I. Renko is a DC-based correspondent for Rush the Court. You can follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops. He filed this report after Saturday’s game between Kansas State and George Washington.
Kansas State improved to 7-1 on the season on Saturday, in a thrilling 65-62 win over George Washington that was not decided until Dwayne Smith missed a potential game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer. The Wildcats overcame a poor shooting performance, in which they shot 35.7% from the field and 56.3% from the free throw line. So how did they win? The way they’ve been doing it for the past six years: by dominating the offensive glass. “If you told me we were going to hold them to 35% shooting, I thought we could win the game, but the killer was offensive rebounds,” GW head coach Mike Lonergan explained afterwards. “We just gave them too many second chance opportunities.”
Kansas State Has Been The Most Consistently Outstanding Offensive Rebounding Team in the Country For The Past Six Years (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
The Wildcats set the tone early, scoring their first six points on second chance put-backs by forward Nino Williams. They would go on to rebound almost as many of their misses as George Washington did, posting a remarkable 49% offensive rebounding percentage. In fact, the Wildcats actually had more offensive than defensive rebounds in the game — 24 to 22. As a result, they had 17 more field goal attempts than George Washington, an edge that mitigated their poor shooting. If you keep throwing the ball up, sooner or later it’s gonna go in. And the Wildcats’ rebounding performance was not the result of a weak opponent. In the eight games they played before Saturday, the Colonials had not allowed an opponent to rebound more than a third of their misses.
Rick Majerus, 1948-2012 – Former Saint Louis Billikens head coach Rick Majerus succumbed to his chronic heart condition Saturday in California while undergoing extended treatment. Deteriorating health forced the 25-year veteran to take his first medical leave in 2003-04 when he coached the Utah program. He resigned during the 2004 season. After a three-year hiatus that included a stint behind the microphones at ESPN, the coach returned to the bench at Saint Louis University to begin a rebuilding process that earned the Billikens their first NCAA bid since 2000.
In His Twilight, Rick Majerus Led SLU To A Tournament Upset Over Memphis. (AP)
“The entire Atlantic 10 family is grieving tonight over the loss of coach Majerus. His undeniable knowledge and love of the game was known to all, and he was an excellent teacher committed to the student-athlete. This passion made his impact on A-10 basketball over the past five years immeasurable,” said Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade. “He will be missed at Saint Louis, within the A-10 and nationally; our prayers and condolences are with coach Majerus’ family and the Saint Louis University community.” said Atlantic 10 Conference Commissioner Bernadette McGlade in a press release late Saturday night.
Though he had not been on campus since the end of the 2011-12 season, the first public notice was an announcement in July that he was in California seeking treatment for his heart. St. Louis issued a Friday afternoon announcement in late August that he would take a medical leave for the 2012-13 season, followed by another Friday afternoon press release nine weeks later that heart problems would preclude his return to the Billikens bench at all. Over the course of a head coaching career at four schools (Marquette, Ball State, Utah and Saint Louis) that dates back to 1983-84 (Marquette), the coach developed a resume that included a 517-216 lifetime record, only one sub-.500 season, 15 20-win seasons, 19 postseason bids (12 NCAA, 6 NIT, 1 CBI) and a Final Four appearance with the Utah Utes in 1998. Those mentored by Majerus over the course of his career include consensus All-Americans Andre Miller (Utah) and Keith Van Horn (Utah), along with Boston Celtic Coach Doc Rivers (Marquette).
Versus Other Conferences – Nearly 60% of the A-10’s non-conference games are in the books and the conference has posted a very power conference-like winning percentage of (about) 63%. The conference’s sluggish start, often recorded on neutral courts in invitational tournaments, appears to be offset by a combination of home court wins and strategic road wins. Current for games through Wednesday December 5, the table below shows how the conference did head-to-head with the other Division I conferences. The summary at the bottom breaks out the A-10’s record versus the six power conferences, versus other non-power conferences with similar profiles (i.e., the Missouri Valley Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the West Coast Conference, Conference USA and the Colonial Athletic Association) and the other 20 Division I conferences (and independents):
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.
Phil Martelli Sits Atop the Power Rankings at This Early Point of the Season
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.
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 »
Early Season Performances – The Oooh Aaaah Variety (Teams & Individuals)
The A-10 evened the record versus the six power conferences again last week, largely on the strength of performances by Xavier and Richmond. Xavier needed overtime to beat Vanderbilt in Nashville. Down by two with just under four minutes in regulation, Xavier held Vanderbilt scoreless and managed to tie on a Mark Lyons jumper with six seconds remaining in regulation. In overtime the Musketeers took the lead for good 68-66 on two Dezmine Wells free throws and Tu Holloway put a large enough margin between the teams (about eight points) when he hit two threes in successive possessions to absorb a Commodore mini-run. Vanderbilt chipped the Musketeers’ lead down to four, but could get no closer. Forced to foul, Holloway and Travis Taylor went a perfect 6 for 6 from the line to stretch the lead to 10 and suck the life out of the Commodore comeback.
Hosting Purdue five days later, Xavier again went down early, allowing Purdue to take the lead at the 18:49 mark of the first half and hold it for the next 37 minutes of play. The Boilermakers took an 11-point lead into the intermission and stretched it to 15 in the first 6:30 of the second half. Over the next 12:24 Xavier outscored Purdue 29-13 to take the lead for only the second time in the game. Once in control, the Musketeers did not let the Boilermakers back in, pushing their lead out to three in the last minute of the game.
Those numbers are more interesting, however, when you break up the game. For example, with 3:30 left in overtime against Vanderbilt, Holloway had just 14 points on 4-17 shooting. That stat line looks much more impressive after he hit back-to-back threes on the next two possessions and four straight free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Likewise, against Purdue, Holloway had just 10 points and six turnovers in the first 38 minutes of the game, but in the final two minutes he hit a three on three consecutive possessions (video of the last two below) and followed that up with two free throws, completing the most impressive comeback of the young season…in the final three minutes against Vanderbilt and the last two minutes against Purdue, Holloway had 21 points, went 5-6 from beyond the arc and knocked down all six of his free throws attempts.
The Richmond squad had to replace 59% of their minutes and 68.6% of their scoring from the squad that won the A-10 conference tournament and ran to the Sweet Sixteen last March. Freshman point guard Kendall Anthony, three times designated Rookie of the Week by the conference, has picked up a load of time and scoring responsibilities for the Spiders so far. Richmond leaned heavily on Anthony along with sophomores Cedrick Lindsay and Derrick Williams for offense. Both chipped in double digit points to complement Anthony’s production. Lindsay was a serviceable back-up to senior point guard Kevin Anderson last season, but Williams, who has started all eight games for the Spiders, saw very little action as a freshman.
Overlooked Temple off guard Aaron Brown turned heads the summer before coming to North Broad, but had few opportunities to show Temple fans and the A-10 what he could do. Brown scored 21 points in 22 minutes in a display during Temple’s 86-74 win over Central Michigan. Ken Pomeroy would find hard to ignore his performance, as he hit 7-11 (4-7 from three point land, 3-4 from inside the arc) shots from the floor while getting to the line for five free throws, of which he hit three. That computes to an 81.8% eFG% with a 1.57 points per weighted shot, an outstanding outing for the sophomore, who was pressed into action due to the injury-depleted squad.
Early Season Performances – The What the !@#!@@!# Variety (Teams & Individuals)
After winning their early season invitational tournaments, beating four power conference opponents (two each) during the tournament, both Dayton and Saint Louis stumbled in post tournament games. The losses are puzzling because for both teams, the games were winnable. Saint Louis took an “and-one” game with Loyola Marymount of the West Coast Conference, losing by seven with a performance that had team observers scratching their heads. Dayton compounded the first post tournament loss (by 29 to Buffalo of the MAC) with a second loss, this one by 17, to Murray State of the Ohio Valley Conference. The opponents were beatable, making the scoring margins downright consternating. Dayton was pegged to finish in the middle of the conference, but the two unexpected losses (albeit the Racers will most likely contend for the OVC title this season) could damage the Flyers chances for a post season NIT bid. Other inexplicable losses go to Saint Bonaventure’s home loss to Arkansas State of the Sun Belt Conference, a 3-4 team no one expects to make noise this season. The Bonnies were not helped by a lackluster six-point, nine-rebound effort from Andrew Nicholson.
The Power Rankings are shuffled again this week in response to the Ooohs, Aaaahs and What the heck games listed above. For the Atlantic-10 the post season margin for error is exceedingly slim. Three losses going into the first or second week of December can take a school off the RPI short list pretty quickly.
1. Xavier (6-0) #8 AP – Xavier took down two more power conference programs last week in fashion impressive enough to climb three more spots in the AP poll. I listed many of the impressive details in the impressive performances section above, but in addition to the video link below that shows two of Tu Holloway’s three “last two minute” three point field goals below (h/t to Dana & Victory Blog for the link). I should also mention that in Nashville Mark Lyons (19 points) and Travis Taylor (11 points) chipped in more than 10 apiece to go with Holloway’s 24 point performance, while Antoine Walker collected 14 rebounds in his return to Vanderbilt where he played for three years. Versus Purdue three Musketeers, Lyons (14 points), Walker (10 points) and Kenny Fraese (10 points) chipped in double digit points to complement Holloway’s 21 point outburst.
Xavier will travel to Indianapolis Wednesday for a game with Butler, then return home to host this season’s Crosstown Shootout versus Cincinnati on Saturday. Win these next two and Chris Mack’s squad deserves something special, like Christmas in Hawaii…wait.
2. Saint Louis (7-1) –Their top 25 ranking proved surprisingly short, the penalty for stumbling against the Lions last Tuesday. St. Louis recovered to beat another WCC team, Portland by 20, 73-53 at the Chaifetz. The Billikens’ defense limited Portland to 0.90 points per possession, much as they had Boston College and Oklahoma. Scoring centered on Brian Conklin and Cody Ellis, with Kyle Cassidy and Mike McCall providing efficient long-range scoring. They will host Vermont on Wednesday and Division II Illinois-Springfield on Saturday.
I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Sunday’s BB&T Classic.
New year, new team. Somebody tell the press. “Half the questions from the media, even now, December 4, are about last year” said VCU coach Shaka Smart after Sunday’s 75-60 win over George Washington in the first game of the BB&T Classic. “In our mind, last year’s over, and it’s not gonna win us any games this year.”
Way Too Early to Count Out Shaka Smart's VCU Rams
Fair enough, Coach. But while VCU can’t carry over any wins from last season, what it has replicated is the same style of play that took the Rams on their historic run to the Final Four. Just like last year, this year’s team relies on a frenetic, turnover-generating defense with heavy ball pressure. And just like last year, the offense is not built around a super-efficient field goal percentage. Rather, the Rams will try to beat you with second-chance points and three-point shots.
Despite losing four starters to graduation, VCU showed on Sunday just how effectively the current team can execute this approach. Against a GW squad undergoing its own transition — from coach Karl Hobbs to coach Mike Lonergan — VCU generated 17 turnovers and turned them into 21 points. They torched the Colonials from the three-point line on 12-24 shooting. And while GW did a better job of keeping the Rams off the offensive glass in the second half, VCU built a 17-point first half lead on the strength of a 39% offensive rebounding rate.
Xavier's Tu Holloway Is A First-Team All-American Candidate And One Of The Nation's Best Seniors
A-10 to Barclays in 2013: Barclays Center, under construction in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, is in the market for multi-day sporting events while the Atlantic 10 is looking for a bigger stage for their post season tournament — a perfect match perhaps? The two announced a deal late last month that will move the 2012-13 A-10 Conference Tournament to the 675,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art sports and entertainment venue that will feature an 18,000 seat arena for basketball. The Atlantic 10 has vacillated between rotating campus sites and a “permanent neutral” site since the first conference tournament in 1976-77. The current location since the 2006-07 tournament, Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, is a 10,500 seat amphitheater. While technically neutral, the attendance is up when one or more of the Philadelphia contingent (La Salle, Saint Joseph’s and/or Temple) advances to the quarterfinal round and beyond, and down when they do not. The conference will return to Boardwalk Hall for their 2011-12 tournament, then move over to Barclays Center the following season.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Atlantic 10 correspondent, Joe Dzuback. You can read more of his in-depth writing and analysis at Villanova By The Numbers.
Reader’s Take I
Bobinski to Chair NCAA Selection Committee: While the conference again sent seven teams, half of its membership, to the postseason — three to the NCAA, one to the NIT and three to the CBI, the Final Four runs by Butler (Horizon League) and Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial Athletic Association) overshadowed a showing, Xavier’s loss to Marquette excepted, that exceeded 2010’s NCAA results. The NCAA announced that Xavier Athletic Director Mike Bobinski will succeed Connecticut’s Jeff Hathaway as Chairman of the 2012 NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Bobinski just completed his third year of a five-year term on the Selection Committee. While the Atlantic 10 has been the most successful non-BCS conference in placing teams in the tournament field (with 20 NCAA bids allotted to six teams since 2004), its representatives have tended to draw the short straw when it comes to seeding, and Bobinski will likely lobby hard for that cause.
The Coaching Carousel: The conference had two coaching vacancies during the early phase of the coaching carousel. If the 2010 offseason saw coaching turnovers due to firings, the 2011 offseason saw suitors come to call on the Atlantic 10 coaching fraternity. Tennessee, having fired Bruce Pearl on March 21, made its first call to Xavier to talk with Chris Mack. Mack reportedly turned aside an offer of $2 million per year to coach the Volunteers in favor of staying in Cincinnati with the Musketeers. Richmond’s Chris Mooney signed a 10-year contract extension, his second extension in two years, ending Georgia Tech’s courtship. Mooney’s decision triggered a spate of articles (see “Old coaching assumptions are fading” by Dana O’Neil for example) about non-BCS coaches who pass on BCS offers to stay with their programs. The Yellow Jackets turned their attention to Dayton’s Brian Gregory, who succumbed to the lure of the BCS and packed his bags for Atlanta on March 28. Dayton conducted a six-day search and hired Archie Miller, brother of former Xavier head man Sean Miller, away from Arizona to succeed Gregory. In late April, George Washington’s Athletic Director, Patrick Nero, fired 10-year veteran Karl Hobbs. Nero, who succeeded retiring AD Jack Kvancz on June 30, was hired on April 20, and wasted no time in turning over the men’s basketball staff. Nero reached into his old stomping grounds, the American East Conference, and hired the league’s premier head basketball coach, MikeLonergan of Vermont, on May 6 to replace Hobbs. The resignation of Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis on May 24 (DeChellis took over the Navy program) triggered a few tense days among the Duquesne faithful as coach Ron Everhart landed an interview for the Happy Valley position. The Dukes exhaled on June 1 when Everhart withdrew his name from consideration in favor of staying with the Pittsburgh school next season.
Media Coverage: The Atlantic 10 and ESPN renewed their deal to have eight games (selected by ESPN) televised on either ESPN or ESPN2 in each of the next two seasons. The ESPN networks are committed to broadcasting the Women’s Championship and up to 32 appearances in each of the next two seasons.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our newest update comes courtesy of our America East correspondent, John Templon. John also writes about New York City basketball at Big Apple Buckets.
Reader’s Take I
Coaches Moving On Up:Vermont and Boston University lost two very talented coaches this summer. The Catamounts’ Mike Lonergan went back to his Washington, D.C., roots and took the job at George Washington. Lonergan – who won a national title at Division III Catholic University in D.C. and also coached at Maryland – should fit in well at GW. Assistant John Becker replaced Lonergan, so there should be strong continuity. On the other hand, BU had to scramble after PatChambers was hired by Penn State to replace Ed DeChellis. The Terriers ended up with former Columbia head coach Joe Jones, who spent last season as an assistant at Boston College.
Playing With The (Future) Pros: The 2010-11 America East Player of the Year, Boston University’s John Holland, played in the Portsmouth Invitational. He finished tied for ninth in scoring at 15.0 points per game and 18th in rebounding with 6.3 boards per game. He played with former Florida forward Vernon Macklin and former Villanova guard Corey Fisher on the Portsmouth Sports Club team that finished in fourth place. Holland had workouts with a few NBA teams before signing with Chorale de Roanne of France’s Pro A Division.
A World of Experience: America East continues to pick up steam as a worldwide conference. Four players in Maine’s incoming recruiting class aren’t originally from the United States and Albany has two players coming in from Australia and another from the Dominican Republic in its 2011 class. Another Australian, CorbanWroe, will be playing for Hartford in the fall. Many of the incoming recruits have experience playing with their respective international squads and incoming Maine freshman NoamLaish was selected as the captain of Israel’s U-18 squad for the European Championships.
Patrick Chambers parlayed last season's tournament berth with BU into a payday at Penn State, sending BU scrambling (credit: Steve McLaughlin).
Boston University: After making the NCAA Tournament in 2011, the Terriers return all but one of their linchpins. Of course, that one guy is America East Player of the Year John Holland who averaged 19.2 PPG last season. BU will also be going without head coach Pat Chambers, but he certainly didn’t leave the cupboard bare for Joe Jones. Darryl Partin (14.3 PPG) and Jake O’Brien (10.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG) should provide scoring. Also watch out for sophomore guard D.J. Irving. He averaged 8.0 PPG as a freshman and his workload should only increase in 2011-12. The Terriers have won 21 games in each of the past two seasons and a postseason berth is definitely the expectation. Read the rest of this entry »
Most of the attention of the college basketball world was focused on the retirement of Gary Williams and who would replace him. Over the weekend quite a few names were thrown around as potential replacements, but it looks like the Maryland athletic department may have a harder time finding a suitable head coach than they expected as their apparent initial targets – Sean Miller, Brad Stevens, and Mike Brey – have all turned down the Terrapins. Miller was able to parlay the offer into a contract extension at Arizona, while Brey is expected to sign one later this month. We doubt that this will turn into a fiasco like what NC State experienced trying to find a coach, but it is worth keeping an eye on the situation if the search drags on as the list of suitable replacements will certainly grow shorter.
While Maryland continues to search for its head coach, another school in the DC area (George Washington) was able to find its guy as they are set to announce Vermont coach Mike Lonergan as its next head coach. Lonergan will replace Karl Hobbs, who struggled to keep the Colonials at the level of excellence they showed between 2004-07 when he led them to the NCAA Tournament in three consecutive seasons. Lonergan may not be as well-known to the casual fan, but he has a solid resume with an excellent career at Catholic University where he won a D3 national championship and then at Vermont where he succeeded Tom Brennan and managed to keep the Catamounts near the top of America East.
In another coaching move that will probably go underreported, former Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel has decided to return to Duke to serve as an assistant under Mike Krzyzewski. The move shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the fact that Capel probably would have had to take a mid-major position if he went straight back to the sidelines as a head coach. Now Capel can get back to Cameron on the sidelines with a contingent of other well-known former Blue Devils and hope that he can parlay some of Coach K’s success into another major coaching position. The bigger question for us is whether this potentially puts Capel in position to succeed Krzyzewski when he decides to call it a career (a scary notion for Duke fans?).
Most of the interest in player movement over the weekend was focused on players deciding on whether or not to enter the NBA Draft there was also some major transfer news as Aaric Murray decided to transfer from La Salle to West Virginia and Gonzaga forward Kelly Olynyk is reportedly considering leaving the Bulldog program. The Murray news isn’t particularly surprising as he had considered joining the Mountaineers coming out of high school, but he should be a major addition for them when he becomes eligible in the 2012-13 season. Olynyk’s potential transfer is more interesting as it raises questions about Mark Few‘s program in that multiple players have transferred from GU in the past few years. We would imagine that Few is working pretty hard to keep Olynyk in the program as the transfers are beginning to pile up and could ultimately affect Gonzaga’s ability to recruit.
As we near the time of year when high school seniors are graduating, it is interesting to look at which players are still available. Skimming through the latest top 100 (feel free to use the rankings of your own preference) there are only a few top guys available with DeAndre Daniels, Kevin Ware, Trevor Lacey, and Joseph Uchebo being the biggest. We would expect to see them announcing their decisions in the next few weeks and each of these guys could help round out some school’s class that is missing a crucial piece.
Injury Updates: Brenadan Bald and Evan Fjeld were held out of practice for Vermont- if they’re significantly hampered, the Catamounts will need heroic efforts from the rest of their cast. Their body of work has been garnering 14-seeds from bracketologists, but health will be the key factor to weather they will dance.
Hot Black: Albany’s Mike Black was the best player in the conference over the past week and if he can keep it up, the Danes will be a tough out.
Maine Who?: Maine has been the best in the league– and has also bottomed out with losses to basement dwellers. The talent is there, but can three point threat Gerald McLemore and crew rally to their former selves after losing seven of their last eight games?
Relive last season’s finale between Vermont and BU in the video below:
A Look Back
War of Attrition: Part 2, The Rolling of the Ankles: It has been a rough season for star players in the America East. Pre-season POY candidate Tommy Brenton went down for Stony Brook before the year started, and then New Hampshire lost two leading scorers during the non-conference (AlvinAbreu and FergMyrick). In the past week though, a series of sprains have created a lot of uncertainty for the playoff picture. John Holland of Boston University, the league leader in scoring, was kept out of the final regular season game with an ankle Injury, as was one of Vermont’s top scoring threats, Brendan Bald (11.5 PPG). And then in the final game of the year, another POY candidate, Evan Fjeld of Vermont, rolled his ankle and was kept out for the rest of the game. While all are likely to play the entire postseason, it marks a potential weakness for the two top teams in the league.
Conference Player of the Year:John Holland, Boston University. The senior Holland was the presumptive favorite after being showered with post-season recognition accolades during his first three seasons. Despite leading the league in scoring (19.9 PPG) essentially wire to wire, Holland’s year got off to a bumpy start. Holland struggled to assume a leadership role with a young and transfer laden cast- his shot selection especially struggled. But as conference play turned towards the home stretch, Holland led the Terriers to 8 straight victories entering the post-season.
Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses. Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds. Here are the Friday evening games.
7:10 pm – #8 Gonzaga vs. #9 Florida State (Buffalo pod)
This is a very tough game to call, so let’s start with what we know about it. The Zags, no stranger to cross-country travel, come into Buffalo after an 11-day layoff where St. Mary’s took Mark Few’s team behind the woodshed and beat them handily in the WCC Tournament championship. Florida State comes in having dropped its quarterfinal game against NC State in an effort that had their fans shaking their heads in disgust. So needless to say, both teams are looking for a fresh start here. The Zags are always dangerous, and this year’s squad led by Matt Bouldin and Elias Harris has the offensive firepower to score with just about anyone in America. Merely an ok three-point shooting team, they tend to rely on the drives of Harris and mid-range game of Bouldin to create offense. However, they don’t tend to respond well to teams that crowd and push them around, but unfortunately, FSU is just such a team. The Seminoles enjoy the nation’s top defensive efficiency, and while they have the opposite problem of finding points, they should have no problem putting the clamps down on the Zag scoring options. The question here comes down to whether the FSU defense, anchored by 7’1 Solomon Alabi and 6’9 Chris Singleton’s combined four blocks per game, is better than the Gonzaga offense, and we think that it is. And as up/down as the Seminoles were in the ACC, they never came close to losing to the likes of Loyola Marymount and San Francisco, as Gonzaga did this year.
The Skinny: The Zags this year aren’t quite as good as they usually are, and they’re facing a team that will shut down their biggest strength. FSU wins this one by eight points to get a date with Syracuse.
7:15 pm – #7 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Georgia Tech (Milwaukee pod)
Here’s another one that’s got people confused. For good reason, too. All year long we’ve been waiting on Georgia Tech to do something with all that talent, and now they’re playing better basketball, just in time. Oklahoma State’s showing against Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament will cost them some support, but we’re going to excuse that performance. That was a tired basketball team, playing their third game in a six day span with K-State at the end of it — and the Wildcats were coming off of a five-day rest. Georgia Tech is going to go inside to Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal like crazy, but when the Yellow Jackets actually shoot the three, they shoot it well. Defending the three is a glaring OSU weakness, so it will be interesting to see how often Georgia Tech eschews their big men in favor of launching it from the arc, because those shots will be there. So…good outside shooting, great inside players…sounds pretty good for Tech, right? The question will be whether or not they can get to that point in their offense. Georgia Tech ranks in the bottom twenty of Division I teams in terms of turning the ball over. Can the Jackets, then, find a way to keep James Anderson from shredding them or Keiton Page from raining threes?
The Skinny: Oklahoma State won’t have to exert too much energy guarding the three, since Tech’s propensity to turn the ball over will take care of some of that. The Cowboys have been getting more and more help from their role players, and we feel 9-7 in the Big 12 is better than 7-9 in the ACC this year. It’ll be a great first round game, but we like Oklahoma State in a close one.
Ryan Restivo of the MAAC-based SienaSaintsBlog is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. SienaSaintsBlog now features exclusive video!
Standings (as of 2/7)
Northeastern (16-8, 11-2)
George Mason (15-9, 10-3)
Old Dominion (18-7, 10-3)
VCU (17-5, 9-4)
Drexel (14-11, 9-4)
William & Mary (16-7, 8-5)
Hofstra (12-13, 5-8)
Georgia State (10-15, 4-9)
James Madison (10-13, 3-9)
UNC Wilmington (7-16, 3-9)
Delaware (6-17, 2-10)
Towson (5-17, 2-10)
The league had an interesting schedule change due to pending and impending snowstorms. Towson’s home game against James Madison was postponed on Thursday. UNC Wilmington pushed their game one-day against Delaware to Sunday and then to Monday after the snow fell. James Madison will travel to play Towson tonight. Meanwhile the team off to the best start in conference play, George Mason, hit an unexpected rough patch. However, should it have been expected? The young Patriot squad’s seven-game winning streak came against every sub-.500 team in conference. This strength of schedule will change soon enough with a game against heating up VCU, traveling to Old Dominion before a clash with William & Mary. With Northeastern and VCU starting to heat up, not even mentioning Drexel’s strong push, there’s still a race to the top in the CAA.
Important Games This Week
VCU @ George Mason (7pm ESPNU). George Mason lost their seven-game winning streak this week. However, all but one win comes over a CAA team that’s over .500. They have won their last eight home games and this only game with VCU may prove to have tiebreaker implications.
UNC Wilmington @ Towson (7pm ESPN360.com). You might not watch this one, but I will. I want to see how the Brooks Lee era continues as the Seahawks battle the Tigers. Towson has struggled immensely and will likely have a second straight 20-loss season. It will be interesting to see the energy of both teams: How will the Seahawks play for their interim coach on TV and how will the Tigers respond to their recent struggles?
Northeastern @ William & Mary (7pm). There will be no love lost on this Valentine’s Day eve matchup between the Huskies and Tribe. The Huskies could be on the path to the top seed in the conference by this time but the Tribe, who have won four out of their last five at home, will have something to say about that. With this being their only meeting, a loss would likely kill the Tribe’s chances at a top seed.
Northeastern (11-2). The Huskies went on their first true road trip in conference and came out with two wins on the week and increasing their road/neutral win streak to eight with wins over Delaware and Hofstra, each by double digits. The offense has been clicking lately as the Huskies have shot better than 50% in six of their last eight games and have won five of their last six games, all by double digits or more. Matt Janning led this week for Northeastern, shooting 42.8% from the field and making 5-10 three pointers to lead the Huskies with game highs of 17 in each win this week. They get a home test against Georgia State, who has not won an in-conference road game since December, followed by a trip to William & Mary that might decide the top four seeds in the CAA.
George Mason (10-3). The Patriots were stifled Wednesday night by the box-and-one, triangle-and-two defenses that the Panthers threw at them, being shut out in the final 2:52, as Mason fell 61-57. Cam Long scored just two points and made just one of nine shots on the night. Heading into Drexel, George Mason could not hold off the Dragons as they went on a 23-6 run and beat the Patriots by 13. The Patriots have struggled in their last three games from behind the arc, making just 12-47 (25.5%) in the last three games.
Old Dominion (10-3). The Monarchs used this week to stretch their home win streak to 20 but also saw their road losing streak stretch to two. The Monarchs elite defense, ranked sixth in efficiency entering Sunday, shut down the William & Mary and outrebounded them by 23 in a 19 point win over the Tribe. However, the Monarchs could not dish it out on the road, losing a halftime lead and falling to the VCU Rams by 12. Every loss this season for the Monarchs has been at a road/neutral site, which does not bode well for their BracketBuster game where they will face a Northern Iowa team that is undefeated at home.
VCU (9-4). The Rams continued their impressive trek through the conference with wins over UNC Wilmington and a 12-point win over Old Dominion to propel them back into the race for a top seed in the CAA Tournament. Larry Sanders was benched to start the game against Old Dominion and his backup, Kirill Pishchalnikov responded with 14 points and five rebounds. Sanders chipped in 14 of his own and a game-high 12 rebounds. VCU’s 51.4% effective field goal percentage is second to Northeastern’s in the CAA. After an amazing 20 three pointers in a win over Towson, VCU has come back to average making 4.3 three pointers in the last three games. Meanwhile, Sophomore Jay Gavin left the team for personal reasons. Gavin saw reduced playing time, playing just 11 minutes in the last seven games. Gavin transferred from Marist, where he was MAAC Co-Rookie of the Year, to Virginia Commonwealth after his coach Matt Brady went to James Madison.
Drexel (9-4). This is the team to watch out for down the stretch. Redshirt Freshman Chris Fouch has made a great impression scoring 28 and 17 in Drexel’s two wins this week. Fouch has scored double-digit points in the last seven games shooting 47.5% from the field. The Dragons have a chance to solidify their contention this week with games against Hofstra and Delaware. They have won five out of their last six, are third in field goal percentage defense and held their opponents to under 40% shooting in five of their last six games, this team is a definite contender for the conference title. They travel to Hofstra in a winnable game and then host Delaware before a crucial road date to Virginia Commonwealth on the 16th.
William & Mary (8-5). The Tribe were dealt a dose of reality in the Constant Convocation Center with a 19 point loss to Old Dominion. Their cold three point shooting hit a low, making just 5-25 attempts in the loss, and every player for the Tribe were held under nine points. In no other game has that happened before this season. That low point appeared to continue in the first half but the Tribe fought through it and prevailed in a tough environment in Atlanta to beat Georgia State by three. Credit should go to the defense, which held the Panthers to two points over the final three and a half minutes even while generating just seven turnovers. They start a homestand this week against Delaware and then a crucial game against Northeastern on Saturday.
Hofstra (5-8). The Pride blew out James Madison on the road by 20 but could not bring the same energy against top team Northeastern, shooting just under a season-low in their 20 point home loss to the Huskies Saturday. One problem this week for the Pride were turnovers, dishing out 35 of them on the week. Chaz Williams had a tough time, making just 4-19 and scoring just 9 points this week. Charles Jenkins is working on his Player of the Year candidacy still with 34 points on 10-22 shooting. The junior star has scored 20 points or more in four of the Pride’s last six games. One of their remaining tests comes this week at home against Drexel and a Saturday road date to UNC Wilmington looms ahead.
Georgia State (4-9). Jihad Ali’s career high 22 points and knocked down a clutch three with 42 seconds left to give the Panthers a win over first-place George Mason. This was just Ali’s fourth double digit scoring game of the season, doubling his previous high of 11. “I worked hard all week with Coach Barnes,” Ali said after the game. “They told me to stay in the gym and my time would come.” The Panthers’ threw a box-and-one and a triangle-and-two at the Patriots and it stifled them late, not allowing them a point over the final 2:52. The Panthers challenged the Tribe at home as well but were unable to make a field goal in the final 3:13, scoring just one point in that span, in a 59-56 loss to William & Mary. Head Coach Rod Barnessaid they got good looks in the second half but could not make enough shots to contend with the best three-point shooting team in the conference. They will be embarking on a road trip this week to Northeastern and then a more winnable game at Towson.
James Madison (3-9). Following a two-point loss at George Mason, Head Coach Matt Brady wanted to send a message the team leadership needs to step up. Brady threw his team out of practice Monday but his tactic did not work as Hofstra dealt the Dukes their worst loss in almost eight years. A 20 point loss at home to the Pride drove them a step even further back. Senior Pierre Curtis tried to lead (7.9 ppg, 4 assists per game) but the freshmen have not responded, resulting in their worst shooting percentage since their second game of the year. They have not been able to control the game from the three point line either, shooting 26.5% from behind the arc in the last seven games. Texas A&M transfer Denzel Bowles has done well but it hasn’t been enough, scoring 20.6 points per game in 15 games. Brady has told locals that he plans to sign at least two more junior college players in order to try to contend quickly as Bowles will be a Senior and Julius Wells (16.8 ppg) will be a Junior.
UNC Wilmington (3-9). The search is on for a new head coach at UNC Wilmington. As for the fired Head Coach Benny Moss? He has been reassigned as a special assistant to the athletic director. The school would have to pay the difference if he moved to a lower paying job so keeping him on in a role is cost-effective, since he was terminated with three years left on his deal. They are willing to spend around $250,000 per season, which might not be enough for some of the top major assistants in the country. Rumors have circulated that Vermont’s Mike Lonergan, 90-57 at Vermont, could be a candidate for any open CAA coaching job.
Delaware (2-10). This week the Blue Hens learned that forwards redshirt freshman Kelvin McNeil and Josh Brinkley will miss the rest of the season. Brinkley was the team’s leading rebounder with 6.2 rebounds per game and started 18 of the Blue Hens first 20 games. McNeil will go under arthroscopic surgery Wednesday. Meanwhile the Blue Hens were held to a season-low 30% field goal percentage in a 16-point loss at home to Northestern. The Blue Hens rank 11th in the conference in effective field goal percentage, and 310th in the country, at 44.7%. It will not get easier this week with trips planned to William & Mary and Drexel.
Towson (2-10). Brian Morris and Robert Nwankwo came back but it did not help as Towson lost their second of three road games on Tuesday by falling at Drexel by 42. Calvin Lee scored eight points but fouled out with just over 15 minutes left in the game. The problem this year has been the defense, and that’s an understatement. In their last four road losses, the Tigers have lost by 25, 9, 59 and 42. They grabbed a road win over a reeling UNC Wilmington team that just fired its coach but this team cannot take care of the glass. They were out rebounded in each of the last six games and have been out rebounded this year by five boards per game which helps lead to league lows in Field Goal percentage defense and scoring defense. The Tigers have not had a winning season under Pat Kennedy and the circles around a potential firing are starting to surface as they approach their third 20-loss season under Kennedy. Snow delayed their weekend game with James Madison and they will have a chance this week to pick up wins at home before traveling to Old Dominion and William & Mary in mid-February.