Morning Five: 08.03.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 3rd, 2012

  1. Thursday was a day of personnel movement around the college basketball landscape, but it was an endorsement of a proposal by NCAA leadership that made the most news. If approved as expected by NCAA presidents in October, a new measure for much more punitive penalties against NCAA rules violators would include “postseason bans of up to four years, fines that could stretch into the millions and suspensions for head coaches.” If these sanctions sound familiar, they should — Penn State’s unprecedented probation meted out by the NCAA just over a week ago included several components of these changes. Perhaps the biggest and most important change is in the shifting of culpability from individuals within the program to the “captain of the ship” — the head coach. Under the new guidelines, head coaches would be presumed vicariously liable for illegal actions performed by members of their staff — the burden would then fall on the head coach himself to prove that he was completely unaware of those transgressions (and was not negligent in doing so) to avoid responsibility. We haven’t had time to give this a lot of thought just yet, but in the era of ensuring plausible deniability among top dogs everywhere, this is a sea change in the way the NCAA views its expectations of conduct.
  2. Kelsey Barlow was last seen getting booted off of Purdue’s basketball team in late February after his second disruptive incident in a year, when he and teammate DJ Byrd became involved in some kind of confrontation at a West Lafayette bar. A tremendous perimeter defender with ideal size for the position at 6’5″, Barlow left his team high and dry for the second straight year during March Madness — in 2011, he was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team,” and while VCU thoroughly ripped Purdue in that year’s Round of 32, he surely could have helped the Boilers in their tight game with Kansas at the same spot last year. Illinois-Chicago announced on Thursday that Barlow will resurface in the Loop, sitting out next season as a transfer to become eligible to play as a senior in 2013-14. Barlow started 22 games for Purdue last season, averaging 8/4/2 APG in a key glue guy role while also helping to lock down opposing guards in Matt Painter’s sticky defense. This is a talented pickup for a program that was absolutely terrible last year — 3-15 in the Horizon League, 8-22 overall — let’s hope that Barlow uses his second chance wisely.
  3. USC basketball received excellent news on Wednesday when doctors cleared its star point guard Jio Fontan to begin full contact practices again. It was a little over a year ago when the Trojan playmaker tore his ACL during an exhibition trip to Brazil, effectively torpedoing USC’s season before it even got started. A 19-win NCAA Tournament team from 2010-11 drooped to a disastrous six-win group without Fontan’s floor leadership as injuries mounted and hope was lost. Next season, though, Kevin O’Neill has a much higher ceiling for his squad — with Fontan back to join the intriguing prospect of seven-footer DeWayne Dedmon and a host of talented D-I transfers, the Trojans may be poised to leap back toward the top tier of the Pac-12 in a hurry. For comprehensive coverage of USC basketball, check out our Pac-12 microsite’s USC Week from back in early July.
  4. Going from the national championship game to an interim tag in the SWAC is a precipitous decline for a single decade of work, but that’s exactly where former Indiana (2002 national finalist) and UAB head coach Mike Davis finds himself this Friday morning after accepting the interim head coaching job at Texas Southern. According to local reports, the school “plans [...] on keeping” Davis on board permanently as soon as it figures out how to handle the abrupt resignation of its previous head coach, Tony Harvey. Davis, along with Matt Doherty (UNC) and Billy Gillispie (Kentucky) represents one of the holy trinity of hires at elite programs in the last decade who were way, way in over their heads at that level. The race to the bottom knows no bounds.
  5. There’s no shortage of bizarre arrest stories in sports, and this one won’t move the broader society needle. But the weird “clerical error” involving Kentucky assistant Rod Strickland that resulted in his arrest during a routine traffic stop on Thursday is borderline absurd. First of all, he was reportedly stopped for “failure to signal” at a turn near the UK campus in Lexington. In most situations, this is otherwise known as a pretext to profile someone — seriously, who gets stopped for a turn signal violation? But it appears that in stopping him, a whole new can of worms was opened in that it turns out that Strickland’s license is currently suspended in Tennessee (which, through reciprocity with Kentucky, showed up in the national criminal database). That suspension stemmed from another arrest in October 2007 when he was pulled over while intoxicated and at the time was driving on a suspended license from Maryland! He also has a DUI conviction from Kentucky in 2010 which temporarily suspended his license there (it was reinstated in 2011). Good grief, man. It sounds like Strickland has a problem — whether with poor decision-making or something more sinister. Regardless, he just needs to leave the car at home.
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Hope is Running Out in Corvallis

Posted by Connor Pelton on January 19th, 2012

Just three short years ago, Oregon State coach Craig Robinson led the Beavers to a CBI Championship in his first year as head coach in Corvallis. A year later, the Beavers went to the CBI for a second straight season and Robinson was given a two-year extension thru 2015-16. Then things went south. The Beavers won a total of 11 games in 2010-11, with head-scratching losses to opponents like Texas Southern, Utah Valley, and George Washington. That season had Beaver fans questioning Robinson and the direction in which the program was going, but rest assured Robinson said, next season would be the year. The team was entirely his, and in his words, “We have the talent to compete in every game we play in.”

Fast forward to three months later. The Beavers are 11-7, which is not a bad record by any means, but not very good either. Their best win was over a mediocre Texas squad on a neutral court, and they have lost five out of their six conference games. But worst of all, the team (all of Robinson’s guys) have stopped playing for him. And it’s because, quite honestly, the guy isn’t a very good coach. Beginning on the offensive side of the ball, the Beavers look completely lost. Robinson has fallen in love with Ahmad Starks, and the team is suffering mightily because of it. Forget the offense that got you ten wins in nonconference play, why not just give the ball to Starks, let him dance around the perimeter for however long he deems necessary, and throw up a shot? This might be a good idea when you need a barrage of threes late in the game, but in the first half? Why not work the ball in and out, maybe get it to the guy who is the supposed “leader of the team” in Jared Cunningham? Robinson has completely abandoned Cunningham on offense, and opponents have picked up on this.

This guy needs to shoot more. (credit: Andy Wooldridge)

Defenses are more than willing to simply pack the key and let Starks shoot away for two reasons. One, he’s incredibly streaky. Starks loves to shoot, obviously, and when he’s making them, that’s fine. But those moments are few and far between. Secondly, when the defense already has three players in the paint, it makes it pretty easy to get a rebound. But when Starks is launching threes with the Beaver bigs (especially Devon Collier) out on the wings or on top of the free throw line, it is absolutely IMPOSSIBLE to get offensive rebounds and second chance points. You’d think Robinson would work on this in practice, but yet we see Collier and Brandt reaching and going over the back every single game because they are never in position.

Another reason offensive production has gone down in conference play is because of Eric Moreland. While Moreland is a great defender, he has no clue what to do on offense and should not be taking up minutes until he learns some basic offensive skills. To Starks’ credit, he does do a good job of slashing through the paint and creating options for everyone. But Moreland is constantly clogging the lane and that takes a way too many possibilities. Players like Angus Brandt and Joe Burton have to get more playing time since they can not only score and pass but also move around and open up the offense. Read the rest of this entry »

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Behind the Numbers: Who Is Killing Their Own Team?

Posted by KCarpenter on December 1st, 2011

A lot of the effort in basketball analytics goes towards the good things that players do that do not appear in the box score. This is the driving idea behind Michael Lewis’s seminal New York Times feature, “The No-Stats All-Star,” an early look at analytics in the NBA primarily focused on Darryl Morey, Shane Battier, the Houston Rockets, and adjusted plus/minus. This makes sense: finding hidden strengths is the coach’s angle while finding hidden value is the economist’s angle. As a result of the fine work of smart guys with formulas and others with a willingness to watch a lot of games closely, Charles Jenkins and Nate Wolters were household names last season. This, of course, assumes that your household is filled with basketball dorks, but you get the idea.

Faried Was An Underappreciated Star

Finding diamonds in the rough is a noble pursuit and talking up the greatness of underexposed and underrated players is a worthwhile task (Hey there, Kenneth Faried!). Sometimes, however, there is a joy in using analytics and “advanced” statistics to look for the guy who is hurting his team the most.  Let’s ignore the diamonds and go straight for the rough.

How does a player hurt his team? Well, when push comes to shove, there are basically only two ways: offensively and defensively. Sadly, however, contemporary box scores assign no grade for bad defense to the individual outside of counting how many fouls (which could very well be offensive) a player commits. Our primary understanding of player’s individual defense comes only in positive contributions like blocks, steals, and defensive rebounds while the effect on an opponents shooting percentage is measured at a team level. The noble effort of Luke Winn, David Hess, and others that has sought to enact Dean Oliver’s defensive charting schemes is a good start at really quantifying individual defense, but a very small percentage of Division I games have been looked at in this way making the approach of limited use to someone who wants to look at the whole of college basketball. So, acknowledging that analytic approaches to finding bad defensive players are limited, let’s at least take a quick look at fouls.

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Preseason Bracketology: 10.28.11 Edition

Posted by zhayes9 on October 28th, 2011

Zach Hayes is RTC’s official bracketologist.  He will periodically put together his latest bracket projections throughout the season.  Tell him where you agree or disagree @zhayes9 on Twitter.

  • Last Four In: Drexel, Illinois, Kansas State, Notre Dame.
  • First Four Out: Virginia Tech, Georgetown, Oregon, Minnesota.
  • Next Four Out: Northwestern, BYU, Princeton, Oklahoma State.

Click to Enlarge Bracket

Notes

  • This was the most clear-cut foursome for the top line that I can recall during any previous preseason bracket and all four deserve to be anointed Final Four teams here in October.
  • Maybe a bit of a surprise in both instances, but I’m taking Texas A&M and California to win their respective leagues. Maybe their talent level is not up to par with the likes of Kansas and UCLA, but I like their stability, coaching and players like Khris Middleton and Allen Crabbe are primed to explode.
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RTC Conference Primers: #30 – SWAC

Posted by rtmsf on October 4th, 2011

For our complete list of 2011-12 conference primers working backward from #31 to #1, click here.   

Reader’s Take I

Top Storylines

  • Southern & Grambling APR Victims.  When the NCAA released its annual Academic Progress Rate report in May, the SWAC contained two of the five basketball programs facing a postseason ban in 2011-12 as a result of consistently poor scores over several years.  While this news shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed the APR since it was implemented several years ago, the teeth of the rule is finally taking hold on individual institutions.  Southern and Grambling probably were not going to be in a competitive position to make the NCAA Tournament this season anyway, but this is something that each school must take seriously in order to secure their D-I existence.  The two institutions submitted APR improvement plans to the NCAA over the summer, and with good reason — without a considerable short-term jump in scores,  the next penalty is restricted membership in Division I.
  • Will the APR Eliminate HBCUs in Division I?  Southern and Grambling’s APR predicament highlights a harrowing situation among the two Division I basketball leagues comprising historically black colleges and universities.  With the APR cut line increasing from 925 to 930 as of next year, and a corresponding postseason penalty for programs failing to make that cut in the future, the SWAC  and MEAC could face an untenable situation where every one of its members is ineligible for postseason play, and ultimately on restricted status.  If the 930 threshold had been in effect last year, for example, only one school — the SWAC’s Alcorn State, with its 4-24 overall record and 944 APR score — would have been eligible for the NCAA Tournament.  The APR has been shown to correlate strongly with African-American enrollment, and at the low-budget HBCUs that comprise the SWAC and the MEAC, this development presents tremendous cause for concern.  Whether this is purposeful or not, we’ll leave for you to decide.
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930 And You: The 2011 Tournament Under The New APR Rule

Posted by jstevrtc on August 17th, 2011

The new APR rule is a fact. 930 Or Bust is happening. So let’s talk about it.

On the ESPN blog last week, Diamond Leung, a gentleman we’re happy to file under Official Friend Of RTC, posted an article in which he listed the 12 teams that would not have been eligible to compete if the new APR standard had been applied to the 2011 NCAA Tournament. #1-seed Ohio State? Watching from home. Kawhi Leonard and San Diego State? Sorry, they’d have been studying for finals and not playing basketball. Leung also noted how eventual champion Connecticut would not be invited to the 2012 edition to defend its title since, according to the latest numbers, over the 2006-07 to 2009-10 academic periods the Huskies managed an APR of just 893. They could go undefeated throughout the entire 2011-12 season and it wouldn’t matter. In that scenario they’d win as many NCAA Tournament games as Centenary.

Bill Carmody and Northwestern (18-13) May Have Been Dancing Last Year, Had the New APR Rule Been In Play

Mr. Leung’s article got us thinking: if there would have been 12 fewer teams in the Dance last March, who would have replaced them? Among the unlucky 12, seven were automatic qualifiers through conference tournament titles and five were at-large entries. A quick examination of who would have replaced the disqualified teams shows how putting a binary, all-or-nothing, you’re-in-or-you’re out emphasis on a specific number would have affected the Tournament; as you’ll see, the reverberations go deeper than just the aforementioned 12 teams.

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NIT: Refresher at the Quarterfinal Round

Posted by rtmsf on March 23rd, 2011

Walker Carey is an RTC contributor.

Given all the media and fan attention on the NCAA Tournament, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there were 32 other teams (several pretty good ones) playing on (mostly) the off days.  The NIT is the grand-daddy of postseason basketball, so let’s get you briefly caught up on where that tournament is at the quarterfinal stage.

Alabama Bracket

The first two rounds in the Alabama Bracket have seen the top seeds advancing in each game, which sets up a quarterfinal game between top seeded Alabama and second seeded Miami (FL) Wednesday night. Alabama has used solid performances from guards Tony Mitchell and Trevor Releford, as well as from big man JaMychal Green to breeze past Coastal Carolina and New Mexico in home games. The Hurricanes have gotten solid guard play from Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott to earn victories over Florida Atlantic and Missouri State in Coral Gables. The quarterfinals will come down to whether Frank Haith’s team can find scoring options against one of the better defensive teams still playing basketball this season.  The winner advance to the semifinals in New York City.

Colorado Bracket

The first round of the Colorado Bracket gave us two of the biggest upsets of the tournament thus far. After getting their bubble burst on Selection Sunday, second seeded Saint Mary’s was upset at home by seventh seeded Kent State after blowing a 13-point lead. The first round also saw third seeded Colorado State lose at home to sixth seeded Fairfield. The Golden Flashes topped the Stags in the second round to advance to the quarterfinal. In the top half of the bracket, Colorado has used strong performances from standouts Alec Burks and Cory Higgins to easily defeat Texas Southern, California and Kent State in succession.  The Buffs are playing like a team with a chip on its shoulder, and will advance to NYC to await the winner of the Alabama-Miami (FL) game.

Boston College Bracket

The first round of the Boston College Bracket saw all the top seeds advance and do so fairly convincingly. However, things changed in the second round, as top seeded Boston College was blown out at home by fourth seeded Northwestern. The Wildcats used a balanced attack led by John Shurna and Michael Thompson to throttle the Eagles. Elsewhere in the second round, Washington State used a strong performance from star guard Klay Thompson to get past third seed Oklahoma State by a 74-64 margin. The second round results set up a quarterfinal matchup between fourth seed Northwestern and second seed Washington State. Considering that the game will be played in Pullman and Klay Thompson might be the best player in the NIT this year, Wazzu should advance to the semifinals in Madison Square Garden next week.

Virginia Tech Bracket

The first round of the Virginia Tech Bracket contained the top individual performance of the tournament thus far. College of Charleston guard Andrew Goudelock netted 39 points to lead the sixth seeded Cougars to an upset victory over three seed Dayton. The Cougars remained hot in the second round by knocking out star guard Norris Cole and the Cleveland State Vikings. The top half of the bracket saw top seed Virginia Tech and fourth seed Wichita State advance to the second round where the Hokies and Shockers battled in an overtime classic. In the end, Wichita State was able to ride a balanced scoring effort to defeat the Hokies and overcome Malcolm Delaney’s 30 points. Both the Cougars and the Shockers are on a roll heading into the quarterfinal Wednesday night, making it a tough game to predict, but if Goudelock catches fire for Bobby Cremins’ squad then College of Charleston will enjoy a trip to New York as the sole mid-major representative next week in Manhattan. 

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O26 Primers: Conference USA, Mountain West, Southland, SWAC and WAC Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 9th, 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.

With three conference tournaments concluding last night, it is only appropriate that five more get underway today. Conference USA and the Southland Conference are two of the most balanced leagues in the nation, while the WAC and Mountain West were just the opposite as they were dominated at the top. The SWAC is always a bit of a mystery come Championship Week and tournament time, but Texas Southern is the class of the league this year and will no doubt do their best to bring respect to the league if they are fortunate enough to advance to the Dance.

Conference USA

The Favorite: UAB won the regular season title with a 12-4 record, but that means very little in the ultra competitive CUSA this season as five teams are just behind the Blazers. There is something to be said though about UAB’s strong play down the stretch and the steady play of Jamarr Sanders and Cameron Moore. These reasons alone amidst several injuries that Mike Davis‘ club has overcome makes UAB the slight favorite over the rest of the bunch.

Dark Horse: Southern Mississippi is one the teams that are nipping at UAB’s heels. Although they fell in their last three games of the regular season, Larry Eustachy’s squad proved throughout the year they can beat anyone in the conference. Having Gary Flowers roam around the pain never hurts either.

Who’s Hot: UAB has won their last four games and seven of eight heading into the tournament. As well as UAB is playing, it would be very easy for that to stop on a dime. Throughout each week during the conference schedule, it appeared that one team in CUSA was emerging as the top dog, but they would quickly fade. Can UAB keep their streak going all the way into the NCAA Tournament?

Player to Watch: Papa Dia, Southern Methodist’s senior forward all the way from Senegal, is enjoying the best season of his career as he is averaging 18.5 points and 9 rebounds a game. In each of the previous three seasons, SMU has been below .500; Dia and his teammates clearly have something to prove in this tournament.

First-Round UpsetCentral Florida over East Carolina. UCF was the nation’s favorite story in the early going as they jumped out to a 14-0 record with wins over Florida, Miami (FL), and Princeton. The Knights then went onto lose eight straight games, thus proving that their early success was a fluke. Now, UCF has won five of seven games and if they can regain that success they had in those 14 games, a victory over East Carolina is absolutely within reach.

How’d They Fare? After going 7-9 in the conference, Houston caught fire in the tournament to surprise everyone by winning the title. In doing so, the Cougars stole a bid from a team on the bubble and earned a #13 seed in the Tournament where they lost to Maryland 89-77. UTEP—the team Houston beat to advance onward—was trounced by Butler as a #12 seed.

Interesting Fact: The last team to win an NCAA Tournament game hailing from Conference USA not named Memphis was Louisville in the 2005 Tournament. The ‘Ville advanced all the way to the Final Four that year where they lost to Illinois 57-52 in the semifinals. Both UAB and Cincinnati also won Tournament games that year.

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The Other 26: Week 14

Posted by KDoyle on February 18th, 2011


Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor

Introduction

If you are a true fan of Mid-Major basketball, then this is the weekend for you. Many fans who find a whole lot of joy in watching teams from the smaller conferences compete, share the common gripe that there is not nearly enough coverage of these teams. Well, at no other point during the season will you see ESPN dedicate an entire Saturday of basketball almost exclusively to the best Mid-Major teams around the nation.

Playing against the same faces within a team’s conference can become monotonous, but the BracketBuster weekend enables 114 teams around the country a brief recess before the final stretch of the regular season and tournament time to play an opponent they would otherwise never play. Although many of these games will have little meaning in the grand scheme of things, there are a select few that have serious implications as several Mid-Major teams partaking in the BracketBuster weekend sit squarely on the bubble.

Brace yourself for a great day of college hoops on Saturday. With so many of the top Mid-Major teams in the country playing—George Mason, Utah State, St. Mary’s, Cleveland State, Old Dominion, Missouri State, and Wichita State—you can bet that at least one of these teams, if not more, will be wearing Cinderella’s slipper come March.

The Other 26 Rankings

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Morning Five: 01.17.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 17th, 2011

  1. When we reported on Angel Garcia leaving Memphis to pursue a professional career in Spain approximately a month ago, we jokingly noted that it could be the start of a new trend. It turns out that we may be onto something as Kansas State recently announced that Freddy Asprilla, a transfer from Florida International, had opted to leave the school to pursue a professional career overseas. While it appears that Asprilla was having some difficulty to adjusting to playing under Frank Martin, his AAU coach states that the real reason he turned pro was to earn money to support his ill mother. We wish Freddy the best of luck in his professional career (particularly if the latter is true).
  2. We usually don’t pay attention to mock drafts or player ratings until the end of the season when players are deciding whether or not to go pro, but Chad Ford’s most recent Top 100 caught our eye because of how the top players are rated: (1) Perry Jones (talented, but very inconsistent — four points in a loss at FSU followed by zero points in a close win over Texas Southern); (2) Kyrie Irving (phenomenal, but injured with a toe injury that apparently cannot be described); (3) Harrison Barnes (the preseason #1, but very disappointing so far); (4) Enes Kanter (a talented inside player, but banned from playing this year); (5) Terrence Jones (phenomenal this season); (6) Jared Sullinger (your current national player of the year favorite). Outside of the dominance of freshman in the top six, we are struck by the fact that the two most productive players are rated below an inconsistent big man, a point guard with an injury that nobody can figure out, a massively disappointing freshman, and a Turkish big man who was given the NCAA’s equivalent of an individual death penalty.
  3. The New York Times takes a look at something that we mentioned earlier this season and we expect that many of you have also considered–the Kalin Lucas you see post-injury is not the same player you saw last year. We aren’t sure if it was just poor editing on the part of the The New York Times, but we were surprised by the fact that Tom Izzo was, in fact, surprised to realize that Lucas wouldn’t have the same explosiveness he had last year after a relatively short period of rehab. Our question all along has been how long will it take Lucas to return to a reasonable representation of what he was last year. The answer to that will likely hold the key to whether or not the Spartans can turn around their season in time.
  4. It technically isn’t college basketball, but we are assuming many of you tuned into ESPN2 on Friday night to catch Michael Gilchrist and Austin Rivers square off. Both players had solid games, but in the end Gilchrist and his St. Patrick team (ranked 2nd nationally) were too much for Rivers and his Winter Park squad. We are assuming that plenty of Kentucky and Duke fans tuned in to watch two players who are expected to be the next superstars for their programs. One thing that struck us was how so many of the St. Patrick players looked to at least be college players at some level while the Winter Park players looked more like high schoolers.
  5. Finally, in light of the struggles of many highly ranked teams on the road this season, we found the question — How many points is Cameron Indoor Stadium worth? — posed by Gary Williams to reporters on Friday to be particularly interesting. We know that the Vegas odds-makers probably have a number at least for general home team advantage if not team-specific home court advantages. So our question to you is how many points is the home court worth at some of the toughest places to play in country?
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The Other 26: Week Two

Posted by jstevrtc on November 27th, 2010

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.  For an introduction to this series, please click here.

Introduction

We are getting into the thick of the things as teams are now well into their non-conference slate. While many small-conference schools take their lumps at the hands of larger-conference opponents as often happens at this time of year, other are emerging as legitimate contenders within the world of the “Other 26.” At this point in most seasons the Maui Invitational controls much of the discussion within college basketball circles, and this year has been no different. The tournament encompasses some of the nation’s best teams, and for about a week the focal point of college basketball is the Lahaina Civic Center. Suited more for an AAU championship game than a premiere college basketball venue, the Civic Center witnessed one of the most dominating performances in the history of the Invitational. Averaging 30 points, missing only two of 28 free throws, and guiding the young Huskies to the title is the mark of a champion, and Kemba Walker did all of those. Walker’s first heroics of the Invitational came against Wichita State, who so nearly thwarted Connecticut’s chances at winning the Invitational on the first day. In the process, however, the Shockers garnered my full admiration in how they competed with some of the top teams in America. In the end, Kemba Walker and Connecticut prevailed, but Wichita State was heard and will continue to make noise throughout the year.

What team impressed the most?

Following a tough season-opening loss to Georgetown by three points, Old Dominion has run off four straight victories. Their wins were hardly against cupcake opponents either as two came against Clemson and Xavier (it should be known that both the Tigers and Musketeers have both fallen only to Old Dominion). It is a grave task for any opponent to combat the Monarchs’ attack as no one ODU player is far and away the most significant contributor. Frank Hassell is the team’s leader from a statistical perspective as he averages nearly a double-double and is an extremely efficient offensive player, shooting better than 60% from the field. Blaine Taylor, ODU’s coach, is the mastermind behind this balanced attack. Check out these numbers: six players are averaging between 5.5 and 8.8 shots a game, and seven players average between 4.2 and 12.6 points a game. While not a flashy team by any means, Old Dominion plays a true team game — a truce recipe for success come March.

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

Posted by rtmsf on November 2nd, 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 Seven: MARKETING

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:

  • Andrew Roberts, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information, Arkansas-Pine BluffRoberts runs a tight ship at UAPB as the sole full-time member of the Sports Information Department.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Jessica Dickson, Assistant Athletic Director for External Relations, UMKC – Dickson has been in her current position, where she oversees marketing and promotions for UMKC, for just over three years.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Kevin Keys, Associate Athletic Director for External Operations, Liberty – Keys is a ’77 Liberty graduate who enters his sixth year back on campus in charge of Liberty’s licensing, promotions and marketing.

Last time out we introduced you to the marketing side of mid-major basketball programs and its range of athletic budgets from the one-man Sports Information Department on up. This week, we’ll take a look at another big difference between mid-major programs: the size of the markets in which they play. When these schools compete in small college towns, they can be the talk of the town when things are going well, but for those schools in bigger markets, they are in danger of being overshadowed and potentially lost in the crowd no matter how well they’re playing at the moment.

With So Many Entertainment Options in Big Cities Like LA, Finding Fans Can Be Tough

Andrew Roberts, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: I definitely think it is an advantage (to be in a smaller market), here in the state of Arkansas. I’m originally from Texas, the Houston area, and two schools in that area are in our conference: Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern. They have at times been lost in the shuffle of everything else that is going on, because you’ve got professional sports franchises and other colleges in the city of Houston and high school football and they have sometimes voiced concerns with the amount of coverage they have gotten. There is just so much going on in the city from a sports perspective. At times, it’s just hard for those programs to get ample amount of coverage because there is just so much going on. You’ve got a lot of competition for coverage among those other entities, where in Little Rock its UAPB, its UALR and then that’s really it in the Little Rock area. You’ve got the Arkansas Razorbacks, but there aren’t any professional sports in the state, so there is probably more ability for the news outlets to cover local colleges.

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: It can go both ways playing in a small community. Our fans are very much diehard fans. We’ve got very hardcore fans, which is great if you’re winning, and if you’re losing, they let you know about it. It can work both ways, but I’d much rather be in this situation. Let’s say you’re a mid-major program in a big city, it’s tough, because you can easily get swallowed up from a media standpoint and a PR standpoint. In the newspaper, you might be on the sixth or seventh page, if at all, whereas when we do something good or bad, it’s going to be the lead story in our paper. No question, if we play tonight the lead story in the paper tomorrow is going to be about ETSU basketball. If you’re a mid-major in a big city, you probably have to flip to the back pages to see anything about your program. That would be something you fight. So I like the situation we’re in, but if you’re not winning, then it can obviously work the other way.

Eric Reveno, Head Coach, Portland: When you look at Gonzaga, as far as the city of Spokane, they are the biggest show in Spokane, by far. Portland is not the case, we’ve got the Blazers, we’ve got Portland State, we’ve got minor league baseball, we’ve got more nightlife, we’ve got more going on, which is good. But from a standpoint of getting corporate sponsorship and getting fans, if you’re a company in Spokane and you want to wine and dine your clients, you take them to a Bulldogs game, because there’s nowhere else to take them.

Jessica Dickson, Assistant Athletic Director for External Relations, UMKC: We’re not a small market, so I actually think it is a little more challenging for a smaller school in a large market, as compared to some of our league opponents who are in smaller markets where there’s not as much competition for entertainment. I don’t necessarily think that we directly compete with the Kansas City Chiefs for fans. I think that we as a mid-major school compete with that dinner-and-a-movie crowd, that’s a little more comparable to what our price point is. But we do have to compete. There are so many entertainment options in Kansas City, from the art to the theater to the ballet to the movies to concerts at the Sprint center to football games to Royals games to Wizards games. There are so many options of things for people in KC to do, so we have to come up with creative ways to keep UMKC basketball at the top of their minds.

Todd Miles, Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations, Long Beach State: We’re obviously competing against UCLA, USC, everybody else in our league, the Lakers, the Dodgers… there’s so much to do here. Getting attention in a place like this is a lot harder here than it was at Boise State in terms of local media and stuff like that, but I would say it is probably an advantage in some areas too. You’re more apt to see North Carolina come and play us, or play UCSB like they did a couple of years ago than to see them visit, say some mid-major in a smaller market.

Gregg Bach, Assistant Athletics Director for Communications, Akron: I would say we compete for the professional sports fan in Cleveland, no question about that. That might change a little bit with what has happened with the Cavs and LeBron and all that this summer but certainly the last five or six years, that has been something that we definitely fight. It is not something where football overshadows basketball or basketball overshadows football within our department, I don’t know that we have that issue, but maybe fighting some of those outside things for what people are spending their entertainment dollars on. Even with Ohio State, we’re just two hours north of Columbus, but most of the state is into Ohio State and Ohio State football, so that’s something that we fight as well. I’m not saying someone is not going to come to an Akron game because they are necessarily going to an Ohio State game, but maybe they’re going to stay at home and watch the Ohio State game on TV or go to a sports bar, or something along those lines. So that’s something that we fight and that something we take into consideration a lot of times in terms of how you are going to schedule a game or how we are going to market a game.

Kevin Keys, Associate Athletic Director for External Operations, Liberty: There is no question that we compete with Virginia and Virginia Tech, as our town sits right in the middle between the two. Our philosophy has been for a long time, we’re not going to steal Tech fans or steal UVA fans, that would be a fruitless effort. But those fans don’t always have games at Tech or UVa on the nights that we are playing, whether that be football or basketball. We here are their hometown team and we reach out to them, that’s part of what I would say are our non-traditional fans, that we’ve really begun to grow our fan base with the success we’ve had. Those people are big sports fans and they come watch us. Does that mean they’re giving up wearing maroon and orange for Tech or blue and orange for UVA? No, it doesn’t mean that. But they become fans of ours. Ultimately, we’d love to think that some of them would become primarily Liberty fans, but that’s not our goal. Our goal is to put on a good show and maybe they’ll come to our games on a night when their team isn’t playing.

Putting on a good show is often a goal for these mid-majors, not only getting their fans to come to the games, but making sure they have a good time so that they are more likely to come back. And one of the big things is to create a game atmosphere that is not only fun for the fans and the student base, but also an environment that could aid the basketball team. The first step is getting the fans there.

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