Checking In On… the Ohio Valley Conference

Posted by cbogard on November 18th, 2011

Catlin Bogard is the RTC correspondent for the Ohio Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at OVC Ball or on Twitter @OVCBall.

The Week That Was

  • Rough Week For Big Men: Two of the top big men in the conference have already missed games this year due to injury. SEMO’s Leon Powell injured the same knee that caused him to miss an entire season two years ago in the Redhawks’ final exhibition game. Powell did not play in their opener against Missouri, but did return against Harris Stowe, shooting a perfect 8-8 from the field. Austin Peay’s John Fraley is out of the hospital after suffering a concussion in the Governors opening game against Middle Tennessee. Fraley was sorely missed on the Governors’ trip to California, and could miss a couple of weeks according to the Leaf-Chronicle.
  • It Hasn’t Even Been Close: The Ohio Valley Conference isn’t off to the best of starts, with only ten wins in its first 29 outings. But what’s surprising is how many haven’t even been close. Of the conference’s 19 losses, 14 have been by double digits. The exceptions? Tennessee Martin’s nine-point loss to Ohio, Austin Peay’s nine-point loss to Middle Tennessee, Eastern Illinois’ seven-point loss to Indiana State, Tennessee State‘s three-point loss to Western Kentucky, and Southeast Missouri State‘s one-point loss to Bradley.
  • The Flip Side: Not everything is bleak in the OVC. The Racers are off to a 3-0 start, after a big win on the road against the favorites to win the MEAC, Morgan State. Tennessee Tech held a late second half lead against Miami before things fell apart in the closing minutes. And while there haven’t been a lot of wins, there haven’t been any embarrassing upsets for the conference either.

Just A Week Into The Season, Steve Prohm's Racers Are The Only Remaining Undefeated Team In The OVC. (Ricky Martin/Ledger & Times)

Power Rankings

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Playing Catch-Up: How The Big East Has Fared To Date

Posted by mlemaire on November 16th, 2011

Since the Big East microsite was a little later to the 2011-12 season than some of its other brothers and sisters, let’s take a few moments to get caught up on where things stand heading into this year.  These 16 teams are listed in no particular order.

Syracuse: Projected preseason Big East co-champs (with Connecticut) by the coaches and currently ranked No. 5 in the country by the Associated Press, the Orange are talented, deep and 3-0 to start the year. They captured the coveted de-facto New York state title with easy wins over Fordham, Manhattan and Albany. Through those three games, ten players have logged at least 30 minutes of playing time.  The early stat leaders have been 6’7” senior forward Kris Joseph (16.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG) who notched his 1000th career point against Manhattan, and 6’8” junior forward James Southerland (13.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG).  However it is likely individual numbers will not tell the story as the wealth will be spread around Syracuse’s vast depth.  You know the names.

  • Guards:  Scoop Jardine (senior), Brandon Triche (junior) Dion Waiters (sophomore) and Michael Carter-Williams (freshman)
  • Forwards: C.J. Fair (sophomore) and Rakeem Christmas (freshman)

All of the above along with a fit and productive sophomore center Fab Melo will keep Jim Boeheim and the air horn busy all year long.  

James Southerland Has Been Great So Far This Season

Louisville: The good news is that Louisville is 2-0 as they prepare for this weekend’s matchup against Butler. The bad news is the Cardinals are already thinner then when they started the season, having lost versatile role player Mike Marra for the season because of a knee injury suffered against Lamar. The team might be deep enough to absorb the loss of Marra, but they will be thin up front, especially if sophomore center Gorgui Dieng (7 RPG, 4.5 BPG) is continuously in foul trouble. As is often the case with Rick Pitino-coached teams, the Cardinals played suffocating defense in holding both Tennessee-Martin and Lamar below 30 percent from the field and that defense will keep Louisville competitive all season long. Freshman Chase Behanan (12 PPG, 12.5 RPG) looks the part of a double-double machine, but he will be in danger of wearing down if he consistently has to play more than 30 minutes per game.

Pittsburgh: Everybody knew that Pittsburgh would have one of the better starting lineups in the conference this season, but after two games, the jury is still out on how deep Jamie Dixon’s bench goes. Rider only dressed nine players on Saturday and Pittsburgh still needed to come behind in the second half to win. Ashton Gibbs (22.5 PPG) is going to shoot a lot and will be in contention for the conference’s scoring title. Tray Woodall (52.9 3PT%) seems to have drastically improved his shooting and will be dangerous offensive weapon, and Nasir Robinson and Dante Taylor help form a rugged and experienced frontcourt. But if the Panthers want to contend for the conference crown this season, a lot will depend on the development of roles players like Talib Zanna and freshmen Khem Birch, John Johnson, and Cameron Wright.

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RTC Conference Primers: #23 – Ohio Valley Conference

Posted by cbogard on October 12th, 2011

Catlin Bogard of OVC Ball is the RTC correspondent for the Ohio Valley Conference. You can find him on Twitter @OVCBall.

Readers Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • Here Come the Cougars:  Although SIU Edwardsville is in its final year of transition to Division I, the Cougars will play a full Ohio Valley Conference slate. SIUE will be eligible to win the OVC regular season title, but cannot enter the conference tournament until they have completed their transition in 2012-13. The Cougars are unlikely, however, to make a major impact this season after going 0-9 against OVC teams a year ago.
  • Out of Balance: As a result of the Cougars entrance to the conference, the now 11-team league will play an uneven schedule of 16 games, much shorter than the 20 and 22-game schedules seen since the last OVC expansion. But the current structure won’t stay in place for long. After it was announced that Belmont will join the conference next season, OVC commissioner Beth DeBauche told the voice of the Racers, Neal Bradley, that “it appears that it would make sense to have divisions, most notably for our men’s and women’s basketball teams.” But the OVC might not remain a 12-team league long enough to matter. Jacksonville State is exploring a move to a FBS conference according to a release from the school, and the Huntsville Times reports that Tennessee State has been invited to join the SWAC.
  • What Was Old is New Again: Two teams on opposite ends of last year’s final standings have one thing in common: inexperience. Both Morehead State and Jacksonville State will feature teams with more new faces than old this year. Last season’s last place Gamecocks have seven transfers and four new players, with Stephen Hall being the only Gamecock with more than one year of experience. Meanwhile, MSU has eight new faces, including six freshmen joining the defending OVC Tournament champions.
  • New Sideline Patrolmen: Two of the top teams last year, Murray State and Tennessee Tech, will feature new coaches this season. Steve Payne replaces Mike Sutton, who retired after eight seasons with the Golden Eagles. Steve Prohm will take over the Racers after Billy Kennedy left to take the head coaching job at Texas A&M.

Predicted Order of Finish

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O26 Primers: Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley & Patriot League Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 2nd, 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 get their tournaments underway tonight which means that several more teams will have their dreams of advancing to the greatest Dance in the world dashed, while others will inch one step closer to winning their conference championship. Tonight the Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley and Patriot League tournaments all get underway. Belmont and Bucknell are the obvious favorites to win their respective conferences, but the Ohio Valley is a little unclear with Morehead State and Murray State butting heads at the top, and Austin Peay not too far behind.

Atlantic Sun

The Favorite: Belmont is the clear-cut favorite to win the league this year and advance to the Tournament for the first time since 2008 when they nearly upset Duke. A surprising setback at Lipscomb is the only loss that prevented the Bruins from going a perfect 20-0 in league play.

Dark Horse: Not surprisingly, Lipscomb is the dark horse to win the A-Sun. Although they have a rather pedestrian 12-8 record within the league, they were the only team to knock off Belmont. Plus, they boast one of the best players in the league with Adnan Hodzic as the senior forward from Bosnia is averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds a night. In their victory over Belmont, Hodzic tore up the Bruins going off for 26 points.

Who’s Hot: Winning 19 games in conference and not losing to a team located outside the state of Tennessee makes Belmont the hottest team in the Atlantic Sun. To be honest, it would be a real shock if the Bruins were not the last team standing come March 5.

Player to Watch: With Mike Smith—the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year from ETSU—sidelined with an injury, there is no clear player to keep an eye on during the tournament. Lipscomb’s Josh Slater, however, is someone to definitely keep tabs on. Most of the attention is focused on Adnan Hodzic, but no one in the A-Sun can fill up the stat sheet quite like Slater who averages 16.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists.

First-Round Upset: Campbell over East Tennessee State. ETSU looked to be one of Belmont’s biggest threats in the conference tournament, but the Buccaneers have been decimated by injuries to two of their top players: Mike Smith (ankle) and Micah Williams (shoulder); their status for ETSU’s first game is uncertain. Campbell is one of the coldest teams around having lost eight of their last nine games, but lost by just seven points to ETSU in their last meeting.

How’d They Fare? ETSU was a 16 seed and was ripped apart by Kentucky 100-71 in last year’s Tournament.

Interesting Fact: Dating back to the 2005 Tournament, the highest seed the Atlantic Sun team has received in the NCAA Tournament has been a 15. Assuming Belmont wins the league this year, that will all change.

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The Week That Was: Dec. 28-Jan. 3

Posted by jstevrtc on January 4th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

Introduction

Happy New Year everyone! TWTW hopes that you all had a great and safe NYE and then had a better time recovering on your couch over the following couple of days with some college hoops on the flat screen. And TWTW won’t judge if your condition forced you to watch said games on mute — that’s just a casualty of the season.

What We Learned

Harrellson Is Most Valuable As a Glass Cleaner, But Has a Solid Stroke As Well

It looks like Kentucky is headed toward another 14-2 type run through the SEC this season, and a perfect 16-0 record in conference play isn’t out of the question. That statement isn’t as much based off of how the Wildcats are playing (though TWTW was very impressed with how UK dismantled Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center on New Year’s Eve) but it’s a reflection of just how putrid the rest of the conference seems at this point. The Wildcats are the only SEC team ranked in the AP Top 25. Tennessee’s reputation has dropped faster than Goldman Sachs’, going from a chic dark horse Final Four pick to a team on the bubble. Losses to Oakland, Charlotte and College of Charleston coupled with unimpressive wins over Belmont and Tennessee-Martin will do that to you. Now the Vols face Memphis in their last game before Bruce Pearl’s eight-game suspension. Cross Tennessee off your list of possible teams that could challenge Kentucky. That leaves us with Florida and Vanderbilt as Kentucky’s top competition. TWTW is not a fan of Florida, who recently lost to Jacksonville, so if we were to circle a possible first conference loss for Kentucky we’d have to choose Feb. 12 at Vanderbilt. That game is the last of a three-game stretch in which the Wildcats travel to Florida and host Tennessee. Vandy took Missouri down to the wire in an overtime loss on Dec. 4 and the Commodores beat North Carolina during the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Don’t be shocked if Vanderbilt hands Kentucky its first conference loss that night.

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RTC Conference Primers: #20 – Ohio Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 15th, 2010

Greg Waddell of The Murray State News is the RTC correspondent for the OVC.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Murray State (17-1)
  2. Morehead State (15-3)
  3. Austin Peay (11-7)
  4. Eastern Illinois (11-7)
  5. Eastern Kentucky (10-8)
  6. Jacksonville State (8-10)
  7. Tennessee Tech (8-10)
  8. Tennessee State (6-12)
  9. Tennessee-Martin (3-15)
  10. Southeast Missouri State (1-17)
  11. SIU-Edwardsville – ineligible for conference tournament

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G:  Isaiah Canaan, Murray State (10.4 PPG, 50% FG, 48% 3-pt)
  • G:  B.J. Jenkins, Murray State (10.6 PPG, 1.8 SPG)
  • F:  Anthony Campbell, Austin Peay (15.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG)
  • F: Justin Stommes, Eastern Kentucky (14.2 PPG, 52% FG, 42% 3-pt)
  • C: Kenneth Faried, Morehead State (16.9 PPG, 13 RPG, 56% FG)

Isaiah Canaan appears on ESPN First Take after a half court shot from his knees against SEMO:

6th Man

  • Isacc Miles, Murray State (9.7 PPG, 47% FG)

Impact Newcomer

  • Zac Swansey, Tennessee Tech

What You Need to Know

This could be the first year in quite some time the OVC puts two teams in the NCAA Tournament. Though unlikely, it could happen if Murray State has the season everyone is expecting, and Morehead State can find a way to knock off the Racers in OVC Tournament play. Based on preseason hype including a #31 ranking by Lindy’s, Murray State could make a resume impressive enough for an at-large bid if it can knock some big-name teams and win the 76 Classic in Anaheim. The other MSU can make some noise also, as the Eagles possess a special player in Kenneth Faried. In basketball, that kind of player can make all the difference and Donnie Tyndall’s squad will get the chance to make waves early as they play three quality teams from last season’s NCAA Tournament in Ohio State, Florida and Northern Iowa. Morehead State will travel to Gainesville on November 11 to get a crack at Billy Donovan and the Gators before heading north to Columbus two days later. Northern Iowa is the final stop as the Eagles head west to Cedar Falls on the December 11. Also, SIU-Edwardsville continues to wait in the wings as it transition to full-fledged membership.

Kenneth Faried is ready to dethrone Murray State, but the Racers have other plans. (zimbio.com)

Predicted Champion

Murray State (NCAA Seed: #9): After a campaign in 2009-10 that will go down as one of the best in program history, the scary thing for OVC foes is that this year’s edition may be even better. Despite losing senior leaders Tony Easley and Danero Thomas to graduation, the Racers look to reload behind the strong play of a three-headed guard attack. Led by returning starters B.J. Jenkins and Isacc Miles, the deadly backcourt gets a little more frightening when last year’s sixth man, Isaiah Canaan, gets thrown in the mix. Canaan, who actually averaged the second-most points on the team last season at 10.4 PPG, should pick up right where he left off, shooting a ridiculous 50% from the field and 48% from behind the arc. After last season’s last-second buzzer-beater vanquished Vanderbilt, things are looking good for Billy Kennedy’s squad, as the Racers look to cash in plenty of wins at the newly renamed CFSB Center.

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level (part four)

Posted by rtmsf on October 12th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

To read the entire In Their Words series, click here.

Part Four: SCHEDULING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • Chris Lang, Writer, Lynchburg News & Advance: Lang has been the beat writer for Liberty University since 2005 after having spent eight years as the Sports Editor at the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff, Arizona.
  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff – Ivory enters his third season in Pine Bluff, where he has turned the Golden Lions into winners. UAPB turned around an 0-11 start last season by finishing 18-5 over their last 23 games, winning UAPB’s first SWAC tournament title in 43 years and advancing to the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national-champion Duke.
  • Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin – James enters his second season as the head coach at UT-Martin following eight seasons as an assistant coach there. His first season was rough, to the tune of 4-25, after he was appointed head coach in the wake of scandal with the previous head coach. But James, the recruiter who brought Lester Hudson to UT-Martin, has plans to begin to turn things around this season.
  • Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty – Layer enters his second season at Liberty after having spent a season as an assistant at the university in 2007-08. In between, he spent a year at Marquette and previously he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Colorado State. He has compiled a 118-122 record in his eight seasons as a Division I head coach.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.

Last time we talked about the difficult process that mid-major basketball programs go through when putting together their non-conference schedules, and we’ll get more of that here. When teams have a hard time finding quality opponents who are willing to come to their place, their choices get relegated to playing insanely tough opponents (like with Long Beach State who we discussed last time), playing a ton of road games as is normal for many mid-majors, or watering down the schedule with teams in the bottom reaches of Division I and even lower divisions of basketball. At East Tennessee State, for example, they had trouble finding anybody to come to Johnson City to play them, with Tennessee Tech and NAIA-school Milligan College the only non-conference home games on their schedule.

It's Tough When Scheduling NAIA is a Viable Option

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: Yup. That’s all we’ve got is two non-conference home games, and one of those in a non-DI school. But we just really struggled, more this year than I ever have as a head coach, to get home-and-homes started. And again, to get games is easy. To go on the road is easy. To get people to be willing to play you at home is not an easy thing.

Chris Lang, Beat Writer for Liberty, Lynchburg News & Advance: Between Liberty and Virginia or Virginia Tech, the biggest difference is scheduling. They can’t get anyone to come here to play men’s basketball games. There’s a reason they play three or four NAIA or non-DI’s a year, because you can’t get anyone. If you’re Coach Layer, you can take money game after money game, but do you want to put your team through that and never get a chance to play at home and get used to your home court? I know for this year’s schedule they have five non-conference home games and only two of them are against Division I teams. They got George Mason and William & Mary to come here, but it is very difficult.

The difficulties in scheduling, and specifically the difficulties in getting home games, lead to problems in terms of winning games. No matter the level of competition, it is hard to win on the road. So, the more road games a team has to play, the more likely losses can begin piling up.

Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider: The thing is, the leagues at mid-major level are just so balanced, and you can’t get non-conference home games, so in order to have a great year, you have to either dominate your league or win a lot of non-conference road games. And over time, those two things have been very difficult to do. It is hard to dominate a league that is so balanced where every night you can get beat. And non-conference road games are very difficult to win. So it makes having that 22- to 25-win year hard -– you had better be really, really good. And that’s why you see so many of the mid-majors at the end of non-conference play under .500 and so many of them hovering around .500.

And when mid-major programs lose games early, whether they be against big BCS teams on the road or in tournaments 0r even in their home games, it can hurt the confidence of the players, and it can diminish the support of the fans.

Bartow: The fans just have to be realistic. As a head coach, you don’t want to come out in the paper and be negative, you don’t want to come out and say, “hey fans, we’re going to lose a lot of these games,” but fans have to be realistic, fans have to understand the big picture. Again, when I go into these games, I hope we can win them all, I hope we can go undefeated, but I’m also old enough and experienced enough as a head coach to know when you go in and play Kentucky or Ole Miss on the road or Dayton on the road, chances are, you’re going to lose those games. So you just have to understand the big picture of what you’re trying to get done and fans have to be understanding as well.

At Arkansas-Pine Bluff, they worked their way through a rough 0-11 start to last season during a tough non-conference stretch featuring 11 straight road games with eight of them against BCS conference teams, before being able to turn it around and eventually earn their way into the NCAA tournament.

Is the UABP Model of Scheduling the Right One?

George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: Our team was good about it. You come to school and you want to play against tough competition. We started 0-11, but our minds were always positive. One thing we did last year that was maybe a little different than the year before was to just focus on our academics and the guys understood that their number one goal when coming to college was to get a degree. So we focused on that and it kept a lot of tension off of the 0-11 stretch for our guys.

The Arkansas-Pine Bluff model, a model similar to Long Beach State’s plan, is to play tough teams to toughen your squad up for conference play and the postseason. And many coaches found at least some validity to such a plan.

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level (part two)

Posted by rtmsf on September 28th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

To read the entire In Their Words series, click here.

Part Two: RECRUITING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin – James enters his second season as the head coach at UT-Martin following eight seasons as an assistant coach there. His first season was rough, to the tune of 4-25, after he was appointed head coach in the wake of scandal with the previous head coach. But James, the recruiter who brought Lester Hudson to UT-Martin, has plans to begin to turn things around this season.
  • Todd Miles, Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations, Long Beach State – Miles starts his third year in Long Beach following a seven-year stretch at Boise State where he was the primary media relations contact for the basketball team.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.
  • Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason – Caputo is entering his sixth season as an assistant coach for the Patriots after spending the previous three seasons as an administrative assistant and video coordinator under head coach Jim Larranaga.
  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty – Layer enters his second season at Liberty after having spent a season as an assistant at the university in 2007-08. In between, he spent a year at Marquette and previously he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Colorado State. He has compiled a 118-122 record in his eight seasons as a Division I head coach.
  • George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff – Ivory enters his third season in Pine Bluff, where he has turned the Golden Lions into winners. UAPB turned around an 0-11 start last season by finishing 18-5 over their last 23 games, winning UAPB’s first SWAC tournament title in 43 years and advancing to the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national-champion Duke.

Last time around, we heard about the challenges mid-major schools face in competing for recruits and the importance of player development at the mid-major level. This time, we’ll look at some of the more practical questions to be answered when recruiting, such as what types of players coaches are going to be looking for and where they are going to find them. If you’re in a talent-rich area, you may not ever need to go outside of your region to find players, but the bigger pool of talent from which you are able to draw, the more likely you are to be able to land talented players.

Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider: We’re in a great location. We sit right in the middle between Philadelphia and New York City. We’re about 35 miles from Philadelphia and about 50 miles from New York City, which also puts us two hours from Baltimore, maybe three hours from Washington DC, within three hours of Virginia, we have a couple of kids from Delaware, so again we’re in a location that allows us to recruit regionally. I think most coaches will tell you that they want to take care of their back yard, but how big your back yard is changes for everybody. If you’re in the Midwest and there are not as many players within a two-hour radius of your school, then obviously you have to change your approach. But in our situation we are able to do the majority of our recruiting close to home.

Locating Talent is Extremely Important

Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin: As far as location, we try to bring in student-athletes within about a six hour radius from us, we’ve been more successful doing that, but saying that, we kind of go where we know people, where people can help us and we’ve been able to be successful because of our contacts.

Todd Miles, Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations, Long Beach State: Coach (Dan) Monson’s goal is always to get the best player in Long Beach. That’s his number one goal. That’s how we got Larry Anderson. Casper Ware is a local kid, T.J. Robinson happened to come from Connecticut, but he came because we were recruiting Larry Anderson who was at a prep school and we saw T.J. But, with this team this year we had a lot of returners, so they were trying to find pieces that would fit with this team, with all these returners they had certain needs and they may have been a little more particular about who they wanted. Three years ago when Coach Monson and his staff came here, they needed players, and it didn’t matter what position. And I think this year maybe more they wanted to recruit to a position or to a skill set.

Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State: We prefer to recruit locally, but really, it is all based on need. Certain classes are stronger than others: 2012 looks to be stronger than the 2011 class, as an example. And then there might be times when you have to recruit for need, like you need a point – it’s not just about recruiting a position, like you need a guard or forward – you might have more specific needs, like you need an athletic, guard-the-rim post-player, they may not need to be a great offensive post player. Or you might need a post player who can pick-and-pop and hit the three, but isn’t that great on the block. Or you might have a bunch of 6’4/6’5 athletes who are drivers/slashers, but you need to find a guy that can hit the three. If a player can do it all, they’re not going to come to our level. Sometimes we just need to find guys that can fit a need. In this case, we got some really good kids out of state and if we have a need and don’t think that need can be best filled out of the local area, we go to wherever it is we can get it.

Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason: There are some years where we sign a number of guys from the area and other years where it’s a little bit different, but yeah, our base is the local area. Last year we brought in two kids from the DC area. Obviously we want to stay with that as much as possible, but there are times when there is just not enough volume in your area when you’ve got to get five or six kids in a year, which we’ve had to do. You know, we had to get 10 guys in two years and so sometimes when there’s not as much in the area and you’ve got to get quality, you’ve got to go to places out of the area, and I think that’s where TV has helped us as well.

Schools like Long Beach State and George Mason have easy access to major metropolitan areas. Obviously, not all schools enjoy such a location, and as a result cannot rely entirely on getting recruits from their local area.

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level

Posted by rtmsf on September 21st, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

Part One: RECRUITING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff – Ivory enters his third season in Pine Bluff, where he has turned the Golden Lions into winners. UAPB turned around an 0-11 start last season by finishing 18-5 over their last 23 games, winning UAPB’s first SWAC tournament title in 43 years and advancing to the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national-champion Duke.
  • Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason – Caputo is entering his sixth season as an assistant coach for the Patriots after spending the previous three seasons as an administrative assistant and video coordinator under head coach Jim Larranaga.
  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • Eric Reveno, Head Coach, Portland – Reveno heads into his fifth season at Portland having turned around a program from a team that was 18-45 in his first two seasons to a team on the rise with a 40-24 record over the last two seasons. Reveno spent his previous nine seasons as an assistant at Stanford, his alma mater where he was a Pac-10 Conference All-Academic Team selection as a senior.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.
  • Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin – James enters his second season as the head coach at UT-Martin following eight seasons as an assistant coach there. His first season was rough, to the tune of 4-25, after he was appointed head coach in the wake of scandal with the previous head coach. But James, the recruiter who brought Lester Hudson to UT-Martin, has plans to begin to turn things around this season.
  • Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty – Layer enters his second season at Liberty after having spent a season as an assistant at the university in 2007-08. In between, he spent a year at Marquette and previously he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Colorado State. He has compiled a 118-122 record in his eight seasons as a Division I head coach.
  • Gregg Bach, Assistant Athletics Director for Communications, Akron – Bach was named to his current position this past summer after having spent the previous eight years on the media relations staff in the Akron athletic department. His new job makes him the spokesperson of the athletic department.

First up: recruiting. This is the biggest, most pressure-packed area in college athletics. No matter how good coaches are at the X’s-and-O’s, they need players to execute their plans. At the mid-major level, the likelihood of a coach winding up with a ready-made pro is minuscule, so coaches have to find diamonds-in-the-rough, and, perhaps more importantly, develop their players over the course of their careers. Not only do schools at this level have to compete with other schools of similar size, if they find themselves competing with  a higher-level school for the same prospect, they may have to make a decision as to whether or not continuing to recruit the player is a worthwhile use of time. And the schools have to make the most of every advantage they can find in order to land the best student-athletes for their institution.

Recruiting Players Takes on Many Forms

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: Obviously, if you’re a college basketball coach, the most important part of your job is making sure that you’ve got good players.

George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: There are a lot of things that go into recruiting. It comes down to what that kid is really looking for and what that kid wants out of college.

Bartow: There are so many things that go into it. There is no question that the relationship is critical, whether that’s with the head coach or an assistant coach. But that is very pivotal in the decision, building the relationship with not only the prospect, but a mom or a dad or whoever is going to be helping them make that decision. And certainly the product you’re trying to show them is important. Fortunately, I think I’m in a situation where I think we’ve got a good product, but there are a lot of things that are important: the school, the community, the housing, the fan’s support of your program, how many times you’re potentially going to be on TV and what conference you’re in, your history, the success you’ve had and how many times you’ve been to the NCAA tournament recently. So there are a lot of things and certainly different things are important to different players. For instance, we’ve been to the NCAA Tournament the last two years, and for some prospects that is very, very critical and important, and for others that might not be so important. So there are different things for different prospects.

When George Mason broke through to the Final Four in 2006, they were the first big mid-major success story in the NCAA Tournament since, arguably, Larry Bird’s Indiana State team made it there in 1979. Sure, there have been other non-BCS schools to get to the Final Four (Memphis ’08, Louisville ’05 and Marquette ’03 all came out of Conference USA, and Utah ’98 out of the WAC are all examples of non-BCS teams advancing to the Final Four, but none of those teams can really be considered a mid-major given their substantial basketball budgets), but Mason, an 11-seed and one of the last teams into the tournament that season, is clearly the first “modern” mid-major Cinderella story. While their success opened some doors recruiting-wise, new challenges arose as well.

Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason: I don’t think anything has gotten easier since the Final Four, but it has been different for sure. I think we’ve gotten some good players, but you’ve got to caution yourself against those with superficial interest, people who will put you on their list because it sounds good, but they’re really not considering you because they are too far from home or whatever. You still want to make sure you’re getting guys that really want to be there and they’re hungry. Sometimes when you have success there are certain kids who are really attracted to the success and maybe not as attracted to working, almost like they’re feeling, “hey, if I get a scholarship over at George Mason, that’s it, I don’t have to work anymore.” But the guys that helped us get there, they signed with George Mason when it wasn’t as fashionable and they were driven to succeed. The one thing that the Final Four appearance has done for us is that it has helped us get involved with guys who maybe we previously couldn’t have gotten involved with. It helps us get into homes in different areas. You know, our school is much more of a household name nationally, and we’ve become a stronger name in our area as well. I think it has been good, but you also have to be careful with it too.

For mid-majors, a lot of the big-name recruits (McDonald’s All-Americans), are out of the question in all but the rarest of circumstances. This season, point guard Ray McCallum, Jr. chose Detroit over BCS schools like Arizona, Florida and UCLA, a decision which would have been startling were it not for the fact that his dad is the head coach there. For most mid-major programs, these players aren’t even in consideration. To make up for that, mid-majors have to find players that fly under the radar of some of the bigger schools and guys who are willing to put in the hard work to improve.

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Summer School in the Ohio Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 16th, 2010

Greg Waddell is the RTC correspondent for the Ohio Valley Conference

Around the OVC

  • He’s Baaack…: Kenneth Faried has decided to return. An Associated Press All-American honorable mention last season, the 6’8 power forward is back in Morehead after garnering NABC All-District honors and sweeping the Ohio Valley Conference awards, earning Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and First Team All-Conference. His 16.9 points and 13.0 boards per game captured the attention of NBA scouts as he turned down what might have been a second-round pick to return to school. Clocking in at No. 25 on Chad Ford of ESPN’s Big Board, he is viewed as a mid to late first rounder by the worldwide leader.
  • The Rich Get Richer…and So Do The Poor: Recruiting is a funny thing, and sometimes, crazy things happen. Take this season’s OVC recruiting haul, for example. The top two ranked players entering the conference according to ESPN.com, Shawn Jackson and Jeverik Nelson, went opposite routes with one choosing the conference’s best team (Jackson to Murray State) and the other the worst (Nelson to Tennessee-Martin). Martin, which limped to a 4-25 record and finished last in conference play (excluding SIU-Edwardsville, who is technically not a member of the conference yet), benefited the most from recruiting as they added three highly-touted players.

Kenneth Faried's return to Morehead State spells trouble for the rest of the OVC in 2010-11. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Power Rankings:

  1. Murray State: After winning the OVC regular season title, conference tourney, upsetting Vanderbilt in the NCAA tournament, and falling just short of knocking off national runner-up Butler, the 2009-10 Murray State team was one to remember. The scary thing is the 2010-11 edition may be better. Despite losing senior stalwarts Tony Easley and Danero Thomas, there is help on the way. Easley, the Racers’ emotional leader from last season, looks to be the biggest hole to fill but head coach Billy Kennedy managed to work his magic yet again, luring 6’9 big man Shawn Jackson from Florida. Jackson, arguably the best freshman in the conference, should start immediately and looks to be a force in the paint from his first day on campus while Chris Griffin, the other freshman recruit, will look to back up the three, potentially sophomore high-flier Ed Daniel. With the two-headed scoring attack of guards Isacc Miles and B.J. Jenkins returning, OVC Tournament MVP Isaiah Canaan may be relegated to sixth man again. What a good problem for Kennedy to have as the Racers look to be the class of the Ohio Valley once again.
  2. Morehead State: The other MSU had a decent season as well. Okay that might be a bit of an understatement. Led by Kenneth Faried, who won almost every award the OVC has to offer, the Eagles soared to a second place finish in league play and captured an NIT berth that led to a beatdown of Colorado State and a narrow loss to Boston University in overtime. Projected as a second-round pick in the NBA draft, it seemed that Faried was all set to try his luck in the league, until he decided to come back. Although Morehead State does say goodbye to second leading scorer Maze Stallworth, (12.6 PPG) they welcome back three of their top four scorers and look like a promising pick come tournament time.  The only team standing in their way is Murray but after dashing the Racers’ hopes of an undefeated conference run, they’ve shown they can hang with Billy Kennedy’s squad.  The OVC is a two-team league, and if Morehead can take out their rivals to the west, March Madness may find more than two MSUs dancing.
  3. Austin Peay – After last season’s unexpected finish, a loss at the hands of Tennessee Tech in the first round of the OVC Tournament, the Govs will look to pick up the pieces and build on their 17-15 2009-10 campaign. The only problem is they’ll be forced do so without two main components. Guard Wes Channels, whose 16.9 PPG led the team, has graduated, and 6’8 forward Duran Robertson fell victim to a career-ending knee injury in a preseason pickup game. Robertson’s injury will affect the Govs’ frontline depth where Austin Peay returns 6’9 junior center John Fraley (9.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG) and 6’7 second-team all-Ohio Valley Conference forward Anthony Campbell (15.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG), The Govs do add Tyshawn Edmonson, a transfer from St. John’s via Midland (Texas) College, who will look to push for playing time. Edmonson played high school ball at nearby University Heights Academy. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking in on the… OVC

Posted by rtmsf on January 13th, 2009

Greg Miller of WPSD Local 6 is the RTC correspondent for the MAC and OVC Conferences.

Ohio Valley Conference Standings

  1. Austin Peay     5-1      9-7
  2. Morehead St.     5-1      8-9
  3. Eastern Illinois     3-2      6-9
  4. Tenn-Martin     3-3      10-6
  5. Eastern Kentucky     3-3      9-7
  6. Tennessee St.     3-3      5-11
  7. Jacksonville St.     2-3      8-6
  8. Tennessee Tech     2-3      8-7
  9. Murray St.     2-3      7-8
  10. SE Missouri St.     0-6      3-14

OVC league play is in full-swing and things couldn’t be more muddled.

At this point, here is what we know:

SEMO is the league’s worst team.  There’s no question about it.  EIU went to SEMO and won by 20 over the weekend.  Now let’s not come down too hard on the Redhawks.  They do only have seven scholarship players and went through an absolute mess with the whole Scott Edgar situation.  Zach Roman is doing a marvelous job just keeping this program’s head above water.  After understanding SEMO, this league is as up in the air as any league in the country.

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #28 – Ohio Valley

Posted by rtmsf on October 12th, 2008

Ron Harris is the RTC correspondent for the Ohio Valley Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Murray State  (16-2)
  2. Austin Peay   (13-5)
  3. Tennessee-Martin  (12-6)
  4. Morehead State  (11-5)
  5. Tennessee Tech  (8-8)
  6. Tennessee State  (6-10)
  7. Eastern Kentucky  (6-10)
  8. Eastern Illinois  (5-11)
  9. Southeast Missouri State  (3-13)
  10. Jacksonville State  (1-15)

What You Need to Know (WYN2K):  Murray State and Austin Peay are the traditional powers in the OVC, winning six of the last nine championships. In the 90s MSU won the title nine times. This year the league’s marquee player will be Tennessee-Martin’s Lester Hudson, who dropped 35/10 on national runner-up Memphis last year and became the first D1 player ever to record a quadruple-double (25/12/10 assts/10 stls). Hudson initially declared himself eligible for the draft but pulled his name from consideration when it became obvious he would not be selected in the first round (see video below).

Predicted ChampionMurray State (#15 NCAA) returns four starters from last year’s team and adds combo guard Isacc Miles to the mix. Miles played as a freshman at Creighton two years ago and was named to the Missouri Valley Conference all-freshman team. The Racers also added the Florida 4A-5A-6A Player of the Year in 6’7 Ivan Aska. While MSU might not be as strong as they were in the late 90s, head coach Billy Kennedy is starting to get the kind of players that made the Racers the class of the league back then.

Others Considered.  You can never overlook Austin Peay. Head coach Dave Loos always has them ready to play and they have a former OVC Player of the Year in Drake Reed. On the other hand they lost three starters in Todd Babbington, Fernandez Lockett and Derek Wright.  Tennessee-Martin has the league’s best player in Hudson but last year was their first winning season (17-16) in what seems like a century. Marquis Weddle knocks down 3s when opponents double-team Hudson and the Skyhawks have a couple of big bruisers inside who sat out last season. But even head coach Brett Campbell says they lack offensive skills.  Morehead State is solid inside with Leon Buchanan and Kenneth Faried. But they lose point guard Nikoila Stojakovic who finished fifth in the nation in assists last year. Head coach Donnie Tyndal says they will replace him with a point guard by committee scheme. But the lead candidate for the job seems to be JUCO transfer Robert Murry who is a shoot-first lead guard.  The bottom line is: Murray State has the fewest question marks.

Important Games / Key Games / RPI-Booster Games.  The OVC has not had many marquee wins against non-conference opponents in recent years although Tennessee St. did win at Illinois last season. The best chance for a marquee win this year comes on December 13 when Murray State visits Missouri. The first league games are on December 4 and 6 when Murray State plays at Eastern Kentucky and Morehead. If they can sweep those two games it will validate their status as the favorite.

Neat-O Stat.  Did you know that former Murray State alum Joe Fulks was named the best player of the first 50 years of the 20th century and was called The Babe Ruth of Basketball? Fulks is credited by some with inventing the jump shot.

65 Team Era.  The era hasn’t been good to the OVC, as it currently stands at 19 first-round losses in a row.  But the league isn’t stuck in #16-seed land (only twice in the last 24 years) so the opportunities have been there.  The most recent upset attempts were in 2006 (#14 Murray St. pushed #3 UNC to the wire, losing 69-65) and 2005 (#15 Eastern Kentucky took in-state rival #2 Kentucky deep before succumbing 72-64). 

Final Thoughts.  If Murray State stumbles you have to like Austin Peay’s chances to win the championship. They have one of the league’s best coaches in Loos and they have tradition on their side. The Racers are the last current OVC team to win a game in the NCAA Tournament, having beaten North Carolina State in the first round in 1988. Look to their game against Missouri and their games in the San Juan Shootout in Puerto Rico against South Florida, Oral Roberts and Wright State as barometers of their ability to repeat that feat this year.

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