20 Questions: Who is This Year’s Wichita State?

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on November 4th, 2013

seasonpreview-11Before answering the question of who this year’s Wichita State might be, we should probably make sure we know who last year’s Wichita State was. Gregg Marshall’s eventual national semifinalists overachieved (relative to preseason expectations) their way to a #8 seed, but even then, the Shockers were largely ignored as a candidate to reach the Sweet Sixteen, let alone the Final Four. Well, four NCAA Tournament wins later – and a competitive Final Four loss to eventual champion Louisville – and the Shockers label of “solid mid-major” was due for a major upgrade. So, what team could be in line for a similarly eye-opening run in the 2014 Dance? Three teams stand out as especially viable candidates, but the preseason buzz surrounding Harvard and Boise State has them sporting a trendiness that wasn’t circulating in Wichita this time last year. The Saint Louis Billikens, however, enter the year a bit more under the radar. Their preseason aspirations may be slightly elevated from those of the Shockers’ 12 months ago, but after disappointing pundits as a sleeper pick in last season’s tourney, SLU could be bound for a quiet, productive season that leaves them poised for a March Madness run that nobody sees coming.

Dwayne Evans (#21) Quietly Averaged 14 Points And 7.7 Rebounds A Game Last Year; Could He Lead Saint Louis To Greater March Heights? (Getty)

Dwayne Evans (#21) Quietly Averaged 14 Points And 7.7 Rebounds A Game Last Year. Could He Lead Saint Louis To Greater March Heights? (Getty)

Like Wichita State last season, Saint Louis comes into this year not expected to match the success of last season’s wildly successful campaign. Despite that authoritative early dismissal (Oregon defeated the Billikens by 17 in the round of 32), SLU swept the A-10 regular season and tournament crowns en route to earning a #4 seed. These Billikens will be hard-pressed to match the 28 games won by that group, but the nucleus does return mostly intact. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The Other 26: Bracket-Busting, East and Midwest Edition

Posted by IRenko on March 20th, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

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.

Regional Threats

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?

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Bracket Prep: Saint Louis, Miami, Mississippi & Ohio State

Posted by BHayes on March 17th, 2013

bracketprep2(2)

The last four auto-bids were handed out on this most special of college basketball Sundays, and as we have for each of the 31 automatic qualifiers to play their way into the Dance, we take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets.

Saint Louis

Dwayne Evans, Jordair Jett And The Rest Of The Billikens Are Headed Back To The Big Dance

Dwayne Evans, Jordair Jett And The Rest Of The Billikens Are Headed Back To The Big Dance

  • Atlantic-10 Champion (27-6, 16-3)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #22/#17/#15
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +12.2
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #3-#5

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In a crazy year of Atlantic-10 basketball, one complete with new faces, wild finishes and a constantly changing standings page, no team stayed the course better than the Saint Louis Billikens. They overcame the tragedy of losing Rick Majerus in November while fighting through their own early-season on-court struggles, eventually righting the ship in a major way. They enter the NCAA Tournament with a sweep of the A-10 titles, and winners of 24 of their last 27 games. A top four seed is not only possible but expected – relatively uncharted territory for the Atlantic-10.
  2. While the notion may be a bit clichéd at this point, it’s impossible to look at this Saint Louis team and not think of Majerus. His fingerprints are all over these Billikens. It’s evident in the stingy defense (8th in the country in defensive efficiency), apparent in the patient, mistake-free offense (36th nationally in turnover %), and undoubtedly a factor in the gritty, tough identity that his former team has taken on. Former Majerus assistant  Jim Crews deserves a lot of credit (and some serious COY consideration) for keeping the ship upright and moving in the right direction, but at their core, this is still a Rick Majerus team.
  3. The Majerus effect, slow tempo, and balanced offense have obscured the individual Billikens from the national spotlight, but there is some talent on this roster. Kwamain Mitchell (10.0 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.4 SPG) is perhaps the most finest of that talent, and it was his return in late December that gave the Billikens a needed boost. Juniors Dwayne Evans (13.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG) and Mike McCall (10.0 PPG, 42% 3PT) have stepped forward this season as well. On this balanced, unselfish team, there is no member of the eight-man rotation that does not know their role and play it effectively. A year ago they showed well at the Big Dance, beating Memphis before giving #1 seeded Michigan State all they could handle in the third round. That Tournament experience will surely serve them well this time around, as they continue to dedicate this season to Majerus. That alone won’t carry them through this loaded field, but when you give a talented and focused team a real purpose, the sky can often become the limit. The Billikens may not be legitimate national title contenders, but anything short of that? Well within reach.

Miami

There's Been Plenty Of Reasons To Celebrate For Julian Gamble And The Canes This Season -- How About Adding An ACC Tournament Title To That List?

There’s Been Plenty Of Reasons To Celebrate For Julian Gamble And The Canes This Season — How About Adding An ACC Tournament Title To That List?

  • ACC Champion (27-6, 18-3)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #4/#14/#14
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +12.3
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1-#2

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #18 Saint Louis 66, George Washington 58

Posted by IRenko on March 2nd, 2013

rushedreactions

I. Renko is an RTC correspondent based in D.C. and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Saint Louis and George Washington. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three key takeaways:

  • Saint Louis is Tough In More Ways Than One – The Bilikens have strong guards and wings who force their way to the basket, they body up their opponent on defense, and they generally control their defensive glass. But more than that, they’re mentally tough. That should be obvious, given the season they’ve put together after losing Rick Majerus in December. But they’ve shown it on the court in their past two road games as well, both times trailing in the second-half before mounting a rally to take control, first against Butler and today at GW. After leading by eight early in the second half, they fell behind 48-45 with 7:12 to play. But they didn’t panic, instead reeling off 10 straight points to take a seven-point lead with 4:20 left, from which point they glided to victory. The Bilikens carry themselves with a quiet confidence that will serve them well in March.
  • The Bilikens Know How To Beat You From the Line – One reason that Saint Louis is so tough at the end of games is their ability to get to the free throw line. That was all the difference in this game, as they converted 21-of-24, including a perfect 8-of-8 during the crucial 10-0 run that decided the game. GW, meanwhile, managed to shoot just 8-of-15 from the charity stripe. As a result, although the Colonials shot a better field goal percentage in the second half, they were outscored by two points. The Bilikens’ tendency to pound the ball inside and draw contact gives them a particular advantage late in games when they can get into the bonus.
  • Kevin Larsen Could be a Contender – If Mike Lonergan is going to take GW back to the NCAA Tournament in the coming years, Larsen is going to be a big part of it. The freshman center from Copenhagen has a big body, good offensive skills, and an understanding of how to play within the team concept. He’s often struggled to put it all together on the court, but there is no doubt that he’s getting there. After setting a career-high at Richmond in his last game (16 points), he added 14 against Saint Louis and has now scored in double-digits in 7 of his last 10 games. Larsen does a nice job of establishing position in the post, has good footwork, and often clears himself for a good look. If he can improve his ability to finish, he could be a centerpiece of GW’s offense over the next three years.
Evans Did His Part with a 22/12 Game

Evans Did His Part with a 22/12 Game

Star(s) of the Game: Dwayne Evans and Kwamain Mitchell.  Saint Louis has a balanced offense that doesn’t rely too heavily on any single player. But when the chips are down, these two are the most likely to come through, and they did today. With their team struggling against GW’s 1-3-1 zone in the second half, the pair took over, Mitchell driving the ball to the basket and Evans fighting his way to the hoop and free throw line underneath. They finished with 40 points combined, 29 of which came in the second half.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: Saint Louis 65, #15 Butler 61.

Posted by WCarey on February 23rd, 2013

rushedreactions

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Friday night’s game between Saint Louis and Butler in Indianapolis. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. These Are Two Teams “High Majors” Should Treat With Caution In March. Both Butler and Saint Louis can really, really play. While each team is very different – Butler is more offensively-oriented and Saint Louis is a team that excels on the defensive end of the court — the common denominator that exists between the two teams is that they both are capable of beating anyone. Butler has shown it is capable of doing so for several years now, but this season’s wins over #1 Indiana and #3 Gonzaga have once again proven the Bulldogs can never be taken lightly. Of Saint Louis’ 21 wins, four have come against ranked opponents — home wins over #15 Butler, #16 New Mexico, and #24 VCU and Friday’s road victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse. With the marquee victories that each squad has already earned this year, it would be wise to believe that both teams could absolutely find a way to beat a well-regarded “high major” when the NCAA Tournament commences.
  2. The Success Of Saint Louis Has To Be One Of The Stories Of The Year in College Basketball. When Rick Majerus stepped away due to a heart issue in August, the team was placed in the hands of assistant coach Jim Crews on an interim basis. The Billikens struggled through their first six games with a record of 3-3, partly due to senior guard Kwamain Mitchell being sidelined with a foot injury. Majerus passed away on December 1 when the team had that 3-3 record and since his passing, the team has won 21 of 23 games. While it might be a tad overzealous to equate the two events, it has to be noted that the way the Billikens have played since the death of their legendary leader would have had him brimming with pride. At 10-2, Saint Louis is all alone in first place in the Atlantic 10 standings and with four winnable games left on its slate (home match-ups with Saint Joseph’s and La Salle and road contests at George Washington and Xavier), a conference championship is certainly in reach, and with the adversity and heartbreak the team has experienced away from the court, that makes Saint Louis one of the stories of the year in college basketball.
  3. Despite Losses In Two Of Its Last Four Games, Butler Fans Should Not Panic. With home losses to Charlotte and Saint Louis in the last nine days, some Butler fans might feel the need to panic a bit as the conference slate winds down. Those fans need to calm down, as there really is not anything substantially wrong with the Bulldogs. When Butler lost to Charlotte on February 13, the Bulldogs were without the services of 6’11″ senior center Andrew Smith, who was out with an abdominal injury. This was a big loss for the Bulldogs because Smith anchors the interior of the defense and is a solid scorer in the low post. With him sidelined, Charlotte was able to have its way with Butler’s interior defenders and rode that to a 71-67 victory. Friday’s loss to Saint Louis was a match-up of two very good teams where one played just a bit better than the other. It was the type of game that if were played 10 times, each team would have a good shot at winning five. The Bulldogs are currently sitting in a tie for second place in a very strong Atlantic 10 and with two weeks left in the season, the team still appears poised to be a legitimate contender in the conference tournament and a team that could turn heads in the NCAAs.
Mike McCall

Mike McCall Was Half of SLU’s Player of the Game Duo

Stars of the Game. Mike McCall Jr. and Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis. McCall Jr. led the Billikens in scoring with 18 points and was part of a suffocating defensive effort aimed at limiting Butler guards Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham. The effort was mostly successful as the Saint Louis defense forced Clarke to turn the ball over six times and held Dunham scoreless in the second half after he had tallied 14 points in the opening 20 minutes. Evans continued his steady play by finishing with 17 points as the team’s key post player. Another thing that was impressive about Evans’ game was that in what was such a physical contest, he only committed one foul in 32 minutes, thus never making his availability a concern.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The Other 26: This Is Not Mark Few’s Best Team… Yet

Posted by IRenko on February 16th, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

After a 17-point win at St. Mary’s on Thursday night pushed Gonzaga’s record to 24-2 and cleared its biggest hurdle to a regular season record tainted with just two losses, some are wondering whether this is the best team that Mark Few has put together in his 14 years at the helm. It’s a fair question, given the way they’re playing. But the best ever? Sure, not since Adam Morrison was dragged off the court after a heartbreaking loss to UCLA ended his college career, have the Zags had a player with the combination of star power, All-American credentials, and curious hairstyle that Kelly Olynyk has brought this year. And, true, moreso than the Morrison-led team of 2006, this squad is a well-balanced offensive machine, with a multitude of frontcourt and backcourt options. They proved that on Thursday, when Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, who have deferred most of the scoring load this year to Olynyk and Elias Harris, dropped a combined 38 points on St. Mary’s.

This Gonzaga Team is Good, But Not Mark Few’s Best … Yet (James Snook / USA TODAY Sports)

This Gonzaga Team is Good, But Not Mark Few’s Best … Yet (James Snook / USA TODAY Sports)

But Few’s best team ever? They have a ways to go before they can claim such an honor. Take, for example, the 2004 team, which also dropped just two contests heading into the NCAA Tournament.  That squad was led by All-American senior guard Blake Stepp, and like Olynyk, he had lots of help. Junior Ronny Turiaf, sophomore Morrison, and senior Cory Violette shared the scoring load, with all four players averaging in double-digits. They coasted through league play undefeated, never winning a game by less than double digits, and ended the season on a 20-game win streak en route to a 2 seed in the Tournament, Gonzaga’s best ever. Their two pre-Tournament losses were to St. Joe’s and Stanford, both of which went on to earn 1 seeds that year. By contrast, this year’s Gonzaga team lost to Illinois, a bubble team, at home by 11 points.

Of course, this year’s squad could prove itself a superior to the 2004 team — or any team that Few has coached — if it can get past the Sweet Sixteen. Since Gonzaga burst onto the college hoops scene 14 years ago with a Cinderella run to the Elite Eight, they’ve yet to get reach the brink of a Final Four, much less a Final Four itself. The ballyhooed ’04 squad was upset by 10th-seeded Nevada in the second round, the ’05 team squandered a 3 seed with a second round loss to Texas Tech, and the ’06 Zags memorably collapsed against UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen (a game to which one cannot refer without remarking that it was perhaps the finest moment of Gus Johnson’s illustrious career). This Gonzaga team stacks up well with those predecessors, but unless it breaks through to the second game of the second weekend, it won’t prove to be their clear superior.

What’s undisputed, however, is that the Zags have been dominant enough to remain at the top of this year’s Top 10.  On to that, our Honor Roll, and this week’s games to watch  . . .

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Saint Louis Provides Blueprint For Rattling Brad Stevens and Company

Posted by dnspewak on February 1st, 2013

Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this from Chaifetz Arena following Saint Louis’ 75-58 victory over Butler.

The world’s leading scientists have two theories on Butler coach Brad Stevens. The first is simple. He is a robot. The second is a bit more complicated — that Stevens is technically a human being, but he intentionally bottles up his emotions on the sidelines and plays up his poker face to keep his basketball team under control in all situations. Not even Einstein’s quite sure how the 36-year-old coaching prodigy’s brain works, but every hypothesis concludes with the same result. Brad Stevens is a mastermind. He is a genius with an unshakeable demeanor, a fierce general who leads with his actions not his words. He never screams, never yells, never loses his cool, never argues with the officials, never lashes out at reporters and does not even offer a fist-pump when his team wins on the most improbable of buzzer-beaters. Nothing rattles Brad Stevens.

Except for the Saint Louis defense. Oh, those Billikens defenders could send General Patton running for the hills. As he watched his team turn the ball over time after time after time after time during a humbling 75-58 loss at Chaifetz Arena on Thursday night, Stevens showed his human side on more than one occasion. When Khyle Marshall threw the ball away under his own basket in the first half and gave Saint Louis two free points – one of 16 turnovers before the break – Stevens called a timeout and lit into his junior forward. Freshman Devontae Morgan was the next victim of verbal abuse after some sort of indiscretion on the defensive end. Stevens chased around official Ted Valentine at times, and in the postgame press conference, he fully admitted his ninth ranked team looked like a disaster for 40 minutes. “It was an absolute joy to watch one team play,” Stevens said. “Problem was, it wasn’t the team I was coaching.” It wasn’t as though Stevens put on a show with his antics on Thursday night. Compared to the rest of the hooligans roaming the sidelines in Division I basketball, he looked like Mother Theresa. Still, Stevens showed noticeable frustration as his team suffered through a 26-4 Billiken run in the first half. The Bulldogs had difficulty getting the ball up the court and running even a single set in the halfcourt.

SLU Players Got to Celebrate Too

SLU Players Got to Celebrate Too During the Rush The Court

It was oddly reminiscent of another vintage performance by Saint Louis back in December, when the Billikens held New Mexico to fewer points (13) in the first half than turnovers (16). They punish teams with picture-perfect help defense, and they have quick forwards who may not block a ton of shots but certainly disrupt opponents with their foot speed. Wing Dwayne Evans’ hands are all over the place. Cory Remuken is the shot-blocker and hustle player in the frontcourt. Jordair Jett is like the Tasmanian devil in the backcourt. They are fast, tough, smart and almost impossible to score against when they are at their best, but Saint Louis stepped it up a notch against the Atlantic 10 newcomers. “We’re just getting stop after stop, just converting on offense, but it started on the defensive end,” Jett said. “We’re just thinking, ‘Step on it. Make the lead bigger.’”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

CIO… the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2013

CIO header

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic-10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

First Week: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

  • The Good: Charlotte is one of three teams still undefeated in conference play. Neither win was against a conference powerhouse, but both were good signs. Beating La Salle at the Holton suggests they will do well at home, while taking their road game versus Rhode Island was a sign that they should be able to win games there as well.
  • The Bad. Temple’s loss to Xavier will not preclude the Owls from drawing an NCAA bid, but it makes the conference-wide bid picture, expected in the preseason season to be five, possibly very murky. The preseason NCAA short list included Saint Joseph’s, Xavier, Butler, VCU, Temple and Saint Louis, but poorer than expected non-conference results for Saint Joseph’s and Xavier seem to have pared that list. Xavier’s win over conference rival Temple may boost morale among the Musketeers’ faithful, but it undercuts the prospects for Temple (who has a very poor outing versus Duke on it’s resume), one of the stronger prospects on conference’s shrinking list.
  • The Ugly: Saint Bonaventure was not expected to perform at the same levels as the Andrew Nicholson-led teams, but the double-figure road loss to rebuilding George Washington lowers the ceiling on the Bonnies’ prospects for this season. That was a game they would have won last year (and the year before). This is a larger-than-expected step back for the program.

Impact Players

CBS Sports named two A-10 players to their mid-season Top 50 Impact players. Butler’s Rotnei Clarke, a senior guard who transferred in from Arkansas and sat last season, was ranked #42 with the comment “Best shooter in the country?” Treveon Graham, Virginia Commonwealth’s sophomore guard, was ranked #45. Recognized as a integral part of VCU’s Havoc defense, Jeff Goodman went on to comment “Makes plays at both ends of the floor.” The list, a collaboration by CBS Sports’ four basketball beat writers — Jeff Goodman, Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Jeff Borzello — focused on the 50 players who they felt had the greatest impact on the first two months of the college basketball season.

Rotnei Clarke May Be The A-10 POY If The Season Ended Today, But Will Miss Time With An Injury. (AP)

Rotnei Clarke May Be The A-10 POY If The Season Ended Today, But Will Miss Time With An Injury. (AP)

Power Rankings

Conference play opened last week with every team playing twice before the end of the first weekend. While the top – and bottom — of the power rankings remains largely unchanged from the end of December, there is some shuffling within the middle eight.

  1. Butler (14-2, 2-0) – A 2-0 start to conference play has extended the Bulldogs’ winning streak to 11. The run is jeopardized by guard Rotnei Clarke’s neck injury, sustained when the senior was fouled as he completed a layup at the end of a breakout play in Butler’s 79-73 win over Dayton. A day-after MRI showed no spinal fractures (or other damage), but Clarke will be held out of the Bulldogs’ next two games (Richmond on Wednesday and Gonzaga on Saturday), pending a medical review. The Butler team doctor took issue with NBC Sports Network which had a crew covering the Dayton game. The crew overzealously opened a nearby microphone and broadcast the injured player’s conversation with attending medical staff, an act Dr. Thomas Fischer contended that was intrusive and unethical. Dr. Fischer will determine when Clarke can return to play. Richmond, without junior Derrick Williams, will be hard pressed to match the Bulldogs’ front court contingent, but Gonzaga, ranked #8 by the AP, could prove to be a very difficult opponent. Freshman Kellen Dunham, sophomore Alex Barlow and senior Chase Stigall will have to take up Clarke’s scoring contribution for at least the next week. Given Clarke’s contribution is 16.5 per game, that will be a task bigger than the collection can probably handle. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Night Line: In Wake of Majerus Passing On, His Billikens Push On

Posted by BHayes on January 11th, 2013

nightline2

Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

No team endured a more difficult first month of the season than the Saint Louis Billikens. November was a struggle on the court, as they listlessly stumbled to a 3-3 beginning. Not the opening that the preseason Atlantic 10 favorites had hoped for, but all that mattered little on December 2 when news came that former coach Rick Majerus had passed away. The controversial Majerus’ legacy is still being sorted out, but what cannot be denied is the SLU basketball revival he oversaw. More importantly, as he had done at each of his previous coaching stops, the charismatic Majerus profoundly impacted many of his players’ lives along the way. His passing left this Saint Louis basketball season at a crossroads; a disappointing year could easily head into complete freefall, or a core that Majerus brought to SLU could use their old coach’s passing as inspiration for a turnaround. Nine wins and zero losses later, it appears quite clear which direction the Billikens have chosen.

Saint Louis Is Happy To Have Kwamain Mitchell Back

Saint Louis Is Happy To Have Kwamain Mitchell Back

Majerus’ death will be a motivator for St. Louis right up until the moment their season ends, but there are practical reasons for the turnaround as well. For starters, none of the three early season losses look especially bad anymore, now that Santa Clara has surprisingly continued its winning ways (12-5 on the year) with the Broncos even giving Duke a scare at Cameron Indoor Stadium at the end of 2012. The December schedule also relented somewhat for the Billikens, as their next six games came in the friendly confines of Chaifetz Arena, and only one pitted St. Louis against a top-200 team (Valparaiso). Six straight wins had to help their confidence before the Billikens’ next real test, and SLU responded against a solid New Mexico team, delivering a resounding 60-46 New Years’ Eve victory. Also making things easier against the Lobos was the return of senior guard Kwamain Mitchell, who had made his season debut just three days earlier. Mitchell may not have been his sharpest self against New Mexico (or even tonight against UMass), but SLU head man Jim Crews has to feel better with his star player back on the floor.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

CIO…the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2013

CIO header

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic-10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Looking Back

Another Saturday, Another Scalp: Reeling from an inexplicable 10-point loss to Canisius (72-62) on December 19, Temple bounced back with a stunning 83-79 upset of #3 Syracuse, all the more surprising given that it happened in the confines of Syracuse’s “second home”, Madison Square Garden, on December 22. The Orange, notorious for not leaving the state of New York before the start of conference play, were unable to contain Khalif Wyatt and sophomore center Anthony Lee as both scored career-high points. Wyatt, a slasher who can play either guard spot in addition to the small forward was a perfect 15-of-15 from the line on the way to scoring 33 points. Lee was manhandled by Duke’s Mason Plumlee two Saturdays before, schooled fellow Philadelphian Rakeem Christmas and his teammate James Southerland to grab nine rebounds to go with his career-high 21 points. Butler traveled to Nashville the next Saturday and housed the Commodores of Vanderbilt by 19 points, 68-49. The Bulldogs’ backcourt paced the team with 40 points (Rotnei Clarke – 22, Kellen Dunham – 12, Alex Barlow – six) while Khyle Marshall missed a double-double by a single point (nine points and 11 rebounds).

Versus Other Conferences

With nearly 98% of the non-conference schedule on the books (as of January 1), the Atlantic 10 has compiled an outstanding 64.3% winning percentage (126-70). Bettering their 2011-12 winning percentage of 62.6% (107-64), the conference posted a number of superb wins over power conference teams in the process.

Table01130102

The mark is not without a few blemishes, especially with respect to the seven power conferences where the A-10’s conference-wide record declined over their mark last season. Especially disappointing was the conference mark versus the ACC (3-10, 0.231) and Big East (6-11, 0.353). While they continue to dominate against those non-power conferences with whom they share a similar profile (the CAA, Mountain West, Missouri Valley, West Coast Conference, and Western Athletic Conference), the overall record masks losing records versus the Missouri Valley Conference (3-4, 0.429) and the West Coast Conference (1-3, 0.250).

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

The teams largely wrap up non-conference play over the mid-winter break, with only a few standings-changing games on the last and this week.  Games/records are through January 2.

  1. Butler (9-2, #18 AP) – The defense of 2011-12 is starting to round into form for the Bulldogs. Coach Brad Stevens’ squad has allowed opponents on average 0.93 points per possession in the six (Division I) games since their loss to Illinois on November 21. After five starts, freshman Kellen Dunham returned to his sixth man role and appears to be thriving. If Player of the Year polling commenced today, transfer Rotnei Clarke would garner more than a few votes outside of Indianapolis, but as much as the newcomers (Clarke and Dunham) have sparked the Bulldogs, the contributions of the front court, Roosevelt Jones, Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith are key. Though not the focal point of the offense, Smith and Marshall are a devastatingly efficient combination, contributing over 1.1 points per possession on offense while hauling in over 12% of the offensive rebounds apiece when they are on the court. Butler will host Penn and New Orleans before opening conference play on the road against Saint Joseph’s (see below) on January 9. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

The Other 26: Week One

Posted by IRenko on December 1st, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Greetings, readers, and welcome back for another year of The Other 26, RTC’s weekly foray into the mid-major world, now securely ensconced on a microsite that shares its name. College hoops seemed to start earlier this year than it ever has, producing a November that was packed with much more action than the few preseason tournaments to which old geezers like me are accustomed. That means that there is quite a bit of ground to cover, and precious little time to waste. Let’s get right to it after the jump, with our first installment of the TO26 Top 10, a look back at which teams caught our eye with strong (and not so strong) starts, and a look forward to this week’s most compelling TO26 match-ups.

Looking Back:  Strong Starts

  • The Rest of the Mountain West – Coming into the season, UNLV and San Diego State received well-deserved hype and top 20 rankings.  But it’s clear that they’re going to have quite a bit of competition in conference play. New Mexico has barely shown the effects of losing their frontcourt tandem Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman. They have notched several solid wins en route to a 7-0 record, defeating UConn, George Mason, Davidson, and Mercer — all teams with realistic NCAA Tournament hopes. Fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years, and with a cast of strong returnees and transfers, Colorado State entered the season with reasonably high expectations. But their ability to adjust to new coach Larry Eustachy remained an open question. Well, question answered. The Rams are undefeated at 5-0, posting wins over strong mid-major teams Montana and Denver and pounding the Washington Huskies by 18 points on the road. But, wait! The MW’s depth does not end there. Leon Rice’s Boise State squad, which plays just one senior, is off to a 5-1 start and is coming off of a 13-point win over Creighton on the road. Meanwhile, Wyoming and Air Force are a combined 13-1 on the season.  Throw in competitive newcomers Nevada and Fresno State, and UNLV and San Diego State may not have an easy conference game all year.

Elias Harris Leads a Potent Gonzaga Frontcourt (US Presswire)

  • Gonzaga – Gonzaga came into the season with a Top 25 ranking, so they’ve not exactly snuck up on anyone. But they’ve nonetheless impressed, collecting wins over West Virginia, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Davidson by an average of more than 20 points. Throw in three more lopsided victories, and the Zags are sitting pretty at 7-0 and little sweat to show for it. Kelly Olynyk has emerged from his redshirt year as a genuine frontcourt force. Along with Elias Harris and Sam Dower, he gives the Bulldogs three skilled, athletic bigs. Throw in freshman post anchor Przemek Karnowski, and the Zags have four big men averaging nine or more points. While this frontcourt foursome has managed to outshine the heralded backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell on the offensive end, what’s been most impressive about Gonzaga’s start is its defense. Mark Few’s teams have steadily improved at that end of the floor over the past few years, and it could be the key that finally unlocks their door to the Final Four. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

CIO… the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 28th, 2012

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic-10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Looking Back

  • The (Early Season Invitational) Returns Are In – Thirteen of the conference’s 16 teams are participating in early season invitational tournaments this season. While several tournaments continue play through this week, 11 of the higher-profile tournaments finished play over the Thanksgiving Weekend. Conference teams (see below) took a first-place, three second-places, two fourth-places and two fifth-places. Versus the field in those nine tournaments the conference posted an 18-17 (0.514) record, below their 60% winning percentage overall. Charlotte (Great Alaska Shootout), Butler (Maui Invitational), Saint Joseph’s (Coaches vs. Cancer) and Saint Louis (CBE Classic) reached their respective tournament championship games. Charlotte (see story below) swept the field in Anchorage, Alaska, to take first place and preserve their undefeated record.
  • Pride of the A-10 – Entering their last season of conference play, the Charlotte 49ers’ men’s basketball team seems at last to have caught fire, completing the first fifth of its 2012-13 schedule with a perfect 6-0 record, taking the Great Alaska Shootout title Saturday night with a win 67-59 over Northeastern of the CAA. Since moving over from C-USA, the 49ers have dominated A-10 sports, as 11 of Charlotte’s 16 sports programs have garnered a total of 30 titles — either regular season championships or conference tournament titles – in the school’s eight-year run. The move to the A-10, basketball-driven for the most part, was resisted by more than a few fans (and former men’s basketball coach Bobby Lutz), due largely to the conference’s more northern and eastern focus. That the men’s hoops program, a source of pride for the school, could only muster a mediocre 48-64 (0.429) in conference play has been a huge disappointment, taken by some as a confirmation that the move from the southern and western-centric C-USA was ill-considered. Charlotte’s 6-0 start matches the 1975-76 club’s 6-0 opening of their 24-6 campaign.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

Phil Martelli Sits Atop the Power Rankings at This Early Point of the Season

  1. Saint Joseph’s (3-1) – The Hawks easily handled a Harvard squad that earned an NCAA bid last March 75-66, before breaking for the Thanksgiving Weekend. Junior forward Ronald Roberts was named the Player of the Week for the A-10 Conference for his work at the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament over the November 17 weekend. The six man nucleus — Carl Jones, Langston Galloway, Chris Wilson, Ron Roberts, Halil Kanacevic and C. J. Aiken – has done a tremendous job sharing the touches and scoring so far. The squad goes back into action Wednesday when they host American. The Creighton game Saturday should be a featured game next weekend.
  2. Temple (3-0)Scootie Randall continued his comeback by playing 38 minutes as the Owls downed Delaware Saturday 80-75. Randall and backcourt mate Khalif Wyatt chipped in 18 points apiece (45% of the Owl’s total point production), notching an efficient 51% eFG%. Better yet, the two combined for 10 assists to five turnovers, as they helped each other and their front court teammates. Fans who held their breath last season as then-freshman center Anthony Lee stepped in for then injured senior Michael Eric are seeing the benefits now. The sophomore has become a rebounding workhorse, grabbing an astonishing one in three of the opponent misses while he is on the court. Fifth year senior Jake O’Brien has garnered impressive numbers on the Owls’ offensive boards. The next two games, versus Buffalo (Wednesday) and Wagner (Saturday) should bump the win total to five. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story