in that they try to score in the paint on offense, while keeping opponents out of the paint of it on defense. Neither team is especially potent from the three-point line, and both rely a fair amount on offensive rebounding, though the Rams’ have the advantage here, especially as they are equally adept at controlling their defensive glass. That, along with Missouri’s tendency to be a bit loose with the ball, may be the difference-maker. And don’t sleep on Colorado State’s chances against Louisville in the next round. The Cardinals’ weak points are defensive rebounding and three-point shooting. The Rams are the best offensive rebounding team in the country, and as noted above, their defense forces teams to beat them from the three-point line. They also take pretty good care of the ball, which will serve them well against Louisville’s pressure defense. But this analysis could be all for naught if Green isn’t healthy enough to be effective.
Creighton (#7, Midwest) – Doug McDermott is perhaps the most fundamentally sound player in college basketball. His All-American status owes itself to his incredibly precise offensive footwork, positioning, movement, shot, and cuts. He has inside-outside skills that present a very tough matchup if you’re not used to guarding him. And he’s surrounded by lots of great three-point shooters. Cincinnati’s defense has generally been strong, so they might be able to contain McDermott and the Bluejays’ three-point attack. But they’ll have to be especially effective because their offense has been truly miserable. I like the Bluejays’ chances here. A Third Round matchup with Duke would be a tougher proposition, as the Blue Devils combine a defense that shuts down the three-point line with an offense that is far more high-powered than Cincinnati’s. McDermott may well get his points, especially posting up inside, but that’s not likely to be sufficient.
Championship Week continued in full blast on Monday night, as five more NCAA Tournament tickets were punched. As each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets next weekend.
Sun Belt Cinderellas Again — Welcome Back To The Big Dance Hilltoppers
Sun Belt Champion (20-15, 14-10)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #166/#183/#184
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +0.5
Likely NCAA Seed: #15-#16
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
Who needs the regular season anyways? For the second consecutive campaign, Western Kentucky saw months of mediocrity give way to an unlikely week of dominance at the Sun Belt Tournament, where they depart as champions again. The sequel may never be as thrilling as the original – the 2012 Hilltoppers were just 9-18 (!) before winning their final six games to earn the auto-bid – but this Western Kentucky team is as unlikely a Big Dance participant as any.
Western Kentucky isn’t elite in any one facet of the game, but they may be able to match up with their opening round opponent with regard to physicality and toughness. The Hilltoppers are third in the Sun Belt in effective height, and also rank third in the league in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages. 6’6” sophomore George Fant is slightly undersized for the amount of time he spends in the paint, but leads the team in rebounding at 6.6 boards per game. Fant also ranks in the top 50 in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Senior Jamal Crooks (11.8 PPG, 4.1 APG) is another high-motor Hilltopper – his emotional energy and leadership is a crucial reserve for the young team around him.
Expect WKU to compete on both ends, but don’t mistake intensity with skill. They do not shoot the ball well from deep, turn the ball over at an unacceptable clip (on 22.3% of possessions), and don’t play a whole lot of defense either. It all adds up to a rather unimpressive paper profile, and the 10-10 Sun Belt record before this week does little to make you feel better about things. The exact seed line will depend on what happens elsewhere, but either way, it’s hard to envision the Hilltoppers being competitive, much less capable of manufacturing an upset for the ages.
Soak It In De’Mon — You And The Wildcats Are Tournament Bound Yet Again
#4 George Mason vs. #5Drexel, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. — If you were to tell me last March that Mason and Drexel would meet in the first round of the CAA tournament, I would have said, “Really? What happened? Did four teams become ineligible for the tournament while the Patriots and Dragons underperformed?” And the March 2012 version of me would have been strangely prescient. But this is a heavyweight bout in Round 1, and the winner could certainly take the whole fruit basket. The teams split two regular season matchups, with each road team winning. Mason blew a 20-point first-half lead in its loss, but for the most part, both games came down to the final eight minutes, when the teams traded leads. This one should also go to the wire —and I’ve got Mason barely holding on in a thrilling opener to the weekend.
Pick: George Mason 62, Drexel 61
#2 Delaware vs. #7 Hofstra, Saturday, 6 p.m. — Hofstra, in this writer’s opinion, is the only team of the seven incapable of winning the tournament. Which means that Delaware, which hasn’t reached the semifinals since 2003, should finally make the final four. The Hens have weapons all over the court, while Hofstra counts on the same few players to log big minutes and try to make something happen. There won’t be many blowouts this weekend, but this game has a chance to be over quickly if Delaware shoots the ball well in the first half. Hofstra’s best gameplan is to limit possessions, remain within striking distance, and catch some second-half breaks. The Pride can hang around, but won’t seriously threaten.
Diagramming A Winner: It was featured on SportsCenter under the header “Small School Buzzer-Beaters,” but JMU coach Matt Brady didn’t see a replay of his team’s game-winning alley-oop against Delaware until Monday morning, long after his team arrived back in town after a four-hour bus ride home that was undoubtedly more pleasant because of said play (fast-forward to 2:04):
After viewing it a number of times, Brady was happy to break down the play that lifted his team into second place in the CAA. Below is his analysis:
We do have an end-of-the shot-clock lob play for whoever may be on the court – typically it’s Andre Nation – but knowing that they would have it scouted or that they could have guarded it with just one defender, out of the timeout we kind of changed that play around. We took everybody from the strong-side, the ball-side of the court – we took them out of the play. We had Rayshawn [Goins] duck in on the weakside block, the block farthest from the ball. Most importantly, we had A.J. [Davis] start inside of Andre Nation towards the baseline, and we wanted to wrap him away from the ball and back around the corner that was empty, in hopes that it would draw attention. And to be honest with you, I didn’t see the play until [assistant coach] Rob O’Driscoll showed it to me this morning. It seemed to draw a lot of attention. It worked the kids executed it well. I think the underrated part of the whole play, to be honest with you, wasn’t the design of the play or the finish or A.J.’s hard cut. Really, [it was] the pass. Until I saw it this morning – it was a fabulous pass. It was not an easy play. And it’s not something Devon [Moore] always wants to do because he’s sometimes leery of a turnover, but in that situation he’s interested and eager to make the pass. But in that situation, what a great pass.
It was Kyle Anderson guarding Andre Nation. So I don’t know if we necessarily even needed to wrap A.J., but we wanted to do that to create some confusion. And I do think when A.J. wrapped, it actually pulled Kyle Anderson from in front of Andre Nation guarding the rim. They went to switch. They went to switch and they both ended up behind. But the most interesting part of the play, and Rob showed it to me again this morning, was that immediately upon Andre Nation’s dunk, Kyle Anderson gave Devon Saddler a death stare, like, ‘You son of a gun, I can’t believe you missed that!’ They were supposed to switch, but that’s why we did what we did.
Andre Nation really had the easiest part of the play. He’s gonna get all the credit, but really, the credit should go to A.J. and Devon.
I didn’t get the chance to speak with Kyle Anderson about the miscommunication, but Saddler made it seem like it was Anderson’s fault, saying that he didn’t switch when he was supposed to. That’s for UD head coach Monte Ross to sort out. The Dukes are just happy their clutch lob worked so perfectly.
This week, we spend ample time celebrating the league’s top talents, but this week’s power poll will focus on X-Factors – the players whose teams’ success hinges on their production from game to game:
Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can also find more of his written work at jamesmadison.rivals.com or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.
Old Dominion Fires Blaine Taylor: After 239 wins in a dozen seasons, Blaine Taylor’s run as Old Dominion head coach finished Tuesday afternoon when athletic director Wood Selig announced that the school’s all-time leader in victories had been released. The decision came a day after Old Dominion lost to George Mason, dropping the Monarchs to a record of 2-20 overall and 0-10 in the CAA (including a 1-12 mark on their home court). Selig said in a press conference that the decision went beyond the team’s on-court performance but would not specify. National media outlets and blogs like Deadspin quickly tried to connect the dots between Taylor’s hazy radio appearance last month and his firing. ODU now turns to longtime assistant Jim Corrigan to steer the Monarchs for the remainder of this woeful season.
Blaine Taylor’s firing is a sobering reminder that you never know when a mid-major coach’s magic will run out. (Peter Casey/USA Today)
Composing The Perfect All-CAA Team
Around this time last year I thought of a fun column idea and put it to practice. My goal, as written then, was to “create the best roster 1 through 12, using just one player from each CAA team. Your team must consist of exactly three freshmen, three sophomores, three juniors and three seniors.”
I figured it could be a yearly staple, and a task that fans and other writers could emulate and compare. Then VCU had to go ruin it by leaving the CAA for the Atlantic 10. That left us with just 11 teams, and an imperfect system. That’s no reason to scrap the whole thing, though. For this year’s version, let’s tweak the rules and allow for one of the classes to have just two members. We’re still choosing one player from each CAA squad, so our roster will be 11-deep – still plenty deep enough to do some damage. Coaches typically use an eight- or nine-man rotation, and in this ideal world with an all-star team, they certainly wouldn’t need to be any deeper. But the goal here is to be strong top to bottom, and not just stack the best eight while merely filling the other slots with loose ends.
Below is my roster. Feel free to debate it, challenge it and make one that’s better:
Freshman: R.J. Hunter, guard, Georgia State: Hunter isn’t just the runaway pick for Rookie of the Year in the CAA, he’s becoming a legitimate Player of the Year candidate. He’s fifth in the CAA in scoring (17.3 points per game), and leads all freshman guards in field goal percentage (44.5%). “I’ve seen him do some special things,” pops Ron Hunter said after R.J. scored 38 against Old Dominion on Saturday. “When he gets on a roll, he’s incredible.”
Freshman: Andre Nation, guard, James Madison: The ubiquitous 6’5” guard is another player who should earn superlatives outside the rookie realm. Coach Matt Brady said Nation is “as good as a freshman defender as there is in the CAA,” and the truth is that Nation is one of the best defenders in the league, period. He’s also second among freshman in scoring, averaging 9.1 points per game.
Freshman: We’ll leave this space blank, under the new rules of the game.
Sophomore:Damion Lee, guard, Drexel: The reigning Rookie of the Year has made the leap as a sophomore, and he’s now one of the most dangerous scorers in the league. Just ask George Mason guard Sherrod Wright, a fellow expert in bucket-making. “You can’t give him open looks,” Wright said after Lee scored 29 in a comeback win over the Patriots last week. “Any type of open look, he is going to make.” In terms of NBA potential, Lee ranks up there with Hunter as the top bets in the CAA.