Rushed Reactions: #6 Notre Dame 76, #14 Stephen F. Austin 75

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 20th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Rex Pflueger’s only basket of the game sent Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

  1. One Shining Moment. Welcome to the montage, Rex Pflueger. The California kid tipped in Zach Auguste‘s missed shot with one second remaining to send Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen. It was a classic example of this tournament creating an iconic moment for a player not many people have heard of. It was Pflueger’s only two points of the game and his first made field goal since Notre Dame’s regular season finale against North Carolina State on March 5. For the time being, Pflueger saved Notre Dame’s season. We will see his one shining moment on video for years to come.
  2. Notre Dame won this game in the paint. The Fighting Irish scored 52 of their 76 points either in the paint or from the foul line as they took advantage of a substantial size edge. Auguste led the way, but the Notre Dame guards did a fantastic job getting into the paint and creating for both themselves and teammates. It is incredibly difficult to win games in this tournament when a team is passive offensively, and the Irish were the antithesis of passive this afternoon. Notre Dame was aggressive and efficient en route to shooting 56.9 percent from the floor for the game. A lot of that had to do with Auguste and his team’s dominance around the rim.
  3. What more can you say about Stephen F. Austin? The Lumberjacks put on quite a display this week in Brooklyn. On Friday night they took out a West Virginia team that many experts said could contend for a spot in the Final Four. They beat the Mountaineers at their own game and today they were one missed defensive rebound away from making the first Sweet Sixteen appearance in school history. Thomas Walkup is a special player who got better in each of his four years in Nacogdoches. He had 21 points today after scoring 33 two nights ago against West Virginia, performances that nearly carried his team to the second weekend. With the Lumberjacks losing Walkup, Demetrious Floyd, Clide Geffrard, Trey Pinkney and Jared Johnson to graduation, the focus now will turn to head coach Brad Underwood and whether or not he stays with the program. He will likely be mentioned as a candidate for the open Big 12 jobs at Oklahoma State and TCU. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #14 Stephen F. Austin 70, #3 West Virginia 56

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 18th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

SFA Celebrates a Huge NCAA Tournament Win (USA Today Images)

SFA Celebrates a Huge NCAA Tournament Win (USA Today Images)

  1. West Virginia was exposed. The Mountaineers have made a living all season by forcing turnovers. Tonight, West Virginia really struggled to turn Stephen F. Austin over, as the Lumberjacks did an outstanding job protecting the basketball. The Mountaineers created only seven SFA turnovers and more damningly, were outscored 29 to 4 in points off turnovers. West Virginia dominated on the backboards, but the 25-point deficit in the points off turnovers category proved insurmountable. It didn’t help that West Virginia lost its composure midway through the second half, which allowed the Lumberjacks to hammer the final nail in the coffin. It was rare this season, but Bob Huggins’ team is average at best when it can’t turn the opponent over. The Mountaineers just do not score the ball consistently enough in the halfcourt to overcome a lack of transition opportunities.
  2. Why was Stephen F. Austin a #14 seed? Did the Lumberjacks look like one of the worst teams in the field to you? Not a chance. Score one for KenPom, who had Stephen F. Austin rated 33rd in his metrics, which should translate to a 9-seed. Thomas Walkup could play significant minutes for almost any high major team in the country, and Brad Underwood sure can coach. He should be a hot name on the coaching market, especially with two Big 12 jobs opening up recently. Any potential seeding injustice doesn’t matter now, however — the third-seeded Mountaineers are heading home.
  3. Stephen F. Austin’s weaknesses were offset by West Virginia’s weaknesses. Coming into the game, the Lumberjacks were averaging 12 turnovers per game and had middling free throw rates. In this matchup against West Virginia, none of this was a big deal. The Mountaineers put their opponents on the free throw line more often than anyone during the regular season, while also turning the ball over at a high rat — both traits played right into the hands of the Lumberjacks. It always comes down to matchups in this tournament, and this was a good one for Underwood’s team, who exploited West Virginia’s weaknesses in cooking up the upset.

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Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: No. 1 North Carolina (28-6, 14-4 ACC). Although this region is loaded from top to bottom, the ACC regular season and tournament champions are the clear favorite. Roy Williams has one of the nation’s most talented teams with seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige leading the way. Contending with Johnson is a nightmare for most teams. A relentless rebounder who averages a double-double, Johnson is one of the nation’s most efficient players. Carolina has weaknesses — namely three-point shooting and three-point defense — but the way it utilizes great athleticism to speed up the game makes the Heels hard to beat.

UNC

The ACC regular season and tournament champions are the favorite to take the East Region. (Photo: Todd Melet)

Should They Falter: No. 4 Kentucky (26-8, 13-5 SEC). Yes, we’re going to roll with the Wildcats here. John Calipari’s team has made Final Fours from lower seeded positions — most notably in 2011 and 2014. This is not a vintage Kentucky team by any means, but it is highly talented and Coach Cal has proven that he can push the right buttons in March. College basketball is a guards’ game and Kentucky has that in spades with Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe. The lack of a major threat inside and occasionally spotty defense are definite concerns, but Kentucky has the talent and athletes to get by North Carolina in a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup.

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Coaches We Hope Stick Around… But Won’t Blame If They Don’t

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 26th, 2015

Ah, late March – the most worrisome time of year. There will be firings, hirings and anxiety over whether several beloved mid-major coaches finally make the leap. Nothing like the smell of pink slips and greenbacks in the morning. With the carousel already fully in motion, let’s take look at a few of the most highly-coveted O26 coaches out there and why they should stay put… but why we also won’t blame them if they leave. [Note: We don’t include Shaka Smart on this list because we hope he’s entering Mark Few O26 lifer-status.]

Gregg Marshall – Wichita State

Here's to hoping Gregg Marshall is a lifer. (David Eulitt / Kansas City Star)

Here’s to hoping Gregg Marshall is a lifer. (David Eulitt/Kansas City Star)

  • He should stay! You know what Wichita State has that Alabama doesn’t (besides Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, of course)? A Final Four banner. Better yet, two Final Four banners. In fact, the Shockers probably have a better basketball program than the Crimson Tide from top to bottom – history, community support, momentum, etc. – and they don’t fall far behind in terms of compensation, either; Marshall’s base salary is $1.85 million this year, not including incentives. The eighth-year head coach has already led his team to a #1 seed, a Final Four appearance and a Sweet Sixteen, accomplishments he’s sure to build on next season if VanVleet and Baker stick around. Plus, how would he “Play Angry” at a power program? That ethos depends on perceived disrespect and thrives on an underdog mentality, which I’m not sure he could manufacture at a revenue mill like Alabama or Texas.
  • Why we wouldn’t blame him… If someone backed up the Brinks truck and said, “Just give me a price,” how would you react? At some point – regardless of landing spot – the monetary offer becomes too eye-poppingly good to pass up. According to CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish, Alabama is willing to offer Marshall “in excess of $3 million per year,” which would put him among the very highest-paid coaches in the game. If the Texas job opens up, the ‘Horns might offer something similar. That’s serious money and both schools’ available resources can back that up.

Steve Prohm – Murray State

  • He should stay! Cameron Payne – one of the best point guards in college hoops – is only a sophomore. Sharpshooters Jeffery Moss (11.1 PPG) and Justin Seymour (45% 3FG) are also set to return next season. Prohm, who has gone 104-29 since taking over in 2012, should continue winning big for the foreseeable future. Murray State’s fan base is among the strongest at the mid-major level, and the 36-year-old coach signed an extension through 2018 just last summer. Stick around, Steve!

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Utah 57, #13 Stephen F. Austin 50

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Utah's Bench Celebrates the Big Win (USA Today Images)

Utah’s Bench Celebrates the Big Win (USA Today Images)

  1. Hanging Around, Hanging Around. Upsets in the opening round tend to occur when the favored team cannot create enough separation to psychologically convince the underdog team that their efforts are futile. Take Arizona’s domination of Texas Southern today. The lead quickly ballooned to 20 points in the first half and everybody in the building knew that there would be no realistic comeback attempt. On the other hand, a team like Baylor couldn’t quite put away Georgia State today, leaving the Panthers just enough room and time to make a 13-0 run to finish, and win, the game. Utah’s failure to put away Stephen F. Austin tonight was dangerous because it felt like the Lumberjacks were only a play or two away from wresting control away from the Utes and pulling off the big upset.
  2. When the Game Turned (or More Accurately, Didn’t Turn). To that point, Utah had allowed Stephen F. Austin to hang around for most of the second half when it seemed to start slipping away on a series of plays. With Utah up eight, Jordan Loveridge took an ill-advised three-pointer, allowing the ‘Jacks to push upcourt after the miss. Thomas Walkup (12 points, nine rebounds, five assists) then made a driving layup. On the ensuing possession, Utah turned it over and Walkup converted that into another layup, this time with an and-1 opportunity. The game was down to four points and Stephen F. Austin was starting to believe. Walkup missed the free throw, but his teammates secured the offensive rebound. When he then took a three from the left side that was on line, you just knew that it was going to drop through the net and cut the lead to one. That shot was long, but that didn’t mean the run was over. Utah missed another jumper on its next possession, and SFA answered with another jumper that missed. At this point, Utah was acting a bit panicky and it felt like all the Lumberjacks really needed was one more big play to facilitate the Utes’ collapse. Next, Utah brought the ball downcourt; Delon Wright fired up a shot that missed… and Jakob Poeltl, Utah’s star freshman big man, used his vastly superior size to block out the smaller Walkup and put back the offensive rebound. Utah was now up six.
  3. Poeltl as Difference Maker. Poeltl was also fouled on that play, and even though he missed the free throw and SFA cut it to four again, the center grabbed another offensive board on the very next possession, was fouled, and nailed those free throws to push the lead back up to six points. Although the Lumberjacks continued to push and eventually got the lead down to two on one trip, they never were able to get to a point where they could take the lead. Poeltl added another late block as well, but from the view of this observer, it was his play as Utah appeared to be collapsing that helped to keep the ship from completely sinking. The dimension that Poeltl provides as a legitimate seven-footer who is an elite offensive rebounder and rim-protector gives the Utes a defensive look that few teams in college basketball have. And he may very well have been the stopgap that saved Utah’s season from swirling down into the Willamette River here.

Player of the Game. Jakob Poeltl. Utah’s star freshman big man didn’t miss a shot from the field as he went for 18 points (7-of-7 FG), eight rebounds (three offensive) and five blocks. For a player that was on virtually nobody’s radar coming into the season, he has been a huge reason that Larry Krystkowiak’s group has returned Utah basketball to relevance.

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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 17th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) 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).

South Region

Favorite: #1 Duke (29-4, 16-4 ACC). The top-seeded Blue Devils are rightful favorites in the South region. Not only are the Blue Devils REALLY good (they are a #1 seed for a reason), but they were fortunate enough to avoid a region with Arizona or Virginia in a year where six teams could stake legitimate claims to #1 seeds. Ignore Duke’s ignominious recent NCAA Tournament history: The Blue Devils are favorites to book the flight from Houston to Indianapolis.

Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor have to wonder which way Duke is heading after a tumultuous week (sportingnews.com)

Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Duke are the favorites to get out of the region. (Getty)

Should They Falter: #3 Iowa State (25-8, 15-6 Big 12). We’ll leap the second-seeded Zags to label Iowa State as the next most likely team to win this region. Frank Hoiberg’s club finished with a flourish, knocking off Kansas in the Big 12 championship game to put the finishing touches on a tidy resume. The bulk of this Cyclones core were contributors when they lost to eventual champion Connecticut in the Sweet Sixteen a year ago. There are some flaws here, particularly on the defensive end, but Hoiberg is undoubtedly anxious to push a team deep into the NCAA Tournament. This bunch could be the one to do it.

Grossly Overseeded: #4 Georgetown (21-10, 13-7 Big East). The Big East got a lot of respect this Selection Sunday. Four of the six league teams to make the field were seeded at least a line above Joe Lunardi’s final projection, while the other two (Villanova and St. John’s) were at the number Lunardi projected. Georgetown received a #4 seed from the committee (two lines above the #6 Lunardi expected) and there’s little about the Hoyas – both on the resume and on the court – that indicates they are that deserving. Their best non-conference victory came in overtime on a neutral court against Indiana. Big East work, although headlined by a defeat of Villanova, was only marginally more impressive. John Thompson III guided the Hoyas to a solid bounce-back season after missing the NCAA Tournament a year ago, but they are overvalued at this seed line. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bracket Prep: Buffalo, Stephen F. Austin & Eastern Washington

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2015

Let’s finish off the Bracket Prep series with our reviews of each of the weekend mid-major automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket. Here’s a primer on each of the most recent bid winners. The entire series can be found here.

Buffalo

Buffalo is going dancing for the first time in school history. (Ken Blaze, Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

Buffalo is going dancing for the first time in school history. (Ken Blaze, Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

  • MAC Champion (23-9, 12-6)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #28/#54/#59
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +8.4
  • NCAA Seed: #12

Strength: Buffalo has some serious offensive weapons and tends to set them free. The Bulls were the most uptempo offense in the MAC this season, using just 17.4 seconds per possession and attacking the basket at every turn; 76 percent of their points came from inside the arc or at the free throw line. Part of that emphasis can be attributed to the presence of Justin Moss (17.9 PPG, 9.2 RPG), the 6’7” forward who won MAC Player of the Year. His ability to both run the floor and dominate on the low-block – along with a stable of talented, attacking guards like Shannon Evans (15.3 PPG, 4.7 APG) and Lamonte Bearden (8.2 PPG) – makes Bobby Hurley’s group tough to stop on that end of the court. The MAC champs are pretty solid on the other end, too, holding opponents to under a point per possession on the season. Keep an eye on Moss, though – the junior was limited during the league tournament because of an ankle injury.

Weakness: Outside of its so-so perimeter shooting (34% 3FG), Buffalo does not have too many glaring weaknesses – at least not by the numbers. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns. There was a three-game stretch during February in which the Bulls were bludgeoned on the defensive end, including a home loss to Toledo where the Rockets shot 86 percent from behind the arc and scored 1.3 points per possession. And for a team that shoots a healthy 72.2 percent from the stripe, Buffalo’s late-game free throw shooting in both MAC Tournament victories over the weekend was not very good. Whether these inconsistencies have to do with their youthful backcourt, lulls in energy, or something else, I’m not sure. But they can’t afford similar lapses this week.

Key player: Xavier Ford (9.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG). Moss is absolutely crucial and his health should be closely monitored as the week progresses, but assuming he’s good to go, another guy to keep your eye on is Ford. The 6’7” senior’s length and athleticism gives Hurley an added dimension on the offensive end – a slasher able to get to the rim (and rebound effectively) – as well as a defender who can guard the type of athletic scorers his team will probably see next week.

Outlook: Buffalo led both Kentucky and Wisconsin at halftime this season, which says a thing or two about its overall ability. As long as Moss is healthy and able to go, the Bulls are more than capable of keeping pace with West Virginia, especially considering their #12 seed line. Hurley’s bunch is talented, fiery and could end up playing on the back-half of the weekend.

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Conference Tourney Primers: Southland

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 11th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Southland Tournament

Dates: March 11-14

Site: Merrell Center (Katy, TX)

southland

What to expect: This is Stephen F. Austin’s tournament to lose. Over the past two seasons, the Lumberjacks have gone 35-1 in Southland play and won 28 of those contests by double-figures, using sharp offensive ball movement and half-court pressure defense to make easy work of most challengers. Brad Underwood’s club has won seven games in a row since stumbling at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in mid-February, including its title-clinching victory over second-place Sam Houston State last Saturday. That last win was not easy, however, and those Bearkats – statistically one of the best defensive teams in the country – could present another tough test on Saturday. Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State combined for a 32-4 conference record this season and are overwhelming favorites to reach the title game, especially since five of the league’s 13 teams are ineligible for postseason play and will not participate. Despite a tough final hurdle, expect Stephen F. Austin to reach the NCAA Tournament – and possibly do damage while there – for a second straight year.

Favorite: Stephen F. Austin. This year’s Lumberjacks are slightly more efficient and substantially more accurate than last year’s group, which beat VCU in the round of 64. Their effective field goal percentage (56.1% eFG) is the 10th best mark in college basketball and their offense as a whole ranks among the sport’s 30 most efficient, thanks largely to the success of Jacob Parker (48% 3FG) and Southland Player of the Year Thomas Walkup (126.8 ORtg). Stephen F. Austin has dominated the conference from start to finish and seems unlikely to slow down this week in Katy.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Iona, Chris Wood, Bob Williams & Texas A&M-CC

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 17th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

A.J. English and the MAAC-leading Gaels showed grit last week. (Andrew Theodorakis / New York Post)

A.J. English and the MAAC-leading Gaels showed grit last week. (Andrew Theodorakis / New York Post)

Iona. The Gaels battled a pair of tough MAAC contenders on the road this past weekend and beat them both, despite playing some (at times) less-than-pretty basketball. On Friday, against cross-town foe Manhattan – a rivalry game Steve Masiello once compared to Kentucky vs. Louisville – Iona overcame 21 turnovers, withstood several second-half runs and edged the Jaspers by three for its first victory in Draddy Gymnasium since 2012. “I heard a lot about this game, and there is nothing like a Manhattan crowd,” freshman guard Schadrac Casimir, who hit several big shots in the second half, said afterward. He finished with 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting, but it was junior A.J. English who drilled a clutch triple with 32 seconds left to seal the deal. Less than 48 hours later, the Gaels showed arguably more grit at Quinnipiac in not just erasing a seven-point second half deficit but overcoming their worst shooting performance (31.5%) since Tim Cluess took over the program in 2011. A team usually known for its fast-paced and free-flowing offense – the 28th-most efficient in America – put together its best defensive showing of the season to beat the Bobcats by three despite scoring just 0.86 points per possession. “We know that our shots aren’t going to fall every game and we have to find other ways to win,” Iona forward David Laury (18 points, nine rebounds) said. The Gaels have now won eight straight contests and sit two full games up on second-place Rider in the MAAC standings, their gritty weekend inching them one step closer to a second straight conference crown.

Honorable Mentions: San Diego State (2-0: vs. Wyoming, vs. Colorado State); Chattanooga (2-0: at Wofford, vs. Samford); UC Santa Barbara (2-0: vs. Long Beach State, at Cal State Northridge); Central Michigan (2-0: at Ohio, at Buffalo); Rice (2-0: vs. Middle Tennessee State, vs. UAB); Valparaiso (2-0: vs. Green Bay…at UW-Milwaukee)

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Hey Look, Stephen F. Austin is on Another Winning Streak

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 23rd, 2015

Stephen F. Austin lost to East Tennessee State last season on November 23 — falling to 3-2 overall — then proceeded to win 29 straight games on its way to the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament. Not only did the program record its first-ever victory in the Big Dance – an improbable comeback win over VCU – but Brad Underwood took home the Joe B. Hall National Coach of the Year honors as the top first-year head man in college hoops. As for this season? Things are looking awfully familiar. The Lumberjacks were blown out by Baylor on November 24 — falling to 1-3 overall — and, you guessed it, haven’t lost a game since. With tremendous team balance, a pair of match-up nightmares and 14 straight wins already in hand, the question must be asked: Can Underwood’s bunch again streak into March? Considering SFA’s track record and the overall dearth of legitimate Southland competition, it’s becoming a stronger and stronger possibility – one that may ultimately come down to Saturday’s trip to Sam Houston State.

Is Stephen F. Austin bound for another long streak? Sam Houston State could stand in the way. (Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports)

Is SFA bound for another long streak? Sam Houston State could stand in the way. (Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports)

Despite losing their top scorer from last season (Desmond Haymon), the Lumberjacks’ excellent balance and spread-motion attack – predicated on finding the highest percentage shot via heavy ball-movement – means they haven’t missed a beat offensively. Upwards of 10 guys play 10 or more minutes per game and six different players average between 6.7 PPG and 13.9 PPG, including four newcomers. Those new faces – two JuCo transfers, Samford transplant Clide Geffrard, Jr., and freshman Ty Charles – have adapted well to Underwood’s offensive approach, each capable shooters willing to swing the ball around and work for the best look. In fact, the defending conference champs have recorded assists on a whopping 64 percent of their made field goals so far this season. Still, the biggest problem for opposing defenses is trying to handle Jacob Parker and Thomas Walkup, the team’s versatile leading scorers. At 6’6’’, Parker (the reigning Southland Player of the Year) technically plays the four or five in most games, but possesses guard-like quickness off the bounce and exceptional accuracy from behind the arc, currently shooting an absurd 46 percent from three. Likewise, Walkup is an undersized forward who serves as the Lumberjacks’ grittiest banger in the paint (6.1 RPG) and one of its best passers (3.2 APG) while leading the team in scoring. Both players are multi-faceted ‘tweeners who present unique match-up problems on a nightly basis, enabling SFA to become an even more efficient offense this season.

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Dear Santa: Conference Season is Beginning, Please Bring Help

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 25th, 2014

The man in the red suit is a busy guy right about now, but more than a few college basketball teams should be hoping Santa has time to swing by campus before his work is done. No milk and cookies were left fireside in Lexington, KY, or Durham, NC (reinforcements not needed), and some programs need seek only a stocking stuffer or two (hey there, Virginia and Wisconsin). But most teams have wish lists that stretch far longer. Conference play is here, and the blissful ignorance of the non-conference season? Long gone. In its place arrive true days of reckoning – grinding tests against peers that won’t allow deficiencies to go unpunished any longer. With conference season looming, we take a look at a handful of college basketball teams in desperate need of a gift this Christmas.

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Iowa: Last Season’s Shooting Touch

Shoddy defense destroyed the Hawkeye’s promising start a season ago, but things have changed this winter. The defense has been much improved (22nd nationally in defensive efficiency), but a sputtering offense has left Iowa just 9-4 heading into conference play. All eight of the Hawkeye returnees have seen their three-point percentage drop this year (team: 259th nationally in three-point percentage), while only Gabriel Olaseni has improved upon his 2013-14 two-point field goal percentage (team: 232nd nationally in two-point percentage). The widespread nature of the shooting epidemic would seem to indicate some sort of systemic explanation. No Roy Devyn Marble? A lack of comfort with a quicker tempo? A coaching staff that has lost its players? Any or all of these questions could be a dig at the root cause, but even if they are, expecting some reversion to the more efficient levels of 2013-14 is entirely fair. The defense has been there; can Santa bring back the Hawkeyes’ shooting strokes?

Arkansas: Road Victories

For most of Mike Anderson’s tenure at Arkansas, the New Year (and conference play) has brought two things in bunches: home wins, and road losses. The Razorbacks are well positioned to earn their first Tournament appearance under Anderson after a 9-2 start, even if old habits die hard. The Hogs are undefeated on the home hardwood (8-0) and less perfect on the road: Both of the Hogs’ losses (Iowa State and Clemson) have come in enemy arenas. A November win at SMU should not be overlooked, but Arkansas needs to prove they can win games away from Bud Walton Arena in 2015. A depleted SEC should play the role of enabler.

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O26 Weekly Awards: SFA, John Brown, Marvin Menzies & NJIT…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 9th, 2014

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks’ season began (in earnest) with a home loss to Northern Iowa – the team’s first defeat in its own building since February 15, 2012 – and a pair of road losses to Xavier and Baylor. All respectable games to drop, sure, but the latter two weren’t even close, as SFA was bludgeoned by margins of 18 and 16 points, respectively. They certainly weren’t the types of outcomes people expected after last season’s 32-3, Round of 32 campaign – especially with Southland Player of the Year Jacob Parker back in the fold. But after a pair of easy victories in the Las Vegas Invitational over Thanksgiving weekend, the Southland favorite had a chance to get its swagger back – and climb above .500 – with two tough-but-winnable games last week at Memphis and home against Long Beach State.

The result? Swagger has been restored.

Stephen F. Austin is our O26 Team of the Week. (Getty Images)

Stephen F. Austin is our O26 Team of the Week. (Getty Images)

Not only did the Lumberjacks beat Memphis on Tuesday, they held the Tigers to their lowest point total in FedEx Forum since the 2009 Conference USA Tournament. Not that SFA was necessarily scorching the nets either, but midway through the second half its ball movement picked up dramatically and the perimeter shots started falling, prompting a 23-6 run over the game’s final 10 minutes. It was as if Underwood’s group found another gear – one that it has yet to shift down from. Following Memphis, SFA returned home on Friday to face a Long Beach State unit coming off wins over Xavier (who beat the Lumberjacks, if you remember) and Nevada in its previous two contests. KenPom predicted a single-digit outcome; the Lumberjacks had other plans, beating the 49ers down by 29 points in a wire-to-wire victory, a performance made even more impressive by the fact that Parker scored only four of those. They crushed LBSU on the offensive glass, took away the three-point line and forced a bunch of turnovers, all key ingredients in the recipe for a blowout. Now, SFA (which also popped Ouachita Baptist by 24 on Sunday) is looking almost as good as it did last year. And without another difficult non-conference test remaining on the schedule, could it achieve similar success, too… another 29-game winning streak, anyone?

Honorable Mentions: Harvard (3-0: vs. Northeastern, at Vermont, vs. Boston U.); Yale (2-1: at Bryant, at Connecticut, at Florida); New Mexico (vs. New Mexico State, at Valparaiso); Idaho (2-0: at Washington State, vs. UC-Davis); Fairfield (vs. Manhattan, at Quinnipiac)

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