Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by EMoyer on February 3rd, 2012

Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Southern Conference and Atlantic Sun Conference and a contributor to the RTC SEC Microsite. You can find him on Twitter @EricDMoyer.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • Spartan Conquest: USC Upstate continued its season-long upswing, beating Belmont, Lipscomb and ETSU in succession. Granted the scheduling gods rarely have one school face the three Tennessee schools in order, but regardless, no A-Sun team had beaten the Bruins, Bison and Buccaneers in order since Gardner-Webb in February 2006.
  • Top Byrd: The Nashville Sports Council named Belmont head coach Rick Byrd as one of five finalists for the Nashville Sports Person of the Year award on Wednesday. Byrd, who received the 2011 Hugh Durham National Coach of the Year award, joined a pair of Vanderbilt head coaches – James Franklin (football) and Tim Corbin (baseball) – IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti and Nashville Predator goaltender Pekka Rinne as finalists.
  • January’s Best: Although the league does not have an official monthly award, RTC recognizes Lipscomb’s Jordan Burgason as the A-Sun Player of the Month. He led all A-Sun players in scoring for the first month of 2012, averaging an even 19.0 points per game and surpassed the 1,000-point plateau during January. Over the nine games, he connected on 35 3-pointers (fourth-best in the country for the month) and shot 54.7 percent from the 3-point arc (seventh-best in the NCAA among those who made at least 20 3’s in January).

Lipscomb's Jordan Burgason is threatening to set the A-Sun single-season record for 3-point percentage

Power Rankings

  1. USC Upstate (14-9, Previous Ranking: 5): Despite trailing both the Bears and Bruins by a game in the loss column in the A-Sun standings, the Spartans ascended to the top spot thanks to the historic “Tennessee Trifecta.” Torrey Craig, an A-Sun Player of the Year candidate, became the first Spartan to reach double-figure scoring in every game of a single month in the Division I era (since 2007-08).
  2. Mercer (17-7, Previous Ranking: 2): The Bears extended their win streak to six and moved into a first-place tie after Belmont stumbled at USC Upstate. Ay 17-7, the Bears have not posted a better 24-game record since 2002-03 when they started 19-5 en route to sharing the A-Sun regular-season South Division title. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by rtmsf on January 21st, 2012

Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference and the Southern Conference. You can find him on Twitter @EricDMoyer.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • 1,200 Wins. ETSU needed a second-half rally to earn the 1200th win in program history. Sitting on 1,199 wins, the Bucs faced UNF for the first time since being eliminated by the Ospreys in the semifinals of the 2011 A-Sun Championship. UNF jumped out to a 15-point first-half advantage and held ETSU to 31% shooting. Adam Sollazzo scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half and hit the game-winning free throw with 2.4 seconds remaining
  • Dramatic Finishes. Monday featured three dramatic finishes. In addition to ETSU’s second-half comeback at UNF, a pair of A-Sun contests needed overtime to determine a winner. Jacksonville scored its first win of the conference season after withstanding a tying by USC Upstate at the end of regulation and beat the Spartans in the extra session. The second overtime thriller featured a game-winning three-pointer by Lipscomb’s Damarius Smith in the waning seconds lifting the Bison past Stetson and into a fourth-place tie in the A-Sun race.
  • Coaching Battle. After 16 years seated next to each other on the Belmont bench, Rick Byrd and Casey Alexander met as opponents when Byrd’s Belmont welcomed Alexander’s Stetson Hatters to the Curb Event Center. The Hatters showed they have quickly picked up the trademark Belmont offense hitting 15 3-pointers, the most ever by an opponent in Curb Event Center history. The Bruins, who trailed 31-29 at halftime, dispatched the Hatters with a 55-point second half, winning 84-71.

Kerron Johnson (ball) Leads A Talented Belmont Attack

Power Rankings

  1. Belmont (13-6, Previous Ranking: 1): Despite a surprising home stumble against rival Lipscomb, the Bruins remain atop the Power Rankings after handling FGCU and Stetson. In the 95-53 win against FGCU, the Bruins hit 14 3-pointers and recorded 27 assists on 35 baskets. In wins against the Hatters and Eagles, the Bruins shot a combined 54.5 percent from the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 12.19.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 19th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

It’s a slow Monday night but keep your eye on what happens in these two games, even though neither will be on the tube.

Belmont at Marshall – 7:00 PM EST no TV (***)

  • For Tom Herrion, keeping control of the basketball has to be at the top of his game plan tonight. Marshall has a poor turnover margin, mostly due to its 15 turnovers per game average. It won’t be easy against Belmont either, a team that thrives off of giveaways and easy baskets. Offensively, Marshall has an edge in the paint with Dennis Tinnon (10/10) and Robert Goff. The Thundering Herd averages 42 RPG and is #2 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. If Marshall’s guards, including top two scorers DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts play well and can handle the ball, this team has to be favored at home.
  • With four losses on its resume already, Belmont has pretty much wrecked any chance it had of an at-large NCAA bid should it need one. Of course, the Bruins could win the Atlantic Sun tournament and make it anyway. As we mentioned, rebounding is a strength for Marshall and therefore a concern for Belmont. Rick Byrd’s team needs to create turnovers to help offset what should be a significant disadvantage on the glass. Belmont is #16 in offensive efficiency and it will need a quality game out of guards Kerron Johnson and Drew Hanlen. Hanlen is the team’s best three point shooter at 42.6%. Defensively, the Bruins do not have a good free throw rate. Luckily for them in this game, Marshall is one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country.

    After Challenging Duke In Its Opener Belmont Has Struggled

  • Belmont is 1-4 on the road so you’d think it is due for a win away from home. Both teams shoot a lot of three pointers but the Bruins are much more efficient. Marshall shoots only 26.4% from deep but gets a lot of offensive rebounds, leading to a two point FG% of 52.6%. An astounding 43.7% of Belmont’s field goal attempts are triples so you can bet those will have to be falling in order for the Bruins to win this one on the road. Expect a close game throughout with Marshall being the ever so slight favorite.
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Night Line: Another Blemish Jeopardizes Belmont’s At-Large Chances

Posted by EJacoby on December 14th, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

Coming off a 30-win season and returning nine players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game, Belmont was expected to be the next mid-major to make its way on to the national scene this year. After a tremendous season-opening game in Cameron Indoor Stadium in which they nearly took down Duke, the Bruins left a great first impression on the nation. But fast-forward to Tuesday night when the Atlantic Sun darlings lost another close road game (at Middle Tennessee State), and this team still has yet to produce a signature non-conference win on its resume. While Belmont consistently has the look of an NCAA Tournament team, it seems that they’ll have to earn their invitation to the Big Dance the traditional way, by winning the conference tournament.

Belmont Hasn't Held on For Any Signature Wins (AP/G. Broome)

Rick Byrd’s team has now squandered three excellent chances for quality wins, and an at-large bid seems nearly out of the question, regardless of how the Bruins play the rest of the season. Belmont played Duke to a classic season-opening one-point loss, but followed up that game with a poor effort at Memphis in which they allowed 97 points to a team now falling fast. The Bruins held on to beat this same Middle Tennessee State team after two overtimes on November 20, but Tuesday’s rematch saw their opponent come out victorious, 65-62. MTSU  at 10-2 is a  solid team and likely the class of the Sun Belt Conference, so a road sweep of the Blue Raiders would have looked impressive on their resume. Instead, Belmont now can only boast of a split against MTSU and a close loss at Duke as their non-conference highlights thus far.

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Set Your TiVo: 12.13.11

Posted by bmulvihill on December 13th, 2011

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter.  See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

After a flurry of games to start the season, most teams slow things down a bit as students head into finals and winter break.  There are still some intriguing matches during the week, particularly a mid-major rematch that thrilled fans just three weeks ago.  Let’s get to the action.

#14 Wisconsin at Milwaukee – 8:00 PM EST on ESPN3 (***)

  • After back-to-back losses to North Carolina and Marquette, Wisconsin has bounced back with wins against Wisconsin-Green Bay and UNLV. The Badgers continue to play the slowest basketball in the country at 59 possessions per game. Their style isn’t for everybody, but it certainly creates problems for opposing teams, particularly on the offensive end. Bo Ryan’s club leads the nation in defensive efficiency and is currently only allowing teams to shoot 36.1% from two and 24.6% from three. With very little in the way of offensive firepower, Milwaukee’s biggest issue during the game will be finding a way to score on the rock solid UW defense.
  • Milwaukee possess its own solid defense as well. They rank 14th in the nation in three-point defense, allowing teams to shoot only 25% from downtown. Three-pointers are a significant part of the Badger offense, so it will be interesting to see if Milwaukee can continue to defend the perimeter against a team that shoots a hefty amount of three’s at a 40% conversion rate. It will be imperative for the Panther’s to limit second chance points for the Badgers, as well. Wisconsin had its lowest offensive rebounding rates of the season in its two losses.
  • Milwaukee needs to find offense quickly or this game will turn into a blow-out. The Badgers do not make mistakes, they defend the ball extremely well, and they hit the defensive boards really hard. The Panthers will have to stay patient and take smart shots near the basket.  If you see the Panthers getting frustrated on offense and taking ill-advised shots, they are in for a long night.

Belmont and Middle Tennessee Match Up for a Second Time in Three Weeks (Belmont Sports)

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Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 18th, 2011

Will Rothschild is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun and the Southern Conferences. Y­­ou can also find his musings online at www.hoopsismymethadone.com or on Twitter @warothschild.

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was

  • KSU Suspends Cummings: In a move that sent shock waves through the league, rookie head coach Lewis Preston announced Tuesday that he had indefinitely suspended Markeith Cummings for “conduct detrimental to the team.” The 6’7” Cummings led the A-Sun in scoring last season and was named the league’s preseason POY. Preston would not provide specific details in our interview with him the day after the announcement, but suspending Cummings is a clear sign that Preston has a long-term vision for building his program that he will not allow to be held hostage by any player – no matter how talented. For more on this, check out our Q&A with Preston at the end of this post.
  • Respectable Showings, But No Signature Wins: While a number of teams acquitted themselves well in matchups with teams from higher-RPI conferences over the season’s first week, a headline-grabbing upset eluded the A-Sun. Obviously, the closest was Belmont’s 77-76 loss to No. 6 Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Bruins nearly overcame a 16-point second-half deficit, but Andre Dawkins’ cold-blooded three-pointer with 16 seconds remaining sealed it. On the same night, Florida Gulf Coast and first-year coach Andy Enfield dropped a one-point decision at TCU, East Tennessee State led for much of the first half before cold shooting (29 percent) doomed them in an 11-point loss at Virginia Tech, and Jacksonville overcame a big early deficit to get back in the game and play Florida State to a standstill over the final 30 minutes in a 12-point defeat.

Belmont Acquitted Itself Well But Couldn't Pull Off the Upset (Belmont Sports)

  • Stetson’s Newcomers Make Statement: When Casey Alexander was hired last spring at Stetson, league observers predicted the longtime Belmont assistant would quickly energize the long-floundering program. So far, so good: Alexander got the Hatters off to a 2-0 start with solid wins over Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M. (The “That-Can’t-Be-Right” nugget of the week: The 2-0 start was the first for Stetson since 19-friggin’-52. Right after Dwight Eisenhower was elected president. Seriously.) Stetson is benefitting from more than just a new face on the bench. Adam Pegg, a 6’9” transfer from Delaware, was named A-Sun Newcomer of the Week after averaging 14.5 points in the two victories.

Quote of the Week: “When your team can come into Cameron Indoor Stadium and make that kind of a comeback… and almost win the game, then as I just told (the players), we’re no worse a team because we lost by one than we would have been had we won. We’d have been a lot happier if we had won by won, but the team’s the same. The two points are nothing.” -Belmont coach Rick Byrd

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Set Your TiVo: Marathon of Hoops Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on November 15th, 2011

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter.  See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Twenty-four straight hours of college hoops is the dream scenario for those of us who are diehard fans of the sport.  Fortunately, it’s not a dream as ESPN brings back its Tip-Off Marathon for the fourth consecutive season.  Games got started at 12:01 AM EST this morning and go all the way till approximately 1:00 AM EST later tonight.  If you can’t sit in front of your TV for all twenty-four plus hours, then make sure you at least watch these four games.

Belmont @ #14 Memphis – 12:00 PM EST on ESPN HD (***)

Expectations are high for Memphis and Josh Pastner

  • Memphis brings high expectations into the 2011-12 season (Coaches Poll #9).  They return all five starters from last year’s team, several key reserves, and add McDonald’s All-American Adonis ThomasJosh Pastner has put together an incredible amount of talent that is going to get a stiff test in its first game of the season against an experienced Belmont team.  The Tigers need to greatly improve their turnover percentage (21.9% in 2010-11), three point shooting (32.9% in 2010-11), and defensive rebounding percentage (34.3% in 2010-11) in order to live up to those lofty expectations this season.  Pastner’s squad showed promise on the defensive end last year ranking 23rd and 25th in block percentage and steal percentage, respectively.  They need to maintain that defensive toughness while still trying to improve on the offensive end.
  • Belmont gave Duke all it could handle last Friday night in the opener at Cameron Indoor Stadium, losing 77-76.  Turnovers (17), missed threes (6-19), and the Blue Devils’ Mason Plumlee’s great work on the defensive glass (10 defensive rebounds) proved to be the difference.  Still, the Bruins showed excellent offensive balance in the loss with five players scoring in double figures.  Although the FedEx Forum is another difficult place to play, it’s a bit closer to home for Rick Byrd’s team and they have already experienced the ruckus of the Cameron Crazies.  Belmont needs to get off to a better start from the three-point line and limit turnovers to have a chance in this one.
  • This game will hinge on turnovers and second-chance points.  Belmont forced Duke to turn the ball over 19 times in the first game and ranked second in the nation last season in defensive turnover percentage.  As previously mentioned, Memphis turns the ball over a lot.  Memphis guard Joe Jackson in particular turned the ball over on 29.1% of his possessions last season.  Look for the Bruins to put all kinds of pressure on a still-young Tigers team to create easy baskets.  At the same time, Belmont relies heavily on second chance points.  The addition of the 6’7” Thomas to the Memphis lineup should certainly improve their defensive rebounding percentage.  If Thomas and the rest of the team can hit the glass hard in his first game, it will limit Belmont’s chances to pull an upset on the road.

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RTC Top 25: Week One

Posted by KDoyle on November 14th, 2011

SPONSORED: Rush the Court is pleased to bring you a one-day fantasy college basketball league courtesy of FanDuel.com to tip off the season. The league, which is completely free to enter, starts TOMORROW on Tuesday, Nov. 15, and features $200 in prizes. Even better, if you beat our trained monkey that we’ve assigned to make our picks (username: RTCmonkey), you’ll win even more. Test your college hoops knowledge to win! Click here to enter.

With nearly every team in last week’s Top 25 either winning or not having games scheduled, there was predictably very little movement in the poll. In fact, the top seven teams remain unchanged with North Carolina coming in at number one again, although they are not a unanimous pick as one pollster is not entirely sold on Carolina just yet. The one big change in the poll was Vanderbilt dropping ten spots after its surprising loss to Cleveland State.  QnD analysis after the jump…

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Set Your TiVo: 11.11.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 11th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

We had a few games earlier in the week to whet our appetite but the main course of college basketball is served tonight. One hundred thirty-one games tip off this evening in what is really the true opening night of the season. Of course, the night is highlighted by the Carrier Classic in San Diego. Let’s get to it.

#1 North Carolina vs. Michigan State (at San Diego, CA) – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

Izzo and Williams Are All Smiles Heading Into the Inaugural Carrier Classic

  • The preseason #1 Tar Heels feature arguably the best front court in the nation with Tyler Zeller, John Henson and freshman James McAdoo. The length of the UNC front line, especially Henson, will make it incredibly difficult for Michigan State to score the basketball in the paint but the Tar Heels should also use their height as an advantage offensively. Michigan State will likely try to make this a half court game in order to limit Carolina’s transition attack. North Carolina did not shoot the ball particularly well last season so maximizing their chances inside could be advantageous if the Spartans successfully turn this into a slower-paced contest. Everyone knows Roy Williams likes to run (we’ll certainly see that) but UNC has the potential to thrive in the half court game with a good floor general in Kendall Marshall and an uber-talented front line that can score, rebound and block shots. They’re a tough matchup for anyone but especially a Michigan State team with an inexperienced and thin big man rotation.
  • For Tom Izzo and Michigan State, Draymond Green may have to do it all. He’s a stat sheet stuffer extraordinaire but we expect Green to have a difficult time getting in the paint against the tall and patient Carolina defense. Green was only a 42.6% shooter from the floor last season, down significantly from his freshman and sophomore campaigns in East Lansing. As a senior, Green has to be the coach on the floor while simultaneously taking control of the game in order for State to have a chance. Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood bolsters Izzo’s back court and he’ll have to be counted on right away to provide a spark from three-point land. Michigan State is not going to beat North Carolina inside or in transition so you have to figure it’ll be up to Green, Wood and Keith Appling to knock down shots from long range.
  • The other aspect to this game, obviously, is the USS Carl Vinson itself. Neither team was a good jump shooting unit last year so the depth perception and sightlines of this unique venue could play a huge role. Even the elements, such as the slightest gust of wind, could be enough to alter a shot. North Carolina will run and look for easy baskets behind Marshall’s exquisite court vision and playmaking ability, a transition attack that may be fueled by Michigan State turnovers. The Spartans turned the ball over at an alarming rate last season, especially in the early months. If that continues, they don’t have a chance tonight. So many things have to go right for Michigan State to pull the upset but there are a lot of intangibles in play from the venue to the weather to the pressure of playing in such a setting and more. North Carolina should win, but regardless, this looks like a terrific way to open up the season.

Belmont @ #6 Duke – 9:00 PM EST on ESPNU (***)

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RTC Conference Primers: #21 – Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 16th, 2011

Will Rothschild is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun. You can find him on Twitter at @warothschild.

Reader’s Take I

Top Storylines

  • Belmont’s Last Dance In The A-Sun: In May, realignment hit the conference when it was announced that Belmont will join the Ohio Valley Conference starting in the 2012-13 season, meaning this campaign will mark the Bruins’ A-Sun swan song. The repeal of a stipulation requiring every OVC program to field a football team (which Belmont doesn’t have) appeared to be the final hurdle. Belmont’s new home is a step up in terms of competition and is more favorable for its travel schedule.  As the Bruins have represented the Atlantic Sun in the NCAA Tournament four of the last six seasons, a new leader will have to rise.

Mick Hedgepeth Leads Belmont In Its Final Season As A Member Of The Atlantic Sun. (Getty Images)

  • New Coaches To Watch: On paper, the A-Sun’s three first-year coaches look to be as good a collective group as has ever entered the conference. How they deliver – and how quickly – both on the court and in recruiting will be worth watching. All three – Casey Alexander at Stetson, Andy Enfield at Florida Gulf Coast, and Lewis Preston at Kennesaw State – inherit programs that lost 20 or more games last season. All three also are first-time head coaches who were highly-regarded assistants at successful programs: Alexander at Belmont, Enfield at Florida State, and Preston at Notre Dame, Florida (where he was on the staff of the repeat title teams in ’06 and ’07) and Penn State.
  • ETSU Hopes To Stay Afloat: In eight seasons in Johnson City, coach Murray Bartow has taken the Bucs to three NCAA Tournaments while averaging just under 20 wins per season and finishing third or better in the standings five times. Most recently, the Bucs enjoyed a 24-win campaign in 2010-11, earning a spot in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament and advancing to the semifinals of that event, marking the first time in school history the team had captured two postseason victories in the same season. During the regular season, the Bucs enjoyed their highest RPI ranking since 2004, and won road games against quality opponents such as Mississippi State and Dayton. But to keep ETSU near the top of the A-Sun this year will require Bartow to do one of his best jobs. Gone are POY Mike Smith and two other standouts who combined to average more than 42 points per game, a whopping 60 percent of ETSU’s offensive production. Bartow welcomes in another highly-regarded recruiting class and welcomes back 6’4″ forward Tommy Hubbard, a major talent who missed all but four games last season with an injury. How well Hubbard regains his old form and meshes with the talented newcomers will determine whether this proud program maintains its traditional perch among the top three or gets overtaken by one of several improving programs.
  • Bruins Poised For A Cinderella Run: For what has become one of the best mid-major programs in the country, the only thing missing on Belmont’s“To Do” list is a run in the NCAA Tournament. After nearly knocking off Duke in 2008, the 13th-seeded Bruins lost to four-seed Wisconsin last March and are seeking their fifth NCAA tournament trip in the past seven seasons. So Belmont is well past any “We’re just glad to be here” feelings about making it to the Dance. With four starters and all but two of its 11-player rotation back from a 30-5 (19-1 A-Sun) team, the Bruins have the look of a team that could become a national darling in March.

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Belmont Leaves Atlantic Sun for OVC

Posted by rtmsf on May 16th, 2011

You may have thought that after last summer’s seismic shifts of conference realignment (or the threat of it) involving nearly all of the major conferences, we’d have an uneventful offseason in that regard this year.  So far, that’s generally been true.  With the the moves pending at Nebraska, Utah, Colorado, BYU, Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada and TCU, and the television dollars already in place for the new Pac-12 and Texas/ESPN deals, it’s generally been all quiet on the realignment front this year.  The ridiculous incentives and free-for-all mentality that drove last year’s posturing and maneuvering among the major players of the sport have now settled; but at the lower levels of Division-I basketball, the party never ends.  Schools are always looking for ways to upgrade from one conference to another, and Friday’s announcement that Belmont University will switch from the Atlantic Sun to the Ohio Valley Conference beginning in 2012 should surprise nobody.

Belmont is a Mid-Major Hoops Powerhouse These Days

The driving force behind this move is, what else, money.  Belmont, located in Nashville, is in the northwestern hinterlands of the A-Sun’s footprint, a league that stretches from Tennessee east into the Carolinas and all the way down to south Florida.  The OVC, on the other hand, is clustered in Tennessee and Kentucky, with the majority of its schools located within a couple-hour drive of Nashville.  As Belmont AD Mike Strickland noted, the school stands to save at least a quarter-million dollars a year on travel costs alone.  Even with the $200,000 buyout required to leave the Atlantic Sun, the program expects to have that cost more than covered in its first year within the OVC.

While we certainly understand the financial incentives and the better “fit” aspect of this move, we’re not as convinced as to the benefit to Rick Byrd’s basketball program.  The Bruins have made four of the last six NCAA Tournaments out of the A-Sun, and it will be joining a top-heavy OVC led by Murray State, Austin Peay and Morehead State.  The problem is that even with the inclusion of Belmont into the Ohio Valley, the league is still going to be a one-bid conference, so it appears to us that Belmont’s move will only make it more difficult for the school to earn its way into the Big Dance.  In a comment relating to the move, Byrd stated that Belmont will now have a “one in twelve” shot to make the NCAAs, whereas it was “one in nine” in the A-Sun — notwithstanding the probability error inherent in his analysis, why would viewing your odds of going dancing as less likely ever be a good thing?

Byrd’s team will bring back nearly everyone from a 30-5 (19-1 A-Sun) team that made the NCAA Tournament in 2010-11, losing to Wisconsin, 72-58, in the Second Round.  The methodical ball-control style of Bo Ryan’s Badgers was a bad matchup for the Bruins, but they’re already getting some buzz as a team to watch next season.  As you’re well aware, the OVC’s Morehead State upset Louisville last season, and Murray State knocked out Vanderbilt the season before, yet despite Belmont’s considerable hype, Rick Byrd’s program is still awaiting its first-ever NCAA Tournament win.  As a final encore in a league they’ve owned the better part of the last half-decade, perhaps 2011-12 will be the year, serving notice to its future OVC brethren that their treasured automatic bid will be significantly tougher to secure in the future.

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The Other 26: Bracket Analysis Part II

Posted by KDoyle on March 17th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC Contributor.

Call it what you want with this seemingly erroneous preamble of the NCAA Tournament known as the “First Four,” but the opening game of this year’s edition of the Dance could not have been much more entertaining. We have already had a clutch shot in the final seconds and an overtime game under our belts. Many people will not even remember that UNC-Asheville and Arkansas-Little Rock even partook in the Tournament, but for a few hours last evening the stage was all theirs. Even if it is merely a play-in game—errr, first round game—this is the NCAA Tournament and keen basketball observers were no doubt glued to their screens and smartphones last night tracking the game.

Just as a refresher in case you missed yesterday’s look into the Other 26 teams in the East and West Regions, I elected to break down the 16 teams by inserting each into one of the four categories: 1) Have a legitimate shot at actually advancing far into the Tournament; 2) Can win a game, but not much more; 3) If their shots are falling and their opponents are not, they have an outside shot; and, 4) We are just happy to be here.

Ability to advance to the second weekend

(8, Southwest) UNLV—After the conclusion of the 2010 Tournament, there is no doubt that a bitter taste was left in UNLV’s mouth. The Runnin’ Rebels lost to Northern Iowa in the final minute and then two nights later, in one of the gutsiest shots in Tournament history, Ali Farokhmanesh drilled a three from the wing to seal the victory over Kansas. UNLV had to painfully watch the remainder of the Tournament and endure the arduous offseason pondering the question: “Why couldn’t that have been us?” Now, UNLV is in a similar situation, as they are in the 8 vs. 9 game again. They are an experienced bunch with Tournament experience under their belts; if they are fortunate enough to get by Illinois, they will ironically play none other than Kansas.

(12, Southwest) Richmond—The Spiders were upset by St. Mary’s last year, and this year they are the ones who will have to be playing spoiler. Richmond has arguably the most dynamic player in the field with 6’10 senior forward Justin Harper. To make a comparison, Harper is the Atlantic 10’s version of Dirk Nowitzki. Although he spends most of his time inside the arc, his ability to step outside and hit a three poses endless match-up problems for opponents. Harper is complemented nicely by his running mate Kevin Anderson. Richmond matches up well against Vanderbilt, but containing John Jenkins—maybe the best shooter in the Tournament—will be a challenge. Expect a variety of match-up and 2-3 zones from Chris Mooney.

 

Harper is a Tough Matchup for Vandy

(3, Southeast) BYU—It is painfully obvious that the loss of Brandon Davies has detrimentally affected BYU’s play considerably; in the first game after his absence the Cougars were thrashed by New Mexico 82-64 on their home floor. While there is little doubt that Jimmer Fredette is the face of the program and their top player, the country is now officially seeing that there is much more going on in Provo, Utah, that can be attributed to BYU’s success  other than simply Fredette. While a deep run no doubt becomes more difficult without the services of Davies, the backcourt of Fredette and Jackson Emery has the ability to carry the Cougars to the second weekend.

(9, Southeast) Old Dominion—ODU presents all of the intangibles to be successful in the Tournament. They have an intelligent and proven coach in Blaine Taylor, a senior-laden team with NCAA experience, and the confidence that they belong here and can win—especially after knocking off Notre Dame as an 11 seed last year. It is more than merely intangibles for ODU though. The Monarchs are quite possibly the best rebounding team in the field, incredibly tough on the defensive end—according to Frank Hassell: “We go 50% man and 50% zone”—and run a deliberate offense that minimizes their opposition’s possessions. Blaine Taylor has created a formula for his team to have success in the NCAA Tournament.

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