As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners:
Coastal Carolina is going dancing for the second-straight season. (Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports)
Big South Champion (22-10, 11-5)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #144/#147/#151
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +2.4
Likely NCAA Seed: #16
Strength: Coastal does not have great size but it does have an excellent guard quartet which accounts for two-thirds of the team’s scoring. Josh Cameron, Warren Gillis, Elijah Wilson and Shivaughn Wiggins – a Mount St. Mary’s transfer – each averages between 10.3 and 12.9 points per game and is a capable outside shooter. Their quickness and dribble-penetration abilities create kickouts and plenty of free throw opportunities, where the Chanticleers shoot a healthy 70.3 percent on the season. Despite ranking 301st nationally in effective height, the Big South champs are also a top-50 offensive and defensive rebounding team.
Weakness: Though the Chanticleers are fairly well-balanced and don’t have many glaring weaknesses, the vast majority of their losses came against opponents with an average possession length of 18 seconds of fewer – teams that like to get the ball and go. Squads that are able to get up the court before Coastal can set up its half-court defense – which often features numerous zone looks – seem to have the most success against Cliff Ellis’ bunch. The Chanticleers also ranked dead last in the conference (and 292nd nationally) in turnover percentage, which is only a bad thing as far as transition defense goes. Read the rest of this entry »
The Wichita State Shockers are looking to make some more history. After finishing the regular season undefeated at 31-0, becoming the first team to accomplish the feat since Saint Joseph’s in 2004, the Shockers look to become the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament unbeaten since UNLV pulled off the trick in 1991. Will Wichita State succeed in its pursuit of perfection? Based on its dominance of Missouri Valley Conference foes this season, you’d have to think the odds are in the Shockers’ favor to run through Arch Madness. Only three league opponents stayed within single figures of Wichita State this season, and just one — Missouri State — played them within six points. That 72-69 overtime win came on January 11 after the Shockers had rallied from 19 points down with 11:48 left in the game. Otherwise it’s been mostly an exercise in cruise control for Gregg Marshall’s team. Those numbers don’t really inspire much confidence for a shocking winner this weekend. In fact, Ken Pomeroy gives Wichita State a 78 percent chance to earn the league’s automatic bid.
Fred Van Vleet and the Wichita State Shockers look to remain unbeaten through the MVC Tournament.
Let’s take a look at the Shockers’ likely path in the MVC Tournament. First up will be the winner of the #8/#9 game between Drake and Evansville, which tips off this evening. In the four games Wichita State played against the two opponents this season, the Shockers won by an average of 19 points with the closest an 81-67 victory against the Aces on February 1. There’s virtually no way that Wichita State drops its quarterfinal game, as KenPom gives the Shockers a 95.2 percent chance of advancing to the semifinals on Saturday. That’s where Wichita State would meet either Missouri State or Illinois State, depending on Friday’s result between the two. Sure, the former gave the Shockers quite a scare two months ago before capitulating in overtime, but Wichita State rolled through the Bears in the return game last Saturday, winning by 23 points in the regular season clincher. The Shockers beat Illinois State by an average of 17 points in their two meetings this season as well. KenPom gives Wichita State an 87.4 percent chance to advance to the title game here.
The biggest hurdle has been cleared. An undefeated regular season for fourth-ranked Wichita State (24-0, 11-0 MVC) now looks like a strong possibility after the Shockers traveled Wednesday night to Terre Haute and left with a hard-fought 65-58 victory against Indiana State. The Shockers entered the game with a 38.5 percent chance of going unbeaten, according to Ken Pomeroy’s projections. Now, after completing the season sweep of the only other legitimate challenger in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Shockers’ chances at perfection jumped all the way up to 55.6 percent. A win at Northern Iowa on Saturday would boost that number to about 68 percent. (Ed. note: Pomeroy noted on Twitter last night that continuing the run to 34-0 through Arch Madness would roughly approximate to a 34 percent chance as of today.)
Wichita State is on track to finish the season undefeated. (Photo courtesy of si.com)
The Shockers now have a reasonable chance to become the first team in 23 seasons to head into the NCAA Tournament without a loss on the resume. Defending national champion UNLV finished the regular season at 30-0 before falling to Duke in the 1991 Final Four. The 2004 Saint Joseph’s squad, led by Jameer Nelson, finished regular season play at 27-0 before falling in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. And recall Murray State started out 23-0 just two years ago before falling at home to Tennessee State in mid-February. So if we’re talking regular season here, the Shockers are chasing a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in a decade. And what an accomplishment it would be.
Welcome to this week’s RTC Podblast, hosted by Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114). It was a week of big rivalry games from Michigan-Michigan State to Duke-North Carolina to Kentucky-Florida and UConn-Syracuse. We hit on a few of these during this week’s podblast, while also finding some time to discuss the MVC and Creighton and looking ahead to what can only be described as a fairly miserable lineup of games over the weekend. Oh well, there’s always next week… this week’s outline is below.
0:00-7:45 – Sparty Establishes Itself as the State’s Best Team
7:45-10:20 – Syracuse Drops Last Big East Game vs UConn
10:20-12:45 – Creighton Struggling in MVC Play
12:45-15:44 – Thoughts on Randy’s NorCal Night (UCLA-Cal/Gonzaga-St. Mary’s)
15:44-18:55 – There Should Be More Games to Preview This Weekend
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
Back in January, there was a time where we thought we actually knew what was going on in the Missouri Valley Conference. We were confident that Creighton was a top-10 team and that Wichita State was nearly as good as the Shockers of a year ago. Surely Illinois State had been exposed as a fraud, a once trendy sleeper pick to win the league before losing their first six conference games. And our early January convictions on Missouri State? Entering conference play without a D-I win, the Bears looked like one of the worst teams in the country, much less the Valley.
Jake Odum And Company Took A Loss Tuesday Night That They Really Could Not Afford
Well, at least Evansville and Northern Iowa have avoided confusing us too much over the past month. The constantly evolving complexion of the conference took on yet another look Tuesday night, as Indiana State suffered a costly 67-65 loss at the hands of Missouri State. The Sycamores had been one of the league’s positive stories of late, as a recent surge had them entering Springfield as MVC co-leaders. If you are looking for narratives from the other side of the ledger, look no further than those of ISU’s fellow top-of-the-Valley dwellers, Creighton and Wichita State. The Bluejays have toiled through multiple losing streaks in the past month, and in what should be a daunting task, will take the floor at the McLeod Center tomorrow night seeking to avoid stretching their current losing streak to three. Wichita State can tell the Jays all about three-game losing streaks, as a mind-numbing loss to Southern Illinois highlighted the Shockers’ recent skid. Wichita and Creighton are still far closer to being in the field of 68 than out, but if current trajectories hold, it won’t be long before these losses become as crippling as Indiana State’s was tonight.
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), an Oregon-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.
WINNER: Miami (FL)
Miami Fans RTC’d the Blue Devils Wednesday Night (credit: WaPo)
Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes, by extension the subject of an NCAA inquiry regarding the alleged payment of former player DeQuan Jones, had one of the best weeks on and off the court of any school this season. First, the NCAA botched its investigation so much that it has to investigate its own investigators, according to CBS Sports. Then the ‘Canes went off and destroyed No. 1 Duke by the score of 90-63 on Wednesday, putting the third-worst beating ever onto an AP top-ranked team. Wednesday’s game also marked the return of gargantuan center Reggie Johnson (listed at 6’10”, 292 lbs.), who scored two points and grabbed five rebounds in his first game back from a broken thumb that was supposed to leave him out for up to another month. Miami now has a two-game lead on the rest of the ACC, although a return trip to Duke does remain. You know you had a good week when knocking off the top team in the country isn’t even the best thing that happened to you.
(Related winners: Miami guards Shane Larkin and Durand Scott, who combined to shoot 17-of-28 from the field on their way to 37 total points. Related losers: Duke guards Quinn Cook, Seth Curry and Tyler Thornton, who combined to go 1-of-29 from the field on their way to six total points; the NCAA – see below.)
LOSER: The NCAA
This was all set to be Frank Haith’s spot, as his Missouri team got shellacked by Florida 83-52 on Saturday, barely escaped at home Tuesday against South Carolina, and then news broke that Haith could face unethical conduct charges from the NCAA relating to the aforementioned DeQuan Jones issue. But instead, the NCAA now must review its own investigators’ conduct, particularly related to the release of Haith’s supposed looming punishments. So Haith is safe for now, and all of a sudden NCAA President Mark Emmert has another public relations maelstrom on his hands. Bummer.
(Related winners: Florida, because it still shellacked Mizzou. Related losers: Ethics.)
Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Sunday afternoon’s game between Illinois State and Indiana State.
Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Illinois State’s Jackie Carmichael have deservedly received the acclaim of being the two best players in this year’s Missouri Valley Conference, but Indiana State guard Jake Odum is quietly emerging as one of the league’s best as well. The junior, who is a local product out of South Vigo High School in Terre Haute, Indiana, provides the senior-less Sycamores with a calming presence who can also effectively score and distribute the basketball.
So far this this season, Odum has been instrumental to the Sycamores’ 8-4 start, which has included victories over Ole Miss, Miami (FL) and Illinois State. In an 87-85 overtime win over Ole Miss at the Diamond Head Classic, Odum displayed his ability to contribute to the offense when he is not shooting the ball particularly well. Finishing the game at just 3-of-9 from the field, the junior still managed to finish with 16 points to accompany his eight assists and eight rebounds. The Sycamores’ win over Miami was also an overtime victory at the Diamond Head Classic, but this one was defined by both squads’ ineptitude on offense. Despite shooting just 27% from the field, Indiana State was able to battle to a 57-55 victory as Odum banked in a 15-footer to seize the victory with just 0.8 seconds to play. Sunday’s win over Illinois State was of great significance for the Sycamores as it opened conference play on the right foot against a squad that was almost unanimously selected to finish in the top three of the conference. Once again, it was Odum who filled the stat sheet for the Sycamores finishing with 17 points, six assists, and five rebounds.
Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is is an RTC correspondent and Night Line columnist. He filed this report after Thursday night’s Wichita State – Tennessee game in Knoxville.
The 2011-12 college basketball season was a breakout year for the Wichita State Shockers. Sure, college basketball enthusiasts had taken note of an NIT title run in 2011, but Gregg Marshall’s bunch didn’t truly enter the national consciousness until that 27-5 season a year ago which included a 17-1 stretch to open the calendar year. They became a trendy March sleeper pick pre-Tournament, but ultimately met the fate that so many five seeds before them have suffered – an opening round loss, this one at the hands of a dangerous VCU squad. It was a bitter end to a banner year, and the conclusion was undoubtedly worsened by the fact that WSU’s top five scorers would all be lost to graduation. From an outsider’s perspective, there was a real sense that the window had closed for Wichita State; Marshall’s program had grown up along with Murry, Stutz, Kyles and co., so it stood to reason that their departures would force a step or two back this season.
Despite Tonight’s Loss In Knoxville, Wichita State Has The Look Of A Program Here To Stay
Well, so much for reason. Wichita State opened this season with nine straight wins, and despite suffering its first loss of the year tonight at the hands of Tennessee, has started to prove that last year was far from a once-in-a-blue-moon dream season. Role players of a season ago have proven capable of hoisting a greater burden, newcomers have stepped in and produced from day one, and the head coach has to have the feeling that he is in the process of building a program with true lasting power. Maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise that Wichita State has reloaded so quickly, as the past two offseasons have seen Marshall turn down overtures from power conference schools (most notably Nebraska this past summer). Have the proposed fits simply not been right, or does Marshall believe he has something special going at Wichita State? We can’t know for sure, but it’s quite plausible that Marshall is simply content in Wichita, and even harbors notions of turning Wichita State into a reliable mid-major power. The concept of an established coach settling in at a mid-major program is no longer a novelty, as recent years have seen coaches like Mark Few, Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart stay put at smaller schools, eschewing opportunities at larger programs in the process.
Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.
Wichita State chugging along, or are they? The Shockers are sitting at 8-0 and the only team in the league without a loss after a tight victory over Air Force in the MVC/MWC Challenge. But how strong is that 8-0? The Shockers may now be in the Top 25 rankings, but at this point it is hard to tell how legitimate that record is when you look at their schedule so far. Wichita State survived bad free-throw shooting by VCU to get that early victory on the road. The Shockers beat DePaul and Iowa in Cancun to take that tournament, but both of those teams have been at the bottom of their leagues for a few years now. A win over Tulsa? The Golden Hurricane are not where they used to be either. And the aforementioned Air Force is not exactly UNLV or New Mexico. The silver bullet might be at Tennessee on December 13. You do have to give the Shockers credit, though, as they are off to their second best start in school history.
Carl Hall (22) has given Shocker fans plenty to be excited about.
Creighton stumbles but makes a statement: Creighton came back from Las Vegas with big victories over Wisconsin and Arizona State. The hangover from those wins must have taken the toll on the Bluejays as they didn’t recover in time to take on Boise State. On the other hand, Boise State might be better than everyone expected this season, especially after taking Michigan State to the wire. We’ll have to see how the season plays out to determine if this turns out to be a bad loss. Creighton responded by getting off early against a highly anticipated match-up with St. Joseph’s where they were up by more than 20 points early in the first half. The lead extended to as much as 34 in the second half as the Bluejays did a total 180 from the game before. Highlights from both show it. With St. Joseph’s expected to win the A-10 this year, the victory and the way in which it was done was impressive.
Great matchups, but disappointing results: The Valley, though getting a lot of positive reviews, has already left a lot of important games on the table. It is one thing to schedule big games, but it is another thing to go out and win some of them. Outside of Creighton, pretty much the rest of the Valley has come up with goose eggs against teams from the power conferences. Notre Dame, Louisville (twice), Michigan, Stanford, Memphis, South Carolina, San Diego State, Northwestern, New Mexico, UCLA, Cal, and Xavier have been on Missouri Valley schedules and the league is a whopping 0-13 against them. In 2006, the Valley won a lot more of these games. The non-conference resume sets up the conference season and how far teams can go in the postseason. Opposing coaches, including Rick Pitino, have given some great praise to the conference, but the victories against those conferences are few and far between so far. There are still a few weeks left for the MVC to pick up some bigger wins, but the positive look is that Valley teams are winning the games they should which will also help in the long run.
Creighton (7-1)–The Bluejays stay at the top after rebounding from their loss against Boise State by demolishing St. Joseph’s. A key to Creighton’s success has been having Doug McDermott AND Gregory Echenique to have good nights down low. Echenique struggled in the loss against Boise scoring nine points, but only getting three rebounds, but turned things around to score 16 and grab six rebounds in the win against the Hawks. Echenique leads the MVC in field goal percentage at about 74%. When the frontcourt is going, the Creighton outside game can bury opposing teams. Creighton leads the nation in 2-point shooting percentage at 61.2%. Read the rest of this entry »
Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.
Wichita State Enjoys Quiet 4-0 Start: Coming into this season, Gregg Marshall had a lot of components to replace with the graduation of five seniors who had significant playing time and scoring. The Shockers have started the season 4-0 (three games in the last five days) including a win at VCU that went down to the wire. However, Marshall wasn’t necessarily happy with his team’s play in its latest game against Howard. They are second in the MVC in scoring defense, giving up 55.2 points a game. The thing about Wichita State will be its schedule — there is a good chance that we may not know how good the Shockers are until their December 13 showdown with Tennessee. Wichita State owns the nation’s best road record since the 2010-11 season. The Shockers are 20-3.
Creighton is More Than McDermott: In Creighton’s first game of the season, Doug McDermott scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the win over North Texas. However, against UAB, McDermott got saddled with two fouls early, sat the bench for most of the half and finished the game with only five points. Creighton was down by as many as 10 against the Blazers in the second half but 18 points from Josh Jones and a beast of a game from Gregory Echenique with 13 points and 16 rebounds pushed the Bluejays to a 17-point victory. So while teams will try to stop McDermott, there is a lot more to the Bluejay offense than him.
Surprise Starts, Conference Record in Non-Conference Play: Heading into this week, there are six Valley teams still undefeated. Creighton, Illinois State, Wichita State, Northern Iowa, Bradley, and Southern Illinois are all sitting with perfect records. As a whole the MVC is 24-5 in non-conference play. Three of those losses have come against Top 25 opponents: Notre Dame (Evansville), UCLA (Indiana State) and San Diego State (Missouri State). At the same time however, five of the conference’s wins have come against non Division-I competition. The MVC cannot let opportunities against top opponents slip through their fingers. This upcoming weekend of holiday tournaments will be a great opportunity for the MVC to continue to rise its RPI stock.
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the rest of the season. Feel free to leave your takes below in the comments section.
This Week’s Topic: With conference play heating up, what conference race are you most excited about this year and why?
Danny Spewak, Big 12 Microsite Correspondent
A one-bid conference since 2007, the Missouri Valley may finally regain its status this winter as college basketball’s premiere non-BCS league. And that’s not just because of Doug McDermott and his ranked Creighton Bluejays. This league has more substance than that. Only 0-5 Bradley is more than two games out of first place right now, where Wichita State, Missouri State and Creighton each sit at 4-1. Indiana State, which won at Vanderbilt earlier this season and represented the MVC in the NCAAs a year ago, will also surely recover from a disappointing 2-3 start in conference play. Same goes for Northern Iowa, which rolled through its non-conference schedule before losing four of its last six. That’s five teams right there with a shot to win this whole thing, and Evansville, Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Drake aren’t going away without a fight either. If you’re still not convinced that somebody could knock off CU, consider that reigning POY Kyle Weems already outplayed McDermott in Omaha in a 77-65 victory on December 28. And you wonder why we’re all so fascinated by the Missouri Valley Conference on a yearly basis.
Brian Otskey, Big East Correspondent
When I first thought about this question, the Big 12, Pac-12 and Missouri Valley came to mind. Then I took a closer look at the Big Ten. Preseason favorite Ohio State has two losses already and Michigan State sits atop the league at 4-0. That two game lead over the Buckeyes in the loss column is significant and Ohio State’s loss at Illinois on Tuesday night officially opened the door. The Big Ten has five teams that can contend (six if you include a good Purdue team). With home court advantage being historically more significant in this league than others, anything can happen. There seems to be something missing from this Ohio State team. The easy answer is it doesn’t have Jon Diebler anymore but there may be something deeper. With the Buckeyes losing two of their first five league games, this conference is up for grabs and may be the best race.
I. Renko, Columnist
West Coast Conference — Gonzaga and St. Mary’s now have some company atop the WCC, with BYU having joined the conference and showing very little letdown after the departure of The Jimmer. All three teams are in the Pomeroy top 25, and a true round-robin schedule — something only one power conference can boast — ensures that they play each other twice, home and away. Four of those five remaining games are on ESPN2 on late night Thursdays, where they will have little competition for the eyeballs of college hoops fans. While there isn’t the star power of an Adam Morrison, Patty Mills, or Jimmer Fredette, it’s fun to watch each team work to be more than the sums of their parts. Plus, there’s just enough depth in this league for one of the big three to suffer an upset loss and add more intrigue to the race for the top.
Tonight’s Lede. It wasn’t just any other Tuesday night, as a number of ranked teams were in action and there was more than enough intrigue around the country to keep everyone interested. Whether it was a team few people seem to believe in slowly swaying hearts and minds, or a much-maligned former prep star bringing forth the game of his life, or an acerbic coach showing his true colors in a postgame interview, there was a lot to cover tonight. Let’s jump right in…
Will Some Pundits Begin to Take Baylor Seriously Now? (AP/C. Riedel)
Your Watercooler Moment, Part I. Baylor Stakes a Claim of Legitimacy. One of the knocks against Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears to date has been its lack of exceptional road wins this season. Apparently the non-believers did not take seriously wins at BYU and Northwestern, although neither the Marriott Center nor the Welsh-Ryan Arena these days are the easiest places to escape victorious. Still, Kansas State’s Bramlage Arena is universally regarded as a tough-as-nails venue, borne out most recently by K-State’s dominant weekend victory over an unbeaten Missouri squad. Baylor’s mid-second half run to come back from seven points down behind several eye-popping defensive transition dunks, along with its ability to hold K-State to a single bucket in the last four minutes of the game, showed America how things have changed. Last year, Drew’s Bears hardly played defense, generally preferring to use that end of the court to rest before another wild LaceDarius Dunn field goal attempt. This year, long green-and-yellow-clad arms and legs seem to cover all four corners of the court, and in fact, the two game-saving plays on this night resulted from a strip from behind of Angel Rodriguez with three seconds remaining, and a deflected pass on the ensuing inbounds play. The Bears are not going to win every game this season, but they’ve already won 16 and have survived one of their four toughest road tests on the schedule. With Pierre Jackson (10/11 assts) running the show, Brady Heslip (13/4 stls) providing scoring punch, and an elite corps of forwards in Quincy Acy, Perry Jones, III, and Quincy Miller wreaking havoc defensively, it’s time to stop questioning Scott Drew’s team and take the Bears seriously as a national title contender.
Your Watercooler Moment, Part II. Brandon Paul Hits Everything, Leads Illini Over Ohio State. In two-and-a-half seasons at Illinois, Brandon Paul has been better defined by what he is not rather than what he is. The former Chicago-area prep star who came to Champaign with sky-high expectations has largely disappointed, gradually improving his scoring output over three years but never shooting the ball efficiently (career 37.2% shooter) nor becoming an effective distributor (2.0 APG). Paul must have eaten a full bowl of his Wheaties this morning. The 6’4″ junior literally took over tonight’s game against OSU, scoring his team’s last 15 points en route to a career-high 43 points on 8-10 shooting from behind the arc. Unless you saw the game, you cannot comprehend just how ridiculous a couple of the late threes that Paul hit were, perhaps none more so than his final trey which gave Illinois a four-point lead with 43 seconds remaining.