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.
Sun Belt Tournament
Dates: March 12-15
Site: Lakefront Arena (New Orleans, LA)
Whatto expect: Georgia State was thought to be a Cinderella-in-the-making before an uneven and somewhat disappointing campaign quieted that talk. The Panthers still won the Sun Belt title, though, and few other teams boast a pair of guards as offensively gifted as R.J. Hunter, the coach’s son, and Ryan Harrow, the former Kentucky and NC State transfer. Possible challengers include Georgia Southern and Louisiana Monroe – two of the league’s best defensive units – along with Louisiana-Lafayette, which broke Georgia State’s heart in the title game last season. The top seed has not won this tournament since 2009, a trend Ron Hunter’s group hopes to buck this weekend. A double-bye to the semifinals helps.
Favorite: Georgia State. Georgia State was the most efficient offensive and defensive team in conference play this season, led by that stellar backcourt and Ron Hunter’s 2-3 zone – which limited eight of its last 10 opponents to under a point per possession. The Panthers’ defense has improved so much from a year ago, in fact, that it’s helped the team overcome slightly worse offensive numbers overall. That well-roundedness – along with a double-bye to the semifinals – puts them in great position this weekend.
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
Boise State. When senior leader and preseason all-conference guard Anthony Drmic was ruled out for the season in late December, it looked as if the wheels might come off at Boise State. The Broncos, which were picked fourth in the preseason in the Mountain West, lost four straight games to begin the New Year – including its first three conference contests – and only once managed to score over a point per possession without their 6’6’’ wing. “The margin for error is really slim without Anthony,” head coach Leon Rice said before his team welcomed UNLV to town on Tuesday. With the talented Runnin’ Rebels on deck before a tricky road trip to The Pit on Saturday, it looked as if things might get worse for Rice’s club before they get better. Luckily, Derrick Marks and James Webb III had other plans.
Star guard Derrick Marks helped lead Boise State to a stellar week. (Brian Losness/USA TODAY Sports)
In a game broadcast remotely by ESPN, Marks gave Boise State offensive life against UNLV, scoring 28 points (on a whopping 26 attempts) and responding to any would-be Rebels’ runs with big shots of his own. After the visitors grabbed a late two-point lead, the senior calmly attacked the lane, stopped on a dime and hit a turnaround jumper with 13 seconds left to send the game into overtime. In the extra period, the Broncos – which had dropped their last three contests that were decided by six points or less – came up with enough winning plays, including a flurry of steals at around the two-minute mark, to eke out an 82-73 victory. “That monkey has been flipped off our backs and thrown to the ground, no question,” Rice said of his teams relieving victory. Webb, an athletic forward whose minutes have picked up dramatically in Drmic’s absence, added 12 points and 15 rebounds in the win, including a high-flying breakaway dunk in overtime. Read the rest of this entry »
Georgia State entered 2014-15 with unusually high expectations and national attention, especially for a Sun Belt program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in 14 years. Guards R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow landed on severalTop 100 lists, Louisville transfer Kevin Ware was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA, and numerous publications tabbed the Panthers as an eventual Cinderella threat. After being blown out by Iowa State in the Tip-Off Marathon and losing to Colorado State, though, those expectations – or at least that attention – may have cooled a bit, replaced instead by slight concerns about what might be missing. While the team’s 83-78 victory over Oakland on Wednesday probably won’t allay those concerns, it did make one thing clear heading into December: the Panthers can win games on talent alone against mid-major competition, but they are still far from a finished product.
Georgia State is still finding itself in 2014-15. (Courtesy: Georgia State Sports Communications)
There seemed to be a tacit assumption entering the season that Georgia State’s backcourt would automatically improve with Ware entering the fold, despite the loss of senior point guard Devonta White. The problem with that assumption – though understandable, considering his name recognition and high-major cachet – is that Ware is not a point guard, nor is he ready to be a consistent, impact player. In the loss to Iowa State, the junior scored just four points in 32 minutes and never really asserted himself in any noticeable way on either end of the floor. Wednesday was a much different story, as he poured in a season-high 15 points (13 in the second half) and made several big plays late, but he still had several very quiet, very tentative stretches. White, on the other hand, was a relied-upon playmaker who finished his career ranked third in school history in points, assists and steals; he facilitated, scored and was a major reason Ron Hunter’s club was 23rd most efficient offense in basketball last season. Although Harrow (21.4 PPG, 5.2 APG) has been very successful playing on the ball in White’s stead, the departing guard’s sure-handed production has been missed, and will continue to be missed, until Ware finds his place.
What a fantastic Saturday of college basketball. So much fun. As we head into the final few games before the NCAA Tournament bracket comes out this evening, we’re left with a total of 80 teams still alive for this year’s national championship. Only one of those will fall off today as a result of a game — the loser of the Sun Belt Championship game between Georgia State and Louisiana-Lafayette. That will leave the Selection Committee with the dirty work of winnowing out the other 11 teams, none of which will find themselves standing in the field of 68 heading into the heart of March Madness. Here is your final pre-NCAA Tournament Circle of March.
Teams Eliminated From National Title Contention (03.15.14)
In Part III of our three-part series (click here for Part I and Part II), we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from six different O26 conferences: Big Sky, Big West, Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt and WAC. In alphabetical order:
Davion Berry and Weber State finally edged Montana and won the Big Sky. (Photo by Weber State)
Team of the Year – Weber State (17-11, 14-6). After winning 55 games in the previous two seasons, this was the year – the most parity-driven in recent memory – that Weber State outlasted Montana and won the Big Sky. The Wildcats now host the conference tournament, which could mean a return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2007.
Player of the Year – Davion Berry – Weber State. Narrowly edging out Montana’s Kareem Jamar and North Dakota’s Troy Huff for our Player of the Year, Berry averaged 19 points per contest, distributed the ball effectively, shot almost 40 percent from long range, and led his team to a title.
Coach of the Year – Tyler Geving – Portland State. Portland State was picked to finish ninth in the conference, an outlook that became even worse when senior Aaron Moore, averaging nearly 12 points per game, was dismissed from the team in early January. After the Vikings lost four straight close games in the middle of the Big Sky season, Geving deserves credit for leading his guys to a 5-1 finish and a fifth-place tie in the league.
Upset of the Year – Northern Colorado over Kansas State, 60-58. Until last Saturday, Kansas State was pretty much unbeatable at home this season: Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State, and George Washington — all these teams left Manhattan without a win. But you know who did manage to leave Manhattan with a win (aside from Baylor)? BJ Hill’s Bears. Gotta love early November.
Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Jaron Nash – North Dakota. Nash goes baseline, emphatically stuffs it with one hand, then salutes the home crowd. Great stuff.
R.J. Hunter and the Panthers look dangerous in the early going. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Wade)
After suffering a couple heart-breaking losses and beginning the season with a disappointing 3-6 record, Ron Hunter’s team has won seven straight games, at times playing stretches of dominant basketball. Along with the one-sided showing against WKU, the Panthers also beat East Carolina on the road and pounded South Alabama on its home floor in recent weeks. The key for Georgia State is (and will continue to be) its offense, which features multiple scoring options who each have the ability to erupt for huge nights. Point guard Devonta White and off-guard Ryan Harrow — a Kentucky Wildcat a year ago, if you remember — are quick, skilled ball-handlers capable of beating defenders off the dribble and penetrating the lane with regularity. Once there, Harrow can finish or draw fouls like few other guards in the Sun Belt, while both he and White are excellent distributors: Each maintains a sparkling 28.2 percent assist rate, good enough to be ranked in the top 125 nationally. A main contributor to that rate is the fact that they often kick the ball out to two of the best wings in the conference, coach’s son R.J. Hunter and former Virginia Tech transfer Manny Atkins. R.J. — a highly recruited player who received offers from Cincinnati and Iowa, among others — is a dynamic scorer, expert from the outside and able to use his size and fluidity to shoot over smaller guards, while Atkins plays a bit more physically but is equally well-equipped from behind the arc.
Tonight’s Lede. Pac-12 Takes Center Stage. Last season, the Pac-12 made history by becoming the first Big Six conference not to send its regular season champion to the NCAA Tournament via an at-large bid. The downward spiral that lead to this unfortunate circumstance began in non-conference play, where the league squandered nearly all of its big match-ups, which deflated the Pac-12’s RPI and set up a vicious cycle whereby teams had no shot of upward movement on the NCAA bubble shuffling line. This year, the league is marginally better. The high-end quality, starting with UCLA and Arizona, is light year’s ahead of where it was last season, but the league as a whole isn’t all that much improved. Three momentous Pac-12 matchups – Cal at UCLA, Colorado at Arizona and Stanford at USC – highlighted tonight’s slate, each of which allowed for valuable observation and analysis. Without giving away the rest of tonight’s ATB, I’ll reveal this much: the Pac-12 isn’t horrible!; which is to say, the regular season champ, whoever that may be, should be on solid footing come Selection Sunday.
Your Watercooler Moment. Apparent Buzzer-Beater Waved Off To Deny Colorado Huge Road Win At Arizona.
In truth, I’d love to discuss the way Colorado went out and fought Arizona for 40 minutes (and OT), the way Tad Boyle’s team got five players in double figures and played remarkably resilient hoop against the No. 3 team in the country in a tough road environment, the way the Buffaloes proved the Pac-12 race is far from the foregone conclusion many envisioned after the Wildcats’ veritably peerless non-conference work. But I just can’t. The biggest talking point is unavoidable – Sabatino Chen’s buzzer beater that wasn’t. Debate will rage on for days about whether or not Chen’s banked-in three was released before the buzzer, and whether the officials had enough evidence to overturn the initial ruling (a made bucket, a Colorado win). For a closer look, assuming you’re not satisfied with the real-time footage provided above, check out this GIF segmenting Chen’s release into discrete steps. The controversy will intensify if this ultimately leads to Colorado’s NCAA Tournament denial. But seeing as Colorado took the undefeated Wildcats to the absolute brink – and did so without a productive scoring night from star forward Andre Roberson (nine points on 3-of-7 from the floor) – this team looks very capable of making noise in the Pac 12 title chase and earning an at-large bid without sweating Selection Sunday. Besides, an event as controversial and contentious as this often has a galvanizing effect on a team. This could springboard Colorado into a substantial winning streak; the opposite effect – a demoralizing defeat that leads to a downward losing spiral – is a possibility, but I’m not betting on Colorado feeling sorry for itself. Tad Boyle will have his bunch playing inspired basketball when they take the floor at Arizona State in three days. Fairly or unfairly officiated, it’s a total drag to see such a tight game come down to an official’s whistle. When two of the Pac 12’s best teams meet up, I think we can all agree the teams, not the referees, should be the ones settling the final score.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Wolverines Dispel B1G Road Game Theory. The common perception about this year’s Big Ten is that every road game, save a few locales, will be a chore. That’s been the look of things so far, with Illinois losing to Purdue Wednesday night, and Indiana just barely hanging on at Iowa on New Year’s Eve. Michigan had no such trouble on its trip to Northwestern. The Wolverines trounced Bill Carmody’s team on the strength of 44 combined points from backcourt duo Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Burke got anything he wanted, whenever and wherever he wanted it. The Wildcats, already without defensive specialist JerShonn Cobb (suspension) and perimeter weapon Drew Crawford (injury), were without leading scorer Reggie Hearn, which turned an already undermanned lineup into coterie of inexperienced freshmen and marginal role players. Whether or not Northwestern was at full strength, Michigan wasn’t losing this game. In fact, I’m not sure there’s a team in the country that can beat the Wolverines when they shoot 59 percent from beyond the arc and just under 60 percent overall. Read the rest of this entry »
It wouldn’t be the Morning Five without a John Calipari mention, as the sport’s biggest newsmaker spins the media like a top with his almost-daily appearances, interviews, and social media missives. Yesterday on his website the Kentucky head coach wrote that his new scheduling strategy — pushing for more neutral site appearances against marquee opponents — will result in a one-year hiatus in the Kentucky-North Carolina series, but the home-and-home battle between two of the best programs in the country will return in 2013-14. The purpose of this move according to Calipari is to alternate years where the Wildcats will have to travel to Chapel Hill and Louisville, meaning that UK will play at least one tough non-conference road game each year. The Wildcats have also picked up a home/neutral series with Baylor starting next season that will allow them to play in Cowboys Stadium in 2013-14, the site of that year’s Final Four. Perhaps most interestingly, though, is that Calipari says that he’s in negotiations with Duke to begin an annual rotating neutral site game that he says would be on the same weekend each year and become “THE GAME” to watch. We certainly can’t argue with that.
What we can argue with was a curious comment that Calipari made in his post explaining why he’s so gung ho on scheduling future neutral site games in football stadiums: “I’m convinced we would have won the title two seasons ago if we would have played in a dome during the regular season. Our guys weren’t prepared for it.” At first blush, this sounds reasonable on its face. But closer examination suggests that the head coach is tailoring the facts of his argument to justify what he wants. First of all, the Wildcats lost to West Virginia in the Elite Eight in Syracuse in 2010, which means of course that they had to win a Sweet Sixteen game in the Carrier Dome two days prior — on the same floor, in the same dome, only against a different team (Cornell). Did John Wall and company forget what they’d learned about playing in a dome environment just 48 hours before the loss to WVU? Next, the 2012 team that just won the national championship in the Superdome didn’t play in a dome environment at all in this year’s regular season or in the SEC Tournament. Still, without that ‘necessary’ experience, the Wildcats successively rolled through Indiana, Baylor, Louisville and Kansas to win it all. All in domes. If Calipari wants to play the lack of experience card to forgive the failure of the 2010 Wildcats, he probably should be looking at the ridiculously soft schedule that his Wildcats ran through on its way to a 35-3 record that year. When both teams matched up in the Elite Eight, the Mountaineers were by far the best team UK had faced all season. Kentucky’s lack of experience in playing good teams was the problem; it wasn’t that they hadn’t played in a dome. [Ed. Note: It is unclear which team Calipari was referring to, but the 2010 team was a far superior team if he was talking about winning a national championship.]
From a coach spewing nonsense to players doing likewise… Deadspinpublished a really interesting piece on Thursday examining in great detail documents from the cottage industry of companies who are tasked with monitoring college athletes’ social networking accounts. The article describes how it works: First, the schools get access to each player’s account through a special tracking mechanism that scans their pages regularly. Then, “once the computers gather all that data, the firms’ software searches it for trigger words and reports back to coaches and athletic department functionaries. This happens in near real-time.” It wouldn’t be Deadspin-worthy unless the examples were equal parts hilarious and horrifying, so we’d just suggest you set aside a few minutes of your time and get over there to poke around. Of particular interest is one company’s documentation and definition of many of the most common trigger words and phrases that could get players in trouble. Let’s just end this by saying that if you’re over 30 years old, you’re probably going to learn a few new slang words or acronyms to test on your buddies during the long weekend.
More conference realignment! And it doesn’t involve yet another rumor about Florida State, Clemson or Miami. No, UT-Arlington, a Southland school who is (we’re not kidding) joining the WAC on July 1, will spend one year in that league before movin’ on up to the Sun Belt, effective next summer. You read that correctly — in a span of 366 days (from June 30, 2012 to July 1, 2013), UT-Arlington will be a member of three different conferences. At the mid-major level, it’s just short of impossible to keep up with who is heading where, but we think that the Sun Belt will also pick up Georgia State and Texas State to replace the losses of FIU, Denver, and North Texas to the WAC and Conference USA. Whether the WAC survives all of this re-shuffling remains to be seen.
A couple of head coaching positions at the mid-major level were filled on Thursday, with Rider and Binghamton inextricably connected through the transition. Binghamton hired Rider head coach Tommy Dempseyto take over for Mark Macon, a former star player at Temple who was unable to dig out of the morass left by his predecessor, Kevin Broadus. Rider acted quickly to fill the vacuum, promoting assistant coach Kevin Baggett to the helm for purposes of continuity. Rider has averaged 18.5 wins per season in the six years that Baggett was an assistant for Dempsey, so it makes sense that the administration wants to keep the momentum moving forward.
The biggest non-Amare Stoudemire basketball news on Tuesday was that the Atlantic 10’s courtship of Butler appears to have finally resulted in a match. ESPN.com reported last night that Butler will formally accept an offer today to join the league in 2013-14, replacing Temple in all sports. As one of the few truly elite mid-major basketball programs unaffiliated with a top 10 conference, this represents a major coup for the A-10 going forward regardless of whether the league is also able to also poach VCU and George Mason from the CAA. Butler’s admission helps to bolster the midwestern footprint of the conference, along with existing members Xavier, St. Louis and Dayton, and it will allow Brad Stevens an entree into the fertile recruiting grounds of the mid-Atlantic with multiple trips to the East Coast cities of New York, Philadelphia, Washington each year.
The other conference realignment news that shook out on Tuesday related to another Atlantic 10 school, Charlotte, and whether that school will be on the move in coming days or weeks as well. The school rejected an offer to join the Sun Belt on Tuesday and reportedly did so because it anticipates an opportunity to join Conference USA after it adds a football program next year. Where this would leave C-USA is really anybody’s guess, as the conference is slowly but surely maneuvering toward an incomprehensible 30+ team behemoth (with the eventual pairing of the Mountain West). Whoever wrote the law of unintended consequences when all of this conference realignment stuff (re)started a couple of years ago could not have predicted this morass.
Tuesday was a busy day in the world of comings and goings, but the most disheartening news is that college basketball will not get another year of Tim Abromaitis at Notre Dame. Abromaitis had petitioned for a sixth year of eligibility because he tore his ACL in November after playing only two games last season — he also had taken a redshirt year in 2008-09, meaning that he ultimately only suited up in South Bend for three full seasons. In other news, Tennessee’s Renaldo Woolridge (aka SwiperBoy) will spend his last year of eligibility at USC, no doubt spending his free time outside the gym over on the Sunset Strip pitching his audio wares.
It was 10 months ago when Michigan recruit Austin Hatch lost his family, his dog and very nearly his own life in a horrific plane crash that left him with a severe brain injury and the possibility of a very restricted way of life. The Detroit Free-Pressrevisited his story on Tuesday and found that although there are still many steps to go, Hatch’s doctors say that his rehabilitation has been “as successful as anyone they have seen.” Hatch still plans on attending Michigan in a little over a year, and says that he keeps in touch with head coach John Beilein a couple of times a month. He hasn’t yet been cleared to play basketball, but he has the spirit and will to believe that he’ll get back on the court eventually. Considering how far he’s already come and with 17 months before his first collegiate practice in Ann Arbor, it’s hard to believe that he won’t get there and become one of the best stories in all of amateur athletics.
As we move through Championship Week (the second half of Championship Fortnight, of course), we’ll continue to bring you these short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. In this post, we’ve got the WCC, Summit, Horizon, and Sun Belt winners from the past two nights…
Matthew Dellavedova (And His Mouth Guard) Are Dangerous (AP/ Tony Avelar)
WCC Champion (27-5, 16-2)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #25/#43/#35
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +11.3
Likely NCAA Seed: #6-#8
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
St. Mary’s has been a nationally-recognized mid-major for a number of years now, but the Gaels program did something this year that it had never done before, and especially not in the Mark Few/Gonzaga era — win both the outright regular season WCC title and the conference tournament championship. Whether this is a notable achievement en route to a nice run in the NCAA Tournament or something that represents the highlight of the season remains to be seen, but there’s no question that this group has the team chemistry, coaching, and talent to do some damage in the coming week. Two years ago, the Gaels rode a red-hot Omar Samhan past two perimeter-oriented teams into the Sweet Sixteen, and if the matchups break favorably for them again, Randy Bennett‘s team certainly has the capability of breaking through again.
The straw that stirs the Gaels’ drink is WCC Player of the Year, Matthew Dellavedova. The sneaky-quick Australian point guard can score (15.6 PPG), shoot (59 threes, 36.0% 3FG), dish (6.4 APG) and board (3.3 RPG), but more than any of that, it is his ability to successfully run Bennett’s offensive sets that makes him invaluable. St. Mary’s has an elite offense (#20 nationally), which is roughly on par with the Sweet Sixteen team of two seasons ago. Where it struggles, of course, is on the defensive end. As exhibited on nights against athletic teams when the shots aren’t falling, the Gaels have trouble keeping the game close enough to grind out a victory.
As good as Dellavedova and his senior compatriot Rob Jones are (14.8 PPG, 10.7 RPG), the duo struggles against superior athletes. Jones was harassed into a rough outing against the waves of rangy athletes that Murray State threw at the Gaels in their Bracketbuster game last month, while Dellavedova was bumped into a 3-10 shooting performance (1-8 from three) against Baylor earlier in the season. This is why matchups are absolutely key for St. Mary’s next week. If they come up against a first game opponent that can out-run and out-jump them at most positions, they’re probably in big trouble — Connecticut or Mississippi State comes to mind — but if they instead find themselves matched up against a team that plays under the rim like they do — say, Harvard or Purdue — they have a great shot to advance one or two rounds.
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 Moment – VCU 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.
Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
After several consecutive slow weeknights, Wednesday night offers some very good games. All eyes should be tuned in, especially, to the ESPN2 early game.
Texas at #4 North Carolina – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (****)
UNC Will Attack Texas With Their Forwards, Tonite on ESPN2 (Getty Images/P. Williams)
Since their collapse against NC State on November 21, Texas has won seven straight games by double digits, including some nice wins over Temple and at UCLA. Their talented guard combo of J’Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo is starting to click, with Brown’s numbers up to 19.3 points and 4.3 assists per game and Kabongo at 10.8 points and 6.0 assists per contest. Four of the Longhorns’ five leading scorers are freshmen, including Kabongo and exciting reserve guard Sheldon McClennan. The Longhorns are ranked seventh nationally with 1.18 points per possession and eighth in overall offensive efficiency (117.5). For Texas to hang in this game, they’ll need their young guards to keep scoring at a high rate, and hope to contain UNC’s massive frontcourt from dominating the offensive boards.
North Carolina has a massive size, experience, home court, and overall talent advantage in this game, which is why they’re 10-point favorites. Look for the Tar Heels to feature Tyler Zeller and John Henson inside to feast on Texas’s smaller front line. The bigs should be able to control this game on the boards, where UNC ranks 16th nationally in offensive rebounds per game, and number one overall on the defensive glass. Even if Texas’s guards can score effectively, Carolina can counter with its wing scorers of Harrison Barnes, Dexter Strickland, and Reggie Bullock, lead by the nation’s top assist man in Kendall Marshall (10.2 APG).
Texas has won four straight games against Carolina since 1995. The Longhorns are playing well and will certainly be ready for this game. But it’s hard to envision UNC losing this one at home given their huge advantage in the paint and with just as many talented guards. Expect a super exciting, high scoring affair between two of the top programs in the country, with Roy Williams’ team coming out on top.
Seton Hall at Dayton – 7:00 PM EST, no TV (***)
This is a huge road test for 9-1 Seton Hall, whose only loss came in the finals of the Charleston Classic against Northwestern. Senior Herb Pope has been an absolute stud all year and he leads the Big East in scoring (22.1 PPG) AND rebounding (11.9 RPG). His fellow senior leader, point guard Jordan Theodore, leads the conference in assists with 7.1 per game. Sophomore guard Fuquan Edwin leads the Big East in steals per game with 3.4 per contest. He and Theodore each average about 14 points per game, as well. This dangerous trio will look to lead coach Kevin Willard’s team to a big road win and legitimize their strong start to the season.
Dayton is a talented but very inconsistent team. They have strong wins over Alabama, Wake Forest, and Minnesota on their resume, but they also have a shocking home loss to Buffalo by 29 (!) points. They lost road games to Miami (Ohio) and Murray State, as well. First year coach Archie Miller’s team has five players that average nine or more points per game, lead by junior lead guard Kevin Dillard. A transfer from Southern Illinois, Dillard leads the team in scoring (11.9 PPG), assists (5.1 APG), and steals (2.3 SPG).
This game is not televised nationally or on ESPN3.com, but be sure to follow along, or even watch if it’s being shown locally. Dayton is a four-point home favorite in this one, but this is anyone’s game. The Flyers have several big home wins and another awful home loss. Seton Hall will look to control the game with the dominant Pope inside, who will be a load to handle for Dayton’s short interior players. I’d take Seton Hall and their experienced leaders to come out with the road win, but this one could go either way.
Middle Tennessee State at Mississippi – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN3.com (***)
Middle Tennessee is coming off a big home win over Belmont to push its record to 10-2. They are the class of the Sun Belt Conference, and are only two-point underdogs in this game. When you factor in the three-point cushion given to home teams in Vegas lines, that means MTSU is considered the slightly better team. This is a fair assessment, as the Raiders have an impressive trio of upperclassmen in guard Marcos Knight and forwards LaRon Dendy and J.T. Sulton who all average at least 12 points and 6 rebounds per game. These three all shoot at least 53.6% from the field, as well, which powers the nation’s best field goal shooting team (53.2% as a team for the year).
Ole Miss also comes into this game with just two losses, the most recent of which came on Saturday at a pretty good Southern Miss team. Ole Miss features five players that average nine points or more, lead by junior Murphy Holloway’s 10.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Not included in their five leading scorers is new addition Jelan Kendrick, who is now eligible for Mississippi after transferring from Memphis when he was kicked off the team at the beginning of this year. Kendrick is a very talented freshman who could start to make his mark tonight. Andy Kennedy’s team will have the athleticism advantage in this game, such as their 6.2 blocks per game which ranks 13th in the country.
This game might be the best of the 9:00PM EST slate, so be sure to have ESPN3 ready on your computer even if you’re tuned in to the television for another game. We expect Ole Miss to take care of business at home, but MTSU will offer a great challenge and could come out with another impressive victory.
Oklahoma State at Alabama – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (***)
Oklahoma State comes into this game at 6-4 having lost two straight games. The Cowboys have a collection of talented players but have not found the best way to utilize their pieces; nine different players have been in the starting lineup in the first 10 games. LeBryan Nash, the McDonald’s All-American freshman, is starting to play better of late, seeing his minutes increase in the past three games. He’s now up to 12.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for the season. Markel Brown is a talented sophomore guard (9.7 PPG) and Cezar Guerrero is a freshman with a quick trigger that can fill it up in a hurry (7.7 PPG), though takes plenty of questionable shots per game. Upperclassmen Jean-Paul Olekemi (9.7 PPG) and, especially, Keiton Page (12.7 PPG) are the leaders of the team that will look to ignite the upset in this one.
Alabama was ranked in the top 15 to begin this month, but the Crimson Tide have suffered three disappointing losses in the past three weeks, albeit to some good teams. Anthony Grant’s team lost at home to Georgetown on a game-winning three from the Hoyas, and they followed that one with two road losses to Dayton and Kansas State. Bama has had trouble scoring in those games. They aren’t a very effective offensive team, with a 104.8 efficiency that ranks 120th nationally. The Tide get it done on the defensive end where they allow an eFG% of 40.6 that is seventh best in the country. Jamychal Green, Tony Mitchell, and Trevor Releford are big time athletes who all average double figure scoring and can lock down defensively.
This game is technically not a home game for Alabama, since it is being played in Birmingham as part of the 2011 Legacy Credit Union Holiday Classic. But for all intents and purposes, consider the Crimson Tide the home team as they will draw the much larger crowd in their home state. Bama has fallen victim to a few upsets this season, as they were the favored team in all three of their losses. But don’t expect a repeat in this one, as Oklahoma State is still a work in progress and the solid defense of Alabama should lead them to a victory.
***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live **** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home *** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later ** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 201 * – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game