Conference Primers: #20 – Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on October 25th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

East

  1. Western Kentucky (20-7) (14-4)
  2. Florida Atlantic (21-10) (12-6)
  3. South Alabama (15-13) (9-9)
  4. Middle Tennessee St. (14-15) (9-9)
  5. Troy (11-18) (7-11)
  6. Florida International (11-18) (6-12)

West

  1. Louisiana-Monroe (19-9) (13-5)
  2. New Orleans (18-12) (11-7)
  3. Arkansas-Little Rock (16-13) (10-8)
  4. North Texas (14-15) (8-10)
  5. Arkansas St. (12-17) (7-11)
  6. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-18) (6-12)
  7. Denver (8-20) (4-14)

WYN2K. The Sun Belt is a league that has seen better days in the eyes of the basketball world. In the 80s and early 90s, the conference was a top ten league that regularly sent multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament (10 times from 1980-95), peaking at four bids in 1986. Since 1995, however, the league has been exclusively a one-bid conference, as its corresponding seed average has dropped from a #10.9 (1985 to present), to a #12.6 (1995 to present), to a #13.8 seed in the last five years. In other words, the Sun Belt is trending downward (and league officials know it). What was once a proud mid-major league is now clearly a low-major (albeit near the top of that heap), despite its relatively robust 167-208 (.445) record against OOC opponents in the last three years. Some of this may be attributable to a loss of league identity, as the conference expanded away from its mid-South roots and has swelled to thirteen schools that span three time zones in locations that often have very little in common with each other (i.e., Boca Raton, FL, Bowling Green, KY, and Denver, CO).

Predicted Champion. Western Kentucky (#13 seed NCAA). Darrin Horn’s Hilltoppers have been a bit of a hard luck team over the past few seasons, averaging 20.5 wins over his four year tenure and winning one regular season championship, but having no NCAA appearances to show for it. Guards Courtney Lee, Tyrone Brazelton and Ty Rogers comprise a returning perimeter corps that is among the most experienced and talented in the league, and three other significant contributors return from a 22-11 (12-6) team. If WKU is to slip up, it will probably be because of its sometimes porous defense that has a tendency to give up easy baskets (allowing an eFG% of 52.6% – #272 nationally) and foul a lot (43.2 FTAs given up per game – #284 nationally). We believe this is the year that the Toppers get it done. Check the nasty follow dunk from C-Lee below.

Others Considered. Should WKU falter, the next best teams we see are Louisiana-Monroe and Florida Atlantic. Monroe returns all five starters from an 11-7 team that lost in overtime in the conference finals against North Texas last year. They were nearly unbeatable at home (14-0) and seemed to win all the close games (5-0 in games decided by <6 pts in conference) last year. Because of this, they were considered one of the “luckiest” teams in America last year (#10 via Pomeroy), earning 2.7 wins more than expected by their overall profile. Notwithstanding their luck, we’re just not comfortable picking a team that has nobody taller than 6’8 on their roster. Florida Atlantic is another team that returns substantial experience including the league’s best big man Carlos Monroe, a burly 6’8, 245 lb. beast who shot nearly 60% from the field and pulled down over a quarter (25.8%, #18 nationally) of his team’s defensive boards last year. The Owls also finished strong, winning six of their last seven games and pestering WKU in a tough quarterfinal matchup in the conference tourney before bowing out. New Orleans is also intriguing simply because the Privateers have a new coach in former Cal assistant and Bob Knight disciple Joe Pasternack, but they also have the league’s best player in Bo McCalebb, a Wooden Award candidate who averaged mind-numbing numbers last year (25 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.0 spg). Did we mention that he was the team’s leading rebounder as a 6’0 guard? There are three other starters returning from a 9-9 team that was #4 nationally in 3fg% (41.4%), #5 nationally in stl% (7.1%) and #11 nationally in to% (17.0%). The Privateers shoot well, take care of the ball, and have a fantastic player – if any team was going to make a huge improvement with a new coach, it would be this team. Quick note: last year’s regular season and tourney champs simply lost too much to be considered as a contender this year – South Alabama lost three starters and its head coach, John Pelphrey, while North Texas lost its top two scorers.

Games to Watch. The top of this league should be exciting to watch this year, as there are several excellent players (Courtney Lee, Bo McCalebb, Carlos Monroe) who could singlehandedly influence the conference race. With the unbalanced schedule in this league, New Orleans appears to be the most likely beneficiary (only three games against the other three, two at home).

  • Florida Atlantic @ WKU (01.16.08) & WKU & Florida Atlantic (03.01.08)
  • WKU @ UL-Monroe (01.10.08) & UL-Monroe @ WKU (02.23.08)
  • UL-Monroe @ New Orleans (02.09.08)
  • WKU @ New Orleans (01.23.08)
  • New Orleans @ Florida Atlantic (01.30.08)
  • Sun Belt Championship Game (03.11.08) ESPN2

RPI Booster Games. Given its location (spanning 2000+ miles from Denver to Miami), the Sun Belt takes on a full complement of SEC and Big 12 teams every year. Last year the league was 2-30 (.063) against BCS teams (WKU 70, Georgia 67; Ark-Little Rock 67, Minnesota 66), and there are a similar amount of games scheduled this year. Here are some highlights.

  • Louisiana-Monroe @ Kansas (11.09.07)
  • Florida Atlantic @ Boston College (11.12.07)
  • South Alabama @ Mississippi (11.13.07)
  • New Orleans @ NC State (11.18.07)
  • WKU @ Gonzaga (11.22.07)
  • Nebraska @ WKU (12.05.07)
  • Middle Tennessee St. @ Memphis (12.05.07)
  • Mississippi St. @ South Alabama (12.15.07)
  • WKU @ Southern Illinois (12.22.07)
  • Louisiana-Monroe @ Arkansas (12.29.07)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. We’re a long way removed from the Sun Belt’s glory years, so none this year.

Neat-o Stat. Joe Scott is returning to Colorado to take over as head coach at Denver, just a few clicks down the road from where he revitalized the Air Force program in the early 2000s. What should we make of this guy? Using the Princeton offense that he learned under Pete Carril in the 80s as a player and 90s as an assistant, he successfully built the Air Force Academy into a Mountain West champion and NCAA Tournament team in 2004. So how do we explain how he went back to Princeton in 2005 and orchestrated two (out of three) terrible seasons and an overall record of 18-24 in the Ivy League (2-12 in 2007) during his time there? He has yeoman’s work ahead of him, as Denver ranked in the bottom five teams nationally in defensive efficiency (#330) and four other defensive statistics, as well as in the bottom dozen two-point fg% (42.8%) teams in America. Work on layup drills, perhaps?

64/65-Team Era. The Sun Belt is 11-32 (.256) in the NCAA Tourney during this era, but due to the severe drop in league cachet over the last ten to fifteen years, those numbers are somewhat skewed for present consideration, especially when you consider that the league’s last NCAA victory was in 1995 (#8 WKU defeated #9 Michigan 82-76). Despite ten trips to the second round (most trips: WKU with 4), only one team has broken through to the Sweet 16, Ralph Willard’s #7 Western Kentucky squad in 1993. In fact, that Hilltopper team was an overtime loss away (Florida St. 81, WKU 78) from meeting Rick Pitino’s Kentucky team in the elite eight.

Final Thought. We’d love to be able to say that the Sun Belt contains solid mid-major material at the top, but recent history belies that position as only once in the last four years has a Sun Belt team so much as tested its first round NCAA opponent (2005: Louisville 68, Louisiana-Lafayette 62). The other three years the Sun Belt team got blitzed by an average of 16.7 pts, and we’re not sure we see a way for this league to turn things around. It’s uncertain if there’s been any talk to this effect, but perhaps going the WAC/Mountain West route and drafting a few more teams, only to split into two leagues, is the way to re-focus itself.

Share this story

Conference Primers: #21 – Patriot

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Holy Cross (19-7) (11-3)
  2. Bucknell (19-8) (10-4)
  3. Lehigh (17-12) (8-6)
  4. American (13-16) (7-7)
  5. Colgate (12-15) (7-7)
  6. Army (12-16) (6-8)
  7. Navy (9-19) (4-10)
  8. Lafayette (6-23) (3-11)

WYN2K. The story of the Patriot League this season, like many other low-major leagues, is that the big dogs are suddenly vulnerable. Holy Cross and Bucknell have combined for six of the last seven Patriot League championships, but with a mass of graduations and injuries between the two, the gap between themselves and the rest of the league is closing. The question is whether the gap in talent returning has closed enough to where we can make a good faith argument that another team will win the Patriot this year. Sadly, we can’t.

Predicted Champion. Holy Cross (#14 seed NCAA). Ralph Willard’s team lost its entire starting backcourt of conference POY Keith Simmons and DPOY Torey Thomas, but guards at the low major level are easier to replace than bigs, and former 2005 ROY Pat Doherty should smoothly take over the reins of the Crusaders (if he can stay healthy). Six other players return from a 13-1 team, but the most intriguing is 6’11 center Tim Clifford. Schools at this level simply do not have the luxury of skilled size, yet Clifford (#42 block% nationally) has shown that he can anchor the post for one of the nation’s most efficient defenses (#5 in defEff and #1 in stl% nationally). The Crusaders have gone 44-1 over the last three seasons in the Patriot League against ABB (anyone but Bucknell), so there is also a psychological advantage here that shouldn’t be understated.

Others Considered. As much as we really enjoy watching Bucknell play in the NCAAs, we fear that their personnel losses are simply too much to justify picking the Bison to win the league this year. Bucknell was already losing three main cogs from its 2005/2006 NCAA squads (Chris McNaughton, Donald Brown & Abe Badmus) before it got news that incumbent forward Darren Mastropaolo tore his ACL over the summer and will likely miss this season as well (all three inside players from the nations #1 offReb% team are now gone). That leaves guard John Griffin as the team’s sole returning starter with a group of talented reserves ready to step up. While we expect Bucknell to take a bit of a step back this year, we really don’t see another team in the Patriot ready to vault into the Bison’s position as a member of the Big Two. If we have to choose one, Lehigh is probably the most viable candidate. The Mountain Hawks return several starters from a 7-7 squad, but their coach Billy Taylor jumped to Ball St. in the wake of the Ronny Thompson fiasco. One knock against this team is that, in a league filled with three-point shooters, Lehigh defends against the three like a sieve (in other words, teams shot 39.2% from three against them last year – #318 nationally). Another team we considered is Colgate, who returns most of its minutes except for leading scorer Jon Simon, but they have a tendency to underachieve (20 wins in two years) and we don’t expect that to change substantially this season.

Games to Watch. Bucknell and Holy Cross are must-watches for this league. They will probably meet three times again this season.

  • Bucknell @ Holy Cross (01.19.08) & Holy Cross @ Bucknell (02.16.08)
  • Patriot League Championship Game (03.14.08) ESPN2

RPI Booster Games. This is the first league we’ve analyzed this year that pulled a complete oh-fer against BCS opponents last season (0-23). Bucknell came closest to pulling out wins, losing in OT to both Wake Forest and Penn St. (the Bison did beat Xavier 68-67). Nevertheless, this is probably a simple anomaly because this league is good enough to get a few wins against BCS teams most years. Out of only fifteen scheduled this year, here are the best opportunities.

  • Army @ Minnesota (11.10.07)
  • Bucknell @ Villanova (11.18.07)
  • Seton Hall @ Navy (11.23.07)
  • Bucknell @ Wake Forest (12.16.07)
  • Colgate @ Syracuse (12.18.07)
  • Lehigh @ Penn St. (12.31.07)
  • Holy Cross @ Maryland (01.08.08)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. None this year, but if Bucknell and Holy Cross continue to grow their programs, there could be a foreseeable future where both of these teams would have good enough overall resumes to get an NCAA bid.

Neat-o Stat. Just how dominant have Bucknell and Holy Cross been in this league over the past three years? Try 80-4 on for size, with a perfect 28-0 record in 2007 against the other six conference members. Is it any wonder that the other six coaches are cautiously optimistic about their chances this season? Of course, in order to have a chance to win this league, the bottomfeeder group of Army, Colgate, Navy and Lafayette are going to have to do better than finishing in the bottom fifty teams nationally in offensive efficiency (cf. with Bucknell – 140th; Holy Cross – 189th).

64/65-Team Era. The Patriot actually has one of the worst conference histories of this era (2-16, .111), ranking only ahead of the SWAC (.043) and the Northeast (.042) conferences in terms of NCAA Tourney success (and tied with the OVC and Big South). Part of this is due to its seeding, which has averaged #14.9 over the years. Still, in the last five years with the ascendance of Bucknell and Holy Cross, the league has earned an average seed of #13.2, which, not coincidentally, is the period of the most success of the league. The two wins were both orchestrated by Bucknell in magnificent upsets, the 2005 victory over #3 Kansas 64-63 still resonating in the nation’s heartland (in the form of firebillself.com… joking… joking… these are simple jokes we tell…). Enjoy.

Final Thought. As we’ve gone through the low majors we’ve been a little surprised by just how many dominant programs have risen to the top of these leagues. It’s gotten to the point in several conferences where if you don’t see a particular name such as Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Penn/Princeton (Ivy), Winthrop (Big South), Davidson (Southern), or Holy Cross/Bucknell, etc., then something went seriously wrong. By pure coincidence, Holy Cross and Bucknell are the two Patriot League schools that spent the most money on its hoops programs in 2006 (h/t to Mid-Majority).

Share this story

Conference Primers: #22 – Ivy

Posted by rtmsf on October 22nd, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Penn (20-10) (11-3)
  2. Yale (17-11) (10-4)
  3. Cornell (17-10) (9-5)
  4. Columbia (14-14) (7-7)
  5. Brown (15-13) (7-7)
  6. Harvard (10-19) (5-9)
  7. Princeton (9-18) (4-10)
  8. Dartmouth (6-19) (3-11)

WYN2K. For possibly the first time in two decades, the Ivy League basketball championship is wide open. The twin towers of power – Penn and Princeton – have held the Ivy title on one of their campuses each of the last twenty seasons. This year, however, Princeton will be recovering from the Joe Scott disaster (18-24 in three seasons culminating in an atrocious 2-12 debacle last year), while Penn will have to deal with the loss of the core group that won three straight Ivy championships. Penn has enough returning to make another run at the title, but don’t expect another 13-1 blitzkrieg through the league, as several other contenders will make their own push toward an NCAA bid.

Predicted Champion. Penn (#14 seed NCAA). Ok, ok, so we’re too chicken to pick anybody else here. We know that on paper there are other Ivy schools with more returning talent (ahem, Yale), but consider the weight of history that Penn has behind it – 5 of the last 6 titles… 7 of the last 9… 10 of the last 15. Every other champion during that time was Princeton. With the Tigers almost completely out of the picture, how can we not make our pick for Penn? Despite losing two-time Ivy POY Ibrahim Jabber and Mark Zoller, the Quakers still have the most depth of any team in the league to go along with the best home court advantage at the Palestra. This year’s squad will be led by Brian Grandieri and Justin Reilly, the latter of whom showed some decent post skills during the NCAA Tourney loss to Texas A&M last year. Sorry, Ivy faithful, but we just can’t pick against Penn until someone outside of Princeton knocks them off their perch.

Others Considered. Should Penn crash and burn this year, Princeton assuredly will not be the beneficiary, which means that a team not used to winning this title will be doing so for the first time in a generation. We like Yale as next in line. The Bulldogs return four starters plus their top two reserves, including prohibitive POY favorite Eric Flato, a do-it-all guard who nailed 71 treys last season. The only reason to lend a skeptic’s glance toward Yale is their maddening tendency to lose “shoulda” games, such as when they dropped a home game vs. Columbia immediately prior to a big showdown at Penn last year, effectively ending their conference title hopes. Cornell is another team that appears ready to make the leap on paper, but simply hasn’t been able to get past the monolith in Philly. Coach Steve Donahue is a tidy 0-14 in his career vs. the Quakers, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in winning a conference race that depends solely on regular season performance. Still, the Big Red, who was the last non-P&P team to make the NCAA Tourney back in 1988, has a nice set of guards returning (Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale) along with the 2006 ROY Adam Gore (redshirted last year) and USC transfer Collin Robinson.

Games to Watch. Since the Ivy League decides its champion via round-robin and not a conference tournament, there are a few key home-and-homes to watch this season.

  • Cornell @ Yale (02.02.08) & Yale @ Cornell (02.22.08)
  • Yale @ Penn (02.16.08) & Penn @ Yale (02.29.08)
  • Penn @ Cornell (02.09.08) & Cornell @ Penn (03.07.08)

RPI Booster Games. Last year the Ivy League went 2-17 against BCS schools, but surprisingly, middle-of-the-packers Cornell (defeated Northwestern 64-61) and Brown (defeated Providence 51-41) were the two winners. Penn, on the other hand, was 0-5 – go figure. There are 23 games on the slate this year, and here are a few highlights.

  • Yale @ Stanford (11.20.07)
  • Virginia @ Penn (11.23.07)
  • Brown @ Northwestern (11.24.07)
  • Michigan @ Harvard (12.01.07)
  • Cornell @ Syracuse (12.20.07)
  • Penn @ Miami (FL) (01.02.08)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Zippo.

Neat-o Stat. With the hiring of Tommy Amaker at Harvard and Sydney Johnson at Princeton, six of the eight head coaches in the Ivy League are now black. Unthinkable a generation ago, this means that the Ivy has a higher percentage of black head honchos (75%) than all but the two historically black D1 conferences, the SWAC and MEAC. We’re not sure if that will necessarily translate to more wins at those two schools, but it can’t be a bad thing in terms of inspring qualified minority hiring practices at other schools (ed. note – we guess that assumes Amaker is qualified. Apologies).

64/65-Team Era. The Ivy League has gone 3-23 (.115) over the era, with all three wins concentrated in the mid- to late-90s. The Ivy tends to receive a favorable seed from the NCAA committee, averaging a #12.8 over this period, which equates to an expected value of around seven wins. This shows that the league has really underperformed compared with its seed over the years. Of the three wins, two belong to Princeton (1996 – #13 Princeton 43, #4 UCLA 41; 1998 – #5 Princeton 69, #12 UNLV 57) and one to Penn (1994 – #11 Penn 90, #6 Nebraska 80). With that said, the league’s NCAA representative (well, Penn, really) has in recent years consistently played its first round opponent tough before ultimately succumbing to superior talent.

  • 2003 – #11 Penn down four to #6 Oklahoma St. with 2:25 remaining
  • 2006 – #15 Penn down one to #2 Texas with 6 mins left
  • 2007 – #14 Penn tied with #3 Texas A&M with 11 minutes to go

Nothing says thrilling like Gus Johnson, so we’ll leave you his call of 1996 Princeton-UCLA.

Final Thought. We actually look at this year’s Ivy a little bit like we look at the Big South. You have one program (Penn and Winthrop, respectively) that has clearly been the class of the league for the better part of a decade going through some serious changes, and you have a smattering of challengers ready to stake their claims on the league crown. The problem in both cases is more psychological than physical – can the likes of Yale and Cornell overcome the mental hurdles that Penn has constructed for them over the years by winning a key game in late February on the road when it really counts? It should make for an interesting winter in our nation’s smartest league, that’s for sure.

Share this story

Breaking Down the Preseason Mags… pt. 3

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2007

A month ago we gave you our reviews of the Athlon and Lindy’s preseason mags.

We’ve been busy plugging away at the conference previews, but in the interim, a few more mags have hit the shelves. So here’s the third installment of our continuing series of reviews of the preseason magazines.

Next Up: Sporting News/Street & Smith’s.

Note: Yes, TSN and S&S, two of the oldest and most respected preview issues, have joined forces this year on their college basketball preview. It remains to be seen whether this is a good idea.

TSN / S&S Cover 08

I. Covers (5 pts) - are they cool? inclusive?

  • 12 regional covers hitting only the BCS conferences. Definitely a major conference bias here.
  • Coolest Cover – see above – one thing we really like is that most of the covers are full-color action shots. The Roy Hibbert (getting serviced by Vandy’s Ross Neltner?) and Mario Chalmers shots are our favs after Richard Hendrix above. Great cover.
  • Oops. The Athlon, Lindy’s and TSN issues all use the exact same action shot for Brook Lopez of Stanford on their Pac-10 cover. Unfortunately for Cardinal fans, Lopez is not reaching for a textbook.
  • Total Points = 4

II. Ease of Use (5 pts) – how hard is it to find confs/teams?

  • Not a fan of their setup here. They divide the conferences into high, mid, and low-major categories, then list them alphabetically within each section. Quick – is the Big West a mid-major or low-major league? The MAC? How about the Southern Conference? TSN considers the MAC a high major (???) and the others as mid-majors, which means we were flipping all over the place to find these leagues. Difficult navigation.
  • Within the league, they then list each team by predicted order of finish. Typical fare here.
  • Standard format otherwise – roundup, features, analysis of teams, recruiting, stats and schedules in that order.
  • Total Points = 2.5

III. Roundup (10 pts) – every mag has one – tell us something new!

  • The Late, Late Show is a short article explaining the basis behind TSN’s pick of UCLA as the #1 team in America.
  • Decourcy’s Directives are short narratives on the following topics: Coach Calipari’s calculations; Don’t Cry for Duke; One-and-Outs to Watch; and, Recipe for a Championship. The only interesting information here is in the Recipe section, which explains that most national champions for the last 20 yrs have had at least one NBA-caliber big man and guard on their roster (exceptions: MSU-2000; Arkansas-1994; Syracuse-2003).
  • TSN also provides three teams of All-Americans, led by seven sophomores and two freshmen among the fifteen. We like that they took some chances, going with Eric Gordon (Indiana) and Chase Budinger (Arizona) on the first team over some of the better-known names.
  • There is also a Top 25 with a couple of sentences describing each team’s strengths, but it is notable that TSN doesn’t bother with predicting the NCAA field anywhere within the magazine.
  • There is one page devoted to listing the Top 100 freshmen, but rather than listing them #1-#100, they made a confounding decision to order them geographically (all-east, all-south, etc.) and then alphabetically. There’s no way to intelligently distinguish OJ Mayo (all-east) from Edwin Rios (all-south).
  • Another page lists transfers eligible this season and next, but again they’re not ranked in any discernible manner. This page also lists all the coaching changes from the offseason.
  • Overall, this section is incredibly weak compared to the other previewed magazines, and especially considering that TSN and S&S were once considered the bibles of this genre. We literally learned nothing new in this section.
  • Total Points = 3

IV. Features (15 pts) – give us some insightful and unique storylines.

  • Features – what features? There is only one feature article, which if we said was shocking would be severely understating our sentiment. So surely that one article has something to do with this season, right? Nah. Try Whatever Happened To… Teddy Dupay, JR Van Hoose and Dane Fife, three (white) players who were HS stars ten years ago but didn’t ultimately make it to the League. Don’t get us wrong, we actually appreciate the concept of an article like this. The problem is that it’s the only feature article TSN felt necessary to give us in the entire magazine. That’s beyond unacceptable, especially when you consider the cache of writers that TSN has at its disposal.
  • Cheerleaders. Ok, we enjoy a photo collage of college cheerleaders as much as the next guy, but the only other “feature” that TSN insults us with offers us is a five-page spread of various gals in tricky positions. Again, this just seem so beneath TSN and S&S to pull out the cheerleader photo section to try to increase sales. But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that they just don’t care anymore. Good grief – they even put the Duke cheerleaders in the spread (Doherty was right)!!
  • FWIW, the Texas gal on p. 21 is absolutely scorching hot, with nods to Miss UCLA and Miss Florida on p.19. Surprisingly, we found Miss Kentucky (p.20) to be one of the fugliest of the group, along with Miss Hawaii (p.19). And Miss Wichita St. (p.18) can bend in ways that aren’t quite believable.
  • Total Points = 3

V. Predictions (20 pts) – how safe are their picks? do they take any chances? are they biased toward the big boys?

  • TSN’s Top 25 is pretty standard issue big conference fodder. They do put Memphis at #2, Gonzaga at #12 and Xavier at #25, but every other team is a BCS school. Since there are no NCAA predictions, we can only assume their top 4 is their predicted F4, which would mean UCLA, Memphis, UNC and Kansas are their choices.
  • Big Conference Bias. Assuming top 16 = Sweet 16, then Gonzaga and Memphis are the only exceptions. As for the Top 25, here’s the conference breakdown – Pac-10 (5), Big 12 (4), Big East (4), ACC (3), SEC (3), Big 10 (3), CUSA (1), WCC (1), A10 (1).
  • Surprises. Some teams that are getting some preseason pub that TSN doesn’t think much of include: Syracuse (10th in the Big East, which presumably would mean not an NCAA team); UConn (7th); USC (7th in Pac-10) & Vanderbilt (5th in SEC East). On the flip side, teams that TSN values more than others include: Georgia (3d in SEC East); Penn St. (4th in Big 10) & NC State (3d in ACC).
  • Boldest Prediction. Not much in the way of excessively bold predictions, but we believe that a lot of these prognosticators are going to regret giving a 5-11 ACC team (NC State) so much preseason hype this year.
  • We’re really annoyed that TSN doesn’t give us a field of 65, at minimum.
  • Total Points = 12

VI. Conference Pages (5 pts) – as a primer for the conference, how much can we learn here?

  • High Majors. The twelve conferences TSN designates as high majors each gets a full page primer, and there’s a lot to like here. The predicted order of finish uses a cool feature with arrows that shows how the team is trending this year – up, down, or steady. There’s a five man all-conference team, a short narrative breakdown of the league, and the most inclusive list of superlatives we’ve yet seen (15-20 different superlatives). There is also a third of the page devoted to ranking the recruiting classes within the conference and short analyses of each incoming player.
  • Mid Majors. TSN anoints only six leagues as mid-major leagues, and each of these leagues gets a half-page of analysis, including the predicted order of finish, a short narrative, an all-conference team, recruiting rankings and three superlatives.
  • Low Majors. The remaining conferences receive one page each, nearly the same as the mid-majors with the exception that the narrative is really just a paragraph wrapup.
  • Total Points = 5

VII. Team Pages (20 pts) – how in-depth is the analysis? where does it come from? is it timely and insightful given this year’s squad or is it just a rundown of last year’s achievements?

  • Roughly the top 2/3 of the high major teams get a full page of analysis from TSN; the remainder get a half page. Again, there’s a lot to like here – the writing is solid, giving decent insight into the strengths and weaknesses of each team without merely another rundown of each player and his stats. There is also a section on power ratings by five categories, a five-year wins trend, an impact rookie blurb and a brief but useful team statistics table.
  • The mid-major conference projected champions get the same treatment as the lower third teams of the high majors – a half-page with much of the same information above. The remainder of mid-major teams simply get the one-paragraph rundown treatment.
  • The low-majors all get a single paragraph, whether they’re the projected champion or not.
  • For the top twelve conferences, the analysis is the best we’ve seen this year thus far. The writers clearly know these teams and do a good job at breaking down what to watch for this season. The remaining leagues get short shrift, but those fans are not the target audience.
  • Total Points = 16

VIII. Recruiting (5 pts) – we want to know who the top players are coming into college bball, where they’re going and who to watch for next year.

  • As mentioned above, each major conference page has a substantial section on recruits for each school and rankings within each league.
  • See above for our issue with their list of the top 100 incoming players.
  • There is no listing of the best incoming recruiting classes nationally anywhere in the magazine, which is incomprehensible to us.
  • Once upon a time, S&S was the best place to get recruiting information, but that time again seems to have passed. They have four pages of names of players without ranking any of them outside of their Boys All-America Team (top 20). It’s nice they give a paragraph describing the skill set of each of those twenty players, but there’s just no way to compare players outside of that grouping.
  • With that said, we continue to enjoy the All-Metro Teams of twenty or so HS basketball hotbeds around the country. It gives us something to look for in our local area.
  • We also enjoy that TSN lists the top 25 HS teams for 2007-08.
  • This magazine has more information on high school prospects than any other we’ve seen, and yet they muff it by not presenting the information in a way most people would want to see it. Lists are fine, but they have to be useful for comparison.
  • Total Points = 4

IX. Title IX Guilt (aka Chick Ball) (5 pts) – the less the better…

  • The women’s preview is a Top 25 with four pages of analysis, but thankfully they stuck it in the back of the magazine.
  • Where they really go wrong is by wasting five more pages in the back on girls’ HS All-Americans and a HS top 20. We cannot believe that anyone would buy this magazine to get this information.
  • Total Points = 2

X. Intangibles (15 pts) – what’s good and bad about the magazine as a whole?

  • This magazine is trying to be everything to everyone. You can easily tell which parts were the expertise of TSN and which were the responsibility of S&S, and as such, the magazine seems random and incomplete in parts. For example, in addition to the prep information in the back, the magazine also gives us a full page on D2, D3 and NAIA basketball (with top 10s and All-Americans). And if that’s not enough, it also has a juco section, complete with a Top 10 and an article explaining why juco talent is getting deeper.
  • There is also a full page of individual and team stats for D1, D2, D3 and NAIA, plus two pages of women’s stats. Wouldn’t it have made a lot more sense to give us six pages of D1 stats instead? Are a substantial number of NAIA fans really buying this magazine?
  • Schedules. By virtue of its release date, TSN has most every team’s schedules in complete form at the very back of the magazine. The back page also has a nice roundup of all the in-season tourneys and conference tournament information.
  • The writing of this magazine is better than Lindy’s and Athlon, but the only writing actually performed is in the conference and team previews. It was very disappointing there weren’t more features at the front.
  • Total Points = 10

RTC Grade for Sporting News/Street & Smith’s = 61.5 pts

Basis: We have to say that we were really disappointed with this magazine, largely because when we were growing up, the TSN and S&S previews were must-reads in our house. Wow, how the mighty have fallen. How can you not have feature articles or build an NCAA field? How can you not rank-order recruits? How can you add a cheerleader section and spend page after page giving us NAIA stats? At this point, and we never thought we’d say this, the TSN magazine is definitely worse than Lindy’s and no better than Athlon. This would have been unheard of a few short years ago. The only value of this magazine is in the quality of the writing of the analyses for the high major conferences and teams – that is the one (and only) area where TSN trumps the other two. What a disappointment.


Grading Scale:

  • 90-100 pts - exceptional quality in all areas – must buy and keep on-hand all season!
  • 80-89 pts - very good quality mag – worthy of purchasing and reading cover-to-cover
  • 70-79 pts - average, run of the mill magazine – some value in certain areas but weak in others – tough call as to whether to purchase it
  • 60-69 pts - magazine on the weaker side, but may still have some positive attributes – probably not worth the money, though
  • 0-59 pts - such a low quality magazine that it’s not worth any more than the five minutes you thumbed through it at the store
Share this story

Consensus Conference Picks – #31-#23

Posted by rtmsf on October 19th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Every year, all the preview magazines, bloggers, media pundits and the like make myriad predictions about conferences, all-americans, bracketology, etc., but come March, very few of them ever own up to those prognoses. Usually that’s because they were wrong about nearly everything. So we’re going to try to provide a modicum of accountability here. The idea is that we’ll post the predictions of the varoius media outlets now with the intent to revisit them next spring.

And if you never hear about this again, you’ll know that our predictions were waaaaaay off. :-)

So for starters, we’re going to post consensus conference predictions for the leagues we rated #31 through #24. We’ll show you every media outlet’s pick for conference winner in addition to the school that got the most picks (if there is one). If we’re missing anyone, please notify us so we can add them as well. Our picks are below in red.

#31-#23 Conf Picks

As you can see, we agree with the consensus pick in five of the nine leagues we’ve reviewed so far – NEC, A-Sun, OVC (wow, Austin Peay has a lot to live up to - unanimous!), Big South and the MAAC. We don’t understand the Grambling pick (we have them 3d) nor the Hampton pick (4th). The BU pick in the America East makes sense to us (2d in our prediction) and the Southland is a three-way tie, with understandable choices of UT-Arlington and Texas A&M-CC.

We’ll update this accordingly as we complete another group of leagues for the season preview.

Share this story

Conference Primers: #23 – Metro Atlantic

Posted by rtmsf on October 19th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Loyola (MD) (19-9) (14-4)
  2. Siena (18-9) (13-5)
  3. Marist  (16-11) (12-6)
  4. Manhattan (16-12) (11-7)
  5. Niagara (13-13) (9-9)
  6. Rider  (11-16) (8-10)
  7. Fairfield (10-18) (8-10)
  8. Iona (8-21) (6-12)
  9. St. Peter’s (7-21) (5-13)
  10. Canisius (5-23) (4-14)

 MAAC Logo

WYN2K.  The Metro Atlantic, or the MAAC in local parlance, is a league that usually has a handful of good teams that can consistently compete with the mid-majors and beat the low-majors, but just doesn’t have the horses to run with the high majors.  As a case in point, the league went 1-19 against BCS teams last year (Marist 63, Minnesota 56), but still managed to have one of the best low-major records against nonconference opponents over the last three years (122-174, .412).  This is also exhibited by the league’s average seeding (#13.8) in the NCAA Tournament over the last decade – only two times has the MAAC received a #16 seed (2001 – Siena; 2007 – Niagara), and both times it won the PiG as a result.  As such, the league is typically competitive at the top, and this year is no different as we can foresee as many as five teams making a run at the title. 

Predicted Champion.  Loyola (MD) (#15 seed NCAA).  We’re a bit of a sucker for a great turnaround story, and none this year could possibly be better than Loyola.  In 2004 the Greyhounds endured a 1-27 season, tied for the fewest victories in D1.  Enter Jim Patsos, a smooth-talking optimist who guided Loyola to 6 wins, then 15 wins, then 18 wins last season as he has re-energized the program.  Now in his fourth year, the Greyhounds are poised to win the MAAC and earn an NCAA bid, led by former transfers such as Gerald Brown (22.2 ppg – #8 nationally) from Providence, Hassan Fofana (a 6’10 bruiser) from Maryland and Joe Miles (an instant-offense guy) from Marshall.  With four returning starters from a 12-6 conference record last year, we think that Loyola is the team to beat in the MAAC this year. 

Others ConsideredSiena is another school that returns a slew of talent from a 12-6 team, including Kenny Hasbrouck, the 2006 MAAC ROY and an all-league selection last year.  The Saints won nine of their last ten games last year before losing to Niagara in the MAAC title game, but we feel that the loss of big man Michael Haddix gives Loyola the edge here.  It will be a close race in any case.  Last year’s regular season champ Marist returns a good amount of experience and adds some key transfers (including former Syracuse guard Louis McCroskey), but the loss of second-round NBA draft pick point guard Jared Jordan, who led the nation in assists for two years in a row, will be tough to replace.  We also expect Manhattan to make some noise this year, as the Jaspers return seven sophomores from a team that surprised the MAAC by going 10-8 last season.  Niagara also should be mentioned even though it lost four starters from its NCAA team; after all, the Purple Eagles have won two of the last three NCAA bids, and the one starter returning is all-MAAC forward Charron Fisher, who will be assisted by the MAAC conference tourney MVP Tyrone Lewis.  We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention Rider, if for no other reason than they have an NBA prospect named Jason Thompson on the team, the only returning 20/10 player in all of D1 this season. 

Games to Watch.  We’re still in the low-majors, so only one game matters.

  • MAAC Championship Game (03.10.08). ESPN2.

RPI Booster Games.  The MAAC doesn’t play many BCS games in a typical season, and this year is no different with 21 on the slate.  As always, there are a few opportunities to grab a handful of wins against some BCS bottom-feeders in addition to improving the overall profile of the league simply by showing up and taking your medicine.   

  • Siena @ Syracuse (11.12.07)
  • Marist @ Miami (FL) (11.15.07)
  • Stanford @ Siena (11.17.07)
  • Loyola (MD) @ Seton Hall (11.20.07) 
  • NC State @ Rider (11.22.07)
  • Fairfield @ Georgetown (12.01.07)
  • Niagara @ St. John’s (12.15.07)
  • Loyola (MD) @ Illinois (12.28.07)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Once again, for the record, zero.

Neat-o Stat.  Former Pitino assistant Kevin Willard takes over for Jeff Ruland at Iona after the Gaels’ horrendous 2-28 performance last season.  How do you lose that many games?  Well, first, you turn the ball over on more than a quarter (26.1%, 329th nationally) of your possessions; and second, when you manage to hang onto the ball long enough to get to the foul line, you convert at only a 57.7% rate (334th nationally).  Iona lost six conference games by <5 points or in overtime – you think extra possessions and making foul shots might have helped?  

64/65-Team Era.  The MAAC is 5-24 (.172) over this era, which actually accounts for the second-best record among the traditional low-majors (only the Mid-Continent is better), but this is a little misleading because two of those wins were from PiGs.  As we stated above, the league tends to receive a favorable seed (among low-majors), averaging a #13.0 over the entire period.  Still, only three teams have managed to win a true first round game, and one of those was as a surprising #4 seed (1990 – LaSalle and Lionel “L-Train” Simmons over #13 Southern Miss 79-63 – believe it or not, we found a clip of the L-Train in action in 1988 below).  The other two upset victories for the MAAC were in 1995 (#13 Manhattan over #4 Oklahoma 77-67) and 2004 (#12 Manhattan over #5 Florida 75-60).  Seems as if only the Jaspers can pull off the upset from this conference.    

Note:  video cannot be embedded, so double-click on the YouTube logo above to get it to play.

Final Thought.  The MAAC as a whole has seen better days, but really it’s the bottom half of the league that’s keeping it down.  It’s an exaggeration, but it seems as if every year the worst team in America (as judged solely by records and media coverage) comes from the MAAC.  Several years ago it was Loyola, and last year it was Iona.  Part of this probably derives from increased media attention due to its location of schools centered in and around New York.  Nevertheless, the perception of this league is worse than its actual performance.  Still, it has been slipping a smidge over the past couple of years and it needs to put together a strong season this year to earn back some of that respect.   

Share this story

Conference Primers: #24 – Big South

Posted by rtmsf on October 17th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. High Point (18-8) (10-4)
  2. Winthrop (18-9) (10-4)
  3. Coastal Carolina (14-14) (8-6)
  4. VMI (15-11) (8-6)
  5. UNC-Asheville (15-14) (7-7)
  6. Liberty (12-17) (6-8)
  7. Charleston Southern (12-17) (5-9)
  8. Radford (7-22) (3-11)

Big South logo

WYN2K. Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. The Big South has not traditionally been a very good league. The only thing keeping it from the conference dregs along with the likes of the MEAC and Atlantic Sun has been the ascendence of Winthrop (seven of the last nine conference NCAA appearances) as a legitimate mid-major program. During the last three years the Big South has gone 87-171 (.337) against nonconference opponents, but nearly a quarter of those wins (20) belong to the Eagles (including all four conference wins over BCS opponents). With coach Gregg Marshall’s move up the food chain to Wichita St. and the loss of three key starters (not to mention the untimely death of DeAndre Adams in a car accident in May), the Big South championship just might be open to an enterprising suitor no longer cowed by Winthrop basketball.

Predicted Champion. High Point (#16 seed NCAA). We believe that there is too much turnover (eight new players + a new coach) and potential turmoil for Winthrop to hang on to their crown this season, but we also think it will be a very tight race at the top (predicting both teams to finish tied in the regular season, with HP taking the tournament title). High Point returns conference POY Arizona Reid and two other starters to a second-place Big South squad that was 14th in the nation in 3pt% defense last year. More importantly, High Point was the team that played Winthrop the toughest during its 14-0 conference run last year, losing by a single point at home and twelve on the road (no other team had a lower combined margin of -13 points).

Others Considered. Should High Point stumble, we know that Winthrop will be there to pick up the pieces. We also think Coastal Carolina, with new coach Cliff Ellis, could make a run at the conference title. Ellis inherits Jack Leasure, the 2006 conference POY, in addition to Joshua Mack, the 2007 conference ROY, so clearly he has some talent to work with. We’re not ready to jump on the Loyola Marymount VMI bandwagon just yet (101 ppg), but their surprising run to the conference finals and scare of Winthrop (VMI lost 84-81) raised some eyebrows. Reggie Williams alone (28.1 ppg, 53% FG) might be worth the price of admission. UNC-Asheville returns four starters, but six straight losing seasons doesn’t exactly inspire confidence despite the presence of 7’7 mantree Kenny George, who averaged decent numbers (5.5 ppg; 3.5 rpg) in only ten minutes per game.

Games to Watch. One-bid league = one important game.

  • Big South Championship Game (03.08.08). ESPN2.

RPI Booster Games. As we alluded to above, the Big South doesn’t perform very well when facing BCS teams (2-23, .080 in 2006-07). In fact, all four wins against BCS opponents in the last three years have come at the hands of Winthrop (big surprise there) – Mississippi St. (2007), Notre Dame (2007), Marquette (2006), and Providence (2005). Still, there are a few opportunities for Big South teams to win against bottom-feeder BCS teams this year.

  • Coastal Carolina @ Cincinnati (11.16.07)
  • Auburn @ Charleston Southern (11.19.07)
  • VMI @ Ohio St. (11.25.07)
  • Winthrop @ Mississippi (12.13.07)
  • Winthrop @ Miami (FL) (12.29.07)
  • High Point @ Florida (01.02.08)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. None. Winthrop would have trouble getting a bid as an at-large last year had it lost the title game, and nobody is going through this league unbeaten this year.

Neat-o Stat. Gotta be VMI, right? The Keydets set NCAA records for threes made (442), threes attempted (1383), threes per game (13.4) and total steals (490) in a season. Coach Duggar Baucaum‘s philosophy is for his players to take over 100 shots a game (half of which are 3s). All he needs now is a Hank Gathers and a Bo Kimble and he’ll be all set.

64/65-Team Era. The Big South began participating in the NCAA Tournament in 1991, and the league has gone 2-16 (.111) during this period, with one of those wins being the 2003 PiG (UNC-Asheville defeated Texas Southern). The other win, of course, was last year’s #11 Winthrop over #6 Notre Dame 74-64. Part of this is due to seeding, as the league has averaged a 15.2 seed over the era. In fact, the only three times that the league has gotten a seed better than #15 were all Winthrop (2000 – #14, 2005 – #14, 2007 – #11). So what does this mean for a non-Winthrop team such as High Point who might make the NCAAs this year? Probably not much – the last two times another school made it (2003 – UNC-Asheville; 2004 – Liberty), they both got #16 seeds and were blitzed by twenty in the first round. So for now, let’s just enjoy highlights of last year’s upset over the Irish.

Note:  video cannot be embedded, so double-click on the YouTube logo above to get it to play.

Final Thought. This season will be the test to determine whether Winthrop has staying power like its fellow mid-major sister schools Gonzaga and Southern Illinois, to name a couple. Gonzaga survived the loss of its coach and architect Dan Monson without missing a beat, and SIU did the same when Bruce Weber left Chris Lowery at the helm in 2003. Let’s sit back and see what Randy Peele can do.

Share this story

Conference Primers: #25 – America East

Posted by rtmsf on October 16th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Vermont (21-7) (13-3)
  2. Boston U. (18-10) (12-4)
  3. Albany (16-13) (10-6)
  4. Binghamton (14-13) (9-7)
  5. Maryland-Baltimore County (13-16) (8-8)
  6. Maine (9-19) (6-10)
  7. Stony Brook (10-18) (6-10)
  8. Hartford (9-21) (5-11)
  9. New Hampshire (6-21) (3-13)

America East Logo

WYN2K. The Am East has a tendency toward top-heaviness, with a couple of good teams in a given year that are competitive with mid-major and (sometimes) high-major teams while the rest are relegated to the morass of low-major fiefdom. Over the last several years, the three sentinels of America East basketball have been Vermont , Boston U. and Albany, the three of which have won the last six regular season and conference tourney championships of the league (although only once in the same year – Vermont in 2005) . Led by these programs, the conference has gone 119-176 (.403) against nonconference opponents over the last three seasons, which is a clear step up in success from the conferences below it. We expect the same three programs to battle it out for this year’s crown.

Predicted Champion. Vermont (#16 seed NCAA). Choosing UVM here was an extremely close call, as we fully expect BU and Albany to make a push for the league crown as well. Despite the losses of rebounding fiend Chris Holm (#3 in oReb% nationally) and rising star Joe Trapani (transfer to BC), the Catamounts return probable Am East POY Mike Trimboli at the point guard slot. We feel that his heady play, combined with the losses at the other schools will allow Vermont to hang on to the top spot.

Others Considered. BU is rising quickly, led by a quartet of precocious sophomores who surprised the league by finishing 8-8 in the conference last season. The most interesting of these players is Tyler Morris, reigning Am East ROY who also has the distinction of being the HS teammate of Greg Oden and Mike Conley, Jr. See if you can find him in the video below (look very closely for the white kid in green). Two-time defending NCAA entrant Albany must also be dealt with, despite losing Am East POY (twice over) Jamar Wilson. Brent Wilson and Brian Lillis (Am East DPOY) have more than enough support to make another run at the title. A final consideration goes to Binghamton, who hired Georgetown assistant coach Kevin Broadus to bring the Princeton offense to upstate NY. Considering that Binghamton was already one of the most sure-handed offenses in the nation (#9 in oStl%), we think this group will be ready for the transition. It also doesn’t hurt that the 2008 conference tourney will be located in Binghamton. Watch out for the Bearcats as a darkhorse.

Games to Watch. As a one-bid league, only one game will matter to most people.

  • America East Championship Game (03.15.08). ESPN2.

RPI Booster Games. The America East shies away from playing numerous BCS conference teams (18 games scheduled last year; 16 this year), but it makes up for it by playing quite a few winnable games against mid-major teams. For example, last year Albany defeated Utah to go along with the league’s three wins vs. BCS opponents (Vermont 77, BC 63; Binghamton 79, Miami (FL) 74; Stony Brook 59, Penn St. 51). There are several such opportunities this season.

  • Vermont @ George Mason (11.09.07)
  • Vermont @ Virginia (11.11.07)
  • Boston U. @ George Washington (11.14.07)
  • Maryland-BC @ Wichita St. (12.04.07)
  • Albany @ Duke (12.17.07)
  • Boston U. @ UMass (12.29.07)
  • Albany @ Iowa St. (12.30.07)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Zip. Even with Vermont going 15-1 in the league last year and losing to Albany by one point in the conference tourney final, they were relegated to the NIT (losing to Kansas St. 59-57). This year will be a more competitive race, which leaves no opportunity for multiple bids.

Neat-o Stat. We have several today. The Am East is a league where coaches get their starts – names like Jim Calhoun, Rick Pitino, Mike Jarvis, Mike Brey, and Jay Wright all earned their chops in the league before moving onto bigger and better things. Will Binghamton’s Kevin Broadus be the next coaching star from the America East? Also, just call Maryland-Baltimore County’s Brian Hodges the Human Cannon this season – he ranked sixth in the nation in shots attempted, taking 37.4% of his team’s shots while on the floor. Finally, everyone thinks UVM stands for University (of) Ver… Mont, right? Well, no – it actually is latin (Universitas Viridis Montis) for University of the Green Mountains. Go figure.

64/65-Team Era. The America East is 3-23 (.115) over this era, with three first-round victories from 1989 (#14 Siena over #3 Stanford), 1996 (#12 Drexel over #5 Memphis), and 2005 (#13 Vermont over #4 Syracuse). #13 Albany was blitzed last year by #4 Virginia, but in 2006 the Great Danes were leading #1 seed UConn 60-48 with eleven minutes remaining before Marcus Williams took over and finished them off down the stretch (34-9 run by the Huskies). And who can forget the Sorrentine and Coppenrath show vs. Cuse in 2005?


Final Thought. The Am East is one of our favorite low-major leagues. In the few games we see involving these teams, the fans seem to be incredibly rowdy and into the games. The level of basketball as a rule is decidedly below the rim, but teams make up for it in execution and shooting. And how can you not like resident Am East cheerleader (and former UVM coach) Tom Brennan doing studio work for ESPN all winter.

Share this story

Conference Primers: #26 – Southland

Posted by rtmsf on October 11th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

East

  1. Lamar (18-11) (11-5)
  2. Northwestern St. (19-11) (11-5)
  3. McNeese St. (14-15) (8-8)
  4. Nicholls St. (10-19) (7-9)
  5. Southeast Louisiana (9-19) (5-11)
  6. Central Arkansas (7-20) (4-12)

West

  1. Sam Houston St. (20-9) (12-4)
  2. Texas – Arlington (19-9) (11-5)
  3. Texas A&M – Corpus Christi (14-13) (10-6)
  4. Stephen F. Austin (14-15) (8-8)
  5. Texas St. (8-20) (6-10)
  6. Texas – San Antonio (7-23) (3-13)

Southland Logo

WYN2K. On its surface, the Southland appears to be an improving league. Over the last three seasons, the league has won progressively more games against OOC D1 opponents (26/33/41) for an overall record of 100-212 (.321) during this period. Additionally, while the league has been a #16 seed in six of the last eleven NCAA Tourneys, it has earned a higher seed five of the last six years (#14/#15/#16/#15/#14/#15). The #14 seed in 2006 (Northwestern St.) paid off with one of the biggest upsets of that year’s tournament, as the Demons defeated #3 Iowa 64-63 in miraculous fashion (see below). We think that the competitive balance among the top of the league this year will allow the Southland to continue to earn a higher seed than #16.

Predicted Champion. Sam Houston St. (#15 seed NCAA). There are five teams who we figure can win this league, but out of the group, we like SHSU’s experience returning along with POY candidate Ryan Bright. Bright is a stat sheet stuffer extraordinaire – he finished in the top 250 players nationally last year in several categories, including eFG% (183), dReb% (120), blocks% (161) and steals% (178). The Bearkats were poised to challenge Texas A&M-CC last year before a first-round conference tournament upset at the hands of Lamar.

Others Considered. Texas-Arlington is a rising program, returning everyone of consequence from a team that won eight of its last eleven games last year. Still, we’re not completely sold on a team that had a losing record (13-17). Lamar is another intriguing team, as they return four starters and have brought in a couple of juco PGs to battle over that position, but again, they only went 15-17 last year. Texas A&M – Corpus Christi lost nearly everyone from a team that gave Wisconsin a huge scare last year in the NCAAs (Tx A&M-CC was up 25-7 at one point), but the one key player they return (7’0 Chris Daniels) was last season’s conference POY and tournament MVP. Northwestern St. can’t be counted out either, as they always seem to find themselves in the conference mix, having been to five of the last eight Southland title games.

Games to Watch. Again, only one Southland game will be on the national radar.

  • Southland Championship Game (03.16.08). ESPN2.

RPI Booster Games. The Southland hasn’t shied away from scheduling BCS teams, with 34 on the agenda this season. Last year the conference defeated three BCS bottom-dwellers (Texas A&M – CC over South Florida; SE Lousiana over Oregon St. and Penn St.), and there are some similar opportunities this year.

  • Northwestern St. @ Stanford (11.10.07)
  • Texas Tech @ Sam Houston St. (11.14.07)
  • Lamar @ Mississippi (11.16.07)
  • Northwestern St. @ LSU (12.15.07)
  • Mississippi St. @ Texas A&M – CC (12.21.07)
  • Texas A&M – CC @ Auburn (01.02.08)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Slim to none. Had Texas A&M-CC not lost just about everyone, we could have made an argument for their inclusion as an at-large and likely 26-4 team, but that’s not the case. This is a one-bid league.

Neat-o Stat. Nicholls St. apparently believes in stomping on its players’ throats and eviscerating their spleens trial by fire, as its nonconference schedule last year was rated #17 by Pomeroy and it is on target for that level of difficulty again. Last year the Colonels played Mississippi St., Northern Iowa, Washington, Pepperdine, LSU, Texas, Ole Miss, Auburn and Vanderbilt, losing every game. This year NSU will play the likes of Florida St., California, LSU, Alabama, UNC, Minnesota and UNLV – all on the road, all before the new year, and all likely Ls. Hard to build much confidence that way.

64/65-Team Era. The Southland is 4-23 (.148) in the era, but those four wins are a little misleading – two of the wins were from Karl Malone’s Louisiana Tech team in 1985 that went to the Sweet 16, and one of the wins is from the PiG in 2001 (Northwestern St. defeated Winthrop 71-67). The only other first-round win was mentioned above – Northwestern St. over Iowa in 2006.

Karl Malone draft suit

We’ll Take Any Excuse to Bust Out this Pic

Final Thought. The champion of this league is a team to watch next March. Last year, Texas A&M – CC gave Wisconsin all it wanted for 30 minutes. The previous year we know what happened to Iowa at the hands of Northwestern St. And in 2005 #2 Oklahoma St. struggled against #15 SE Louisiana before pulling away to win 63-50. The championship-caliber teams that come out of this league can play, especially against the Big 10 (it seems)!

Share this story

Conference Primers: #27 – Ohio Valley

Posted by rtmsf on October 10th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish.

  1. Austin Peay (20-9) (16-4)
  2. Eastern Kentucky (17-11) (14-6)
  3. Murray St. (17-10) (13-7)
  4. Tennessee Tech (17-13) (12-8)
  5. Southeast Missouri (15-14) (11-9)
  6. Eastern Illinois  (13-14) (10-10)
  7. Samford (12-16) (9-11)
  8. Tennessee St. (10-17) (8-12)
  9. Morehead St. (9-18) (8-12)
  10. Jacksonville St. (10-17) (6-14)
  11. Tennessee-Martin (3-23) (3-17)

OVC Logo

WYN2K.  The OVC is a league that has been incredibly up-and-down depending on a given year.  In the last five years its RPI has hovered between the 19th and 25th best conference, and its Sagarin rating between 16th and 26th.  As a testament to its herky-jerkiness, no league champion has received the same seed as the prior year’s champion for the last eight years (13/15/14/13/12/15/14/16).  But if there is one trend worth noting, it is that the league’s overall profile appears to be dropping.  After a seven-year period from 1998-2004 where the league champion averaged a #12.7 seed, the last three seasons have resulted in an average of #15.0.   This is supported by the reality on the court, as no OVC team has won an NCAA Tourney game since the 80s, when Austin Peay (1987), Murray St. (1988), and Middle Tennessee St. (1989) comprised a three-year string of first round upsets. 

Predicted Champion. Austin Peay (#15 Seed NCAA).  This was the easiest pick of the previews yet.  “Let’s Go Peay” returns all five starters (including OVC POY Drake Reed) from a team that was the regular-season champion in 2007, but who lost on a buzzer beater to Eastern Kentucky in improbable fashion.  6’5 forward and resident muscle man Fernandez Lockett is likely another first-team all-OVC selection.   

Others ConsideredEastern Kentucky was the second-best team in the OVC last season, and Jeff Neubauer’s methodical style (310th in tempo nationally) led to EKU rankings near the top of the nation in effective FG% (18th) and two-point FG% (8th).  In other words, the Colonels consistently take and make good shots.  If any team is ready to supplant Austin Peay again, it’s likely to be EKU.  Murray St. is always in the mix in this conference (20 straight winning seasons), and we expect this year to be no different.  The Racers finished strong in 2007 winning eight of their last ten, and return many of their key players from last season.  Another team that finished very strong last year was Tennessee Tech, who won twelve of their last fifteen games as their coach Mike Sutton continued to arduously work his way back from Guillain-Barre Syndrome.       

Games to Watch.  If they OVC Championship game is anything like last year’s, then it should most definitely be on your March viewing calendar. 

  • OVC Championship Game (03.08.08). ESPN.

RPI Booster Games.  Last year the only BCS opponent that the OVC managed to defeat was Northwestern (by Tennessee Tech) at a neutral site.  Otherwise, the league was 0-20 against BCS teams.  We’ve identified several opportunities for an OVC squad to pull an upset this year to help the league’s overall RPI. 

  • Tennessee Tech @ Rutgers (11.09.07)
  • Austin Peay @ Vanderbilt (11.10.07)
  • Georgia Tech @ Tennessee St. (11.11.07)
  • Murray St. @ Mississippi St. (12.01.07)
  • Samford @ Florida St. (12.02.07)
  • Tennessee Tech @ Oregon St.  (12.16.07)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids.  Absolutely no chance. 

Neat-o Stat.  Reigning OVC Player of the Year Drake Reed was the first sophomore to win the honor since Popeye Jones did so back in 1990 at Murray St.   It’s unclear whether Reed is related to Jones (see below). 

Popeye Jones family 2

64/65-Team Era.  The OVC has gone 3-24 (.111) over the era.  As mentioned above, the glory days were the late 80s, when the OVC won a first round NCAA game each year from 1987-89.  The league hasn’t won a game since, although it has had a couple of very close calls (#2 Duke 81, #15 Murray St. 78 – 1997; #1 Michigan St. 75, #16 Murray St. 71 (OT) – 1990).   

Final Thought.   The OVC is definitely a top-heavy league this year.  There are three or four teams that can realistically win the NCAA bid, while the others are fairly noncompetitive.  Even with the lack of a balanced league, there is likely only one team with the experience and talent for us to consider it as possible first round upset material – Austin Peay.  But as we saw last year, even with the best team in the OVC, there’s no certainty that the Governors can win the conference tournament in its own back yard (47 miles from Clarksville, TN, to this year’s site again, Nashville, TN).   

Share this story

Conference Primers: #28 – Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on October 7th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

North

  1. East Tennessee St. (20-7) (13-3)
  2. Belmont (19-12) (12-4)
  3. Lipscomb (15-15) (10-6)
  4. Campbell (13-16) (7-9)
  5. Gardner-Webb (10-18) (6-10)
  6. South Carolina – Upstate (6-21) (4-12)

South

  1. Jacksonville (17-10) (11-5)
  2. Mercer (17-12) (10-6)
  3. Kennesaw St. (14-14) (10-6)
  4. Stetson (13-15) (8-8)
  5. Florida Gulf Coast (5-23) (3-13)
  6. North Florida (3-24) (2-14)

Atlantic Sun logo

WYN2K. The Atlantic Sun has been an up and down league over the past decade. It spent much of the late 90s and early 2000s as a league hovering at the top of the low-majors (#19-#23 ranked conference most years). But the last two seasons it has fallen hard, finishing as one of the bottom four conferences in the computer rankings both years. Its OOC record (70-174, .287) the last three years is standard for a league at this level. Still, the NCAA typically shows some love to the conference champion, having given the A-Sun only five #16 seeds in 64/65-team era (and two of those were when the league received multiple bids) and peaking with a #11 seed in 2001 (Georgia St. defeated #5 Wisconsin in the first round). The league has earned a #14 or #15 seed each of the last six years, and we see no reason for this to end.

Predicted Champion. East Tennessee St. (#15 Seed NCAA). We see Murray Bartow’s ETSU squad (16-2 last season in the A-Sun) as the team to beat here. They return league POY Courtney Pigram and bring in former juco D2 POY Kevin Tiggs, a combo guard from whom big things are expected immediately. As a program, ETSU is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, having made the Dance two of the last five years (as a member of the Southern Conference) and seven times overall.

Others Considered. The A-Sun North division is clearly the class of the league, containing two-time defending tourney champion Belmont and rising Lipscomb. Belmont is a system program predicated on efficient ball movement (#21 nationally in eFG%) and tight defense (#5 nationally in eFG% defense), but the loss of their two best post men (Boomer Herndon and Andrew Preston) makes it difficult for us to pick them again. Lipscomb is another intriguing choice if for no other reason than they’re hosting the conference tourney this year – oh, and they’re 24-2 at home during the last two seasons. Jacksonville engineered one of the all-time greatest turnarounds last year, going from one win in 2006 to fifteen in 2007, and while they won eight of their last eleven regular season games, we’re not ready to push them past the more experienced teams just yet.

Games to Watch. There’s likely only one A-Sun game probably worth watching this year.

  • Atlantic Sun Championship Game (03.08.08).

RPI Booster Games. The A-Sun has thirty games against BCS opponents scheduled this year, and hopefully it can perform a little better than last year when it was 0-34. There are some opportunities against lower-tier BCS teams, however, in the following list of games:

  • Belmont @ Cincinnati (11.09.07)
  • ETSU @ Georgia (12.21.07)
  • Lipscomb @ Vanderbilt (12.08.07)
  • Campbell @ South Carolina (11.28.08)
  • Jacksonville @ Florida (12.03.07)
  • Alabama @ Mercer (11.13.07)
  • Kennesaw St. @ Auburn (11.13.07)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. <5%. It’s extremely unlikely that this is a two-bid league, but if any team was going to make it so, it would be ETSU. It would require domination of the league as well as a scintillating non-conference record before they lose in the conference tourney – we don’t see that happening.

Neat-o Stat. We have a couple for the A-Sun. First, North Florida last season enjoyed the dubious distinction of having the least efficent offense in the nation, scoring a mere 79.6 pts per 100 possessions. Secondly, Florida Gulf Coast (one of four transitional schools making the jump to D1 in the A-Sun) is the youngest D1 university in America, having opened its doors to students in 1997.

64/65-Team Era. In 26 appearances, the Atlantic Sun is 3-23 (.115) over the era, scoring the #11 over #6 upset mentioned above, #12 College of Charleston defeating #5 Maryland in 1997, and #14 Arkansas-Little Rock defeating #3 Notre Dame (Digger!) in 1986. That UALR team then took NC State to double OT in the next round before succumbing – that is the closest the league has gotten to the Sweet 16 in its history.

Final Thought. Belmont has gotten destroyed by Georgetown (80-55) and UCLA (78-44) in the last two years in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t appear that their style of play is conducive to pulling off an upset against a bigger, more athletic team. The league would have a much better chance at the first round upset if an uptempo, athletic team like ETSU earns the automatic bid.

Share this story

2007-08 Preseason BlogPoll

Posted by rtmsf on October 6th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

The 2007-08 preseason blogpoll is out!

07-08 Preseason BlogPoll

Contributors: March to Madness (administrator), NCAA Hoops Today, SEC Hoops: TGTBTD, March Madness All Season, A Sea of Blue, College Hoops Heaven, Rush the Court. All ballots archived here.

We’ll delve further into the reasons why we voted the way we did as the season preview moves along this month, but suffice it to say that we don’t have many major beefs with the way the preseason blogpoll turned out. We generally think Michigan St., Marquette, Texas and Duke are a little overvalued, while Indiana, Gonzaga and VCU are undervalued, but we were pretty much in lockstep with the group as to who the collective best five teams are.

FYI – our two ranked teams that were left on the outside looking in were Syracuse (#21) and Southern Illinois (#22).

This should be a lot of fun – we can’t wait to get the season started.

Share this story