What’s this? Two days in a row with FBs? Indeed. There’s a lot to get caught up on…
Duke Downer. The biggest news today was the news that Duke point guard Elliot Williams (he of the happy, happy feet) will be leaving the Duke program so that he can move closer to Memphis, his hometown. Reportedly his mother is facing a life-threatening illness there and Williams wants to be nearby for support as she battles her disease. He plans on petitioning the NCAA to waive the one-year transfer obligation so that he will be able to play immediately at his new school (presumably Memphis). This is undoubtedly a major blow to Coach K’s backcourt in 2009-10, as he’ll now be left with only Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith to log minutes there. Big things were expected of Williams based on his insertion into the starting lineup at midseason and his excellent all-around play down the stretch. Duke fans are largely crushed by this news, given the unfortunate circumstances causing it as well as the huge, gaping hole in the backcourt it leaves (while, ironically, the perfect fix named Seth Curry can only wait and watch next season). In other Duke news that came out today, Coach K is the highest paid Duke employee by far ($3.6M last year) – no surprise there.
Like Father, Not Like Son. A bit of a surprise today is that Jeffrey Jordan (you know, that Mike guy’s son) is ending his basketball career at Illinois to focus on his studies. This comes on the heels of news from earlier this year that Jordan’s hard work and commitment to the program had resulted in a scholarship for the rest of his time at the school. Guess he’d had enough. Actually, we can totally understand this. Jordan was undeniably under more pressure to perform than any walk-on turned scholarship player in the history of college basketball, and although it made for nice copy, it’s safe to say that Jordan probably didn’t love the sport anywhere near the same as his famous dad. He probably reached a personal epiphany of some kind that included a heart-to-heart with pops, and once MJ gave him the blessing, he’s now free to pursue the activities he truly enjoys. Good for him. And good for him for working his tail off in his two years at Illinois to go from walk-on to scholarship to expected contributor, despite limited talent.
Vegas, Baby. The WAC has followed its mid-major brethren WCC and Mountain West Conferences by moving its postseason tournament to Las Vegas, where the Orleans Arena will host beginning in 2011. This comes on the heels of a very successful WCC Tournament at the Orleans last year, where a sold-out, raucous arena was shown on national television for St. Mary’s vs. Gonzaga. The MWC already holds its conference tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center down the street, and this move by the WAC means that Vegas will become the basketball destination for every legitimate conference (save the Pac-10) west of the Rockies every March. Sounds like a really fun environment for fans of these leagues.
No, No, No. Everyone got this wrong. Derrick Rose wasn’t flashing a gang sign in the below pic, he was practicing universal remote hand signals for the letter “B” on the SAT exam.
Akron ( #13, South, Portland pod)
vs. Gonzaga (#4)
Thurs., 3/19 at 7:25 PM
Vegas Line: Akron, +11.5
General Profile Location: Akron, Ohio Conference: MAC, At-large Coach: Keith Dambrot, 206-110 08-09 Record: 23-12, 10-6 Last 12 Games: 8-4, won 4 straight Best Win: 63-59 at Niagara, December 1 Worst Loss: 83-79, at Northern Illinois, February 15 Off. Efficiency Rating: 101.4, 172nd Def. Efficiency Rating: 92.0; 10th
Nuts ‘n Bolts Star Player(s): Nate Linhart, 10.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg Unsung Hero: Humpty Hitchins, 8.9 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 2.3 apg Potential NBA Draft Pick(s): None Key Injuries: Freshman PG Humpty Hitchins, left ankle sprain. Missed MAC semifinals, but returned (limited) for title game Depth: 36.5% (53th nationally), percentage of minutes played by reserves Achilles Heel: Shooting; avg 41.9% from field (246th nationally) and prone to foul trouble (avg over 20 fouls per game) Will Make a Deep Run if…: Hell freezes over Will Make an Early Exit if…: Gonzaga doesn’t run out of gas in the team bus on the way to the arena
NCAA History Last Year Invited: 1986, lost in 1st round to Michigan 70-64 Streak: N/A Best NCAA Finish: 1986, lost in first round Historical Performance vs. Seed (1985-present): Not enough data (Minimum 8 bids)
Other Six Degrees to Detroit: Akron football team won first-ever MAC football title with win in MAC Championship at Ford Field in Detroit in 2005 Distance to First Round Site: 2470 miles. School’s Claim to Fame: LeBron James is from Akron and played for Zips Head Coach Keith Dambrot at St. Vincent/St. Mary High School. He occasionally goes back to work out with team. School Wishes It Could Forget: Losses in the previous two MAC title games. Lost in 2007 on buzzer-beater by Miami and were beat by 19 by arch-rival Kent last season. Prediction: After getting so close to the postseason the past two years, the Zips finally broke through and won the MAC Tournament for the first time ever. It gets the Zips back to the Big Dance for the first time since 1986 when a guy by the name of Bob Huggins led the Zips through the Ohio Valley Conference and into the NCAA Tournament. Huggins went on to bigger and better things. The Zips floundered for years. Finally Keith Dambrot has them in the tourney, but unfortunately that will be the high point for them. Akron just hasn’t matched up with NCAA tournament-bound programs this year, much like the rest of the MAC. They lost to Pitt by 19, Dayton by 4 and VCU by 4. They also lost by 19 to the A-10’s Rhode Island. Don’t expect much from Akron. Gonzaga should roll in this one. Major RTC stories: Rydell’s Excessively Tinted Windows
Welcome back to the weekend edition of Boom Goes the Dynamite. First off I’d like to commend rtmsf for his strong work on yesterday’s BGtD. You guys really have no idea how exhausting it is doing a full day’s worth of this is and he managed to do it with only a short break although it almost caused me to give up working on the site after being forced to endure the American–Holy Cross game yesterday. As he outlined in his After the Buzzer post last night/this morning, there are 12 conference championship games today. For the sake of maintaining our sanity and having enough energy in the tank for our huge March Madness preview, we’ll be taking multiple shifts but we promise to coordinate it so you won’t miss anything during our handoffs.
6:00 AM: Yes. That’s actually the time I’m starting this thanks to a “short nap” that ended up going from 9 PM to 5 AM. Obviously my posts will be infrequent in the early morning hours, but I’ll be passing along some news and links to you before the games start at 11 AM. The New York Times has been stepping it up with their college sports blog “The Quad” recently and has an interesting post on Louisville‘s Terrence Williams and his pre-game ritual of the giving himself a pep talk during the national anthem. Before anybody thinks this might be a Chris Jackson Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf situation, it should be noted that Williams actually stands during the anthem and is supposedly talking about family members that he has lost and asking that everyone on the court avoids injuries. Of course, we can’t verify this, but if we have any lip-readers in our vast legion of RTC readers, we would love hear your take on this particularly if you have seen this is in person.
7:00 AM: Before I head out for a few minutes to take care of some errands like stocking up on groceries for the coming storm where I probably won’t leave my apartment for 3 weeks. I thought I would pass along one of my favorite things we are doing at RTC right now. We enlisted the help of our correspondents and got them to send us their favorite March memories. We narrowed down the submissions to the 16 best entries and are counting down to #1, which will be revealed on Wednesday (the day before the tournament starts). I’d encourage you to check out the entries we have so far and keep on coming back throughout the day to see what they selected as their favorite March memories and then chime in with your memories on those moments.
8:45 AM: Ok. False alarm on that grocery run. Apparently Costco doesn’t open until 9:30 so after this post I’ll be on a short break. So today’s RTC East breakfast is brought to you by Flour Bakery and consists of their Bobby Flay-slaying “Sticky Buns” and a twice-baked brioche. Here’s a quick run-down of the games (title game in red–there’s a lot of red) that I will be focusing on today:
UMBC vs. Binghamton at 11 AM on ESPN2 for the America East title
Memphis vs. #3 Tulsa at 11:35 AM on CBS for the Conference USA title
Mississippi State vs. #16 LSU at 1 PM on ESPN2 and Raycom in the SEC semifinals
#6 Michigan State vs. Ohio State at 1:30 PM on CBS in the Big 10 semifinals
#1 UNC vs. #22 FSU at 1:30 PM on ESPN and Raycom in the ACC semifinals
Tennessee vs. Auburn at 3 PM on ESPN2 and Raycom in the SEC semifinals
Maryland vs. #8 Duke at 3:30 PM on ESPN and Raycom in the ACC semifinals
#25 Illinois vs. #24 Purdue at 4 PM on CBS in the Big 10 semifinals
#23 Arizona State vs. USC at 6 PM on CBS for the Pac-10 title
Baylor vs. #15 Missouri at 6 PM on ESPN for the Big 12 title
Temple vs. Duquesne at 6 PM on ESPN2 for the Atlantic 10 title
Late Night Games
San Diego State vs. Utah at 7 PM on Versus for the Moutain West title
Morgan State vs. Norfolk State at 7 PM on ESPNU for the MEAC title (Periodic score updates for this one)
Buffalo vs. Akron at 8 PM on ESPN2 for the MAC title
#5 Louisville vs. #20 Syracuse at 9 PM on ESPN for the Big East title
Jackson State vs. Alabama State at 9 PM on ESPNU for the SWAC title (Periodic score updates for this one)
Utah State vs. Nevada at 10 PM on ESPN2 for the WAC title
Cal State-Northridge vs. Pacific at 11:59 PM on ESPN2 for the Big West title (This one is questionable)
10:55 AM: Ok. I’m back from my extended Costco run and have enough food to last me through the week. A quick summary on the early games. In the America East, Binghamton is a 5-6 point favorite (depending on your gambling establishment of choice). Honestly, I’m surprised that they aren’t bigger favorites since they come in at 22-8 while UMBC comes in 15-16 and the game is at Binghamton. It could be interesting though as they split the season series in the regular season with Binghamton winning the last game of the regular season at home against UMBC 71-51. I’m guessing the America East commissioner is rooting for UMBC to avoid the embarrassment of the CBS announcers having to explain why the conference’s regular season leading scorer (D.J Rivera) was left off the all-conference team. In Conference USA, Memphis is a 14-point favorite against Tulsa. Memphis might be playing for a #1 seed even with their ridiculously easy schedule. We’re hoping this game is more like the first time they met (a 55-54 Memphis win) rather the last time they met (a 63-37 Memphis win). I have a sneaking suspicion that it is going to be more like the latter, but we’ll be following it anyways to get a last look at Memphis before CBS’s new Billy Packer rips the NCAA selection committee for putting them over a Big East team.
Game of the Day.Xavier 63, Virginia Tech 62 (OT). This ending was almost as ridiculous as the Brandon Roy nonsense from a couple of weeks ago. After it appeared the Va Tech had won the game on a layup by Jeff Allen with under three seconds remaining, Xavier threw it up ahead to Dante Jackson, who at that point was 0-8 with 2 pts in the game. So of course he throws in a bank shot from 50 feet to win (see below). This was easily the best game-winner of the young season, and will probably be in the running for best of the season this year. XU’s Derrick Brown led the Musketeers with 16/6, but Va Tech may not have been in that position if their star had shown up on the offensive end – AJ Vassallo had a mere 4 pts on 2-13 (0-6 3FG) shooting, 15 pts below his average. At least he stepped it up otherwise, though, with 10 rebs and 8 assts.
Duke 71, Michigan 56. Hey, Duke won another tournament title at Madison Square Garden! Never seen that before! Coach K is only 94-10 in November at Duke, so if you didn’t see this one coming, then you haven’t watched college basketball in the last three decades. It got us wondering, how many of these tourneys has Coach K won over the years? Surpisingly, he’s only won three of the five PNITs that he’s been in (1985, 2000, 2008) – sure feels like more. The Blue Devils relied on a balanced attack–both in terms of depth and playing both halfs (looking at you Henderson and Singler)–to vault themselves into a #1 seed in everyone’s Week 3 NCAA tournament mock bracket. On the other side, John Beilein and the Wolverine faithful should leave New York City happy though as their win over #4 (not for long) UCLA has served noticed that the Wolverines should be significantly better than last season’s 10-22 record. Perhaps the biggest thing last night’s win over UCLA may have done is make more recruits think about heading up to Ann Arbor so one day Beilein can start more Manny Harrises (game-high 25 points) and less. . .well everybody else on his team. We may find out just how far along these Wolverines have come on December 6th when they get a rematch against Duke in Ann Arbor.
UCLA 77, S. Illinois 60. UCLA improved its east coast record to 2-3 under Howland by pulling away from SIU in the last quarter of this game today. The Bruins relied on a 20-2 second half run to win this game. This trip to MSG should be a useful motivation tool for Ben Howland to motivate his team, which is made up of hyped freshmen and remnants of a team that has made 3 straight Final 4s. The Bruins relied on their veteran leaders (Alfred Aboya, Josh Shipp, and Darren Collison) to win the game as that trio combined for 49 of the Bruins’ 77 points. If Howland is going to make a 4th consecutive trip to the Final 4, his freshmen will have to grow up fast.
More Paradise Jammation.
Miami (FL) 70, Southern Miss 60. Honestly, I’m more interested in what Larry Eustachy was doing between games in the Virgin Islands than this game. However, I suspect that most of you are here for some keen insight into the game. Cliffs Notes summary: Lance Hurdle led the Canes to a victory despite an off night from Jack McClinton. I wouldn’t read too much into this game as a top 25 team should win games against teams like Southern Miss fairly easily, but it is still November so I’ll give The U the benefit of the doubt tonight, but they will have to step it up when they face the winner of. . .
UConn 89, Lasalle 81. Speaking of teams that didn’t quite play up to expectations, #2 UConn struggled to put away LaSalle, a middle-of-the-pack Atlantic 10 team. Jim Calhoun got big games out of Kemba Walker and Jeff Adrien to avoid the huge upset against the Explorers (seriously, what kind of nickname is that?) who shot 50% from the field. However, the biggest story of the night (other than Psycho T returning) was the return of A.J. Price, who was solid if not spectacular in his return. In a related story, Price maybe getting a Facebook invite from Cameron Newton that is assuming, um, Newton can find a computer to log onto the site.
USC 73, UT-Chattanooga 46. It’s the return of Taj Gibson who was AWOL for much of last season (I’m not sure who to name that type of performance after–Taj Gibson or Steve Slaton? We’re a college basketball site, so I’ll go with “pulling a Taj Gibson”.) Gibson paced the Trojans with 17 points and 15 rebounds. For the adolescent girl demographic, the big news of the night was that Lil Romeo took his first college shot. . .and missed.
San Diego, 73, Valparaiso 66. The Toreros were led by center Gyno Pomare’s 17 points and 12 rebounds. The Toreros, who knocked off UConn in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year as a #13 seed face the winner of. . .
Wisconsin 60, Iona 58 (OT). The 25th-ranked Badgers snuck by the Gaels behind 21 points from Trevon Hughes. Somehow, the Badgers won despite going 15 of 48 (31.2%) from the field. So basically, it was a typical Bo Ryan win. I can’t wait to put my Big 10 TV channel to use this year.
Other Games of Mild Interest.
Utah 83, Ole Miss 72. The SEC is now 21-7 with losses to Mercer (x2), VMI, Utah, Illinois, Loyola (IL), and UNC. Other than UNC, not exactly murderer’s row there.
Syracuse 86, Oakland 66. Jonny Flynn brought 18/4 off the bench to assist four others in double figures, but most importantly, SU held Oakland’s Johnathan Jones to 7-23 shooting and only 16 pts.
Pitt 86, Akron 67. I’ll just leave you with this quote from Akron coach Keith Dambrot about Sam Young:
Sam Young physically reminds me of LeBron. Obviously, he’s not as good a player as LeBron, but he’s got that quick-twitch strength and ability to put the ball down. He’s a tough matchup.
I will be waiting to see Young try LeBron’s patented bullrush to/through the basket this year.
Davidson 97, Winthrop 70. Stephen Curry with a ho-hum 30 points and 13 assists. The bigger news for Bob McKillop is the 20 and 15 from Andrew Lovedale. If the Wildcats can get a legitimate inside game going this year, they could be an extremely tough out in March with Curry bombing away from outside.
Memphis 84, Seton Hall 70. Not much to say here. Memphis took an early lead and never looked back. One interesting stat: 30/46 or 65.2%. I’ll let you guess what that represents. (Hint: Don’t ask John Calipari about it.)
Maryland 89, Vermont 74 (OT). That’s not a typo. The Terrapins outscored the Catamounts 17-2 in the 5-minute OT period. I think even Gary Williams will have to be happy with how his team finished the game. He may be a little pissed off about the other 40 minutes though. . .
Tennessee 76, MTSU 66. A thoroughly unimpressive win for the Volunteers. Do top 25 teams really struggle to put away Middle Tennessee State?
WYN2K. We went back and forth on where to rank the MAC because conveniently pigeonholing this league into low- or mid-major status is very difficult to do. Historically, the league hasn’t been more than a one-bid league (since 1985 the MAC has received two NCAA bids only five times), but it has consistently done well with the teams that it puts into March Madness, ranking among the top five conferences in terms of exceeding its expected number of NCAA wins (aka overachieving). Using historical measures of success by seed, the MAC (as an average #12.0 seed) should have won only 12.04 NCAA Tournament games over the last 23 years – instead it has won fifteen. So given this dichotomy in its character, we started looking at recent history to gain a deeper understanding of where the MAC should fall on the ladder. We’re probably going to upset the MAC folks out there, but ultimately we were swayed by the fact that the league has been a one-bid league with no first round wins (losing by an average of 8.8 pts) over the last four seasons (despite having a winning record of 192-186 against OOC opponents the last three years). That was enough to convince us to keep the MAC (for now) at the top of the low majors. But it was a very close call.
Predicted Champion. Kent St. (#12 seed NCAA). The Golden Flashes are our choice to win the MAC this year (again, shamelessly unoriginal). But what’s not to like with this team? They return all five starters from a team that went 12-4 in conference last year, and a program under the tutelage of Jim Christian who has never had an under-20 win season at the school (KSU has had nine straight 20 win seasons). No one player stands out offensively on this defensive-minded club (#22 nationally in defensive efficiency last year), but 6’7 forward Haminn Quaintance is the man shoring up the team D from the inside (#15 in stl% and #33 in blk% nationally). Kent St. has a difficult, but not insane (see: Miami (OH) for that), nonconference schedule, featuring games against mid-majors Xavier, St. Louis and George Mason at home, while going to Chapel Hill in early January to play UNC.
Others Considered. We like Western Michigan to win the West Division, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we think they’re the second-best team in the conference. Like Kent St., the Broncos also return all five starters, but the 2007 version of WMU simply (16-16) wasn’t as good as Kent St. (21-11). Their ultimate destiny may depend on the offseason development of the most excellently-named guard David Kool, last year’s MAC FrOY, a player who seems to do a little bit of everything. Last year’s miraculous champion Miami (OH) was also considered simply because they have Charlie Coles still at the helm and you know you’re going to get a hardnosed defensive team (#28 nationally in eFG% defense; MU didn’t allow a single opponent to score 70 pts last seaon) that tests itself with an extremely tough nonconference schedule every year – this year’s includes five NCAA teams, one NIT team + Cincinnati on the road. Akron getting left out of both the NCAA and the NIT last year despite 26 wins has to still sting coach Keith Dambrot. But if he’s to become vindicated with a MAC championship this year, he’ll have to do so without conference POY (and former Lebron HS teammates) Romeo Travis and team leader PG Dru Joyce. Can the Zips find point guard play to support another run? They do return five of the top 500 most efficient offensive players in the country (contributing to a #12 raw offensive efficiency), so there is a fair chance of another great season. Another team that is probably still a year away from competing for the MAC title but is worth watching is Central Michigan. CMU went from 4-24 in 2006 to 13-18 in 2007, and the pieces are beginning to align for former UCLA assistant coach and current head man Ernie Ziegler. He returns four starters including Giordan Watson, the leading returning scorer (18.8 ppg) in the MAC this season. Last year’s league regular season champ, Toledo, lost its top three scorers and is expected to drop off somewhat despite returning the league’s DPOY Kashif Payne.
Games to Watch. The MAC has a fair number of televised games this year, so you can actually watch some of these, as opposed to watching for them. Keep in mind the unbalanced sixteen-game schedule.
Kent St. @ Miami (OH) (01.17.08) & Miami (OH) @ Kent St. (03.04.08)
Central Michigan @ Western Michigan (01.22.08) ESPNU & Western Michigan @ Central Michigan (03.04.08)
ESPNU Bracketbusters (02.23.08)
MAC Championship Game (03.15.08) ESPN2
RPI Booster Games. Like the Big West, the MAC doesn’t play a lot of BCS teams, largely because they want home-and-homes and the higher profile schools aren’t willing to risk a loss when they get a Southland or Sun Belt team to take the one-game lump payment along with their whipping. Last year the league was 4-25 (.138) against BCS teams, and there are 21 such games on the schedule this year (along with quite a few mid-major games). Oh, and who does Ohio U. know at ESPN – they’re scheduled to be on the family of networks at least nine times this year!
New Mexico St. @ Ohio (11.09.07) ESPN FC
Western Michigan @ Oregon (11.10.07) ESPN FC
Vanderbilt @ Toledo (11.13.07)
Davidson @ Western Michigan (11.21.07)
Central Michigan @ Minnesota (11.24.07) ESPN 360
Eastern Michigan @ Notre Dame (12.01.07)
Miami (OH) @ Louisville (12.01.07) ESPN FC
Ohio @ Kansas (12.15.07) ESPN2
Western Michigan @ S. Illinois (12.18.07)
Kent St. @ UNC (01.02.08) ESPN
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. There’s always a reasonable shot for the MAC to get multiple bids, but we wouldn’t call those odds good this year. Looking at what happened to Akron last year suggests that the only team that would have a shot at an at-large would be Miami (OH) if they had a great record and lost in the conference tournament.
Neat-o Stat. There are three new and somewhat accomplished coaches coming into the MAC this season – Ricardo Patton (Northern Illinois), formerly of Colorado where he took the Buffs to 2 NCAAs and 4 NITs in eleven seasons; Louis Orr (Bowling Green), formerly of Seton Hall where he took the Pirates to 2 NCAAs and 1 NIT in five seasons; and Billy Taylor (Ball St.), formerly of Lehigh who is taking over from the troubled tenure of Ronny Thompson there.
64/65-Team Era. As we alluded to above, the MAC can make a reasonable case for inclusion into the mid-major category (we define a mid-major conference as one that consistently competes for and receives at-large NCAA bids, minus the BCS conferences). Despite overachieving when MAC teams make the NCAA Tourney with four teams making the Sweet 16 or better (Kent St. in 2002), it still only has had five years of multiple bids (two each time – 1985, 1986, 1995, 1998, 1999) in this era. And as you can see, none have occurred during the 2000s. For now, let’s enjoy the ending of last year’s MAC Championship game. Bedlam.
Final Thought. The conference is very balanced, as five different programs have tasted the NCAA over the last five years, and only twice has a school had the good fortune to go B2B in winning the conference crown (Ball St. – 1989 & 1990; Kent St. – 2001 & 2002). So it should be no surprise if someone besides Miami (OH) steps up and takes the title this year. Befitting a conference that has quality depth, we see no fewer than six teams that could make a legitimate run at the conference championship, and a couple more who could easily act the role of spoilers. As always, the MAC plays quality basketball and is worth catching when you get a chance.