Morning Five: 07.09.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 9th, 2013

morning5

  1. There were a couple of big moves involving players that will be eligible to play next season. The biggest involves Memphis who announced that incoming freshman Kuran Iverson had been cleared academically by the NCAA to play this season. Iverson, a 6’9″ forward who is ranked in the top 40 by most recruiting services and happens to be the cousin of Allen Iverson, can add quite a bit to the Tigers lineup that is still waiting to hear if Michael Dixon and Rashawn Powell will be eligible to play. At this point it seems like neither will be eligible to play, which makes the addition of Iverson even bigger. The other move, which is also pretty significant, but is of a shorter duration involves Arizona State, which picked up Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall, who will be graduating next month and can play for the Sun Devils this coming season. Picking up a player of Marshall’s talent (averaged 15.3 points per game in the Big Ten) is a huge addition for a team that has hopes of contending in the Pac-12 next year. It will be interesting to see how committed Marshall is to the team since he initially was planning on going to Europe rather than look at another college. If his minutes dwindle or he struggles to fit in with his new teammates, we wonder how long it will take him to start looking at international flights out of Phoenix.
  2. Coming off a surprising Final Four appearance Wichita State appears to be flying high. Their hiring of Steve Forbes as an assistant coach might not register with casual fans, but it is quite a pick-up. You may remember Forbes from his time at Tennessee as an assistant before he received a one-year show-cause penalty for being evasive when NCAA authorities tried to investigate Bruce Pearl’s meeting with Aaron Craft at a cookout. Forbes had served as head coach at Northwest Florida State (a junior college) and becomes the first member of Pearl’s former staff to get a Division 1 job. Wichita State should benefit from Forbes’ experience as one of the top recruiters in the nation.
  3. This past Friday a US District Court Judge ruled that the plaintiffs in the Ed O’Bannon case can amend the lawsuit to include a current NCAA athlete as a plaintiff. Of course, the obvious concern for any athlete would be that the NCAA will single out this individual for additional investigations that the individual would not otherwise be subjected to. Yesterday, the lawyers leading the anti-trust lawsuit sent the NCAA a letter asking the NCAA to agree that no such actions will be taken against such an individual and that joining the lawsuit would not jeopardize the individual’s eligibility. In theory this is nice, but we have a hard time believing that the NCAA would give a current athlete blanket immunity and since they will not we suspect that they will miraculously stumble upon evidence that leads to an investigation of that individual.
  4. Winning international titles might have been a foregone conclusion for the US National Team for years, but as we have seen in recent years that is not necessarily the case particularly when we are not sending our “A” team. So the Under-19 team winning the World Championship is certainly worth celebrating even if it will not get mentioned in most sports sections. The team, which was led by Billy Donovan, Shaka Smart, and Tony Bennett, defeated Serbia 82-68 to win the gold medal. Arizona fans will be particularly pleased with the performance of Aaron Gordon who was named Tournament MVP. Gordon was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Jahil Okafor (class of 2014; uncommitted). We expect several players from this team–primarily rising freshmen and sophomores–to have big seasons including Marcus Smart, who did not make the All-Tournament Team, but will probably be a Preseason First-Team All-American.
  5. With the World University Games going on most college basketball fans will be paying attention to the performances of some college stars, but as Andy Glockner points out the more interesting aspect might be the shot clock. It seems like we hear every year about how scoring is down in college basketball and how decreasing the shot clock from 35 seconds to 24 seconds would speed up the game and increase scoring. As Glockner points out international competitions use the 24-second shot clock and from the comments of many college players and coaches it seems that they prefer the 35-second shot clock. It may seem obvious that they would prefer something that they are used to, but the argument that Colorado coach Tad Boyle makes about a shorter shot clock making the game more homogeneous in terms of playing style is an interesting one. In the end, the NCAA should probably base their decision on the length of the shot clock around what makes it a better product for the public, but we are guessing that coaches will prefer to keep the status quo even if it hurts the popularity of the game.
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Morning Five: 05.27.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 27th, 2013

morning5

  1. When the Mike Rice story broke last month it led to a Saturday Night Live skit, but at this point Rutgers is veering dangerously close to territory so ridiculous that South Park might consider the plot far-fetched (ok, maybe that is a stretch). The latest embarrassment for the school is the revelation that Julie Hermann, the athletic director the school hired to clean up the program after the Rice fiasco, has faced allegations of abuse from her players in the past too. Perhaps Hermann and the school hoped that these allegations (made just sixteen years ago at a small school named Tennessee) would never come up despite this thing called the Internet, which manages to find out almost everything about anybody in a matter of days. With the way this has gone we have a hard time believing that Hermann will be able to formally take the new job, which she is scheduled to start working at on June 17, and school president Robert Barchi should be looking for a new job too.
  2. Lost in the wake of the Rice/Rutgers fiasco was the continuing investigation into Wisconsin-Green Bay coach Brian Wardle who had been accused of abusing his players both verbally and physically. On Friday, the school announced that an outside investigation had cleared Wardle. Unlike Rice, Wardle had the support of many of his players and perhaps most importantly did not have a video of his alleged actions floating around for the world to see. Given what was released the school’s decision should not be that much a surprise. What is interesting is the concessions that Wardle will have to make despite being cleared–receive a disciplinary letter, have someone overseeing him, and not be able to renegotiate his contrast, which ends in 2017. Given those concessions it would seem like there was something happening at Wisconsin-Green Bay (perhaps something considered as benign in sports as cursing) even if it was not as bad as what Wardle was initially accused of.
  3. After setting off a round of speculation about where he would transfer to and briefly committing to play at Toledo, Kyle Vinales has decided to return Central Connecticut State. The rising junior, who averaged 21.6 points per game last season, initially stated that his decision to transfer was based on his desire to play in the NCAA Tournament–something his seventh place NEC team with 13-17 record didn’t seem destined to do–before deciding that he wanted to lead his team there rather than move onto a better situation. While we applaud Vinales for his decision to stick around (he had already transferred once in his college career) we wonder how easily he will transition back into the team concept at Central Connecticut where his coach has already stated that his role will be changed on the team due to a change in the abilities of his teammates. Given Vinales’ penchant for transferring we will be interested to see how long his decision to stay at Central Connecticut lasts or if he has another change of heart if they struggle next season.
  4. There were a few players who actually decided to follow through on their intention to transfer. The biggest news is the decision by Memphis transfer Will Barton to transfer to Tennessee spurning schools such as Maryland, Texas A&M, and Kansas State. Barton showed signs of promise early in his career averaging 8.2 points per game as a freshman before seeing his minutes and production fall the next two seasons. Barton, who will be eligible to play this fall as he will graduate from Memphis by then, will be a welcome arrival in Knoxville as the Volunteers are in need of a point guard with Trae Golden’s transfer. The addition of Barton makes them a potential top-three team in the SEC. The other transfer news is not quite as newsworthy on a national scale, but it may be more interesting as Stephen Hurt, the Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year, decided to transfer from Lipscomb to Northwest Florida State. The move is interesting for several reasons with the primary one being the decision by a player who would attract interest from high-majors to head to a junior college where he can play immediately and then be recruited to play for a high-major without having to sit out any time. The other interesting aspect of the case is that Northwest Florida State is coached by Steve Forbes, who has been mentioned before in this space for having started over at the junior college level after receiving a one-year show-cause penalty for his association and possible involvement with Bruce Pearl’s infractions. You should keep your eyes on Forbes as a potential candidate for a Division I job if he continues to land recruits the caliber of Hurt.
  5. It seemed to be just an off-the-cuff comment in a 45-minute press conference, but Mike Krzyzewski‘s declaration that the 2013-14 ACC would be the best conference ever raised a few eyebrows. On the surface it appears to be an absurd comment, but as several writers have pointed out that depends on how you define “best”. It almost certainly will not touch the Big East’s 1985 where it had three teams in the Final Four or the Big East’s 2009 where it had 11 teams make the NCAA Tournament including a ninth-place team that won the title. However, with a core that includes Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, and Syracuse the ACC is poised to be as good at the top as any conference in recent memory and will likely be in the same category for the next few years. The bigger question for the conference is what it will look like at the middle and the bottom of the conference where it is soft to put it gently. Certainly the addition of Andrew Wiggins to Florida State would have bolstered at least one of those teams. For the time being, the best ever comments may seem outlandish, but we will probably have to wait until February to make a better judgement on that.
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Morning Five: 03.04.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 4th, 2013

morning5

  1. With top ten teams falling everyday it seems like we are the verge of finally seeing Gonzaga rise to #1 in the rankings. As we pointed out nearly a week ago Gonzaga’s likely rise to #1 will be met by skepticism in many corners as evidenced by the fact that they might not get a #1 seed even if they enter the NCAA Tournament as the #1 team in the polls. However, that shouldn’t diminish how impressive the program’s rise from the archetypal mid-major power to one that has become such a national force that even The New York Times stopped by Spokane for the annual story about the program with a piece by Greg Bishop appropriately titled “Nothing ‘Mid’ About Gonzaga”. We tend to find the “mid-major” label argument tiresome, but the growth and continued excellence of the program has been nothing short of remarkable regardless of whatever moniker you want to afix to them.
  2. Gonzaga might be reaching their post-Casey Cavalry peak later today, but their West Coast Conference rival Saint Mary’s certainly is not after the NCAA handed down some substantial sanctions on Friday (full report PDF here). We have a longer breakdown of the story from Friday afternoon, but the primary charges against the school and its coach, Randy Bennett, are that they failed to monitor an assistant coach in his recruitment of three international prospects as well as Bennett conducting impermissible training and coaching sessions. The assistant coach who was not named in the report, but is believed to be Keith Moss, was hit with a two-year show-cause.  The school was hit with four years of probation, a reduction of scholarships from 13 to 11 in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, elimination of foreign trips until the 2017-18 season, no skill instruction during the next two seasons, and they cannot participate in multi-team events for the next two seasons. Bennett will serve a five-game suspension next year (doesn’t make any sense to us why this should wait until next season) and is prohibited from recruiting off-campus next season. We are sure that St. Mary’s fans are having difficulty finding anything positive from the situation, but this should guarantee them that Bennett will not be leaving them for a higher profile job in the very near future. Of course that is operating under the assumption that administrators care about NCAA violations, which may not be the case.
  3. If Moss is looking for hope after his show-cause he can look to Steve Forbes, who shook off the NCAA’s one-year show-cause (part of the Bruce Pearl investigation) in an unusual way–going to the NJCAA. Forbes’ route is an unusual one in that he did not sit out at all and went straight into another college coaching job. Given his recent coaching success and his success at recruiting at the Division I level we would not be surprised to see his name mentioned in another month when more than a few positions. Still if Forbes is able to make it back to the Division I level (especially as a head coach) he would be joining a very short list of coaches to have done so (Todd Bozeman is the only head coach to have done so, but we are not certain on assistants making the leap).
  4. The decision by St. John’s to suspend D’Angelo Harrison for the rest of the season is one of the more interesting ones we have seen as the Red Storm were still on the bubble when they made the announcement on Friday and we still have not heard a good explanation for why Harrison was suspended for the rest of the season. Having said that we have to give Steve Lavin some credit for making the tough call as it would have been much easier just to put up with whatever Harrison was doing (assuming he isn’t in legal trouble) and finish out the season with a potential NCAA Tournament trip on the line. On top of that there is always the risk that this move will help push Harrison out the door at St. John’s whether that is to another school or (a dumb) decision to enter the NBA Draft.
  5. The University of San Diego bribery case appears to be nearing an end (at least for those of us concerned with the basketball aspect) as the school’s all-time leading scorer, Brandon Johnson, was sentenced to six months in prison for his role in the scandal. Johnson was charged with fixing four games, but continues to deny everything except that he unsuccessfully tried to recruit another player to throw games despite the fact that the FBI has a recorded conversation where Johnson stated he wished he had thrown every game and even offered to throw a NBA Developmental League game. Johnson will begin serving the sentence on May 31 after being granted a delay in sentencing so he could finish out the rest of his season as a youth league coach in Houston. Johnson says he hopes to play professional basketball again at some point, but given the evidence against him we cannot imagine any league taking him with his background.
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Morning Five: 10.03.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 3rd, 2011

  1. Welcome to next year.  After six roiling months of will-he/won’t-he interspersed with typical summer drama and another session of non-apocalyptic conference realignment, it’s time to get back to basketball.  In a little over eleven days from now, official practices will commence around the country with Midnight Madness.  Three weeks after that, the first real games will tip off in Queens, Starkville and Tucson as the 2kSports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic gets under way.  Basketball season is just around the corner, and starting today, we’ll be unveiling our 2011-12 Season Preview with comprehensive breakdowns of each of the 31 auto-bid Division I leagues and a number of other features.  We’re also proud to announced that our first RTC Microsite, featuring the venerable and historic Atlantic Coast Conference, will officially roll out a little later this morning.  The calendar may only say it’s a few days into October, but as far as we here at RTC are concerned, the season starts today.
  2. Fifteen Big East presidents met in Washington, DC, on Sunday to discuss the future of that league in the aftermath of Syracuse and Pittsburgh’s sudden departure a couple short weeks ago.  According to this Andy Katz report, the league brass unanimously authorized commissioner John Marinotti to “aggressively pursue discussions” with targeted schools that the league hopes to add to its lineup.  Several of the schools being mentioned as possibilities include Army, Navy, Temple, Central Florida, Air Force and SMU, with two of the service academies rumored as the top targets for membership as football-only institutions.  Connecticut’s future conference status is the biggest wild card right now, as its president Susan Herbst re-affirmed the school’s commitment to the league after the meeting, but it is widely regarded that the Huskies would quickly take an ACC spot if offered one.  In other words, not much has truly changed.
  3. One Big East team that is fighting for its legitimacy to remain a major college program in both basketball and football is Louisville.  Despite a $68M sports budget that would rate second only to Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12 and the most profitable basketball program in America, the Cards are worried about being left out of the superconference picture if the Big East continues its degradation and the Big 12 eventually falls apart.  To put its athletic program in perspective, Eric Crawford at the Courier-Journal created three interesting tables showing the relative specs of the Big East, Big 12 and SEC (budgets, enrollments, expenditures, etc.).  He even adds an academic component (research and development) and each school’s Sears Cup placement from the 2010-11 academic year.  It’s worth a look.
  4. This is a somewhat dated story, but we hadn’t gotten around to mentioning it yet.  Last week Gary Parrish wrote about how two of Bruce Pearl‘s former assistants’ lives have been turned upside down in the intervening months since the whole house of cards came down at Tennessee.  We found the tone of the article to be somewhat sympathetic — perhaps too sympathetic — to the plight that the assistants now find themselves in, coaching at Northwest Florida State for salaries far below what they were making in Knoxville.  He makes the case that Steve Forbes and Jason Shay were in no-win situations where they faced punishment one way or another — either by ratting out their boss to the NCAA, or by failing to be forthright and going down with the ship as a collective.  Apparently a number of people took issue with Parrish’s stance, as he addressed it again in his Five For the Weekend column on Friday.  We’re of a similar mind with his critics — just because the assistants found themselves in a tough spot didn’t mean that both choices were equally meritorious, and Bruce Pearl’s own career trajectory should have taught them that.  He dropped dime on Illinois twenty years ago, and yet through his subsequent hard work and on-court success, he was able to become one of the highest-paid coaches in America despite for a long time suffering a reputation as a snitch.  Remember the tried-and-true lesson — the cover-up is always, always, always worse than the actual crime.
  5. Speaking of recruiting violations, this report by Pete Thamel at the NYT takes a look at one of the areas of college basketball recruiting that knowledgeable observers suggest is among the most abused: unofficial visits.  According to NCAA rules, an unofficial visit is one where a recruit visits a campus but pays his own way for all expenses related to travel, food, and lodging.  Using a Lane Kiffin allegation of a booster paying for a recruit’s unofficial visit at Tennessee as an example, the report suggests that there is little to no oversight or scrutiny focusing on how high school students are in fact paying for these visits.  Over half of this year’s top 100 seniors have already committed to schools without taking their official visits, so it’s clear that these players are getting to those campuses somehow.  Interesting piece.
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Atlantic Sun Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2011

Bucky Dent is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun. The A-Sun is among the first of the conference tournaments to tip off, with action set to begin Wednesday.

Tournament Preview and Prediction

The top two seeds play Wednesday, giving them a day off before playing in semifinal matchups Friday night. While weird stuff happens in March, there’s nothing to suggest that Belmont or ETSU should lose against Kennesaw State or Campbell, respectively.

On the other hand, a North Florida upset of Jacksonville or a Mercer victory over Lipscomb wouldn’t come as a surprise. The Ospreys’ season would be made by beating their crosstown rivals and the Bears are as hot as anyone not named Belmont in this league.

Regardless of who wins those games, though, it would be a real surprise if Belmont and ETSU didn’t play for the championship as they were clearly the league’s best teams. Strangely enough, the one fly in the ointment might be if Lipscomb survives Mercer on the Bears’ floor and gets a third crack at its Nashville rivals in the semifinals. All bets might be off at that point, but there’s a reason Belmont was 19-1 in the league this year. It had the best team and could win any type of game – fast, slow or moderately-paced. Look for the Bruins to win the A-Sun tourney and perhaps win an NCAA Tournament game with the right draw.

A Look Back

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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 21st, 2011

Bucky Dent is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.

A Look Back

  • Leaving it in Bruins: Belmont isn’t just winning its games, it’s flat-out plundering this conference. Going into a Friday date at USC Upstate, the Bruins have won their first eight A-Sun games by an average of 29 points per game and are also receiving votes in the coaches’ top 25. Ken Pomeroy’s tempo-free metrics rank them as the 25th-best team nationally, an eye-opener for those who would prefer to denigrate their accomplishments because of the A-Sun. Anyone who’s seen Belmont and its BCS league-level depth in person would know better.
  • Bucs Going Wild: As for the league‘s remainder, non-Belmont division, East Tennessee State is clearly the crop‘s cream. It’s won eight in a row, including an impressive 74-62 win Saturday at Jacksonville in which it led wire-to-wire. The Buccaneers are shooting much better than they were earlier in the season, but the key has been a defense which consistently denies the opposition clean looks, regardless of whether they’re using the “pack line” man or matchup zones. And now they are headed home to play five straight in the Mountain States Center, where they’re 5-0 this year.
  • Player of the Week: Ian Clark, Belmont: The Bruins’ sophomore shooting guard was a model of efficiency in a 90-55 win over Campbell Saturday night, requiring just eight shots to score 20 points as he canned 4-4 on three-pointers. Clark averaged 16 points per contest in easy wins over Lipscomb and Campbell. Just missing the gold medal for a second straight week was East Tennessee State’s Mike Smith, whose 20-point, 20-rebound game Jan. 8 against Florida Gulf Coast was the first of its kind at ETSU in 52 years. Stetson freshman Luis Jacobo earns the bronze after averaging 17 ppg and going 15-27 from the floor in a split against Mercer and Kennesaw State.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (16-3, 8-0)

Next Week: 1/21 at USC Upstate, 1/23 at East Tennessee State, 1/25 at Lipscomb

If the Bruins are to lose in the league during the regular season, it will probably happen at ETSU or Lipscomb. If they get through those two unscathed, the only obstacle taller than a speed bump is a February trip to Jacksonville. The recent play of centers Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders brings to mind a collective All-American. The duo is averaging nearly 34 points between them in the last three games while splitting playing time almost right down the middle. Most teams in this league dream of having one decent center, but Belmont has two good ones. That’s why it could win a game in the NCAA Tournament — if it makes it there.

2. East Tennessee State (12-7, 7-1)

Next Week: 1/21 vs. Lipscomb, 1/23 vs. Belmont, 1/25 vs. USC Upstate

Moving Smith to power forward, where he can beat bigger players off the dribble and still moose his way to the bucket against smaller defenders, was the switch which ignited this team. It also hasn’t hurt that senior guard Micah Williams has finally remembered that he can score 20 points any time he plays, averaging 19.3 in the last three games. Now if the Buccaneers could just extract a little more consistency from the mercurial Justin Tubbs, who can’t miss one game and is borderline useless the next, they could be the one team in this league that could prevent a Belmont title.

3. Jacksonville (11-6, 5-3)

Next week: 1/22 at Kennesaw State, 1/26 at North Florida

One thing the last two weeks revealed is that the Dolphins are a notch below Belmont and ETSU, having lost to that duo by a combined 43 points. One major reason is that they can’t make jumpers, having canned just 36 of 145 three-pointers over the last ten games and 16 of 72  in the last five. Opponents are having an easy time taking away the dribble-drive from this quick team and forcing it to settle for jumpers. Unless guys like Travis Cohn and Tevin Galvin can find the range from the arc, every game will continue to be a rocking-chair gut-grinder for Jacksonville.

4. Lipscomb (10-7, 5-3)

Next Week: 1/21 at East Tennessee State, 1/23 at USC Upstate, 1/25 vs. Belmont

Of all the ugly things that happened to the Bisons in their 88-52 beatdown at Belmont Jan. 13, the worst might have been seeing the 72-game double-figure scoring streak of center Adnan Hodzic end after he was held to seven points by Hedgepeth and Saunders. Predictably, Hodzic rebounded with 33 in a 92-81 win over Campbell Monday night. If Lipscomb is to generate any kind of momentum for a run through the conference tournament — the regular season title seems out of reach at this point — a win at ETSU Friday night would be a wonderful starting point.

5. North Florida: (7-12, 4-4)

Next Week: 1/22 at Mercer, 1/26 vs. Jacksonville

And now we get to the point where there‘s almost no difference between the teams. The Ospreys are assigned this spot by dint of a brutal non-conference schedule and their ability to win on the road in the league, proven Thursday night when they cooled off Kennesaw State. Parker Smith continues to lead the league in three-point hits per game, giving the team the best bench production in the non-Belmont division. Had UNF been able to finish out close losses against Lipscomb and ETSU, it would be 6-2 in the conference.

6. Campbell: (9-9, 3-6)

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Stetson, 1/25 at Longwood

Courtesy of the Camels, a Florida Gulf Coast team which looked like a good bet to go 0-for-conference play picked up its first league win Thursday night. Campbell’s not exactly leaving the A-Sun with a bang, having lost six of its last eight in the league. It’s turning the ball over too much and not playing the kind of sticky defense which characterized its run to a co-conference title last year. While Lorne Merthie and Eric Griffin are providing their share of individual highlights, the role-playing remainder of this roster simply isn’t doing enough.

7. Stetson (6-13, 4-4)

Next week: 1/22 at Campbell, 1/25 vs. Florida Gulf Coast

Next on the agenda for the freshman-laden Hatters: Learning how to focus from game-to-game. Coach Derek Waugh rebuked them for lacking that ability when they followed a January 14 win with Mercer with a January 16 loss to Kennesaw State, meaning they still haven’t won consecutive games yet. It’s a pretty sure bet Waugh was even more disgusted when they somehow concocted a loss at 3-17 Savannah State Tuesday night. One good sign: Center Steve Forbes ripped down 13 boards in just 26 minutes against Kennesaw State.

8. Mercer (6-13, 3-5)

Next week: 1/22 vs. North Florida, 1/25 at Kennesaw State

The week‘s most improbable win might belong to the Bears, which followed up the season‘s ugliest win — a 50-47 stink bomb at Florida Gulf Coast — with a 70-68 upset Thursday night over Jacksonville. Defense was the reason as Mercer held the offensively-challenged Dolphins to 25 points in the second half and overtime. If nothing else, this should give the Bears a better chance to at least make the conference tournament in March — on their home floor.

9. Kennesaw State: (5-13, 3-5)

Next week: 1/22 vs. Jacksonville, 1/25 vs. Mercer

Just when you thought it might be time to get excited about the Owls again after they swept their road trip to Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson, they come home and lose by 15 to North Florida. So much for the dramatic layup Spencer Dixon hit at the end against Stetson. While individuals keep logging decent stats — such as Kelvin McConnell moving into second on the school’s all time three-pointers — the team as a whole still isn’t doing enough little things consistently to make any kind of move up the standings.

10. Florida Gulf Coast: (4-13, 1-7)

Next week: 1/25 at Stetson

Freshman Christophe Varidel has been quite a revelation in the last five games, averaging 14.8 ppg and more than ably filling in for senior Reed Baker, who may have played his last game for reasons no one is disclosing. Baker hasn’t played since scoring just five points in 15 minutes of a loss at ETSU January 8. Coach Dave Balza described it as an “internal team matter.” If Baker doesn’t return, he’ll finish his Eagle career 51 points shy of becoming the program’s third 1,000-point scorer.

11. USC Upstate: (2-15, 1-6)

Next Week: 1/21 vs. Belmont, 1/23 vs. Lipscomb, 1/25 at East Tennessee State

Condolences go out to coach Eddie Payne, who missed a Jan. 15 loss at North Florida due to the death of his father-in-law. Assistant coach Kyle Perry presided over that defeat, the team‘s ninth in a row. The Spartans continue to struggle enough offensively to lose close games, although a close game against Belmont Friday night would be a major upset. Upstate still hasn‘t rescheduled its Jan. 10 snowout with Florida Gulf Coast; there‘s a chance it might not take place until the week of the A-Sun Tournament. Neither team is eligible for it due to reclassification, so it‘s not like the applecart would be upset either way.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we‘ll take a look at an intriguing stat around the conference and decide fluke or trend. This week, we‘ll zero in on the impressive play of Mercer’s Brian Mills, a bit player for most of his career who‘s scored in double figures 10 of the last 11 games, capping it with 24 points in Thursday night‘s upset of Jacksonville.
The verdict is trend. Mills is the top inside threat in this offense and will continue to get touches, and can also create points off missed shots with his relentless work on the glass. If there were a Most Improved Player award in this league, he might be it.

A Look Ahead

With the pecking order set, three of the top four teams converge on Johnson City this weekend for games which could determine a lot.

  • Lipscomb tries to beat someone good in the conference when it plays at ETSU Friday night. The teams annually produce some of the most dramatic finishes, including last-shot wins last year for the road teams as they split the season series.
  • Following its tuneup game at USC Upstate Friday night, Belmont takes the short bus trip up I-26 to Johnson City for a Sunday showdown. The Buccaneers matched up badly against the Bruins last year while being swept, but Smith corrects some of those issues with his versatility.
  • Friday night‘s game with Lipscomb starts a five-game homestand for ETSU, which won‘t have to see another plane or bus again until it leaves Feb. 3 for its Florida Gulf Coast-Stetson swing.
  • Lipscomb will try to exact revenge on Belmont Tuesday night when the Bruins hit Allen Arena. Weird things happen in rivalry games like this one, but it’d have to be really weird for the Bisons to make up 36 points.
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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 8th, 2011

Bucky Dent is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.

A Look Back

  • The Agony Ends… and Resumes: While no one picked Kennesaw State to win the conference this year, no one thought it would have a ten-game losing streak, either. But that‘s what happened as the Owls played poor defense and were too shot-dependent. KSU broke the spell with a 78-71 home win against USC Upstate Jan. 3, with the Spartans getting 23 points from Kelvin McConnell and 16 rebounds from Aaron Anderson. But it went back to losing two nights later when it allowed East Tennessee State to light it up for 51 percent shooting in an 80-69 decision.
  • Stetson Makes Lipscomb Smell: While no one would dare pick the Hatters over the Bisons in a seven-game series, Stetson did send the conference a message January 3 with a 76-66 upset in DeLand, Florida. Freshman point guard Corey Walden lit it up for 23 points and eight assists as the Hatters erupted for 58 points in the second half. It was another reminder why Lipscomb, as currently constituted, might never win anything that truly matters. It just doesn’t make enough of a commitment to defense.
  • Player of the Week: Adam Sollazzo, East Tennessee State: It‘s safe to say no one saw this coming. Sollazzo lost his job less than a month ago as coach Murray Bartow tried a point guard-less lineup for three games. Now he‘s the king of the A-Sun hill after averaging 16 points and 4.5 assists per game in wins over Mercer and Kennesaw State, canning a game-winning shot against Mercer. Just missing the gold medal is teammate Mike Smith, who averaged 14.3 points and nine rebounds during the Bucs’ trip to Cancun, and North Florida’s Parker Smith, who dropped 20 and 25 points on Maryland and Kansas State, respectively, in the dying days of 2010.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (12-3, 4-0)
Next Week: 1/8 vs. North Florida, 1/10 vs. Jacksonville, 1/13 vs. Lipscomb

The beat goes on for the Bruins, which followed a solid non-conference win over Miami (OH) with easy conference road wins over Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson. Coach Rick Byrd netted the 500th win of his impressive career at Stetson and figures to tack on about 15 more to that total this year. Byrd unleashed his bench on the Hatters and it made the difference as they outscored Stetson‘s reserves 44-2, led by 14 from freshman J.J. Mann. Belmont‘s dominance has caught the eye of mid-major pollsters that are making it a regular in their top 25s. If this continues, a nation may notice this squad in March.

2. Jacksonville (9-3, 3-0)
Next Week: 1/8 at Lipscomb, 1/10 at Belmont, 1/13 vs. USC Upstate

For just the second time in their A-Sun tenure, the Dolphins have won their first three conference games. To match a 5-0 start in 2007-08, all they have to do is sweep their Nashville road trip against Lipscomb and Belmont. Don’t discount this undersized but super-quick team, which has had seven different players lead the team in scoring during the first 12 games. JU continues to play excellent first-shot defense (40.7 field goal percentage, 29.2 3-point percentage) and force turnovers at a clip of more than 17 per game. One major concern is that it’s making only 62.5 percent of its free throws.

3. East Tennessee State (8-7, 3-1)
Next week: 1/8 vs. Florida Gulf Coast, 1/10 vs. Stetson, 1/13 at North Florida

Looks like a return to A-Sun play was the cure for what ailed the Bucs. In the last four games, they‘ve topped 70 points three times, thanks largely to Sollazzo‘s increased contribution on offense. Mike Smith and Justin Tubbs have found the range more lately, but the biggest news is the team‘s commitment to the “pack line“ defense invented by Dick Bennett and perfected by Tony Bennett during his time at Washington State. With the exception of allowing Kennesaw State to hit 51 percent from the floor, the Buccaneers have taken to the pack approach. The roll should continue against Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson.

4. Lipscomb (8-5, 3-1)
Next Week: 1/8 vs. Jacksonville, 1/10 vs. North Florida, 1/13 at Belmont

Coach Scott Sanderson said it best after the Bisons‘ inexplicable loss to Stetson January 3. “There are no free games in this league. That loss stung. There’s no way around it.” There’s also no way around the fact that this team refuses to make a consistent commitment to defense, which isn’t just something you can do when you feel like it. That Lipscomb continues to permit opponents to score 78.5 ppg and shoot better than 45 percent indicates that either Sanderson’s message isn’t getting through or that there are a bunch of below-average defenders on this roster. Until Adnan Hodzic, Josh Slater and Co. mix in a few possessions of defense with their fun-to-watch offense, they won’t win any championships.

5. North Florida: (5-9, 2-1)
Next Week: 1/8 at Belmont, 1/10 at Lipscomb, 1/13 vs. East Tennessee State

OK, so the Ospreys are 5-9 and Campbell is 7-6. Yet we rank them about the Camels for two reasons — head-to-head result and strength of schedule. Not only did North Florida win straight-up January 5 in Buies Creek, it’s played a brutal schedule, cashing checks in exchange for beatings and lessons. What we’ve learned about coach Matthew Driscoll’s team is that when they play someone their own size (i.e.: the A-Sun), they’re pretty darn competitive. The addition of Parker Smith has given this team a breakout scorer they didn’t have last year. The Ospreys will stay around .500 in the league and beat people they shouldn’t.

6. Campbell: (7-6, 1-3)
Next Week: 1/7 vs. Kennesaw State, 1/10 vs. Mercer

Losing at two-time A-Sun tourney champion ETSU is one thing. Losing at home against a Jacksonville team good enough to win at Florida is another. Losing at home against undermanned North Florida is inexcusable. Yet the Camels did it in spite of shooting 55 percent from the field. The most shocking thing about this defeat was that they committed 26 turnovers against an Ospreys team which isn’t known for its fierce defensive pressure. Even point guard Junard Hartley, who’s normally careful with the ball, hacked up five turnovers. Campbell needs to sweep the Georgia schools because its Nashville trip awaits.

7. Stetson (4-10, 2-2)
Next week: 1/8 at USC Upstate, 1/10 at East Tennessee State

It says something for the Hatters that their 17-point loss to Belmont on Wednesday was the closest any A-Sun team has come to the Bruins so far. Their upset of Lipscomb should tell everyone in the conference not to take it easy when visiting central Florida. The 1-2 punch of Corey Walden and Ridge Graham looks like quite a nucleus for emotional coach Derek Waugh, who appears to have found another good piece in 6‘8, 280-pound freshman center Steve Forbes. He’s taken a spot in the starting lineup and delivered a 12-point outing against Belmont.

8. Mercer (4-11, 1-3)
Next week: 1/10 at Campbell

There may be no hotter player in the league at the moment besides senior forward Brian Mills, who has reached double figures in eight straight games, going off for a career-high 30 points in a January 5 win over USC Upstate. Mills is averaging 19.3 ppg and 8.8 rebounds in conference games. Now for the bad news: Besides the losing, 35 of the team’s 41 double-figure scoring games this year have come from seniors. It sure doesn’t say much for the seven players coach Bob Hoffman recruited. Unless some players suddenly blossom over the next 16 games, Mercer could miss the conference tournament on its home floor.

9. Kennesaw State: (3-11, 1-3)
Next week: 1/7 at Campbell

There are some good individual performances going on this year, such as the rebounding of Aaron Anderson, who hauled in 16 against USC Upstate, and the play of point guard Spencer Dixon, who‘s become one of the league‘s top combo guards. But there is nothing good going on when it comes to defense. Opponents are hitting 47.3 percent of their field goals and averaging more than 76 points per game. Its regression from last year makes this the conference’s biggest disappointment to this point.

10. USC Upstate: (2-12, 1-3)
Next week: 1/8 vs. Stetson, 1/10 vs. Florida Gulf Coast, 1/13 at Jacksonville

It‘s becoming apparent that as the losses pile up, the Spartans are still giving their fans hope for next year and the year beyond. Freshmen Torrey Craig and Babatunde Olumuyiwa are forming what could be a pretty good 1-2 punch in the frontcourt, while another freshman, Chandler Hash, is beginning to look like a guy who can hit 3-pointers in bunches. Home games against the central Florida schools this week could give Upstate a shot at back-to-back wins.

11. Florida Gulf Coast: (3-10, 0-4)
Next Week: 1/8 at East Tennessee State, 1/10 at USC Upstate

Well, the weather is great in Ft. Myers and the Eagles’ blue/green color scheme is easy on the eyes. And their women‘s basketball team might be headed for an unbeaten regular season, even though it‘s unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament since the school is in its final season of reclassification. As for the men? Suffice it to say that opponents are averaging more than 79 points per game and that the offense can’t shoot from the field (40 percent), the three-point line (30.4 percent) or the foul line (63.8). No matter how much the 1-2 punch of Anthony Banks and Reed Baker do, it’s not enough.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we‘ll take a look at an intriguing trend around the conference and decide fluke or trend. This week, it’s the recent scoring surge of ETSU junior Adam Sollazzo, who’s averaged  15 points over the last four games after averaging 3.9 PPG in the first 11 games and losing his starting job. We’re going to say fluke, because Sollazzo has never come close to scoring like this for any stretch of time until now. But if Sollazzo keeps averaging double figures, the Bucs become a lot more dangerous in this league.

A Look Ahead

Now things start to get interesting in the league, as the top teams run into each other in a series of matchups that could crystalize the pecking order going forward.

  • Jacksonville takes its yearly Nashville road trip, playing Lipscomb and then Belmont. A sweep seems unlikely, but a split would be a very solid showing for the Dolphins.
  • After they play the Jacksonville schools, Belmont and Lipscomb get together for the first of their meetings at Belmont.
  • Meanwhile, ETSU has a chance to take on more wins against very beatable foes when it hosts Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson, then visits North Florida.
  • Stetson tries to keep one of the weirdest trends in the conference going when it travels to ETSU. It’s won the last two games in Johnson City and some feel it’s because coach Derek Waugh, who played at Furman when the Bucs enjoyed their glory days of a generation ago, gets his team more ready for this game than for others.
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