The Other 26: Week One

Posted by IRenko on December 1st, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Greetings, readers, and welcome back for another year of The Other 26, RTC’s weekly foray into the mid-major world, now securely ensconced on a microsite that shares its name. College hoops seemed to start earlier this year than it ever has, producing a November that was packed with much more action than the few preseason tournaments to which old geezers like me are accustomed. That means that there is quite a bit of ground to cover, and precious little time to waste. Let’s get right to it after the jump, with our first installment of the TO26 Top 10, a look back at which teams caught our eye with strong (and not so strong) starts, and a look forward to this week’s most compelling TO26 match-ups.

Looking Back:  Strong Starts

  • The Rest of the Mountain West — Coming into the season, UNLV and San Diego State received well-deserved hype and top 20 rankings.  But it’s clear that they’re going to have quite a bit of competition in conference play. New Mexico has barely shown the effects of losing their frontcourt tandem Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman. They have notched several solid wins en route to a 7-0 record, defeating UConn, George Mason, Davidson, and Mercer — all teams with realistic NCAA Tournament hopes. Fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years, and with a cast of strong returnees and transfers, Colorado State entered the season with reasonably high expectations. But their ability to adjust to new coach Larry Eustachy remained an open question. Well, question answered. The Rams are undefeated at 5-0, posting wins over strong mid-major teams Montana and Denver and pounding the Washington Huskies by 18 points on the road. But, wait! The MW’s depth does not end there. Leon Rice’s Boise State squad, which plays just one senior, is off to a 5-1 start and is coming off of a 13-point win over Creighton on the road. Meanwhile, Wyoming and Air Force are a combined 13-1 on the season.  Throw in competitive newcomers Nevada and Fresno State, and UNLV and San Diego State may not have an easy conference game all year.

Elias Harris Leads a Potent Gonzaga Frontcourt (US Presswire)

  • Gonzaga — Gonzaga came into the season with a Top 25 ranking, so they’ve not exactly snuck up on anyone. But they’ve nonetheless impressed, collecting wins over West Virginia, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Davidson by an average of more than 20 points. Throw in three more lopsided victories, and the Zags are sitting pretty at 7-0 and little sweat to show for it. Kelly Olynyk has emerged from his redshirt year as a genuine frontcourt force. Along with Elias Harris and Sam Dower, he gives the Bulldogs three skilled, athletic bigs. Throw in freshman post anchor Przemek Karnowski, and the Zags have four big men averaging nine or more points. While this frontcourt foursome has managed to outshine the heralded backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell on the offensive end, what’s been most impressive about Gonzaga’s start is its defense. Mark Few’s teams have steadily improved at that end of the floor over the past few years, and it could be the key that finally unlocks their door to the Final Four. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Top 25: Week 2

Posted by KDoyle on November 26th, 2012

Let’s cut right to the chase: Duke is #1 and Indiana #2. This may upset some, considering Indiana began the season as our #1 team, is a perfect 6-0 with a good win against Georgetown, has perhaps the best offensive attack in college basketball, and has shown little — if any — weakness. But, there is little denying Duke’s resume at this point (more on that after the jump). Two Big East squads—Georgetown and Cincinnati—made power moves up in the rankings after impressive weeks, while two other teams have plummeted right out of the Top 25—UCLA and Memphis. There wasn’t just movement at the top of the rankings, as five new teams have entered the Top 25 after strong showings during “Feast Week.”

This week’s QnD after the jump…

Quick ‘n Dirty Analysis.

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Five Mid-Majors You’re Likely to Hear From Next March

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 6th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

There exists in college basketball a certain romanticism that distinguishes it from every other sport. It shines through in March, when the sport’s preeminent end-of-season tournament provides a glimmer of hope for Division one teams, no matter how small, unknown or minimally-funded, to break through on a national stage. For the mid-majors, this is prime time. Unlike their high-major counterparts, the little guys’ path to the field of 68 is restricted. Most smaller leagues only receive one Tournament bid, which is normally decided through conference tournaments. It’s what makes championship weekend – when one-bid leagues fight tooth and nail for that coveted Tournament bid – such a compelling series of high-stakes contests. It’s also why predicting each smaller league’s participant(s) is inherently difficult. In a do-or-die knockout setting, anything can happen. So when I look back on my five mid-major Tournament breakout picks (the subject of the following list) five months from now, I’ll probably be kicking myself over a lack of informed judgment and insight. The hope is that at least one of my designated team breaks the field and makes some noise once there. If not, well, that’s why the NCAA Tournament is such a spectacle – because you just never know.

A word of caution: you’ll notice the list fails to include teams from the A-10, Missouri Valley, C-USA, West Coast Conference or Mountain West. I chose to exclude those leagues not because I don’t think any of their teams are capable of making NCAA Tournament runs; it’s quite the opposite actually. All three will likely send multiple teams to the Big Dance, so I’ve decided to leave them out for the sake of novelty. With that out of the way, we March on (pun totally intended).

North Texas 

A future lottery pick, Mitchell leads a strong North Texas squad (Photo credit: US Presswire).

If this is the first time you’re hearing the name Tony Mitchell, it will not be the last. Mitchell (6’ 8’’, 235 pounds) almost certainly would have been a first round pick in last summer’s NBA Draft. Instead, he’s back for his sophomore season after missing out on an NCAA bid last season when North Texas fell to Sun Belt upstart Western Kentucky in the conference tournament final. It’s a shame, too – no offense to Western Kentucky, but there is not a single person who wouldn’t have enjoyed watching Mitchell in a potential #1-#16 matchup with Anthony Davis and Kentucky. We aren’t always that lucky. Anyway, with Mitchell back in the fold, the Mean Green are more than capable of broaching the field this season, and the talented forward isn’t the only reason why. Point guard Chris Jones and swingman Jordan Williams, both double-digit scorers who were declared ineligible in January due to academic issues, are cleared to take the court again this fall. Oklahoma State transfer Roger Franklin returns for another season. Off-guard Alzee Williams, who averaged 15.8 points per game over his final 10 games, will stabilize the backcourt. The deep guard rotation will prevent teams from keying in on Mitchell, who should only improve in his second collegiate season. We will get an early taste of North Texas’s Tournament bona fides on November 9, when the Mean Green take on Creighton in Omaha. Mitchell vs Doug McDermott to kick off the 2012-13 college basketball calendar? Yes, please.

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Three Coaches in New Positions Ready To Take Off Running

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 30th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

Coaching changes are powerful developments. They can ignite struggling programs, send promising ones on a downward spiral, and have drastic implications (both good and bad) for the administrators who made them. Sometimes, a regime change preserves a middling trajectory established by the previous coach, in which case another switch is likely forthcoming. Otherwise, why hire a new coach in the first place? In any case, this offseason brought few radical coaching changes. That’s mostly because there weren’t many significant changes to be made – Illinois, Kansas State, LSU and South Carolina headlined the list. The average college basketball fan will find little intrigue in that selection. It doesn’t exactly project “excitement” or “allure.” Even so, the hires made are no doubt transformative endeavors for the programs that occasioned them. They wanted a change of direction, found a coach who shared that vision, matched vacancy with proscribed fit – and voila! Some of these new faces in new places will have a better chance of succeeding right away, and thus validating their new position. Missouri’s Frank Haith, one of the most widely criticized hires in years, personified the seamless transition. He made it work from the moment he arrived in Columbia. The next question is who has the best chance to do that this season. Trying to decipher which coaches can succeed right away requires keen insight, situational knowledge and a bit of guesswork. Because most changes are made to improve the previous coach’s way of running things, most new guys don’t inherit the best situations. Instead, they are hired to improve from the flaws of the previous regime. Anyway, in the interest of sparing you from a more drawn-out coaching hire lecture, here are three coaches poised to thrive in their new stomping grounds.

Ohio: Jim Christian
Previous job: TCU
Replacing: John Groce

The Bobcats are set to continue their recent success under Christian, who has plenty of experience in the MAC (photo credit: US Presswire).

Over the past half decade and change, we’ve come to know Ohio as the sporadic NCAA Tournament outfit you absolutely dread seeing your favorite team matched up with in a first-round setting. In 2010, they took down three-seed Georgetown. Last season, the Bobcats raised their Giant Killer profile to a whole new level, beating four-seed Michigan and 12-seed South Florida before dropping an overtime decision in the Sweet Sixteen to one-seed North Carolina. That’s the kind of run that puts your program on the map,  and puts your coach squarely on the wish list of hiring programs across the country. It granted John Groce a move up the conference coaching ladder, into the rugged Big Ten, where he’ll attempt to use his up-tempo offense and Chicago recruiting ties to pump some life into a downward-trending Illinois. Losing Groce hurts, but his replacement is no less capable of continuing the Bobcats’ recent Tournament success. On its face, the hiring of Jim Christian is nothing to get excited about. A ho-hum four-year tenure at TCU preceded his newest position, where he compiled a 38-58 record and failed to generate the type of fundamental culture shift required to lift the Horned Frogs out of their current state. As credentials go, his tenure in Fort Worth hardly inspires confidence. But if you look beyond his recent history in the Mountain West, and delve into the breadth of his college hoops coaching career, the move to bring in Christian makes absolute sense.

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Mid-American Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 16th, 2012

Ethan Back is the MAC correspondent for RTC.

Top Storylines

  • Will Ohio Be Able to Reach the Sweet Sixteen Again? After an extremely successful season that ended in an overtime loss in the Sweet Sixteen against ACC power North Carolina, Ohio will look to make another deep NCAA Tournament run. The Bobcats have a lot of hype to live up to, as they return all of their significant contributors from a season ago, including standouts D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt. Not all of the personnel returns from a season ago, however, with former head coach John Groce now at Illinois, but new head coach Jim Christian will look to keep momentum going.

Ohio’s D.J. Cooper Hopes To Follow One Head-Turning Season With Another. (AP Photo/T. Dejak)

  • Toledo’s Postseason Ban: Toledo has a very solid core intact from the 2011-12 season, so it’s a real shame that the Rockets won’t be able to qualify for postseason play due to its academic problems. Luckily for the Rockets, two of its best players (Rian Pearson and Julius Brown) are underclassmen, so they’ll still get a chance to win the MAC Tournament in future years, assuming they stay in school beyond the 2012-13 season.
  • East vs. West: Last season, the East had five teams finish with a winning record, whereas the West had a measly one. This clear imbalance within the MAC doesn’t have serious ramifications, as the conference tournament seeds are not based on division, but for the sake of self-respect, the West will hope to have a better season than it did last year.
  • No More Zeiglers: Winning games hasn’t been an easy task for Central Michigan these past two seasons, as its 12-20 conference record during that span indicates. It won’t be any easier this year after the firing of head coach Ernie Zeigler led to the transfer of his son and the Chippewas’ leading scorer Trey Zeigler to Pittsburgh. New head coach Keno Davis brings great experience to the program, but his first season on the job will likely be a rough one.

Reader’s Take I

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2011-12 Season Recap: Top 12 Storylines of the Year

Posted by EJacoby on April 6th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

Yesterday we captured the most iconic moments of the college basketball season, and today we highlight the most fascinating storylines from the year. What’s the difference? Yesterday’s list comprised of the “WOW” memories, the single moments in time that could be captured in recognizable photos and videos. Today’s list is a more encompassing review of full season narratives, which usually don’t culminate into a single visual. These are the defining stories that will be chronicled in history books to describe the season’s summary. Here are our 12 biggest storylines from 2011-12, in no particular order:

‘One-And-Dones’ Get it Done.

Kentucky's Collection of Youngsters Combined for the National Championship (AP Photo)

We’ll always remember 2011-12 for the Kentucky Wildcats’ start-to-finish domination that began with a #2 preseason ranking and ended with a National Championship as the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Big Blue Nation will remember it as UK’s eighth national title, while the national story focuses more on how coach John Calipari secured the championship with a starting lineup of all freshmen and sophomores. The team’s two best players were freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, both of whom are surely headed for the NBA Draft after just one season. Plenty of detractors didn’t think that a team full of ‘one-and-dones’ could mature quickly enough into a championship team, but the Wildcats proved them all wrong. Kentucky was the best team from start to finish, thanks mainly to the play of a bunch of 18- and 19-year-old star players.

Injuries and Suspensions Cost Top Contenders. Kentucky may have been the best team throughout the season, but there were several other elite squads that could have given the Wildcats a run for their money had it not been for costly absences. In fact, all of the other #1 seeds suffered crucial injuries at the very end of the season that may have cost them a chance to win it all. Michigan State lost its best athlete in freshman forward Branden Dawson to a torn ACL injury in the regular season finale, and the Spartans missed his ability during a Sweet Sixteen loss. Syracuse suspended its seven-foot center and best defensive player, Fab Melo, right before the Big Dance and clearly missed the big man during a loss in the Elite Eight. And perhaps the most devastating, North Carolina lost its Cousy Award-winning point guard, Kendall Marshall, to a fractured wrist at the end of its round of 32 victory. The Tar Heels could not recover without their lead guard and lost in the Elite Eight. As a result, Kentucky did not have to face a single other #1 seed en route to its National Championship.

Connecticut’s Title Defense Turns Tumultuous. Selected as the preseason Big East Conference favorites, Connecticut was expected to have another strong season as defending National Champions thanks to all but one starter sticking around combined with a very strong recruiting class. But the presence and leadership of departed star Kemba Walker proved to be invaluable. No Huskies player stepped up this season to lead by example, and a super-talented team struggled through an 8-10 record in conference play and a loss in its first game of the NCAA Tournament. UConn suffered multiple suspensions, the loss of its coach Jim Calhoun for several games due to health concerns, and an overall underachieving season whose results were the complete opposite of the year before.

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Big Ten Morning Five: 04.03.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on April 3rd, 2012

  1. The changes at Illinois keep coming. The Fighting Illini will have a new coach in John Groce roaming the sidelines next season, but won’t have the same big man roaming the paint. Sophomore center Meyers Leonard announced Tuesday he is declaring for the NBA Draft and will leave college early. “This was a very difficult decision because I love the University of Illinois,” Leonard said in a statement. “But I feel the timing is right for me to follow my dream of playing in the NBA and having the opportunity to provide for my mom and family.” It shouldn’t really come as a huge shock. He averaged 13.6 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 1.9 BPG this year.
  2. Minnesota’s season ended on an ugly note, but that should not take away from the optimism some fans were generating the last few weeks.‘s Tyler Mason writes that Andre Hollins and Rodney Williams gave fans something to cheer about during the NIT run and that should be the case again next year.
  3. Back to Illinois, we can talk about some personnel coming into the program instead of leaving it. John Groce is starting to round out his staff and has tapped former Ohio assistant Jamall Walker, a source confirmed to the Chicago Tribune on Monday. Walker is the first addition to Groce’s staff in Champaign; he played at St. Louis, and has a strong reputation for working with point guards and could be the guy to help Groce tap into Chicago recruiting.
  4. The clock is ticking for college players to make their decision about whether to stay in school or opt for the NBA Draft — they must declare that they are looking into the NBA by April 3 and must declare or withdraw by April 10, according to NCAA rules — but the Indianapolis Star‘s Bob Kravitz says this situation puts too much pressure on the players. Kravitz is talking about players like Christian Watford, who only have a small window of time to make a critical decision and give NBA evaluators just a small sample size. Is that fair?
  5. Things are looking up with the Iowa basketball program, but the program’s history got a little bit of a boost this weekend in New Orleans. Former Iowa player and coaching great Don Nelson was elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Monday morning. According to the Gazette, Nelson led Iowa in scoring and rebounding all three seasons he was eligible to play and ranks 11th all-time in scoring with 1,522 points. He is also now the NBA’s all-time winningest coach with 1,335 wins.
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Big Ten Morning Five: 04.02.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on April 2nd, 2012

  1. It came down to the wire for Ohio State in its national semifinal loss to Kansas on Saturday, and it did not end well. The Buckeyes let a game that they were seemingly in control of nearly throughout slip away as the Jayhawks climbed back from a 13-point margin. Thad Matta saw his team playing some of its best basketball at the end of the year, but did not see it execute well at the end of the game that mattered most.
  2. And with that, we likely bid farewell to Jared Sullinger, possibly Deshaun Thomas and definitely William Buford as the last Big Ten team puts the finishing touches on its season. Sullinger surprised a few by coming back for his sophomore season and Thomas has emerged as possibly the team’s best talent. So how much will be left in the cupboard next year? Possibly more than you think, says Bob Hunter of The Columbus Dispatch.
  3. The clock ran out on Michigan State‘s exceptional season, but the accolades continue to pile up for star senior Draymond Green and coach Tom Izzo. Green was named the National Player of the Year by the NABC on Sunday, the first Spartan to receive such an honor since Shawn Respert in 1995. In turn, Izzo was named Coach of the Year for the second time of his career. “For me to win an award of such great magnitude means a lot for me to be able to contribute to making this an even better program,” Green said.
  4. Michigan coach John Beilein had a few things to say on Yahoo! Sports Radio this weekend, but did not get into the situation regarding his star point guard’s possible return to Ann Arbor. Beilein reflected on the season, refusing to call it a disappointment. “We had a great group of young guys that played their tails off, we won a Big Ten championship, which has only happened 13 times in Michigan history,” Beilein said. “(It) hasn’t happened in (26 years). We feel good.” The topic of Trey Burke, who is expected to make a decision about the NBA Draft early this week, did not come up.
  5. For Patrick Chambers, his first year at Penn State was all about attitude. He saw enough, and he’s looking for more. Chambers looked back on this past season, said he liked what he saw, but is hopeful for a brighter future for the Nittany Lions.
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Morning Five: National Championship Monday

Posted by nvr1983 on April 2nd, 2012

  1. In a rather surprising move, Kansas State announced that it was hiring Bruce Weber to be its next head coach. Weber replaces Frank Martin who left the school earlier in the week to take over at South Carolina (technically that was more surprising than the Weber hire). Weber, who has a 313-155 record in stops at Southern Illinois and Illinois, reached the national championship game at Illinois in 2005, but was criticized by Illini fans for having done so with Bill Self’s recruits and then failing to land many of the top recruits out of Illinois. Now he will be tasked with running a program that Martin revitalized and will also have to deal with a familiar foe in-state: Bill Self.
  2. Less than a month after getting fired from Tulsa, Doug Wojcik has found a new head coaching position at Charleston. Wojcik, who went 140-92 at Tulsa in seven seasons, replaces Bobby Cremins, who retired due to health issues. Interestingly, Wojcik was fired in large part because of his inability to make the NCAA Tournament, but he takes over a program where Cremins was widely praised despite his inability to get his team to the NCAA Tournament. Will Charleston be as forgiving if Wojcik continues to fail to make the NCAA Tournament when he is at Charleston?
  3. Mississippi State is taking another route to find its next head coach. Instead of hiring a retread the Bulldogs are going with Rick Ray, who has served as assistant at Indiana State, Purdue, and Clemson. Although Ray has not had any experience as a head coach he has experienced a good amount of success as an assistant and comes in with high praise based on the quotes we have seen. Some may view hiring someone without head coaching experience as a risky proposition and it is to some degree, but we would rather see a program do that than hire someone with a track record of mediocrity as a head coach.
  4. Like Wojcik, Jim Baron did not have to wait long after being fired to find another job. The former Rhode Island coach, who was fired after going 184-165 in 11 seasons, but went 7-24 this past season is set to be named as the next head coach at Canisius later this week. Even though we have been critical of teams hiring retreads (see above) this seems like it would be a decent hire for Canisius as Baron’s team had won 20 or more games in the past four seasons, which would be a huge turnaround from where Canisius has been recently.
  5. In a sign that the times may be changing, Ohio is reportedly has taken Jim Christian away from TCU. Yes, a (soon to be) Big XII school might be losing a coach to a MAC school. Christian’s record at TCU (56-73) is not exactly inspiring, but he was very successful at Kent State, another MAC school, going 138-58 there including 10-5 against Ohio. The school has not released a statement on the topic, but is expected to introduce Christian on Tuesday so we suspect that an official announcement would come out some time later today.
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Morning Five: 03.30.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 30th, 2012

  1. After getting passed over by some other coaches they were pursuing Illinois introduced John Groce as their head coach yesterday. Groce, who compiled a record of 85-56 in four season at Ohio, led his team to the Sweet Sixteen this year. While he may not be the marquee name that some Illinois fans hoped for he does have some credentials that should make them more comfortable. In addition to having knocked off three power conference teams in his two tournaments (Georgetown, Michigan, and South Florida; ok, South Florida is a stretch), Groce also worked under Thad Matta (someone he will see a lot in his new job) at Butler and Xavier. So at least Groce should not be intimidated by the coaches on the opposing sideline.
  2. Illinois fans were probably concerned that losing Bruce Weber would affect their recruiting, but Jabari Parker, the school’s biggest target, says he is still interested in Illinois. The more interesting thing to us is how his high school coach is inserting himself into the picture. Although he appears to be a successful coach in his own right doing this at the same time you have the #1 recruit in the country will raise some eyebrows particularly with some of the unique package deals we have seen in the past few years.
  3. Yesterday, Danny Manning was announced as the the next head coach at Tulsa although the press conference will not be held until next week for reasons that we will get into. As we mentioned yesterday, this seems like it has the potential to be an excellent hire particularly with Manning’s reputation in that part of the country and the years he has spent as an assistant at the dominant program in the area. Of course, that’s the long-term effect. The near-term effect might not be so good. As you may remember, Manning’s current team, Kansas, is sort of occupied this weekend. With Manning (an assistant coach) and Barry Hinson (director of basketball operations) taking new jobs as head coaches in the past few days, you would think that they might be a little distracted from the task at hand. Bill Self says that should not be an issue, but if the Jayhawks come out flat there may be rumblings in Lawrence.
  4. Yesterday was an interesting day in Chapel Hill as Kendall Marshall won the Cousy Award as the top point guard in the nation. Oh, and there was that little thing about three players–Marshall, John Henson, and Harrison Barnes–declaring for the NBA Draft. As we mentioned yesterday, this group will have an interesting legacy. As individuals they could all be spectacular at times, but didn’t seem to put it together at key moments although Marshall cannot be faulted for his scaphoid fracture. All three are first round picks and potentially lottery picks (Marshall is the only one we question out of the three) so nobody will fault them for leaving early, but North Carolina fans could be in for some growing pains next season while the new group gets settled in.
  5. It is pretty rare for a high level school official to get into a controversy on Twitter, but Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis managed to do so when he sent a response on Twitter to Trey Burke. The Michigan freshman, who is considering putting his name in the NBA Draft, made a comment about all the people trying to give him advice on his life so Hollis responded by telling him to follow his heart and mind and seek out people that he trusts rather than having others come to him, which is sort of amusing because Hollis was coming to him with that advice. Anyways, it created a mini-controversy about questions of attempted recruitment, which was quickly refuted. Hopefully Hollis learned his lesson and also will learn to lenient to athletes for minor transgressions, which could come up as he is the chairman of the NCAA Division I Amateurism Cabinet and will join the NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee later this year.
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