O26 Early Impressions: Takeaways From First 10 Days

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 21st, 2016

With Feast Week now upon us and two weekends of college hoops in the books, let’s take a step back and reflect on what we’ve learned, which teams have impressed, and why Florida Gulf Coast’s loss at Michigan State was unforgettable… for all the wrong reasons.

Saint Mary's center Jock Landale has been nothing short of excellent. (USATSI)

To this point, Saint Mary’s center Jock Landale has been nothing short of excellent. (USATSI)

The West Coast Conference looks even better than expected. We ranked Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s #1 and #2 in our preseason Power 13, respectively, with Brigham Young also cracking the list. Each has lived up to—perhaps even exceeded—expectations in the early going. In their first major test, the Zags crushed San Diego State by 21 points, holding the Aztecs to 0.69 points per possession and receiving major contributions from freshman big man Zach Collins (16 points on 6-for-7 FG). The Gaels, to their credit, blitzed a talented Nevada team in their opener before earning a huge, resume-bolstering road win at Dayton two games later. The Cougars began their season with a double-digit victory over Ivy League favorite Princeton. As for potential WCC Player of the Year candidates? There may wind up being too many to count. Along with Gonzaga’s cast of contenders, BYU forward Eric Mika (21.0 PPG, 11.0 RPG), back from his two year LDS mission, has looked downright dominant on both ends of the floor through three games. Likewise, Saint Mary’s center Jock Landale (20.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG)—who averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game in 2015-16—has been an offensive revelation for Randy Bennett, in addition to hyper-efficient point guard Emmett Naar (9.0 PPG, 9.7 APG). Strap in for a heavyweight battle atop the WCC.

Rhode Island is the real deal. Sure, the Rams (4-1) lost handily to #1 Duke in Sunday’s Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship game, but they looked like they belonged, and they only got there by grinding out a 76-71 victory over #24 Cincinnati one day earlier. E.C. Matthews (19.5 PPG) appears to be his old self after missing last season with a knee injury, while forward Hassan Martin (4.3 BPG)—who blocked seven shots against Duke—looks well on his way to repeating as Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year. Rhode Island has the grit, the talent, and (finally) the offensive punch to reach its first NCAA Tournament since 1999. The season’s first 10 days have only reaffirmed that.

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O26 At-Large Watch: Early Season Games With Late Season Impact

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 7th, 2016

With March still several months away, it’s impossible to know which non-conference match-ups will actually prove critical once Selection Sunday arrives. But we here at the Other 26 microsite can certainly take an educated guess. Here are 11 pre-January contests that we think may play a significant role in deciding which O26 contenders will be in position to earn at-large bids on March 12.

Princeton will have several opportunities for resume-defining wins. (goprincetontigers.com)

Princeton has several opportunities for resume-defining wins. (goprincetontigers.com)

  • Princeton at Brigham Young – November 14, 10:00 PM EST, ESPN2. BYU essentially struck out in non-conference play last season and wound up paying the price on Selection Sunday. The Cougars’ margin for error may be even slimmer this year. As it stands, Princeton (#39 RPI in 2015-16) is probably BYU’s best non-league opponent, making this Tip-Off Marathon home tilt critical for Dave Rose’s offensively gifted group. For the Tigers — who also play VCU, California and Monmouth in the season’s first two months — a victory at the Marriott Center would be a giant feather in their non-conference cap.
  • San Diego State at #14 Gonzaga – November 14, 11:59 PM EST, ESPN2. If the Mountain West has another down year, San Diego State could find itself with a very hollow resume come March even if it lives up to its preseason billing. The Aztecs simply don’t have many opportunities for quality non-conference wins. Luckily, the bulk of their roster back, and the addition of two power-conference transfers should enable one of the nation’s most effective defensive teams to become more impactful on offense. Which is to say that Steve Fisher’s group should be able to compete with a talented-but-unproven Gonzaga unit, especially early this season. A win in the Kennel would be huge.

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O26 Programs on the Rise: Eight Teams Poised to Break Out

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 28th, 2016

On Monday, we brought you a list of under-the-radar O26 players primed for big seasons in 2016-17. This time around, we’re examining several programs on the cusp of making serious moves upward, either within their respective conferences or on the postseason stage.

  • Cal State Northridge – 2015-16 Record: 10-20 (5-11 Big West): Cal State Northridge (CSUN) may not have been very good last season, but it was certainly better after Kendall Smith became eligible in December. The UNLV transfer led the club in scoring (15.3 PPG) and was among the league’s best at drawing fouls. He, along with the team’s next four top weapons, all return — a fact which would alone be enough to portend improvement. Then consider what the Matadors added. Along with his intact roster, head coach Reggie Theus lured four high-major transfers—Darin Johnson (Washington), Dylan Johns (Texas A&M), Rakim Lubin (Connecticut), and Reggie Theus, Jr. (South Carolina)— each of whom bring positional size and talent to a squad already known for scoring points in the paint. If the pieces gel, CSUN can reverse its conference record and finish among the top four in the Big West.
One of the nation's top defensive units, College of Charleston may be smiling a lot in 2016-17. (kingkresse.com)

With one of the nation’s top defenses, College of Charleston could have a lot to smile about in 2016-17. (kingkresse.com)

  • College of Charleston – 2015-16 Record: 17-14 (8-10 Colonial Athletic): College of Charleston was defensively elite last season, and not just in the CAA—its adjusted defensive efficiency (93.3 AdjD) ranked 20th in the country, ahead of teams like North Carolina, Michigan State, and Oregon, among others. Then again, its offense ranked dead-last in the conference and among the 100 worst nationally. The return of nearly their entire roster, including CAA Rookie of the Year Jarrell Brantley (11.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG), should help the Cougars improve in that department, especially with an entire offseason to gel without the expectation of Canyon Berry’s return. If Earl Grant’s crew can put up just a few more points to complement that suffocating defense, look out. A conference title is within reach.

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Coaches We Hope Stick Around… But Won’t Blame If They Don’t

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 26th, 2015

Ah, late March – the most worrisome time of year. There will be firings, hirings and anxiety over whether several beloved mid-major coaches finally make the leap. Nothing like the smell of pink slips and greenbacks in the morning. With the carousel already fully in motion, let’s take look at a few of the most highly-coveted O26 coaches out there and why they should stay put… but why we also won’t blame them if they leave. [Note: We don’t include Shaka Smart on this list because we hope he’s entering Mark Few O26 lifer-status.]

Gregg Marshall – Wichita State

Here's to hoping Gregg Marshall is a lifer. (David Eulitt / Kansas City Star)

Here’s to hoping Gregg Marshall is a lifer. (David Eulitt/Kansas City Star)

  • He should stay! You know what Wichita State has that Alabama doesn’t (besides Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, of course)? A Final Four banner. Better yet, two Final Four banners. In fact, the Shockers probably have a better basketball program than the Crimson Tide from top to bottom – history, community support, momentum, etc. – and they don’t fall far behind in terms of compensation, either; Marshall’s base salary is $1.85 million this year, not including incentives. The eighth-year head coach has already led his team to a #1 seed, a Final Four appearance and a Sweet Sixteen, accomplishments he’s sure to build on next season if VanVleet and Baker stick around. Plus, how would he “Play Angry” at a power program? That ethos depends on perceived disrespect and thrives on an underdog mentality, which I’m not sure he could manufacture at a revenue mill like Alabama or Texas.
  • Why we wouldn’t blame him… If someone backed up the Brinks truck and said, “Just give me a price,” how would you react? At some point – regardless of landing spot – the monetary offer becomes too eye-poppingly good to pass up. According to CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish, Alabama is willing to offer Marshall “in excess of $3 million per year,” which would put him among the very highest-paid coaches in the game. If the Texas job opens up, the ‘Horns might offer something similar. That’s serious money and both schools’ available resources can back that up.

Steve Prohm – Murray State

  • He should stay! Cameron Payne – one of the best point guards in college hoops – is only a sophomore. Sharpshooters Jeffery Moss (11.1 PPG) and Justin Seymour (45% 3FG) are also set to return next season. Prohm, who has gone 104-29 since taking over in 2012, should continue winning big for the foreseeable future. Murray State’s fan base is among the strongest at the mid-major level, and the 36-year-old coach signed an extension through 2018 just last summer. Stick around, Steve!

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Conference Tourney Primers: Missouri Valley

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 5th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Missouri Valley Tournament

Dates: March 5-8

Site: Scottrade Center (St. Louis, MO)

mvccbs

(cbssports.com)

What to expect: Northern Iowa versus Wichita State: Round Three. After they split a pair of games in the regular season, Arch Madness now serves as the backdrop for what should be an epic title game between the Missouri Valley’s two most dominant teams. Any other match-up would be a surprise. The Shockers probably have the slight edge because of their considerable experience in pressure-packed, neutral-court games, but look for both clubs to receive single-digit seeds on Selection Sunday. Evansville is the only other conference opponent to beat one of them – narrowly edging the Panthers on New Year’s Day – while the advanced metrics like Illinois State as the third-best team. Still, neither the Aces nor the Redbirds are likely to threaten here.

Favorite: Wichita State. Could go either way here considering the regular season split, but let’s call Wichita State the favorite since it’s been in this position before.

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Northern Iowa vs. Wichita State Headlines Set of Decisive O26 Weekend Games

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 28th, 2015

We’re just days away from the postseason, yet several leagues with imminent conference tournaments remain up for grabs heading into this weekend. Let’s take a look at the most crucial match-ups on tap – games that will decide top seeds — highlighted by the de facto Missouri Valley championship game on Saturday.

Atlantic Sun

  • Stetson (9-20, 3-10) at North Florida (19-11, 11-2) – 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Saturday. North Florida completed a sweep of Florida Gulf Coast on Wednesday and can clinch the No. 1 seed – and home court advantage in the A-Sun Tournament – by beating Stetson on Saturday. KenPom gives the Ospreys a 96 percent chance of doing just that.
  • Florida Gulf Coast (21-8, 11-2) at Jacksonville (9-21, 3-10) – 2:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Saturday. After losing at home earlier this week, Dunk City needs some help. The Eagles should handle lowly Jacksonville on Saturday, but then it’s a matter of hoping Stetson pulls off the stunner later that night.

Big South

High Point and Charleston Southern will square off for the Big South's top seed. (Laura Greene / hpenews.com)

High Point and Charleston Southern will square off for the Big South’s top seed. (Laura Greene / hpenews.com)

  • High Point (22-7, 13-4) at Charleston Southern (18-10, 12-5) – 4:30 PM ET, Saturday. After all the craziness and parity (earlier this month, seven teams in this league were tied for first place), the Big South championship and top seed come down to this one game. High Point breezed past the Buccaneers in January and will earn its second straight outright conference title (third overall) if it beats them again, but Charleston Southern – led by 5’8’’ point guard Saah Nimley (20.8 PPG) – is 12-2 at home this season and owns the tiebreaker should it win. Plus, who knows – this game could also decide whether Nimley or High Point’s John Brown (18.2 PPG) garners Player of the Year honors.

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Sleeping on a Darling From a March Past

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 19th, 2015

The return to anonymity was as swift as the introduction had been sudden. When Ali Farokhmanesh unleashed his ill-advised three-point attempt with 36 seconds to play in a 2010 round of 32 match-up with Kansas, Northern Iowa was a little known Missouri Valley outfit that had scrapped its way to 29 wins. But seconds later, after the brave long distance attempt found the bottom of the net and the Panthers were done toppling top-seeded Kansas, Ben Jacobson‘s team was a national sensation. It didn’t matter that his team’s season would end six days later against Michigan State — with that one shot, Northern Iowa had suddenly become the story of the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

Seth Tuttle May Be College Basketball's Most Unassuming Star. His Northern Iowa Panthers are now 25-2. (Photo: Associated Press)

Seth Tuttle May Be College Basketball’s Most Unassuming Star. His Northern Iowa Panthers are now 25-2. (Photo: Associated Press)

The Panthers’ 15 minutes of fame extended a bit beyond March that year – they won ‘Best Upset’ at the 2010 ESPYs several months later – but it wasn’t too long before most of the world (and this includes the segment that eats, sleeps and breathes college basketball) had forgotten about them. They won no more than 21 games in any of the four seasons that followed, with a 2012 first-round NIT loss standing as the most successful postseason run since ‘the shot.’ Like so many March darlings before them, they had been forced back to their post in the obscure outer regions of college hoops.

They’re now back. Most college basketball fans have taken note of this season’s Northern Iowa renaissance, but lets take a full inventory of what they have done to this point. After Wednesday night’s 58-39 victory at Loyola (IL), Jacobson’s team has won 14 in a row and sits at 25-2 on the season. On January 31, the Panthers handed Wichita State its worst loss (70-54) in over six years. Their two losses came in double-overtime at VCU and by three points at Evansville. They rank in the top 25 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and the AP poll and Ken Pom’s rankings list them as the 11th best team in the country. Things are not going badly for this group.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Northern Iowa, Damion Lee, Jon Coffman & Richmond…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 3rd, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Northern Iowa knocked around Wichita State on Saturday. (Bryon Houlgrave, The Register)

Northern Iowa knocked around Wichita State on Saturday. (Bryon Houlgrave, The Register)

Northern Iowa. The Panthers beat Southern Illinois last Wednesday, 59-52, which was a nice MVC road victory; but let’s be honest – this league is all about the Shockers. While plenty of folks figured Northern Iowa could defeat Wichita State (they were in fact slight favorites by KenPom), I’m not sure anyone thought Ben Jacobson’s group would manhandle the reigning Missouri Valley champs. After trading baskets for the opening 10 minutes, the Panthers spent the final 30 minutes of game time pummeling a team that hadn’t been pummeled in a long, long time. In fact, Wichita State had not lost an MVC contest since the 2013 league championship game against Creighton, racking up 27 straight regular season conference victories entering Saturday. So it goes without saying that Northern Iowa’s performance – a 70-54 beatdown – was something special. Trailing by two with 9:50 left in the first half, the Panthers used stifling defense and an energetic home crowd to close out the period on a 21-6 run, confronting the Shockers with their largest deficit since January 11, 2014. And even though Wichita State had won 12 games in a row when trailing at the break, they were simply overmatched this time around; Northern Iowa began the second-half on another 8-2 spurt to open up an insurmountable 19-point lead. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker were unable to find consistent looks against the home team’s stingy pack-line defense – now the 17th most efficient in college basketball – and Northern Iowa senior Seth Tuttle had the game of his career, scoring 29 points against the Shockers’ usually-tough interior. How did the Panthers dominate Wichita State so thoroughly? Perhaps it was a matter of expectations. “We didn’t really talk about coming in and beating them by one or two,” Tuttle said afterwards. “We talked about coming in here and beating them by 15.” Northern Iowa is now projected as a #5 seed in multiple mock brackets and has a real shot to win the league. February 28 – the return match-up in Wichita – looms large. But for now, the Panthers are our Team of the Week.

Honorable Mentions: Richmond (2-0: vs. Duquesne, at VCU); William & Mary (2-0: vs. Hofstra, at James Madison); Pepperdine (2-0: at Pacific, at Saint Mary’s); Albany (2-0: at Vermont, at Maine); Radford (2-0: at Charleston Southern, vs. Radford); USC-Upstate (2-0: at Jacksonville, at North Florida)

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Wichita State vs. Northern Iowa: Does the Shockers’ Streak End Today?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 31st, 2015

Looking for something to tide you over before Duke-Virginia? Look no further than the Missouri Valley, where Northern Iowa hosts Wichita State in arguably the biggest O26 clash to date. Not only will it be the first matchup between ranked MVC teams since 1982, but the outcome could go a long way in determining the eventual league champion. Perhaps more importantly, each team will have an opportunity to notch a rare, in-conference resume booster just six weeks ahead of Selection Sunday. Oh, and did I mention that the Shockers’ 27-game conference winning streak hangs in the balance? With lots at stake and both teams projected as single-digit seeds in the NCAA Tournament, this isn’t your average high-major undercard – it’s a heavyweight bout all on its own. Let’s take a look at why each team can win.

Why Northern Iowa Wins…

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers have what it takes to beat Wichita State. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) )

Do Seth Tuttle and the Panthers have what it takes to beat Wichita State? (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Home court advantage. The Panthers haven’t lost at home in almost a full calendar year, today in search of their 13th-straight victory in the McLeod Center. And while their last defeat in Cedar Falls did come at the hands of the Shockers – a nine point loss last February 8th – this will be the first time since the 2013 MVC title game that Wichita State actually enters a league contest as underdog; KenPom gives Northern Iowa the slight advantage (54%) this afternoon. Gregg Marshall’s bunch has exhibited steely nerves on the road plenty of times before, but keeping it together in front of a crowd that’s been sold out for a month and a half is easier said than done.
  • Defense. This may be oversimplifying things, but if Northern Iowa plays the level of defense it has for much of this season, it will be in great shape to win. The Panthers – currently boasting the 17th most efficient defense in college basketball – have allowed just five teams to score over one point per possession, playing a stifling brand of pack-line defense (with some other principles mixed in) that’s been incredibly difficult to penetrate in 2014-15. With Cleanthony Early no longer in the lineup, Wichita State might not have an athletic wing-type capable of attacking the lane and opening looks near the basket the way it did in 2013-14, especially if the Panthers stymy them in transition. Likewise, senior forward Seth Tuttle – in addition to his offensive prowess (15.1 PPG) – has been virtually immovable on the block this season, suffocating opposing big men and cleaning up the defensive glass (20.9% DReb). If Fred VanVleet can’t push the ball and Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton don’t hit outside shots, it might be a long afternoon for the Shockers.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Albany, Saah Nimley, Ben Jacobson & Dartmouth…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 27th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Albany. Last Monday, Albany learned it would be without leading scorer Peter Hooley indefinitely following the junior’s decision to return home to Australia to be with his ill mother. While the move was understandable and even encouraged by head coach Will Brown, it left the Great Danes – in the thick of an America East title race – without one of their most important players… just in time for a road trip to Stony Brook. With the preseason conference favorites on deck before games at Hartford and against UMBC, the week suddenly spelled ‘gut-check’ for Brown’s group. And boy, did they respond.

Without its top scorer, Albany grabbed control of the America East. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Without its top scorer, Albany grabbed control of the America East. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Not only did the Danes beat Stony Brook in the face of long odds (KenPom gave the home team an 82.3% win probability), they did so convincingly, jumping out to an early 10-point lead and never looking back. The team’s other top Australian, forward Sam Rowley, stepped up with 16 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and three blocks – outworking America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney underneath – and Albany scored 19 of its 64 points at the free throw line. Defensively, Brown’s 2-3 zone baffled Stony Brook all night long, holding the Seawolves to a season-low 0.77 points per possession. The final margin: a whopping 17 points. “I thought it was a gutsy effort tonight,” Brown said after the dominant victory.

But the week (and the winning) was far from over for the Danes. Next up was a trip to Hartford on Thursday to battle a talented-if-underachieving Hawks team also vying for a top-four seed. That game, tabbed as a coin-flip, played out much the same for Albany; Rowley was excellent (22 points, eight rebounds) and the team rolled, 62-53. The cherry on top for Brown’s short-handed unit came on Sunday, at home against UMBC, when four players scored in double-figures and the Danes again won big, topping the Retrievers by 14. A week that began with difficult news and could have gone in the opposite direction – again, Hooley leads the team in scoring – ended with Albany standing alone and undefeated atop the standings, in prime position to grab the America East Tournament’s top seed – a spot that means more than ever in 2014-15.

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