The Other 26: Cowboy-ing Up

Posted by IRenko on January 5th, 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.

College basketball has just four undefeated teams left. You can likely recite the identity of the first three:  Duke, Michigan, and Arizona, who occupy the top three spots in the AP rankings. But you may be surprised to learn that the fourth team is the Wyoming Cowboys. Larry Shyatt’s squad sits at 13-0 after a successful non-conference season that featured solid wins over Colorado, Illinois State, and Denver.

Leonard Washington Has Led Wyoming to a Surprising Undefeated Start (Troy Babbitt / US PRESSWIRE)

Leonard Washington Has Led Wyoming to a Surprising Undefeated Start (Troy Babbitt / US PRESSWIRE)

Last year, the Cowboys finished sixth in the MW. Then in the offseason, they graduated three of their five starters. So how have they managed to reel off 13 straight victories to start the year? Wyoming is very strong defensively, but they were just as good, if not better, last year. The biggest difference is a major improvement on offense, as their adjusted efficiency has gone from 0.99 points to 1.08 points per possession. That may not sound like a big difference, but when you realize that a single game is composed of dozens of possessions, it adds up to a substantially better offensive performance. This increased efficiency has been driven by the Cowboys’ ability to get to the free throw line and to convert on two-point opportunities. Senior forward Leonard Washington deserves the credit for leading the team in both respects. The 6’7″ tweener is shooting 63.7 percent on two-point field goals and draws 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes — one of the higher rates in the country.

The second significant factor in the Cowboys’ improvement is the offseason development of senior Derrious Gilmore and sophomore Larry Nance, Jr. (yes, the former NBA player’s son). Gilmore has rewarded Larry Shyatt’s decision to hand him the starting point guard spot by improving his per game averages from 3.1 points and 1.1 assists per contest to 11.8 points and 3.2 assists per game. He averages more than 32 minutes per game, second most to Washington. Nance, meanwhile, has gone from averaging 4.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest to 11.2 and 6.8, respectively.  He shoots over 60 percent on two-point attempts and 84.2 percent from the free throw line. Add in the contributions of returning starter and senior guard Luke Martinez (14.5 points, 42.2% 3FG) , and the Cowboys have a feature a surprising amount firepower.

Despite their undefeated mark, it remains an open question as to how good the Cowboys really are. Last year, they got off to 14-2 start during non-conference play but crumpled to a 6-8 record in the Mountain West. This year’s record is even more impressive to be sure and, as noted above, features some solid if unspectacular wins. But the strength of schedule is about to kick into a higher gear, as they enter conference play against a very deep and talented Mountain West. If they can maintain their offensive improvement through the rest of the year and continue to get contributions from a range of players, they may be Dancing for the first time since 2002 and just the second time in 25 years.

Let’s move on to this week’s Top 10, the performances that caught our eye this past week, and the games to watch in the week ahead.

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The Other 26: Week 15

Posted by KDoyle on February 26th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

And down the stretch they come! Just like a commentator of a competitive horse race fervently belches when the horses make the final turn, college basketball commentators, analysts, and enthusiasts alike all speak of the game with greater eagerness and zeal at this time of the year. Judgment Week—still am not sure what ESPN is trying to do with this—has passed us, Championship Week is nearly upon us, and we all know what comes after that: the Madness!

While the majority of Other 26 teams around the country still have one or two remaining games left in the regular season, there are a handful of teams out there who have completed the second part of their season. Many coaches, especially those coaching in perennial single bid leagues, break down their year into three seasons: 1) the non-conference, 2) conference play, 3) the postseason. The opportunity is presented for many teams that have struggled during much of the season to get hot at the right time and advance onto the greatest postseason tournament in all of sports.

At the beginning of conference play, I wrote in a previous article the concept of “three games in March” which is often the mentality of teams from smaller conferences who have to win three games, or four in some cases, to advance to the Dance—it is their only way in. Well, here is that opportunity.

The conference tournaments will officially begin in the middle of next week with a few of the smaller conferences going at it. If one really wants to get technical though, the argument can be made that the Ivy League has a season-long conference tournament that commences at the beginning of league play.

The Other 26 Rankings

Tidbits from the Rankings

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The Other 26: Week 9

Posted by KDoyle on January 14th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

The non-conference is often times a good barometer for determining how strong a team will be and how they will perform within their respective conferences during league play. There are times, of course, when a team will challenge themselves by scheduling many BCS opponents and tough mid-majors, and compile a poor OOC record. Despite the lackluster record, they still may be a quality team. In some instances, however, it simply takes teams longer to gel and come together—conference play is when they finally peak. Likewise, there are always a handful of squads that will play nothing but cupcakes with extra frosting on the top, and run up many wins throughout the first half of the year, only to flounder during conference play. After witnessing teams play several games against conference opponents, let’s take a look at who may be exceeding expectations based on a struggling OOC record, and who has fallen flat on their faces after soaring through the OOC:

Surprising

  • Binghamton (6-10, 3-0)—Although they have beaten three of the weaker teams in the America East, the Bearcats are out to a nice 3-0 start nevertheless and have one of the best pure scorers in the league in Greer Wright. If Binghamton can knock off Vermont and Maine—two of the top teams—then they will be taken as a serious threa
  • Hofstra (11-5, 5-0)—Any team with Charles Jenkins has a fighter’s chance. Jenkins has the Pride as the last unbeaten team in the CAA, but a crucial game looms with ODU this weekend.
  • Wagner (8-8, 4-1)—Don’t bet against the Hurley family. Dan and Bobby Hurley are both in their first year with the program, and have already brought in some great recruits and wins to go along with it.
  • Holy Cross (3-13, 2-0)—Gone are the days where the Crusaders would breeze through the Patriot League en route to the NCAA Tournament. Now, Milan Brown has the daunting task of building Holy Cross back into the mid-major power they once were. After a disastrous non-conference, HC has won their first two league games.

Falling

  • Cleveland State (15-3, 4-2)—The Vikings look to be a notch below the upper tier teams of the league. After winning their first 12 games, Cleveland State had a rough weekend this past losing to Butler and Valpo.
  • Loyola Chicago (10-8, 1-6)—Similar to Cleveland State, Loyola Chicago looked like they could be a force in the Horizon League, but have lost all their games to the top five teams in the Horizon. They began the year 7-0, and their first loss was only by two points to Butler
  • Northern Iowa (12-6, 3-3)—After defeating New Mexico to win the Las Vegas Classic, UNI looked like they would challenge Wichita State and Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. They are just 3-3 in their last six games, with the most disappointing loss coming in a lackluster effort against Indiana State where they lost 70-45
  • San Jose State (9-7, 1-4)—Adrian Oliver, a transfer from Washington, may be the best player in the WAC, but his Spartans have not been able to follow suit. San Jose State went 8-3 in the non-conference, but have gone onto lose four of their last five games.

Granted, conference play is still very young, and no team has even gone through the first go-around of games against their counterparts, so there still is ample time for many things to happen. With that being said, the preceding 10 teams certainly did stick out when analyzing their play in the non-conference and comparing it to their performance in their league.

The Other 26 Rankings

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The Week That Was: Jan. 4-Jan. 10

Posted by jstevrtc on January 11th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

It wasn’t the best of weeks for TWTW. Notre Dame and Kentucky failed to live up to TWTW’s lofty praise heaped upon them. Notre Dame’s defense allowed Marquette to shoot 53.1% from the field and 70.6% from three in a 22-point loss, and the Wildcats lost their SEC opener after TWTW proclaimed them a sure-thing to come close to running the table in conference.

What will TWTW say this week that in seven-days will seem ridiculous? Let’s find out…

What We Learned

Walker Is Still Your Leader In the POY Race. (P. Raycraft/Hartford Courant)

Connecticut probably wasn’t quite in panic mode yet, but no team scored a bigger win than the Huskies with their road win at Texas on Saturday. After a 12-0 start to the regular season, the Huskies stumbled to a 1-2 start in the Big East. UConn barely beat USF at home on Dec. 32, and that game was sandwiched between road losses at Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. Considering how young the Huskies are (they play six freshmen) and their dependence on Kemba Walker, the slump definitely cast doubts on the Huskies’ bona fides as a national contender. UConn seems to have its mojo back now, as other players proved they can step up in big games. The Huskies received a tremendous effort from Alex Oriakhi (11 points, 21 rebounds), while Roscoe Smith and Shabazz Napier contributed 13 and 15 points, respectively. UConn even survived one of the most mind-boggling shots in recent history: Smith’s full-court heave with more than 10 seconds left in regulation. If you can win in spite of a play like that, you have to think you’re destined for big things this season.

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The Other 26: Week Two

Posted by jstevrtc on November 27th, 2010

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.  For an introduction to this series, please click here.

Introduction

We are getting into the thick of the things as teams are now well into their non-conference slate. While many small-conference schools take their lumps at the hands of larger-conference opponents as often happens at this time of year, other are emerging as legitimate contenders within the world of the “Other 26.” At this point in most seasons the Maui Invitational controls much of the discussion within college basketball circles, and this year has been no different. The tournament encompasses some of the nation’s best teams, and for about a week the focal point of college basketball is the Lahaina Civic Center. Suited more for an AAU championship game than a premiere college basketball venue, the Civic Center witnessed one of the most dominating performances in the history of the Invitational. Averaging 30 points, missing only two of 28 free throws, and guiding the young Huskies to the title is the mark of a champion, and Kemba Walker did all of those. Walker’s first heroics of the Invitational came against Wichita State, who so nearly thwarted Connecticut’s chances at winning the Invitational on the first day. In the process, however, the Shockers garnered my full admiration in how they competed with some of the top teams in America. In the end, Kemba Walker and Connecticut prevailed, but Wichita State was heard and will continue to make noise throughout the year.

What team impressed the most?

Following a tough season-opening loss to Georgetown by three points, Old Dominion has run off four straight victories. Their wins were hardly against cupcake opponents either as two came against Clemson and Xavier (it should be known that both the Tigers and Musketeers have both fallen only to Old Dominion). It is a grave task for any opponent to combat the Monarchs’ attack as no one ODU player is far and away the most significant contributor. Frank Hassell is the team’s leader from a statistical perspective as he averages nearly a double-double and is an extremely efficient offensive player, shooting better than 60% from the field. Blaine Taylor, ODU’s coach, is the mastermind behind this balanced attack. Check out these numbers: six players are averaging between 5.5 and 8.8 shots a game, and seven players average between 4.2 and 12.6 points a game. While not a flashy team by any means, Old Dominion plays a true team game — a truce recipe for success come March.

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by jstevrtc on December 18th, 2009

checkinginon

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings:

  1. Green Bay 2-0 (9-3)
  2. Wright State 1-0 (6-4)
  3. Detroit 2-0 (6-4)
  4. Butler 1-0 (7-3)
  5. Loyola-Chicago 1-1 (7-2)
  6. Milwaukee 1-1 (7-4)
  7. Valparaiso 0-1 (4-6)
  8. Youngstown State 0-2 (4-5)
  9. Cleveland State 0-2 (4-7)
  10. UIC 0-2 (2-6)

Top Stories:

  • Big Stars Missing Big Time: Two of the top teams in the Horizon League, Green Bay and Detroit, were hampered by the loss of star players.  Rahmon Fletcher hasn’t played for the Phoenix since injuring himself against Wisconsin on December 9 and Eli Holman missed three games for the Titans between November 28 and December 13.
  • A Different Point of View: Basketball State has a different way of seeing the Horizon League.  It thinks Butler is #1, but has surprising Loyola at #4 and 0-2 Youngstown State at #5.  Both are in front of Detroit, which is 2-0 in the league.
  • Rise of Chicago: The two Chicago programs in the Horizon League, UIC and Loyola, have been down for a while now, but the Ramblers are off to a 7-2 start.  A win at Bradley really cemented their status as a darkhorse in the conference. UIC might be struggling, but the Flames rose up to defeat Pac-10 foe Oregon State on Wednesday at home.
  • Very busy Saturday: Saturday, December 19 is one of the busiest days of the season for the Horizon League as nine of the 10 teams will be in action.  The only team not playing is Loyola (Ill).  Big games include Xavier at Butler, West Virginia at Cleveland State, and Youngstown State at Green Bay in a conference tilt.
  • More Places to See the Horizon: The Horizon League is one of the best mid-major conferences out there in getting its games out to the world for free.  If you live in Indianapolis, Youngstown, Cleveland, Wisconsin, Dayton or Chicago you can now get even more Horizon League games on television with the Horizon League Network’s Game of the Week. This is another great development for the league to complement HLN’s excellent online broadcasts.

Team Breakdowns:

  • Butler — The Bulldogs got the win they had to have over Ohio State at home last Saturday.  Now comes another weekend test on national television as they take on Xavier on ESPN2 at 11 a.m.  There was a time when the UAB game on Tuesday might’ve been an easy game, but not this season.  The Blazers are 9-1 and just beat Cincinnati.  UAB already took out Green Bay in its first game of the season.
  • Detroit — Holman’s return against Michigan was nice.  Otherwise it was a light week for the Titans.  They hung tough for a while against the Wolverines but eventually lost, 75-64.  Two MAC schools come to Detroit this week as the Titans take on Bowling Green and Central Michigan.
  • Loyola — The Ramblers are for real.  Or at least that’s what fans are beginning to think after Courtney Stanley’s buzzer beater against Bradley on Wednesday.  The incredible half-court shot by Stanley gave Loyola a 68-65 victory over the toughest team remaining on their non-conference schedule.  The Ramblers have to avoid giving all back this week when they play at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and host Albany on Tuesday.
  • Wright State — It was a tough week on the road for the Raiders as they lost a heartbreaker to Miami (OH) on Sunday and then followed it up with an 11-point loss to Mississippi State on Wednesday.  With home games against Maryland-Eastern Shore and Arkansas-Little Rock on the slate for this week things are going to be much easier, to say the least.
  • Green Bay — The euphoria over the Phoenix victory over Wisconsin didn’t last long as Green Bay got a tough dose of reality while playing without Fletcher at Oakland.  The Grizzlies blew out Green Bay, 76-52.  It is possible that Fletcher could return for the important conference game against Youngstown State, but no matter what, the Phoenix are notoriously tough to beat at home.
  • Milwaukee — Ricky Franklin led the team in both points and rebounds as the Panthers defeated North Dakota State in their only game of the week.  Milwaukee then took a week off for exams and heads back to work for the continuation of Miami (OH)’s Horizon League series.  The Panthers take on a Wisconsin team already familiar to Horizon League fans on Wednesday in Madison.
  • Youngstown State — Youngstown State has a big game against Green Bay on Saturday in conference.  Then High Point comes to town, and since the team is ranked 311th in the Basketball State rankings they shouldn’t be too worrisome for the Penguins.  I’m not nearly as bullish as some people are about Youngstown State, as they really haven’t proven anything against good competition yet this season.
  • Cleveland State — The Vikings hung 113 points on NAIA Wilberforce and then lost at home to Robert Morris by 8 points.  Cleveland State has three very difficult non-conference games remaining and while Gary Waters should be commended for taking on the challenge of West Virginia and road games at Ohio State and Kansas State he might’ve overscheduled a bit.  The Vikings haven’t found any continuity yet and besides Norris Cole nobody has consistently put the ball in the basket.  Cleveland State has zero seniors, so this might be a one-year blip.
  • Valparaiso — An easy win at home against Toledo will beget more easy games against Concordia (Wisc.) and at IUPU-Fort Wayne over the next few games for the Crusaders.  Valparaiso is near the bottom of the Horizon League so no game should be taken lightly.
  • UIC – The return of Spencer Stewart has energized the Flames and made them into a better team.  While the game against Oregon State wasn’t pretty, the result — thanks to Robo Kreps‘ lay-up with 5.3 seconds remaining and two stolen inbounds passes — was.  UIC tries to continue the momentum this weekend when it takes on Northern Illinois, a game many people thought might be the Flames first Division I win of the season.  With that monkey already off their back, UIC can just concentrate on improving.  The Flames also head to Akron on Tuesday this week.

 

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by nvr1983 on December 10th, 2009

checkinginon

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Standings (through games of 12/8/09)

  1. Saint Mary’s 6-1
  2. Gonzaga 6-2
  3. Portland 5-3
  4. Santa Clara 4-4
  5. San Diego 4-5
  6. Pepperdine 3-5
  7. Loyola-Marymount 3-6
  8. USF 2-6

The Best

With approximately one-quarter of the 2009-10 season completed, does it make any sense to designate the league’s best team so far? If so, what criteria should be used? Saint Mary’s has the best winning percentage and leads the conference in several key statistical categories (scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin, rebounding margin, and blocked shots), but has compiled that record against a mixture of strong (Vanderbilt, San Diego State, and Utah State) and weak teams (Cal Poly, New Mexico State, and San Jose State).

Gonzaga has two losses, but they came against powerhouse Michigan State on the road and up-and-coming Wake Forest at home. The Zags’ three wins at the Maui Invitational were over a resurgent Colorado, Big Ten stalwart Wisconsin and potential Big East contender Cincinnati. That performance, plus a come-from-behind 74-69 victory over Washington State at home on Dec. 2 was enough to vault the Zags to a high of No. 16 in the ESPN/USA Today poll before they fell to No. 22 following the loss to Wake. Zag fans would argue strongly that their more difficult schedule in the early going gives them the nod over the Gaels, and the national media agrees by awarding Gonzaga a Top 25 ranking while casting only a few votes for Saint Mary’s.

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Checking In On… the Horizon League

Posted by jstevrtc on December 5th, 2009

checkinginon

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings (conference/overall):

  1. Green Bay  1-0 (7-2)
  2. Milwaukee  1-0 (6-2)
  3. Detroit  1-0 (5-2)
  4. Wright State  1-0 (4-2)
  5. Butler  0-0 (5-2)
  6. Valparaiso  0-0 (3-4)
  7. Loyola-Chicago  0-1 (4-2)
  8. Cleveland State  0-1 (4-4)
  9. Youngstown State  0-1 (3-4)
  10. UIC  0-1 (1-4)

Top Storylines:

The Horizon League opens play. The Detroit Titans (82-71 victors over Youngstown State) and Green Bay (88-69 victors over Loyola-Chicago) were the two most impressive winners during an opening four-game slate on Thursday. Five more league games are on tap for Saturday. That’s what happens when you need to play an 18 game home-and-home schedule.

Butler struggles against major conference squads. The Bulldogs lost to Clemson and Minnesota at the 76 Classic in Anaheim.  Butler rebounded to crush Ball State 59-38 on Wednesday.  Still, the Bulldogs have shown some weaknesses during non-conference play.  The tough games aren’t over yet.  Butler must play Georgetown this week and Ohio State on December 12th.

Wright State rising up. The Raiders are looking like the best competition for Butler during league play.  Brad Brownell’s team missed out on an upset of Washington and lost at Northeastern, but Wright State did beat Portland State and is ranked 50th in the Pomeroy rankings.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #11 – Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on October 27th, 2009

seasonpreview

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Butler (17-1)
  2. Wright State (14-4)
  3. Milwaukee (12-6)
  4. Cleveland State (11-7)
  5. Green Bay (10-8)
  6. Loyola (8-10)
  7. Valparaiso (7-11)
  8. Detroit (5-13)
  9. Youngstown State (4-14)
  10. UIC (2-16)

All-Conference Team:

  • Vaughn Duggins (G), Wright State – 13.8 ppg, 2.7 apg in 2008-09 season.
  • Troy Cotton (G), Green Bay – 12.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg
  • Norris Cole (G), Cleveland State – 13.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg
  • Gordon Hayward (F), Butler – 13.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg
  • Matt Howard (F/C), Butler – 14.8, 6.8 rpg (last season’s Horizon League Player of the Year)

6th Man. Jordan Hicks (G/F), Loyola-Chicago

Impact Newcomer. Milos Milosevic (F), Valparaiso. The 6’7″ Croatian junior college transfer should give the Crusaders a paint presence.

HL logo

What You Need to Know.

  • There’s more to the Horizon League than just Butler. Whether it’s Cleveland State – which upset Syracuse and Wake Forest last season – or Green Bay and Milwaukee, the Horizon League has quality teams throughout. Someone in the top half of the league is going to rise up and not only challenge the Bulldogs, but compete for an NCAA at-large berth.
  • This is only the beginning for the Bulldogs. Butler is going to be good for a long time. Young talent like Gordon Hayward (soph.), Matt Howard (jr.), Shelvin Mack (soph.) and incoming center recruit Andrew Smith mean the Bulldogs will be strong for many seasons to come, not just 2009-10.
  • UIC was expected to be a pretty good team in 2009-10, even with the losses of Josh Mayo and Scott VanderMeer, but the team was gutted when two frontcourt starters – Rob Eppinger and Tori Boyd – decided not to return along with the indefinite suspension of guard Spencer Stewart. Now the roster seems to contain more questions than answers. The Flames will rely heavily on guard Robo Kreps.
  • Is he healthy again? That’s the question Wright State fans are asking about guard Vaughn Duggins. He missed all but four games with finger and ankle injuries and his return will be a key for the Raiders. Duggins averaged 13.3 points per game two seasons ago.
  • They start real early. The Horizon League is one of the few conferences that plays league games in early December. December 3rd and 5th feature full slates of league games before it goes back to it’s non-conference business.

Predicted ChampionButler (NCAA Seed #5). The Bulldogs start the season ranked in the Top 20 and are a great collection of talent. Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding season, but it didn’t end until the first round of the NCAA Tournament in a heartbreaker to LSU. This season the non-conference schedule is even tougher and the Bulldogs will be trying to advance even farther.

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