O26 Game of the Week: Gonzaga in Tucson, UTEP-Colorado State, More…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 3rd, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Gonzaga (7-0) at Arizona (6-0) – 5:15 PM ET, ESPN, Saturday

Following the Wildcats defeat of San Diego State in the Maui Invitational, this weekend’s Gonzaga-Arizona matchup might now be the unofficial showdown for ‘Best in the West’ – the outcome of which could go a long way in determining the region’s top-seed come Selection Sunday.

Gonzaga-Arizona should be one of the best non-conference matchups in 2014-15. (thesportspost.com)

Gonzaga-Arizona should be one of the best non-conference matchups in 2014-15. (thesportspost.com)

Both teams have notched impressive early-season victories – SMU and St. John’s for the Bulldogs, Kansas State and SDSU for the Wildcats – both possess seven-plus-foot frontcourt players, athletic wings and veteran point guards, and each squad is led by a coach who’s won a bunch of games over the past decade. Sean Miller’s group pounded Gonzaga in last year’s NCAA Tournament, but the Bulldogs are a much different, much deeper unit in 2014-15; Kevin Pangos is back to full-health and Mark Few added transfers Byron Wesley and Kyle Wiltjer in the offseason, along with impact-freshman Domantas Sabonis (12.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG). As a result, it seems doubtful the Zags will turn the ball over 21 times like they did in March, nor are they likely to be as overwhelmed athletically. Then again, this year’s iteration does take place in Tuscon, against a Wildcat team thanks to the return of 6’8’’ forward Brandon Ashley (Arizona has not lost with him in the lineup since 2012-13) and the addition of an eventual lottery pick, freshman wing Stanley Johnson (13.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG). Considering the individual talent on both rosters, it’s hard to say exactly who or what will dictate the outcome – does the frontcourt battle between Przemek Karnowski and Kaleb Tarczewski decide things? Or will it be Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s energy, or Pangos’ hot-shooting? – but regardless, the game is sure to be among the biggest and most impactful non-conference tilts this season.

More to Watch

  1. Wichita State (4-0) at Utah (5-1) – 11:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Wednesday. Does Wichita State’s 35-game regular season winning streak end in Salt Lake City? The Shockers have not looked prone to defeat so far in 2014-15, having drubbed New Mexico State, Memphis and Tulsa by an average of 17 points per game, but knocking off Utah on its home floor should prove much more difficult. The Utes boast one of the best all-around guards in America, 6’5’’ junior Delon Wright, and are markedly tougher in the Huntsman Center – they were a couple of two-point, overtime losses against Oregon and Arizona from going undefeated at home in 2013-14. Luckily, Gregg Marshall has a pair of experienced, All-America type guards in his own right – Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker – who should hold their own in the hostile environment. KenPom has this one pegged as one a near-coin flip (54% in the Wichita State’s favor), and if the Shockers can emerge victorious, their impressive streak might persist well into the New Year.
  2. UTEP (5-1) at Colorado State (6-0) – 9:00 PM ET, Wednesday. Colorado State won the Great Alaska Shootout and UTEP nearly won the Wooden Legacy over the holiday weekend, punctuating a very good month of November for both units. Even with the Miners falling to Washington on Sunday night, each group appears talented and capable enough to be in the at-large discussion by season’s end – making Wednesday’s game in Fort Collins an important opportunity for both. The Rams, led by senior point guard Daniel Bejarano (13.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG) and forward J.J. Avila (14.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG), have been very proficient from deep so far in 2014-15 (40.5% 3PT) and are the fifth-most experienced team in the country, while UTEP – paced by athletic, versatile forward Vince Hunter (five straight double-doubles to begin 2014-15) – boasts one of college basketball’s largest front lines.
  3. Wyoming (7-0) at SMU (4-3) – 7:00 PM ET, ESPNews, Friday. This is an important bellweather game for Wyoming, which has gotten off to an excellent start in 2014-15 – including a dominant victory over Colorado – but has yet to play a game outside of Laramie. The Mustangs, despite a rocky start without their best player, Markus Kennedy, are a good, well-rounded team that’s always tough inside Moody Coliseum. The Cowboys have found great looks near the basket this season (66.2% 2PT; second-best in NCAA) and SMU’s interior defense has been less dominant without Kennedy, so Wyoming’s ability to patiently run its sets in a road environment might be the key to success.
  4. Virginia (7-0) at Virginia Commonwealth (5-2) – 2:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday. VCU edged Illinois State on Tuesday night, but the Rams still seek a marquee victory after two disappointing losses last week. This home contest against newfound in-state rival Virginia provides that opportunity. In what should be an exercise in contrasting styles – VCU plays frenzied, uptempo basketball, whereas the Cavaliers like to grind on both ends of the court – the outcome may depend on whether Shaka Smart’s group can force Virginia into turnovers with any kind of regularity. If not, the preseason Atlantic 10 favorites – who already struggle to score in the half-court – could be in for a long night against Tony Bennett’s defense [See: Rutgers game].
  5. San Diego State (5-1) at Washington (6-0) – 9:00 PM ET, Pac-12 Network, Sunday. In another very good west coast showdown, the Aztecs will have to play without guard Aqeel Quinn (9.7 PPG), who broke his finger against Arizona last week. The Huskies have the advantage at point guard with Nigel Williams-Goss (14.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG) – important against an aggressive defensive unit like SDSU – but the Aztecs have more athletic wings, and both squads possess plenty of size underneath. Should be close.

Other Notables

  •  Northeastern (5-1) at Harvard (4-1) – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday.
  •  Long Beach State (4-4) at Stephen F. Austin (4-3) – 8:00PM, Friday.
  •  Boise State (4-2) at Saint Mary’s (5-0) – 11:30 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday.
  •  Florida Gulf Coast (6-1) *at Massachusetts (5-3) – 2:00 PM ET, Sunday (*Springfield, MA).

Upset Special

Can Yale hang around with Connecticut on Friday night? (The Providence Journal/Glenn Osmundson)

Can Yale hang around with Connecticut on Friday night? (The Providence Journal/Glenn Osmundson)

Yale (6-2) at Connecticut (3-2) – 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Friday. There are plenty of reasons why this upset can’t happen – I mean, we are talking about the defending National Champions…playing at home – so how about one reason why it can: Huskies guard Ryan Boatright might miss the contest with a sprained ankle. If he does sit out, Connecticut will be without the guy who leads it in scoring (20.8 PPG), assists (4 APG) and steals (1.6 SPG), who  plays virtually every minute of every game, who shoots almost one-third of the team’s shots while on the floor, and who racks up fouls in bunches. Yale, which looked good in a hard-fought loss to Providence last weekend, has bodies to bang with Connecticut on the glass and should do a better job taking care of the ball (turnovers have been a problem) against the Boatright-less Huskies. If Javier Duren, Jack Montague and Armani Cotton get hot from behind the arc and Justin Sears (15.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG) stays out of foul trouble, the Bulldogs have a chance.

Stars Aligned: Great Individual Match-Ups

  • Green Bay’s Kiefer Sykes at Georgia State’s Ryan Harrow – 7:00 PM ET, Thursday. Both Sykes (18.5 PPG) and Harrow (20.3 PPG) are small, explosive point guards who thrive on their quickness and ability to penetrate. They also happen to be two of college basketball’s best players, on two of the better teams at the mid-major level. You won’t want to miss this battle.
  • William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton at Richmond’s Kendall Anthony – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday. Another pair of talented scoring guards go at it tonight, as Thornton (17 PPG) and Anthony (15.3 PPG) square off in Richmond. At just 5’8’’, Anthony gives up a full eight inches to his William & Mary counterpart, so it seems doubtful they will actually wind up guarding each other. Either way, expect a bevy of points from these two guys and a hard-fought game between quality intra-state foes.
  • Valparaiso’s Alec Peters vs. someone(s) on Eastern Kentucky – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday. This game is projected to be a toss-up, but I’m not sure who on the Colonels is going to stop Peters. The 6’9’’ forward has been nothing short of exceptional so far this season, averaging 19.3 PPG and shooting 55% 3PT. With that combination of size and shooting ability, Eastern Kentucky’s best hope might be to exploit Valpo’s weakness at point guard, turn the Crusaders over and limit Peters’ touches as much as possible.
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Mid-Makeovers: Which O26 Units are Poised for a Turnaround?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 12th, 2014

With the season now only a few days away, let’s look at five teams in great position to improve considerably this year – and in some cases, even compete for a conference crown.

Detroit – Horizon League – 2013-14 record: 13-18 (6-10). After finishing eighth in the Horizon League standings in 2013-14 (out of nine teams) and graduating its top rebounder and second-leading scorer, Evan Bruinsma, Detroit was picked third in this year’s preseason poll. Why such high expectations? The simple answer is twofold: Juwan Howard Jr. is back, and a wave of talent joins him. Howard, a 6’5’’ senior who led the Titans in scoring last season (18.3 PPG), should be one of the best players in the conference this year, even if his numbers do not drastically improve. He was probably relied upon far too heavily a season ago – the wing took 20-plus shots on six different occasions – so this year’s additions should help reduce the pressure and enable Howard to score more efficiently. Those reinforcements – transfers Chris Jenkins (Colorado) and Brandan Kearney (Arizona State), along with redshirt freshman Paris Bass – will bring depth at small forward and provide supplemental offensive punch. Add that to the trio of quality guards in the backcourt, plus 6’10’’ Penn State transfer Patrick Ackerman down low, and Ray McCallum’s team should rediscover its winning ways this season.

Juwan Howard Jr. and the Detroit Titans should be much better this season. (Courtesy of Detroit athletics media relations)

Juwan Howard Jr. and the Detroit Titans should be much better this season. (Detroit athletics)

Lafayette – Patriot League – 2013-14 record: 11-20 (6-12). Lafayette forward Seth Hinrichs missed 10 games in the middle of last season because of a knee injury, and the Leopards proceeded to lose all 10, including their first eight league contests. When he returned to the lineup? Fran O’Hanlon’s group won eight of its last 12. Needless to say, the 6’7’’ senior – a versatile wing who can stretch the floor – is enormously important to Lafayette’s success. With virtually the entire roster back alongside him, including now-seasoned point guard Nick Lindner and sharpshooter Joey Ptasinski (43.5% 3FG), Hinrichs (16.3 PPG) should make the Leopards legitimate Patriot League contenders and put himself in discussion for conference Player of the Year. A postseason berth is more than possible for the Patriot’s most offensively-efficient unit.

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Top of the O26 Class: A-10, A-Sun, Big South, Colonial, MEAC & SoCon

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 30th, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region of the U.S: the Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, Big South, Colonial, MEAC and Southern Conference. Previous installments include the Northeast region leagues and the Midwest region conferences.

Top Units

Which mid-major will make the most noise this season? in Rush the Court's Polls on LockerDome

Atlantic 10

  • VCU – 2013-14 record: 26-9 (12-4). Shaka Smart has led VCU to four straight NCAA Tournaments including a Final Four run in 2011, and yet this might be his most talented bunch to date. Perhaps his most highly motivated, too. After suffering a bitter, never-should-have-happened defeat to Stephen F. Austin in the Round of 64 last March, preseason all-conference picks Treveon Graham and Briante Weber return, along with several other key pieces and Smart’s best recruiting class. Graham, a 6’6″ forward, is poised to break the school scoring record this season, while the quick-handed Weber looks to build on the career steals mark he already shattered – it’s like the guy was built for HAVOC. The presence of forward Mo Alie-Cox, backcourt contributors JeQuan Lewis and Melvin Johnson, and a trio of heralded freshmen – including four-star Terry Larrier – makes this team more than ready for a tough non-conference slate. Expect a bunch of wins, an A-10 title and big things come March.
VCU is loaded with talent this season. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

VCU is loaded with talent this season. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Dayton – 2013-14 record: 26-11 (10-6). Last year’s Cinderella should be top-three good in the A-10, but it may need some time to rediscover the magic. Gone is Dayton’s best all-around player, Devin Oliver, its most important big man, Matt Kavanaugh, and two productive guards. Luckily, Archie Miller’s tendency to use a deep rotation last season – 10 to 12 guys a game – should pay off; this year’s newly-anointed starters all saw quality minutes in 2013-14. Among them will be Scoochie Smith, who steps in as starting point guard following the transfer of Khari Price. Smith’s ability to open up the offense, along with the continued emergence of forwards Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott, will be important factors. Dyshawn Pierre and sharpshooter Jordan Sibert should lead the way, but it is the (probably large) supporting cast that will determine the Flyers’ ceiling.

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Poll Critiques: Colonial, Conference USA & Summit

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 27th, 2014

Over the next few weeks, we’ll examine and critique some of the more intriguing preseason conference polls. Here, we take a look at the good, the bad and the weird coming out of the Colonial, Conference USA and Summit League polls.

Colonial

There are plenty of question marks in the CAA this season. (Christopher Szagola/US Presswire)

There are plenty of question marks in the CAA this season. (Christopher Szagola/US Presswire)

The voters got it right at the top, tabbing Northeastern as the favorite in the CAA, followed by William & Mary and Hofstra. The Huskies are the one unit in this league to add more proven talent than they lost, not only bringing back the vast majority of last year’s roster – including Defensive Player of the Year and rebounding monster Scott Eatherton (15.9 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.8 BPG) – but also regaining Quincy Ford, who was one among the CAA’s best all-around players before missing most of last year. Still, the recent departure of fourth-leading scorer Demetrius Pollard, combined with the fact that Bill Coen’s club went just 11-21 last season, makes you wonder if Northeastern can actually live up to its top billing. William & Mary also has an argument for the number one spot after finishing third in the standings a year ago and narrowly losing the CAA title game, welcoming back the conference’s best player (Marcus Thornton) and CAA Rookie of the Year (Omar Prewitt). Hofstra is rightfully slotted at third; despite last year’s 10-23 campaign, an influx of talented transfers and recruits, including former Niagara guard Juan’ya Green (16.5 PPG), justifies the anticipated climb.

  1. Northeastern
  2. William & Mary
  3. Hofstra
  4. Drexel
  5. James Madison
  6. College of Charleston
  7. Towson
  8. Delaware
  9. UNCW
  10. Elon

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Morning Five: 10.13.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 13th, 2014

morning5

  1. The hits just keep coming for Providence. After dealing with issues related to injuries, suspensions, and eligibility in the past few years, the Friars will now have to deal with the loss of Rodney Bullock to a knee injury. Bullock injured his knee in practice last week, but the school is still awaiting additional tests to see how long he will be out. You may remember Bullock from his suspension (along with Brandon Austin) a year ago on accusations of sexual assault. Austin transferred to Oregon where he was kicked out after another charge of sexual assault.
  2. Northeastern‘s hopes of rebounding from an atrocious 11-21 record last season took a hit over the weekend when they announced that starting senior guard Demetrius Pollard had left the program. The Huskies had expected to return all the pieces from an admittedly bad team, but that experience gave them the chance to be competitive in the Colonial Athletic Association this year especially with the return of Quincy Ford, who missed much of last season with a back injury. Now they will have to do it without Pollard, who averaged 8.9 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game last season. Pollard remains enrolled at the school so his future plans remain unclear at this point.
  3. When we heard that Old Dominion had suspended three players indefinitely for an August 30 altercation we immediately assumed that they would all be players for the men’s team. It turns out that only one of the three players (Javonte Douglas) plays for the men’s team as the other two involved (Galaisha Goodhope and Chelisa Painter) are women’s players. According to reports the three got into a fight at a party leading to the subsequent (much-delayed) suspensions. We don’t follow women’s basketball that closely even a program as good historically as Old Dominion (yeah, we’re guessing you probably didn’t know they had a good women’s program), but it appears that the women’s team will be disproportionately affected as Douglas is a junior college transfer while Painter is the team’s top returning scorer and rebounder and Goodhope led the team in assists last year. Having said that Douglas is quite talented himself as he was named a second-team junior college All-American and has some ridiculous athleticism (as illustrated by this putback dunk, which is part Vince Carter and part Tom Chambers). All three are appealing their suspensions with Goodhope facing a possible expulsion from the school.
  4. We are just getting used to looking through the 2014-15 schedule, but programs have to plan out their schedules well in advance. One example of this is Indiana, which appears to have already committed to the 2016 Armed Forces Classic in Hawaii. The game is expected to be played at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in advance of the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor that led to the involvement of the United States in World War II. The other three teams expected to compete in the two games have not been announced yet. By the time this game rolls around the Hoosiers should be well-acquainted with Hawaii as they will play in the 2015 Maui Invitational.
  5. With many of the top college coaches entering their final years we expect to see an onslaught of biographies or autobiographies with a lot of ghostwriting. One of the books that has the potential to be more interesting comes from Jim Boeheim who is releasing “Bleeding Orange”, which was ghostwritten by Jack McCallum. The reason that we think the book has some potential is that Boeheim has a tendency to speak his mind and unlike many college coaches seems to pay attention to more than just his upcoming opponents. The book does not come out until November 4, but Chris Carlson put together a list of 11 topics in the book that he found interesting. He doesn’t cover the reports about Carmelo Anthony’s grades, but we found the anecdote about Derrick Coleman not wanting to go to the 1987 Final Four because it was during Spring Break and he wanted to visit his grandmother to be particularly amusing.
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Murderers’ Row: Five of the Most Ruthless O26 Non-Conference Schedules

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 26th, 2013

Both Long Beach State’s Dan Monson and Oakland’s Greg Kampe are on record in saying that their philosophy of building extremely difficult non-conference schedules, among other things, helps with recruiting—players jump at the chance to play on the biggest stages against schools that never gave them a look. Other cited reasons include: checking player egos, identifying team weaknesses early in the season, and, of course, the influx of revenue those games produce. And while all of those interests appear legitimate—it’s hard to argue with two guys who have made multiple NCAA Tournament appearances apiece—there reaches a point, whether it’s in Rupp Arena or the Dean Dome or during a trip to the McKale Center, when one has to beg the question: Is it worth the agony? With that in mind, let’s examine the five most brutal O26 non-conference slates this season.

Oakland. Kampe’s schedules have been reliably absurd over the last decade, and this year is no exception. How about this for a road trip to start the season: games at North Carolina, UCLA, California and Gonzaga… in a 10-day span. The Golden Grizzlies ended up losing all four, with only the California tilt being close, and two players—starting point guard Duke Mondy and forward Dante Williams—were arrested during the west coast trip and forced to miss several games as a result. A couple of neutral court contests and a game at Western Michigan later, Oakland was heading home for Thanksgiving with a dismal 0-7 record. Now sitting at 4-10, the good news for the Grizzlies is that they are back to full strength and demonstrating a level of resilience, even pushing Michigan State for 40 minutes in the Palace of Auburn Hills last weekend. Travis Bader, the most prolific three-point shooter in college basketball, has also begun heating up; the senior hit 21 shots from behind the arc over his past three games.

Greg Kampe and the Grizzlies face a gauntlet schedule.

Greg Kampe and the Grizzlies face a gauntlet schedule.

Notable non-conference games@North Carolina (L), @UCLA (L), @California (L), @Gonzaga (L), Ohio (W), @Indiana (L), N-Michigan State (L).

Long Beach StateMonson probably did not expect he would have to dismiss two key contributors before the season started when he created this non-conference deathtrap. But that’s exactly what happened when Tony Freeland and Keala King, who combined for 20 points per game last year, were kicked off the team last May. Perhaps the 49ers coach would have avoided the trip to San Juan for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic or backed out of agreements with Arizona or Missouri or another (or two) of LBSU’s talented non-conference opponents. But then again, probably not. The man loves facing elite competition, and his team’s 3-9 record so far this season is clear evidence of that. By the time the Niners enter conference play in January, they will have played eight KenPom top 100 foes, including five in the top 50. That seems like a recipe for a lot of losses, especially after the graduation of star forward James Ennis. One positive note for Monson’s club, however, is that UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb became eligible to play last Thursday night just in time for a home tilt against USC, in which he scored 20 points and helped snap the team’s nine-game losing streak. Brighter days are ahead.

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Big East M5: 12.04.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 4th, 2013

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. What was supposed to be a promising season for a young, talented Providence team has gone off the rails a bit as suspensions and injuries have reared their ugly heads. Ed Cooley lost Kris Dunn to injury for Sunday night’s showdown with national power Kentucky, while freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock remain suspended indefinitely. All three players, especially Dunn and Austin, were expected to be major contributors for a Friars squad looking for an NCAA berth, but for now Cooley has to dance with the players that brought him: “I’m going to coach the team that’s on the bus.”
  2. So Feast Week was fun, right? Well next year’s slate of exotic star-studded tournaments should also be a good one. Georgetown and Butler have signed on to play in next year’s Battle 4 Atlantis, where they will have a chance to face North Carolina, UCLA, Florida, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and UAB.  This is the second straight year where there will be some potential for all-Big East tournament match-ups, after Creighton and Marquette nearly faced off in the finals of this year’s Wooden Legacy. Conference realignment is the gift that keeps on giving, it appears. While UNC, Florida, UCLA and the like are tough potential opponents, one Casual Hoya commenter looked on the bright side of this slate:gtown NE atlantis
  3. God’sgift Achiuwa hasn’t made a huge impact for St. John’s on the court this season — the forward is averaging 1.4 points in 7.7 minutes per game for the Red Storm — but he’s doing great things off the court in his community. ‘Gift’ is among 201 nominees for the 2014 Allstate NABC and WBCA Good Works Teams. A St. John’s release further details all of the great things that Achiuwa and the rest of the Red Storm are involved in around New York City:”In 2012-13 Achiuwa and members of the men’s basketball team participated in more than 131 hours of community service, volunteering their time at the St. John’s Bread and Life Soup Kitchen, the San Francisco Food Bank, the annual Red Storm Dribble For The Cure benefiting the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, the St. Nicholas of Tolentine Men’s Shelter and in the Community Mayor program. The 2013 Dribble For The Cure raised $70,000 for pediatric cancer research in the New York area bringing its three-year total to $120,000.”

    While basketball is why we’re all here at Rush the Court, it’s always great to hear about the human stories and incredible acts of charity that so many of these players are involved with.

  4. Butler wasn’t picked by many to finish very high in the Big East this season, but the Bulldogs have done a great job managing a tough schedule thus far. Indy Star took a look at how each of the Big East teams have fared so far this season, and how the Bulldogs stack up, relatively speaking. At 5-2 with the ‘2’ being a two-point overtime loss to LSU and a near take-down of a star-laden Oklahoma State team, Butler has impressed: “Butler accomplished something in Orlando, even if it won’t show up in their season record: They proved they can play with anyone in the country. Simply put, they looked like an NCAA Tournament team, and that’s something few expected to hear about this Bulldog team.”
  5. Villanova is the talk of the conference right now coming off an impressive Battle 4 Atlantis win over a possible national championship contender in Kansas and another ranked team in Iowa. The Wildcats have a deep group of talented perimeter players, headlined by Kansas-game hero Ryan Arcidiacono and swingman James Bell, who is having a breakout season, but Jay Wright believes it is Rice transfer Dylan Ennis who has made all the difference for his club: “He shocked me. He played with great composure. He didn’t force shots. He was really impressive.” Ennis averaged 12 points, three rebounds, and two assists at Atlantis — his first three games of the season — and was especially effective from long range, knocking down eight of his 12 three point attempts.  Nova’s schedule now becomes very Philly-centric, with games against Penn, Saint Joseph’s, and La Salle over the next few weeks, but the biggest match-up for Ennis comes on December 28 when he travels to the Carrier Dome for a showdown with his little brother Tyler, who has been excellent so far this season as the starting point guard for the Orange.
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RTC Big East Microsite Week in Review

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 26th, 2013

Happy holidays everyone! Feast Week is upon us, and the Big East has been performing pretty well across the board so far this season. There appears to be a lot of parity in the conference, and a few surprise teams like Xavier and Providence look like they may be real contenders this season. Let’s jump into the previous week of action.

Power Rankings

Xavier is Creeping up the Power Rankings Behind Semaj Christon

  • 10.) DePaul (3-2), LW (10): DePaul looks like it might be a solid step up from where it has been the last few seasons, but last night’s game against Wichita State shows there’s still a lot of opportunities for improvement.
  • 9.) Seton Hall (4-2), LW (8): The Pirates have a penchant for close games. Four of their six games have been decided by single figures, including both of their losses: a 77-74 double-overtime heartbreaker to Mercer, and an 86-85 loss to Oklahoma.
  • T-7.) Butler (4-0), LW (9): Butler is still undefeated by the narrowest of margins, winning an overtime thriller against Vanderbilt and a one-point game against Ball State last week. Khyle Marshall and Kellen Dunham are keeping the Butler offense afloat, each by averaging 15.8 points per game.
  • T-7.) St. John’s (3-1), LW (5): Phil Greene IV had a big week for the Johnnies, scoring 16 and 22 points in tight wins over Bucknell and Monmouth, respectively. Greene’s contributions in the backcourt have been very important for a St. John’s team that is struggling to score.
  • 6.) Providence (6-1), LW (6): The Friars had as good of a week as anyone, winning three games over solid competition before dropping last night’s Paradise Jam championship to Maryland. The frontcourt combination of Kadeem BattsLaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris has been as effective as any in the league in the early part of the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 11.22.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 22nd, 2013

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. What’s going on, Georgetown? Losing to a good Oregon team after traveling all the way out to South Korea is one thing, but Northeastern? And it’s not even the NCAA Tournament yet? The Hoyas joined the ranks of the upset specials on Thursday afternoon, dropping their first game in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and moving on to face Kansas State, which was knocked off by Charlotte just a few hours earlier. The Hoyas led Northeastern at the half, 36-25, but went extremely cold in the second half, especially at around the 10-minute mark when Northeastern went on a 14-0 run. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was the only Hoya in double figures, scoring 14 points. His backcourt mate Markel Starks was held to nine points on 2-of-12 shooting. Despite a significant size disadvantage, Northeastern really won this game on the interior. Their forward combination of Reggie Spencer and Scott Eatherton combined for 30 points and 19 rebounds, while the six frontcourt players who got playing time for Georgetown totaled just 26 points and 25 rebounds. Losing to a team nicknamed the “Huskies” which played a lot of zone can not feel good for the Georgetown faithful.
  2. With his team struggling to find playmakers, Creighton coach Greg McDermott has moved to a two point guard lineup, featuring both Austin Chatman and Devin Brooks in the backcourt, and the lineup has paid dividends so far.  Both played well down the stretch in the Bluejays’ comeback win against St. Joseph’s, sparking a 21-11 run. Chatman is a fan of what the lineup brings to the table: “I think this is a good option for us. It spreads the court more and opens things up. It makes it easier to get into the lane and find our shooters, and we have a lot of guys that can shoot it.” As the more experienced of the two, he usually moves off the ball and allows the explosive Brooks to take over at the point. The early dividends have been good, making Creighton a bit more diverse on offense: “When we’re out there together, it gives us more people to make plays on the court. I like playing with Dev. It’s fun.”
  3. Zone defenses have been becoming more en vogue for a few years now, and this season with the more heavy scrutinization of contact on the perimeter, even more teams are looking to implement zones in their defensive repertoire. One of those squads is St. John’swhich used a zone effectively down the stretch in a win over Bucknell. Down three with 10 minutes left, the Johnnies shifted to the zone and held the Bisons to 5-of-16 shooting from that point, securing a 67-63 Red Storm victory. Steve Lavin credits the defensive switch as one of the main reasons that his team was able to pull the game out: “The zone defense was the difference. It took them out of their rhythm and set up the blocks because it kept our bigs at home.”
  4. Marquette, known as one of the more staunch man-to-man teams in the nation under Buzz Williams, may also begin to incorporate more zone defense into its system this year. The Golden Eagles, who were picked to win the Big East by many, have been among the teams most affected by the way the game is being called this season, Williams admitted to Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: “We were fouling with all five guys the way things are being called now.” Between the more frequent fouls called on physical defense, and the loss of a number of big playmakers from last season, the Golden Eagles are a team in a bit of flux, as was apparent in an ugly loss to Ohio State last week.
  5. Xavier has had some injury issues in this early season, and those reared their head once again in Wednesday’s 77-51 win over Miami (OH) when Isaiah Philmore was forced out of the lineup with a wrist injury. Philmore is fourth on the team in scoring at nine points per game and is not someone that Chris Mack can really afford to lose for an extended stretch, especially with a big match-up against Iowa on the horizon. Luckily, the injury seems to only be a sprain, and Philmore’s status is currently day-to-day. Here’s hoping he’s back soon.
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Big East M5: 11.20.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 20th, 2013

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  1. Butler may not get flashy play  from starting point guard and former walk-on junior Alex Barlow, but the Bulldogs value the consistency and defensive intensity that he brings to the table. News-Sentinel writer Tom Davis often finds himself and his colleagues in the media openly questioning the athleticism and abilities of Barlow, but he admits that it is probably time that he stopped after talking about the guard with members of the program. Head coach Brandon Miller was quick to point out some of the crucial skills that help Barlow excel: “A lot of times when you think about Alex Barlow, you don’t think of athleticism, but he’s very good laterally. He has an ability to stay in front of the ball. He has quick hands.” Barlow’s contributions aren’t always tangible or easy to find in a box score, but they surely don’t lack importance, adds Davis: “There is no statistic in the box score under ‘help and recover’ or ‘talked on a switch’ or ‘rotated quickly and properly’ or ‘closed out under control and contested the shot.’ If those categories were tracked by the media, Barlow, who earned a scholarship as a sophomore, would be All-Big East this season.” Interesting stuff.
  2. Georgetown‘s non-conference slate is among the most challenging in the Big East, and it may take another leap depending on how things in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off shake out. The Hoyas open the tournament with Northeastern, and will then face either Charlotte or Kansas State.  Should the Hoyas make a run to the finals, most expect that they will meet last year’s national runners-up, Michigan, who is looking to rebound from its first loss of the season to Iowa State on Sunday. In speaking with The Hoya, Georgetown players and coaches brought up a couple of newcomers who may make a big difference for the team in Puerto Rico — UCLA transfer Josh Smith and freshman forward Reggie Cameron. Smith flashed his interior scoring talents in a loss to Oregon to open the season, while Cameron was 3-of-5 from deep against Wright State. They both add new dimensions to a Georgetown attack that is averaging 81.5 points per game in the young season.
  3. Providence point guard Kris Dunn saw his first action since the preseason, coming off the bench to score three points and dole out eight assists against Vermont. Dunn injured the shoulder that cost him the first nine games of his freshman season in an exhibition with Rhode Island College in early November. He solidifies a rotation that is already getting strong scoring from forward Kadeem Batts and stalwart shooting guard Bryce Cotton. With Dunn running the offense, Cotton scoring in bunches, and Batts threatening for double-doubles on a regular basis, Providence is off to a nice start in 2013-14.
  4. The Crosstown Classic, the annual showdown between Xavier and Cincinnati, a couple of universities separated by just over two miles, is one of college basketball’s great rivalries but recent turmoil has threatened the future of the game. Since the infamous 2011 brawl, which forced the game to be called early, the Classic has been moved off the campuses to a neutral site — downtown Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank Arena. While both schools would like to continue the game, there is some debate as to where it should take place in the future; and quite naturally, there is some disagreement between the schools. Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin praised last year’s neutral site game, while Xavier’s Chris Mack expressed a desire to have the rivalry back in the campus arenas.
  5. Between preparing for the likes of rivals like Cincinnati or the other foes in the new Big East, Chris Mack has taken on some coaching duties on the side, becoming the head of a proud third grade program at Blessed Sacrament School, where his daughter Lainee channels Semaj Christon on Sunday afternoons. As with any big-time program, Mack is keenly aware of how the rabid Internet fans react to poor play: “I’m sure the message boards are saying, ‘They’re not shooting free throws good enough.’ “ CBS Sports‘ Gregg Doyel stopped by to watch Blessed Sacrament take on St. Pius, and penned a great story about how important this time is for Mack and his family: “I didn’t want to be that dad who shows up with the lawn chair and then leaves at halftime because I have [a recruit coming on] an official visit. I want to have that same experience with my kids, and I want them to have those memories like I have with my father.”
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2013-14 RTC Conference Preview: Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by Mark Selig on November 4th, 2013

Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can also find his musings online on Twitter @markrselig.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

Since the last CAA game — a James Madison championship that its fans waited nearly two decades to see — the league has officially said goodbye to perennial powers George Mason (off to the Atlantic 10) and Old Dominion (now in Conference USA in a football-driven move), and hello to intriguing newcomer College of Charleston (formerly of the Southern Conference). Based on last year’s RPIs, the CAA won’t immediately suffer, but Mason — with a Final Four appearance last decade — is obviously a more high-profile program than Charleston. ODU is too. The swap is just the latest in the CAA’s geographical shift. The league is losing its Virginia members (VCU exited before last season) and seems to be trending south.

New Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich is just one of several newcomers to an ever changing CAA. (AP)

New Niagara coach Joe Mihalich is just one of several newcomers to an ever changing CAA. (AP)

The league also said goodbye to Mo Cassara, Hofstra’s hard-luck coach who took the job in tough circumstances (replacing Tim Welsh after a DUI) and was let go in equally difficult ones. His replacement? Longtime Niagara coach Joe Mihalich, who said he’ll have to donate all the purple wardrobe accumulated from 15 years with the Purple Eagles to JMU coach Matt Brady (ironically, Mihalich and Brady both have wives named Mary, and both have three sons, including a set of twins — with the same May 30 birthday!). Brady, meanwhile, parlayed his CAA title into a four-year contract extension, although the talks were a bit drawn out, nearly lingering until his previous contract expired. As for a new coach joining Mihalich in the league, second-year Charleston coach Doug Wojcik becomes every CAA reporter and copy editor’s worst nightmare. Wojcik (I’m already getting the hang of it), is no stranger to the CAA, having played with David Robinson at Navy in the 1980s.

The final goodbye from the CAA was to the city of Richmond — home of the league’s last 24 postseason tournaments. The league offices are still located in Richmond, but the CAA will host its annual playoff in Baltimore this year. Trying to establish Charm City as a sort of hub for CAA hoops, the conference held its media day at the Renaissance Baltimore, a swanky hotel overlooking the Inner Harbor. “Crab Cakes and basketball. That’s what we’re going to do here in Charm City,” Towson coach Pat Skerry, channeling a Wedding Crashers line, said during a lunchtime speech at media day.

Power Rankings

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RTC Championship Previews: Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by CNguon on March 8th, 2013

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Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can find more of his written work at jamesmadison.rivals.com or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.

CAA Tournament Matchups/Predictions

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#4 George Mason vs. #5Drexel, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. — If you were to tell me last March that Mason and Drexel would meet in the first round of the CAA tournament, I would have said, “Really? What happened? Did four teams become ineligible for the tournament while the Patriots and Dragons underperformed?” And the March 2012 version of me would have been strangely prescient. But this is a heavyweight bout in Round 1, and the winner could certainly take the whole fruit basket. The teams split two regular season matchups, with each road team winning. Mason blew a 20-point first-half lead in its loss, but for the most part, both games came down to the final eight minutes, when the teams traded leads. This one should also go to the wire —and I’ve got Mason barely holding on in a thrilling opener to the weekend.

Pick: George Mason 62, Drexel 61

#2 Delaware vs. #7 Hofstra, Saturday, 6 p.m. — Hofstra, in this writer’s opinion, is the only team of the seven incapable of winning the tournament. Which means that Delaware, which hasn’t reached the semifinals since 2003, should finally make the final four. The Hens have weapons all over the court, while Hofstra counts on the same few players to log big minutes and try to make something happen. There won’t be many blowouts this weekend, but this game has a chance to be over quickly if Delaware shoots the ball well in the first half. Hofstra’s best gameplan is to limit possessions, remain within striking distance, and catch some second-half breaks. The Pride can hang around, but won’t seriously threaten.

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