Crucial Week Ahead for Several O26 At-Large Contenders

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 5th, 2017

For mid-major NCAA Tournament hopefuls, non-conference play offers the only realistic chance to notch marquee, resume-building wins. Teams able to capitalize on those opportunities may put themselves in position for a bid next March even if they stumble during Championship Week. With only a few weeks of non-conference action remaining, let’s examine the important week that lies ahead for a few O26 at-large hopefuls:

Big opportunities lie ahead for Nevada and Rhode Island. (John Byrne, Nevada Wolf Pack Athletics)

  • Gonzaga (7-1) This week: vs. #4 Villanova, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN, Tuesday. With another talented roster and early wins over Texas, Ohio State and #25 Creighton, Gonzaga should be in fine shape to reach its 20th-straight Big Dance, even if it slips up in the the WCC Tournament. Still, tonight’s Jimmy V Classic match-up against #4 Villanova — the best team in college basketball, according to KenPom — offers the Zags an important chance to significantly strengthen its profile. A win over the Wildcats would give Mark Few’s group a neutral court victory against a potential power conference champion. A loss, and Gonzaga — without any match-ups remaining against likely NCAA Tournament teams — will be left hoping those wins over the Longhorns, Buckeyes and Bluejays age well. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that this specific outcome could bump the Bulldogs up or down multiple seed lines come Selection Sunday.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Feast Week 2017

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 20th, 2017

Feast Week is upon us! Here are 10 questions to consider in advance of all of this week’s action…

Jay Wright’s crew should be right in the thick of things again this season. (Derik Hamilton/USA TODAY)Sports

  1. Which team near the top of the rankings has the most to gain? While there are many potential match-ups that stand out across the various tournaments this week, the Battle 4 Atlantis path to a championship for Villanova could include both Purdue and Arizona. Wins against those two teams would go a long way toward bolstering the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament seeding come March. After Atlantis, Villanova’s schedule the rest of the way currently includes only three games against KenPom top 30 teams.
  2. Which Feast Week tournament is the most competitive? While it may lack a headliner in terms of sheer star power or top-10 teams, the four-team CBE Hall of Fame Classic starting tonight should feature two days of very competitive basketball. Monday’s match-ups feature a pair of interesting storylines: Will Wisconsin be able to protect its defensive glass against Baylor; and will UCLA be able to defend Creighton? The winner of this tournament will leave Kansas City with a pair of quality wins that should hold weight into March.  
  3. Where will the action be in the PK80? The 16-team field at the PK80 Invitational is filled with a number of the top teams in college basketball. The “Victory Bracket” could result in a compelling second round match-up between Phil Knight’s beloved Oregon team and Michigan State — a big early test for the local team that looks much different than the team that won a share of the Pac-12 title last season. The best game of this tournament could come on Sunday evening if the Spartans were to face North Carolina.  Read the rest of this entry »
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Final Four Fact Sheet: Oregon Ducks

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2017

Now that we’re down to the Final Four, let’s take a deep dive into each of the four remaining teams. Today: Oregon.

How Oregon Got Here

Oregon hopes to continue riding high in Phoenix (Getty Images).

Midwest Region Champions. After receiving a lower-than-expected #3 seed on Selection Sunday, Oregon rolled past #13 Iona 83-67 in its NCAA Tournament opener. Two nights later, it required a pair of clutch Tyler Dorsey three-pointers for the Ducks to survive #11 Rhode Island, which led by as many as 10 points in the second half. Oregon’s late-game execution continued against #7 Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen, where it held the Wolverines scoreless over the game’s final two minutes en route to a 69-68 victory. Finally, despite facing #1 Kansas in Kansas City on Saturday—a road game by almost any standard—the Ducks drilled 11 three-pointers, held the Jayhawks to their worst offensive output of the season (0.94 points per possession), and advanced to their first Final Four since 1939.

The Coach

Dana Altman. The 58-year-old Nebraska native has quietly had one of the most successful careers among active Division I basketball coaches — a career now punctuated by his first Final Four appearance. Altman ranks 10th on the all-time wins list among working head men (597 wins), joining Jim Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Bill Self and Tom Izzo as the only active coaches with 20+ consecutive winning seasons. After spending 16 years at Creighton (and becoming the Bluejays’ all-time winningest coach in the process), Altman has turned an inconsistent Oregon program into a perennial threat to win the Pac-12. Prior to his arrival, the Ducks had reached the Sweet Sixteen three times in program history, and won 30+ games only once; since Altman took the job in 2011, Oregon has doubled that number of Sweet Sixteen appearances and won 30+ games twice. He may well be a future Hall of Famer.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

New Favorite: #1 Kansas (30-4). Despite receiving a 30-minute test from #9 Michigan State on Sunday, Kansas remains the favorite to win the Midwest Region. The Jayhawks smashed #16 UC Davis 100-62 before dominating the last 10 minutes against the Spartans in the Round of 32 — a hard-fought victory that should prepare them well for an even stronger Big Ten opponent, #4 Purdue, on Thursday. If you buy into advanced metrics, this appears to be a fairly even matchup: Kansas ranks seventh in KenPom, while the Boilermakers rank 13th. Unfortunately for Matt Painter’s group, the game will be played in Kansas City, where a sea of Jayhawk faithful is sure to outnumber Purdue fans several fold. Assuming Kansas prevails, it will be a similar story against #3 Oregon or #7 Michigan. Beating Kansas is one thing, but beating Kansas in a semi-road game is something entirely different.

Kansas Rolls Into KC as the Clear Midwest Region Favorite (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Michigan (26-11). The Wolverines have not lost since that epic defeat at Northwestern on March 1, a nearly three-week stretch which has included a near-plane crash, a Big Ten Tournament championship, and a pair of gutsy NCAA Tournament victories over Oklahoma State and Louisville. Michigan now boasts the third-most efficient offense in college basketball, thanks in large part to blistering performances like the one Moritz Wagner (26 points on 11-of-14 FT) put on against the Cardinals on Sunday. If John Beilein’s group can get past shorthanded Oregon on Thursday, there’s no reason to think it can’t win this region. Heck, the Wolverines have already beaten Purdue twice since February 25, and the last time they played Kansas in the Big Dance, this happened. Look out.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #11 Rhode Island (25-10). Rhode Island entered the NCAA Tournament on an eight-game winning streak, so its victory over #6 Creighton in the Round of 64 was not that surprising. The fashion in which it whipped the Bluejays, though — winning by 14 points and trailing for exactly zero seconds in game time — was quite unexpected. So too was the Rams’ effort against #3 Oregon on Sunday night, a game in which they led by double-figures in the second half before falling victim to a cold-blooded Tyler Dorsey three-pointer in the closing seconds. For a program that had not gone dancing since 1999, Rhode Island was certainly ready for prime time.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Oregon 75, #11 Rhode Island 72

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Tyler Dorsey Carried the Ducks to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Come Aboard the Brooks & Dorsey Train. Everyone knows that Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey mean everything to the Ducks’ offense, but from about the 14-minute mark through the end, EVERY Oregon possession went through one of those two guys. And they came through. When Oregon was down by six in the mid-second half, it was Brooks who put together his own personal 9-0 run to regain the lead. Later, when it appeared that the Ducks were cooked after some missed free throws and a bad shot, it was Dorsey who hit back-t0-back three pointers to both tie the game (with 1:47 remaining) and win it (with 0:37 left). The two players combined for 46 of the Ducks’ 75 total points, and they needed every bit of it.
  2. The Loss of Chris Boucher Was Apparent. At the risk of Debbie Downing what was certainly a gutty win by Oregon, it was clear as day how much the Ducks miss injured center Chris Boucher — at one point in the first half, Rhode Island had converted 16 of 20 shots inside the three-point arc. The Rams repeatedly got to the basket for layups or short jumpers, and they hardly ever missed. That 80 percent figure dropped to a more reasonable 65 percent by the end of the game, but it put so much pressure on Oregon to stay in contact — largely through Brooks and Dorsey — that you wonder how they can possibly manage his loss any better going forward.
  3. Rhode Island is Full of Tough, Tough Kids. Call it the Northeastern swagger of whatever you like, but it was crystal clear today that the ferocity and grit of head coach Danny Hurly has rubbed off on his players. They didn’t care that they were playing 3,000 miles away from home in Pac-12 country against a Pac-12 team. They expected to win and they were devastated when they didn’t. For much of the night, frankly, Rhode Island was the better team with the superior game plan. But they didn’t have a Tyler Dorsey, and that’s ultimately what made the difference. Hurley seems tailor-made for this kind of underdog program, but you can be certain he’ll get some calls from power conference teams very soon.

Star of the Game. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon. It’s funny because it was Brooks who decided to put the team on his shoulders to allow for the Ducks’ second-half comeback today, but Dorsey’s 27 points, five rebounds and threes assists were simply too much to ignore. Not to mention that he hit the back-breaking threes that effectively won the game.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Rhode Island 84, #6 Creighton 72

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2017

Rush the Court is covering the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. 

Rhode Island Played Harder and Smarter Today (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Rhode Island’s Determination. From the opening tip today, it was easy to determine which team had more energy, more desire and more fire. Much has been written this week about Rhode Island’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since the Jim Harrick/Lamar Odom days of the late 1990s, but the biggest story here is that this particular group of Rams played like they really appreciated the opportunity. And why wouldn’t they? Because of a series of injuries and some other bad luck over the past several years, Rhode Island had become one of the hardest-luck near-miss cases in college basketball, on the cusp of the Big Dance but never breaking through. Today it was apparent when Rhode Island jumped out to a quick 6-1 lead (that it never relinquished) that higher-seed Creighton was in for a rock fight. Perhaps the most visible statistic showing the Rams’ singular focus and determination today came at the foul line — a 65.7 percent free-throw shooting team hit 28 of its first 29 attempts on its way to a 90.3 percent day.
  2. Creighton’s Dream Season Went Kaput With Mo Watson’s Injury. Creighton was 18-1 and unbeaten in Big East play when point guard Mo Watson suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Xavier back in mid-January. The Bluejays went on to win that game, but they then lost nine of 16 down the stretch after their team leader and best player was hurt. Given that so much of Creighton’s offense was reliant on three-point shooting, there just wasn’t much else the Bluejays if shots weren’t dropping like today (missing five of their first 20 attempts). I overheard the Creighton radio crew discussing the season, and the word “frustrating” came up several times. You have to imagine that they are wondering, like everyone else, what could have been with Watson available.
  3. What Will Justin Patton Do? Creighton hasn’t historically been the kind of school that has elite one-and-done talent, but the NBA draftniks around the basketball world are in love with seven-foot freshman center Justin Patton. With great length, agility and loads of opportunity to grow his game into his body, there’s plenty to like. Not much of that was apparent today, however. His game started with two missed bunnies and getting rejected, and he seemed somewhat tentative and jittery with the ball all game long. He ultimately fouled out after posting a forgettable eight-point, seven-rebound (on 3-of-12 shooting) performance. It would make good sense if the talented youngster cashed in while his stock is high, but he is still definitely a few years away from contributing at a professional level.

Star of the Game. Jeff Dowtin, Rhode Island. The freshman guard came up big today to ensure that his upperclassman teammates who have experienced so much anguish in their careers would keep playing this weekend. He contributed a 14-point second half on his way to 23 points and five rebounds, including a perfect 10-of-10 mark from the foul line.

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Finding a Path For Four Teams on the Wrong Side of the Bubble

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 17th, 2017

The end of the regular season is creeping up on us. With just a little more than three weeks remaining until Selection Sunday, teams around the country are prepping for their final stretch of conference games. For schools sitting precariously on the bubble, chances to grab signature wins are dwindling. For teams on the outside looking in, the home stretch represents a do-or-die opportunity to make an at-large bid a reality. The four teams we examine today all have pathways to March Madness ahead of them, but nothing will come easy and their odds are diminishing daily.

Wake Forest

It’ll likely come right down to the wire for the Wake Forest faithful. Getty)

The Demon Deacons are 6-8 in ACC play but a losing conference record won’t be quite as damaging this season thanks to a soft mid-major bubble. Still, even if Wake manages to get to 8-10, some conference losing records will be viewed much better than others. The biggest issue for Danny Manning’s team is that it has yet to beat any top-tier ACC squads this season. The Deacs have a favorable RPI at #36, but close losses against Duke and Notre Dame simply aren’t enough. With four games remaining, Wake Forest must top Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech to remain on the bubble, but to truly make some waves, the Deacs need a win at Duke or against Louisville. Stealing either of those games would result in a 9-9 ACC record and a legitimate, perhaps even likely, chance at an at-large bid. Read the rest of this entry »

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O26 Power 13: New Year, New Order, Same Teams on Top

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 4th, 2017

With 2017 now upon us and conference play ramping up, let’s take a step back and reexamine the best of the best across the O26.

1. Gonzaga (14-0) West Coast. Despite its cast of untested newcomers, chemistry and balance have not been an issue for Gonzaga this season. The Bulldogs have cruised to a 14-0 start behind a lineup whose top six scorers all average between 9.3 and 13.8 points per game. In fact, only two players—Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski—get more than 30 minutes per night, thanks largely to the effectiveness of bench players like Zach Collins (10.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG) and Killian Tillie (4.6 PPG). Mark Few’s club has been equally excellent on both sides of the ball, ranking among the top 12 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. That well-roundedness helped the Zags notch three neutral court victories over KenPom top-30 opponents, giving them a non-conference resume that should hold up very well in mid-March. A win or two over Saint Mary’s would only strengthen the cause. The Zags are once again a legitimate Final Four contender.

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary's opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary’s opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

2. Saint Mary’s (12-1) West Coast. Since its jarring, 14-point home loss to UT Arlington on December 8, Saint Mary’s has held five straight opponents under 0.90 points per possession. That’s a positive sign for a unit that has often struggled to win games when its offense goes cold. The Gaels—with victories at Dayton and Stanford—have also proven their ability to win on the road, which is not something they could claim last season (the NCAA Selection Committee took notice). With one of the nation’s elite point guards (Emmett Naar) and a center, Jock Landale, who currently ranks second in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings, it’s hard to imagine this team slipping much in WCC play. January 14, Saint Mary’s first tilt with Gonzaga in Spokane, can’t come soon enough.

3. Wichita State (12-3) – Missouri Valley. The Shockers’ 100-66 dismantling of Bradley on New Year’s Day perhaps best captures this team’s identity. Sixteen different players saw action (Wichita State leads the country in bench minutes); ball movement was crisp (25 assists on 34 made baskets); and the physicality was unrelenting. Put simply, Wichita State is going to pummel a whole bunch of inferior opponents in Missouri Valley play. With an already-tenuous at-large resume, however, one major question remains: can the Shockers avoid losing more than one or two games in the conference? With Illinois State and Missouri State both surging, nothing is guaranteed.

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Rhode Island & the Atlantic 10 Searching For Answers

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 12th, 2016

The phrase mid-major is thrown around a lot by those of us who watch this sport. At some point we got lazy and decided to classify every school outside of the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC as mid-major programs. While leagues like Conference USA and the Mountain West would not have fit the mid-major description in the early-to-mid 2000s, their basketball reputations have taken a dive in recent years as schools have relocated. Meanwhile, the Atlantic 10 has produced 52 NCAA Tournament appearances since 2000, the most of any conference outside the Power Six. As the preseason pick to finish second in the league, Rhode Island, much like the league it plays in, finds itself in an uncomfortable mid-December position.

Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews scored 31 points in Saturday's loss to Houston, one point shy of tying a career high. (Photo courtesy of GoRhody.com)

Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews scored 31 points in Saturday’s loss to Houston, one point shy of tying a career high. (GoRhody.com)

Although projecting the fortunes of this program is one of the tougher queries in college basketball, we have written in this space that 2016-17 could finally be the Year of the Rams. Unfortunately, Rhode Island’s recent basketball history is riddled with disappointment. Despite accumulating six 20-win seasons since the 1998-99 season — including four in a row from 2008-11 — the Rams have not appeared in the NCAA Tournament over that span. A healthy combination of returnees E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin, in addition to improving depth and a jam-packed non-conference schedule, led many pundits to believe in the preseason that Rhode Island’s breakthrough was imminent.

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This is the Year: Rhode Island Might Finally Go Dancing

Posted by Ray Curren (@currenrr) on November 28th, 2016

He may have been born into a basketball family with a future Hall of Famer for a father and an NBA lottery pick for a brother, but Dan Hurley did not have a silver whistle to expedite his way to the top of the coaching ladder. After finishing his playing career at Seton Hall in 1996, Hurley began his career by leading the junior varsity squad for his legendary father, Bob Hurley, Sr., at St. Anthony’s in Jersey City (NJ), where he had played alongside brother Bobby Hurley a few years prior. He went to Rutgers a year later, serving four years there as an assistant before heading to St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark (NJ). The youngest Hurley compiled a remarkable 223-21 record at that prep program over nine years, and when Wagner, a NEC team coming off a 5-26 season in 2009-10, came calling, Hurley accepted the challenge.

Now in Year Five, Dan Hurley has the Rams in line for a big season. (NJ.com)

Now in Year Five, Dan Hurley has the Rams in line for a big season. (NJ.com)

Hurley had almost become the coach at Marist a couple years prior, but decided — even though some snickered — Wagner was a better choice. Two years and a 25-6 season with the Seahawks later, Hurley was finally — some 17 years after beginning at the lowest rung of the coaching ladder — ready for a shot with a big-time program like Rhode Island. While rumored in the interim to be in contention for the St. John’s and Rutgers jobs when they opened, Hurley and Rhode Island seem to be made for each other. When Hurley was just beginning as an assistant at Rutgers in teh late 90s, the Rams were riding Jim Harrick, Cuttino Mobley and Tyson Wheeler to within one game of the Final Four in 1998, losing to Stanford by two points in a heart-breaker. Read the rest of this entry »

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