Game #167. Another NCAA bid will be handed out in St. Louis this afternoon as the MVC Finals tip off.
Three of the four games in the quarterfinal round of Arch Madness went down to the buzzer, but there were no real upsets — the only lower seed to win was Creighton in the 4/5 game, but they beat a team they had tied with for fourth place in Northern Iowa. Saturday, that changed when Indiana State, who finished in third place but had been picked sixth or seventh by many preseason prognosticators, pulled off a stunning upset of Wichita State. The Sycamores now find themselves one win away from an NCAA Tournament berth. Standing between them and the fulfillment of that dream is regular season champ Missouri State and MVC Player of the Year Kyle Weems. It should be an exciting Arch Madness Championship; join RTC for a live blog from press row starting at 12:45 Central.
The Lede. It was the last weekend in February, and as we come out of it, we’re less clear about who the favorites are to cut down the nets in early April than we have been at any point this season. RTCs went down in Blacksburg, Boulder, Springfield and more, befitting the stress, pressure and expectations of a season reaching its regular season terminus. As usual, after a weekend like this, there’s a lot to cover, so let’s jump right in with some of the major moments…
An RTC Kinda Weekend
Your Watercooler Moment. Parity is This Year’s Dominance. It was another weekend where many of the top teams came away with losses. #2 Duke (#1 AP/#1 ESPN) went to Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia, on Saturday night and left with a lighter load. #3 Pittsburgh (#4 AP/#6 ESPN) dropped a tough Big East road battle at Louisville for the second straight weekend. #4 Texas (#5 AP/#5 ESPN) suffered a ridiculously bad second half at Colorado and headed back to Austin with two Ls in its last three outings. #5 San Diego State (#6 AP/#4 ESPN) suffered the ignoble embarrassment of getting Jimmered in its own building by the only team to have proven it can beat the Aztecs this season. Shuffle the deck for another week and repeat. The only top teams to come out unscathed this weekend were #1 Ohio State (#2 AP/#3 ESPN), #6 Kansas (#3 AP/#2 ESPN) and #7 BYU (#7 AP/#7 ESPN) — and both the Buckeyes and Jayhawks were part of last week’s poll carnage. The point we’re making is a simple one: the field is completely wide open this year. It wouldn’t surprise us nor should it surprise you if none of the eventual #1 seeds make it to the Final Four — the difference between the top seven named above and the next tier of teams is not large. The four teams we would put on our top line as of tonight — Ohio State, Pitt, BYU and Kansas — are all strong candidates to lose at least one more game between now and Selection Sunday, now only fourteen days out. This kind of parity among the top teams makes for an exciting NCAA Tournament, but it shouldn’t shock anybody if the seeds that make it to Houston in April add up to a total well into the teens (e.g., 2, 3, 6, 8).
Your Watercooler Moment, Pt. II. That Stupid Louisville Cheerleader. If Rick Pitino were a little younger and brasher (say, the Knicks or early Kentucky eras), the Louisville cheerleader who grabbed the ball and tossed it up into the air after what appeared to be Kyle Kuric’s game-sealing dunk would already be encased in concrete in the Ohio River locks. Instead, the older and somewhat more forgiving head coach will likely only have a horse’s head delivered to the cheerleader’s bed for making his gaffe with 0.5 seconds remaining on the clock. The sophomoric ball-toss resulted in two technical FTs for Pitt taking a five-point lead down to three, and the Panthers put up a decent half-court heave at the buzzer that would have tied the game. We can understand a little confusion with respect to the last half-second of time running off the clock, but why touch the ball at all? That should be the province of the players and game officials, nobody else, and the cheer people should understand that better than most. Here’s the question on everyone’s mind, though: will Cheer Dufus be back in action or will Pitino have him removed (we’re not sure what “The male cheerleader is coming to an end” means exactly)?
Your Watercooler Moment, Pt. III. Tyler Trapani Shuts Down Pauley With an Assist From the Ghost of John Wooden. It was the last game in Pauley Pavilion, the House That Wooden Built, before it undergoes massive renovations over the next year-plus to bring the building seemingly mired in the 1960s into the modern era. UCLA was throttling league-leading Arizona and the Bruin partisans were rocking out with every Reeves Nelson dunk, Josh Smith twirl and each long-range brick from Arizona. With just a few seconds remaining in garbage time, UCLA’s Jack Haley, Jr., missed a corner three badly short; standing directly under the basket to catch it and lay it in as the final points scored in the “old” Pauley was walk-on Tyler Trapani, The Wizard of Westwood’s great-grandson. The bucket represented his only two points of the entire season, and it seemed a fitting tribute to finishing off the old barn in its current state. Pauley Pavilion is one of the temples of the sport, so we’re glad to hear that UCLA is finally updating it — it’s our opinion that modernizing a terrific old venue is much preferred to building an austere and lifeless new one.
This Weekend’s Quick Hits…
Virginia Tech and Colorado’s RTCs. Coverage of the court was quick, complete and rowdy, befitting how you should RTC when you take down a top five team in your building. Virginia Tech’s crowd was fantastic the entire evening, as the below video clearly illustrates (move ahead for the RTC, and here’s a bird’s eye view if you’re into that). As the second video shows, Colorado’s was also quite good (here’s another from within the maelstrom at center court). Perhaps more importantly, the huge wins keep both teams’ hopes alive for an at-large NCAA bid in two weeks. Much was expected from both of these schools prior to season tipoff, but they’ve had myriad ups and downs along the way. These two huge wins will go a long way toward finding the right side of the bubble in fourteen days.
Game #153. It’s all come down to this single game for the MVC regular season championship for 2010-11.
Since joining the Missouri Valley Conference in 1990, there’s one thing Missouri State has never done: win a regular season title. That’s why Saturday’s contest with Wichita State, a six-time MVC champion, at the sparkling JQH Arena is one of the most important games in program history. The two teams are tied at the top of the standings at 14-3, so the city of Springfield is effectively hosting the Missouri Valley regular season championship game this weekend. MSU won at Koch Arena in January, a stunning result at the time because the Shockers are traditionally so dominant in that building. Wichita State has since lost three more home games, but it’s looked more comfortable on the road– the Shockers’ only road loss this season came at San Diego State. Saturday’s game is all about toughness. Wichita State thinks it’s tougher than you, and it wins by crashing the offensive glass and feeding the paint. That doesn’t intimidate Missouri State, because former Purdue assistant Cuonzo Martin takes a tough-nosed approach with his program, too. As far as individual match-ups go, WSU’s J.T. Durley may be the Valley’s best back-to-the-basket scorer. He’ll have his hands full with the Bears’ frontcourt tandem, which consists of POY candidate Kyle Weems and the fiery Will Creekmore. Gregg Marshall has a deeper roster with more athleticism, and he has the ability to pressure teams full court whenever he likes. Without consistent point guard play, though, his team’s been prone to offensive droughts in the half-court, and he’ll need more out of guard Toure’ Murry, who made just one shot in that January meeting. The two teams are long shots for at-large bids, so Arch Madness next week is the more important event, but a conference championship is on the line Saturday. How’s that for some drama?
RTC’s Kevin Doyle, writer of the weekly column, The Other 26, will be providing some BGTD-style analysis throughout Saturday’s BracketBuster games, mostly focusing on the evening sessions.
(ed. note: we’ll work our way backwards so the most recent update is always at the top of the post.)
8:34 PM – UNI is holding onto a slim lead against George Mason thanks in large part to the strong play of Kwadzo Ahelegbe. The senior from Minnesota already has 18 points as the Panthers are up on GMU 54-50 late in the second half. I have not seen Ahelegbe play once this year, but I love his pure stroke from beyond the arc and his quickness while attacking the basket. If Northern Iowa can hold on against GMU it would be a huge confidence booster heading into the MVC tournament.
7:58PM – The Panthers are besting George Mason 36-32 at the half and are playing the kind of basketball they have failed to play lately in the Missouri Valley. UNI lost three straight in the MVC and are no longer contending with Missouri State and Wichita State, but seem to be peaking at the right time. George Mason, win or lose, will still be the favorite in the CAA going into the conference tournament, but a win in Iowa over the Panthers would certainly help their resume if they falter in the CAA tournament. Cam Long and Ryan Pearson are two of the CAA’s best and are a tough match up for any opponent. I’d argue that the outcome of this game means more for GMU than UNI for the sole reason that Mason is still in contention for an at-large berth.
7:15PM – College of Charleston ended up defeating Vermont 85-70 in a game that was not as close as the score would indicate. The Cougars proved how dangerous of a threat they are due to the play of one player: Andrew Goudelock. The senior from Georgia tore apart Vermont and in doing so proved they are they class of the Southern Conference. Can Charleston do what Davidson did a few years ago? Probably not, but Goudelock is a very similar player to Stephen Curry in how he is able to take over a game.
As for the other 5:00 game, Valpo soundly defeated Missouri State 80-67. The Crusaders, along with Cleveland State who thoroughly defeated Hofstra earlier today, appear to be the clear favorites in the Horizon League.
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:
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.
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.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the college basketball season is nearly half over. It is not all bad though, with conference play beginning we are just another step closer to Championship Week, Selection Sunday, and, of course, the NCAA Tournament. During this time of the year, the Other 26 and BCS largely go their separate ways, only to be reunited just two months later on the biggest stage of them all. As it is every year, the non-conference is nothing more than a tease of what is to come later. What are five major things that we learned during the first half of the year?
The top three teams in the Mountain West (SDSU, UNLV, BYU) will all be a force in the NCAA Tournament.
Gonzaga and Butler are not as dominant as they have been in past years, but both seem poised to perform well in their conference play as they drastically improved in the latter half of the non-conference schedule.
Temple and Richmond can go toe-to-toe with the big boys. In one week, the Owls defeated Maryland and then Georgetown, and then just weeks later they were points away from beating Villanova. As for the Spiders, they have beaten four of five BCS teams they played against.
Don’t sleep on Conference USA. Although the league probably will receive only two bids—maybe three—Central Florida, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, UAB and UTEP are pretty darn good.
The Mountain West and Atlantic 10 will combine to have more teams in the NCAA Tournament than the ACC and SEC. Okay that is a bit of a reach, but don’t be surprised if this is close to happening. Right now, the only lock in the ACC is Duke, obviously. As for the SEC, it is only Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The MWC will almost certainly have SDSU, BYU, and UNLV, and the Atlantic 10 is a bit of a crapshoot at the top. Over the last three years, however, the A10 has sent three years to the Dance in each year—food for thought.
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
A Look Back
End of the Non-Conference Season—Some people may say it is a relief to see the end of the Missouri Valley Conference’s non-conference season. Every school in the conference had opportunities against top teams in the nation and none of them could come through and separate themselves, nor get into the national spotlight. The conference really needs to take a look at the scheduling that each of the schools do and maybe re-evaluate what can be accomplished in the non-conference season. There were more games than usual scheduled against the top 25 teams in the nation, but maybe it would be better to get more with the teams ranked 26-75 instead. They may also have to try and play more neutral court games as well.
Diamond in the Rough—We have talked before about Gregory Echenique and his impact to the Creighton basketball team since becoming eligible, but another player that has become eligible heading into conference season is Diamond Taylor from Southern Illinois. Taylor came to the Salukis last season after being kicked off the Wisconsin basketball team in September 2009 after being arrested for burglary and possession of stolen property. With a new start, Taylor will bring a scoring and defensive spark to Southern Illinois.
RPI doldrums— If the Valley ever wants to be considered a multiple big league again, one thing they will need to do is find a way to move up the conference RPI rankings. As of the past week, the Missouri Valley Conference was as low as the 13th in some conference rankings sitting below the Ivy League. While they now beat up on each other in the conference season, their only hope to move up now is to have a couple of teams separate themselves and then make a nice showing in the now overblown Bracketbusters.
Non-Conference Player of the Season—Kyle Weems, Missouri State—Weems is second in the league in scoring, sixth in rebounding and the only player in the league to be in the top 10 in both categories. He has been the leader the Bears have needed during their tough non-conference season. The junior has scored in double figures in all but one of their games and has averaged 22 points a game in the past four games. If Missouri State is going to win the conference season, Weems will be the key to take them there.
Non-Conference Newcomer of the Season—Doug McDermott, Creighton—There was talk that McDermott would redshirt this season. With the wait of Gregory Echenique to become eligible, Ethan Wragge’s foot injury and the loss of Casey Harriman, McDermott was the required to go ahead and play. He has started every game this season and is second on the team in minutes played. The freshman has responded by averaging almost 13 points and 6 rebounds a game. Creighton received a gift when Northern Iowa released him from his Letter of Intent so he could play for his dad.
Power Rankings (Record) (Last week rank) and Conference Outlook
Wichita State (9-2) (1)— Wichita State had an up and down non-conference season. They missed some opportunities out in Maui, blowing a lead late to Connecticut putting them in the wrong part of the bracket and missing a chance against Michigan State and Kentucky. Then they failed to win their MVC/MWC Challenge game against a still undefeated San Diego State. However they have come on lately by winning a tight game at LSU (which now doesn’t look as good after the Tigers were blown out by North Texas) and then taking down Tulsa this past week in the first basketball game at Intrust Bank Arena. They have some big momentum going into conference play. They host Evansville and travel to Bradley for their first two conference games.
Missouri State (8-3) (2)—Will Creekmore has stepped up larger than many have expected and together with Kyle Weems gave the Bears a decent non-conference season, but probably not what they were hoping for. They came up just short against Tennessee in the NIT Tipoff, got caught by Tulsa unprepared, and played tough against Oklahoma State. Unfortunately they were all losses. There is no signature win on their resume that will help them come March.
Northern Iowa (9-3) (3)— Rebuilding and exceeding expectations from last season has been a large challenge on Ben Jacobson’s plate. The Panthers were taught an early lesson at Syracuse and have had some troubles on the road losing to Iowa and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. However, winning the Las Vegas Classic springboards them into conference play with a lot of confidence and a solid rotation of players. The Panthers now have a knack for beating storied teams with the win against Indiana this week.
Creighton (8-4) (5)— Creighton got off to a slow start, but heads into a conference season riding a four game winning streak, getting Rutgers transfer Gregory Echeniquethree games under his belt to get ready for conference season. However, losses to their toughest competition like BYU, Nebraska, Northwestern and Iowa State lays out a path that the Bluejays need to have a stellar MVC regular season and put all of their eggs into the MVC Tournament basket..
Illinois State (8-3) (4)— Tim Jankovich said coming into the season he had one of the youngest teams in the league having to replace a lot of key players, so their non-conference has been probably as expected. They lost games against their toughest competition, UNLV and Ohio, and had a rough outing on their first road game of the season losing at Arkansas-Little Rock. But they finished their non-conference on a strong note in a back and forth contest at UNC-Wilmington before winning in overtime. They will be tested early with Creighton and Missouri State to start things off.
Southern Illinois (6-5) (7)—Southern Illinois is where most people had them coming into this season. Somehow I missed the memo and expected them to be better than they have been. They started off the season getting blown out by Illinois and then somehow called a timeout they didn’t have against Northeastern to start the season 0-2. The Salukis have been able to beat the teams they were supposed to beat, but lost to known commodities of a Drake and Northern Iowa start their battle for the MVC. Shorter and more intense practices might be their answer.
Evansville (6-4) (6)— There are signs of improvement in Evansville, but like the other teams in the conference, could not get a big win to put in their back pocket. Butler could be that win, but even they look down compared to their NCAA Championship game run last season. Losses against North Carolina and Indiana along with Air Force and Middle Tennessee exploits their inconsistency that is still being put in place for a program that has struggled to do anything since becoming a part of Division I years ago. But with young players like Colt Ryan, Denver Holmes andNed Cox, things might be looking up. Starting at Wichita State will not be an easy task.
Bradley (6-5) (9)— There is something in the water in Peoria that has caused things not to turn out at all what was expected coming into this season. Two starters and potential All-Conference players in Taylor Brown and Sam Maniscalco have been grounded with injury and the Braves were riding a five-game losing streak coming into the week before Christmas where they were able to get back on the winning track. Jim Les may have saved his job for another year once again because of injuries and coaching a different way. Indiana State and Wichita State are on the slate for the first week.
Indiana State (5-6) (8)—The Sycamores have had time to think about their last non-conference game against Purdue on December 18th. Being on the road for most of their non-conference season was a killer for Indiana State though they probably gained a lot of experience playing against adversity heading into the conference season. They could get themselves off to a good start if they can beat Bradley and Evansville in the first week.
Drake (5-6) (10)— After Drake’s teaching lesson from Dartmouth to start the week, the Bulldogs in shambles at the end of the non-conference. When your wins are against Texas Southern, Southern Utah, Eastern Michigan, Boise State and Chicago State, there is definitely something that is not clicking for them. They have had the last two top recruiting classes in the conference, but there may be some questions on whether that talent has the right coach in place.
A Look Ahead
Conference play begins and there are already some good matchups to kick things off.
12/29—Missouri State @ Northern Iowa (Fox Sports Net)—A great game to kick off MVC conference play as both teams expect to be in the race at the end of the season.
12/29—Creighton @ Illinois State (ESPN Full Court/ESPN3.com)—Creighton has had some struggles with Illinois state when they have played each other early in the conference schedule. Both teams have work to do as they start conference play.
1/1—Wichita State @ Bradley (ESPNU)—This game had a lot of potential before half of Bradley’s starters went down with injury. The Shockers will set the bar in this game.
1/1—Illinois State @ Missouri State (No TV)—Missouri State has steadily risen in the Valley stature over the past couple of seasons. I still think the Bears can win the conference. At the same time, we may know early where the Redbirds will ultimately end up.
1/1—Northern Iowa @ Southern Illinois (No TV)—Both programs are heading in different directions. Northern Iowa is in the reloading stage while Southern Illinois is still going through an extreme makeover.
For about a four hour stretch on Tuesday evening, I was glued to my TV. Watching college basketball on the ESPN family of networks is a beautiful distraction during finals week. Somehow, watching Oakland shock Tennessee and then Drexel hand Louisville its first loss of the season was more appealing than writing a paper. To the average hoops fans, both of these games would be of little interest. I mean, the Summit League vs. the SEC and the CAA vs. the Big East? Call me crazy, but I greatly anticipated both of these matchups. Teams coming from obscurity that are comprised of players who were a mere afterthought when recruited excites me. When further investigating both Oakland and Drexel, it wasn’t inconceivable that an upset could happen. Oakland had just lost to Michigan State by a point, and Drexel had won six of seven games. The point being, there are many teams from the Other 26 conferences that when they catch a talented BCS team on an off night, can knock them off. This is, after all, the allure of the NCAA Tournament—watching the little guy win. Seeing the likes of Oakland and Drexel defeat the big kids on Tuesday night could be a preview of what is to come during March.
Tidbits from the Rankings:
Steady at the Top: Although UNLV lost to drop them in the rankings, San Diego State and BYU maintained their positions at one and two. A lot can happen this coming week though as both teams play three games each.
The Mountain West and Atlantic 10 lead the way in the rankings: #1 and #2 are from the MWC and #3 and #4 from the A-10.
There was not a whole lot of upward movement in the rankings, but two teams did have significant falls. UNLV, after losing two games, dropped five spots to number eight, and Virginia Commonwealth moved from #10 to #19 after Richmond beat them handily.
Cleveland State, at 12-0, is still outside of the top ten, but will have an opportunity to potentially crack it with a victory against West Virginia.
Two come and two go, again: Drexel and Southern Mississippi entered the top 20, while Dayton and Missouri State departed.
Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor. For an introduction to this series, please click here.
As every week of the college basketball season evaporates right before our eyes—like a double-digit lead is whittled down to a single possession in a matter of minutes—more and more stories subsequently develop. To draw a comparison to mathematics for you brainiacs out there, this is the classic inverse relationship. As “X”—the number of weeks in the season—decreases, “Y”—the amount of stories—increases. Think about it, when are there the most stories surrounding college basketball? At the end of the year during the NCAA Tournament, of course. From the moment Selection Sunday rolls around all the way to that final, depressing buzzer in the NCAA Championship game rings signaling an end to another season, it seems as if college hoops are being discussed 24/7. Just this past week, there were several major developments in the world of the Other 26:
The top three teams in the Mountain West—SDSU, BYU, and UNLV—are a combined 27-0.
Butler and Gonzaga have identical, albeit very mediocre, records: 4-4.
Temple defeated Maryland and Georgetown, and in the process Fran Dunphy picked up his 400th win.
Cleveland State has the most victories in the country with 11.
One of the biggest recruits in the nation—Adjehi Baru—signed with the College of Charleston over a couple of ACC schools. Bobby Cremins really has something brewing down there in South Carolina. Could Charleston be the next Davidson? Both schools, after all, hail from the Southern Conference.
Illinois and Oakland were getting in touch with their feminine side by using a women’s basketball for the first seven minutes of the first half of their game.
The inverse relationship will not fail as the season progresses. I promise.