ATB: Madness Ensues During Four Classic Conference Tournament Finishes Monday Night

Posted by EJacoby on March 6th, 2012

Last Night’s Lede – Not a single power conference team played on Monday night and there were only 12 total games played, yet it ended up being one of the best nights of the entire season. Why’s that? Because it was the first full night of Championship Week, in which all games taking place from here on out will come during postseason tournaments. Monday saw four conference tournament finals take place – two at 7:00 PM ET, two at 9:00 PM ET – on ESPN or ESPN2, and each game came down to the final possession. The four championships were decided by 13 total points and included three overtime sessions. There was also important action taking place in other mid-major tournaments, so let’s jump right into it…

Your Watercooler MomentVCU Returns to the Tournament

Brad Burgess and VCU Shot Their Way Back to the Big Dance (Washington Examiner/L. Alvarez)

Last year’s unbelievable Cinderella story has guaranteed itself a place in the Big Dance once again this year. Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams were squarely on the bubble heading into Monday night’s CAA Tournament final, as was their opponent, Drexel. A hard-fought game in which VCU led by double-digits for much of the game wound up being close at the end and came down to the final possession when Drexel guard Frantz Massenat’s three for the tie hit the back iron. VCU earned itself an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and there’s not a single team in the bracket that wants to face Shaka Smart’s team in the first game next week. The Rams got 16 points, five assists, four rebounds, and five steals from Darius Theus while their star Brad Burgess had just six points. Drexel, which had just eight assists compared to 18 turnovers, now must sweat it out on Selection Sunday with a very strong conference showing but some weak overall profile numbers such as the #226 strength of schedule that won’t be pleasing to the NCAA Tourney committee. Don’t be shocked, though, if Drexel ends up making it so that you’ll see both of these teams playing again next week.

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O26 Primers: Big Sky, Summit League and Sun Belt Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 6th, 2011

RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.

Three more conferences begin things tonight. The Big Sky and Sun Belt look to be very competitive with multiple teams capable of getting hot at the right time and running away with the title, while the Summit League features the Oakland Golden Grizzlies at the head of the pack and everyone else trying to keep up. All three conferences are definite single-bid leagues meaning all games will be played with a great sense of urgency; the agony of defeat and glory of victory becomes that much more apparent as well.

Big Sky

The Favorite: Northern Colorado has played the best ball in the Big Sky over the course of the past month and they also have arguably the league’s best player in Devon Beitzel on their side. Montana will have their chance to prove me wrong, but right now it is the Bears who are the favorite.

Dark Horse: Any team that is proficient at shooting the three ball cannot be discounted in a game. Despite having a middle of the road 9-7 record within the conference, Northern Arizona can stroke it with anyone. Cameron Jones, Gabe Rogers, and Eric Platt all shoot well over 40% from downtown.

Who’s Hot: Northern Colorado has won eight of their last nine games and 15 of 18 to enter the Big Sky tournament as the hottest team.

Player to Watch: Cameron Jones has had his way with Big Sky teams this year as he is averaging just shy over 20 points on the year and has scored in double figures in every game save one. He’s got Northern Arizona playing well entering the tournament as the Lumberjacks have won four of five games with the lone loss coming to Northern Colorado by a point.

First-Round UpsetEastern Washington over Weber State. Although they have struggled for most of the season, Eastern Washington is riding a modest two game winning streak entering the Big Sky tournament with their last win coming against the team they will do battle with in the tournament’s first round: Weber State.

How’d They Fare? It was one of the most heroic performances that you have never heard of in college basketball. Anthony Johnson’s performance in the second half of the Big Sky Championship game against Weber State propelled Montana to the NCAA Tournament where they narrowly lost to #3 seed New Mexico. Montana was trailing 40-20 at the intermission, but Johnson scored 34 of his 42 points in the decisive half to defeat the Wildcats. If Johnson’s unbelievable performance carried over to the New Mexico game, Montana advances to the second round. Instead, they were defeated by the Lobos 62-57.

Interesting Fact: Not an interesting fact, but simple one of the greatest moments—if not the very greatest—in Big Sky history came in the 1999 NCAA Tournament. North Carolina fans, close your eyes:

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O26 Primers: CAA, MAAC, SoCon and WCC Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 4th, 2011

RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.

As we near the weekend, more of the higher profile Other 26 conferences are beginning their postseason tournaments. In the east, the CAA, MAAC, and Southern Conference all get going with matinee affairs between Georgia State and UNC-Wilmington in the CAA and UNC-Greensboro and Davidson in the SoCon. Out west, the West Coast Conference kicks off their first round in what looks to be a very competitive tournament with St. Mary’s recent struggles and the resurgence of Gonzaga.

Colonial Athletic Association

The Favorite: Behind Cam Long and Ryan Pearson, George Mason has dominated the CAA and is the clear favorite to win the league. Old Dominion will be a tough challenger for the Patriots though.

Dark Horse: There have been many instances throughout the year that Virginia Commonwealth looks to be just as good as George Mason, but ending the year losing four straight games in the CAA will not instill confidence in many people. The Rams’ ability and talent is clearly there, and if they can string some wins together they can win the CAA championship.

Who’s Hot: George Mason winning 14 straight CAA games makes them easily the hottest CAA team.

Player to Watch: One of the most decorated players in Hofstra basketball history, Charles Jenkins is the best player to don a CAA uniform this year. The senior from Queens, NY is averaging 23.2 points per game.

First-Round Upset: William & Mary over James Madison. After having a very successful 2009-10 season, the Tribe has largely struggled this year, but is entering the CAA tournament having win two of three games. They have also split the season series with JMU this season winning the last game 73-67 and losing the first one 84-79.

How’d They Fare? Old Dominion, as a #11 seed, defeated Notre Dame 51-50 and then fell to Baylor in the second round.

Interesting Fact: The last time the CAA sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament was in 2007 when Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion went; it appears as if the CAA will be a multi-bid conference this year.

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RTC Live: Oakland @ UMKC

Posted by rtmsf on February 24th, 2011

Game #150.  RTC Live brings you a look at the Summit League, as UMKC looks to pull an upset over Oakland, who has clinched the conference crown with two games remaining.

While the Oakland Grizzlies have already clinched the Summit League title, coach Greg Kampe is charged with keeping his team motivated to finish strong entering the conference tournament. They’re lead by 6’11 center Keith Benson, who has made waves as the Summit League’s first bona fide NBA prospect in a number of years. Averaging a double-double (17.6/10.0), Benson has helped guide the Grizzlies through conference play as well as through Oakland’s grueling slate of power conference foes. Confident that his team could handle the conference, Kampe sought out “big six” teams in an effort to get his team ready for the challenges they figure to face in the Big Dance. The result was an unenviable slate that included battles against West Virginia, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, Tennessee (who the Grizzlies upset) and Ohio State. Benson deservedly receives much attention, but he’s complemented by a pair of long-range assassins in freshman Travis Bader (45.3%) and 5’11 guard Reggie Hamilton (38.3%). On the other side of the scorer’s table, UMKC head coach Matt Brown (a John Beilein disciple) can improve his team’s seeding for the conference tournament with a win tonight. If they are to turn the trick, it will be behind the hot hand of senior Jay Couisnard, who has averaged 23.5 points per game in his last six outings. Senior Spencer Johnson, the heart and soul of UMKC, has the challenge of matching up with Benson on the glass. Despite his size, he became the school’s all-time leading rebounder recently, and has 695 career boards entering tonight’s game. Another card in the ‘Roos’ back pocket is their flawless 7-0 record at Swinney Recreation Center, one of their two home courts. IUPUI has been the only Summit League team to figure out Oakland, and their solution was simple – get Benson in foul trouble. Perhaps that’s not the only recipe, though so tune in at 8:00 EST to see if the Kangaroos can stun the Grizzlies.

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Weekend Check-Ins…

Posted by rtmsf on December 6th, 2010

Here were Friday’s mid-major conference Check-Ins, in case you missed them…

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Weekend Check-Ins

Posted by rtmsf on November 22nd, 2010

You might have missed this over the weekend, but we’re back with our conference check-in series called, fittingly, Checking In On… Since we don’t want to crowd up the valuable real estate we have on the main page with too many conference-specific posts, we’ll encourage you to look for these updates in this space as well as regularly reviewing the Conference Check-In box above, which will always list the most recent eight to ten of these we’ve published.  Here’s the list from mid-major Friday, which will include these leagues on an every-other-week basis (next update: December 3).

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RTC Live: Oral Roberts @ Tulsa

Posted by rtmsf on November 16th, 2010

Game #13.  Our first rivalry game of the young season takes us to the Heartland where Tulsa and Oral Roberts hook up; their campuses are a mere seven miles apart.

Here we go. Another edition to the crosstown rivalry that has become a must-see event here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is the 47th meeting between the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane—this time it is in front of a nationally-televised audience in game seven of the ESPN’s 24 Hours  of Hoops marathon. Tulsa is coming off a disappointing 2009-10 campaign, where after being picked as the preseason favorites to win C-USA, fell before reaching the tournament finals. Now they are looking for some stability after losing to Appalachian State, 89-86, in their opener.  Oral Roberts is in the same boat, a threat to win the Summit League, but needing to look much better than they did in a weekend 78-61 loss to Missouri State. This game may not appear to mean much outside the area since both teams need to win their conference in order to get a bid to the NCAA tournament—but these schools strongly dislike each other and they want to win this rivalry game desperately, especially now that both started the season with a loss. This game will set the mood for the rest of the season, and the winner will leave with a ton of confidence and bragging rights as the best basketball team in the city, at least for one more year.

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Morning Five: 10.05.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 5th, 2010

  1. Luke Winn wrote a piece on a little-known coach named Bill Fenlon, the head man at Division III DePauw University, and you’re wondering why.  Remember the flap several weeks back when the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective released its findings on 2009-10 game data that showed there is no significant difference in the coaching strategies to foul or not foul on the last possession?  Well, a decade ago Fenlon did a similar analysis where he calculated the mathematical odds of fouling/not fouling while up three points with seven seconds or less left on the clock.  The 2,728 word paper ultimately found that there is a 19% chance of the game going to overtime by playing strong defense; but only a 5% chance of OT if a team fouls correctly in that situation.  This flies in the face of the  conclustion of the HSAC study, but one possible explanation is that, due to data limitations, the HSAC had to consider all possible last possessions (rather than those with seven seconds or less).  Very interesting stuff from Winn, as always.
  2. The Summit League is planning a site visit to Great West member North Dakota during the first two days of November to assess whether the school might be a good future candidate for league expansion.  This would appear to be a good fit, as North Dakota State and South Dakota State are current members of the league and South Dakota is set to join next year.  Nothing like cornering the Dakota collegiate sports market!  All kidding aside, there may be a conference battle brewing over the Fighting Sioux as this push by the Summit appears to be precipitated by the Big Sky’s recent interest in UND as well.
  3. Illinois head coach Bruce Weber spent a full day last week tooling about the nation’s capital as part of his charity work for Coaches vs. Cancer and the American Cancer Society.  The Illini are among the top ten fundraisers in CvC, and Weber has made a point of the maxim to “give something back” now that he has reached the upper echelon of his profession.  Great to see this.
  4. There was a time where we honestly believed that Richmond, once the darlings of the CAA, had made a mistake in joining the higher-up-the-food-chain Atlantic 10.  No longer, and the reason: head coach Chris Mooney.  Under the legendary Dick Tarrant and (later) John Beilein, the Spiders made six NCAA Tournaments from 1984-98 and won games as every seed from the spectrum of #12-#15 — in other words, the seeds that usually don’t win NCAA Tournament games.  It took some time, but it appears that Mooney has gotten UR acclimated to the A-10 and the Spiders should be able to regularly play the role of favorite against some other future giant-killers themselves.
  5. Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena is set to open to the public in January, but two Ducks — EJ Singler and Jeremy Jacob — took an early tour recently with goofy hardhats in tow.  Place looks sick, especially the part about the highest-resolution big screen used in any arena in America.  Now, if Oregon can just find some decent players in order to put fans in those plush seats and show highlights on that ridiculous jumbotron.

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Summer School in the Summit League

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 5th, 2010

Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.

Around The Summit:

  • Dakota Invasion: The Summit League plans on joining the realignment-party beginning next season (2011-12) when Centenary will move down to Division-III, and the University of South Dakota will take their place. There has also been talks of adding an eleventh team, likely the University of North Dakota, joining the conference in the near future, which would mean FOUR teams from the Dakotas in the Summit. Good for rivalries, bad for the warm-blooded.
  • An Oak In Oakland: The top teams in the conference made some key additions that fit nicely into their team philosophies. Oakland is happy to have Summit POY Keith Benson back, but they also added a center for the future: 7’0, 220-pound Kyle Sykora. The big man shot 71 percent from the field and blocked 5.6 shots per game during his high school years in Miami. It’s not often a seven-footer comes to the Summit League, and the addition of Sykora will assure Oakland of big-man dominance for years to come.
  • New Guard: IUPUI and Oral Roberts also added some nice guard pieces to their depth.  P.J. Hubert (IUPUI) was an Associated Press honorable mention all-state selection in Indiana, and Jake Lliteras (ORU) was Player of the Year in the Carolina 9 conference. Both guys should have an immediate impact on the floor for two teams vying for a conference title. And last but not least, South Dakota made the most improvement when they picked up Rock Valley H.S. Stars Jordan Dykstra and Marcus Heemstra; both were given high grades by ESPN Insider.

Kevin Ford is gone, but the rest of the pieces remain intact for perennial favorite Oral Roberts

Power Rankings

  1. Oral Roberts – They lost one starter, and since they were a 20-win team last year (including victories over Stanford, #12 New Mexico, and Missouri) with only seven scholarship players healthy, the Golden Eagles have a golden opportunity ahead of them. They have won the conference title three of the past five seasons, and as long as Scott Sutton is still the head coach, this team will be one of the favorites. Known in the past for their strength at the guard position, ORU is especially strong there this year with five guards who have starting-five ability. Summit Newcomer of the Year Warren Niles leads the way.
  2. Oakland – Don’t sleep on the defending champs. Even though Oakland lost tournament MVP Derrick Nelson and the conference’s best guard, Jon Jones, the Golden Grizzlies return the Summit League POY Keith Benson and several key players from last year’s dominant squad that won 26 games, including 17 of 18 conference games. In a conference that only showcases three quality teams, Oakland has as good a chance as any to capture a second straight title, and they could replace ORU as the top team by the time the season starts, depending on how their recruits shape up. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 06.28.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 27th, 2010

  1. We mentioned this on Twitter over the weekend, but this is scheduled to be a huge week for the future of the NCAA Tourney.  How to deal with the four play-in games is on the agenda at this week’s meeting of the NCAA men’s basketball committee, and any hope that this would be a relatively simple decision has been thrown out the window with the realization that despite additional dollars available, nobody wants to play in these games.  The small conference teams from weaker leagues do not want to be pigeonholed in those games on an annual basis, and the BCS league teams don’t feel like they should have to play the extra games.  Well, if anyone over at the NCAA is reading this, we certainly have our opinion.
  2. This had been rumored for some time, but MJ’s progeny will be playing together beginning in 2011-12 as Illinois transfer Jeff Jordan will join little bro Marcus Jordan at Central Florida.  Marcus was a standout freshman at UCF last year, averaging 8/3/3 assts and making the all-CUSA freshman team, while Jeffrey has made a name for himself during spot minutes as a hustling, defensive-oriented type of player.  The two last played together four years ago in high school.
  3. And you thought that conference realignment was finished this summer?  Pfshaw!  The Summit League is considering adding North Dakota to its nine-team conference, which would help bring the two Peace Garden State schools into the same fold (North Dakota State is already a member).  There’s no timetable on this possibility, but a reasonable expectation would be two or three years.  UND is currently a member of the Great West Conference, which does not have an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Mike DeCourcy asks if Oregon is ready to take control of the Pac-10 with Dana Altman on board and a strong commitment from the UO administration.  It’s really not far-fetched.  It’s no secret that the league has been way, way down the last two seasons, and UCLA and Arizona are struggling to get back to where they were.  The additions of Colorado and Utah are not threatening in the short term on the hardwood, and as DeCourcy states, there is a good amount of talent coming out of that area seemingly every year.
  5. Gary Parrish takes a look at his top thirty prospects for the 2011 NBA Draft here.  His top six players are projected 1-and-doners next year.  We really can’t wait until the NBA institutes a two-year minimum on its draft eligible players.
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ATB: Conference Chalkiness

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

Three More Dance Cards Drawn Tonight.  With tonight’s three conference titles from Butler, Oakland and North Texas, we’re noticing a trend this year that definitely makes all the bubble teams happy.  Even in the one-bid leagues where it doesn’t impact the bubble picture as to who wins the conference championship, it’s predominantly the best teams that are winning titles.  Out of the eleven auto-bids earned thus far, eight of them were the top seed or co-champion in the regular season.  The only true Cinderella we’ve had so far this conference tournament season came from the Atlantic Sun where ETSU as a #5 seed won the bid; even in the Big South and WCC, the teams who won, while not co-champions, were still pretty good teams (Winthrop and St. Mary’s).  With the Big East starting today and the Big 12 and Pac-10 starting tomorrow, will we see all chalk in those tournaments as well this week?  Only time will tell.

Horizon League Championship#12 Butler 70, Wright State 45.  Butler finished off its dream season in the Horizon League by winning its twentieth conference game in a prolonged coronation that erased many of the bad memories from last year’s home loss to Cleveland State at the same point.  The Bulldogs hit 52% from the field and got strong offensive contributions from Matt Howard (14/9) and Shelvin Mack (14/2) to completely outclass Wright State tonight.  With the 18 regular season wins and the two HL Tourney wins, Butler became the sole conference team to go unbeaten all the way through conference play this year.  This will be Butler’s fourth consecutive trip to the NCAAs, but how good is this team?  With an RPI of #17, and the fourth toughest nonconference schedule this year, we’d expect to see the Bulldogs on the #4/#5 line next week.  This would give them a reasonably easy first round game followed by a second rounder against someone like a Temple, Vanderbilt, Baylor or Maryland.  Butler lost two tough neutral games to Clemson and Georgetown earlier this year, but they also beat Ohio State and Xavier, so we know they can beat teams of that caliber.  The question we have is whether the defense will hold when Matt Howard inevitably gets into foul trouble against a big front line — the Bulldog center was better about this down the stretch of the season, but in games against six BCS teams plus Xavier and UAB, he committed 36 fouls, for an average of 4.5 per game.  Butler will need Howard’s offense and rebounding to stay on the floor if they expect to make another run at the Sweet Sixteen.

Butler is Soaring to the NCAAs Again (Indy Star/R. Scheer)

Summit League ChampionshipOakland 76, IUPUI 64.  Oakland head coach Greg Kampe didn’t hold back on confidence when he stated after his team’s championship tonight that he believes Oakland is the best team in the history of the Summit League and that they plan on pushing on through to the Sweet Sixteen in next week’s NCAA Tournament.  It helps when you have someone like Derick Nelson on your side — broken nose and all — when he shoots 15-23 from the field for 36/9 in a career-best performance.  Whatever Nelson wasn’t doing, center Keith Benson was, as he ripped down 17 rebounds and blocked six shots to ensure the school’s second NCAA berth in its history (OU also went in 2005).  The Golden Grizzlies are now riding an 11-game winning streak and have won 20 of 21 since a pasting at the hands of Syracuse just before Christmas.  With a trio of excellent players at the point (Johnathan Jones), wing (Nelson) and post (Benson), Oakland is certainly an interesting team to consider as a first round cinderella next week.

Keith Benson Blocked Oakland into the Dance (AP/E. Landwehr)

Sun Belt ChampionshipNorth Texas 66, Troy 63.  The Mean Green of North Texas earned its second-ever NCAA bid in the last four years by hanging on down the stretch against Troy and getting a key bucket from mighty mite Josh White with 22 seconds remaining to break a tie and send his team on its way.  North Texas switched to a zone in the second half and dominated the boards (+10) which led to numerous second chances that they were able to convert tonight.  UNT is on a bit of a tear now, having won eleven games in a row and setting a new school record for wins in a season with 24.  In 2007, #15 seed North Texas gave #2 Memphis a solid game en route to a fifteen-point loss.  Coach Johnnie Jones is hoping for another similar performance this time around.

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Summit League Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 5th, 2010

Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.

2009-10 Summit League Standings

  • #1. Oakland                        23-8 (17-1)
  • #2. IUPUI                            22-9 (15-3)
  • #3. Oral Roberts               19-12 (13-5)
  • #4. South Dakota St.       14-15 (10-8)
  • #5. IPFW                              15-14 (9-9)
  • #6. North Dakota St.       11-17 (8-10)
  • #7. Western Illinois         13-16 (6-12)
  • #8.  UMKC                           12-17 (6-12)
  • DNQ   Centenary               8-21(3-15)
  • DNQ   Southern Utah     7-22 (2-16)

Here are my Season Awards; the Summit’s selections shouldn’t be much different…

  • Player of the Year - Keith Benson (C), Oakland (16.9 ppg, 10 rpg, 3.3 bpg). Benson edges out his teammate Jon Jones because his work on defense and his rebounding were so far above anyone else in the conference. He was a matchup problem every single night, and his averages against league opponents are worthy of POY.
  • Newcomer of the YearWarren Niles (G), Oral Roberts (12.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg). Niles is the highest scoring freshman in the conference, and he started the last sixteen games for ORU.
  • Defensive POY - Keith Benson (C), Oakland

Summit League First Team

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