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

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 28th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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Morning Five: 07.30.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 30th, 2013


  1. Yesterday for Vanderbilt might have been as bad of a day as a program could have without a NCAA investigation. The big news from the program was that Kedren Johnson, its leading scorer last season, was suspended for the upcoming academic year. Johnson averaged 13.5 points, 3.6 assists, and 3.5 rebounds leading a Commodore team that managed to go 16-17 last season despite losing its top three players from the previous season. The wording on Johnson’s apology (“It was a violation of the good conduct expected of all Vanderbilt students. I take full responsibility and now must begin working to regain the trust and respect of my school, the student body, our fans and especially my coaches and friends on the team.”) and the fact that this has not been reported in the mainstream media would argue against it being a serious legal matter and more likely something academic (perhaps like what Harvard experienced last season). If Johnson is able to atone for whatever he did, he should still have two more productive seasons remaining at Vanderbilt.
  2. One player who will apparently not be returning to Nashville is Kevin Bright, who has opted to pursue a pro basketball career in Germany after averaging 6.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season as a freshman. Normally we would consider such a move premature, but Bright was not your typical freshman. For one thing he is already 21 years old, but perhaps more interestingly he grew up in Germany and also played in a German youth program before coming over to Vanderbilt. Of course, that may not sit well with Vanderbilt’s staff as Kevin Stallings was not told by Bright of his decision to leave the school and to play internationally.
  3. Yesterday EA Sports filed a motion in federal court asking the judge to allow the company to respond to the plaintiff’s latest complaint in the notable Ed O’Bannon player likeness case. Using a recent Supreme Court decision as its authority (Comcast v. Behrend, decided in March 2013), attorneys for EA argued that the company has the right to “test the legal sufficiency of the complaint before a class is certified.” Since the court has not yet come to a decision on the issue of certifying the case as a class action (and correspondingly exposing the NCAA, EA and others to billions of dollars in liability), EA wants to have an opportunity to get out of the cross-hairs before that decision is made. According to the article, a sports law expert named Michael McCann believes that the judge will allow EA to make its response. Will it ultimately matter? Mostly this is a case of CYA, but given the huge potential numbers surrounding this case, it makes sense that EA Sports would give it a try.
  4. We would really like to be more excited about the announcement that Dereck Whittenburg is coming back to North Carolina State as an assistant coach, but it is kind of hard to do since this will be the third time he is doing so. Whittenburg is best known for the most famous air ball in basketball history also has served as an assistant at George Mason and Long Beach State before serving as a head coach at Wagner and Fordham. Although his head coaching career was less than distinguished he did manage to lead Wagner to the 2003 NCAA Tournament. It appears that Whittenburg’s primary role will be as director of player development at the school so we are not sure what his intentions are in terms of getting back into full-time coaching.
  5. It seems like show-cause penalties are not quite the death sentence they previously were as former Bruce Pearl assistant Jason Shay is on the verge of becoming the second of that staff to get a Division I job after receiving a show-cause. Shay has reportedly accepted a position at North Dakota. In Shay’s case like that of Steve Forbes (the first Pearl assistant to be hired again at the Division I level) the show-cause was only one year so he sat out an extra year before coming back to Division I. Pearl still has one more year left on his show-cause and although he is certainly a much bigger name than either of these two his hiring would attract much more scrutiny although we would not be shocked to see a desperate program go after him.
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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Big Sky Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 18th, 2012

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball is the RTC Correspondent for the Big Sky Conference. You can find him on Twitter @bigskybball.

Top Storylines

  • The Injury to Will Cherry – Cherry was the runaway favorite for Big Sky Conference Player of the Year, and one of the best perimeter defensive players in the country. However, he will miss the start of the year with a broken foot. The most likely scenario is that he misses the non-conference portion of the schedule and returns for conference play. However, nobody is sure if he will be 100%, and there has even been a little talk that he could redshirt if he can’t come back fully healthy this year. With Cherry, Montana is the favorite. Without him, the conference race is wide open.
  • Change is Everywhere – There are two new teams in the Big Sky, as North Dakota and Southern Utah join the fray. This brings the total number of teams to 11, and with each team playing everyone else twice, everyone will be playing 20 conference games. There will also be an increase from six teams in the Big Sky Tournament to seven teams this season. Three new coaches enter the league. Changes are all around (and more on them later).

Kareem Jamar Will Have To Step In As Will Cherry Recovers From Injury. (AP Photo/Jake Schoellkopf)

  • Life Without Damian Lillard – Lillard was the best player to come out of the conference in a long-time, as he was the sixth pick in the NBA Draft and arguably the best college point guard in America last season. Now, Weber State must move on. Either Jordan Richardson or Gelaun Wheelwright will step into the starting lineup, and they have big shoes to fill. They will need multiple people to step up and perform, and they will have the personnel to do it.
  • Weber State and Montana Reign Again – Heading into last year, these two teams were the media and coaches top two choices. Heading into this season, it will be more of the same. Simply put, they are the most talented and deepest teams in the conference, and they have continuity on the coaching staff. With the way they are recruiting, it won’t be a surprise if the two teams stay in the top two for a long while to come.

Reader’s Take


Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Weber State (17-3)
  2. Montana (16-4)
  3. Northern Colorado (13-7)
  4. Sacramento State (12-8)
  5. North Dakota (11-9)
  6. Montana State (10-10)
  7. Eastern Washington (9-11)
  8. Portland State (8-12)
  9. Northern Arizona (5-15)
  10. Southern Utah (5-15)
  11. Idaho State (4-16)

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Morning Five: 09.27.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 27th, 2012

  1. Has the interminable fight between the NCAA, the state of North Dakota, and its flagship university over the usage of a nickname finally come to an end? In the latest twist from a saga over North Dakota‘s Fighting Sioux nickname that has spanned decades without resolution, all parties announced on Wednesday that they have come to an agreement that hopefully satisfies everyone involved as well as the affected stakeholders. The NCAA has since 2005  threatened schools like UND with what it deems “hostile and abusive” nicknames, and the state has in recent years gone through considerable legal wrangling and even a ballot measure put to the voters over the divisive issue. This agreement ends North Dakota’s use of the nickname (considered offensive to a local Sioux tribe), but will allow much of the imagery embedded into the school’s sports arenas to remain, at least until father time wears them off. In return, the NCAA will allow the school to host postseason events on its campus, while the university and its alumni get to work deciding on options for a new and more agreeable nickname (they will have three years to think about it ).
  2. It’s extremely rare that we’ll go from a North Dakota blurb to a Montana one, but this is a weird news cycle. Will Cherry, Montana’s best player and the leading candidate for the Big Sky POY in 2012-13, has broken his right foot and will miss as much as the next three months of action. The 6’2″ guard was named last season’s Big Sky DPOY and has shown enough versatility and athleticism to make it onto the radar of NBA scouts searching for the next Damian Lillard. The hope for the Grizzlies is that Cherry, who will not have surgery on the foot, will recover quickly and only have to miss a handful of games at the start of the season. A quick review of the Montana schedule suggests that a return date by the start of conference play on December 19 would be ideal.
  3. Josh Pastner is the kind of coach whom everyone seems to have a very strong opinion about — many folks think his only real talent is salesmanship, an ability to convince potential recruits on the virtues of Memphis basketball so that they sign to play for him. Others think that he’s someone who has perhaps appeared a little green on the sidelines at times, but is a tireless worker whose chops in coaching up young players just needs some time to mature. With news this week that Memphis has received a commitment from elite 2013 east coast prospect Kuran Iverson (The Answer’s cousin), there’s one fact nobody can dispute — the Tigers coach has proven without question that he can leave the Mississippi River watershed to fill out his talented recruiting classes. The next step, of course, is to convert all that on-court talent into postseason success (and nobody cares about Conference USA titles when you’re bringing in these hauls), and, as Mike DeCourcy notes, there is a general sense among those in the know that Pastner is about to turn the corner on building his program and improving his career 0-2 NCAA Tournament record.
  4. DeCourcy must have had his typewriter working overtime yesterday, as he also published a related article on Big East recruiting with the clear thesis that available evidence suggests that the Big East as a basketball conference might not be as ‘dead as in doornail dead’ as many seem to think. According to the Rivals recruiting rankings for the Class of 2013, 16 of the 72 players (22%) in the top 115 who have already chosen schools are headed to the Big East. It’s a fair point, but a closer look at the numbers reveals the devil in the details, which is as of right now, the Big East can boast volume and depth but not much in terms of star incoming talent — of the 24 committed players who are currently ranked in the top 50, only four of those are headed to the Big East (three to Memphis; one to Louisville). By way of a contrast, the ACC and SEC already have four commitments each in the top 30, with more surely on the way once Kentucky and North Carolina are finished.
  5. Here’s a piece of trivia for your Thursday morning: Name the handful of pairs of schools that reside in the same city and also play basketball in the same multiple-bid conference. Most people will get the Pac-12’s UCLA and USC immediately; some will remember that Big Fivers Temple, La Salle and St. Joseph’s have one more season together in the Atlantic 10; if you want to get clever you might even recall Conference USA’s Rice and Houston; but how many folks outside of the Old Dominion State will remember that VCU‘s joining of the A-10 means that a bitter crosstown rivalry with Richmond is about to get realer. Gary Parrish writes that the two schools separated by only seven miles as the crow flies might be near one another in proximity, but they’re worlds apart in style and attitude. All we can say is that the two games scheduled for conference play are going to be must-see television, mid-major style. Can’t wait.
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Morning Five: 06.14.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on June 14th, 2012

  1. The incoming class of freshmen is expected to be weaker than last year’s class, but don’t be surprised to see many of them adapting quickly to the college game thanks to a newly adopted rule that will allow coaches increased access to their incoming freshmen over the summer. Coaches will be allowed to work with players for up to two hours a day for a total of eight hours a week in the summer if they are enrolled in the school’s summer session. Given the scrutiny these players will be under and the sudden change they will experience (particularly those going to large state schools) we cannot imagine any coach would not push their incoming freshmen to come to campus early to become more acclimated with their new surroundings particularly with the increased access they will now have.
  2. We are not quite sure why it had to come to this (ok, we sort of do, but it is still idiotic), but on Tuesday voters in North Dakota voted to allow North Dakota to change the schools mascot from the Fighting Sioux to something else that would most likely be less politically charged. The name, which is one of an increasingly small number referring to Native Americans, has been a source of controversy for several years, but the issue had to be put to the voters because the use of the name Fighting Sioux and the associated logo had been required to be used by state law. The comments regarding the issue are interesting as some people such as Tim O’Keefe, executive vice president and CEO of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation, noted that the move was motivated by potential NCAA sanctions rather than political correctness while other groups including some Sioux groups felt that the association was a positive one.
  3. The trial for suspended Oklahoma State forward Darrell Williams has been delayed until July 9 as one of the prosecution’s witnesses would have been out of the country for the start of the trial. Williams, who averaged 7.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game as a junior in the 2010-11 season, is accused of sexually assaulting two women at an off-campus party in December 2010. He faces four counts of rape and one count of sexual battery. While this may seem like a long time especially since Williams pleaded not guilty all the way back in February 2011 it is not unusual a trial to take this long to occur with lawyers filing all of their usual motions.
  4. We mentioned it a month ago and yesterday the NCAA officially ruled to require temporary logos to be “of a consistent surface” as the rest of the court. It will be interesting to see how in-season tournament sponsors react to this and whether it will affect the amount of money that they are willing to commit to these event (suspect that it will), but for the sake of the players this was a necessary move. Not to be lost in the sticker ruling are the other decisions listed about bench decorum, block/charge calls, and monitor reviews all of which will probably have a bigger impact on college basketball than the sticker rule will even if they are not as easy to write angry columns about.
  5. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis has to be one of the best marketers in the business. After coming up with the idea for the Carrier Classic, an outdoor college hockey game in 2001, and a regular basketball season game at Ford Field, Hollis is pushing for a game at Jenison Field House, the Spartans home until 1989, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a game between Mississippi State and Loyola (Chicago). That game, which was won by Loyola 61-51 en route to the national title, was the Mideast Regional semifinals and was notable for the fact that Mississippi State (an all-white team) ignored a court injunction forbidding it from playing Loyola, which had four African-American starters. So far plans are in the very preliminary stages (neither of the two teams involved have committed to anything) and it may just involve Michigan State playing a random opponent at Jenison, but it would be a nice way to commemorate the event at a site that has not hosted a Spartan men’s basketball game since the 1989 NIT Tournament.
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Morning Five: 02.08.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 8th, 2012

  1. The biggest news Tuesday was that Memphis, one of the best non-power conference basketball programs in America both now and historically, will join the Big East for the 2013-14 season. Whether the Big East that it joins a little over a year from now will resemble itself now is anybody’s guess, but at least this move goes toward shoring up the basketball value of the league that was threatened by prospectively losing Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia. Central Florida, Houston and SMU are fine, but none of them exactly inspire much confidence when it comes to replacing those annual NCAA Tournament contenders. This is a good move for both Memphis and the Big East in reopening some old Metro/Great Midwest rivalries between Louisville, Cincinnati and the Tigers, but in the shifting sands of conference realignment theater, it’s difficult to know just how long such an arrangement might last.
  2. While on the subject of change begetting more change, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux nickname is back in the national spotlight after supporters of the moniker turned in a petition comprised of over 17,000 signatures to force a June referendum on the subject matter. What this means is that once the Secretary of State approves the signatures, a state law that was repealed last November requiring all school teams to be known as the Fighting Sioux would once again be promulgated into law. If the referendum in June then was passed by the voters, the school would have no choice but to re-institute the nickname. The problem with all of this, of course, is that the NCAA has made its position known — North Dakota will not be allowed to host NCAA-sponsored events, and its teams could be banned from wearing uniforms with the nickname or logo in postseason competition. This could make for a very odd legal situation if the schools is required by law to wear the Sioux uniforms but cannot compete in NCAA-sponsored events.
  3. Kentucky‘s 78-58 domination of Florida last night dominated the Twitter-verse last night with discussion ranging from the Wildcats’ spectacular defense (Jimmy Dykes) to its season-best offense (Ken Pomeroy) to whether Anthony Davis is the front-runner for National Player of the Year. In the absence of a dominant juggernaut this season, everyone seems ready to anoint John Calipari’s squad as that team. If only we crowned national champions before Valentine’s Day… Luke Winn, Mike DeCourcy, and Gary Parrish all checked in with columns about the excellent play of the Cats, but we as the media should be careful to not overrate a blowout win in Rupp against a Florida team that plays awful defense and has a marginal interior game. We’ll honestly be more impressed if the Cats go into Memorial Gymnasium at Vanderbilt on Saturday and punishes the Commodores in much the same way.
  4. Jim Calhoun is no quitter and nobody will ever accused the three-time national champion of being one. Yet how could anyone blame him if he decided to retire from coaching basketball after his diagnosis with spinal stenosis, his latest in a series of ailments and one that kept him bedridden for several days last week? In an interview with Andy Katz on Tuesday, Calhoun said that this is just another “obstacle” that he plans on getting through and that “there’s no question” he will be back on the Connecticut sideline coaching his team soon. Coming off a destructive loss at Louisville on Monday that had at least one UConn beat writer accusing the players of quitting, Calhoun needs to get back to his spot on the bench as soon as possible. He’s not expected to be back for Saturday’s game at Syracuse, but if he doesn’t return soon, his team may be beyond repair.
  5. Tonight might be the best evening of college basketball on paper that you’ll see all year, with Georgetown visiting Syracuse, Duke visiting North Carolina, and Kansas visiting Baylor. There are so many great storylines heading into these games, but one of the few that really caught our eye was this piece on Duke’s Austin Rivers. Whether you love him or hate him (and few people around the country fall in the middle on Rivers), at least he’s honest. He says that one of the reasons he recoils from criticism, whether on or off the court, is because like his hero Kobe Bryant he lives his life and plays basketball with a significant chip on his shoulder. It began with the seemingly constant references to him as “Doc’s kid” as he was growing up, and it has only continued as he moved into the white-hot cross-hairs of becoming a star at Duke.
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Big 12 Morning Five: 01.02.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on January 2nd, 2012

  1. With conference play beginning tonight, countless publications in Big 12 country will publish articles just like this in an attempt to size up the race this winter. This particular article sums the league up pretty well, and the consensus seems to be that the Big 12 is as wide-open as ever. The phrase “wide-open” can mean a few things, though. The league is wide-open in that any number of teams could win the regular season title, but it’s also wide-open in that nobody has established itself as an elite squad. Yes, Missouri and Baylor are undefeated, but Missouri still has to win a major road game and Baylor hardly looked impressive even in a victory over a top-15 Mississippi State squad. Kansas and Texas A&M have questionable losses, and as for the rest of the league, who knows how the other six teams will fare?
  2. One of those six teams is Oklahoma State, which has seen two point guards transfer out of the program during the past two weeks. The Cowboys are 7-6 and have struggled to score all season, and naturally, that led to early attendance issues. But in a New Year’s Eve loss to Virginia Tech, a special promotion of free admission drew more than 12,000 fans to Gallagher-Iba Arena. It did not result in a victory, but the game outdrew all but one Big 12 game a year ago. When it’s really rocking, Gallagher-Iba is quite possibly the most intense atmosphere in the league (at least on par with Allen Fieldhouse), so perhaps Oklahoma State should consider free admission again sometime. That is, if the school can afford it.
  3. There’s not much analysis to give regarding the Kansas/North Dakota game this weekend. Kansas had better players; Kansas won by 26 points. No surprise there, but it’s worth noting that forward Thomas Robinson put up some spectacular numbers, scoring 30 points and tallying 21 rebounds. He’s just the fifth player in Big 12 history to pull off the 30-point/20-rebound feat, and three of the others to do that (Michael Beasley, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin) were top-two NBA Draft picks. Robinson manhandled the Fighting Sioux by shooting 10-14 from the field and making nine free throws. And hey, he even made the first three of his career. It was just his day.
  4. Oklahoma blew a late double-digit lead to Cincinnati last week, meaning it missed a chance for its first quality victory of the season. Could that come back to bite the Sooners once March rolls around? Lon Kruger‘s improved program is 10-2, but let’s not talk NCAAs just yet. In that Cincinnati game, Oklahoma looked like a post-season team for several minutes in the second half before the collapse, at which point it looked confused on both ends of the floor. Even though the Sooners did not take care of the ball down the stretch and had an obvious defensive error on the final possession of the game, it was evident during that contest that this team is having a heck of a lot more fun than last year. You can see the improvement on the floor, and the players seem to be enjoying Kruger’s coaching style. An NCAA bid might be too much to ask for, but with Kruger, you never know.
  5. Missouri certainly will be playing in the Big Dance this March, and entering Big 12 play, the only question for the Tigers is whether they can avoid a collapse like last season. Mike Anderson’s Tigers reached the top-10 in the polls during non-conference play but finished just .500 in the conference, including a 1-7 mark on the road. However, as this article points out, Frank Haith‘s team doesn’t look headed for a similar fate at this point. First of all, Missouri is simply winning in much more impressive fashion this year as opposed to 2010-11, when it struggled with lesser opponents and narrowly escaped a season-opening tilt with lowly Western Illinois. The statistics support this theory too: the Tigers are holding opponents to less points, and their individual and team shooting percentages have skyrocketed.
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How Will Kansas Manage Without Its Point Guard?

Posted by dnspewak on December 12th, 2011

Tyshawn Taylor finally redeemed himself in a 78-67 win over #2 Ohio State on Saturday, shaking off a poor start to his senior season by tallying 13 assists. Sure, Taylor did turn the ball over seven times, but he served as the catalyst for an improved offensive effort by the Jayhawks.

And he did it all with a sprained MCL and a torn meniscus, an injury he had actually previously suffered early in the week in practice. After pushing through the injury, however, Taylor finally had surgery yesterday and will miss about three weeks.

His status for Kansas’s Big 12 opener on January 4 against Kansas State is in question, though he is expected to return by then. Even if he does, he will surely miss their games with Davidson, USC, Howard, and North Dakota. Even without their point guard, the Jayhawks have no excuse to lose any of those contests, though Bob McKillop‘s Wildcats could provide a sneaky challenge after testing Duke and Vanderbilt earlier this season.

Tyshawn Taylor Will Miss About Three Weeks for KU

Despite the weaker competition, Kansas will need to make major adjustments to compensate for Taylor’s injury. Elijah Johnson may become the go-to option in the backcourt, a role he looks equipped to handle based on his productive performance against the Buckeyes. The situation could also enable freshman Naadir Tharpe to finally crack Self’s rotation. The true freshman has not seen much action this season, but his minutes could skyrocket during the next few weeks. Tharpe looks like a potential point guard option for Self next season after Taylor graduates, so the extra playing time could be key in his development as a Big 12 player.

If Taylor misses any time during league play, Kansas could be in trouble. With a relatively inexperienced roster, Taylor and Thomas Robinson are the two most important players on this team. But by all accounts, Taylor should have no issues getting back on the court by early January.

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RTC Conference Primers: #27 – Big Sky Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 7th, 2011

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball  is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Readers’ Take

Top Storylines

  • The Return of Damian Lillard – Three years ago, Lillard was the Big Sky Freshman of the Year. Two years ago, he was the Big Sky Player of the Year. Last year, he was the Preseason Player of the Year and his team, Weber State, was the pick to win the Conference. Then, he broke his foot in the ninth game of the year, and the Wildcats finished third. Due to some smart scheduling tactics, Lillard was granted a medical redshirt and will be a junior this season. He says he is one hundred percent healthy, and if that is true, Weber State is the easy favorite to win the Big Sky.

Weber State's Damian Lillard Is The Toast of the Big Sky. (AP Photo/Michael Dinneen)

  • Beginning of the Jim Hayford Era For Eastern Washington – Out is Kirk Earlywine, who put together four bad seasons in Cheney, finishing with a 42-78 record. In is Jim Hayford, who had been extremely successful at Division III Whitworth University, where he had a 217-57 record. Earlywine did not leave the cupboard bare (even with would-be top returner Glen Dean transferring to Utah), and a top three finish is possible for the Eagles. Hayford has also showed early recruiting prowess, getting Collin Chiverton to keep his commitment to EWU.
  • How Does Northern Colorado Build on Momentum? – 2007 was Northern Colorado’s first season in the Big Sky, and they finished a sparkling 4-24 (with a 2-14 conference record). Last season, BJ Hill continued the impressive turnaround begun by previous head coach Tad Boyle (now with Colorado), leading the Bears to their first ever NCAA Tournament berth, where they lost to San Diego State. However, nobody in the conference was hit harder than UNC by graduation, most notably losing Player of the Year Devon Beitzel. Hill brought in a solid recruiting class, and he will need guys to step up early.  The Bears could be picked as low as seventh in the conference this year, but anything in the top five would keep the program’s momentum going strong.
  • Wide Open Race in the MiddleWeber State and Montana are the prohibitive favorites to win the Conference, but the race really opens up after those two. If you ask five different people who will finish third in the Big Sky, you will get five different answers. That will add up to a lot of competitive ballgames, as the balance in the conference is strong. Anyone is capable of beating anyone else on a given night.

Predicted Order of Finish

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Morning Five: 08.15.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 15th, 2011

  1. The talk of the college sports universe throughout the weekend involved the notion of Texas A&M bolting the Big 12 for the (supposedly) greener pastures of the SEC.  On Friday afternoon, it seemed to be nothing more than some wishful thinking on the part of the Aggies.  By Saturday, though, ESPN was reporting that such a move was a done deal and that it could occur as soon as next summer.  Then on Sunday, the SEC pulled the chair out from under its latest paramour, announcing that its committee of presidents and chancellors had met and “reaffirmed [its] satisfaction with the present 12 institutional alignment.”  So what the hell happened here?  How could A&M have been so confident in a place at the table so as to leave itself open to a very public rejection from the SEC, furthering the shame and feelings of inadequacy the school already suffers as a result of the monolithic school 100 miles to its west?  Well, if you read between the lines of the SEC’s statement, you’ll see that the organization carefully left open the possibility of expansion in a way certain to satisfy the legal department.  If TAMU’s Board of Regents approves exploration of such a move on Monday, expect to see things to continue toward the direction of the Aggies to the SEC in relatively short order.  This isn’t over.
  2. North Dakota took its half-decade long fight over its nickname, the Fighting Sioux, to the top of the NCAA food chain on Friday, and still came away with the same result.  The school will have to change its nickname or face banishment from hosting NCAA tournament games in any sport and cannot use the nickname at any NCAA-sponsored events.  Additionally, the Big Sky Conference, which North Dakota hopes to soon join, has made it clear that refusal to change its nickname could jeopardize the school’s consideration for that league.  Today — August 15, 2011 — is the court-imposed deadline put forth by the courts for UND to receive approval from the two Sioux tribes located in the state to justify keeping the name.  Only one of the two gave its approval, and now the school will have to make other arrangements.  For us, it comes down to the two afflicted parties.  If both Sioux tribes were on board with it, we wouldn’t have a problem either; but, apparently, the Standing Rock Sioux were always against the nickname, so we agree with the NCAA and Mark Emmert that it’s probably for the best to scrap it going forward.
  3. We mentioned last week that Virginia Tech refused to clear junior forward Allan Chaney to play next season because of an affliction called viral myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that can cause scarring.  Despite significant testing at Penn and Virginia hospitals that led to team physicians at VT to state that Chaney has “persistent complications” from the disease, Chaney believes that he can find another school that will let him play.  The option of wearing an internal defibrillator to monitor his heart harkens back to the scary collapse and near-death of former Tennessee forward Emanuel Negedu from a heart condition in 2009.  UT would not allow him to play, but Negedu eventually got another chance at New Mexico last season before retiring from the sport permanently in April.  Chaney mentions only a “2% risk” in his comments about health, but how many of us out there are willing to take a 1 in 50 shot on our mortality every day we step onto a basketball court?  We certainly understand that it’s difficult to give up something that you love to do more than anything else in the world, but we  sincerely hope that he finds peace on this issue and will not push himself toward an outcome that everyone will ultimately regret.
  4. A little transfer news not involving life-threatening heart conditions…  LSU sophomore forward Matt Derenbecker announced over the weekend that he will be transferring to Dayton University, sight unseen.  Derenbecker was a promising player in his only year at LSU, averaging 7/2 in 23 minutes per game for the Tigers.  He becomes the third player to leave Trent Johnson’s program this offseason, though, which begs the continuing question as to whether the former Stanford coach will be able to get it done in Baton Rouge.  After an outstanding first season where his team won the SEC and went to the  Second Round of the NCAA Tournament, his last two years have been unmitigated disasters, having won only five conference games and 22 overall.
  5. The story of how former Kentucky center Josh Harrellson went from a benchwarmer to a key contributor on a Final Four team and an NBA Second Round draft pick is a well-known one, but you can also add citizen sheriff to the list of roles of which we never thought he was capable.  According to WKYT-TV in Lexington, Harrellson and several of his friends encountered a drunk driver in a parking lot over the weekend who was so sloppy that he hit several vehicles trying to get his truck out.  Realizing the danger of having such a person on the road, they leapt into action by jumping onto the moving truck and forcing the driver to stop so that they could take the keys out of the ignition.  It’s an amazing story of heroism on those facts alone, but here’s the clincher — after the truck stopped, they realized that there were young children in the back seat of the vehicle.  Forget playing Jared Sullinger straight-up in the NCAA Tournament — Harrellson and his buddies deserve a medal.
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