NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by KDoyle on March 25th, 2013

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Kevin Doyle (@KLDoyle11) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. 

The South Regional begins Friday night in Arlington, Texas, with Kansas vs. Michigan followed by Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast. The East Region ResetWest Region Reset and Midwest Region Reset published earlier today. Also make sure to follow RTCSouthRegion for news and analysis from Texas throughout the week.

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

New Favorite: #3 Florida. It hasn’t been an arduous road to the Sweet Sixteen as Florida dismantled #14 Northwestern State and #11 Minnesota to advance to Arlington. Although the Golden Gophers cut a 21-point halftime deficit down to eight midway through the second half, they never truly challenged Florida and the Gators coasted to an easy win. Did we learn anything that we already didn’t know about Florida in the process? Probably not. Billy Donovan’s team is as good as anyone at blowing out inferior competition, but it was impressive to see their resolve demonstrated against Minnesota. The common belief is that the Gators crumble down the stretch in close games — amazingly, they have not won a game by single digits this year — but there was no need for late-game drama this weekend. To reach the Elite Eight, Florida will have to next beat #15 Florida Gulf Coast. Not exactly murderer’s row to get to the South Region final by having to play against all double-digit seeds, but FGCU has already proven that it is far from a traditional #15 seed. After posting big wins over Georgetown and San Diego State, the Eagles have shown they can more than hang with any team in the NCAA Tournament. With that said, I projected Florida to win the region when the bracket was initially released and they’ve only confirmed that belief after the first weekend.

Horse of Darkness: #4 Michigan. So much for Shaka Smart’s vaunted havoc defense. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. had little problem dealing with Virginia Commonwealth’s pressing defense en route to a convincing 25-point victory. The Rams’ 71 point swing— a 46-point win against Akron and 25-point loss to Michigan — is by far the greatest two-game switcheroo in NCAA Tournament history, as the Wolverines demonstrated that all a team needs to foil Smart’s plan is a backcourt consisting of two NBA-level players. Michigan is grossly underseeded and is probably closer to a #2 seed than #4. This is a team that was ranked in the Top 10 for virtually the entire season, but limped into the NCAA Tournament after going 6-6 in its final 12 Big Ten games. It has been evident that Michigan’s style of play has kicked up a notch against non-Big Ten teams; South Dakota State and VCU’s urge to speed up the pace of the action seemed to play right into Michigan’s hands. With Trey Burke running the show, John Beilein has the best point guard in the South Region going up against a Kansas team that clearly lacks a steady one of its own. Kansas played one good half in the first two rounds — albeit an extremely good second half against North Carolina — but is ripe for the taking.

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #15 Florida Gulf Coast 78, #2 Georgetown 68. What, like you thought there could possibly be a surprise that trumps what Florida Gulf Coast did in Philadelphia on Friday and Sunday? Not only did the Eagles make history as the first #15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, they did so with flying colors — quite literally — in beating Georgetown and San Diego State by 10 points each. FGCU’s win over Georgetown was certainly a major surprise, as a 24-10 team that finished in second place in the Atlantic Sun and had been swept by Lipscomb soundly beat a 25-6 Big East team with a slew of wins over top teams. Yet after its resounding win over the Hoyas, was anyone that surprised with its victory over a San Diego State team that proved to be mostly average in a Mountain West Conference that went 2-5 in this year’s Dance? Neither win was a fluke for Andy Enfield’s squad; the Eagles flat out beat these two teams that spent much of the season ranked in the Top 25. From Andy Enfield’s story — a former NBA assistant with Rick Pitino, owning his own company called “Tract Manager,” and marrying a supermodel — to the fact that FGCU has been a Division I program for less than a decade, the endless stream of alley-oops and ridiculous dunks thrown down by high-flying no-name players, the swagger and jovial attitude of Sherwood Brown, and the heartwarming story of Brett Comer, among many other things… words simply cannot do justice to what Florida Gulf Coast accomplished over the weekend.

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Pac-12 M5: 03.25.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 25th, 2013

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  1. On Saturday evening, word began to trickle out through various national reports that UCLA had fired head coach Ben Howland. Later that night, UCLA issued a statement disputing those reports. And then Sunday evening, the school officially announced his firing. It counts as “news” only in the strictest sense of the word, as exactly nobody was surprised by the announcement, but it does open up what should be an entertaining coaching search as the Bruins shoot for the stars and then wind up with… Mike Brown? Certainly, Jeff Goodman has better sources than I as to the UCLA coaching search, but if Mike Brown is the next UCLA head coach, I’ll walk down Sunset Boulevard in my boxers. Right after I join the UCLA fans rioting and looting with pitchforks and torches at the Morgan Center. Most reports indicate that Shaka Smart is the first choice for UCLA, though it remains to be seen whether he is interested. Other names associated with the search include Brad Stevens, Jay Wright and Washington’s Lorenzo Romar.
  2. The college basketball guys at CBS Sports also have their opinions on who will wind up with the vacant USC coaching job and, as we learned this weekend, it isn’t going to be Jamie Dixon. Other candidates for the job include Smart (apparently on everyone’s wish list), Memphis’ Josh Pastner and Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins, although with the UCLA job open, it may be awhile before the USC decision is made.
  3. Certainly by now you all know that Arizona and Oregon are still marching along, while California, Colorado and those Bruins have all bowed out of the NCAA Tournament. But what about those lesser tournaments? Well, after winning the NIT title last season, Stanford’s attempted run to a second-straight lesser title ended on Saturday at Alabama. Arizona State, likewise, bombed out in the second round of the NIT in a barnburner at Baylor, while Washington got dropped by BYU in the first round.
  4. The other thing we see this time of year when teams’ seasons begin to end are players announcing their intentions for the NBA Draft. Oregon State’s Eric Moreland became the first Pac-12 player to officially declare (aside from Shabazz Muhammad having Howland declare for him, that is) his intentions to explore his NBA appeal without the help of an agent, leaving him with a chance to return to Corvallis. However, speculation is that Moreland’s time at OSU is done and that he’ll be playing for pay next season. While there’s little chance that the offensively raw Moreland will earn a guaranteed first round money even in what is considered a weak draft class, his athletic ability could earn him a second round flyer or, more likely, D-League or overseas offers.
  5. Meanwhile, Arizona State fans will have to sweat out Jahii Carson’s decision over the next couple weeks. Carson expects to consult with the NBA to suss out his draft status and “test the waters,” but depending on what he hears back, he could return. Carson’s got the speed, athleticism and moxie to be a very good NBA player, but at the end of the day, right now he’s a sub-6’0” point guard who lacks a completely reliable jumper. The odds are in favor of Carson returning for his sophomore season, but all he needs is one NBA GM to profess his undying love to convince Carson to follow the money. Stay tuned.
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A Pair Of Job Openings In Southern California

Posted by AMurawa on March 23rd, 2013

When UCLA bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in convincing fashion to Minnesota, the Ben Howland era in Westwood ended along with the Bruins’ season (an official announcement is expected in the next couple days). Meanwhile, across town, USC’s first target for their open head coaching position, Pitt’s Jamie Dixon, signed an extension with his current school, effectively eliminating him from contention for that job. With all other coaches in the conferences expected back next season (Stanford has announced that Johnny Dawkins will return, and it looks like Ken Bone will return to Washington State, though no official announcement has been made), we’ll take a quick look at those two jobs and try to read the tea leaves a bit as to what the future may hold.

Ben Howland, UCLA

Despite Early Success, Ben Howland’s Time As The UCLA Coach Has Ended (Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

While UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero made no decisive comment following the game Friday night (“We’ll take stock in the next couple of days and talk like we always do with all coaches,” he said), expectations are that sooner rather than later we’ll have an announcement that the partnership between Howland and UCLA will end. And, regardless of whether Guerrero has an improvement lined up, this is a move that has to be made – for both parties. The relationship has soured, the fickle UCLA fan base has abandoned ship, West Coast recruiting has largely dried up, Howland seems to have compromised his principles, and, the kiss of death, Bill Walton has weighed in heavily in favor of a change at the top of the program. The excitement of three straight Final Four trips from 2006-08 is a distant memory. Howland is still a very good coach, but he’s not a very good coach going forward for UCLA and it is time for both sides to move on.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Michigan 78, #5 VCU 53

Posted by Will Tucker on March 23rd, 2013

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Will Tucker is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #6 VCU and #12 Akron from Auburn Hills. You can also find him on Twitter @blrdswag.

Three Key Takeaways:

McGary Was a Huge Factor for the Wolverines Today

McGary Was a Huge Factor for the Wolverines Today

  1. VCU had no answer for Mitch McGary in the post. Juvonte Reddic challenged him well on both ends of the floor in the opening minutes, but once Reddic picked up his second foul less than 7 minutes in, he had to sit. With Reddic out, McGary exploited the lack of size in the Rams’ frontcourt. David Hinton and Justin Tuoyo really struggled with his size, at which point 6’4 Troy Daniels and 6’5 Traveon Graham had the misfortune of alternating on McGary. Shaka was forced to put Juvonte Reddic back in two minutes before halftime with two fouls, and he picked up his third less than four minutes into the second half. McGary ended up with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and keyed advantages of 41-24 in rebounding and 12-6 in second-chance points.
  2. The Rams depleted all their hot shooting on Thursday. After hitting 8 of 16 threes and shooting 54% from the field in their blowout win over Akron, the Rams shot 30% in the first half and connected on just 1 of 8 threes. They ended the game at 40%, but most of the second half scoring took place effectively in garbage time. Perhaps VCU’s hot streak lulled them into complacency, or maybe the hostile crowd had an impact on them, but the result was the same. “The shots that were open, we just didn’t make,” said Rob Brandenberg. But the results are encouraging for Michigan fans that have heard their team’s defense disparaged all season.
  3. John Beilein beat Shaka Smart at his own game. Michigan dictated a frantic pace from the opening tip, with McGary cleaning the defensive glass and making outlets to Trey Burke, who deftly pushed the ball in transition with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. Michigan forced 11 VCU turnovers and built a +7 margin in points off turnovers, using stout transition defense and running the fast break to perfection. Burke was responsible for 7 of Michigan’s 12 turnovers, but he atoned with 7 assists and 18 points. It was a brilliant strategy that demonstrated the versatility of John Beilein’s team and the preparatory abilities of its coach, who typically isn’t mentioned in the same group as Tom Izzo and Coach K. His game plan helped Michigan reach its first Sweet Sixteen in 19 years.

Star of the Game. Mitch McGary (21 points, 14 rebounds) was the single most dominant player on the court today. While Michigan’s guards beat the VCU press and got McGary open looks, it was the freshman center who controlled the pace of the game with his work on the defensive glass and superlative hustle on defense. McGary helped keep Reddic benched with fouls, he disrupted driving lanes for VCU’s guards, and he set crushing screens in the set offense to open space for Burke, Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by KDoyle on March 23rd, 2013

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#4 Michigan vs. #5 Virginia Commonwealth – South Region Third Round (at Auburn Hills, MI) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

It's Time For Burke to Play Like the NPOY (AP Photo)

It’s Time For Burke to Play Like the NPOY (AP Photo)

The even-keeled and veteran John Beilein, an All-American point guard in Trey Burke, and the scoring prowess of Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. Shaka Smart’s NCAA Tournament charm and relentless havoc defense led by Darius Theus and Troy Daniels. Make no mistake about it, Michigan vs. Virginia Commonwealth has the potential to be an instant classic. When the brackets were released this past Sunday evening, many of the talking heads on ESPN and other networks fell in love with Virginia Commonwealth and picked the Rams to advance deep into the Tournament. Jay Bilas, in particular, referenced their havoc defense and how it is so difficult to prepare for in such limited time. Bilas is right, their defense is a bear for any team to cope with. Just look at what the Rams did to Akron, albeit a depleted Zips teams. Lest we forget that Michigan is coached by one of the best in the business and has a backcourt consisting of two future NBA players? Burke has a 3.3 assist to turnover ratio and the Wolverines, as a team, take impeccable care of the basketball ranking #1 in the country in turnover percentage. On the flipside, VCU is #1 in turnovers forced. Something has to give, right? Assuming Burke takes care of the ball, limits Michigan’s turnovers, and turns it into a halfcourt game the Wolverines have the advantage. The Rams are very susceptible in giving up points inside the arc and are a weak defensive rebounding team. Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan will have opportunities to score inside once Michigan is able to settle into their offense. In many of the games where VCU has had success, they have largely controlled the game’s tempo and forced 20+ turnovers that led to easy transition points. It is foolish to imply that the Rams are a one trick pony, though. They have three deadly three point shooters in Troy Daniels, Rob Brandenberg, and Treveon Graham, along with Juvonte Reddic who will challenge the Michigan big men in the paint. Ultimately, the game comes down to Trey Burke handling VCU’s pressure, thus forcing the game to be played in the halfcourt. I’m not betting against an All-American point guard, nor a coach like John Beilein.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

#3 Michigan State vs. #6 Memphis – Midwest Regional Third Round (at Auburn Hills, MI) – 2:45 PM ET on CBS

Memphis’ Thursday victory over Saint Mary’s may not have been the most dominating of wins, but it advanced the Tigers to the round of 32 all the same. Michigan State awaits Memphis there, and Sparty looked awfully solid in dispatching Valpo in their Tournament opener. Derrick Nix was dominant against the Crusaders, as the smaller Valpo front line could not match-up with the burly Spartan captain. The final damage was 23 points and 15 rebounds for Nix, and a +23 edge on the boards for Michigan State. First order of business for the Tigers will be doing what Valpo could not in matching that trademark Spartan physicality – on the glass or otherwise. We all know how athletic this Memphis team is (across the board), but a second round win over a WCC team offers no conclusive evidence as to the toughness of this group. Beating the Spartans would. The Memphis frontcourt was solid against the Gaels, but obviously will need to elevate their play even further on Saturday. DJ Stephens was at his springy, high-flying best Thursday though, blocking eight shots and providing multiple highlight-reel caliber dunks – a reminder for all of us to say a nightly prayer for a Final Four that does not include Memphis, if only so that we see Stephens in that weekend’s dunk contest. I digress however, so back to Thursday, where Stephens and co. got a big boost from Tarik Black, who scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and didn’t miss a shot in his best individual game since January. Memphis fans would certainly welcome a repeat performance on Saturday against the Spartans. For all their tough, physical banging, Michigan State does have the athletes to match up with Memphis up front, with Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne adding the explosive athleticism that the plodding Nix lacks. The matchup in the backcourt will be equally important (and athletic), as Gary Harris and Keith Appling square off with the Tigers’ Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson.

Getting any kind of NCAA Tournament win was big for Memphis. But getting a win over Tom Izzo and Michigan State, with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line? It would completely legitimize everything Josh Pastner has done since taking over four seasons ago. If the Tigers can force turnovers and get easy buckets like they did at times against Saint Mary’s, there’s a shot that it happens. I just can’t see it though, as I expect Michigan State to make this a half-court game that Memphis never truly settles into.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State

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Rushed Reactions: #6 VCU 88, #12 Akron 42

Posted by Will Tucker on March 21st, 2013

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Will Tucker is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #6 VCU and #12 Akron from Auburn Hills. You can also find him on Twitter @blrdswag.

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. As if there was any doubt, VCU proved it’s back in Tournament form. After losing a tough Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament championship to Saint Louis, the Rams showed no semblance of a hangover. They mercilessly inflicted their havoc system on Akron for 40 minutes, generating 34 points off of 22 Akron turnovers, 20 of which came on fast breaks. A Zips player told reporters after the game, “We used so much energy trying to get the ball up the court that we couldn’t guard them.” After shooting below 34% and hitting 3-of-18 three-point attempts against SLU, the Rams found their range in their NCAA opener, draining 8-of-16 from beyond the arc and shooting 54% overall.

    Shaka Smart and his fiest VCU squad jumped all over Akron Thursday night. (Getty)

    Shaka Smart and his fiest VCU squad jumped all over Akron Thursday night. (Getty)

  2. Lack of size didn’t hamper the Rams against the bigger Zips and 7’ senior Zeke Marshall. There were concerns that VCU’s undersized frontcourt would be a significant liability in the Tournament, but in their first game the Rams used a collaborative effort to defend and rebound inside. 6’9″, 235-pound Juvonte Reddic, the team’s biggest starter, scored 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting and grabbed five boards. His teammates did the rest, as five of them grabbed three or more rebounds, helping to build advantages of 36 to 29 in rebounding and 40 to 28 in points in the paint.
  3. The game was essentially over after VCU doubled up on Akron 50-25 at halftime, but Shaka Smart didn’t let up. The Rams again doubled Akron’s scoring in the second half, led by 48 with 6 minutes left, and their 46-point margin of victory was apparently the largest ever in a 6/12 seeding matchup. This was particularly uncomfortable because Smart and Akron coach Keith Dambrot are close friends, but the Zips coach said it wasn’t a disrespectful gesture. “He’s got a job to do. His job is to prepare his team to win the next game, and I don’t take any offense to it,” Dambrot said. For his part, Shaka insisted the Zips were victims of circumstance and a poor matchup, and that he called off his trap with nine minutes left and his press with seven remaining. “There was a lot of time on the clock. We’re not just going to fall back in a zone, that’s not what we do,” Smart said.

Star of the GameTroy Daniels edged Reddic for this one after scoring 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting, hit 6-of-11 threes, and grabbed five rebounds in 21 minutes. Most importantly, the 6’4″ senior guard atoned for a scoreless performance in 17 minutes against SLU.

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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by KDoyle on March 18th, 2013

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), Midwest (11 AM), South (1 PM), West (3 PM). Here, Kevin Doyle (@kldoyle11) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Kevin breaking down the South Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

South Region

Favorite: #3 Florida (26-7, 16-5 SEC). A month ago, Florida looked like it was destined for a #1 seed and primed for a Final Four run to Atlanta. The Gators were dismantling SEC teams — albeit some very weak teams — and had their potent offense clicking on all cylinders. But then Florida lost at Missouri, and then at Tennessee, and then at Kentucky. Questions began to arise, and rightly so. A team of Florida’s talent and experience should not be losing to SEC teams that will not even make the NCAA Tournament. They seemed unbeatable in the 2012 portion of the schedule, but played down to their level of competition in the SEC. That being said, it would not be smart to pick against Billy Donovan. Donovan has led Florida to the Elite Eight the past two seasons, and done so with largely the same group he has this year. Two seasons ago it was a loss to Butler as a #2-seed and last year a loss to Louisville as a #7-seed. Of their eight impact players, seven are upperclassmen and have extensive experience in the NCAA Tournament. Veteran leadership and NCAA Tournament experience cannot be discounted, and Florida has both in spades. In the “for what it’s worth” department, Pomeroy has Florida ranked #1 overall in his season-long rankings (fifth in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency).

Is the Third Time the Charm for Boynton and His Gators?

Is the Third Time the Charm for Boynton and His Gators?

Should They Falter: #2 Georgetown (29-5, 15-5 Big East). Recent history is not on Georgetown’s side as John Thompson III has made a habit of exiting the NCAA Tournament too early. In fact, in the six NCAA Tournaments that JT3 has led the Hoyas to, they haven’t made it past the first weekend four times. The Hoyas won’t win any style points, but that doesn’t much matter. What they lack in flash they have in tough defense and methodical but effective offense. Not to mention that the Hoyas are also fortunate to have Otto Porter, the Big East Player of the Year, on their side. The emergence of Markel Starks as a second dependable scorer adds another dimension to the offense beyond him, though. Their adjusted tempo ranks 313th in the country — in other words, a snail’s pace — and inability to score in stretches on the offensive end doesn’t make them a sexy team to watch, but Georgetown is very comfortable playing grind-it-out kind of games making them an apt postseason team.

Grossly Overseeded: #7 San Diego State (22-10, 10-8 Mountain West). The Aztecs began the season with a 14-2 record and a 2-0 mark in Mountain West play, and appeared to be the class of the league alongside New Mexico. Since that blistering start, San Diego State is a pedestrian 8-8 and finished 9-7 in the MW. It is almost unfathomable that the Aztecs earned a much better seed than Pac-12 champion Oregon — prepare yourselves to hearing a lot about the Ducks’ seed in the coming days —and even a higher seed than fellow Mountain West member Colorado State. SDSU benefited from having a strong RPI (#28) and a challenging schedule which ranked in the top 20, but many prognosticators had them wearing road jerseys in their opening round game, not home whites.

Grossly Underseeded: #8 North Carolina (24-10, 14-7 ACC). After getting embarrassed by Miami and then suffering a tough road defeat to Duke, North Carolina looked like it was headed to the NIT; the Tar Heels had a 16-8 record and were just 6-5 in the ACC at the time. Roy Williams’ young group may have had unfair expectations placed on it in the preseason, but there is little doubt that they should be an NCAA Tournament team now. Their talent and maturation as a team began to show in the second half of ACC play by winning eight of their last 10 games including a narrow loss to Miami in the ACC Tournament Championship. North Carolina’s seed was hurt by having a 2-9 mark against the RPI top 50, but the way in which Carolina concluded the regular season shows that it was playing closer to the caliber of a #5 seed and shouldn’t be marred in the dreaded #8/#9 match-up with the top seed looming.

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Four Thoughts From the Atlantic 10 Championship

Posted by CNguon on March 17th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. He covered the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn this week. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Saint Louis completed a stellar Atlantic 10 Tournament campaign with a 62-56 victory over #25 Virginia Commonwealth Sunday afternoon at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Four Thoughts:

  1. It’s the defense: The teams combined for 31 turnovers. Virginia Commonwealth used the press to force an unprecedented 18 Billiken miscues – the Rams are now 26-1 when they force 15 or more (Saint Louis is that one). Saint Louis typically forces opponents to lose about 22% of their possessions in conference this season (#2 to VCU). The Rams committed 13 turnovers, 10 in the first half alone. Combined with poor shooting (VCU was 3-of-18 on three point attempts), when the opportunity to overtake Saint Louis appeared in the second half, Shaka Smart’s team could not seal the deal.
  2. Virginia Commonwealth and Saint Louis (and Butler, Temple and La Salle) will be tough outs in the NCAA: The teams are stocked with upperclassmen, are defense-oriented and offer very different approaches to the game. “The preparation and playing against teams like St. Louis, Xavier, Butler, La Salle, that really helped us going into this tournament,” said VCU coach Shaka Smart after the championship game. “Our whole strategy is to get the other team rattled,” added Smart. The three games played this weekend offer proof that the tactic works as La Salle, Massachusetts and Saint Louis were pushed to the point of collapse by VCU’s brand of HAVOC.
    Saint Louis' Cody Ellis reacts after cutting a piece of the net after an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Commonwealth and winning the championships of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament. (AP)

    Saint Louis’ Cody Ellis reacts after cutting a piece of the net after an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Commonwealth and winning the championships of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament. (AP)

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Four Thoughts From the Atlantic 10 Tournament Evening Quarterfinals Session

Posted by CNguon on March 16th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. He’s covering the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn this week. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Virginia Commonwealth eliminated a gutty Saint Joseph’s squad, 82-79. After holding double-digit leads for much of the second half, the Rams withstood an uncharacteristically furious press and scoring blitz from the Hawks. Meanwhile, Chaz Williams led Massachusetts to a 79-74 upset of Temple to close out the quarterfinal round. The two teams, playing within a six-point margin for the entire 40 minutes, evoked memories of the John Calipari vs. John Chaney matches of a decade ago. Without the vitriol.

Four Thoughts After Session Two:

  1. Quarterfinal results may have an impact on the NCAA field: La Salle’s loss appears by consensus to put the Explorers in the dreaded Last Four In category, a disappointment for coach John Giannini who promised to “go nuts” watching all of the bubble team games this weekend. Turns out he did not have to leave the Barclays Center to catch one of those bubble games, as Massachusetts eliminated Temple, 79-74, for the second consecutive time in the quarterfinal nightcap. The upset put the Minutemen in Jerry Palm’s play-in list with a #12 seed, slated to play opposite Villanova on Tuesday. If Palm’s scenario holds, the conference will pull an unprecedented six dance cards, as many as the Big 12 and more than the ACC, the Pac-12 and the SEC.

    Spike Lee (with phone) made his way south from Madison Square Garden to catch some A-10 action Friday evening. (Staff photo)

    Spike Lee (with phone) made his way south from Madison Square Garden to catch some A-10 action Friday evening. (Staff photo)

  2. Spike Lee loves him some Shaka Smart: The five boroughs’ second most famous film director (and most famous basketball fan) abandoned his courtside digs in Manhattan (Madison Square Garden) to catch the Virginia Commonwealth-Saint Joseph’s quarterfinal (see photo – in the green windbreaker) in Jay-Z’s digs in Brooklyn. Unable to get a courtside seat, the filmmaker had first rows just behind the scorer’s table. Maybe he will be back for the semifinals this afternoon. Maybe Jay can score him something courtside for that one. Read the rest of this entry »
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Atlantic 10 Season Recap and Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Tournament Bracket

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Looking Back

Conference Realignment: Who’s Got Next? A non-story for the entire season, the divorce negotiated between the Catholic 7 and the Conference Formerly Known as the Big East was finalized last week, a development guaranteed to kick off another round of musical partners. The Catholic 7 got custody of the last name (Big East) and the house (an older but stately palace in downtown New York), along with a promise to process the paperwork quickly. The new/old conference needs three more members to share the TV money and national exposure they are rumored to have negotiated with Fox Sports. The yearly payout per team, believed to be just under ten times the per-team amount the Atlantic 10 just agreed to with CBS, should draw interest. Butler and Xavier have been at the center of Catholic 7 alignment rumors since last October. Unlike Temple’s announced exit in February of last season, however, neither school has confirmed – or denied – the rumors. Xavier, a member since 1995-96, would be the second flagship program (behind Temple) to exit the conference in that last 13 months. Butler who twice went to the Final Four within the last five years, has barely had time to unpack before moving on. When given the news of Temple’s exit in February of 2012, commissioner Bernadette McGlade took a proactive tack and had two replacements in place eight weeks into the offseason. Expect her to do the same this off season. George Mason and Wichita State are the two mentioned most by fans and conference followers.

The Best Basketball-Centric Conference? Mountain West fans may disagree, but it seems certain that the Atlantic 10 Conference will send at least five members to the NCAA Tournament, equaling the highest ever achieved (1997 and 1998). Saint Louis, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth are all but certain to receive bids regardless of what happens this weekend, and prospects for Temple and La Salle remain very strong. On top of that, Massachusetts or Xavier could, with strong conference tournament showings, squeeze out an unprecedented sixth bid for the conference, though it seems unlikely.

Power Rankings

The last week of conference play opens with only three conference tournament spots – all three on the sidelines, determined. Others (that Saint Louis will take the #1 seed, Virginia Commonwealth will take #2 and La Salle most likely the #3) seem nearly certain, but note that seeds #4 through #12 are pretty much up for grabs…at least until Wednesday.

Jim Crews can smirk a little after leading the Billikens from afterthought to league champions. (USATSI)

Jim Crews has the right to smirk a little after leading the Billikens to their first regular season title in 42 years. (USATSI)

  1. Saint Louis (24-6, 13-3; #16 AP; Projected NCAA Seed #5) – The Billikens stumbled in the last week versus Xavier, but locked down the #1 seed in Brooklyn by beating La Salle. Off until Friday, coach Jim Crews’ team will meet the winner of the Richmond/Charlotte game (most likely Richmond), and if seed holds, most likely La Salle Saturday (and Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday). On the radar however is the NCAA tournament (yes the Bills are a lock at this point, win or lose Friday) seed. The consensus today is a #4-#5 seed with little prospect of moving up without a slew of early conference tournament losses elsewhere. RTC’s Dan Evans’ early March bracket matched the #5 Bills against #12 seed OVC Champion Belmont. The Bears run and gun, which would make this an interesting matchup.
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CIO… the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2013

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Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or follow him on Twitter @vtbnblog.

(ed. note – this week’s column does not factor in Wednesday night’s action, which saw Saint Louis beat Saint Joseph’s, Richmond defeat George Washington and Dayton top Charlotte.)

Looking Back

  • Saint Louis Breaks Out – The Billikens evicted Butler and Virginia Commonwealth and decisively took sole possession of the conference penthouse last week. On Tuesday Saint Louis hosted Virginia Commonwealth, the team that paced the conference from virtually the opening week and ranked #24 by the AP the previous Monday. The Bills pummeled the Rams by 14, 76-62, handing coach Shaka Smart’s squad the worst defeat of their season. With barely 48 hours to celebrate, the Billikens packed their bags and traveled to Hinkle Fieldhouse to play #15 ranked Butler on Friday night. Saint Louis held on to defeat the Bulldogs by 4, 65-61, and hand Butler only their second defeat at home this season. At 10-2, SLU sits atop the conference with a half-game lead (one fewer loss) over second place Virginia Commonwealth.
  • Conference Difference Margins, Week 8 – The difference margin continues to divide the conference roughly in half; nine teams have positive margins, seven teams have negative margins. The paradox is that the Atlantic 10, much like many conferences in parity, the number of teams with a 0.500 record or better numbers 11 (or 69% of the conference membership). For a power conference this parity (if the top of the conference was strong enough) could, in effect, “pull” a middling team or two into the NCAA tournament. Is the A-10 strength of schedule enough to yield a fifth or sixth bid?

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Reviewing the numbers (from Ken Pomeroy’s kenpom.com site – the conference results through Monday February 25) gives us a few things to consider:

  1. The difference margin adds greater definition to Saint Louis’ breakout last week. At +0.156, the margin is half again larger than that of their nearest rival (Virginia Commonwealth). To this point Saint Louis is in a class by itself. A rocky out of conference run will most likely keep the Bills’ NCAA seed in the #4 to #6 range, probably deceptively low.
  2. The teams are forming a series of well-defined tiers, many of which are consistent with the conference records earned so far. Note the Virginia Commonwealth/Butler grouping, distinct from the Massachusetts/Xavier/Temple tier.
  3. Duquesne and (yet again, unfortunately) Fordham have “lost touch” with the rest of the conference. The difference margins for the two lowest ranked teams suggest they are no longer competitive with their 14 conference mates. Temple’s loss to Duquesne on February 14 becomes all the more puzzling and damaging to the Owls’ post season prospects.
  4. Charlotte’s record says “even”, but the difference margin suggests the 49ers have been susceptible to blowouts. A look at the schedule reveals a tendency to lose big on the road Miami, Richmond, Saint Louis). Not the kind of credential one wants to present to the Selection Committee.
  5. Dayton maintains a positive difference margin (+0.013) widely at variance with their losing record (4-8). A Pythagorean Winning Percentage calculation suggest the Flyers should be closer to a 0.500 record (or 6-6, since they have played 12 games). They are, however, so far underwater that it is likely the Flyers will “run out of games” before they can get to a 0.500 record (8-8 given their 16 game conference schedule).

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Morning Five: 02.22.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 22nd, 2013

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  1. We have already talked about the mock brackets in this space quite a bit, but Seth Davis offered one of the better summaries of the more detailed aspects of how the brackets come together (based on geography more than the imaginary S-curve, etc) in his weekly Hoop Thoughts column. Even if you have had more than enough information about a fake bracket, the column also has quite a bit of other interesting information including an update on the potential return of Ryan Kelly for the ACC Tournament and why conference realignment might help push Shaka Smart towards a new job.
  2. We seem to see multiple columns coming out everyday for the past week hyping Victor Oladipo as a potential player of the year candidate and now we actually have some proof of his legitimacy as a candidate with the voters as he has moved up to #2 in Michael Rothstein’s straw poll. We aren’t quite sure what the sampling error is with this poll, but it seems like Trey Burke has a fairly comfortable lead. Still with Indiana in excellent position for the #1 overall seed (if there was a #1 overall seed) and a potential showdown with Burke on the last day of the regular season looming Oladipo is still within striking distance. We don’t particularly care about regular season awards, but given how under-the-radar Oladipo was at the beginning of the season it would be a remarkable turn of events.
  3. While we will be sad to see some traditional rivalries go we are more ambivalent to change in rivalries that conference realignment will bring, but there are a few rivalries that we will particularly miss. One of those is Syracuse-Georgetown (or Georgetown-Syracuse depending on your perspective). With the last game at the Carrier Dome coming this Saturday, Syracuse.com took a look back at the top ten moments of the rivalry. We are guessing based on our demographics that the vast majority of you saw less than half of these moments and because the rivalry isn’t promoted to the degree of another rivalry two teams wearing different shades of blue most people are not as familiar with these moments.
  4. With seven African-Americans occupying the fourteen heading coaching positions in the SEC the conference has  tied the ACC during the 2008-09 season for having the most African-American coaches in one conference at any one time. When you include Frank Martin, a Cuban-American, the conference actually has more “minority” coaches (eight) than Caucasian coaches (six). While we still have a long way to go as a country with race relations and hiring even with something as seemingly trivial as men’s college basketball coaches it is worthwhile praising a conference that has long born the stigma of having a strained racial history.
  5. Our last item is a bittersweet congratulations to Dick Kelley, the assistant athletic director of media relations at Boston College, who along with Beckie Edwards received the US Basketball Writer’s Association Most Courageous Award. Edwards has her own harrowing story (coming out about the sexual abuse she suffered as a young child at the hands of her father), but for the purposes of this column and the fact that we know Kelley and not Edwards we will focus on his story. Kelley, who was the first person to credential our site as a media entity in 2008, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2011, which has confined him to a wheelchair. Although we have not seen him recently due to our relocation we want to send him our best wishes.
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