C-USA Breakdown: Louisiana Tech & UTEP Atop Decidedly One-Bid League

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 18th, 2015

As recently as last Thursday, Conference USA still had a legitimate shot at becoming a two-bid league. Old Dominion – in second place behind Louisiana Tech – was considered among Joe Lunardi’s “Last Four In” selections, a team capable of sneaking into the Big Dance even if failed to win the league tournament. But life outside power conferences can be cruel, and the Monarchs all but squandered those at-large chances over the weekend, suffering back-to-back road losses at UT-San Antonio (Thursday) and UTEP (Saturday) while falling to fifth place overall. In fact, with several other would-be contenders also stumbling badly in recent weeks, the once-crowded conference field is looking more and more like a two-horse race between Louisiana Tech and UTEP. Let’s examine the top of the standings, the potential importance of the date of February 26, and why UAB has an ace in the hole come March.

The Top Five

'Speedy' Smith and the Bulldogs sit atop Conference USA. (Tom Morris/latechsportspix.com)

‘Speedy’ Smith and the Bulldogs sit atop Conference USA. (Tom Morris/latechsportspix.com)

  1. Louisiana Tech – 20-6 (11-2). The preseason conference favorites are right where we thought they would be back in November – all alone atop the standings. Louisiana Tech boasts the second-most efficient offense and defense in C-USA and its #67 overall KenPom ranking tops in the league. And while the Bulldogs’ excellent guard trio garners much of the credit – led by Kenneth ‘Speedy’ Smith, the nation’s top assist man (7.9 APG) – forward Erik McCree (12.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG) has also been superb in his first year since transferring over from Murray State. If Michael White’s up-tempo bunch can win at Old Dominion next Saturday, it may be one victory over UTEP away from an outright league title.
  2. UTEP – 18-7 (10-3). The Miners are equipped with the league’s best player, 6’8’’ forward Vince Hunter (15.8 PPG, 9.6 RPG), and a massive frontcourt that ranks seventh nationally in effective height. Their schedule is also favorable, with three of the team’s final five contests coming at home, and only one game – the showdown at Louisiana Tech – against an upper-tier opponent. Read the rest of this entry »
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Top of the O26 Class: C-USA, OVC, Southland, Sun Belt and SWAC

Posted by Adam Stillman on November 3rd, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Southern region of the U.S: Conference USA, OVC, Southland, Sun Belt and SWAC. Previous installments include conferences from the Northeast region, Midwest region and Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region.

TOP UNITS

Conference USA

  • Louisiana Tech –2013-14 record: 29-8 (13-3) – Two straight seasons Louisiana Tech has won its conference (C-USA in 2014; WAC in 2013), and two straight seasons the Bulldogs have been upset in the conference tournament and missed out on the NCAA Tournament. Is the third time a charm? Louisiana Tech is undoubtedly the favorite to take the C-USA crown, but can it come through when the games matter most? After flirting with some other opportunities, head coach Michael White is back, as are guards Alex Hamilton (14.5 PPG), Raheem Appleby (11.2 PPG) and Kenneth “Speedy” Smith (7.8 PPG, 7.7 APG). The big question mark is in the frontcourt. If the Bulldogs can get some decent play there, they might be able to finally break through.
Louisiana Tech is the favorite in Conference USA. (David C Bristow)

Louisiana Tech is the favorite in Conference USA. (David C. Bristow/AP)

  • UTEP –2013-14 record: 23-11 (12-4) – If there’s a team to challenge Louisiana Tech for the league title, it’s most likely UTEP. After a strong start with a win against Tennessee and a four-point loss to Kansas last season, the Miners stumbled down the stretch and were unable to win the league tournament on their home floor. There’s reason for optimism heading into 2014-15, though. Head coach Tim Floyd brings back a talented frontcourt duo of Julian Washburn (13.1 PPG) and Vincent Hunter (12.3 PPG), and talented recruit Omega Harris should help fill the void in the backcourt. Read the rest of this entry »
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Poll Critiques: Colonial, Conference USA & Summit

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 27th, 2014

Over the next few weeks, we’ll examine and critique some of the more intriguing preseason conference polls. Here, we take a look at the good, the bad and the weird coming out of the Colonial, Conference USA and Summit League polls.

Colonial

There are plenty of question marks in the CAA this season. (Christopher Szagola/US Presswire)

There are plenty of question marks in the CAA this season. (Christopher Szagola/US Presswire)

The voters got it right at the top, tabbing Northeastern as the favorite in the CAA, followed by William & Mary and Hofstra. The Huskies are the one unit in this league to add more proven talent than they lost, not only bringing back the vast majority of last year’s roster – including Defensive Player of the Year and rebounding monster Scott Eatherton (15.9 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.8 BPG) – but also regaining Quincy Ford, who was one among the CAA’s best all-around players before missing most of last year. Still, the recent departure of fourth-leading scorer Demetrius Pollard, combined with the fact that Bill Coen’s club went just 11-21 last season, makes you wonder if Northeastern can actually live up to its top billing. William & Mary also has an argument for the number one spot after finishing third in the standings a year ago and narrowly losing the CAA title game, welcoming back the conference’s best player (Marcus Thornton) and CAA Rookie of the Year (Omar Prewitt). Hofstra is rightfully slotted at third; despite last year’s 10-23 campaign, an influx of talented transfers and recruits, including former Niagara guard Juan’ya Green (16.5 PPG), justifies the anticipated climb.

  1. Northeastern
  2. William & Mary
  3. Hofstra
  4. Drexel
  5. James Madison
  6. College of Charleston
  7. Towson
  8. Delaware
  9. UNCW
  10. Elon

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O26 Superlatives, Part II: CAA, C-USA, MAC, MEAC, MVC, SoCon, Summit & WCC…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 10th, 2014

In Part II of our three-part series, we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from eight different O26 conferences: CAA, Conference USA, MAC, MEAC, Missouri Valley, SoCon, Summit and WCC. In alphabetical order:

Colonial Athletic Association

The Blue Hens outworked the rest of the CAA for much of 2013-2014. (The Post and Courier)

The Blue Hens outworked the rest of the CAA for much of 2013-2014. (The Post and Courier)

  • Team of the Year – Delaware (22-9, 14-2). Not even early– and late-season suspensions of two of Delaware’s best players could stop the Blue Hens’ run to a CAA regular season title. Monte Ross’ up-tempo club raced off to an 11-0 start in conference play, amassing a large enough lead that preseason favorite Towson was never able to catch up.
  • Player of the Year – Jerelle Benimon – Towson. You want beastly numbers? How about these: In 32 games, the 6’8’’ Benimon averaged 18.9 points, 11.7 boards, 3.7 assists and 1.3 blocks per game, recorded an NCAA-best 20 double-doubles and reached the free throw line 258 times, good for sixth in the country.
  • Coach of the Year – Monté Ross – Delaware. Ross found a way to keep things together, to keep winning after guard Devon Saddler – the team’s leading scorer – missed seven games due to suspension early in the season and Jarvis Threatt – the team’s third-leading scorer – was suspended for the entire month of February.
  • Upset of the Year – Northeastern over Georgetown, 63-56. In the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, miles from Boston or Washington D.C., Scott Eatherton and the Huskies pounded Georgetown in the paint and pulled off an unexpected upset. Alas, it was another full month before Bill Coen’s bunch wound up back in the win column.
  • Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Johnathan Burroughs-Cook – College of Charleston. Burroughs-Cook cares not that you are D-II school or that he is playing in a preseason game—he will still annihilate your attempt to draw a charge.

Conference USA

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O26 Weekly Awards: Toledo, Jerrelle Benimon, UTEP & Chicago State…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 22nd, 2014

The rigors of conference play began taking its toll last week as several O26 league favorites discovered just how hard conference road games can be. Some teams dealt with these hurdles better than others, the results of which ranged anywhere from surprising upsets to crazy comebacks to clutch shots. Let’s pass out a few awards to the performers who handled themselves best during the O26 week that was.

O26 Team of the Week

In part thanks to some Juice Brown heroics, Toledo had an excellent week. (BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH)

In part thanks to some Juice Brown heroics, Toledo had an excellent week. (Jeremy Wadsworth/Blade)

Toledo. First it was the expected-but-still-disappointing loss to Kansas followed by a forgettable defeat at Western Michigan, and all of a sudden the Rockets — once unbeaten and the talk of the mid-major world — were in serious jeopardy of losing their groove. Some teams might have become deflated, lost confidence and continued to slide, but not Toledo. Head coach Tod Kowalczyk remained calm after falling to the Broncos, noting “We didn’t play well in two games all year. This is one of two… we’ll be fine.” His team has responded in similar fashion, handling Central Michigan with ease two Saturdays ago before collecting a pair huge wins this past week to remain the MAC West kings. First was a home contest against surging Buffalo, a squad on a four-game winning streak that looked poised to make it five in a row. The Bulls jumped out to a quick lead in the opening minutes that it wouldn’t hand over until midway through the second half, even then not backing down from the Rockets. A big reason for that was because Javon McCrea was his usual beastly self, finishing with 20 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks and enabling his team to keep pace and ultimately knot things up at 59 with a minute and a half to play. But just when the game appeared to be headed for overtime, Toledo point guard Julius “Juice” Brown made the magic happen, capping off an eight-point, 90 second stretch by receiving the second pass off a full-court inbounds play, hoisting from just inside the arc, and nailing a buzzer-beater to win the game, 67-65. It was one of the most exciting finishes you will see all season and an emphatic completion to an important win for the Rockets.

Despite the mid-week heroics, though, it was Saturday morning’s match-up at Akron that was supposed to provide the drama, with two teams pegged to win their respective divisions in the preseason and each featuring first-team all-conference talent. But as the game wore on, it became more evident that this was not going to be the hotly contested battle many thought — Toledo thoroughly and resolutely outplayed the Zips for much of the 40 minutes, pounding them on both ends of the glass and putting the game completely out of reach midway through the second half. Brown finished with his second straight 20+ point outing, while former Ohio State forward J.D. Weatherspoon — who has emerged as a vital paint presence in recent games — scored 20 points and secured a game-high 14 rebounds. The win was something of a statement for the Rockets, an assertion of dominance over a club predicted by many to win the league and return to the NCAA Tournament this season. Now 15-2, Kowalczyk’s group has regained its status as one of the more dangerous non-power conference teams in America, a position it hopes to maintain through MAC play and into the postseason. The wins over Buffalo and Akron were key steps on that path and important demonstrations of resiliency, earning Toledo our award for Team of the Week.

Honorable Mentions: George Washington (2-0: vs. VCU, @St. Bonaventure); Towson (2-0: @Drexel, @College of Charleston); UTEP (2-0: @Middle Tennessee State, @UAB).

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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume III

Posted by Jesse Baumgartner on December 4th, 2013

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…. Arizona‘s balance. So far, this year has been all about the fantastic freshmen and the individual talents that have really driven early-season interest in the college game. But I have yet to see a team that looked as consistently balanced across the floor as the Wildcats did against Duke last Friday night, particularly down low with stud freshman Aaron Gordon and veterans Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. That tripod of length, skill and athleticism spells two things — high quality shots in the paint, and rebounds galore. And it’s really cleaning the glass that will be toughest on opponents in March and April, as we saw with Louisville’s run last season.

I LOVED…. a reasonable contract extension. Dana Altman has done a great job at Oregon, no question about it — he’s brought the Ducks back into the national picture, won NCAA Tournament games, and really put an exciting roster on the floor in Eugene (and hey, let’s just assume for argument’s sake that he had absolutely nothing to do with that horrific floor design). But while it seems like we see so many contracts these days that give out too much money/years on just a season or two of success, Altman’s three-year extension seems just right. Good job, here’s a cookie, and more to come as the program keeps growing.

Dana Altman Remains One of the Most Quietly Effective Coaches in the Country

I LOVED…. UMass back in the AP rankings for the first time in 15 years. You know, just another one of those programs John Calipari hit and ran on. Somewhere, someplace, Dr. J is smiling.

I LOVED…. seeing Villanova put in a solid performance in the Bahamas to outlast Kansas. I’ve always liked Jay Wright as a coach, and it seems like he’s nearing the point where he needs a solid NCAA Tournament run to reinforce that the program isn’t too far removed from the 2009 Final Four squad. For Kansas, that game seems to just reaffirm what is true for so many of these uber-talented, uber-young teams — any given night they can go down.

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Pac-12 M5: 12.02.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on December 2nd, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Out of all the preseason preview publications out there, the highest praise rained upon an incoming transfer from Moberly Area Community College was “brings scoring potential.” That was via Athlon Sports, and boy has junior guard Mike Anderson showed some scoring potential this season for Washington. He led the Huskies to a 92-89 double overtime win Saturday against Long Beach State, scoring 19 points and grabbing a ridiculous 16 rebounds in the victory. Head coach Lorenzo Romar has not run out of good things to say about the junior college transfer, telling reporters that while he expected him to be a jack-of-all-trades type of player, this goes above and beyond that description. Anderson is playing out of position and is excelling at it, adding a nice complement in the Huskies’ three-guard lineup to C.J. Wilcox and Nigel Williams-Goss. The Huskies will play San Diego State on the road Sunday and need a win to stay above the .500 mark.
  2. Feast Week came to a close yesterday, and Washington State went cold down the stretch in Lake Buena Vista to fall to St. Joseph’s, 72-67. The Cougars led 65-63 with three-plus minutes remaining, but a 9-2 Hawks’ run to cap the game sent Ken Bone’s team home with a 1-2 record in the Old Spice Classic. “We didn’t execute as well as we needed to win the game,” said Bone. Second half execution has been a recurring problem for the Cougs, something he’ll need to figure out if he wants to stick around much longer in Pullman.
  3. While Stanford has faced some solid opponents thus far in the 2013-14 campaign, the Cardinal played their first high-profile, “nationally relevant” games during Feast Week at the Legends Classic. Golden Gate Sports breaks down what we learned about Stanford in its two regional round wins and 1-1 championship round record. As the piece points out, the Pittsburgh game wasn’t a bad loss because of the quality of the opponent, but rather because it turned out to be a blowout and the Cardinal were never really in the game. Stanford will get a chance to prove it can play with quality competition outside of the Pac-12 when it meets Connecticut and Michigan in back-to-back games away from home later this month. Meanwhile in Palo Alto, Johnny Dawkins’ seat gets warmer.
  4. Former USC coach and current head man at UTEP, Tim Floyd, says the verbal feuding between himself and current Trojans’ coach Andy Enfield, is over. The bad-mouthing began in April when Floyd thought Enfield was tampering with the recruitment of guard Isaac Hamilton, who was originally supposed to be a Miner (eventually landing at UCLA). The altercations came to a head earlier this week with both teams playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in Nassau, Bahamas, with the respective coaching staffs exchanging heated words following the publication of this feature two weeks ago.
  5. One of the quietest 7-0 records in the country belongs to Dana Altman and Oregon. Ever since the Ducks topped Georgetown on opening night, they have flown under the radar with a soft schedule and without the play-making abilities of starting sophomore point guard Dominic Artis, who was suspended after it was discovered he had been selling his team-issued shoes. Since that first week, the Ducks have used fast starts in most of their contests to jump ahead of their lesser opponents. They did just that again on Sunday night, taking an early 36-18 advantage against Cal Poly before rolling to a 21-point victory. Things get considerably tougher for Oregon now, though, as it faces Mississippi, Illinois, UC Irvine, and BYU in its next four games, the first two of which will be played away from the friendly confines of Matthew Knight Arena.
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Feast Week Mission Briefing: USC in the Battle 4 Atlantis

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on November 28th, 2013

With Feast Week tipping off over the weekend, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Pac-12 teams involved in neutral site events this week. 

What They’ve Done So FarUSC opened its season with one if its toughest non-conference games, a road trip to Logan to face Utah State. Things didn’t go in head coach Andy Enfield‘s debut as the Aggies blitzed the Trojans from the start and got the 78-65 win. Since then, however, USC has won four in a row, including a 14-point victory against regional rival Cal State Fullerton. Junior guard Byron Wesley has shined the brightest in Enfield’s up-tempo offense, averaging 19.8 PPG and grabbing a cool 8.8 RPG.

Enfield And Wesley Are Off To A 4-1 Start In 2013-14 (Los Angeles Times)
Enfield And Wesley Are Off To A 4-1 Start In 2013-14 (Los Angeles Times)

First Round PreviewUSC meets 4-0 Villanova in the first round Thursday morning. The Wildcats have not had an opportunity to get a signature win, but they did dispatch a good Towson squad, 78-44. Five days later, however, they struggled to pull away from a mediocre Delaware team and barely held on for a four-point win. They are led by junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston, who is averaging over 20 PPG. For the Cats to escape the tournament opener, defending the endless list of USC bigs will be key. If they are able to limit their looks inside, Nova should definitely win this one.

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Pac-12 M5: 11.25.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 25th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Welcome to Feast Week! It’s already been a great November of basketball with high quality hoops from coast to coast (and beyond), but we have still got one of the best weeks of the regular season ahead of us, with wall-to-wall ball and great tournament action. There will be plenty of Pac-12 action this week, but Cal and Stanford tip things off today, and the two cross-bay rivals will be playing in a pair of games about 5,000 miles apart from each other. The Golden Bears will get things underway in the Maui Invitational today just after 9 AM local time, while the Cardinal will face Houston at roughly 9:30 PM in Brooklyn this evening in the semifinals of the Legends Classic. But for both schools, it will be a chance to measure themselves against good competition and get some national publicity.
  2. Utah got to 5-0 this weekend after sweeping through the Global Sports Hoops Showcase, an exempt event hosted by the university that featured less than stellar competition. Over the course of three days, the Utes knocked off Grand Canyon, Lamar, and finally Savannah State to win the event. And yet, despite the relatively unappetizing appeal of the opponents, the Utes announced attendances averaging better than 7000 every night. Either that is some very creative accounting, or there are a few fan bases around the conference that could learn from the Ute fans.
  3. USC head coach Andy Enfield made a big splash on Friday with some loaded quotes in an article published in Men’s Journal. The money quotes are straight trash talking about fellow coaches, like cross-town rival Steve Alford and former USC head coach Tim Floyd, currently that head man at UTEP. About Floyd, Enfield dropped this bomb: “Tim Floyd shows up every day at work and realizes he lives in El Paso, Texas. And he’s pissed off that he didn’t get the USC job [again].” While Alford received this treatment: “I’ve made it to one Sweet 16 in two years, and he’s made it to one Sweet 16 in 18 years.” Just a reminder: you may want to circle January 5 on your calendar, as Enfield’s Trojans will visit Alford’s Bruins that day. You probably won’t have to watch the second half.
  4. Speaking of USC, with the news that J.T. Terrell was declared academically ineligible for the rest of the fall semester dropping last week, Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports writes that the gamble that former USC head coach Kevin O’Neill took on Terrell and his former Wake Forest teammate Ari Stewart most decidedly did not pay off. Stewart saved the drama and earned himself an academically ineligible designation prior to the season. The duo had run into problems – both academic and otherwise – previously in their college careers.
  5. Lastly, Arizona head coach Sean Miller weighed in Friday on his 2014 recruiting class, the latest in an increasingly long line of unabashed successes. His class features 6’6” wing Stanley Johnson (the #9 overall recruit according to ESPN), 6’7” power forward Craig Victor (#29) and 5’8” mighty-mite point guard Parker Johnson-Cartwright (#60), along with off-the-radar JuCo guard Kadeem Allen. But, Miller says scoring a big recruiting class like this just buys a coach a little more time, but that he’s still got to go out next year and do it all over again. Meanwhile, former Arizona head coach Lute Olson can relate and says one of the big things he doesn’t miss about coaching is having to deal with the new dynamics in recruiting.
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Morning Five: 07.23.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 23rd, 2013

morning5

  1. We are not quite sure what to make of the Division 4 idea that Dennis Dodd discussed in his column yesterday or how it would affect college basketball, but we are sure that it will be a significant one if it goes through. As much as we love college basketball, we know that college football (or more specifically the money from it) drives college athletics. As Dodd notes college athletics has become segregated into the haves and have-nots. If the haves are able to officially separate themselves they can function in their own sphere and make decisions as a group that they could not make under the NCAA (like paying athletes). We are not sure when this day is coming, but it is probably coming sooner than many people expect.
  2. Yesterday the legal system let P.J. Hairston off the hook for his June arrest, but he may have a much harsher judge waiting at North Carolina and the NCAA (seriously, try to read that with a straight face). After what has been an interesting month to put it mildly Hairston had the misdemeanor marijuana charges against him dropped. The real issue for Hairston becomes how Roy Williams and eventually the NCAA deal with his apparent interaction with Haydn “Fats” Thomas in. Hairston might be able to get by the NCAA given the glacial pace they move, but we have to imagine that Williams would not risk UNC’s season and also 20+ wins on his resume given the chance that Hairston could be declared ineligible at some point.
  3. Over the past few years we have had several coaches become the subject of national ridicule for their decision not to allow a player to transfer to certain schools. It appears that Tim Floyd is about to be the next such coach. Floyd, who developed a reputation for signing players early and managing to get out of the scholarship offers, is denying Isaac Hamilton a release from his National Letter of Intent. Hamilton, a 6’5″ shooting guard from Los Angeles, originally committed to UTEP, but now is looking for a release to play at either USC or UCLA and is reportedly basing his decision on his desire to be closer to his ailing grandmother. Floyd and UTEP are claiming that their reason for denying Hamilton’s release is that one or both of the schools tampered with him and convinced him to back out of his commitment to UTEP. We know all of you are thinking that a few of the details may have changed, but this sounds like a familiar story. At this point the NCAA needs to do something to prevent situations like this from happening. On one hand you have people who have not graduated from high school signing National Letters of Intent without any guidance under the coercion of big universities without fully understanding what they are getting into. On the other side you have coaches and universities who have plenty of tricks (and lawyers) available to get out of any contract they want without much difficulty. The situation is not fair to these teenagers and only serves to punish them for coming from a position of inferior bargaining power.
  4. Big Blue Nation has been accused of being many of things, but never of being disloyal. That could be put to the test with former Wildcat Jeff Sheppard speaking out against Kentucky’s current emperor John Calipari. Sheppard, who won two NCAA titles as a player at Kentucky (1996 and 1998), was speaking the annual UK convention in Franklin, Ohio and spoke out against the one-and-done culture at Kentucky and spoke more fondly of Rick Pitino (his former coach) than Calipari (gasp). Sheppard latter clarified his comments (see the linked article for details) where he clarified his stance. The entire thing is probably overblown, but if there is one thing we can confidently accuse Big Blue Nation of, it is of overreacting.
  5. We always felt that ESPN underutilized Fran Fraschilla in its telecasts, but there are few individuals as informed about the international basketball scene as he is and nobody who is as well-equipped to translate what it means to college basketball. With two major junior international competitions complete, Andy Glockner spoke with Fraschilla about the performance of the US National Teams at these events and how the international pipeline could transform college basketball. It seems clear that the NCAA needs to figure out how to handle these international players coming over here because they are going to be a bigger and bigger influence over time. With the semi-professional status of many of these players who compete on club teams there will inevitably be issues with eligibility. The NCAA will need to address this issue before it becomes too late and it misses out on a generation of players due to something that could have easily been foreseen.
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