NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.14.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with all the chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.  We hope to have these up each morning starting Tuesday, March 15, but don’t kill us if it sometimes slips to the early afternoon.

East

Southeast

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Bracket Prep: Southwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2011

Throughout Monday, we’ll be releasing our Bracket Prep analyses of each of the four NCAA Tournament regions.  The order will be as follows — please check back throughout the day for all four (all times eastern).

  • West – 9 am
  • Southeast – 11 am
  • Southwest – 1 pm
  • East – 3 pm

Region: SOUTHWEST

Favorite: #1 Kansas (32-2, 14-2 Big 12). When the Kansas that showed up on Saturday afternoon in Kansas City is the team we get, the Jayhawks are the favorite not only in this region but in the entire NCAA Tournament.  The problem is that isn’t always the team that plays (witness the near-miss against Oklahoma State on Thursday).

Should They Falter: #2 Notre Dame (26-6, 14-4 Big East). Many observers had the Irish pegged as the fourth #1 seed over Duke given their sterling numbers on paper, so we know they’re capable.  Quite possibly playing as well as anyone the past two months, Mike Brey’s team is well-positioned in its bottom half of the bracket to make a run at the Final Four.

Grossly Overseeded: #11 USC or VCU (19-14, 10-8 Pac-10; 23-11, 12-6 CAA). It’s questionable whether either of these two First Four teams should even be playing in this Tournament, and for them to get an #11 seed slot instead of a #12 or #13 is equally irresponsible.  Before playing near home and making a run to the CAA finals, VCU had lost four of five games; USC had been playing better of late, but the Trojans also went through a Pac-10 stretch where they lost seven of ten (remember, we’re talking about the Pac-10 here, not the Big East).  The #12 seed in this region, Richmond, is better than both of these two teams, and they’re also playing like it.

Grossly Underseeded: #6 Georgetown (21-10, 10-8 Big East).  We’re hearing that Georgetown’s straw that stirs the drink, Chris Wright, will play in the NCAA Tournament, and if he’s near 100%, the Hoyas are much better than a #6 seed.  If not, or if he’s closer to 50% productivity, then JT3’s team is very much overseeded.  Guess we’ll find out on Friday which is which.

Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): #12 Richmond (27-7, 13-3 A-10).  The Spiders received a favorable #5/#12 matchup in playing Vanderbilt, a BCS team that will not wow you with its athleticism.  They also defend the three very well, holding teams this year to 30.1%, an important consideration with Commodore sharpshooters John Jenkins (40.8%) and Jeffery Taylor (36.4%) very capable.  #4 Louisville in the second round would be difficult, but the Cards are a star-less team that sometimes drops a stinker against an inferior team (see: Providence, Drexel).

Final Four Sleeper (#4 seed or lower): #6 Georgetown (21-10, 10-8 Big East). Again, it completely and totally depends on the health of point guard Chris Wright.  If he can go, the Hoyas are quite capable of knocking out #3 Purdue, #2 Notre Dame and, under certain circumstances, #1 Kansas.  Their offense is so much more effective with Wright leading the charge that Georgetown has only broken sixty points in one game since his injury.

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The Week That Was: Mar. 1-7

Posted by jstevrtc on March 8th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor.

Introduction

Congrats are in order for the following teams that locked up automatic NCAA berths this week: St. Peter’s (MAAC), Old Dominion (CAA), Wofford (SoCon), Gonzaga (WCC), Indiana State (MVC), Belmont (Atlantic Sun) and UNC-Asheville (Big South). It’s always fun watching these teams celebrate their conference championships because the excitement just feels more honest than, say, when an Ohio State or a Pittsburgh wins its conference tournament. Championship Week is great for television purposes because there are so many great games to watch, but there usually is less urgency among the teams from the major conferences. For them, conference tournaments are about posturing for seeds and surviving the weekend injury-free. Roy Williams once called the ACC Tournament a big cocktail party, and it’s not surprising that his two title teams both bowed out in the semifinals.  

What We Learned 

 

Davies Will Obviously Be Missed, But Charles Abouo's Emergence Has Mitigated the Sting

 

If you’re a big time recruit and have BYU in your top five, you might want to reconsider your stance on the Cougars. Seriously, why would a player with options want to go to BYU now that its draconian honor code system is in the national spotlight. By now, everyone knows Brandon Davies (BYU’s third leading scorer and leading rebounder) was suspended from the BYU basketball team for allegedly having premarital sex with his girlfriend. Davies’ suspension is a crushing blow for the Cougars, who have gone from a sexy popular national title pick to a team some think won’t make it out of the first weekend.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.05.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 5th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The final Saturday of the regular season is also the best of the year. Epic would be one way to describe the schedule today. Bids will be clinched, bubbles will burst and conference titles will be decided. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#2 Kansas @ #21 Missouri in progress on CBS (****)

It's Title Time (Again) For Markieff and KU, Though We Don't Expect the Tigers To Go Quietly

The Jayhawks can clinch the Big 12 title with a win here or a Texas loss at Baylor this evening. Through Texas’ surge and preseason projections brandishing Kansas State and Baylor, we learned one thing in this conference in 2010-11: the conference title goes through Lawrence until proven otherwise. Missouri will be in the NCAA Tournament win or lose, but a win here would really improve their seeding and give them confidence heading into the postseason. The Tigers are a different team at home and should give KU all they’ve have in front of their raucous crowd and a national television audience, looking to complete their home slate undefeated. Kansas will need to protect the ball and dominate in the paint and on the glass in order to win on the road. Missouri’s preference for a quick pace means rebounding is a vulnerability, and the Morris twins should be able to pull down a lot of missed shots assuming they stay out of foul trouble.

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O26 Primers: Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley & Patriot League Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 2nd, 2011

RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.

Three more conferences get their tournaments underway tonight which means that several more teams will have their dreams of advancing to the greatest Dance in the world dashed, while others will inch one step closer to winning their conference championship. Tonight the Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley and Patriot League tournaments all get underway. Belmont and Bucknell are the obvious favorites to win their respective conferences, but the Ohio Valley is a little unclear with Morehead State and Murray State butting heads at the top, and Austin Peay not too far behind.

Atlantic Sun

The Favorite: Belmont is the clear-cut favorite to win the league this year and advance to the Tournament for the first time since 2008 when they nearly upset Duke. A surprising setback at Lipscomb is the only loss that prevented the Bruins from going a perfect 20-0 in league play.

Dark Horse: Not surprisingly, Lipscomb is the dark horse to win the A-Sun. Although they have a rather pedestrian 12-8 record within the league, they were the only team to knock off Belmont. Plus, they boast one of the best players in the league with Adnan Hodzic as the senior forward from Bosnia is averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds a night. In their victory over Belmont, Hodzic tore up the Bruins going off for 26 points.

Who’s Hot: Winning 19 games in conference and not losing to a team located outside the state of Tennessee makes Belmont the hottest team in the Atlantic Sun. To be honest, it would be a real shock if the Bruins were not the last team standing come March 5.

Player to Watch: With Mike Smith—the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year from ETSU—sidelined with an injury, there is no clear player to keep an eye on during the tournament. Lipscomb’s Josh Slater, however, is someone to definitely keep tabs on. Most of the attention is focused on Adnan Hodzic, but no one in the A-Sun can fill up the stat sheet quite like Slater who averages 16.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists.

First-Round Upset: Campbell over East Tennessee State. ETSU looked to be one of Belmont’s biggest threats in the conference tournament, but the Buccaneers have been decimated by injuries to two of their top players: Mike Smith (ankle) and Micah Williams (shoulder); their status for ETSU’s first game is uncertain. Campbell is one of the coldest teams around having lost eight of their last nine games, but lost by just seven points to ETSU in their last meeting.

How’d They Fare? ETSU was a 16 seed and was ripped apart by Kentucky 100-71 in last year’s Tournament.

Interesting Fact: Dating back to the 2005 Tournament, the highest seed the Atlantic Sun team has received in the NCAA Tournament has been a 15. Assuming Belmont wins the league this year, that will all change.

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Behind the Numbers: Defense and the Individual

Posted by KCarpenter on March 2nd, 2011

Kellen Carpenter is an RTC contributor.

This is a story about Kenneth Faried and Morehead State. I know that it’s March now, and that Morehead State, who went 13-5 in the Ohio Valley Conference, has only the slightest chances of making a tournament splash. We have all March to talk about the contenders and the Big Dance. For now, let’s talk about Kenneth Faried and Morehead State. Actually, first let’s set the stage.

Faried is BTN's National Defensive POY

We are very good at measuring offense in basketball. We have a good sense of what is valuable and how much impact a player can make on the offensive end. The box score stats provide enough of a jumping-off point that a few bits of mathematical transformation can paint a pretty clear picture of a team or player’s impact on the offensive end. We’re talking about offensive efficiency, as good a tool as we have in college basketball. It’s so good, in fact, that we like to cheat and use opponent offensive efficiency to measure defensive efficiency, which is a pretty clever little trick. By measuring how opponents perform against a given team on average, we have some measure of that team’s defensive abilities.

The operative word here, however, is “team.” While we can tell how well a team performs by measuring their opponents foibles on offense, how do we assign individual credit? Not every player defends equally, and while I wouldn’t argue that defense isn’t a team effort, surely some players have a clear measurable defensive value over others. Defensive efficiency tells us very little about this.

Of course, maybe I was getting ahead of myself by plunging into advanced stats before just checking out the box score. Steals, blocks and defensive rebounds are all individually counted categories that suggest defensive aptitude, and indeed, after converting these categories into their tempo-free counterparts, we have a pretty good suggestion of players with specific defensive abilities. There are, however, problems with these categories. A block where an opponent retains possession really doesn’t do much good, yet those blocks are counted just the same as those that trigger fast-break opportunities. Steals generate extra possessions, but failed gambles for steals can lead to high-percentage shots. The example with steals highlights the bigger problem of what isn’t captured by the box score, namely, how good a player is at making the man he is guarding miss shots. Now, manual defensive charting and a thorough parsing of play-by-play data might be able to produce a pretty good individual opponent field goal percentage ranking, but so far, accurate and comprehensive data of this sort is just not available to us.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.24.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 24th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

This is one of the biggest Thursday nights we’ve had this year in terms of quality games with NCAA bids and conference titles on the line. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

West Virginia @ #3 Pittsburgh – 9 pm on ESPN (****)

Are Dixon and the Panthers #1? #6? Does It Matter, As Long As It's #4 Or Better?

The Backyard Brawl (Part II) takes place in Pittsburgh tonight. The Panthers won the first meeting in Morgantown on February 7, a game they played without their star Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs returned to the lineup with a bang, scoring 26 points, including 6-9 from deep, in the team’s loss to St. John’s last Saturday. Gibbs will play a central role in a matchup between the Big East’s best three-point shooting team (Pitt) and the best three point defense (WVU). The Panthers are shooting 40% from deep in conference play and 38.4% overall while the Mountaineers allow 28.4% shooting overall and 29.1% in league games.

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The Week That Was: Feb. 15-21

Posted by jstevrtc on February 22nd, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor 

Introduction

Monday’s Syracuse-Villanova and Kansas-Oklahoma State games kicked off Judgment Week at ESPN, and TWTW has no idea what that exactly means. Are our opinions (or “judgments,” if you will) supposed to be dramatically altered based on this week’s outcomes? Syracuse’s win over ’Nova doesn’t mean they’re no longer a flawed team that’s capable of looking great one night and mediocre the next. And barring any game-changing injury, you shouldn’t think differently about a squad based on a couple of games at the end of February. You are who you are at this point — no extra judgments are necessary. So why does ESPN feel the need to dub almost every week now? Just stop at Rivalry Week. Sometimes games are just games, they don’t need any extra labels. There’s only one real judgment to be made this week — Battle: Los Angeles looks like a god-awful movie. 

What We Learned

Smith And the Devils Are Back On Top of the Polls, But It Means Less At This Time of Year

We thought that Tristan Thompson was just speaking for Texas when he said that the Longhorns would prefer not to replace Kansas as the No. 1 team in the next AP poll — turns out he was expressing the sentiments for just about every possible No. 1 team in the nation. On Saturday #4 Pittsburgh went down at St. John’s, followed by #2 Texas at Nebraska, and then on Sunday #3 Ohio State lost at Purdue. ESPN Stats & Information said it was the first time that the #1-4 teams in the ESPN/USA Today poll all lost in the same week since 2003 — yikes. But this isn’t the first week that we’ve seen this level of attrition in the polls; remember, it was just a few weeks ago that 13 of the AP’s Top 25 lost and half of the top 10. So who deserves to be #1 now? Duke got the nod on Monday, but do the Blue Devils deserve to be vaulted all the way from #5 to the top? In all honesty, you could probably just put the top six teams on a dartboard (top seven if you want to include BYU who got two first place votes), close your eyes, throw your dart, and there’s your #1 team. Not that it matters — during the season #1 in college hoops has always felt like a superficial title to TWTW. What’s really important is who’s in position for a #1 seed. It’s not important to determine who’s #1 now. The competition to watch is the race to distinguish between teams #4 and #5.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on February 22nd, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

- I deemed Saturday’s Washington-Arizona game appointment viewing with the specific intent of watching Derrick Williams for 40 minutes. I had seen Williams play multiple times this season, but mostly for small snippets against weaker competition in the Pac-10. Williams is an absolutely outstanding collegiate player that flashes moments of brilliance on the basketball court. He attacks the glass with ferocity, can face up or back an opponent down and is outstanding in isolation situations. I’m not sure Williams has the personality or the attitude to completely take over long stretches of a game like Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette or Nolan Smith, but nobody utilizes his possessions with more proficiency than Williams. When he chooses to enter another gear, as he did for the majority of the final five minutes of an Arizona win that effectively clinched the Pac-10 regular season title, he’s impossible to contain. If I were the Cavaliers GM – although I shouldn’t assume they’ll win the lottery based on that city’s tortured sports past – I’d snag Williams #1 overall over the likes of Kyrie Irving, Perry Jones, Jared Sullinger or any other entry. You think Williams is a special prospect now, just wait until he’s playing with an NBA-caliber pass-first point guard. His all-around excellence in isolation situations and ability to knock down shots anywhere on the floor are tailor made for the pros. I see him developing into a better David West. The only area Williams needs to shore up is avoiding foul trouble. Arizona must have their superstar on the floor for more than 29.2 PPG in the NCAA Tournament if the Wildcats want to advance. Williams has picked up four or more personals in eight Pac-10 games this year.

Derrick Williams clutch block clinched Saturday's win over Washington

- Duke shouldn’t be #1 in the nation. I think most of us agree with that sentiment. Thankfully, we adore a sport where these kinds of things are irrelevant, especially in late February. What bothers me is that most have Duke pegged as a #1 seed over Kansas and BYU, two candidates much more deserving of this honor than the Blue Devils. The Cougars resume is actually incredibly impressive, more so than their MWC brethren San Diego State. The Fightin Jimmers have five wins vs. the RPI top-30 and Duke has two. BYU beat San Diego State, Arizona, Utah State, Saint Mary’s and swept UNLV. Duke’s best win after North Carolina is Kansas State followed by UAB (currently out) and Michigan State (bubble). The Blue Devils have yet to beat an NCAA Tournament team on the road. Sure, this has plenty to do with the fragile state of the ACC, but don’t overlook Duke’s annual resistance to play true road games out of conference. Plus, since when do we provide Duke a scheduling excuse over a MWC team? The overall records are identical. The reason Duke is first in the polls is basically because they didn’t lose during a week they played Virginia and Georgia Tech. Vaulting Duke on the back of those  two wins over the entire body of work of, say, Ohio State and Pittsburgh, is ridiculous enough in itself. Handing them an undeserving #1 seed at this stage in the season is an even worse idea (luckily we still have 20 days till Selection Sunday, so this is largely irrelevant as well, but it sure is fun to debate, no?).

I’m hearing plenty of candidates thrown out there for National Coach of the Year, and none of them are egregious. Coaches like Mike Brey, Steve Fisher, Matt Painter, Jim Calhoun, Steve Lavin and Sean Miller have all done outstanding jobs this season leading their teams to unforeseen heights. To me, the coach of the year is a runaway and his name hasn’t been mentioned: Rick Pitino. I was initially hesitant to buy into the Cardinals, especially after they won all their non-conference games in the comfort of the KFC Yum Center and both Butler and UNLV underachieved relative to expectations. Now that I’ve watched Louisville sweep Connecticut, edge Syracuse and West Virginia, pull off an epic comeback against Marquette and down St. John’s, the magic act Pitino has pulled in the face of tremendous adversity is becoming more and more evident. All five starters from last year’s #9 seed squad left. His top freshman didn’t qualify. His leading returning scorer hasn’t played a minute. Still, by pulling out his old tricks of a relentless full-court press, switching defenses and an abundance of threes, the ‘Ville has jumped from likely NIT team to a #4 seed in my latest bracket. Say what you want about his forays into the back of Italian restaurants or his failed NBA coaching stints, but in case anyone forgot, this season was a definite reminder: Rick Pitino can motivate, prepare and instruct college athletes better than anyone in the business. Read the rest of this entry »

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ATB: A Messy Prez Day Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on February 22nd, 2011

The Lede.  What a wild, wild President’s Day weekend it was.  The second-, third-, and fourth-ranked teams all took a loss over the weekend to join #1 Kansas  from the previous Monday night, the first time that such a thing had happened in a little over seven years.  BracketBusters was in full effect across the land, and although there were some interesting games during the event, only a couple of teams actually helped themselves.  Over the three days, we saw RTCs ranging from relaxed ambivalence to firecracker intensity, another bizarre diatribe from Jim Boeheim, and a number of great games befitting the time of the season where so much is on the line.  Let’s jump in…

Note: For our BGTD coverage from Saturday, please see these three posts examining the early games, the late afternoon/evening games, and the BracketBuster games.

No, That's Not the Actual Ref Screaming Amidst the Mayhem... (AP/N. Harnik)

Your Watercooler Moment1, 2, 3, 4… The last time that the top four teams in the national polls lost in the same week of action, Barack Obama was an unknown state senator in Illinois and Saddam Hussein was hiding in a hole in somebody’s backyard.  It was November 2003, and the names Bieber, Gaga and Twitter had no meaning to anybody yet, but UConn, Duke, Michigan State and Arizona each dropped a game over Thanksgiving week that year and the result was a significant re-ordering of the poll.  The big difference this time around is that we’re two weeks from the end of the season as opposed to two weeks from the start, so the likelihood of four established teams dropping games over the same week was far more unlikely.  So what happened, exactly?

We already knew that #1 Kansas lost to K-State in rough-and-tumble fashion last Monday.  But the next three teams waited until the weekend to join the polling bloodbath. It began on Saturday with the first game of the day — Steve Lavin’s rejuvenated and tough-as-nails St. John’s program took down #4 Pittsburgh on the back of Dwight Hardy’s 19 points and his tap dance routine along the baseline to win the game.  It was the cherry on top of the sundae in a season of breakthroughs for the Red Storm program, and as you can see below, Madison Square Garden has become something more than just the place where Amare and (now) Melo play.

A little later Saturday afternoon, #2 Texas was in trouble at Nebraska late when its vaunted defense and some brain-farts on the part of the Huskers led to a ridiculous 12-1 in a span of thirty-four seconds to tie the game in the final minute, 65-all.  What appeared to be a major meltdown in Lincoln, though, turned to bedlam as Doc Sadler’s team regained its composure enough to hit their FTs down the stretch and notch possibly their biggest win in years.  UT is more than its individuals, but when Jordan Hamilton struggles as he did on Saturday (3-16 FG), the Horns have trouble putting enough points on the board against quality teams.  With the win, Nebraska has vaulted itself back onto the bubble — with a favorable schedule down the stretch, the Huskers could potentially get back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in thirteen seasons.  Nice RTC, fellas.

On Sunday it was Ohio State’s turn to again do battle with a Big Ten road crowd and team dead set on knocking off the much-hyped Buckeyes.  Purdue’s E’Twaun Moore ensured that the home crowd got what they paid for, as the senior guard went Kemba/Jimmer on the Big Ten leaders, scoring in just about every possible way en route to a superb 38/4/5 asst afternoon on 13-18 shooting.  His 13-point stretch over the last three-plus minutes of the first half was as impressive an offensive display as we’ve seen all season, punctuated by an acrobatic circus shot layup (see below) that told the viewers that this was going to be his game.  Talk has increased about Purdue as a legitimate Final Four contender after wins over OSU and Wisconsin last week, but the Boilermakers are an excellent home team.  We’re not as sold on Matt Painter’s team outside the friendly confines of Mackey Arena.

There you have it.  Three of the top four losing over the weekend, and nobody having a clue as to how to rank the top six today.  The AP Poll had six different teams receiving #1 votes, while the ESPN/Coaches had five.  Even the RTC poll, consisting of only six voters, had four different teams ranked at the top.  The takeaway from this weekend, and really, much of the season, is that there are a bunch of really good teams but certainly no great ones.  The NCAA Tournament could look a lot more like the 1997 (Arizona), 2003 (Syracuse), or 2006 (Florida) versions given this season’s continuing and obvious level of parity.

Your Watercooler Moment, Pt. IIAnother Diatribe From Jim Boeheim.  Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim must really be frustrated with his team this season.  The smiles and self-knowing mockery that he engaged with the media last season appears to have migrated south with the rest of the snowbirds.  After tonight’s win (note we said “win”) at Villanova, Boeheim again lashed out at the media for its stupid questions and representations about his team. Mike Miller at MSNBC has the goods here (via Soft Pretzel Logic), and we’re a little bit at a loss ourselves as to why Boeheim is acting like such a prima donna lately.  With respect to the questions about “toughening” up one’s team, he can choose to not believe in such a thing but we dare say that he probably does.  Most coaches who have been doing this for as long as he has would probably believe there’s real team-building value in gutting out close wins ten times even if you end up losing a similarly-situated game in the postseason.  We weren’t at the presser in Philadelphia tonight, but it sounded like someone arguing for the sake of being argumentative.  Lighten up, Jim — the university pays you a LOT of money to answer a few minutes of questions after each game, not to berate people and make them feel stupid for doing their jobs.

This Weekend’s Quick Hits

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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 20th, 2011

Bucky Dent is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.

A Look Back

  • Belmont Clinches: By knocking off East Tennessee State, 68-58, Thursday night in Nashville, the Bruins clinched the regular season title and the top seed for next month‘s conference tournament in Macon, Georgia. Belmont also gained no worse than an automatic bid to the NIT should it somehow stumble in Macon, which looks doubtful. Easily the deepest, most physical and most talented team in the A-Sun, the Bruins could face tough semifinal and championship challenges in Macon but also appear well-equipped to handle them. Of course, weird things happen in March.
  • Bear Essentials: Back on January 31, Mercer senior forward Brandon Moore went down for the season with a torn ACL, joining teammate Jeff Smith on the sidelines. Instead of going back to their Georgia cave and whimpering in pain for the season’s remainder, though, the Bears fought back. Granted, a schedule larded with home games against A-Sun slugs didn’t hurt, but give Mercer credit for ripping off four straight wins and improving to 9-7 in the league, clinching a spot in the conference tournament. Bob Hoffman probably deserves a few Coach of the Year votes for this little surge.
  • Player of the Week: Mike Smith, East Tennessee State: Smith won the award for the fourth time, the most in recent A-Sun history, by averaging 25 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in homecourt wins over Jacksonville and North Florida. The clear favorite for A-Sun Player of the Year, Smith is in the league’s top five in scoring and rebounding. Just missing the gold medal were Campbell’s Eric Griffin, who scored 22.5 points per contest against Lipscomb and Belmont last week, and Markeith Cummings of Kennesaw State, who rattled off three 30-point games in a four-game span to fuel the Owls’ first extended burst of competence this year.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (24-4, 16-1)
Next Week: 2/19 vs. USC Upstate, 2/24 at Mercer
These guys are good. How good? Consider that they can fall behind North Florida by 11 with six an a half minutes left, as they did earlier this month in arguably their worst game of the season, and still rip off a 20-2 run to steal a 69-67 win. The Bruins have gotten everyone’s best shot for most of the conference season and have only slipped up once — in the second half of a January 25 loss at Lipscomb. Stat geek alert: Guard Kerron Johnson ranks sixth in Division-I in steal percentage (percentage of possessions that a player notches a steal while in the game) according to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics. On most teams, Johnson would start. Here, he’s backing up ultra-steady Drew Hanlen.

2. East Tennessee State (19-10, 14-4)
Next Week: 2/19 at Florida Gulf Coast, 2/24 at Campbell
Remember two weeks ago when we warned that the Buccaneers could slip up on their road trip to Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson and you probably guffawed? That was before they somehow didn’t score in the last 5 minutes, 38 seconds and blew an 11-point lead in a brutal 55-54 loss at Stetson. While coach Murry Bartow was correct in nothing that the game affected nothing as far as the team’s NCAA hopes, since this league will only get one bid, it might keep this team from beating out the Big East’s 13th place team for a spot in the CBI or collegeinsiders.com tourney. That’s why ETSU couldn’t afford to take that loss.

3. Jacksonville (17-8, 11-5)
Next week: 2/18 vs. Kennesaw State, 2/20 vs. Mercer, 2/24 at Florida Gulf Coast
A third-place team might normally rate some consideration for the conference tournament. Not so with the Dolphins, who are 0-4 against the league’s big boys — Belmont and ETSU — with an average defeat margin of nearly 16 points. What that says is that this team beats the people it should and simply doesn’t have enough height or offensive punch to overcome the superior foes. Jacksonville’s only chance of winning the A-Sun tourney is to have one of the big boys lose along the way and hope that when they have to play the other that it either has a hot-shooting game or the other team can’t find the bucket.

4. Lipscomb (16-10, 11-6)
Next Week: 2/19 vs. East Tennessee State, 2/24 at Kennesaw State
Senior guard Josh Slater had one of the season‘s unique triple-doubles in a Thursday night win over USC Upstate, finishing with ten points, 12 assists and ten steals. It was the first triple-double in the Bisons’ Division-I era and the first time any A-Sun player notched 10 steals in a game against a Division-I foe since 1997. Lipscomb’s task is to build momentum for the conference tournament, when it might earn a third crack at Belmont in the semifinals. One gets the feeling that might be the only way the Bruins don’t win the A-Sun tourney.

5. Mercer: (12-15, 9-7)
Next Week: 2/18 at North Florida, 2/20 at Jacksonville, 2/24 vs. Belmont
Ball control has been the Bears‘ strength during their unexpected run into the league‘s middle of the back. In their last seven games, they are averaging just nine turnovers per game and have had four games with fewer than ten, including a six-turnover performance in Tuesday night‘s 57-55 win over Kennesaw State. It’s helped that senior guard Mark Hall, who’s not been known as a scorer in his Mercer career, has suddenly started draining three-pointers as though he were former Bear great James Florence. Hall drilled five in a Feb. 10 OT win over Stetson and added three against Kennesaw State.

6. North Florida: (10-17, 7-9)
Next Week: 2/18 vs. Mercer, 2/20 vs. Kennesaw State, 2/24 at Stetson
Guard Parker Smith is the nation‘s top scorer among players who haven‘t started a game, but he‘s been locked in a deep, dark forest lately. Since dropping 30 points on Belmont February 5, he’s not been able to ignite this team off the bench, going 2-for-13 in a Sunday loss at East Tennessee State. Coach Matthew Driscoll has been more concerned with Smith’s performance in other areas, feeling that the sophomore isn’t doing enough on the defensive end. As presently constructed, the Ospreys aren’t good enough to win many games unless all their key players are contributing.

7. Kennesaw State (8-18, 6-10)
Next week: 2/18 at Jacksonville, 2/20 at North Florida, 2/24 vs. Lipscomb
Welcome to the season, Owls. What took you so long? Finally, this team has decided to play hard on defense and share the ball on offense, much as folks expected they could in preseason. While it might not be enough to get them a decent seed in the A-Sun tourney, they could be a tough out for somebody in the first round. Sophomore Markeith Cummings has been arguably the league’s hottest player besides Smith, scoring 30 points in three of his last four games. Forward LaDaris Green has channeled his inner Kenneth Faried with five straight double-doubles.

8. Campbell (12-15, 6-11)
Next week: 2/19 at Florida Gulf Coast, 2/24 vs. East Tennessee State
Indulging in a farewell swipe at the A-Sun, Camels coach Robbie Laing said one reason his team is struggling is because they don‘t have a travel partner and therefore always catch fresh teams, such as when they lost 78-57 to Belmont February 12 by allowing the last 16 points. Another reason Campbell is struggling is its inability to consistently score the ball as it’s been held under 70 points in 12 of its 17 conference games. While the recent absence of guard Lorne Merthie (knee) hasn’t helped, the simple truth is this team hasn’t played very well since the middle of December.

9. Stetson: (7-21, 5-12)
Next week: 2/21 at Florida Gulf Coast, 2/24 vs. North Florida
Thursday night‘s 64-61 home loss to Campbell was a gut punch for the Hatters, which are in ninth place in the league and would miss the conference tournament if it started tomorrow. Officially a game behind the Camels, Stetson was swept in the season series, so it would lose any tiebreaker. Turnovers and poor foul shooting have hampered it in many of the close losses they’ve had lately. Those are things young teams traditionally struggle with and they have bitten the Hatters hard.

10. Florida Gulf Coast: (6-19, 3-12)
Next week: 2/19 vs. Campbell, 2/21 vs. Stetson
The Eagles‘ season is down to five games as they‘re ineligible for the conference tournament. All they can do is serve as spoiler for the likes of the Camels and Hatters, who visit Ft. Myers in the league’s riveting battle for eighth place and the last spot in the A-Sun tourney. One piece of good news for FGCU is that underclassmen such as Anthony Banks, Christophe Varidel and Chase Fieler have led the team in scoring in 14 of the last 15 games. The January departure of Reed Baker might have been the best thing to happen to this team because Varidel wouldn’t have gotten enough playing time to average 16.7 points per game in the last 13 games had Baker stuck around.

11. USC Upstate: (4-23, 3-14)
Next Week: 2/19 at Belmont
Coach Eddie Payne finally blew his stack after a listless loss to North Florida February 11, saying his team lacked leadership and didn‘t know how to win. If that remark was designed to light a fire under his young squad, it didn‘t work, as it promptly lost to Jacksonville and Lipscomb by an average of 14.5 points. The one ray of sunshine in Spartanburg has been the recent play of Ricardo Glenn, who had 16 points and nine rebounds in a 16-minute burst of excellence against Jacksonville. Glenn, Torrey Craig and Babatunde Olumuyiwa will comprise one of the league’s top frontcourts in 2012-13.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we‘ll take a look at an intriguing stat around the conference and decide fluke or trend. This week, we zero in on Kennesaw State sophomore LaDaris Green, who has recorded five consecutive double-doubles, including a 14-point, 13-rebound effort at Mercer Tuesday night. The verdict is trend. The 6’9 Green is active enough and is playing the most consistent basketball of a career which still has two-plus years left. As he matures and gets stronger, he should only improve.

A Look Ahead

Belmont has won the league and ETSU will likely finish second, but there‘s still much at stake in terms of momentum and positioning as A-Sun teams head down the homestretch.

  • Mercer could still catch Lipscomb for fourth place if it wins out, including a home game next week with the Bisons. As long as they don’t slip out of fifth, though, the Bears will likely host Lipscomb in the A-Sun quarterfinals March 3.
  • Campbell has a chance to seal a spot in the conference tournament despite its recent struggles. Its schedule (at Florida Gulf Coast, ETSU, USC Upstate) looks favorable and it has a tiebreaker on ninth place Stetson.
  • Kennesaw State has a brutal ending to its regular season (at Jacksonville, at North Florida, Lipscomb, Belmont). The Owls could play decently and lose all four, and if they do, it could open the door for Stetson to beat them out for the last spot.
  • Belmont tries to keep its momentum going for the A-Sun tourney as it hosts USC Upstate Saturday night before a regular season-ending road trip to Georgia, where it plays Mercer and Kennesaw State.
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Kenneth Faried Sets NCAA Rebounding Record

Posted by jstevrtc on February 19th, 2011

Morehead State’s Kenneth Faried is now the NCAA’s all-time rebounding leader.

Faried pulled down 12 rebounds at Indiana State on Saturday, but it was his seventh one of the night — the 1,571st of his career — that put him past the mark set by Wake Forest legend Tim Duncan from 1993-97 and moved the MSU big fella to the top of the all-time glass-cleaning list. He has 1,576 with two regular season games left and the OVC Tournament to follow.

As Dick Vitale Would Say, This Is the Ultimate Windex Man

Faried is averaging an amazing 17.5 PPG and 14.2 RPG this year. He also averaged healthy double-doubles in his junior (16.9 PPG/13.0 RPG) and sophomore (13.9 PPG/13.0 RPG) years. He “only” — heh heh — pulled down 8.0 PPG during his freshman season, while contributing 10.5 PPG. His 14.2 boards a contest isn’t the only stat in which he leads the nation — he’s also tops in average efficiency (24.1 rating) and rebound rate (29.5%). You can see him at work this Thursday at 9 PM ET on ESPNU when his Eagles travel to Ohio Valley Conference co-leaders Murray State. The Racers play Evansville later tonight, but as of this writing the teams have identical 12-4 OVC records. Morehead State has won 15 of their last 17, while Murray State has reeled off 16 wins out of their last 19 games after a somewhat rocky start.

We’re sure Faried would be the first to point out that, most importantly, his team won today against the Sycamores, 71-65. We heard reports that the ISU crowd even gave Faried the courtesy of a standing ovation when the rebounding record was announced during the game, a move for which we have the utmost respect.

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