Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.
Cincinnati’s swarming defense wasn’t good enough to overcome New Mexico’s efficient offense in a 63-54 loss Saturday. (GoLobos.com)
Every basketball fan understands the concept of the run, where a team strings together a series of defensive stops while scoring points on the other end. The name is appropriate for a team like Louisville, which can put up a dozen straight points in an eye blink. Cincinnati can’t really do that, particularly against a quality foe. What the Bearcats do – when the ferocity of their defense overwhelms the ineptitude of their offense for a while; or for the other team, when it doesn’t – is more like a walk. In the first half on Saturday, New Mexico walked away from Cincinnati in The Pit, outscoring the Bearcats 16-4 over a period of a little more than 10 minutes to take a 27-10 lead. Cincinnati later cut that lead to only two early in the second half, but never got it all the way back to even. The Bearcats have never been a good offensive team under Mick Cronin (KenPom had UC ranked #64 in offensive efficiency coming into the game, which would be near the top of the Cronin era), but no matter the quality of your defense, beating a good team on the road is going to be nearly impossible when you shoot 29.5 percent and score around 0.9 points per possession, as Cincinnati did in this game.
That said, the defense wasn’t good enough on Saturday either. Cincinnati was ranked #9 in adjusted defensive efficiency (92.4), #12 in effective field goal defense (42.1 percent) and #2 in turnover percentage (27.5 percent) coming into the game. New Mexico brought thoroughly mediocre ranks in effective field goal offense (#128) and turnover percentage (#100), so a path to victory for the Bearcats had to include getting stops and turning over the Lobos. The Bearcats did force 15 turnovers, roughly one out of every four possessions, which might have been enough on its own had they also not allowed New Mexico to shoot 50 percent from the field. Moreover, they couldn’t get those stops when it counted. After cutting a 12-point lead down to seven with 3:29 remaining, Cincinnati allowed New Mexico to score on its next three possessions. The first of those possessions lasted 61 seconds, thanks to an offensive rebound more than 30 seconds into the shot clock that allowed another 20-plus seconds to run off. The last of those scores made it a 13-point game with a minute left, putting things out of reach. Read the rest of this entry »
With four weeks of basketball now in the books, it’s time to take a quick glance back at some of the things we thought we knew in the preseason. Some notions have proved accurate, but early results have tested a slew of preseason hypotheses that we once felt confident in. Here are a few examples, on both sides of the ledger:
We Thought We Knew…
Andy Enfield Was the New Coach Bringing Exciting Offensive Basketball to LA
There Has Been Nothing Slow About Steve Alford’s And UCLA’s First Four Weeks
We weren’t the only ones who thought it was USC, with AndyEnfield now at the helm – and not UCLA, with new head man Steve Alford — which was going to be lighting up Pac-12 scoreboards in the City of Angels this winter. Back in October, Enfield told his players, “if you want to play slow, go to UCLA.” Well, USC isn’t playing slow – they are 33rd nationally in possessions per game –but they are playing slower than the Bruins, which are six spots ahead of them in that category. And if this first month means anything, perhaps Enfield should have also advised any of his players who enjoy scoring, winning, or both, to plan that transfer across town. USC is 5-3, with just one win against a team in KenPom’s top 230 (!!!) and an offensive efficiency that ranks them 170th nationally. UCLA, on the other hand, is 8-0 and averaging more than 90 PPG behind the 7th-most efficient offense in the country. Now, there is a necessary asterisk here: Alford inherited significantly more talent at his disposal than Enfield did. Even so, it was Enfield – not Alford — who invited the cross-town comparisons. The Dunk City architect better have something besides his mouth working by the time USC visits Pauley Pavilion on January 5; otherwise, his Trojans are firmly at risk of getting run out of Westwood, and contrary to popular belief, there would be nothing slow about it.
The Complection of the Top of the Big 12
At this point, expecting Kansas to win the Big 12 generally equates to peeping out a Southern California window and looking for the sun in the morning. The Jayhawks may not have played their way out of the preseason expectation to win the Big 12 again this year, but they should have company at the top this time around. Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State, post play deficiencies aside, have looked every bit the part of Big 12 title contenders themselves, and many would now peg the Cowboys as Big 12 favorites (including yours truly). Kansas State and Baylor were next in line after the Pokes and Jayhawks a month ago, but the Wildcats have suffered through a miserable opening month, while Baylor has looked as shaky as a 7-1 team with two top-40 victories can look, with two of those wins coming against non-D-I competition and three of the other five earned with a final margin of victory of five points or fewer. Iowa State now looks like the team ready to take a step up in class. The Cyclones, 7-0 with a pair of top-40 victories of their own, could easily enter the Big 12 season undefeated and prepared to further shake up a suddenly unpredictable conference race.
Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 3rd, 2013
This is the 44th season of San Diego State basketball playing at the Division I level. In the 29 years prior to Steve Fisher arriving on campus, the Aztecs had 12 winning seasons, four postseason tournament appearances – three NCAAs and one NIT – and exactly zero postseason wins. Now they’ve made four straight NCAA Tournaments, eight straight postseason tournaments, and have turned into a fixture on the national stage. They scored their first NCAA Tournament win in 2011 and turned that into a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Marcus Slaughter and Brandon Heath and Kyle Spain turned into Kawhi Leonard and Billy White and D.J. Gay. That group turned into Chase Tapley and Jamaal Franklin. Those two moved on last year and now Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard and Josh Davis step up. And the Aztecs just keep on keeping on.
Fifteen Years Ago, San Diego State Basketball Was An Afterthought, Now It Is A Program
Fisher had this to say about his team’s performance this weekend in winning the Wooden Legacy while knocking off such divergent styles as Creighton and Marquette in back-to-back games: “We’ve got a group of guys that will compete and adapt and adjust. And whatever the moment is, we’ll be able to to play that way.” Take that quote out of context and he could be talking about the philosophy of the program as a whole. Back in 2005-06, with Slaughter and Heath on campus, the Aztecs were a great offensive team that liked to get out in transition and hit a lot of threes, but weren’t so good defensively. In 2010-11, they were a fantastic defensive team with Leonard and a big front line, but they were one of the slowest teams in the country. Last year it was the two-headed attack of Tapley and Franklin, and now this year, they’re great athletically and get after it on defense but aside from Thames they may have a different secondary scorer every night. Adjust and adapt and compete. And, when it comes time, next man up, get in there and get the job done.
Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 7th, 2013
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and the Pac-12. You can find him on Twitter at @Amurawa.
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times? In some way, the 2012-13 regular season was the peak for the Mountain West basketball. As a conference, the MW finished third in RPI, behind only the Big Ten and the Big East, with regular season champion New Mexico finishing third nationally in that admittedly flawed rating. Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State all finished in the top 35 in RPI, while only two teams – Fresno State and Nevada – finished below 100 in that rating. And best of all, five of the nine conference teams earned invitations to the NCAA Tournament, and all five were either seed-line favorites or, in the case of Boise State, involved in a virtual coin-flip in a First Four game. But Selection Sunday was the last glimpse of glory for the conference, as only two of the conference teams made it even so far as the first weekend of the Tournament, and by the time the Sweet 16 rolled around, the MW was little more than a punchline. To put it plainly, this is a conference with a lot of doubters heading into the new season.
New Mexico’s Regular Season Success Was A Distant Memory Following An Opening Round NCAA Tournament Loss (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)
Replacing Production. To make matters worse, all of the historic powers in this conference are faced with replacing major losses. UNLV saw freshman Anthony Bennett leave on his way to becoming the number one overall pick in June’s NBA Draft, but will also have to find ways to replace transfers Mike Moser and Katin Reinhardt, along with backcourt rock Anthony Marshall. New Mexico had head coach Steve Alford bail for the greener pastures of UCLA, not a week after agreeing to a big contract extension in Albuquerque, and will also have to find a replacement for breakout wing Tony Snell, who left for the NBA. Steve Fisher and San Diego State now find themselves without any remaining ties to the 2010 Sweet 16 team, as graduates Chase Tapley and James Rahon are joined on their way out the door by their own early entrant to the NBA Draft in Jamaal Franklin. And Colorado State? Geez, if you know anybody returning on the Ram basketball squad, you and I should sit down and have a beer sometime. While there is still plenty of talent around the conference, there are a lot of players who need to produce in order to make us believe.
The Final Effects of Realignment? Not too long ago, the Mountain West was a stable collection of nine teams who seemed more or less happy to be with each other, despite a flailing cable network and a mishmash of interests. Just three seasons ago, teams like Utah, BYU and TCU were cornerstones of the conference. Now, those three schools are gone. But, to be honest, the conference has to be thankful that they have who they still have. Even in the middle of last year’s basketball season, Boise State and San Diego State each had one foot out the door to the Big East (really? San Diego and Boise, east? This still bugs me after all this time) before cooler heads prevailed. Still, in an effort to replace those teams should their defection have completed, the MW snapped up Utah State and San Jose State from the WAC, and those two teams join the conference this season, marking the end to the changes in the membership of the Mountain West, at least for the foreseeable future. One significantly unfortunate side effect of all the running around – the balanced conference schedule where everybody plays everybody at home and away is a thing of the past.
While it appears that the realignment carousel in Division I collegiate athletics has come to a halt — at least for now — plenty of college basketball programs will be getting used to new surroundings this season. In all, over 50 schools were affected in the 2013-14 round of realignment, an upheaval that has radically changed the athletic landscape over the past three years. As power conference schools chased the football dollar, the domino effect reverberated throughout the NCAA. Many schools in lower and mid-level leagues changed their associations as the news from president’s and athletic director’s offices cascaded down throughout almost all of the conferences. Realignment has been widely panned by college basketball fans and pundits alike who lament the extinction of great, historic rivalries such as Kansas-Missouri and Syracuse-Georgetown. While that is absolutely true, realignment is not all bad. New, interesting rivalries will now be created such as Duke-Syracuse, Memphis-Louisville (an old rivalry resurrected for at least one year) and Xavier-Butler (a continuation from last year’s Atlantic 10). Undoubtedly, many more new rivalries will emerge over the long term.
Realignment Felt Like This at Times, But It Seems to Have Finally Settled Down
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of this year’s round of conference realignment.
The ACC:When word first leaked that Syracuse and Pittsburgh were discussing an exit from the Big East, some people may have thought it was a joke. Alas, it was real and it happened very quickly. ACC commissioner John Swofford successfully raided the Big East yet again, pulling off a 48-hour coup that effectively drove the final nail into the coffin of what we all knew as the Big East. Now the ACC has effectively become the old Big East, a 15-team behemoth that is absolutely loaded at the top. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame join legendary programs Duke and North Carolina, along with a collection of schools that have been historically solid. This year’s ACC will be great, but in the long run the battles at the top of this league will be second to none with the powerhouses sure to be involved. What we saw in the Big East over the last decade should become commonplace in the new-look ACC. It will get even better next season when Louisville replaces ACC founding member Maryland, which will depart for the Big Ten.
The tumult of conference realignment has hit few conferences harder than it has the Mountain West and Atlantic 10, but as we prepare to set sail on the 2013-14 season, both leagues again loom as the best college basketball has to offer outside the now “power seven” conferences. We touched on each league a little bit in yesterday’s Morning Five, but storylines abound in two leagues that have generated plenty of national buzz in recent years. Both are expected to maintain holds in the upper echelon of the mid-major hierarchy, but offseason membership changes have left things less certain than usual, especially in the A-10. The constant churn of programs jumping from conference to conference has left leagues in varying states of disarray, and 2013-14 finds both the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 at a crossroads. The challenges are different in each situation, but with the relatively uncertain future of today’s college basketball’s climate, another strong season in comparison with the high-majors would go a long ways towards stabilizing each of these traditionally strong conferences.
Kendall Williams And New Mexico Are Just One Of Many Teams With High Hopes In The Mountain West
This season’s iteration of the Mountain West is bigger, but is it better? The preseason poll released Tuesday offered confirmation of the general consensus surrounding newcomers Utah State and San Jose State: Stew Morrill and the Aggies should be a factor in the top half of the conference, while the Spartans, despite their eye-catching new floor, are likely to be MW doormats. But even if Utah State matches or exceeds expectations in their conference debut, the conference as a whole will struggle to replicate the success of 2012-13 – those good old days when the MW was number one in conference RPI (no typo). The trio at the top of this year’s preseason poll all have a chance at replicating, or even improving upon, their successful campaigns of a year ago.
The return of preseason MW POY Kendall Williams and first teamer Alex Kirk has left New Mexico as the conference’s presumptive favorite: the Lobos earned all but one of 24 first place votes. A talented but overhauled UNLV squad scooped up that final first place vote, while Boise State’s return of nearly every key contributor earned the Broncos enough acclaim to tie for second with the Rebels in the poll. The Morning Five highlighted another talented San Diego State roster that sits behind those three teams in the eyes of the media, and let’s face it — it’s probably time we start giving Steve Fisher the benefit of the doubt – the Aztecs are an annual factor out west. But behind the Aztecs and Aggies (Utah State was picked to finish fifth) lies much of the intrigue in this year’s MW. A season ago, the four non-Tournament teams (Air Force, Wyoming, Fresno State and Nevada) were all extremely competitive, especially on their home floors. Their strength was a big reason for that heady conference RPI. This year’s bottom half again appears feisty, with a couple of teams – Nevada (#9) and Fresno State (#8) appearing especially undervalued in the preseason evaluations. Nobody – inside our outside the league — is expecting the MW to finish atop the conference RPI again this season. But another solid campaign, on the heels of that banner season of a year ago, would be awfully sound validation of a league unprepared to leave the national consciousness anytime soon.
The biggest news in the college hoops universe on Tuesday without a doubt sent a shudder through the spines of the rest of the country’s basketball powerhouses. Class of 2014 wing Kelly Oubretweeted that he will be attending Kansas next season, which taken by itself may not be a remarkable piece of information. But the fact that the top-10 recruit chose KU after visiting Lawrence for Late Night in the Phog last weekend, and the additional fact that he cancelled his official visit to Kentucky next week for Big Blue Madness, and the third fact that Kansas head coach Bill Self has signed four top-20 prospects in the last 12 months… well, let’s just say that Self has never had trouble winning with good talent. What will he be able to do with great talent? Oubre is a great early pickup for the Jayhawks and his commitment may just be the tip of the iceberg in Lawrence — top-five prospects Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones are visiting soon and KU is reported as one of the purported “package deal’s” four finalists (along with Duke, Baylor and Kentucky). We’ll have more on the topic of Oubre and Bill Self’s hot hand in recruiting later today.
That’s for next year, what about this season? The two highest-quality basketball leagues that are not members of the “power seven” conferences released their preseason polls and all-conference teams on Tuesday. The new-look Atlantic 10features a 13-team field with high expectations for Shaka Smart’s VCU program, chosen as the #1 team (with 19 first-place votes) in its first year in the league. Jim Crews’ Saint Louis squad was the only other team to earn #1 votes (five), but we’re certain that this league will not be a cake walk for either team — the A-10 always produces one of the nuttiest regular season slates in college basketball. The conference’s five-member preseason first team features two VCU players, guard Treveon Graham and forward Juvonte Reddic. La Salle, sitting quietly in third place in the preseason poll, placed three players on the league’s three preseason teams, more than any other squad. Keep an eye on the Explorers this year.
Across the country, the Mountain Westreleased its preseason poll as well, and even with the loss of former head coach Steve Alford, New Mexico appears to be the team to beat (grabbing all but one #1 vote). The remaining #1 vote went to UNLV, tied for second with Boise State, with head coach Dave Rice looking to replace a whole lot of talent that didn’t quite mesh well together. The MW was sensible enough to pick only a single preseason team of six players, with New Mexico placing preseason POY Kendall Williams as well as center Alex Kirk on the squad. Boise had a couple selections as well, wing Anthony Drmic and guard Derrick Marks. UNLV’s Khem Birch and Nevada’s Deonte Burton filled out the group. The quiet team in this year’s Mountain West is San Diego State, picked fourth — Steve Fisher’s team has not finished below that spot in the regular season standings in nearly a decade (2004-05), so even though the Aztecs also lost a great deal of talent, we’d expect that they too will be heard from.
We’re not going to be one of those schadenfreude types who takes great pleasure in the misfortune of others, but we heard more than a few snickers in the background earlier this week when news was released that Murray State’s Zay Jacksonhad torn both the ACL and LCL in his right knee during a recent practice and will miss the entire season. If the name sounds familiar to you, it should; Jackson made international headlines for all the wrong reasons a little over a year ago when he was videotaped running his car into another person after a verbal altercation in a Walmart parking lot. He served a total of 60 days in jail on assault and wanton endangerment charges, and at least from reports surrounding the Murray program this year, he had grown up and put the incident behind him. His father had also passed away recently, so we certainly wish him well going forward and hope that he uses his rehabilitation time wisely.
We’ve written previously about the NFL’s recent trend in looking at some of college basketball’s better athletes to fill some out its roster spots, especially at the tight end position, and the world is starting to take notice. New Orleans’ tight end Jimmy Graham, an explosive but otherwise average forward on the Miami (FL) basketball teams of the late 2000s, just won the NFC Offensive Player of the Month award, the first ever given to a tight end in its nearly 3o-year history. His September of work resulted in 26 receptions and six touchdowns to help the Saints off to a quick 4-0 start, and as this article describes, guys like he, Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron are completely changing the concept of the position in NFL circles. We’ve known all along that college basketball’s best athletes are some of the most versatile and skilled in the world — it’s interesting that both homegrown and other sports around the globe are starting to take notice.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s Mountain West Championship game between New Mexico and UNLV in Las Vegas.
Three Key Takeaways.
America: Meet Tony Snell. Those of us that have been watching the Mountain West religiously for the past three years are quite familiar with the unique combination of talent that Snell possesses: a 6’7” wing with even better length, terrific defensive ability, the ability to run off screens at an elite level, and can knock down open looks at a great rate — not to mention the jump-out-of-the-gym hops and a decent handle as well. This afternoon, he put all of that on display for a national audience. The question about him has always been whether he is too nice to be a great competitor, but that was not in doubt today: 21 points, 8-of-11 shooting, five threes and a great blow-by in the closing moments as well.
Live By The Three, Die By The Three. The Rebels shot the ball 59 times on Saturday afternoon; 31 of those (a full 52.5%) came from deep. In the second half it was even worse with 17 of their 29 attempts (58.6%) coming from beyond the arc and another healthy chunk perimeter jumpers just inside it. For awhile, that worked out, as Bryce Dejean-Jones had a couple stretches where he caught fire and the Rebels were right in the game. But when that faucet got turned off, the Rebels faded. There are definitely good shooters on this team, with Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt the best among them, but both of those guys have a tendency to take too many shots and, more disturbingly, to take bad shots. Then there’s Anthony Bennett, a physical specimen with a fantastic inside/out game who too often forgets about the inside half of that equation. For the Rebs to make noise in the NCAA Tournament, they need to find better balance offensively.
New Mexico’s NCAA Tournament Viability. I’ve been among the doubters of the Lobos of late, in part because I haven’t entirely trusted their ability to get consistent offensive production from their guards. Today, to understate things, that was not a concern. We’ve talked about Snell, but Kendall Williams was tremendous as well, handing out seven assists, running the team well, and scoring 12 points. Then there’s Hugh Greenwood who had three early three-pointers and then never scored again. But, Greenwood did so many other things well, grabbing seven boards, handing out five assists and limiting Anthony Marshall’s production. Despite the 29 wins to this point, it has been something of an up-and-down year offensively to this point, but heading into the NCAA Tournament, this team is playing its best ball.
Star of the Game. Tony Snell. Five minutes into the game, you would have figured Anthony Bennett was going to be the guy. He had his team’s first 11 points in often spectacular ways, but his star faded quickly. Snell, however, played his best after the break, logging all 20 minutes, making five of seven shots (including three threes) and coming up with the big offensive play whenever his team needed a bucket.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report from The MW Tournament in Las Vegas Wednesday evening.
While other people around the country have been anointing New Mexico as a legitimate possibility for a #1 seed and a contender for a deep March run, I’ve been reluctant to buy in completely due to the inconsistent offensive production they get from their guards. Between Kendall Williams, Tony Snell and Hugh Greenwood, the Lobos get an average of 33.4 points per night, but from one night to the next, you never really know what you’re going to get. Williams dropped 46 against Colorado State to great acclaim, then followed that up with 15 points over the next two games. Greenwood (who, to be fair, is not meant to be a prolific scorer), followed up his season-high 17 points against USC with a pair of four-FGA games. And Snell? For all his immense talent (and make no mistake, the kid has the potential to be on the very short list of best players in this conference), you not only never know what you’re going to get from him offensively on a game-to-game basis, you can see wildly divergent performances within the same game – or even the same half. Tonight, we got the good Tony Snell early, as he knocked down his first four shots, including a couple threes, on the way to 11 points out of the gate. He then proceeded to miss his next seven shots from the field and scored just four more points the rest of the way – all from the free-throw line (although, to be fair, New Mexico makes scoring from the charity stripe a priority). But the good news, and the fact that will keep the Lobos in more games than not, is that all of these guys buy in defensively. Even when Snell either isn’t finding shots or isn’t knocking them down, he – and Williams, and Greenwood – are active and aware defenders. If the Lobos can find a way to get regular consistent production offensively out of these guards, they are a threat to play well into March, and possibly April. But there is also the possibility that Snell, Williams and Greenwood all turn in lackluster offensive performances in the same game and they get bounced early. They got the job done tonight, against a short-handed and over-matched team, but is this type of effort going to get the job done against NCAA Tournament-caliber teams.
New Mexico Is Undeniably A Strong Defensive Team, But They Need Tony Snell and Their Backcourt To Be Consistent Scorers (AP Photo)
While New Mexico is the national story, the story inside the gym was Wyoming’s hustle and determination in keeping the game as close as possible for as long as possible. While this game was never seriously in doubt, the Cowboys were playing for keeps tonight. I lost count of the number of times multiple players on their team got down on the court to get after loose balls, they were consistently selling out on the defensive end and just generally leaving it all out on the court. Their star forward and senior leader Leonard Washington was in foul trouble almost throughout, but recognizing that his team didn’t stand a chance without him, head coach Larry Shyatt kept bringing him back far before you would otherwise suspect; for instance, he was in the game for a long stretch in the first half with three fouls and was brought back into the game almost immediately after picking up his fourth just five minutes into the second half. Still, the grizzled veteran, playing through a back injury that clearly limited him, fouled out with more than seven minutes remaining, effectively sealing the game. Shyatt is still convinced that the Cowboys and their top-70 RPI will earn an invitation to some post-season tournament, otherwise college basketball has seen the last of Washington (and no, he is not, contrary to popular belief, an eighth-year senior), so let’s pause to salute one of the country’s hardest-working, most-versatile players in recent years. Here’s Larry Shyatt on his senior, playing through injury: “For seven games now, he has tried to give this school, this team, this state everything he’s had. He’s the first to admit, like yesterday, he just doesn’t have it right now. The back is just at a point where, the greatest gift he has is lift, and he doesn’t have lift right now. I tell you what, I owe him a lot of respect for the level of toughness he’s tried to show. I just wish he could have performed like Leonard these last six or seven games.” Check out these senior year stats for a minute: 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.4 steals per game, all while playing in one of the nation’s most down-tempo systems. And, somehow, I left him off of not just my All-Mountain West first team, but also off the second team. I was completely wrong on that one. And I have no idea how, or why I did that.
Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey
Does Virginia want to make the NCAA Tournament? Since beating Duke almost two weeks ago, the Cavaliers have lost to Boston College and Florida State and barely escaped Maryland in overtime on Sunday in a game that each team tried to give away multiple times. The more and more I look at Virginia’s resume, the more I think this team will be in the NIT. It has gotten to the point where there are too many bad losses to overcome, barring a run this week in the ACC Tournament. The Hoos have a couple things going for them, mainly the win over Duke and the victory at Wisconsin in November. Home wins over North Carolina, NC State and bubble buddy Tennessee also help but Tony Bennett’s club has a stunning EIGHT bad losses on its resume. Virginia went 11-7 in the ACC but went 0-3 against Colonial Athletic Association teams. Go figure. From an efficiency perspective, this is a strong team that plays stifling defense, has a couple of great players in Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell to go along with a solid supporting cast. The resume lacks some punch though and Virginia has a lot of work to do this week in Greensboro. The Cavs will likely open with NC State on Friday, a game they really need to win.
Tony Bennett will sweat it out this week
One team fighting with Virginia for a tournament berth is Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders were eliminated from the Sun Belt Tournament by Florida International on Sunday and now have to sit and sweat out the next five days. Kermit Davis’s team finished with an impressive 28-5 overall record and lost just once over a 20-game conference schedule, on the road in overtime to Arkansas State (the next best team in the league). Davis has been with the program since 2002 and has built it up to respectable mid-major status. Is this a team worthy of a chance at a bid? Absolutely. The question is, will it get one? If I were on the selection committee, I’d probably have to say no unfortunately. Despite doing what it was supposed to do in its conference, Middle Tennessee didn’t do much out of conference. Yes, it beat two SEC teams (Mississippi and Vanderbilt), but neither of those teams is making the NCAA Tournament (unless the Rebels have a great conference tournament). But the real reason why I’d leave Middle Tennessee out is the fact that it was not competitive against Florida or Belmont, two of its better non-conference opponents. A competitive showing in either game would likely have changed my mind. In addition, the Blue Raiders lost a tough one in overtime to Akron. Those are missed opportunities that may end up costing this team a chance to dance.
The fact that Stony Brook had to go on the road in the America East Tournament is a travesty. The Seawolves won the conference by three full games and their reward was a road trip to face #4 seed Albany in its own gym. It’s not right. I realize these smaller conferences don’t have the budgets that the power leagues do but would it be so difficult to host the tournament at whichever school wins the regular season title? Is that too much to ask? Instead, the America East picked Albany to host the quarterfinals and semifinals with the championship being hosted by the higher seed. The final part makes sense but the rest of it seems like bizarro world. Stony Brook had a stellar year, going 23-6 (14-2) in regular season play. Hopefully Steve Pikiell’s team will be rewarded with a nice seed in the NIT and maybe even a home game! Read the rest of this entry »
In this week’s RTC Podblast, we tackle Championship Fortnight with a detailed look at a number of the Other 26 league tournaments around the country. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) is our host, but we also bring in the RTC O26 correspondent, I. Renko (@irenkohoops), to help dissect some of the more notable tourneys tipping off this week and next. The schedule of topics is below if you feel like jumping around. Later this week we’ll do our traditional podcast, and next week we’ll absolutely be breaking down each of the power conference tournaments with our cast of microsite correspondents around the country.
0:00-4:23 – Gonzaga the Best O26 Team, But Not the Best Team in the Country
4:23-6:03 – MW and A-10 Are Elite Conferences
6:03-11:07 – St. Louis and New Mexico Battle for Next Best O26 Team
11:07-14:55 – Other 26 Teams Looking Good for At-Large Bids
14:55-17:24 – The Curious Case of Louisiana Tech
17:24-20:37 – Teams That Can Make Noise… If They Get In
20:37-23:14 – MW and A-10 are the Tourneys to Watch
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
The dream around the Mountain West is six conference teams making the NCAA Tournament. But, in order for that to realistically happen, the top six teams here need to separate from the bottom three, with the teams at the back end of that first six earning at least a win or two over the upper-echelon teams. This week, that plan did not come to fruition. Boise State took care of Fresno State at home (good!) but then lost to Nevada on the road (bad). Wyoming lost on the road to UNLV (not good, but not unexpected), but then went back home and lost to Air Force (bad). In fact, Air Force has now knocked off a pair of MW teams dreaming of sneaking through that NCAA bubble (they knocked off Boise State the previous week) and, crazy as it may seem, they have their own devious designs on sneaking into the bracket come Selection Sunday. We’re now exactly one-third of the way through the conference schedule and one game in the standings is the difference between first and fifth place. Just two games separate first and seventh. And that team that started 13-0 and was among the last undefeated teams in the nation? Yeah, um, Wyoming is in eighth place and in need of 50 cc’s of an offensive injection, stat!
Team of the Week
San Diego State – Two weeks ago, the Aztecs lost on their home court in convincing fashion to their biggest rival in the league, UNLV, then followed that up with a lackluster performance in a loss at Wyoming, sinking them back to .500 in the conference and causing some to reevaluate just how strong this team was. Well, Steve Fisher and company had an answer for those questions this week, first tearing through Nevada in Reno on Wednesday night, then coming home and absolutely locking up New Mexico in front of The Show. Their smothering defense held the previously unbeaten Lobos to a field goal percentage in the 20s and just 34 total points (UNM’s lowest total of the year), helping them to overcome their own relatively unimpressive offensive performance. With point guard Xavier Thames just starting to work his way back into playing shape after a back injury, and with freshman Skylar Spencer seemingly improving by the game, the Aztecs seem to be a team that has hit their nadir and is on its way to bouncing back up.
Player of the Week
Allen Huddleston, Junior, Fresno State – Handing out the POTW honors to a guy whose team just went 0-2 for the week is not a precedent I’m thrilled to set, but in a week without a bunch of great options, rewarding a guy for keeping a positive attitude and finding a way to help his team out seems like as good a way as any to go. You see, after transferring in from Pacific and starting the first 11 games of the season (while averaging a hair under 30 minutes a game), Huddleston lost his starting spot to freshman Aaron Anderson and saw his minutes slashed (down to about 12 minutes a game over the next six games). When he did get into the game, he seemed to force the action in an effort to regain his coaches’ trust, but the low point came in a couple of oh-fer performances in extremely limited minutes against Sonoma State and Nevada. But rather than pout or quit on his team or transfer again (although, certainly, he did have some low moments in the interim), Huddleston kept working and was rewarded by head coach Rodney Terry with 55 total minutes of run this week. And he responded with his best two back-to-back performances of the year, averaging 17.5 points, three assists and two steals while knocking down seven three-pointers over the course of the week (and shooting a 64.6% eFG). While his play didn’t wind up earning his team a win, you can be sure he did his best to give his team chances to win those two games.
Despite Losing His Starting Job, Allen Huddleston Had A Big Week In A Losing Effort For Fresno State (Gary Kazanjian/Fresno Bee)
Newcomer of the Week
Skylar Spencer, Freshman, San Diego State – Yeah, Huddleston is a newcomer, so he could just as easily be here too, but Spencer deserves some pub too. You see, the freshman big man hasn’t missed a shot from the field since January 12 — four games ago. For the year he’s made better than 76% of his shots. As you might expect, Spencer’s range is basically a dunk (or closer), but give credit to the guy for knowing his strengths, accepting his limits and doing the things his coaching staff wants him to do. Yeah, that basically comes down to stuffing home point-blank opportunities, grabbing rebounds and playing defense, but he’s done all of that well. He blocks nearly 10 percent of his opponents’ two-point field goal attempts, has quick enough hands to dislodge a ball on the floor and is a beast on the offensive glass. While the SDSU rotation is crowded, Spencer has carved out a nice 20-minute-per-game spot for himself. Oh yeah, and the “of-the-week” part of this: try on 5-of-5 from the field, 10 points, five boards, three blocks and four steals.