Tonight’s Lede. The Big East Tournament continued in the early afternoon, but nothing crazy has happened in New York City, yet, with all favorites moving on to Thursday’s quarterfinals. The Big 12 and Pac-12 tournaments also got underway on Wednesday, but all of the top seeds had byes until later rounds. The most exciting action once again took place in the smaller conference tourneys, providing more do-or-die action with Big Dance tickets on the line. We start with the best game of the night, which took place in the Patriot League:
Your Watercooler Moment.C.J. McCollum Outduels Mike Muscala for Lehigh Victory
C.J. McCollum Put the Team on his Back to Send Lehigh Dancing (Getty Images/R. Martinez)
The Patriot League final took place on #1 seed Bucknell’s court, and the home team’s star player went off for 30 points and 14 rebounds. But it wasn’t enough, as the conference’s leading scorer made a few more plays for the road team. C.J. McCollum, the league Player of the Year who put up ridiculous numbers this season, again ran wild for the Mountain Hawks on Wednesday night. The junior guard scored 29 points with five assists, three rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, doing it all for Lehigh including hitting 10-13 free throws with several of them in the final four minutes. Mike Muscala had a monster double-double for Bucknell, but he could not convert on the team’s final couple of possessions and didn’t get enough help from his teammates. Lehigh held on to win, 82-77, and is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Brooklyn Represents the Northeast Conference Once Again. LIU-Brooklyn is one of the highest scoring teams in Division I, and not even the NEC’s best defensive team could slow down the Blackbirds on Wednesday night. LIU defeated Robert Morris, 90-73, on Wednesday night to capture its second consecutive NEC title. The Blackbirds head back to the NCAA Tournament where they last were disposed of by North Carolina in a high-scoring round one game. Expect much of the same for an LIU team that has high-flying forwards (Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere each average about 17 points per game), but doesn’t play a whole lot of defense. The attacking style worked in the NEC, but could it work as a #15 seed in the NCAAs? Regardless, Brooklyn will be in the house for the Big Dance. Read the rest of this entry »
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find him on Twitter at @KLDoyle11.
Lehigh and Bucknell have established themselves as the early frontrunners for the Patriot League crown.
The Week That Was
Grading the Patriot League: At the conclusion of the non-conference schedule for all eight teams—although Colgate does have a date with NJIT in early February—the Patriot League is ranked #24 by Pomeroy which is in line with where it finished the 2010-11 season. It is worth noting that the PL falls marginally behind the Southern Conference and Big South Conference, however it will be difficult to leapfrog these leagues with league play beginning. The highest ranking for the Patriot League in recent memory came during the 2006-07 (#20) campaign, the final year of Holy Cross and Bucknell domination.
Five Down, Three Up: Three of the five PL teams will enter league play feeling pretty good about themselves as Lehigh, Bucknell, and American all posted records above .500 for the non-conference portion of their schedules. Lehigh is surging at just the right time having won six of their last seven games—the lone loss coming at Michigan State by nine points—while American is reeling losing four of their last five. The combined record of the five teams below .500 is a paltry 26-46.
Grading Langel & DeChellis: A 5-9 non-conference record with their best win coming against St. Francis (NY) may not seem like a successful start to the Matt Langel era at Colgate, yet the five wins is the most for the Raiders in the non-conference since 2007-08. Keep in mind that Colgate did not pick up their fifth win until February 2nd last season. As for Ed DeChellis’ start at Navy, the Mids have been less than impressive to say the least. Returning their top two players from last year—Jordan Sugars and J.J. Avila—coupled with playing a less than stellar schedule would suggest better than a 3-11 record. DeChellis will need to find greater production from Sugars for Navy to be competitive in the PL.
Mid-Major Top 25: In the latest Collegeinsider.com Mid-Major Top 25, Lehigh was the lone Patriot League team to garner any votes as they checked in with eight. Expect to see Bucknell to join them in the near future in the ORV category assuming the Bison get off to a fast start in league play.
Breaking Down Lunardi: Bucknell is the recipient from the Patriot League and is a 15 seed playing Duke in the East Region. Although Lehigh, at this stage, appears to be the frontrunner in the league as they impressed the most in the early going, remember that Lunardi selects each conference’s automatic berth solely on RPI. As of January 6th, Bucknell has an RPI of 95, while Lehigh’s is 105.
All-League Team for the Non-Conference:
G C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) —19.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.4 SPG—The face of the Patriot League, McCollum has become a more complete player as he is averaging a career best in assists and steals. Always a force on the offensive end, McCollum has active hands on defense and has become increasingly better at distributing the ball on offense.
G Devin Brown (Holy Cross) —15.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 40% 3PG—The Crusaders will lean heavily on Brown during league play as the senior from Baltimore has the ability to score in bunches and bail the Cross out on the offensive end. In a comeback victory at Dartmouth, Brown scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half. Earlier in the season, he had a career high 32 points against Boston College.
F Charles Hinkle (American) —20.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 40% 3FG—With Vlad Moldoveanu graduating, where much of the scoring entering the season for American would come from was largely unknown. The senior transfer from Vanderbilt has risen to the occasion in a big way as he leads the Patriot League in scoring, and is ranked 10th nationally in this department. The development of Hinkle’s shot from the outside has been astounding. A career 26% shooter from three point land who connected on just 22 threes prior to his senior season, Hinkle has already drilled 40 triples this year.
F Ella Ellis (Army) —17.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.6 APG — Although he does not get a whole lot of exposure playing at West Point, Ella Ellis will make himself known to the rest of the Patriot League soon enough. The junior from Texas has developed into one of the league’s most prolific scorers as he has reached double digits and hit a shot from downtown in each of Army’s games.
F Mike Muscala (Bucknell) —14.9 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.4 BPG—Undoubtedly the league’s best big man, Muscala has been his usual dominant self having posted seven double-doubles and averaging a league best 9.2 RPG. Muscala is a very efficient shooter and excels at the charity stripe hitting on 80% of his shots. Patriot League teams will struggle to contain him.
Player of the Year:
C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) —His numbers speak for themselves; he has put up gaudy statistics since Day 1 and is on pace to eclipse 2,500 points for his career. By all accounts, McCollum has grown into a much more complete and polished basketball player which is observed in Lehigh’s overall record. After posting consecutive 9-6 marks in the non-conference during his freshman and sophomore seasons, McCollum has led Lehigh to a league best 12-4 record coming against a more challenging schedule than the preceding years. There is no reason to think that McCollum’s and Lehigh’s success will not continue into league play.
Rookie of the Year
Seth Hinrichs (Lafayette) —An exceptional shooter, Hinrichs has been a staple in the Leopards lineup and has emerged as the league’s top freshman. Any shooter can find their way into a Fran O’Hanlon offense, and by shooting better than 45% from three, Hinrichs has carved out a nice niche for himself. To date, Hinrichs has captured four Patriot League Rookie of the Week honors.
Coach of the Year
Dr. Brett Reed (Lehigh) —For the past two seasons, it oftentimes looked like Lehigh basketball was made up of C.J. McCollum and everyone else, but that is far from the case in the 2011-12 version of Mountain Hawk basketball. Of course, McCollum is still the focal point, but there are many other parts Reed has integrated that have generated results. As of January 6th, Reed has Lehigh ranked #70 in the Pomeroy as victories over Wagner and close losses to Michigan State and Iowa State have bolstered their ranking. In just his fourth year as a head coach, Reed looks to be coming into his own.
1. Lehigh (12-4) (Last Week: 1)
Previous Weeks: W Wagner 70-69, W Arcadia 95-55, L Michigan State 90-81, W St. Peter’s 76-67, W Bryant 72-55, W Maryland Eastern Shore 82-55 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ Holy Cross, 1/11 American, 1/14 @ Colgate, 1/18 Bucknell
The Mountain Hawks are streaking heading into their opening league game at Holy Cross having won their last five games by an average of nearly 20 points per contest. Granted four of the five wins came against teams in the basement of Division 1 basketball—Arcadia is sub-D1—but the margin of victory is impressive nevertheless. Of note, Lehigh’s average margin of victory is 18 points. Lehigh has demonstrated they do not fall into the trap of playing down to their competition, an important trait considering that every game in the PL save Bucknell comes against teams ranked below 200 according to Pomeroy. The Mountain Hawks have a very balanced rotation that is keyed by Mackey McKnight, the league’s top point guard with Lafayette’s Tony Johnson injured, while Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner make a formidable frontcourt. Oh, Lehigh also has a guy by the name of C.J. McCollum who is pretty good too.
2. Bucknell (10-6) (Last Week: 3)
Previous Weeks: W Richmond 79-65, L Syracuse 80-61, W Boston University 75-61, L Loyola (MD) 72-67, W Cornell 63-60, W Dartmouth 67-59 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ Army, 1/11 Colgate, 1/14 @ Lafayette, 1/18 @ Lehigh
Despite the 10-6 record and good wins over Richmond and Princeton, it is quite apparent that this Bucknell squad is missing a vital component—a component they relied heavily on last season. The Bison returned virtually their entire frontcourt, their top three point shooter in Bryson Johnson, and a promising guard in Cameron Ayers, but a key cog in Bucknell’s success in 2010-11 was missing: Daryl Shazier. Boasting one of the best assist to turnover ratios in the nation, Shazier fit all the puzzle pieces together, something that simply isn’t happening this year. Through 16 games, Dave Paulsen has looked to three different players to fill the role: Ayers, sophomore Ryan Hill, and freshman Steven Kaspar. There is little doubt that Ayers is a capable point guard, but may he be more of a natural two guard as he shoots nearly 50% from long distance? Midway through December, Kaspar had been named the starter at the point, however, Paulsen eventually gave his starting spot away to Hill in late December. Growing pains were inevitable for the Bison at this position, but we are already halfway through the year and Bucknell seems to be playing point guard by committee.
3. American (9-6) (Last Week: 2)
Previous Weeks: L St. Francis (PA) 66-61, L Georgetown 81-55, L Villanova 73-52, L Mount St. Mary’s 49-42, W Brown 70-61 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Colgate, 1/11 @ Lehigh, 1/14 Holy Cross, 1/18 @ Navy
Was the first month of the season one giant fluke for American? An 8-2 start with a win over St. Joseph’s coupled with the emergence of Charles Hinkle as arguably the league’s most dominant scorer, and the Eagles looked like they may content for the league title. Four straight losses have brought them back to earth, but it would be foolish not to thrust American into title conversations, especially with Jeff Jones roaming the sidelines—Jones has reached the semifinals of every Patriot League tournament since 2001.
4. Holy Cross (6-8) (Last Week: 5)
Previous Weeks: W Sacred Heart 71-60, L Connecticut 77-40, W San Francisco 88-83, W Dartmouth 65-61, L Yale 82-67 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Lehigh, 1/11 Navy, 1/14 @ American, 1/19 Lafayette
1-13 vs. 6-8: Stark improvement from last year’s non-conference record to this year’s, right? The short answer is, yes, a huge improvement. It all comes down to the numbers that appear in the win and loss columns, so Holy Cross certainly has seen more success in year two of the Milan Brown regime. However, the grave inconsistencies and mistakes that are made from game-to-game have made this Crusader team a real rollercoaster ride for the Purple faithful. Tenacious defense and aggressive rebounding, which used to be staples of past Holy Cross teams, have gone way to an up-tempo style that looks to score in transition and take advantage of the athletic prowess of RJ Evans, Devin Brown, and Co. However, this poses problems when Holy Cross is forced to operate in the half-court as their offense oftentimes becomes stagnant. Meanwhile, the vanilla man-to-man defense that is imposed allows the opposition to run their sets with ease. It should not go unnoticed that the Crusaders are playing without their best on-ball defender as Mike Cavataio has been injured nearly the entire season. While there is still grave improvement needed, 6-8 is an awful lot better than 1-13, and getting back to winning ways is a step in the right direction.
5. Lafayette (5-10) (Last Week: 4)
Previous Weeks: L Sacred Heart 84-79, L Vanderbilt 89-58, W Monmouth 69-54, L Columbia 77-67, L N.J.I.T. 78-58, L Pennsylvania 78-73 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ Navy, 1/11 Army, 1/14 Bucknell, 1/19 @ Holy Cross
In the preseason, I surmised that losing All-League center Jared Mintz would spell major problems in Easton. Lafayette is a perimeter oriented team to begin with, so losing their only viable post presence would make it extremely difficult to score inside. Sure enough, this is the exact case as Lafayette ranks second to last nationally in points coming off of two point field goals. On the flipside, the Leopards rank fourth in points coming via the three ball. There may be no other team in the country that embodies the commonly used basketball expression “live and die by the three” as well as Lafayette. When Jim Mower (2.4 3PG), Nick Petkovich (2.0 3PG), and Seth Hinrichs (1.6 3PG) are all hitting from the outside, the Leopards can hang and beat anyone in the league.
6. Colgate (5-9) (Last Week: 6)
Previous Weeks: W St. Francis (NY) 65-63, W Dartmouth 61-55, L Hofstra 82-59, L Quinnipiac 80-70, L New Hampshire 71-64, L Columbia 66-59 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ American, 1/11 @ Bucknell, 1/14 Lehigh, 1/18 @ Army
Rebuilding any program takes time, and make no mistake about it, Colgate basketball needs to be rebuilt. Under previous head coach Emmett Davis, Colgate had just three winning seasons during Davis’ 13 years at the helm. The Raiders jumped out to a 5-5 start, but have dropped four straight to close out the non-conference on a sour note. And things don’t get much easier for the ‘Gate as their opening games in the PL come against the league’s best: American, Bucknell, and Lehigh. When it rains it pours for the Raiders—or, should I say in the ‘Gates case, when it snows it blizzards—as Yaw Gyawu has been sidelined for the past three games with what is presumably a recurring ankle injury. Without Gyawu, Colgate becomes very thin in the frontcourt.
7. Army (7-8) (Last Week: 8)
Previous Weeks: L La Salle 76-64, W Texas Pan American 61-59, W Dartmouth 67-64, L Presbyterian 71-64, W St. Francis (NY) 79-70, W Longwood 96-77 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Bucknell, 1/11 @ Lafayette, 1/14 @ Navy, 1/18 Colgate
Their 7-8 record looks nice, but bear in mind that Army has played the second easiest schedule in the country; their most challenging test thus far has come against La Salle. That being said, the Black Knights have won four of their last five heading into league play with their star forward Ella Ellis averaging a shade of 21 points during this stretch.
8. Navy (3-11) (Last Week: 7)
Previous Weeks: L Missouri 84-59, L Presbyterian 58-42, L Mercer 65-56, L Norfolk State 71-65 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Lafayette, 1/11 @ Holy Cross, 1/14 Army, 1/18 American
Jordan Sugars needs to be doing more—it is that simple. Tabbed as an All-League performer the past two seasons, the senior is averaging just over 10 PPG and shooting a dismal 32% from the field and 29% from distance. Navy does not have many weapons to begin with, but Sugars is a legitimate threat who has underperformed throughout the non-conference. Scoring in single digits in seven of Navy’s 14 is too many for a player of his caliber. On the bright side, sophomore standout J.J. Avila has developed into the “go-to” player for Navy who is a reliable scorer (15.4 PPG) and shoots an efficient 50.6% from the floor. Entering league play, Navy has lost 10 of their last 11 games.
Critical Upcoming Games:
Holy Cross vs. Lehigh —If the Crusaders have any aspirations of making a run at the league title, a strong performance against Lehigh is a must. The big question entering this game is: Which Holy Cross team will show up? The team that collapsed against Columbia, or the team that blew out Boston College?
Lehigh vs. Bucknell —An early look at the Patriot League Championship? Hopefully fans in the Lehigh Valley realize what a great college basketball game this is and come out in droves for it—Stabler Arena has been empty far too often the past few years.
Lehigh vs. American —Lehigh is tested early on in league play as three of their first four games comes against teams that look to challenge for the league. The match-up between C.J. McCollum and Charles Hinkle is one to keep an eye on.
Army vs. Bucknell —The Black Knights gave Bucknell their only loss in the Patriot League last season as they blew them out 90-70. Army will have an opportunity to shock the Bison and the rest of the league once again as both teams kick off league play at West Point.
A Closer Look—Top Five Wins (+1) in the Non-Conference:
American 66 St. Joseph’s 60 —Without a doubt, this was the Patriot League’s best win in the non-conference as St. Joseph’s owns wins over Georgia Tech, Tulsa, Penn State, Drexel, Creighton, and Villanova. Phil Martelli has one of his better teams in recent memory as St. Joe’s will be in the upper tier of the Atlantic 10 and may even contend for an at-large berth. Charles Hinkle was an absolute monster posting a career high in points (32) and three pointers made (5). What makes this result seem like a fluke win, however, are the ensuing results from both teams. American is 2-4 since the upset with bad losses to Mount St. Mary’s and St. Francis (PA). Meanwhile, St. Joe’s has knocked off Creighton and Villanova. If the Eagles can get back to playing at the level they were during their eight game winning streak, they are Patriot League contenders.
Lehigh 70 Wagner 69 —At first glance, Lehigh’s win over Wagner appears to be out of place on this list as the Seahawks are not traditionally a very strong team. Thanks in large part to Dan Hurley, Wagner has turned the corner and become a force in the NEC. This is a team that has defeated Pittsburgh and owns a 10-3 record, which makes a Lehigh win on the road very impressive. Anthony D’Orazio’s clutch three-pointer with eight seconds left propelled Lehigh to the victory.
Bucknell 79 Richmond 65 —Richmond isn’t the same team that advanced to the Sweet 16 a year ago, but this is a great win for Bucknell nonetheless—maybe their best “W” of the season. It comes as no surprise that this was without question the most complete game Bucknell has played to date as they shot 59% from the floor, were a perfect 21-21 from the stripe, outrebounded Richmond 31-19, and held the Spiders to 38% shooting.
Bucknell 62 Princeton 56 —Similar to Richmond, Princeton is not as strong as they were last year, but the Tigers are still very much a formidable bunch. Princeton limped out of the gate getting off to a 1-5 start under first-year coach Mitch Henderson, but seems to have found their groove having won seven of nine. Mike Muscala had his best game of the season in the win as he scored 25 points on just 10 shots, while pulling down 12 rebounds.
Lafayette 61 Penn State 57 —Behind Seth Hinrichs 14 points on 4-9 shooting from three, Lafayette upset the Nittany Lions—their first win over a BCS opponent in years—to move to 4-5 on the season. Since then, Lafayette has lost five of their last six games and will need to find the mojo they had against Penn State if they wish to see success in the PL.
Holy Cross 83 Boston College 62 —In most years, this would be a banner win for HC and the Patriot League; defeating an ACC team by more than 20 points is something to beat your chest about. That is not the case this year as BC is the second worst team hailing from a BCS conference and is sandwiched in between San Diego and Army in the Pomeroy rankings (as of January 6th)—not exactly great company. Nevertheless, this is a victory that the Crusaders can be proud of as it is not too often they give their one-time big rivals this sort of drubbing.
RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.
Three more conferences get their tournaments underway tonight which means that several more teams will have their dreams of advancing to the greatest Dance in the world dashed, while others will inch one step closer to winning their conference championship. Tonight the Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley and Patriot League tournaments all get underway. Belmont and Bucknell are the obvious favorites to win their respective conferences, but the Ohio Valley is a little unclear with Morehead State and Murray State butting heads at the top, and Austin Peay not too far behind.
The Favorite: Belmont is the clear-cut favorite to win the league this year and advance to the Tournament for the first time since 2008 when they nearly upset Duke. A surprising setback at Lipscomb is the only loss that prevented the Bruins from going a perfect 20-0 in league play.
Dark Horse: Not surprisingly, Lipscomb is the dark horse to win the A-Sun. Although they have a rather pedestrian 12-8 record within the league, they were the only team to knock off Belmont. Plus, they boast one of the best players in the league with Adnan Hodzic as the senior forward from Bosnia is averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds a night. In their victory over Belmont, Hodzic tore up the Bruins going off for 26 points.
Who’s Hot: Winning 19 games in conference and not losing to a team located outside the state of Tennessee makes Belmont the hottest team in the Atlantic Sun. To be honest, it would be a real shock if the Bruins were not the last team standing come March 5.
Player to Watch: With Mike Smith—the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year from ETSU—sidelined with an injury, there is no clear player to keep an eye on during the tournament. Lipscomb’s Josh Slater, however, is someone to definitely keep tabs on. Most of the attention is focused on Adnan Hodzic, but no one in the A-Sun can fill up the stat sheet quite like Slater who averages 16.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists.
First-Round Upset: Campbell over East Tennessee State. ETSU looked to be one of Belmont’s biggest threats in the conference tournament, but the Buccaneers have been decimated by injuries to two of their top players: Mike Smith (ankle) and Micah Williams (shoulder); their status for ETSU’s first game is uncertain. Campbell is one of the coldest teams around having lost eight of their last nine games, but lost by just seven points to ETSU in their last meeting.
How’d They Fare?ETSU was a 16 seed and was ripped apart by Kentucky 100-71 in last year’s Tournament.
Interesting Fact: Dating back to the 2005 Tournament, the highest seed the Atlantic Sun team has received in the NCAA Tournament has been a 15. Assuming Belmont wins the league this year, that will all change.
RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences. Up first are the Big South and Horizon League.
Being the “Other 26” guy around these parts, I deemed it appropriate to give a quick look into all 25 (the Ivy, of course, has no tournament) of the non-BCS conference tournaments prior to their commencement. I will bring you these previews for each conference on the day their first round games are slated to be played. We kick things off with the Big South and the Horizon League. Both will unquestionably be interesting tournaments as Coastal Carolina’s recent issues and allegations regarding NCAA violations have opened the door for the rest of the conference. Unlike the Big South which was dominated by Coastal for nearly the entire year, the Horizon League had great parity at the top of the conference with six teams reaching ten wins or better.
The Favorite: Coastal Carolina—dare I say it—no longer the favorite to win the Big South tournament? After coming up just short last year as Winthrop dashed their hopes of advancing to the NCAA Tournament, Coastal came out with a vengeance this year to take back what they thought should have been theirs. They won 22 straight games—14 of them coming in the Big South—and appeared untouchable. But, amidst recruiting violations and eligibility issues, Coastal’s chance at advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993 has taken a serious hit. Now, the league is wide open with Liberty, and UNC-Asheville also vying for the coveted auto-bid. I like Asheville as they have won three straight heading into the conference tournament with one of the wins coming in dramatic fashion against Coastal at the buzzer.
Dark Horse: They score a whole lot of points, but also give up a ton as well. Clearly, I am referring to the VMI Keydets. The scoring ability of Austin Kenon with his deadly shot is an aspect of VMI’s game that always makes them a threat to win games.
Who’s Hot: VMI happens to be the hottest team entering the tournament having won five of their last six games.
Player to Watch: Now that Coastal Carolina’s Desmond Holloway has been ruled ineligible, there is no other obvious player to keep an eye on. Austin Kenon for VMI is certainly one to keep tabs on as he can light up the gym maybe better than anyone in the conference, but I believe Matt Dickey of UNC-Asheville is poised for a big tournament. If Dickey’s name sounds familiar it is due to his heroics as he miraculously stole Coastal Carolina’s inbounds pass and hit an off-balance three to propel his Bulldogs to a big win.
From the in-case-you-missed-it department… the weekend’s conference check-ins.
Atlantic Sun. East Tennessee State notched an impressive win last Wednesday at Dayton, which had a 40-game winning streak at UD Arena against non-conference foes. So with all that momentum behind them, the Buccaneers naturally went down to USC Upstate and face-planted, losing 60-59 in a game which saw them hit nine of their first 40 shots and blow no less than a dozen layups.
Big Sky. Don’t look now, Weber State, but the Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona are on a roll! Coach Mike Adras has his team firing on all cylinders. They have won the last seven games in a row, with three of those wins coming on the road.
Big South. While the Big South has mounted appropriate marks of 3-3 against SoCon foes and 2-2 vs. A-Sun opponents so far this season, other records may not reflect as well on the league, most notably an 0-6 total against the Colonial–and throw in a combined 0-4 vs. teams from the MEAC, MVC, and Patriot.
Missouri Valley. Everyone anointed Wichita State the preseason favorites. Some thought Creighton was ready to break out even with a new coach. There were others that said Northern Iowa would just reload. But very quietly, Missouri State has strung together the most consistency so far.
NEC. A few hours later, St. Francis (NY) came from four down to edge defending NEC champion Robert Morris in Brooklyn. Senior guard Akeem Bennett hit two free throws with four seconds left to put the Terriers on top. Bennett then raced down court and blocked a potential game winning three-point attempt to seal the verdict. It is going to be that type of year….
Patriot League. The Patriot League has yet to win that one game that causes the rest of the Mid-Major world to turn their collective heads in. In years past, the league has beaten the likes of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Boston College, and Maryland, but right now, the two best wins for the league are against Boston University (Bucknell) and George Washington (Navy)—hardly a blip on the radar.
Sun Belt. Tristan Thompson had a masterful four-game stretch for North Texas recently, averaging 26.5 points per game against Rice, Texas State, Texas Arlington and Grambling. Although Josh White and George Odufuwa are also All-Conference performers, nobody’s been better than Thompson.
WCC. It began as a whisper earlier in the season, but recent events have given it full throat – the WCC is down this year. Gonzaga, which has waved the conference’s banner brilliantly for over a decade, has stumbled to a 4-4 record, most recently Wednesday’s 81-59 beat-down at Washington State. Saint Mary’s, coming off a Sweet Sixteen year with high expectations, has whiffed in its only two statement games.
Remember, every Friday is mid-major day here at RTC. Half of the mid-major leagues are covered one week, with the other half the next. Here are last week’s Check-Ins in case you missed them while dealing with the holiday weekend…
Your Watercooler Moment. This is something we don’t see much and it may be a long time before we see something like it again, so Butler’s banner unfurling from Saturday night was this weekend’s best moment. Jump ahead to the 2:20 mark if you’re the impatient type (a shorter alternate version is also available).
Emmanuel Negedu. Hey, if you can literally come back from the dead and contribute 8 points, 6 rebounds, a steal and a block in your first game as a New Mexico Lobo merely a year after you were resuscitated, you deserve all kinds of props. Can’t root for this guy enough.
Chris Singleton. Quite possibly the best defensive player in the country, Singleton pulled off a very difficult triple double by going for 22/11/10 stls on Sunday against UNC-Greensboro. Oh, he also added four blocks just for show.
Illinois Backcourt. Bruce Weber’s backcourt of Demetri McCamey, DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul off the bench was outstanding on Saturday against Southern Illinois. The three combined for 43 points and 16 assists in that game, and in three games this season all of them are shooting over 50% from the field and 40% from deep. With the solid play inside of the two Mikes (Davis and Tisdale), the Illini look very strong right now.
Kyrie Irving. As good as advertised, with 17/4/9 assts to prove it against Princeton on Sunday. Everything seemed completely natural and smooth with very little wasted motion.
Matthew Bryan-Amaning. MBA’s been getting a lot of hype all offseason, but we weren’t completely sold due to his inconsistency over the last three years. After a 28/13 performance against McNeese State on Saturday, we might be coming around. As a side note, the Huskies had an inconceivable 67 rebounds in that game.
Matt Howard’s Foul Trouble. Sure, we know the game was against Marian College, but the fact that Howard failed to commit a single foul in 23 minutes of action is encouraging. Without Gordon Hayward around, Brad Stevens must have his star big man on the floor most of the time this season, so committing nearly four fouls a game again isn’t going to work.
DJ Cooper. Keep an eye on Ohio University again this year — the MAC champions who took out Georgetown in last year’s first round NCAA game return MAC POY candidate Cooper, who debuted the 2010-11 season with a strong 25/5/7 assts/3 stls evening.
James Rahon. SDSU’s transfer guard from Santa Clara hit three straight threes in the mid-second half to give the Aztecs breathing room to win a true road game in front of a packed arena in Long Beach. If the Aztecs can get solid guard play to match their dominant post play, Steve Fisher could have a MWC juggernaut on his hands.
Jeremy Hazell. Seton Hall might be able to put together a surprisingly good season if it can continue to get the types of games it got from Hazell today. 28 points on 8-11 FG and 8-8 from the line is extremely efficient, something that Hazell hasn’t always done well.
Forget all this James Cameron-to-the-rescue talk. Given the speed with which he can plug holes, BP should hire Roy Williams.
Yesterday brought news that James McAdoo, a 6-8 power forward and the third-ranked player in the ESPN-U 100 for the high school class of 2011, might decide to shorten his senior year of high school and enroll at North Carolina a year early, meaning he’d be available to play for the Tar Heels in the upcoming season, giving them the help that they need down low. McAdoo had already committed to UNC as a class of 2011 member, but needs only to finish some summer courses to meet the NCAA’s requirements for scholarship eligibility.
His name should sound familiar. His uncle, Bob McAdoo, played a year for North Carolina back in the early 70s and went on to a Hall of Fame NBA career that included three scoring titles, two world championships with the Lakers in 1982 and 1985, and an MVP award in 1975. He virtually created the concept of a big man who could shoot effectively from the perimeter.
James might hit Franklin Street a year earlier than expected.
On May 25, we learned that Alabama’s Justin Knox will transfer (sort of) to North Carolina after finishing his degree over the summer. Knox happens to be a 6-9, 240-pound forward, and, because he’ll have finished his degree before next season begins, he will not be required to sit out a season before playing a final year in Chapel Hill as long as he chooses to enroll in a graduate program that Alabama does not offer. The University of Alabama’s Graduate School offers more than 120 graduate degree programs. Call us optimistic, but we’re betting Knox miraculously finds one out of UNC’s 89 that Alabama just doesn’t have.
Just a few weeks ago, Tar Heel fans were lamenting an emerging vacuum in the post, having lost Deon Thompson to the passage of time, Ed Davis to the NBA, and then the Wear boys defected. It’s true, a lot of teams would relish a “problem” like having Tyler Zeller and John Henson as part of their front line. But while that might be a talented duo, it’s still a duo, and you can’t survive in the Patriot League, let alone the ACC, with just two post players.
The hand-wringing was probably never as bad as it was made out to be, since top high school stud Harrison Barnes had committed to UNC a long time ago, and we’re sure he’ll provide more than his share of immediate excitement in Chapel Hill. Still, in hopes of shoring up the workforce in the paint, UNC made last-minute overtures to high schooler Kadeem Jack, but those went unfulfilled when Jack decided to go to prep school for another year. Tar Heel supporters were left thinking…What now?
They can now sleep soundly, for those holes in the paint have been successfully been filled. Seriously, can somebody please make sure that Roy Williams has Tony Hayward’s number?
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and America East Conference.
Patriot League Tournament
In a league in which the first five teams finished within three games of each other any team could win three games in a row to secure the NCAA bid. Lehigh was the best team throughout the year with a 10-4 record. If they face Navy in the semis there could be problems posed after dropping both against the Midshipmen this year. American could also beat Navy and ride the hot hand of Vlad Moldoveanu as far as he will take them. Holy Cross has a lot of skill for a #7 seeded team, but who knows if Coach Kearny can get them to perform. Lafayette faded huge down the stretch, but started out 5-1 in conference. Any of the teams could end up hosting the Patriot League trophy at the end of the tournament, but I will go with Lehigh, the favorite, to win it. Tune in for the league championship on ESPN2 on March 12 at 4:45 pm.
First Round Matchups
#8 (14-14, 4-10) Army at #1 (19-10, 10-4) Lehigh – 03/03/10 Wednesday 7 pm. Lehigh should roll in this game against Army. Every victory Lehigh has had this year has been by double figures including both over Army. The matchup problem comes in the second round. If Navy manages to beat American, Lehigh will not be pleased. Navy beat Lehigh as many times this year as the rest of the league combined.
#7 (8-21, 5-9) Holy Cross at #2 (14-16, 9-5) Bucknell – 03/03/10 Wednesday 7 pm. If Holy Cross can put together some defense this game they stand a good chance. The Crusaders beat Bucknell once at home, but lost in mid-February on the road. It seems that the Crusaders just never bought into Kearny’s system, so it will be hard to start in the playoffs. Especially after dropping four of the last five in the regular season.
#6 (10-18, 6-8) Colgate at #3 (17-12, 8-6) Lafayette – 03/03/10 Wednesday 7 pm. The away team came away with a victory in each of the games this year between these two teams. Colgate’s win over Lafayette was only one of three home losses on the year for the Leopards. It was also only one of three home victories on the road for the Raiders. I can see Lafayette continuing their second half swoon and dropping this first rounder.
#5 (13-16, 7-7) Navy at #4 (10-19, 7-7) American – 03/03/10 Wednesday 7:30 pm. American came out on top of both matchups during the regular season including a 80-77 overtime victory at Navy during the last week in February. Moldoveanu hit the go ahead layup, but a huge game out of Stephen Lumpkins won the Eagles that game. Moldoveanu scored 37 points the first time the two teams met. Navy is only 3-10 on the road this year, so the home court advantage was huge for American. The Eagles come in having won three out of their last four while Navy has dropped three in a row. American, 8-0, has never lost in a first round matchup since joining the league in 2002. Expect the Eagles to continue to live on.
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the America East Conference and Patriot League.
2009-10 Patriot League
Lafayette 5-1, 14-7
Lehigh 4-2, 13-8
Army 3-3, 12-8
Navy 3-3, 9-12
Bucknell 3-3, 8-14
American 3-3, 6-15
Colgate 2-4, 6-14
Holy Cross 2-4, 5-16
Hottest Team. Lafayette (3-1) – W 89-78 at Longwood University W 73-66 at Delaware State, W 86-79 vs. NJIT, W 75-69 vs. Yale, W 78-67 vs. American. This is the second time in the last three years Lafayette has started off 5-1 in league play. This time I don’t think they will lose seven of their next eight.
Stud Player.Vlad Moldoveanu – American (23.8 ppg /7 rpg) - In the last four games Moldoveanu has been playing great ball for American including a 37-point game in the victory over Navy. American has won three out of the last four games behind Moldoveanu who is turning into a star.
Thoughts on the Patriot League:
Marquis Hall became the fourth player in league history to hit the 500-assist mark. Hall was the first to do so with over 1,300 points. He currently sits 32d in career history in points, 19th in steals, and 4th in points. Hall is not the only one putting up impressive numbers. Kyle Roemer, the league’s active leader in points with 1,474, is five three-pointers away from reaching the top ten in league history.
Lafayette is still playing great ball. Their 77-68 win over Army regained them first place in the league at 5-1. The Leopards have won six of the last seven and 10 of the last 12. The win over Army was accomplished with some great shooting. In the second half Lafayette shot 55% from the field including 5 for 9 from three-point range. They also shot 17 for 20 from the charity stripe. Jared Mintz led the way with 20 points, Ryan Willen totaled 17, and Jim Mower added 15 on five three-pointers.
Lehigh at 4-2 is sitting in sole possession of second place, although they recently had their three-game winning streak snapped at Bucknell. It was an 81-76 overtime loss for Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks blew a 10-point lead at the end of regulation. Marquis Hall had a chance at the buzzer from downtown to win it, but missed. Hall did play well finishing with 21 points, six rebounds and six assists. C.J McCollum also finished with 20 points, his third straight game reaching that total.
Army lost their second straight Patriot League game Wednesday night. The Black Knights lost 77-68 to Lafayette. At this point Army is 1-3 on the road in conference, but has played more road games than any other team in the conference. Cleveland Richard had 20 points to lead Army while Julian Simmons added 18. The Black Knights just couldn’t shoot well from the outside hitting only 7 of 21 three-pointers.
Navy had their third loss in conference play at American 69-59. Chris Harris led the way with 21 points, remaining the league leader at 20.5 per game. Jordan Sugars added 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Navy shot terrible from the field including 4 for 19 from three-point range.
Bucknell has won back-to-back games placing itself in the four-way tie for third. Their come-from-behind win against Lehigh was a work of art. They were down 10 points with three minutes to play. Their defense shut out Lehigh and they scored the final ten points to send the game to overtime. The Bison ended up scoring an 81-76 victory. This followed a win at Colgate in which they scored the final five points to win 62-61. G.W Boon came up big in the victory over Lehigh with 12 of his season-high 18 points in the final two minutes of regulation and overtime. Mike Muscala finished with a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
American rode their star, Vlad Moldoveanu, to their second straight victory. Moldoveanu scored a career-high 37 points in the game. He shot 10 for 17 from the field and 14 for 15 from the line. It was the most points in a Patriot League game since Navy’s Greg Sprink had 37 almost two years ago to the date. American has now won 20 straight games at home, their last loss coming a full two years ago from Saturday. American still needs to cut down on turnovers though with 20 of them in the game.
After notching two straight victories Holy Cross is back on another two-game losing streak. The latest lost was a heartbreaker. The Crusaders dropped a 69-68 game at Colgate. Colgate scored the game winning points with three seconds to play. Holy Cross still only has one victory all year on the road. Devin Brown finished with 19 points to lead the team and Mike Cavataio had 12 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
Colgate scored a come from behind victory against Holy Cross Wednesday. Yaw Gyawu hit a game winning shot with under three seconds to play to give Colgate the victory. Gyawu finished with 17 points. Kyle Roemer led the way with 18 points. Colgate snapped a four-game losing streak with the victory.
Key Upcoming Matchup
01.30.10 – American at Lafayette – 1 pm. Can American continue with their two-game winning streak at Easton? Moldoveanu has been playing the best ball in the league since he came tor the Eagles. American has won the last ten games against Lafayette, including a victory over the Leopards last time Lafayette was 5-1 which started them on a second half swoon.
A10 coaches have no illusions that the conference’s reputation (however good among the non-BCS conferences) will carry a bubble team into the field of 65. While few subscribe to former Temple head coach John Chaney’s“Anyone, Anywhere” philosophy, everyone recognizes the virtue of playing invitational tournaments and having a healthy dose of road games on the resume. Most of their OOC resume-building games may come from traditional rivalries and invitational fields, but the road games, at worst, help their squads prepare for the hostile crowds they will face when playing conference opponents. How did the conference members do this OOC season? (…)
For the most part, it was just a really ugly week for the MWC. Aside from BYU’s win in the Vegas Classic and UNLV’s success in the first couple rounds of the Diamond Head Classic (and really, despite their names, neither of the fields at those tournaments deserved the “Classic” label), there was carnage all around. New Mexico survived an upset bid by Creighton, only to slip up at Oral Roberts for their first loss of the year. Utah lost to Illinois State and Pepperdine (yes, Pepperdine, a team who improved their record to 4-10 with that win over Utah). Air Force fell to Northern Arizona. TCU got drilled by Houston. San Diego State looked lost against Arizona State. Colorodo State couldn’t take advantage of a weakened UCLA team. And, Wyoming fell apart in the second half at Northern Iowa, and in the process the MWC lost the inaugural MWC/MVC Challenge (although, given the results, perhaps they ought to switch the conference billings in the title) 5-4. (…)
Backdoor Cuts is a college basketball discussion between correspondents Dave Zeitlin and Steve Moore (and this week guest player Mike Walsh) that will appear every Wednesday in Rush the Court. This week they challenge each other to write about the conference challenges while excessively using the word “challenge” — before the new guy decides to monopolize the column for “Holy War” purposes.
DAVE ZEITLIN: With the Big Ten/ACC challenge finished, the SEC/Big East challenge coming up and the Pac-10/Big 12 challenge going on forever, we thought it was time to hear who your favorite RTC writers believe to be the best conference this season. Let’s call this the Dave Zeitlin/Steve Moore Challenge. Only nobody wins. And there’s no hard work or sweat involved (except maybe for Steve, whose fingers sweat when he types too fast). Here goes anyway:
Before the season started, it seemed like the Big East and ACC would be a little bit down, while the SEC and Big 10 would be a little bit up — and I think, for the most part, that’s held up so far. But even with Coach Cal (Steve’s hero), Billy Donovan and everyone’s favorite orange Jew leading a reloaded SEC East, I don’t think the conference has made up enough ground from its woeful 2008-09 performance (when only two teams finished in the top 50 of the RPI). The ACC is clearly down after losing the challenge to the Big 10 for the first time ever, and, despite their challenge triumph, I don’t think the Big 10 should stand at the top, especially after Evan Turner’s unfortunate injury. The Pac-10? Please.
So where does that leave us? I think the discussion at this point should come down to the Big East and the Big 12. The Big East may be a little down from last year when they were stacked top to bottom, but the conference still has three teams (Villanova, Syracuse and West Virginia) in the top 10. The Big 12, meanwhile, might boast the best two teams in the nation (Kansas and Texas) while also featuring teams like Texas Tech, which is coming off the biggest win in the coaching career of Pat Knight, who I like far better than his father.
So … Big East or Big 12? Big 12 or Big East? Even though I grew up watching the Big East and rooting for ‘Cuse, I’m going to give the nod to the Big 12 right now. Now I’ll let Steve crunch some numbers for you and disagree with me.
As the official RTC correspondent for the ACC, I can say that the Big Ten/ACC Challenge didn’t really say much about the strength (or lack thereof of the ACC). Duke is still a better team than Wisconsin, but playing in Madison is tough. The real swing came at the bottom of the ACC (Florida State, Virginia, etc.), which is much weaker than the bottom of the Big Ten.
For my money, the Big East is the best conference in the country, and it’ll be hard for anyone to compete with that over the next few seasons. Continuing — and this is a very abstract belief on my part with no real evidence to back it up — the league seems to have more programs that are intent on competing year-to-year, i.e. not necessarily recruiting guys who are clear one-and-doners, but going more for the long-term kids. Look at the roster Jay Wright has at Villanova, or Syracuse, or West Virginia. Lots of sophomores, juniors and even the rarest of college basketball species: SENIORS! Sure, the bottom of the Big East is pretty putrid (see DePaul, South Florida), even though they all have winning records right now on a steady cupcake diet.
Texas and Kansas are obviously great teams, and the Big 12 is clearly in the discussion. But it’s really hard to even have this debate so early in the year. Texas Tech’s win over Washington was nice, but I can’t take the Big 12/Pac-10 Challenge seriously considering how terrible the Pac-10 is this season.
That’s it for my abstract, totally baseless arguments on the subject. At least for now. I’m tired, and have no brain space for stats and numbers. I’ll leave that to the Ivy Leaguer…