Checking In On… the MAAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 3rd, 2011

Ray Floriani is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC.

Reader’s Take

 

On-Site: St. Peters vs. Siena

The conference’s two most recent champions, St. Peter’s and Siena, tipped off last Thursday night. Defending champion St. Peter’s hosted a Siena team trying to get through injuries and searching for their identity. Sophomore point guard Rakeem Brookins is out for the season. The Saints are still not getting the services of Owen Wignot, a good inside player. Early on, the Peacocks built a 21-7 lead as yet another slow start by the Saints put them in an early hole. Down nine at the half, Siena stayed tough. Even faced with a 16-point deficit on the road with fourteen minutes and change to play, Mitch Buonoguro’s group stayed focused. The lead was built courtesy of a tough man-to-man defense by St. Peter’s. Siena ws able to slowly get back in as their 2-3 zone and a St. Peter’s dry spell open the door. The Saints drew even late, but never get the lead, which Buonoguro later pointed out as very significant. Down the stretch, St. Peter’s nursed a slight five-point lead and with less than three minutes to play. Brandon Hall, who hadn’t hit a shot all night, buried a crucial three-pointer for the Peacocks. That made it a three-possession game and proved to be the dagger for Siena. “This was a tough game,” St. Peter’s coach John Dunne said afterward. “It’s the type of game you will see a lot of in this league.”

Accolades

  • Player of the Week: Scott Machado, Iona. The senior guard scored a career high 34 points in the Gaels’ 104-99 double overtime victory over St. Joseph’s. He is just the fifth MAAC player in history to record 1,200 and 600 assists.

Iona's Scott Machado Might Win Several of These

  • Rookie of the Week: Chavaugh Lewis, Marist. Lewis had a career high 23 points in Marist’s victory over Colgate. A freshman guard, Lewis averaged 15 points in a two-game stretch.

Power Rankings

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RTC Conference Primers: #17 – MAAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 19th, 2011

Ray Floriani is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC.

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • Conference Tournament Changes Venues: The MAAC championship will be staged at Springfield’s MassMutual Center.  How the March 1- 5 event manages to be received and attended will be followed closely by many observers. The conference and MassMutual Center staff have been working feverishly to provide the best possible product for fans. With the nearest school, Siena, roughly 90 miles away, providing an attractive event to draw fans is paramount and, as noted, will be tracked. The MAAC will have the tournament in Springfield from 2012-14.
  • MAAC Participates In Non-Conference Events: The MAAC will be represented in the annual Sears BracketBuster event in February. The conference will also host the Old Spice Classic in Orlando during the Thanksgiving weekend (with representative Fairfield a legitimate threat). Prior to March, a few MAAC schools will test out the MassMutual Center in the expanded Hall of Fame Classic on December 9. UMass will face Siena and Fairfield opposes Old Dominion.
  • Glover Fits For Wooden List: Iona senior forward Michael Glover has been named to the Wooden Award preseason Top 50 list. Glover transferred from Seton Hall to Iona and instantly made an impression as one of the MAAC’s brightest stars last season.

Sydney Johnson Brings His Coaching Talent to the MAAC

  • New Coaches On Board: Sydney Johnson takes over at Fairfield and has a wealth of talent on hand. Johnson got his start in D-I basketball only seven years ago as an assistant for John Thompson, III, before spending four seasons as Princeton’s head coach. Steve Masiello is the new man at Manhattan.  Masiello does not have the talent Johnson has, but is not short on enthusiasm and expectations. Masiello knows the MAAC well, having assisted Bobby Gonzalez for several years at Manhattan before heading to Louisville to work as a member of Rick Pitino’s staff.
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RTC Summer Updates: MAAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 15th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our MAAC correspondent, Ray Floriani.

Reader’s Take

Summer Storylines

The MAAC should provide another interesting race for the top. Two of last year’s best programs, Iona and Fairfield, will slug it out. The Gaels were tournament runners-up to St. Peter’s while Fairfield was the conference regular season champion. Off the floor, the wheels are already in motion as the conference plans the move to Springfield, Massachusetts, where the men’s and women’s championships will be contested at the MassMutual Center.

  • A Busy MAAC HQ: The headline for a good part of August concerns the conference postseason tournament. ‘The Road to MAAC-achusetts‘ began on August 3, with marketing representatives from each MAAC institution meeting at Siena College. Reps from the MassMutual Center, the host site, were also in attendance. Among the presentations and objectives were league-wide advertising of the championships on ad pages and in media guides, in game promotions allowing fans the chance to win tickets to the tournament and grassroots marketing efforts in the communities of each school. Ticketmaster also outlined social media opportunities which will allow fans to follow the MAAC schools and see who may be attending a particular session of the tournament. “There are great synergies developing between the championship marketing team and the MAAC,” said Marissa Skibbe, Global Spectrum’s Director of Marketing at the MassMutual Center. “Together, we have created an extensive and fun plan that is moving like a well-oiled machine. We can’t wait to see the creative elements come to fruition.” The tournament isn’t the only place where the conference’s administration is making waves, however. MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor was recently named to the WCBA board of directors. One of the most highly-respected administrators in college basketball, Ensor recently completed a five-year term on the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee.
  • Dunne rewarded at St. Peter’s - Fresh off the school’s first 20-win season in two decades and first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1995, St. Peter’s awarded coach John Dunne with a new contract extending through 2015-16. Dunne’s first two teams at St. Peter’s recorded just eleven wins total, but the win total over the past three seasons is 47, including 30 victories in MAAC play. The Peacocks finished this season 20-14 and captured the MAAC Tournament crown at Harbor Yards. They appeared in the NCAA Tournament, but were defeated by Purdue in the opening round. Dunne’s name was starting to surface as a few openings arose in the spring. The financial details of his new contract were not reported, but the extension marks a notable increase in pay over his former contract. “Throughout his [Dunne’s] tenure, he has guided our student-athletes to success both on the court and in the classroom, St. Peter’s AD Pat Elliott said. “We are excited about the future of St. Peter’s basketball with Coach Dunne leading the way.”
  • New Faces: Steve Masiello took over at Manhattan, replacing Barry Rohrssen. Masiello mostly recently was on Rick Pitino’s staff at Louisville. He knows the conference, however, having served as an assistant on Bobby Gonzalez’s Jaspers staff before heading south. After turning around the program at Fairfield, Ed Cooley was summoned to do the same at Providence in the Big East. Replacing Cooley is highly-regarded Sydney Johnson, formerly of Princeton. Last season, Johnson led Princeton to the Ivy title and NCAA Tournament, where they lost to eventual Final Four participant Kentucky by just two points. Johnson will inherit a strong group of returnees at defending regular season champion Fairfield. On the court, Lamont Momo” Jones decided he was ready for a different role after playing a supporting part with Derrick Williams in the Arizona Wildcats’ head-turning NCAA Tournament run and transferred to Iona (more after the jump).

Momo Jones' Transfer To Iona Will Spell Trouble For Gaels Opponents. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

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Checking in on… the MAAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 16th, 2011

Ray Floriani of College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC.

A Look Back

Fairfield maintains a lead. The Stags have now won 20 games two consecutive years for the first time in school history. St. Peter’s was a heartbreaking loss away from knocking off Fairfield on Sunday. Despite the setback, coach John Dunne (the choice of yours truly as MAAC Coach of the Year) feels his club is in a very positive mindset as the home stretch and conference tournament draws nearer.

Power Rankings

1. Fairfield (20-5, 13-2): Two victories on the road for the first-place Stags. Fairfield won at Manhattan (65-56) and at St. Peter’s (70-69 in overtime). The game with St. Peter’s was a battle of defenses, as Fairfield had a slight 92-91 OE edge. Defense was reflected in TO rates, as the Stags were guilty of 25% of their percentages ending in turnovers while they forced St. Peter’s into a 26% rate.

Notable: Derek Needham captured Player of the Week honors averaging 20.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the Stags’ two road wins over the weekend.

2. Rider (18-9, 10-5): A homestand wound up at .500. Rider dropped a close (67-65) nail-biter to Canisius before bouncing back (61-50) against Niagara. A few oddities in these two games: Against Canisius, the OE was 107 and TO rate 15%. In the win over Niagara, the Broncs’ OE was 88 with a 28% TO rate. Defense was the answer, as Rider allowed a 110 OE against Canisius but only a 73 two days later.

Notable: Seniors Justin Robinson, Mike Ringgold and grad student Patrick Mandel have won 77 games over their Rider careers. Robinson has hit 44 of his last 46 free throw attempts. Freshman Danny Stewart is emerging of late, ready to carry the torch. He scored 17 points to accompany nine rebounds against Canisius.

3. Iona (16-10, 10-5): A sweep predicated on the simple formula of good offense plus good defense. The Gaels won over Siena (69-65) and at Marist (85-70). Their offensive efficiencies were 105 and 120, while they allowed 98 and 99 OE ratings. Taking care of the ball was paramount with 17% and 10% TO rates. On the other side, opposing offenses were disrupted into 27% and 25% rates.

Notable: Junior Scott Machado registered the 1,000th assist of his career against Manhattan. Mike Glover averaged 19 points for the Gaels and senior Alejo Rodriquez is coming on of late. Rodriquez averaged 9.3 points and rebounds for Iona during the week.

4. St. Peter’s (15-11, 10-5) One of two with a victory (66-54) at Marist followed be a heartbreaker (70-69 in OT) to Fairfield at home. The turnovers reared their ugly heads once again – St. Peter’s TO rate is 24% on the season and they were at 27% and 26% in the two respective games. The Peacocks shot a 61% eFG at Marist to boost the offense, but were only 41% against a better defensive team in Fairfield.

Notable: Jeron Belin scored 22 points in the loss to Fairfield. Ryan Bacon had 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in the win at Marist.

5. Loyola (13-12, 9-6) Two home games resulted in a split. The Greyhounds were upset by Niagara (59-57) before bouncing back for a win over Canisius (72-57). Loyola managed  meager 89 offensive efficiency clip against Niagara. A 41% eFG percentage and 22% TO rate led the offense to stagnation. They got  back on track, posting an outstanding 114 OE against Canisius.

Notable: Justin Drummond, a freshman guard, earned Rookie of the Week distinction. Drummond scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 22 minutes of action in the Greyhound victory over Canisius.

6. Canisius (13-12, 7-8). A road split for the Griffins. Canisius defeated Rider (67-65) before dropping a meeting at Loyola (72-57). At Rider, the Griffs put up an outstanding OE of 110. On the other hand, their OE at Loyola was 91, with the defense a 114. Chalk a good part of the blame to TO rate. At Rider the number was a very creditable 15%, at Loyola a ridiculously high 32%.

Notable: Senior forward Elton Frazier averaged 15 points, 6.5 rebounds and shot 63% from the floor. Frazier had 20 points in the loss at Loyola. Sophomore guard Gaby Belardo hit the game-winner at Rider. It was the third time he hit a game clinching shot this season.

7. Siena (10-15, 7-8) Saints went zero for two on the New York swing. They dropped close games at Iona (69-65) and Manhattan (84-81). A 27% TO rate was largely the undoing in New Rochelle. Against Manhattan, the Saints, a 101 defensive efficiency team, allowed a 108 mark. Pace was also a factor, as the 69-possession Saints got into a fast paced 78 possession outing against the Jaspers.

Notable: Sophomore Jonathan Breeden filled in for injured Rakeem Brookins at point guard. Breeden scored a career high 24 points against Iona and had 20 in the game against Manhattan.

8. Niagara (6-21, 3-12): Two road games and a split. They Won a close one (59-57) at Loyola before getting turned back (61-50) at Rider. Defense was solid with 89 and 88 efficiencies in the two outings. Offense? A good- enough-to-win 92 at Loyola followed by a less-than-adequate 72 against the Broncs. The latter game saw Niagara hit a 25% eFG mark (their season low) while committing a 26% TO rate. Purple Eagles have a borderline 20% TO rate on the year. Against Rider, it was too far on the negative side.

Notable: Niagara erased a 13-point second half deficit for their first MAAC road win of the season at Loyola. Scooter Gillette had ten points and a career-high eight rebounds.

9. Manhattan (5-21, 3-12): The Jaspers earned a home split, losing to Fairfield (65-56) before surprising Siena (84-81). The efficiency margin was a -15 against the Stags but improved to a +4 against Siena, thanks to a sterling 108 OE. Manhattan had a 57% eFG percentage against the Saints. It was sorely needed to offset a 24% TO rate.

Notable: George Beamon, the Jaspers’ outstanding sophomore guard, hit a career high 35 points in the win over Siena. Beamon was 12-19 from the floor and 10-10 on the charity stripe. Beamon averaged 19.3 points, 4 rebounds and 3.3 assists for his last three games.

10. Marist (4-23, 3-12): The Red Foxes dropped home games to St. Peter’s (66-54) and Iona (85-70). Efficiency margins were a respectively poor -19 and -21. They let up a 120 efficiency to Iona largely due to the Gaels 56% eFG mark. The Red Foxes struggled both games on the offensive end failing to reach a 100 offensive efficiency either time out.

Notable: Sophomore guard Sam Prescott exploded for 34 points in the loss to St. Peter’s. It was the first time in four years a Marist player broke 30 points. The last was Will Whittington with 31 in an NIT victory at Oklahoma State on March 13, 2007. Prescott was 5 of 7 from three against St. Peter’s.

A Look Ahead

Wednesday, February 16:

  • Rider at Loyola
  • St. Peter’s at Siena
  • Canisius at Niagara
  • Iona at Manhattan
  • Marist at Fairfield

Saturday, February 19: The MAAC joins several mid-majors in the annual BracketBusters event:

  • Austin Peay at Fairfield
  • Central Michigan at Niagara
  • Manhattan at Stony Brook
  • Canisius at Boston University
  • Iona at Liberty
  • Delaware at Rider
  • St. Peter’s at Loyola-Chicago
  • Maine at Siena
  • Loyola at Towson
  • New Hampshire at Marist
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Checking in on… the MAAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 19th, 2010

Ray Floriani of College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC conferences.

A Look Back

Two conference games are in the books for every team. MAAC play will resume after the new year, but early returns show Marist undefeated. No, we are not talking about Brian Giorgis’ women’s team. The unblemished group is Chucky Martin’s club, 2-0 and after one weekend, they’ve doubled their win total of a year ago. Can they stay around and be a factor? Probably not. Suffice it to say, conference teams are now considering their trip to the Hudson Valley in a different light.

Power Rankings

1. Fairfield: (7-3, 2-0) In the midst of a six-game win streak which includes conference wins at home against Loyola and on the road at Siena. The Siena game, a 72-55 decision, saw the Stags post outstanding efficiency numbers on both ends. The offense was 108 while the defense sported a lockdown 82. Offensive rebounding percentage has been a strong suit as Fairfield holds a 35%-31% edge in that category.

Notable: Ryan Olander scored 17 points and pulled down ten boards in the win over Holy Cross. It was the 6’11 junior’s second double-double in a four game stretch.

2. Iona: (7-3, 2-0 overall) The Gaels ran their win streak to seven games with conference conquests of Niagara and Canisius and non-league wins over Long Island and Fairleigh Dickinson. The efficiency margin is an impressive +11 with an OE of 108 and DE 97. The Gaels are also forcing opponents into a 24% TO rate. Each of the last seven games saw Iona post an offensive efficiency of 100 or better with, most recent, a 121 in the 87-66 win over FDU.

Notable: Junior Mike Glover continues to excel for the Gaels. Glover earned conference Co-Player of the Week honors, averaging 24 PPG, 11 rebounds and shooting 69% from the floor the past two games. A test against Syracuse awaits Saturday.

3. St.Peter’s: (5-4, 2-0) A three-game win streak includes MAAC conquests at Loyola and against Manhattan. The Peacocks also came from behind to edge Wagner 51-50 in Staten Island. Offensive efficiency, overall, is very low at 86. The defensive efficiency is a better than average 93. Turnover rate of 23% and offensive rebound percentage are the main setbacks on offense. John Dunne’s crew is grabbing 27.7% of the offensive boards while opponents are at 36.3%.

Notable: Senior guard Nick Leon paced the Peacocks in the come-from-behind win at Wagner. St.P eter’s trailed by 14 with just over 11 minutes remaining.

4. Marist: (2-9, 2-0) The Red Foxes swept their home dates with Niagara and Canisius. Following the conference wins, Marist dropped games on the road to Rutgers and Vermont while losing to Lehigh at home. Up-tempo play was the key in the two conference wins. For the year, Marist averages 71 possessions with an OE of 87. In the two MAAC meetings the numbers reflected an average pace of 79 possessions and an OE of 97.

Notable: Freshman forward Menelik Watson earned conference Rookie of the Week plaudits for a three-game stretch in which he averaged 11 points per game to go with 4.7 boards. Watson also shot 57% from the field for those three contests. Junior guard R.J. Hall pitched in 13.3 PPG and five assists the last three games

5. Rider: (7-5, 1-1) The Broncs of Lawrenceville defeated UMBC 81-39 while losing to Pitt 87-68 and in overtime, 71-67 at Drexel. Rider posted an off-the-charts +62 efficiency margin against UMBC. Rider was 120 in offensive efficiency and 58 defensively. Averaging 66 possessions on the year, they pushed it to 73 possessions against Drexel, Rider’s fastest matchup to date this season. They struggled on the offensive end with a 92 efficiency mark.

Notable: Junior Brandon Penn and senior Mike Ringgold combined for 33 points at Drexel. The pair, enjoying a homecoming, are both Philadelphia natives.

6. Siena: (3-6, 1-1) The Saints snapped a two-game losing streak with a 72-69 win over Florida Atlantic. Included was a MAAC loss to Fairfield in a rematch of last March’s conference championship game. Their TO rate is a bit high at 21.5%, but was only 14% in the win over FAU. Saints average 100.7 OE however the 72-55 Fairfield loss saw their lowest OE of the season at 82.

Notable: Clarence Jackson was a bright spot with 14 points against Fairfield. Jonathan Breeden got the start over Rakeem Brookins (due to illness reasons) at the point in the Fairfield game. Breeden scored nine points in 16 minutes.

7. Canisius: (4-5, 0-2) The Golden Griffins dropped three of the last four, including conference games at Marist and Iona. Offense is one of the bigger problems. Griffs have an OE of 95, and part of the reason is a TO rate of 24% and an eFG percentage of 47%. Defensive efficiency is a spot-on average 100. Not a bad mark, but the defensive TO rate is 20%, meaning opponents are not seeing pressure on the defensive end and Canisius is losing opportunities to score off forced turnovers.

Notable: In a win at South Dakota, sophomore Alshwan Hymes notched career highs in scoring (18 points) and three pointers made (four).

8. Loyola: (4-5, 0-2) Jimmy Patsos’ boys halted a three-game losing streak with a 65-42 pasting of Mount St. Mary’s. Included in that streak were conference losses to St. Peter’s and at Fairfield. Doing a good job defensively, the Greyhounds hold opponents to 93 DE. The offense is struggling, with an OE of 96. Basically, it is an issue of simply putting the ball in the basket as the eFG percentage is a paltry 44%.

Notable: Shane Walker, a junior forward, captured the conference Co-Player of the Week distinction with an 18/10 norm for the week. Walker had double-doubles in both outings for the Greyhounds.

9. Niagara: (3-7, 0-2) Like Loyola, Niagara put a losing skid to bed, with a 69-61 win at St. Bonaventure. Included in the losses were conference setbacks at Marist and Iona. In the Bonaventure game, Niagara posted their best OE of the season, 103. The defense posted an outstanding DE mark of 91. The turnover rate of 18% given a quick pace of 72 possessions per game, is also a plus. Offensive rebounding is a definite sore spot. The Purple Eagles have a severe deficit with a 28% compared to opposition 39.7% offensive rebounding percentage.

Notable: Junior forward Kashief Edwards paced Niagara with 18 points in a loss to Buffalo. Purple Eagles now have eight straight wins over ‘Little Three’ rival St. Bonaventure.

10. Manhattan: (3-8, 0-2) The Jaspers have had a rough go of it, dropping conference games to Rider and St. Peter’s before losing to Fordham and Binghamton. Manhattan has now lost eight straight. Their pace is a modest 64 possessions per game but the efficiency margin is a -18. Coach Rohrssen’s team has struggled on both ends of the floor. Offensively, a 20% TO rate is a positive. Their finished possessions do not render much however with an OE of 92, largely due to 42% eFG shooting.

Notable: Sophomore guard George Beamon had 12 points and11 boards in the ‘Battle of the Bronx’ setback at Fordham. Beamon has four double-doubles on the season.

A Look Ahead

  • On Saturday, the MAAC takes on the Big East, as Loyola gets a crack at Georgetown, while Iona makes a trip to Syracuse. Iona nearly upset the Orange in the 1998 Tournament, but Jim Boeheim’s troops were bailed out by a three in the waning seconds.
  • Now that finals are over, we get back to basketball, with challenges such as Fairfield hosing Vermont (12/20), Georgia Tech making a trip to Siena (12/22), and Fairfield getting a shot at the Gators (12/29).
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After the Buzzer: On 800 Wins, Internet Humility, and Fantastic Freshmen

Posted by jstevrtc on November 24th, 2010

Your Watercooler Moment. Yeesh, take your pick. On Wednesday morning the two games the majority of hoop aficianados were most looking forward to from Tuesday night will yield the headlines to a so-called undercard matchup between #3 Michigan State and Connecticut, the latter a team slated to be foraging for leftover scraps in the Big East this year. Jim Calhoun beamed after the effort shown by his players in knocking off the Spartans, saying after the game, “We proved to the world that we can play.” Also in Maui, the Kentucky vs Washington matchup was so intense they played through a freaking 4.7-on-the-Richter scale earthquake that nobody in the building seemed to notice centered 30 miles south-southwest of the island, and four time zones away, Duke gave Kansas State false hope for a half before turning out their lights and inscribing Mike Krzyzewski into the 800 victories book for a single school. Oh, and a game between Appalachian State and Tennessee Tech was cancelled because the former forgot to provide refs. All of this, a feast before the feast…on the day the Spectrum died.

Onward And Upward -- Coach K Earned His 800th Duke Win On Tuesday

Tuesday’s Quick Hits…

  • Connecticut Has A Pulse. And it’s strong. And its name is Kemba Walker. In 38 minutes of floor time in the Huskies’ capsizing of #3 Michigan State, Walker went 10-19 from the floor, 6-7 from the line, and added three boards, four assists, and three steals to his 30 points. Who cares that a kid’s getting up a shot every two minutes of game time when he’s producing like this?
  • Kyrie Lays It On. Kyrie Irving smoked Jacob Pullen as if the latter were a finely aged Cohiba Siglo. He took Pullen to the bucket several times, scored or got to the line, twice producing and-ones. Irving saw other defenders, but it was Pullen in front of him a good deal of the night; this matchup saw the freshman wood-shedding the senior to the tune of 17/5/6 asst/2 steals.
  • Unsung Wildcat Heroes, Take One. The talk will be about Terrence Jones‘ 16/17 (4-13 from the field) and Brandon Knight’s 24 points (he also had zero assists and eight turnovers), but the best line on the Wildcats’ side may have come from Josh Harrellson, the backup center many UK fans felt could barely qualify to be Enes Kanter’s personal assistant before the season. Harrellson had troubles with his handle, but in 34 minutes he contributed nine points on 4-6 shooting (one of those a trey), blocked two shots, and pulled in 14 rebounds, seven of them on the offensive end. DeAndre Liggins only added seven points and four rebounds, but he smothered UW’s Isaiah Thomas for most of the second half, frustrating him to no end (on which more in a bit).
  • Unsung Wildcat Heroes, Take Two. The only bright spot from KSU’s defeat was the play of their reserves. Four players — namely Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels, Martavious Irving, and Will Spradling — played at least 13 minutes (three of them were in for 20+), and they accounted for 47 of K-State’s 68 points, shooting 18-29 (62%) from the field. Could there be lineup changes in store for Frank Martin’s squad?

…and Misses.

  • Kalin, Not His Usual Ballin’. No particular player could be singled out as really letting MSU down, but Kalin Lucas would love another crack at this one. The Spartans actually shot better than UConn, but Lucas’ head-scratcher of a night consisted of a 4-12 shooting night, five turnovers and but a single assist. There won’t be many nights like this for Lucas this season.
  • The Sprint Center Floor. We had the privilege of being in the Sprint Center for the Big 12 Tournament last year. It’s a great arena for college basketball. Plenty of press seating, helpful staff, and even the distant seats in the stands aren’t bad. But for the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic tonight, its floor had ten temporary logos on it, causing it to resemble one of those NASCAR automobiles (I guess they do race for the Sprint Cup, don’t they?) or a jersey from an Australian pro league team.
  • Smeared the Beard. Jacob Pullen not only got schooled by a freshman in terms of how many times he got taken to the hole, but he couldn’t hit an elephant with a handful of rice on Tuesday night. Pullen will not have many 1-12 nights this year, and likely none in which he also throws in a defensive clanger like he did on Tuesday. But big games like this are not the time for these rare occasions to occur for the facially hirsute and usually excellent senior.
  • Isaiah Was No Prophet. When the Maui brackets were released a few months ago, Isaiah Thomas tweeted that he was hoping his squad would run into Kentucky, a sentiment fueled by the bolting of recruits Kanter and Jones to UK after committing to UW. The Wildcats’ DeAndre Liggins intercalated himself into Thomas’ DNA on Tuesday, and as a result the UW guard was flummoxed into a 4-14 shooting night, two of those buckets coming as cosmetic late layups when UK let its defensive intensity slip a notch in hopes of not fouling.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on January 19th, 2010

Change

Bob Dylan wrote a famous song, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” One could make a valid argument that this could be the theme song for the Conference USA Men’s 2009-10 basketball season. For the first time since conference realignment and the 2005-06 season, a new preseason champion was selected (Tulsa), the conference tournament will not be held in Memphis (again, Tulsa) and the de facto commissioner of the league is no longer with us (John Calipari).

How will this “change” translate for the rest of the league? In speaking with many of the coaches around the league by the national media, most coaches are drooling at the chance of being the first to knock off Memphis and their amazing conference winning streak (currently the streak stands at 64 games lasting since March 2, 2006). While Memphis might not be the runaway favorite that so many have become accustomed too, this should translate into a positive for the league giving the conference regular and postseason a competitive edge it hasn’t seen in over five years. Nipping at the heels of Memphis this year will be the usual suspects of UTEP, Houston and Tulsa. The surprise of the year so far has been the excellent play of Marshall. Young, long, and talented, this will be one of the most exciting Marshall teams to date and one of the most competitive. CUSA shouldn’t sleep on this year’s sleeper team.

In the wake of John Calipari’s voluntary departure (or declaration of war as most Memphis fans have described) from Memphis, many coaches throughout the league are finding themselves on the proverbial hot seat. Fan bases are seeing this as the year certain coaches need to produce before Memphis has a chance to recuperate from its losses (Memphis brings in the #1 ranked recruiting class for the 2010-11 season) and return to league dominance. We start with Houston. Coach Tom Penders brings back one of the elite scorers in the league named Aubrey Coleman and a team that always seems to give Memphis a run each time they play. However, his lack of production in the postseason has put the coach in a sticky situation. Coach Mike Davis at UAB also finds himself looking over his shoulder more and more year after year. After initially getting a commitment from one of the top big men in the country last year in DeMarcus Cousins, it seemed that Coach Davis was finally going to turn the corner on recruiting in the state of Alabama. Unfortunately, Mr. Cousins is wearing blue not green this year, and to make matters worse, another seemingly solid pick up for Davis left the state for bluer pastures as well in Eric Bledsoe. Pair these mishaps with a disappointing season last year and Davis needs to produce this season with a team capable of pulling off some upsets. Lastly, Matt Doherty at SMU seems to already have a foot out of the door. This has been one of the biggest mysteries in my mind. With immaculate facilities, one of the largest cities in the US to recruit, and a fan base with deep pockets looking for a winner, Doherty has continually underachieved. A record of 33-58 over three years for Doherty looms ominous over a coach without a signature win.

What should be an entertaining year for the league has only gotten better with the improved play of Marshall and UAB. Both of these teams have some signature wins already under their belt this year along with currently being undefeated in league play. Tulsa and Memphis also find themselves undefeated but with a few losses that will not help the resume come NCAA tourney time. Let’s take a look at each team and see how their season is going.

Team Reviews

Marshall (4-0, 15-2) - HASSAN WHITESIDE HASSAN WHITESIDE HASSAN WHITESIDE… Remember that name folks. What is possibly the feel-good story of the year depending on if you are playing Marshall or not, Marshall has consistently improved year after year under coach Donnie Jones. With the addition of possible CUSA newcomer of the year Hassan Whiteside, Marshall boasts on of the best frontcourts in the league with he (13/9) and Tyler Wilkerson (13/7). Marshall trails only Tulsa in team rebounding at 40.1 per game. The post presence for Marshall will be the key all year.The early development has been the storyline of the year for the Thundering Herd. Throw in Tirrell Baines and Dago Pena and you have quality depth in your frontcourt along with guards Chris Lutz, Shaquille Johnson and Damier Pitts and Marshall could be poised to make a run not only at the regular season title but the conference title as well. Key out of conference wins for the Herd includes a win against an Old Dominion team who can boast a defeat of Georgetown. So long as this team can stay healthy and continues to play the uptempo style of ball that fits their personnel, the sky is the limit for the Thundering Herd in CUSA this year.

Tulsa (4-0, 14-3) – Even with the loss of shut down defender Ray Reese, Tulsa seems poised to snap Memphis’ streak of conference wins and tourney titles. Doug Wojcik returns a team with a lot of firepower both in the frontcourt and backcourt with many upperclassmen. Scouts are salivating over 7’0 PF/C Jerome Jordan. Jordan (14/8) continues to grow as a player with a developing back to the basket game and toughness on the defensive end of the court, and he is the star of this team. Bishop Wheatley, while undersized for a power forward, consistently outworks and outhustles bigger opposing players with his nonstop motor. Not a go to scorer or rebounding machine under the basket, Wheatley is the “glue” guy of this team giving minutes and hustle plays that don’t show up on a stat sheet.  In the backcourt, Tulsa relies on Ben Uzoh. A tweener in the mold of Elliot Williams for Memphis, Uzoh (17/5/4) is not a true PG but can get the job done and is a terrific on the ball defender. Justin Hurtt (16/4) is also a reliable threat with the ball in his hands. Tulsa can boast they have possibly the best backcourt in CUSA along with Memphis.  With wins against Oklahoma State and Nebraska out of conference and a big conference win at Houston, Tulsa has solidified themselves as the team to beat so far in CUSA. The season and conference tourney position could come down to the final game March 6 at Memphis. Tulsa travels to Duke on February 25 in what will obviously be used as a measuring stick for not only Jerome Jordan’s development as a play but Tulsa’s chances in the NCAA tournament. 

UAB (3-0, 15-2)Mike Davis has the Blazers on a roll. With the only truly bad loss on the schedule coming against a mediocre Kent State team early in the season, there is legitimate talk about UAB being the other sleeper in CUSA. With wins against solid SEC opponents Georgia and Arkansas and a solid Big East team in Cincinnati and mid-major power Butler, UAB has also quietly built a nice resume for the NCAA tourney. Consistency will be the key with this young team.  Transfer Elijah Millsap is as versatile of a player you will find in CUSA. At 6’6 and 218 lbs, Millsap (17/10) has the ability to break down a defender and get to the basket with his size and strength. Posting solid minutes against Cincinnati and super frosh Lance Stephenson, Millsap put up a solid line of 22 points and 15 rebounds in a win. Howard Crawford, starting at forward for the Blazers, has a developing inside-out game but is more comfortable around the basket where he can use his 240 pound frame to impose his will on opposing defenders.  With a bulk of their tough conference games still remaining, home/home with UTEP and Memphis, and home versus Houston, Tulsa and Marshall, it will remain to be seen how UAB will hold up against opponents that are familiar with their game plan. UAB will be a top four team come conference tournament time. 

Memphis (3-0, 13-4) – The streak continues. Some things have changed for the University of Memphis, this has not. Over 1100 days have passed since their last defeat in conference play. Will this be the year that streak comes to an end? All signs point to yes; however, don’t tell this team that or their new coach Josh Pastner.  Contending for Player of the Year honors with Aubrey Coleman and Newcommer of the Year honors with Hassan Whiteside, Elliot Williams (20/4/4) has been a true gift to Memphis in the wake of the turmoil that ensued in March. The key to the season for the Tigers will be who can step up as another reliable scorer for Memphis when teams key on him. Roburt Sallie (10/4) and Doneal Mack (10/2) have been inconsistent at best this year for the Tigers and no real inside presence has been established. Wesley Witherspoon (11/4) is a utility player able to play the 2, 3, 4 or 5 position for Memphis but is most comfortable on the wing. Will Coleman (7/6), the number two ranked JUCO player for 2008-09, has yet to produce consistently and adapt to the D1level. A prime example of Memphis’ erratic play can be seen in their one bad loss this year at UMass. Constantly outrebounded by smaller and less skilled players due to lack of hustle and poor positioning was the Achilles heel for Memphis in the UMass game. Usually one of the top rebounding teams in conference, it is rebounding by committee this year for the Tigers due to their lack of frontcourt depth. Will the streak continue? Watch ESPN on January 20 and 23 to find out.

Houston (3-1,10-7) – The roller coaster ride continues for a Houston squad that came into the season with high expectations. Losing starters Marcus Cousins (10/8) and Qa’rraan Calhoun (10/5) in the frontcourt obviously has hurt the Cougars. JUCO transfer Maurice McNeil (8/8) has helped weather the storm in the loss of Cousins and Calhoun but he is not getting much help from his cast of supporters: Sean Coleman, Nick Mosley and Kahmell Broughton. While the frontcourt is struggling for the Cougars, the back court tandem of Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis is thriving. Coleman (25/7/3 apg) and Lewis (17/4) could be considered the top backcourt in the league. Coleman continues to be Mr. Reliable with the basketball getting to the rim with ease due to his size and speed and Lewis could be described as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Houston leads the league in scoring at 83 points per game. Get ready for a track meet when UH comes to play. The lone “signature” win of the season for the Cougars comes against a struggling Oklahoma team dealing with frontcourt losses of their own in the Griffin brothers. Losses to Nevada, San Diego, Louisiana Tech and UT-San Antonio will leave Houston fighting in conference play and the conference tournament for a shot at the NCAA. The seat is getting a little hotter for Coach Penders down in Houston.

UTEP (2-1, 11-5) – Head coach Tony Barbee got a wonderful Christmas present this year named Derrick Caracter. The biggest question about Caracter will be his character. Can Barbee control this super-talented kid? Will he be able to ever produce like he did in high school and was recruited to do the same at Louisville? Can UTEP replace the scoring production vacated by Stefon Jackson? Many questions surround Tony Barbee down in El Paso.  The knock on Caracter about his attitude and overall approach to the game seems to have subsided somewhat now that he is playing under control. Averaging 14 points and 8 rebounds a game, it seems as he is showing a renewed commitment to the game and to his coach who, like his mentor John Calipari, is giving his star pupil a second chance. Randy Culpepper is not disappointing on the offensive end, averaging 16 points and 2.5 assists a game. The knock on Culpepper is his size. Listed at 6’0, Culpepper is more 5’9 to 5’10. However, you can’t teach will power, hustle or the way he can put the ball in the basket. After securing the starting job opposite Culpepper, Christian Polk as turned into a viable offensive threat averaging 11 points and 2 assists per game. After a big summer with USA basketball, Arnett Moultrie has gone from an under the radar forward — the kid with big potential — to averaging a solid 12 points and 7 rebounds a game. His production has slipped some since the arrival of Caracter, but he still continues to be a force in and around the basket that could earn him a big paycheck one day.  With a tough loss on the road to Houston, people have begun to question UTEP. I, on the other hand, feel this is as dangerous of a team as Marshall, Tulsa or UAB. The problem I see is effort for the whole game. With a frontcourt of Moultrie and Caracter, there is no reason UTEP should not be in the top five of the league in rebounding. This will be a scary team come conference tournament time and a tough out.

UCF (1-2, 9-8) – UCF will be a scary team this year in the conference as their overall record does not depict properly the type of team they have shown to be this year. Wins over UMass and Auburn and close defeats at the hands of USF and UConn, the Knights have a solid yet very young and inexperienced team. Consistency will play a key role with this team all year long.  Going up against Marshall earlier last week, UCF showed poise down the stretch running with a team that honestly was just better than they were. Guards Isaac Sosa and A.J. Rompza are good with the ball in their hands and excellent defenders even if they are undersized. Scoring distribution for this team is even as six players on the team average between 10 and 6 points per game.  While this is still a developing year for UCF, a #5 or #6 seed in conference play is not out of reach. Look for UCF to surprise some people at home this year.

Tulane (1-3, 6-11) – Tulane coach Dave Dickerson has amassed a record of 60-62 in his four-year tenure at Tulane. Quite a feat considering the academic standards he must abide by and a school still struggling in many ways post-Katrina. Posting a win already this year over conference foe Rice, Tulane relies heavily on the play of their guards Kris Richard (14/4/3) and Kevin Sims (12/3/3). As with any team that relies heavily on their guards, rebounding will be the biggest enemy of the Green Wave as they rank last in CUSA in rebounds per game. With recruit Rakeem Brookins on deck for the 2010-11 season, Tulane will only get stronger.

SMU (0-3, 6-10) - Coach Matt Doherty enters his fourth year with the Mustangs with an experienced roster yet not many expectations. Most recently against UAB the Mustangs were leading by 24 points yet lost the game 63-62. With the low post presence of Papa Dia (12/8) and Mouhammad Faye (12/6) and guard play of Derek Williams (16/3) and Paul McCoy (8/4), few can find a reason as to why the Mustangs aren’t more competitive. Consistently underachieving year in and year out, Doherty is running out of excuses. Boasting some of the best facilities in the league and being able to recruit from one of the largest cities in the US, SMU has to produce better. Non-conference games against Occidental College, Florida Gulf Coast, and Houston Baptist are unacceptable in D1 basketball. The four-point win against Huston-Tillotson was laughable at best.

Southern Mississippi (0-3, 10-7) - Larry Eustachy finds himself with one of his more talented teams in recent memory at Southern Miss. Newcommers Maurice Bolden and Gary Flowers give the Golden Eagles something to cheer about down in Hattiesburg. Flowers (14/8) is a physical small forward that can use his size and strength to get to the basket at will. Highly recruited out of high school from Texas, Flowers spent the last year at Chipola Junior College before transferring to the Golden Eagles to give them more depth in the frontcourt.  As with any young team, the Golden Eagles have experienced some growing pains this year but have displayed the ability to hang with teams more talented than they. After leading for a majority of the Ole Miss game, Southern Miss fell 81-79 in the final minutes. Against a Memphis team that came out firing on all cylinders, the Golden Eagles trailed by 15 at the half, yet came out with much more intensity in the second half holding Memphis to only two made FGs only to fall by a bucket, 59-57. Another team that is looking to the future, Eustachy has a talent base growing down in Hattiesburg that will cause the rest of the conference to take notice in the coming years.

East Carolina (0-4,6-12) – East Carolina finds themselves struggling this year. Losses to Wake Forest and Clemson can be deemed acceptable for a team continuing to build; however, losses to Campbell and Northern Iowa hurt the overall conference RPI and can deal a blow to a team that was expecting to win between 14 and 16 games this year. Brock Young is possibly one of the best players in America you haven’t heard of. Playing with a lack of interior post presence, Young is a 5’11 PG putting the team on his shoulders and getting what he can while averaging 16 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists a game. While 0-4 in conference, the meat of their conference schedule is behind them (@UAB, @Memphis, Houston, Marshall) and the rest of the conference schedule sets up nicely for this young team to continue to grow and develop the young talent they have in Wakefield Ellison, Corvonn Gaines and Erin Straughn. While eight wins in conference play might be asking a lot for a young team without much frontcourt help, it is a solid goal that I believe the Pirates can achieve.

Rice (0-4, 6-11) - With a newly renovated arena and one of the best freshman classes the Rice basketball program has seen, the future looks bright for the Owls. Unfortunately, this year will be a year of growing pains for a team with a bright future. With the only true loss from the 2008-09 season being Rodney Foster (13.4 ppg), the Owls return Trey Stanton, Conor Frizzelle and Lawrence Ghoram. The additions of highly touted Tamir Jackson and Arsalan Kazemi will be a solid foundation for the Owls to build on.  Having watched the Rice versus Memphis game this past week, I came away very impressed with Stanton (9/4), Jackson (12/3) and Kazemi (10/8). Kazemi is a basketball coach’s dream. He is a  hard-nosed player who has a knack for always attacking the basket. With Memphis’ lack of size and aggressiveness inside, Kazemi (15/11 vs. Memphis) had an array of putback dunks and a quick first step to the basket driving against his defender. Trey Stanton, while not your typical low post player, is a versatile big man that can step out and hit the mid-range jumper to the three-point line. He will not be much of a force against powerful low post players but can use his speed and range to exploit slower lumbering defenders. Against Pierre Niles and Will Coleman for Memphis he put up 18 points on 6-12 shooting from the field and 2-3 from the 3-point line. Tamir Jackson had a tougher night going up against two of the better on-ball defenders in the league in Willie Kemp and Elliot Williams. Yet, he showed poise and tempo under pressure that should make Ben Braun a happy coach for the next few years.

Games of the Week (January 17-23)

1/20 – #12 West Virginia @ Marshall – How far would this go in solidifying Marshall as a legitimate power in Conference USA? It would put them ahead of Tulsa as league leader in my book. Marshall averages 40.1 rebounds per game and relies heavily on Hassan Whiteside who Bob Huggins will almost assuredly key all of his defensive focus. Da’Sean Butler, Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks will be a tough threesome for Marshall to handle. Tyler Wilkerson and Whiteside will have their hands full inside. Coming off a one point loss to Syracuse, West Virginia will be looking to rebound. Marshall would love to pick up this win as their next stretch of games includes UAB and Memphis at home. This is a critical stretch of games in the schedule for the Thundering Herd as it could spell huge success for the season or whether there is still growing to do. 2-1 through this stretch would work wonders for the Herd’s confidence but I see more along the lines of 1-2.

Prediction: West Virginia comes out on top in this one, 85-70.

1/20 – UTEP v. Memphis (CSS) – Tony Barbee returns to Memphis with probably his best chance of beating the Tigers at home for the foreseeable future. The frontcourt of Moultrie and Caracter will be a lot for Pierre Henderson-Niles, Will Coleman, Wesley Witherspoon and the undersized DJ Stephens to handle. The backcourt tandems provide intriguing matchup possibilities. Randy Culpepper returns home to Memphis with Julyan Stone and Christian Polk to match up against Willie Kemp, Elliot Williams and Roburt Sallie. Kemp, Williams and Sallie are three of the most tenacious on ball defenders in CUSA routinely shutting down threats from outside every week. Randy Culpepper always seems to put on a show when he comes to Memphis so look for some fireworks in this matchup. The key to this game will be whether Memphis do a good enough job by committee on Caracter and Moultrie while the guards go to work. You could see a lot of zone from Memphis in this game if Niles, Coleman or Witherspoon get into foul trouble.

Prediction: I think FedEx Forum and the crowd Memphis will have on their side keeps the streak alive, 73-68.

1/23 – Houston v. Memphis (ESPN2) – Memphis will be coming off an emotional game against UTEP three days earlier, while Houston will be coming off a game against UCF. Memphis matches up much better against Houston than UTEP but Aubrey Coleman can keep Houston in any game. Houston faces some of the same interior problems Memphis faces when it comes to play of their big men. JUCO big men Will Coleman and Maurice McNeil will go head to head in this one at some point. This will be a good game to gauge how far each has come since the beginning of the season as each of their skill sets mimic each other. In this one, the battle again will be between the guards, Elliot Williams and Aubrey Coleman. Coleman has not seen a defender like Williams. Elliot can play on both ends of the court while Coleman is a much greater offensive threat than defensive. I believe you will see Tom Penders run a team of defenders against Elliot Williams or at some point play a zone if Memphis is cold from outside the arc. Games like these are where Elliot’s supporting staff needs to step up. The solid play of Willie Kemp again has been a surprise, but Doneal Mack, Roburt Sallie and Wesley Witherspoon need to step up and make plays. 

Prediction: Memphis escapes again thanks to the Sixth Man, the FedEx forum crowd, 79-71.

1/23 – UAB v. Marshall – Marshall will be coming off a highly emotional game against West Virginia. Elijah Millsap will be key getting to the basket and taking advantage of his mismatches. This game could determine conference positioning from #2-#5. A must-win at this point early in the season for both teams.

Prediction: Marshall takes it at home, 68-63.

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