Stephen F. Austin State University Lumberjacks (#14, South, Miami pod) vs. Syracuse (#3)
Fri., 3/20 at 12:15 PM
Vegas Line: SFASU, +12
General Profile Location: Nacogdoches, Texas Conference: Southland, Automatic bid Coach: Danny Kaspar , 158-103 08-09 Record: 24-7 (16-3) Last 12 Games: 10-2, won last eight Best Win: North Dakota State, 112-111 (3OT) on December 12th Worst Loss: Louisiana-Monroe 60-58 on November 25th Off. Efficiency Rating: 96.6, 242nd Def. Efficiency Rating: 88.9 13th
Nuts ‘n Bolts Star Player(s): Matt Kingsley, 16.2 ppg and 7.8 rpg, Josh Alexander, 14.5 ppg, and 5.4 rpg Unsung Hero: 5’3” Eric Bell starts at the point and averages 3.6 points and assists per game. Potential NBA Draft Pick(s): None Key Injuries: None Depth: 28.4%, 230th; percentage of minutes played by reserves Achilles Heel: The offense is awful for an NCAA Tournament team. Low shooting percentage (200th best) hurts this team because they don’t grab any offensive rebounds for second opportunities. Will Make a Deep Run if…: SFASU shoots the lights out and Syracuse’s legs are dead from playing seven overtimes in the Big East Tournament Will Make an Early Exit if…: The Syracuse zone exploits the fact this team can’t shoot and the Lumberjacks lose by 40.
NCAA History Last Year Invited: Never Streak: Never been dancing Best NCAA Finish: First Appearance
Other Six Degrees to Detroit: SFASU beat North Dakota State who beat Oakland who beat Wisconsin-Green Bay who beat Detroit. Distance to First Round Site: 1224 miles School’s Claim to Fame:Stephen F. Austin tried to win a Wikipedia War with Syracuse. School Wishes It Could Forget: Stephen F. Austin lost its Wikipedia War with Syracuse. Prediction: This team is one and done. The Lumberjacks didn’t beat anyone in the regular season to make you think they could beat Syracuse. Major RTC stories: None
Toppers Return to The Dance
As we predicted last time around, Western Kentucky will represent the Sun Belt Conference in the Big dance this year. This was no surprise to avid Belt followers. However, what was a surprise was the opponent they faced in the finals – South Alabama.
South Alabama came into the tournament as the sixth seed, and slid into the finals after winning their first two games by a combined total of five points. One of their opponents was Troy, who’s magical run came to a close by just three points. Not that they didn’t have their fair share of chances to get the win themselves. Trojan guard Michael Vogler missed the front end of a one-and-one and then two 3-point tries in the final 17 seconds as Troy tried to tie the game.
Ironically, South Alabama’s last leg into the final game came with little difficulty when they knocked off Arkansas Little-Rock, a team that also struggled to find its range, by ten points. The Trojans had no answer for the loss of Moore, their top scorer, and it showed, as they went 16-61 from the floor on the night. However, South Alabama would not be so fortunate against WKU in the finals.
Rick Henderson of The Owl’s Nest is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference.
Final Results Are In
A couple things were expected. And a lot was not. WKU sitting out the first round is no shocker. UALR atop the West was expected as well. But MTSU was expected to do a lot better. Additionally, who would have “thunk” that head coaches Mike Jarvis and John Brady would finish at the bottom of their respective divisions and as 12th and 13th seeds? Wow. Lastly, how does Troy, a team that actually was picked to finish in the basement, obtain a first round bye and sit all alone in second in the East? Weird wild stuff! And, of course, why we all love the sport of basketball. Anything can happen on any given night. And especially over the course of a season. Troy has a decent shot at making it to the finals given they can get past UALR. But WKU will prove a tall order. The Trojans lost both regular season games to the Toppers.
Inching closer to Tournament Time! All but two teams have just two games remaining on their SBC schedule which will conclude tonight and this weekend. Thankfully, the West has experienced some much needed separation except for the bottom of the pack who will be in a dog fight to avoid a first round road game. In the East, the Toppers, having won against Troy in last weeks game of the week, are now seriously poised to nab the number one overall seed and possibly the whole enchilada given the next story. Which is…
Story of the Night. 93 Games. 186 teams. Thank God college hoops is back, baby. We’re a little late, but this is why we care. We got to watch pieces of six games tonight, and while the games looked like Nov. 9, meaning sloppy, it was soooo refreshing to see and hear the sneakers squeaking on the hardwood again.
Things We Saw. Kansas is so loaded we can’t understand how they lose to anyone. Darnell Jackson (21/4/4 stls) off the bench, Sherron Collins (22/6 asts/4 stls), and so much more. UL-Monroe isn’t that bad either, but they were really never in the game (Kansas 107, UL-Monroe 78). In Florida, the Gators are (as expected) extremely young but talented – their freshmen scored 46 of their 75 pts and Nick Calathes looked great, leading the team with 21 pts. They were never threatened with an L by North Dakota St., but they could never really put them away either. That will likely come with experience (Florida 75, North Dakota St. 65). Staying in the SEC, Tennessee took a while to get going against Temple, and they didn’t shoot well from 3 (27%), but they still won comfortably. We still have trouble distinguishing between the 47 Smiths they have on the team (all of them are about 6’5 and wear headbands), but they combined for 38/9/6, while Lofton was otherwise limited (10 pts) (Tennessee 80, Temple 63). One question – will Temple ever be relevant again? The best game of the night that was televised was actually the Ohio-NMSU game. New Mexico St. played without stud freshman Herb Pope, but it was evened out because Ohio’s star forward Leon Williams spent most of the night on the bench in foul trouble anyway. The rest of the Ohio starters picked up for Williams, though (64/25/11), despite NMSU clearly having the more athletic team. Martin Iti (7’0, 240) has an NBA body, but why isn’t he more productive (8/9) (Ohio 80, New Mexico St. 72)?
Score of the Night. Stanford 111, the Tommy Amakers 56. None of the Stanford starters played more than 17 mins, and keep in mind they were w/o Brook Lopez in this game as well. The halftime score was 63-28. Good grief, man! Way to inspire confidence in your first game at Harvard, TA.
Upset Alert. UNC-Greensboro 83, Georgia Tech 74. Who said this yesterday – “upset alert if Ga Tech doesn’t come ready to play…” :-) It appears that mid-major all-american Kyle Hines absolutely shredded the Jackets’ front line (25/9/2 blks on 10-12 shooting). You never know what you’re going to get with Ga Tech, but UNCG is a team to watch as a potential at-large out of the SoCon next spring if they get a couple more of these. Belmont 86, Cincinnati 75. This really isn’t an upset, but Cincy was a 9-pt favorite at home. Wait… who said this yesterday also – “upset alert again – UC was horrid last year. Have they improved?” Now that we’re 2-0 this season on upset alerts, we’re quitting. Great BCS win for Belmont, who we perhaps foolishly did not pick to win the A-Sun again this year (gulp… we didn’t pick Gardner-Webb either). Belmont had 19 layups, 12 threes and 10 FTs, which amounted to 84 of their 86 points – now that’s efficiency. Wow. Other upsets:Tulane 77, Auburn 62 – maybe not the result, but the margin.
Line of the Night. There is no question about this one. Michael Beasley (Kansas St.) (34/24/4 assts/4 blks). 24 rebounds sets a new Big 12 conference record. Just sick numbers for a first game. Kansas St. 94, Sacramento St. 63.
Freshmen. Aside from Beasley at K-State, Kevin Love at UCLA also had an impressive debut (22/13) in a Bruin whomping (UCLA 69, Portland St. 48). The Duke trio of freshmen Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Taylor King combined for 51/14 in a complete and utter destruction of NC Central (Duke 121, NC Central 56). The Devils even pulled out some zone defense, they say.
In Memoriam. Wake Forest honored Skip Prosser by hanging a banner in their arena recognizing his contributions to the school and athletic program. The Deacons played hard and honored his legacy by winning easily (Wake Forest 85, Fairfield 60).
Nov. Bracketbuster. George Mason already helped their at-large profile with tonight’s win over Vermont, one of the better teams in the America East this year. GMU’s Will Thomas (yes, he’s still around) blew up for 16/17, overcoming the Patriots’ abysmal 1-17 from the three point line (George Mason 60, Vermont 53).
Joey Dorsey Award. We like him, but tonight’s award goes to Chris Lofton (Tennessee), for shooting 1-8 (0-5 from three) from the field and only scoring 10 pts. With a stroke like that, we expect nearly all of them to go in.
On Tap Today (all times EST). Another pretty big day with 63 games, although not much on tv because of college football. Here are some of the games to keep an eye for along the bottom line while you watch pigskin.
Yale (NL) v. Sacred Heart 1pm – presumptive favorites from the Ivy and NEC play.
Texas Tech (-19.5) v. UC Riverside (ESPN FC) 2pm – we have no idea why this is FC worthy.
Minnesota (NL) v. Army 3pm – Tubby’s debut will probably go a little better than Billy G’s last game.
USC (NL) v. Mercer 4pm – we cannot wait to see the OJ highlights from this one.
Bucknell (NL) v. Albany 7pm – a game that could affect seedings (#14 or #15) next March.
Oregon (-26) v. Pepperdine (ESPN FC) 7:30pm – how will the Ducks look w/o Aaron Brooks?
Vanderbilt (-12) v. Austin Peay 8pm – beating the dead horse here, but this is the kind of game we wish FC would have instead.
Marquette (NL) v. IUPUI (ESPN FC) 8:30pm – we’re not completely sold on MU – this could be an interesting game.
Pacific v. W. Michigan (-4.5) 9:30pm – if Pacific is back this year, they need to win this game.
So we figure we’ll be done with these conference primers by Christmas 2008 Thanksgiving, which is about the time most people start keeping an eye on college hoops anyway. In the meantime, we thought we’d take a moment to recap the seventeen single bid conferences we’ve already reviewed. Keep in mind, our definition of a single bid league is a conference that does not regularly compete for multiple NCAA bids (even if they occasionally get multiple bids).
Some brief Single Bid Conference superlatives while we’re at this point:
Best Team. Davidson (#9 Seed NCAA)– this team has a shot at the Sweet 16 this year
Possible Spoiler. Louisiana-Monroe (Sun Belt) – everyone loves WKU in the Sun Belt, but ULM has an excellent team returning
Low Major All-Americans.
Stephen Curry (Davidson) – POY
Bo McCalebb (New Orleans)
Kyle Hines (UNC-Greensboro)
Jason Thompson (Rider)
Alex Harris (UCSB)
Hon. Mention – Courtney Pigram (ETSU), Arizona Reid (High Point), Courtney Lee (W. Kentucky), Tim Pollitz (Miami (OH))
Conference We Wish Were on TV More Often. America East. We dunno why, other than we’ve enjoyed watching teams like Albany, Vermont and BU over the past few years. Seems like a fun conference.
Conference We Wish Would Re-Organize (or Implode).Sun Belt. Despite a long and proud history, there are simply too many teams (13) located in too many places (from Denver to Miami). This conference has lost its bearings.
Conference Champ You Can Count on to Cover the Spread in NCAA Tourney 08 – Big West. Although Ivy league champs tend to stay close, Las Vegas knows that, so we like the Big West instead, where teams not named Long Beach St. have lost by an average of only 7 pts during the 2000s.
Conference Champ You Can Count on to NOT Cover the Spread in NCAA Tourney 08 – Summit. In its last nine first round games, the Summit champ has lost by an average of 22 pts.
And here’s how our Consensus Conference Picks are shaping up (RTC choice in red):
Since last time, we added the CBS Sportsline picks as well as the conference media days selections for each league. We had three more leagues came on with a full consensus (Patriot – Holy Cross; Sun Belt – W. Kentucky; Southern – Davidson) to join the OVC (Austin Peay), while the Big Sky (Montana) was only one vote short. The Big West (UCSB) and MAC (Kent St.) were solidly in one team’s corner, while the Summit (IUPUI) and Ivy (Cornell) weren’t far behind. We’re still not buying that Ivy selection of Cornell, though.
WYN2K. The Sun Belt is a league that has seen better days in the eyes of the basketball world. In the 80s and early 90s, the conference was a top ten league that regularly sent multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament (10 times from 1980-95), peaking at four bids in 1986. Since 1995, however, the league has been exclusively a one-bid conference, as its corresponding seed average has dropped from a #10.9 (1985 to present), to a #12.6 (1995 to present), to a #13.8 seed in the last five years. In other words, the Sun Belt is trending downward (and league officials know it). What was once a proud mid-major league is now clearly a low-major (albeit near the top of that heap), despite its relatively robust 167-208 (.445) record against OOC opponents in the last three years. Some of this may be attributable to a loss of league identity, as the conference expanded away from its mid-South roots and has swelled to thirteen schools that span three time zones in locations that often have very little in common with each other (i.e., Boca Raton, FL, Bowling Green, KY, and Denver, CO).
Predicted Champion.Western Kentucky (#13 seed NCAA). Darrin Horn’s Hilltoppers have been a bit of a hard luck team over the past few seasons, averaging 20.5 wins over his four year tenure and winning one regular season championship, but having no NCAA appearances to show for it. Guards Courtney Lee, Tyrone Brazelton and TyRogers comprise a returning perimeter corps that is among the most experienced and talented in the league, and three other significant contributors return from a 22-11 (12-6) team. If WKU is to slip up, it will probably be because of its sometimes porous defense that has a tendency to give up easy baskets (allowing an eFG% of 52.6% – #272 nationally) and foul a lot (43.2 FTAs given up per game – #284 nationally). We believe this is the year that the Toppers get it done. Check the nasty follow dunk from C-Lee below.
Others Considered. Should WKU falter, the next best teams we see are Louisiana-Monroe and Florida Atlantic. Monroe returns all five starters from an 11-7 team that lost in overtime in the conference finals against North Texas last year. They were nearly unbeatable at home (14-0) and seemed to win all the close games (5-0 in games decided by <6 pts in conference) last year. Because of this, they were considered one of the “luckiest” teams in America last year (#10 via Pomeroy), earning 2.7 wins more than expected by their overall profile. Notwithstanding their luck, we’re just not comfortable picking a team that has nobody taller than 6’8 on their roster. Florida Atlantic is another team that returns substantial experience including the league’s best big man Carlos Monroe, a burly 6’8, 245 lb. beast who shot nearly 60% from the field and pulled down over a quarter (25.8%, #18 nationally) of his team’s defensive boards last year. The Owls also finished strong, winning six of their last seven games and pestering WKU in a tough quarterfinal matchup in the conference tourney before bowing out. New Orleans is also intriguing simply because the Privateers have a new coach in former Cal assistant and Bob Knight disciple Joe Pasternack, but they also have the league’s best player in Bo McCalebb, a Wooden Award candidate who averaged mind-numbing numbers last year (25 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.0 spg). Did we mention that he was the team’s leading rebounder as a 6’0 guard? There are three other starters returning from a 9-9 team that was #4 nationally in 3fg% (41.4%), #5 nationally in stl% (7.1%) and #11 nationally in to% (17.0%). The Privateers shoot well, take care of the ball, and have a fantastic player – if any team was going to make a huge improvement with a new coach, it would be this team. Quick note: last year’s regular season and tourney champs simply lost too much to be considered as a contender this year – South Alabama lost three starters and its head coach, John Pelphrey, while North Texas lost its top two scorers.
Games to Watch. The top of this league should be exciting to watch this year, as there are several excellent players (Courtney Lee, Bo McCalebb, Carlos Monroe) who could singlehandedly influence the conference race. With the unbalanced schedule in this league, New Orleans appears to be the most likely beneficiary (only three games against the other three, two at home).
RPI Booster Games. Given its location (spanning 2000+ miles from Denver to Miami), the Sun Belt takes on a full complement of SEC and Big 12 teams every year. Last year the league was 2-30 (.063) against BCS teams (WKU 70, Georgia 67; Ark-Little Rock 67, Minnesota 66), and there are a similar amount of games scheduled this year. Here are some highlights.
Louisiana-Monroe @ Kansas (11.09.07)
Florida Atlantic @ Boston College (11.12.07)
South Alabama @ Mississippi (11.13.07)
New Orleans @ NC State (11.18.07)
WKU @ Gonzaga (11.22.07)
Nebraska @ WKU (12.05.07)
Middle Tennessee St. @ Memphis (12.05.07)
Mississippi St. @ South Alabama (12.15.07)
WKU @ Southern Illinois (12.22.07)
Louisiana-Monroe @ Arkansas (12.29.07)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. We’re a long way removed from the Sun Belt’s glory years, so none this year.
Neat-o Stat. Joe Scott is returning to Colorado to take over as head coach at Denver, just a few clicks down the road from where he revitalized the Air Force program in the early 2000s. What should we make of this guy? Using the Princeton offense that he learned under Pete Carril in the 80s as a player and 90s as an assistant, he successfully built the Air Force Academy into a Mountain West champion and NCAA Tournament team in 2004. So how do we explain how he went back to Princeton in 2005 and orchestrated two (out of three) terrible seasons and an overall record of 18-24 in the Ivy League (2-12 in 2007) during his time there? He has yeoman’s work ahead of him, as Denver ranked in the bottom five teams nationally in defensive efficiency (#330) and four other defensive statistics, as well as in the bottom dozen two-point fg% (42.8%) teams in America. Work on layup drills, perhaps?
64/65-Team Era. The Sun Belt is 11-32 (.256) in the NCAA Tourney during this era, but due to the severe drop in league cachet over the last ten to fifteen years, those numbers are somewhat skewed for present consideration, especially when you consider that the league’s last NCAA victory was in 1995 (#8 WKU defeated #9 Michigan 82-76). Despite ten trips to the second round (most trips: WKU with 4), only one team has broken through to the Sweet 16, Ralph Willard’s #7 Western Kentucky squad in 1993. In fact, that Hilltopper team was an overtime loss away (Florida St. 81, WKU 78) from meeting Rick Pitino’s Kentucky team in the elite eight.
Final Thought. We’d love to be able to say that the Sun Belt contains solid mid-major material at the top, but recent history belies that position as only once in the last four years has a Sun Belt team so much as tested its first round NCAA opponent (2005: Louisville 68, Louisiana-Lafayette 62). The other three years the Sun Belt team got blitzed by an average of 16.7 pts, and we’re not sure we see a way for this league to turn things around. It’s uncertain if there’s been any talk to this effect, but perhaps going the WAC/Mountain West route and drafting a few more teams, only to split into two leagues, is the way to re-focus itself.