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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New Mexico State Could Wind Up a Scary #16 Seed in March

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 29th, 2015

To call New Mexico State the class of the WAC would probably be an understatement; Marvin Menzies’ team ranks 162 spots higher in KenPom than its next best colleague and possesses visibly superior size and athleticism. In 2013-14, the Aggies demonstrated their ability to essentially sleepwalk through conference play and then out-talent the rest of the league (a shell of its former self) when it matters most, in March. In fact, they have now reached the NCAA Tournament three seasons in a row — last year taking San Diego State to overtime in the Round of 64 — and the story should be much the same this time around. That is, except for one major difference – whereas New Mexico State did enough to earn a #13 seed in the three years prior, it’s in no such position this season. With several key players just getting healthy and virtually zero opportunities left to build on an empty resume, the Aggies could wind up an intriguing case on Selection Sunday: an uncommonly tall, uncommonly talented #16 seed.

New Mexico State would be a unique #16-seed. [Getty Images]

New Mexico State could end up a unique 16-seed on Selection Sunday. (Getty Images)

The beginning of December was not kind to New Mexico State. In a matter of a couple days, the Aggies lost preseason all-conference forward Tshilidzi Nephawe for one month with a foot injury, reigning WAC Player of the Year Daniel Mullings for eight weeks with a broken finger, and learned 7’3’’ center Tanveer Bhullar – who hurt his ankle before the season started – would miss an additional six weeks of action. The team went on to lose six of its next eight contests (four without Mullings and all without Nephawe) to fall to 5-9 overall. And while several of the losses were surprisingly competitive – and none really all that bad – the overall dearth of quality wins has left Menzies’ team with little to hang its hat on; currently the Aggies have zero wins against teams ranked within the RPI top-100. As a result – unlike last year, when it could point to a road triumph at New Mexico – its own RPI (currently 176th) has suffered irreparable damage. Since no other WAC team has an RPI better than #242, and half the league sits below #300, the Aggies’ chance of significantly improving their number is slim. CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm currently projects the Aggies as a #16 seed in one of the First Four play-in games, a position that could improve depending on what happens in other leagues, but one that could also get worse; with several guys still finding their legs and a recent loss to Seattle already on the books, there is no guarantee New Mexico State wins out.

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Atlantic Sun Race Interesting Even Without Cinderella

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 16th, 2015

Dunk City’s Sweet Sixteen run, Mercer’s post-victory Nae Nae dance… I don’t have to explain – you already know the Atlantic Sun’s recent March achievements. The conference has produced arguably the NCAA Tournament’s most iconic moments for each of the past two seasons, enormous upsets featuring even larger personalities. Yet it’s also endured some serious change since the Bears knocked off Duke last spring, and almost none of it has been good. Both Mercer and East Tennessee State, traditionally two of the league’s best programs, bolted for the Southern Conference and no other team has stepped in to fill the void. With just eight teams remaining – one of which (Northern Kentucky) remains NCAA Tournament-ineligible until 2016 – the question now becomes whether the depleted conference has a team even remotely capable of crashing the Dance. The answer to that probably lies somewhere between “unlikely” and “maybe,” although the A-Sun showed moments of promise during non-conference play. As for the race to get there? With Florida Gulf Coast looking vulnerable and a pair of challengers on the rise, the next two months should be better than expected.

The Atlantic Sun race will be better than expected this season. (Naples Daily News)

The Atlantic Sun race will be better than expected this season. (Naples Daily News)

North Florida made something of a statement on Wednesday night. After switching to zone and overcoming an early deficit against Florida Gulf Coast, the Ospreys turned a flurry of threes and several key steals into a 16-2 second half run that put the Eagles away for good – the team’s first victory over its avian foe since 2012. “We talked before the game there would be obstacles and adversity and all those kinds of things, and you’ve just got to fight your way through it,” head coach Matthew Driscoll said afterward. “And they did.” Not only was it a blowout victory over the league’s overwhelming favorite, but the result propelled North Florida ahead of its rival in KenPom for the first time all season. While that may seem insignificant – sure, odd results and blowout wins/losses can skew rankings – it’s important to keep in mind that the Ospreys have climbed almost 100 spots since the season began. Driscoll’s three-point heavy attack, led by reigning Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year, Dallas Moore (27 points on Wednesday), has been reliably explosive through the first couple months and very difficult to beat when shots are falling. In fact, UNF has a chance to become the most efficient offensive unit the conference has seen since Belmont left in 2012. Yet the Ospreys aren’t alone in their emergence as a legitimate challenger to FGCU. USC Upstate – which lost two of its top three scorers and rebounders, including all-conference forward Torrey Craig – has also managed to drastically improve on its preseason metrics. Despite their offensive production taking a dip, the combination of guard-heavy lineups and Eddie Payne’s match-up zone has enabled the Spartans to force turnovers in bunches (12th highest rate in America) and markedly improve their defense from a year ago. That improvement has manifested itself in 13-5 record and the conference’s highest overall ranking (#148) – also nearly 100 spots higher than where it began the year. What does that mean for Dunk City? Even with Brett Comer (11.2 PPG, 7.0 APG) and Bernard Thompson (14.4 PPG) in tow – one of college basketball’s most productive backcourts – the Eagles’ run at the league title will be much more difficult than figured.

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Imbalanced America East Makes for Crucial Battles at the Top

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 13th, 2015

Vermont and Stony Brook have finished first and second in the America East for three straight seasons and neither has beaten the other at home (in the regular season) since 2011, so it goes without saying that the Catamounts’ 71-57 victory in Burlington on Saturday was fairly important. For John Becker’s club, it was a key win against this year’s preseason favorite and validation of the program’s resiliency after graduating the bulk of last year’s starting five. For the Seawolves, the loss was a missed opportunity and fifth-straight defeat in Patrick Gymnasium, but the outcome might end up carrying even more importance than it would have in previous years. Not only do the conference’s top four seeds host preliminary games in its postseason tournament for the first time since the mid-1990s, but there are few leagues in the country with a more substantial dropoff in quality between its top and bottom than the America East. With Vermont, Stony Brook and a few others jockeying for position — and the rest of the league offering minimal competition on a nightly basis — regular season battles among its handful of contenders are more important than ever.

Vermont bested Stony Brook on Saturday in a crucial America East tilt. (Photo: BRIAN JENKINS/For the Free Press)

Vermont bested Stony Brook on Saturday in a crucial America East tilt. (Photo: BRIAN JENKINS/For the Free Press)

First, the top. Three America East teams – Stony Brook, Vermont and Albany – currently rank in the KenPom top-200, with the Seawolves standing above the rest at 113th. Boasting the league’s best player in Jameel Warney (16.6 PPG, 12.2 RPG), and wins over Washington, Western Kentucky and Columbia (x2), Steve Pikiell’s crew certainly looks like the class of the conference. Still, Vermont reaffirmed its contender status over the weekend, and Albany – the league’s NCAA Tournament representative in each of the last two seasons – has enough talent and experience to challenge anyone, especially at home. At the bottom, on the other hand, it’s a far different story. UMass-Lowell, Binghamton, UMBC and Maine, the league’s four worst teams, are each currently ranked 290th or below, and although Pat Duquette’s River Hawks have had their moments this season, the latter three squads are especially bad, coming in at 337th, 342nd and 343rd, respectively – ranking among the 15 worst teams in college basketball. To date, they’ve combined for just five total wins on the year, and as a result, the chasm between the top three teams and the bottom four teams is so large that Stony Brook, Vermont and Albany are each favored – in many cases heavily – to win the vast majority of their league contests (outside of each other) for the remainder of the season. And while that does not mean there won’t be the occasional slip-up, the fact that the Seawolves (43%) and Catamounts (38%) each have a very real chance of going undefeated against the bottom four from here on out speaks volumes about the significant imbalance.

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SMU is Already on the Wrong Side of the Bubble

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 26th, 2014

When the NCAA Tournament Committee shocked many bracket prognosticators by leaving a ranked SMU team out of the field of 68, committee chairman Ron Wellman was quick to point out that the Mustangs’ non-conference schedule was a bit of a joke. Wellman had a point. The Mustangs played just two teams (Arkansas and Virginia) ranked among KenPom’s top 50 teams and lost to the both. The rest of the team’s non-conference wins — against the likes of Arkansas Pine Bluff and McNeese State — were easy for the committee to ignore.

Larry Brown (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Larry Brown Needs Some Quality Wins, and Fast (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

When SMU released its 2014-15 basketball schedule, it was evident that the school had listened when Wellman dumped on its non-conference schedule.The patsies are still really, really bad, but road games against Gonzaga, Indiana, and Michigan as well as home dates with Arkansas and Wyoming were supposed to make up for those RPI killers. The only problem is that in order for those games to boost the team’s RPI, SMU needed to actually win a few of them, which they haven’t done thus far.

Last night was the Mustangs’ latest lost opportunity as they let Arkansas run out to an early double-digit lead in the first half on the road and then were unable to claw all the way back into the game, eventually losing 78-72. That loss comes just five days after SMU kicked away a second-half lead on the road in a loss to Indiana. And that loss came just three days after the Mustangs were blown out by Gonzaga in Spokane. Individually, none of these losses are truly that bad. The Razorbacks, Hoosiers, and Bulldogs are all really good teams who should make the NCAA Tournament. But together, these losses show that SMU has now nearly struck out on its chances to get a non-conference win that would impress the NCAA Tournament Committee.

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Big 12 M5: Still Awake For the Marathon Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 18th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Ah yes, it’s that wonderful time of the year when the Los Angeles Athletic Club releases its annual preseason top 50 for the Wooden Award. We’ll have more on this later this morning, but the Big 12 is well-represented with 10 players making the list. As important as the organization wants us to think the Wooden Award is, it really doesn’t mean all that much to college basketball fans and it means even less to those who start watching games in March. Also, why is a preseason list being released during the regular season? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the whole thing? Last year’s preseason list didn’t have Nick Johnson, Tyler Ennis, Nik Stauskas or Casey Prather on it, but lo and behold, there they were, announced as four of the Wooden Award finalists in March. Yesterday, our Chris Stone summed up this lunacy quite clearly in fewer than 140 characters. The solution: Throw out the preseason list and stick with announcing the 15 finalists in March. It’ll save us all a lot of grief.
  2. The NCAA announced the sites and hosts for its early and regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament from 2016-18, and the Big 12 Conference will serve as an official host in each of those years. In 2016, Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena will be home to first and second round games; in 2017, Kansas City is welcomed back to NCAA Tournament duties as the Sprint Center hosts the Midwest Regional; in 2018, Dallas’ American Airlines Center will be the home of first and second round match-ups. This doesn’t even include Iowa State hosting a site for 2016 first and second round games in nearby Des Moines. The last early or regional round hosted by a Big 12 school or the conference itself was in 2013, but now we’ll be getting three years in a row within the league’s footprint beginning in 2016. Season ticket holders, rejoice.
  3. Baylor made quick work of McNeese State in its season opener on Friday night, 80-39. The Bears’ two transfers, Deng Deng and Lester Medford, made instant impacts for their team, combining for 29 points on the night. But buried in the story, or the last sentence of this recap, is the news that Taurean Prince was suspended and did not play due to a violation of team rules. Outside of that, that’s all anyone seems to know. Whatever it is, the Waco media should probably look into it further.
  4. With West Virginia’s 2-0 start to the season, Bob Huggins has moved into 15th place on the all-time wins list in Division I men’s basketball history. Many think that this will be a bounce-back year for Huggins and West Virginia basketball, and after reviewing the Mountaineers’ numbers in their first two games, it might just be. West Virginia has shot the ball 66 more times than the opposition, scored 51 points off of 44 turnovers, and have 35 more rebounds. Granted, their competition level wasn’t very high with games against Monmouth and Lafayette, but those are similar to characteristics of past West Virginia teams that were regular participants in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve got to start somewhere.
  5. Kansas State also improved to 2-0 on the season with a nice win against UMKC on Monday. While that’s all fine and dandy, we must have another look at Brandon Bolden‘s blocked shot of Southern Utah’s John Marshall from over the weekend. It’s made its way around the web over the past few days and we at Rush The Court sincerely apologize for not commenting on this sooner. The block was so clean that it was dirty. Marshall took a spill on the floor afterward and Bolden leers at him, perhaps disappointed that he had to do Marshall like that. Go ahead, watch it a few hundred more times and create your own exposition of the play. It’s more fun that way.
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Where 2014-15 Happens: Reason #1 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2014

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here

#1 – Where Shabazzketball Happens.


We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-13 and 2013-14 preseasons.

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Where 2014-15 Happens: Reason #3 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 12th, 2014

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here

#3 – Where Ridiculous Times Three Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-13 and 2013-14 preseasons.

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ACC Preview: North Carolina’s Burning Question

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 10th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can North Carolina’s frontcourt live up to its potential?

North Carolina underwent a major roster re-shuffling last season due to the dismissal of P.J. Hairston and the late insertion of Leslie McDonald into the lineup. The team was all over the place in the season’s first half, notching impressive wins over highly-ranked teams while suffering several head-scratching losses to lesser opponents. The Tar Heels finally found their footing come conference play, however, and finished 24-10 overall (13-5 ACC) en route to the NCAA Tournament’s Third Round, where they lost to Iowa State. This year’s edition is projected as a better team, but the Tar Heels’ chances of making a deep run in March will directly tie to the success of its deep but sometimes inconsistent frontcourt.

Johnson will need to use his added bulk to help him bang with the bigs in the ACC this year (gettyimages)

Johnson will need to use his added bulk to help him bang with the bigs in the ACC this year (gettyimages)

Brice Johnson was a sort of super-sub for North Carolina last year, spelling enigmatic James Michael McAdoo at power forward and occasionally filling in at the center position. He averaged 10.3 points per game, largely on transition baskets and buckets around the rim. Johnson’s biggest weaknesses were his lack of bulk, causing him to struggle playing against bigger, stronger opponents, and his propensity for foul trouble. He has reportedly added about 20 pounds to his frame, so the Heels hope that his improved strength will allow him to handle the night-in, night-out pounding in the paint. If he can also become a more well-rounded defender by tempering the tendency to send every opponent’s shot into the fifth row, Johnson can better remain on the floor and become a very dependable contributor on both ends of the court.

Johnson’s running mate in the paint, Kennedy Meeks, was a polar opposite of Johnson. Meeks came into Chapel Hill as a freshman needing to lose weight, and he has done so to the tune of a whopping 50 pounds in the last year-plus. Meeks is not a prototypical center at 6’8″, but he has excellent offensive moves around the basket and understands his limitations in playing below the rim. He is also an exceptional passer, helping to ignite fast breaks and finding open men from the post. Like Johnson, Meeks needs to stay on the floor with McAdoo no longer in the mix, but if his conditioning has greatly improved that will prove much easier for the sophomore. Meeks and Johnson also showed great chemistry in executing the high-low game when they shared court time last year, which bodes very well for the team when they are operating together in the Tar Heels’ starting lineup.

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Where 2014-15 Happens: Reason #5 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2014

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here

#5 – Where Badger Breakthrough Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-13 and 2013-14 preseasons.

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Where 2014-15 Happens: Reason #6 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 9th, 2014

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here

#6 – Where A Valiant Pursuit of Perfection Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-13 and 2013-14 preseasons.

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Where 2014-15 Happens: Reason #7 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2014

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here

#7 – Where The Agony and the Ecstasy Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-13 and 2013-14 preseasons.

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