Best of the West: Ranking the Top 20 Teams West of the Rockies

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 17th, 2014

We’re a little more than a quarter of the way through the season now, so it is time to roll out our first edition of Best in the West. We’re going to take all the schools west of the Rockies (and we’re going to be a bit generous with our geography here – basically we’re looking at schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, WCC and Big West, and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and WAC) and give you the top 20 teams as of today. But rather than just ranking schools #1 though #20, we’re going to divide them up into tiers, mostly because I don’t think putting Gonzaga at #2 when they played Arizona into overtime in Tucson feels right to anybody.

Here are our Top 20 teams in the West (their overall ranking is in parentheses), with descriptions of what the teams in each tier have in common as well as brief comments on each school.

The Best of the Best  – In a league of their own.

  • Arizona (#1 overall, Pac-12 #1) – There have been some growing pains for the Wildcats, but with an unblemished record and wins over Kansas State, San Diego State, Gonzaga and Michigan, they’ve still got a ways to go before they tap out on their potential.
Arizona and Gonzaga Played A Fun One A Week Back, Proving Themselves Nearly Equal

Arizona and Gonzaga Played A Fun One A Week Back, Proving Themselves Nearly Equal. (AP)

  • Gonzaga (#2 overall, WCC #1) – Really, the Zags are more of a #1A in this tier. An overtime loss at Arizona in which they didn’t play all that well and let some good chances slip away bodes well for their upside. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Game of the Week: Hawkeye State Showdown, Harvard-Virginia & SDSU-Cincy…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 17th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Northern Iowa (9-1) vs. Iowa (8-3) – 7:30 PM ET, Big Ten Network, Saturday.

Northern Iowa has a knack for playing in really good basketball games this season. The Panthers upended Stephen F. Austin by two in overtime during last month’s Tip-Off Marathon, ending the Lumberjacks’ 33-game home winning streak; they squandered a big second-half lead against George Mason earlier this month before escaping in overtime; and on Saturday, Ben Jacobson’s group lost its first game in one of the best games of the season, a double-overtime thriller at VCU. So what does UNI have in store this week, bumping up against intrastate foe Iowa in Des Moines? Probably another barnburner.

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

KenPom currently ranks the Hawkeyes and Panthers 29th and 31st overall, respectively, which – on a neutral floor – results in a virtual coin-flip projection. Iowa is one of the nation’s top-30 fastest teams offensively (15.9 seconds per possession), while Northern Iowa is among the 30 slowest (20.4 seconds), yet the Hawkeyes’ strong suit has been its defense thus far this season, while the latter unit has been more offensively proficient. The Panthers, despite their preferred snail’s pace of play, demonstrated an ability to get out and run against VCU, so they should have no problem adjusting if Iowa’s uptempo pace wins out. The Hawkeyes’ most notable strength is its frontcourt, which provides much of the team’s scoring and prevents easy looks on the interior – which might actually suit Northern Iowa just fine, considering the majority of its points come from behind the arc and at the free throw line. This match-up may come down to Jacobson’s guys hitting perimeter shots – they went just 3-of-16 from distance in the game two years ago – and whether Fran McCaffery can get quality production from his backcourt. This should be a really good, really close contest either way.

More to Watch

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RTC Top 25: Week Three

Posted by Walker Carey on December 8th, 2014

College basketball experienced its first true upset weekend and this week’s RTC25 reflects the madness that took place on the court. Let’s run through the carnage. Fresh off a hard-thought ACC/Big Ten Challenge victory over Syracuse, previously-#15 Michigan was stunned at home by NJIT. What made the upset so stunning is that the Wolverines are the reigning Big Ten regular season champions, while NJIT is the lone remaining Division I independent because its former conference folded and it has yet to find a new league willing to offer an invitation. This defeat along was stunning enough to cause Michigan to fall completely out of this week’s RTC25. #23 Miami (FL) also suffered an upset loss at home to Green Bay over the weekend. The previously unbeaten Hurricanes were ice cold from the field, shooting just 32.8 percent from the field in the defeat. Poor shooting was also the theme for #16 San Diego State on Sunday, as the Aztecs shot just 20.5 percent in a road loss at Washington. College basketball is often where the unexpected becomes the ordinary, and that was certainly on display over the weekend.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 w3

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by AMurawa on December 3rd, 2014

This space could be used to write about how San Diego State looks to be clearly the class of the conference. Or how Colorado State and Wyoming are positioning themselves nicely for possible NCAA Tournament bids. Or how New Mexico and UNLV are in transition mode. Or how terrible the bottom of the conference is. But instead, how about that San Diego State/BYU game? Man, there were a lot of fanbases around the conference that enjoyed hating on BYU. And honestly, Cougar fans seemed to enjoy that a bit themselves. But you sure have to miss that type of rivalry. It will probably never happen because of some of the animosity between these schools and fanbases and BYU’s decision to bail on the Mountain West, but if I could have one wish for any change to be made in college basketball, well, it wouldn’t be to reignite this rivalry, it would be more along the lines of getting rid of the ten thousand timeouts per game that coaches get to call. But, if you gave me like 20 wishes? I’d make sure to include a yearly SDSU/BYU game in the mix there. It sure would be fun if these programs could do something like that in the interests of what is good for the game.

Team of the Week

San Diego State – They’ll hold this spot often this season, and we could certainly break rank and give this to Wyoming for its win over Colorado or to Colorado State for their Great Alaska Shootout win. But in the early going, the Mountain West is all about San Diego State as its flagship program. Sure, the Aztecs lost by two to Arizona in the Maui Invitational title, but while the other teams in the conference that aspire to national brands (that would be UNLV and New Mexico) struggle through transition periods, the Aztecs are carrying the banner proudly for the Mountain West. With Steve Fisher ready to keep things going on Montezuma Mesa, this Aztec team could be the school’s best. And, that’s saying something.

Steve Fisher Has Re-Upped With San Diego State And The Aztecs Are Rolling (Lenny Ignelzi, AP)

Steve Fisher Has Re-Upped With San Diego State And The Aztecs Are Rolling (Lenny Ignelzi, AP)

 

Player of the Week

Larry Nance, Sr, Wyoming – Now ten months removed from an ACL tear, Nance is having his minutes limited early, but his production is still strong. Out of the gates, he’s averaged 14.7 points, 6.2 boards and solid numbers all the way across the rest of the stat sheet, with national ranks littering his KenPom profile. Yeah, the numbers are nice. And the wins are piling up. And the story is great. But any chance we get to honor one of the conference’s most likable players, we’ll take it.

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O26 Game of the Week: Gonzaga in Tucson, UTEP-Colorado State, More…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 3rd, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Gonzaga (7-0) at Arizona (6-0) – 5:15 PM ET, ESPN, Saturday

Following the Wildcats defeat of San Diego State in the Maui Invitational, this weekend’s Gonzaga-Arizona matchup might now be the unofficial showdown for ‘Best in the West’ – the outcome of which could go a long way in determining the region’s top-seed come Selection Sunday.

Gonzaga-Arizona should be one of the best non-conference matchups in 2014-15. (thesportspost.com)

Gonzaga-Arizona should be one of the best non-conference matchups in 2014-15. (thesportspost.com)

Both teams have notched impressive early-season victories – SMU and St. John’s for the Bulldogs, Kansas State and SDSU for the Wildcats – both possess seven-plus-foot frontcourt players, athletic wings and veteran point guards, and each squad is led by a coach who’s won a bunch of games over the past decade. Sean Miller’s group pounded Gonzaga in last year’s NCAA Tournament, but the Bulldogs are a much different, much deeper unit in 2014-15; Kevin Pangos is back to full-health and Mark Few added transfers Byron Wesley and Kyle Wiltjer in the offseason, along with impact-freshman Domantas Sabonis (12.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG). As a result, it seems doubtful the Zags will turn the ball over 21 times like they did in March, nor are they likely to be as overwhelmed athletically. Then again, this year’s iteration does take place in Tuscon, against a Wildcat team thanks to the return of 6’8’’ forward Brandon Ashley (Arizona has not lost with him in the lineup since 2012-13) and the addition of an eventual lottery pick, freshman wing Stanley Johnson (13.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG). Considering the individual talent on both rosters, it’s hard to say exactly who or what will dictate the outcome – does the frontcourt battle between Przemek Karnowski and Kaleb Tarczewski decide things? Or will it be Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s energy, or Pangos’ hot-shooting? – but regardless, the game is sure to be among the biggest and most impactful non-conference tilts this season.

More to Watch

  1. Wichita State (4-0) at Utah (5-1) – 11:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Wednesday. Does Wichita State’s 35-game regular season winning streak end in Salt Lake City? The Shockers have not looked prone to defeat so far in 2014-15, having drubbed New Mexico State, Memphis and Tulsa by an average of 17 points per game, but knocking off Utah on its home floor should prove much more difficult. The Utes boast one of the best all-around guards in America, 6’5’’ junior Delon Wright, and are markedly tougher in the Huntsman Center – they were a couple of two-point, overtime losses against Oregon and Arizona from going undefeated at home in 2013-14. Luckily, Gregg Marshall has a pair of experienced, All-America type guards in his own right – Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker – who should hold their own in the hostile environment. KenPom has this one pegged as one a near-coin flip (54% in the Wichita State’s favor), and if the Shockers can emerge victorious, their impressive streak might persist well into the New Year.
  2. UTEP (5-1) at Colorado State (6-0) – 9:00 PM ET, Wednesday. Colorado State won the Great Alaska Shootout and UTEP nearly won the Wooden Legacy over the holiday weekend, punctuating a very good month of November for both units. Even with the Miners falling to Washington on Sunday night, each group appears talented and capable enough to be in the at-large discussion by season’s end – making Wednesday’s game in Fort Collins an important opportunity for both. The Rams, led by senior point guard Daniel Bejarano (13.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG) and forward J.J. Avila (14.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG), have been very proficient from deep so far in 2014-15 (40.5% 3PT) and are the fifth-most experienced team in the country, while UTEP – paced by athletic, versatile forward Vince Hunter (five straight double-doubles to begin 2014-15) – boasts one of college basketball’s largest front lines.
  3. Wyoming (7-0) at SMU (4-3) – 7:00 PM ET, ESPNews, Friday. This is an important bellweather game for Wyoming, which has gotten off to an excellent start in 2014-15 – including a dominant victory over Colorado – but has yet to play a game outside of Laramie. The Mustangs, despite a rocky start without their best player, Markus Kennedy, are a good, well-rounded team that’s always tough inside Moody Coliseum. The Cowboys have found great looks near the basket this season (66.2% 2PT; second-best in NCAA) and SMU’s interior defense has been less dominant without Kennedy, so Wyoming’s ability to patiently run its sets in a road environment might be the key to success.
  4. Virginia (7-0) at Virginia Commonwealth (5-2) – 2:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday. VCU edged Illinois State on Tuesday night, but the Rams still seek a marquee victory after two disappointing losses last week. This home contest against newfound in-state rival Virginia provides that opportunity. In what should be an exercise in contrasting styles – VCU plays frenzied, uptempo basketball, whereas the Cavaliers like to grind on both ends of the court – the outcome may depend on whether Shaka Smart’s group can force Virginia into turnovers with any kind of regularity. If not, the preseason Atlantic 10 favorites – who already struggle to score in the half-court – could be in for a long night against Tony Bennett’s defense [See: Rutgers game].
  5. San Diego State (5-1) at Washington (6-0) – 9:00 PM ET, Pac-12 Network, Sunday. In another very good west coast showdown, the Aztecs will have to play without guard Aqeel Quinn (9.7 PPG), who broke his finger against Arizona last week. The Huskies have the advantage at point guard with Nigel Williams-Goss (14.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG) – important against an aggressive defensive unit like SDSU – but the Aztecs have more athletic wings, and both squads possess plenty of size underneath. Should be close.

Other Notables

  •  Northeastern (5-1) at Harvard (4-1) – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday.
  •  Long Beach State (4-4) at Stephen F. Austin (4-3) – 8:00PM, Friday.
  •  Boise State (4-2) at Saint Mary’s (5-0) – 11:30 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday.
  •  Florida Gulf Coast (6-1) *at Massachusetts (5-3) – 2:00 PM ET, Sunday (*Springfield, MA).

Upset Special

Can Yale hang around with Connecticut on Friday night? (The Providence Journal/Glenn Osmundson)

Can Yale hang around with Connecticut on Friday night? (The Providence Journal/Glenn Osmundson)

Yale (6-2) at Connecticut (3-2) – 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Friday. There are plenty of reasons why this upset can’t happen – I mean, we are talking about the defending National Champions…playing at home – so how about one reason why it can: Huskies guard Ryan Boatright might miss the contest with a sprained ankle. If he does sit out, Connecticut will be without the guy who leads it in scoring (20.8 PPG), assists (4 APG) and steals (1.6 SPG), who  plays virtually every minute of every game, who shoots almost one-third of the team’s shots while on the floor, and who racks up fouls in bunches. Yale, which looked good in a hard-fought loss to Providence last weekend, has bodies to bang with Connecticut on the glass and should do a better job taking care of the ball (turnovers have been a problem) against the Boatright-less Huskies. If Javier Duren, Jack Montague and Armani Cotton get hot from behind the arc and Justin Sears (15.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG) stays out of foul trouble, the Bulldogs have a chance.

Stars Aligned: Great Individual Match-Ups

  • Green Bay’s Kiefer Sykes at Georgia State’s Ryan Harrow – 7:00 PM ET, Thursday. Both Sykes (18.5 PPG) and Harrow (20.3 PPG) are small, explosive point guards who thrive on their quickness and ability to penetrate. They also happen to be two of college basketball’s best players, on two of the better teams at the mid-major level. You won’t want to miss this battle.
  • William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton at Richmond’s Kendall Anthony – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday. Another pair of talented scoring guards go at it tonight, as Thornton (17 PPG) and Anthony (15.3 PPG) square off in Richmond. At just 5’8’’, Anthony gives up a full eight inches to his William & Mary counterpart, so it seems doubtful they will actually wind up guarding each other. Either way, expect a bevy of points from these two guys and a hard-fought game between quality intra-state foes.
  • Valparaiso’s Alec Peters vs. someone(s) on Eastern Kentucky – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday. This game is projected to be a toss-up, but I’m not sure who on the Colonels is going to stop Peters. The 6’9’’ forward has been nothing short of exceptional so far this season, averaging 19.3 PPG and shooting 55% 3PT. With that combination of size and shooting ability, Eastern Kentucky’s best hope might be to exploit Valpo’s weakness at point guard, turn the Crusaders over and limit Peters’ touches as much as possible.
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Morning Five: 11.21.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 21st, 2014

morning5

  1. We figured that we were done talking about the North Carolina academic scandal for a while, but then Larry Brown decided to talk about it. The 1963 UNC graduate and Hall of Fame coached said that he has been following the story and is most concerned with how it could stain Dean Smith‘s legacy. While we respect a lot of the work that Smith did both on and off the court, we find the fact that Brown, a man who left his last two college programs with major NCAA penalties (a fact many people conveniently forget), is worried about someone’s legacy is amusing. Given the amount of time that has passed since Smith actually coached, we are assuming that this will end up being something like the Sam Gilbert situation at UCLA, something that rival fans like to bring up at random times to try to bring down John Wooden, but not something that is a prominent part of his biography.
  2. The news that the NCAA was considering releasing early information on potential high seeds like college football is doing for its College Football Playoff has been met with quite a bit of criticism. Many individuals have written pieces claiming everything from the idea that this will diminish Selection Sunday to that it will ruin the sport. While we do not find the idea of releasing a list of the top four or sixteen teams in the field particularly meaningful (it’s more of a money grab than anything with the potential ad revenue out there), we are not sure how this is that different than the almost real-time Bracketology that we see on almost every college basketball site. If you follow the sport and can’t think of the likely #1 or even top 4 seeds in each region without the NCAA telling you who they would probably pick we aren’t sure what to tell you. And if you don’t want to pay attention to them just ignore them.
  3. Jerry Tarkanian remains in an ICU at a Las Vegas hospital after he was admitted with pneumonia. While Tarkanian has reportedly made significant improvements during the hospitalization this is his third hospitalization in the past eighteen months, which is concerning in itself. As anybody who has had a family member in the hospital knows, things can change quickly particularly for someone of Tarkanian’s age (84) and with his other medical problems (coronary artery disease and already with a pacemaker) so we are cautiously optimistic based on the news that we have heard so far.
  4. On Wednesday, Steve Fisher signed a three-year extension at San Diego State. The news that the school would offer Fisher, whose contract was set to end after this season, an extension is not particularly surprising except that there was some speculation that Fisher, who is 70 years old, would retire after this season. Based on his resume alone, there is no question that Fisher deserves the extension and probably a lot more. For his part, Fisher says the extension was more of an administrative issue and he will make a decision about whether he will continue coaching after each season.
  5. While most programs are working on building their 2015 recruiting class, the truly elite programs are looking even further down the road. Arizona certainly falls into that category as they already have one of the best 2015 classes and picked up a commitment on Wednesday from T.J. Leaf, a five-star power forward in the class of 2016. Leaf chose Arizona over Duke, Florida, Michigan, and UCLA. Arizona might not quite be in Kentucky’s class for recruiting (nobody really is), but they are not far behind and with the way they are stocking up on talent–particularly the type that might stay more than one year–they are positioned to be a dominant team for years to come.
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Tip-Off Marathon: The O26 Menu

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 17th, 2014

Tonight kicks off ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, a jam-packed, 24-plus hour slate of basketball featuring numerous mouthwatering options for O26 fans. And with many of these games serving as important resume-building opportunities, you better come hungry. Let’s check out the menu.

Appetizers/Starters

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

  • UC Santa Barbara at Florida Gulf Coast – 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Tonight. We are not even sure if this is formally part of the Marathon, but what better way to whet your appetite than by watching Alan Williams take on Dunk City? After logging 22 points and 13 rebounds against Kansas on Friday, UC Santa Barbara’s 6’8’’ center gets a shot at the Atlantic Sun favorites in Fort Myers – the first of two contests between the Gauchos and Eagles this season. Florida Gulf Coast’s Brett Comer is among the better point guards in the country, while his running mate, Bernard Thompson, is a conference Player of the Year candidate. Both squads could wind up dancing in March.
  • Georgia State at #14 Iowa State – 9:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Tonight. Certain to be one of the most popular appetizers on the menu, this game features a loaded underdog taking on a top-15 team in one of college basketball’s best environments. The Cyclones better be prepared for Georgia State, which boasts a pair of Bluegrass State transfers – Ryan Harrow (Kentucky) and Kevin Ware (Louisville) – and arguably the Sun Belt’s best player, guard R.J. Hunter (18.3 PPG in 2013-14). Hilton Coliseum will be rocking, as always, but perhaps maybe its magic will work in the Panthers favor, instead of the other way of around.
  • #22 SMU at #13 Gonzaga – 11:00 PM ET, ESPN, Tonight. This is one of those fill-you-up-before-the-entrée type items, a hearty match-up of Top 25 units with high expectations. SMU took a serious hit when forward Markus Kennedy, the team’s best player, was ruled academically ineligible for the first semester, so Gonzaga is in great position playing at home. Still, even though Mark Few’s bunch looked utterly dominant in its opener against Sacramento State (with newcomers Byron Wesley, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis combining for 44 points), the Bulldogs must come out and execute against Larry Brown’s defensively-tough Mustangs. Kevin Pangos vs. Nic Moore is one of the best point guard match-ups of the young season.

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O26 Intrigue: Eight Storylines on Opening Weekend…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine & Adam Stillman on November 14th, 2014

Basketball is nearly upon us! Here are eight O26 storylines to keep an eye on during the opening weekend of hoops:

Does VCU seize the opportunity against Tennessee without Briante Weber?

VCU will have to attack Tennessee without Briante Weber. (Daniel Sangjib Min / Times Dispatch)

VCU will have to attack Tennessee without Briante Weber. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Times Dispatch)

The Rams should be one of the better teams in the country this season, and they will have several marquee opportunities to prove it before the calendar flips to 2015 – opportunities not only to justify their top-15 ranking, but also to better position themselves come Selection Sunday. The first of those chances will be tonight against Tennessee in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis. The fact that the Vols, a decent-but-not great SEC squad, have serious questions at point guard would normally be good news for VCU and its disruptive pressure defense. But without Briante Weber in the lineup – the senior guard is serving a one-game suspension – the Rams are down their peskiest defender and a guy who’s on track to break the NCAA’s all-time steals record. HAVOC will press on (literally), but keep an eye on whether Weber’s absence enables Tennessee to limit its turnovers, make this more of a half-court game, and minimize VCU’s easy transition buckets. The last thing Shaka Smart’s group wants is to drop a nationally-televised opener (6:30 PM ET, CBSSN) against a beatable power-conference opponent. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mountain West Conference Preview

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2014

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and the Pac-12. You can find him on Twitter at @Amurawa.

Top Storylines

San Diego State… And Everyone Else. Last season it was the Aztecs and New Mexico who fought tooth and nail all season long for conference supremacy until it was decided on the final night of the season in San Diego when a late 26-7 run from the Aztecs erased a 16-point Lobo lead and earned the Aztecs an outright conference title. This year, with those Lobos down their only three double-digit scorers from last season, there is no clear-cut contender to the Aztecs’ throne. San Diego State is the only Mountain West team deserving of consideration for being placed among the top 25 teams in the country and, unless somebody else proves their worth, may be the only team going dancing come March. Sure, Steve Fisher’s crew will have plenty of questions to answer along the way, but given the steadiness of this program in recent years, the Aztecs are significant title favorites in this conference.

San Diego State Looks Like A Strong Bet To Repeat As Conference Champion

San Diego State Looks Like A Strong Bet To Repeat As Conference Champion.

As for the “everyone else” part, Boise State, Colorado State and UNLV appear to be the next group of teams in a tier behind the Aztecs. Maybe one of them can separate itself from the pack and challenge the Aztecs, but each of these teams will rely heavily on newcomers to fill in big gaps on their roster. The Broncos will need production from young frontcourt players to replace the nation’s best offensive rebounder. The Rams have four Division I transfers expected to play big roles. And the Rebels? Well, it isn’t all that much of an overstatement to say that everyone is new.

Taking Care of Non-Conference Business. Last year, the conference got in trouble early when Boise State, UNLV, Colorado State, Fresno State, Nevada and Wyoming all struggled mightily in non-conference play, coming out of November and December with little or nothing to show for their efforts. If this conference hopes to turn things around this season and get more than just the Aztecs and maybe one other team into the Big Dance, they need to score quality wins early in the season. Keep an eye on these games, for instance: Read the rest of this entry »

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The 25 Non-Conference Pac-12 Games to Watch

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2014

Hey look! Basketball! Well, maybe don’t look all that quickly because, frankly, unless you’re a die-hard, there isn’t a game that a Pac-12 team plays this weekend that is worth a whole heck of a lot. Oh, we’ll still be watching, of course, because, well, we’ve been waiting to see these teams for months now. But, if you’re a busy person and a discriminating basketball fan, don’t burn your precious basketball-watching minutes right away this season. Instead, put these 25 non-conference games on your calendar and you’ll get a chance to check out every team in this league from the comfort of your own couch. Is 25 games not enough for you? Don’t worry, I’m not even including the games in one of the many early-season exempt tournaments (11 of the 12 conference teams compete in such a tournament this season) in this list; more on those later. Here’s your list of the best games involving Pac-12 teams over the next couple of months.

  • 11/18 Utah @ San Diego State (ESPN) – Part of the behemoth in Bristol’s 24 hours of hoops kickoff, this is on the very short list of best Pac-12 non-conference games of the year. We’ll get an early look at the Utes going on the road to face a Top 25-caliber team with a chance to breathlessly overreact to whatever happens there on Tuesday afternoon.
The Show - And The Aztecs - Will Test Utah Early

The Show – And The Aztecs – Will Test Utah Early

  • 11/22 Colorado @ Wyoming (ESPN3) – The only game on this list that you won’t see on national television, this will not only represent a chance to check out the status of the Buffaloes’ point guard situation, but a look at Wyoming’s Larry Nance on his way back from a torn ACL.
  • 11/26 California @ Fresno State (CBSSN) – It’s not the sexiest looking game, but an early road game against an improving intrastate foe is a game the Golden Bears could lose if they aren’t locked in early for Cuonzo Martin.
  • 11/30 USC @ New Mexico (CBSSN) – The Trojans visiting one of the toughest places to play in the sport on Thanksgiving Sunday; sounds fun to me. The Lobos will be breaking in new players almost everywhere, though, so Andy Enfield’s young bunch has at least a puncher’s chance.

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Ranking the AAC Non-Conference Schedules: Part II

Posted by mlemaire on November 11th, 2014

Yesterday the microsite rolled out the first half of our AAC non-conference schedule rankings, listing teams from #11 to #6 based on the competitiveness of their schedules. Today’s rankings of the top five are a bit more interesting, primarily because a lot of these games are projected to have NCAA Tournament implications and are therefore deserving of a closer look. Here are the top five non-conference schedules in the conference, starting from the easiest to the hardest:

  • #5 Cincinnati: We have frequently used this space to blast Cincinnati for its soft non-conference schedule and it seems like Mick Cronin is finally listening. Last season’s slate featured four games against teams ranked #300 or lower, whereas this season only Eastern Illinois comes into the season lower than that mark, and the rest of the Bearcats’ schedule should give the team ample opportunities to pile up resume-enhancing wins. The Emerald Coast Classic could result in a match-up with Creighton or Mississippi, and the team also welcomes San Diego State and VCU to Fifth Third Arena before the end of 2014. And even though the game will be played in February this season, don’t forget about the Crosstown Classic against Xavier either. If the Bearcats can win a couple of those games and follow that up with double-digit victories in the conference, it will be tough to keep Cincinnati out of the NCAA Tournament.

    Josh Pastner is now 0-13 Against Ranked Opponents

    Josh Pastner’s team will have an early chance to answer how good they can be. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • #4 Memphis: No team in the conference plays a more difficult season opener than the Tigers, which are headed to South Dakota for a prime-time showdown with Wichita State. That’s a great opportunity, but aside from the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational in which Memphis will play Baylor and perhaps Illinois, the non-conference schedule looks comparable to last season’s 151st-best slate in the country. The only other game worth paying attention to is the December 13 return game home date with Oklahoma State. If Memphis is on the bubble in February, it will be worth remembering that the Tigers opted to play Prairie View A&M and Western Illinois as part of their non-conference schedule this season.

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Top of the O26 Class: Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, WAC & WCC

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 10th, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Western region of the U.S: Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, Western Athletic Conference, West Coast Conference. Previous installments include conferences from the Northeast region, Midwest region, Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region and the Southern region.

Top Units

Mountain West

Guys like wing Dwayne Polee II need to step up offensively for the Aztecs. (Ben Margot — AP)

Guys like wing Dwayne Polee II will need to step up offensively for San Diego State. (Ben Margot/AP)

  • San Diego State – 2013-14 record: 31-5 (16-2). San Diego State will be very good defensively, that much we know, but whether it can replace do-everything guard Xavier Thames (17.6 PPG, 120.0 ORtg) is the most pressing concern this time around. The Aztecs – which have ranked among the top-20 nationally in defensive efficiency in three of the last four seasons – return several long-armed stoppers like Dwayne Polee II and 6’10’’ center Skyler Spencer (best block percentage in the league) while adding a highly-touted Arizona transfer in 6’9’’ Angelo Chol. But Thames was the only consistent offensive threat last year and points were hard to come by when he struggled, so the ability of guys like Polee and guard Winston Shepard to thrive in more prominent scoring roles is crucial. Steve Fisher’s club should win the Mountain West considering the talent he has on hand (five-star forward Malik Pope also joins the mix), but the team’s offensive development, especially in the backcourt, will determine its ultimate national stature.

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