All Smiles at Arizona as the Wildcats Outlasted the Buckeyes Today (USA Today Images)
TJ McConnell Has Great Poise and Intangibles. And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s code language for “white point guard” in college basketball. And even if it’s completely 100 percent true, the bigger truth is that McConnell also has a spectacularly well-developed skill set. When Arizona couldn’t figure out the Ohio State zone at all in the first half, it was McConnell’s repeated breaking down of the defense that kept the Wildcats from digging themselves a substantial early hole. When the Arizona frontcourt was shooting itself into obliviion, it was his four steals that led to the majority of Arizona’s 10 first-half points off of turnovers — the only offense that was really working for the ‘Cats at the time. McConnell ended the game with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, six rebounds, six assists and five steals in an all-around performance befitting a senior leader.
Battle of the Freshmen. Yeah, so about that. What was billed as a chance for star freshmen D’Angelo Russell and Stanley Johnson to do battle in a heated Round of 32 game didn’t really work out as planned. Russell never looked comfortable as he had trouble shaking the length of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and the relentlessness of TJ McConnell on his way to a rough 3-of-19 (1-of-7 from three) shooting performance. Johnson wasn’t any better in shooting the ball, throwing up a horrific 1-of-12 shooting night of his own. Both players contributed in other ways, however, which proves that they’re more than one-dimensional scorers — Russell grabbed seven boards and dropped six dimes (a few of which were drop dead gorgeous) while Johnson collected 10 rebounds and a couple of steals. Luckily for Arizona
The Upside of Arizona. Nothing changed opinions about the potential upside of Arizona after seeing them win twice here in Portland this weekend. Texas Southern was an obvious mismatch, but Ohio State’s athleticism and length created an interesting Round of 32 matchup for a team that can sometimes struggle to put the ball in the basket. The Arizona frontcourt ended up shooting a terrible 9-of-37 from the field, but the backcourt of McConnell and York ensured that the Wildcats were able to pull away in the second half. One reason Miller’s bigs were able to take (and miss) so many shots is because they were also relentless on the offensive glass, grabbing 18 rebounds on that end (vs. Ohio State’s entirety of 26) and giving themselves multiple extra chances to convert. This was especially true in the second half as the Buckeyes’ frontcourt players clearly got gassed with the continuous pressure. Arizona didn’t play great today, but it still looked Final Four good. We’ll see whether Los Angeles has any trouble in store for the Wildcats.
Player of the Game: Gabe York. York’s instant offense off the Arizona bench ensured that Arizona was going to win today’s game. Arizona’s legion of forwards could not figure out the Ohio State zone until York entered the game in the first half and hit a three. He added four more bombs during a seven-minute stretch in the second half when Arizona built its lead from two to 13 points, essentially never looking back from there. He finished the game with 19 points and a career-high five threes. Arizona fans will love this assessment — McConnell was definitely the more valuable player today, but York was the bigger star.
It’s a championship game. One for all the marbles and the last nationally relevant game of the day. All eyes, if they’re not asleep, will be on Vegas. Because at 8:00 PM the Arizona Wildcats will play the Oregon Ducks for the third time this season. We don’t necessarily need a preview. As I noted in yesterdays historical recap of UCLA and Arizona, the scouting reports are out the window. I mean, Isaac Hamilton scored 36 points in a game. How can you prepare for March basketball? Undoubtedly you saw this:
But that’s the best part. It is March basketball and that means – more than any of the months prior – these games mean things. In tonight’s case it could mean a #1 seed for the Wildcats. Duke and Virginia both fell in the ACC semifinals, opening the door for Arizona to earn one of the big dance’s top four billings. It would be the second consecutive #1 seed for the ‘Cats but the important part would be their status in the West. That part they seemed to have locked up already. But think about this: Arizona and Wisconsin could potentially both be 31-3 with outright conference regular season and tournament championships and still be #2 seeds. If you need evidence of this year’s Dance being top heavy, there it is. Furthermore it’s Arizona’s fourth attempt at winning this thing in the last five years. Sean Miller told us to not even bother asking about what that feels like.
For Oregon, the Ducks too are playing for seeding. Now locked into the Dance, could they elevate themselves onto the #5 line? With each win their resume swells but that’s probably not the focus, right? This is a championship game. In noting that Arizona hasn’t won this thing, Dana Altman conversely has. The Ducks will be playing for their second title in three years. Clearly there are things at stake for each of these programs independent of their opponent, but this matchup itself offers intrigue beyond just the exciting hyperbole of March basketball. It’s really got something for everyone.
I was poking around some of the upcoming posts on Rush the Court last night, not entirely sure what I wanted to write about, when I stumbled across Brendan Brody’s piece over on the Big Ten microsite about picking a pair of All-Star Game rosters out of that conference. Well, that seemed like a perfectly brilliant idea to me, so I figured I’d steal borrow that notion and shift out west to the Conference of Champions. He’s got 12-man rosters in a 14 (or 16 or 18? God knows how many teams are in the Big-Can’t Count) team league, and we’ve only got 12, so I’m just going to fill out two 10-man rosters and split them based on the North/South divisions that the conference uses for football. One other caveat: We’re going to steal an idea from the MLB (probably the first time I’ve ever used that phrase) and require at least one player from each team. And, since we’re going to have an All-Star Game, we might as well make a full weekend out of it and host a dunk contest, a three-point contest and a skills competition, right? Let’s jump right in.
Seriously. How Cool Would An In-Season Conference All-Star Game Be?
For the first half of Thursday night’s battle for first place in the Pac-12 against Stanford, Arizona looked like the team that could only muster 56 points in a losing effort against Oregon State. But in the second half, the Wildcats showed why there is no other team in the conference that can hang with them when they are at full strength and minimizing their mistakes. The Wildcats actually jumped out to an early lead as the Cardinal’s thin frontcourt had absolutely no answer for Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson inside. But Ashley also picked up three cheap fouls in the first 12 minutes of the game and teammate Stanley Johnson picked up two of his own, and when they left the court, things started to fall apart. Without their two biggest offensive mismatches on the floor, Arizona struggled to take advantage of its distinct size advantage and instead settled for contested jumpers. On the other end of the floor, the Wildcats’ stout defense made things difficult for Stanford, at least when they weren’t fouling Cardinal players. Stanford made 13 free throws in the first half and star guard Chasson Randle scored six of his 14 first half points from the charity stripe. As a result, a first half that any casual observer would think Arizona should have won ended with Stanford up two points.
Arizona Has the Look of a Team Figuring It Out (USA Today Images)
Of course slow starts and early mistakes have become something of Arizona‘s modus operandi this season, and nobody expected the Wildcats to go away. Ashley and Johnson returned to the floor in the second half and immediately made an impact, combining for 10 points in the first six minutes as Arizona slowly but surely took the lead for good. Even more importantly, the Arizona defense decided to start moving its feet and quit picking up cheap fouls, and all of a sudden, their suffocating defense returned in earnest. Once Randle made a difficult layup to bring Stanford within three points with just under 10 minutes to play, the Wildcats’ put the clamps down and the Cardinal didn’t make another field goal for more than eight minutes. By that point, the game was well in hand and Arizona was on its way as the odds-on favorite to run away with the conference regular season title.
When we found out that Larry Brown was headed back to college basketball two years ago we never would have imagined that he would be toiling in such obscurity. Sure, Southern Methodist is not exactly a basketball hotbed, but he is still Larry Brown–possibly one of the ten best basketball coaches ever. While Brown might not be getting much attention at Southern Methodist it certainly is not due to a lack of success because it seems like he has turned the program around (not counting Tuesday’s surprising loss at USF). Southern Methodist may only being on the bubble at this point, but we would love to see Brown back in the NCAA Tournament if only for the idea of him getting to coach against another legend.
Notre Dame forward Austin Burgett was released from the hospital yesterday after undergoing a procedure to treat an irregular heartbeat he noticed during the team’s game against Florida State on January 21. Burgett reportedly underwent an ablation for an undisclosed arrhythmia and although the school is calling this a “common, non-life threatening procedure” given all of the issues we have seen with arrhythmias in sports (in particular college basketball) we could not help but be worried for Burgett when we heard about his condition initially. According to the school, they will monitor Burgett’s recovery before making a decision on when he will return to the court.
We have heard endless talk about the NBA potential of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and a few top prospects. What we have not heard much about is what NBA scouts think of the next tier of prospect. Jason King spoke to three NBA scouts about several of the more intriguing underclassmen and for the most part their comments were fairly critical. Of course, that doesn’t mean that several of these players would not be drafted in the first round (you need 30 players to fill the 30 spots), but it does show you where these guys fall short if you did not already know.
In this week’s edition of his Power Rankings, Luke Winn has his usual treasure trove of statistics and advanced metrics, but the two things that jumped out at us were his breakdown of the play of T.J. McConnell and Tyler Ennis as the distributors for the top two teams in the nation and just how remarkable efficient Jabari Parker has been in the post. The numbers for McConnell and Ennis are not particularly surprising (we knew they were very good), but the McConnell’s equitable distribution and the way Ennis has stepped up against better competition was eye-opening. As for Parker, we were surprised at how efficient he is in the post, but that might be due to how diverse his game is.
Speaking of Arizona and Syracuse (and Wichita State) we are reaching the point in the season where people are starting to talk about the possibility of a team going undefeated. We are also at the point where we are starting to get our annual barrage of articles talking about how a team would be better off losing a game. We have never bought into this theory and we doubt that any player or coach would admit to it. Certainly there is another degree of pressure later in the season when you are undefeated, but it seems hard to believe that there would be any additional pressure in the NCAA Tournament.
Brian Otskey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Friday night’s NIT Season Tip-Off championship game at Madison Square Garden where Arizona toppled Duke.
After most early-season games, especially in November, head coaches and players are very hesitant to make bold statements in public about what heights their team can reach by the end of the season. You’ll usually hear statements like, “we’re a work in progress; I like some things about our team; I’m proud of our guys; etc.” After his team’s impressive 72-66 win over Duke at Madison Square Garden last night, Arizona head coach Sean Miller was anything but conservative when discussing the potential of his 7-0 Wildcats. “I think we can be special, no question,” Miller said. “We have to be an elite defensive team. We have to be able to get stops. We have to be able to use our size rebounding.”
Arizona Came East and Proved Its Worth on Friday Night
Special may be an understatement. It’s ironic because what Miller said they need to do to be special is exactly what the Wildcats did last night. Arizona took control of the game in the second half after trailing by three points at the break. Using its significant height advantage and defensive pressure, the Wildcats held the Blue Devils to 17 points over the first 17+ minutes of the second half to put the game away. It was a fantastic defensive performance against a team that entered the game averaging 90 PPG in seven games played. Freshman phenom Jabari Parker scored 19 points for Duke but Arizona limited him to the tune of a 7-of-21 shooting night, including an 0-of-5 mark from beyond the arc. Miller had his freshman star Aaron Gordon as well as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson take turns guarding Parker and it worked, keeping the 6’8” freshman out of sync all game long. “When you think about our team being versatile, two players really stand out, Rondae and Aaron, our two freshmen, because they are so interchangeable. But we can get better,” said Miller.
Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler. Periodically throughout the preseason, RTC will take an in-depth look at the schedules of some of the more prominent teams in college basketball.
Sean Miller’s fifth season in Tuscon could easily turn out to be his best. Despite the graduation of key seniors Solomon Hill (a first round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft), Mark Lyons, and Kevin Parrom – in addition to the surprising departure of freshman Grant Jerrett to the professional ranks, Miller has assembled the most talented roster that Arizona has seen in quite some time. A solid Pac-12 conference and challenging non-conference schedule will challenge the Cats’, but a nice blend of returnees and newcomers should give the man at the helm ample leeway to steer this storied program deep into March.
Nick Johnson will be asked to do more — both on and off the court — for this young but talented Wildcat team
Team Outlook: This will be a new-look Arizona team, as last year’s squad was built around departed seniors Lyons and Hill. Some familiar faces will be back and poised to fill leadership roles this time around, with junior Nick Johnson (11.5 PPG, 3.2 APG, 1.9 SPG) most prominent among them. The athletic two-guard shot the ball better from three-point range as a sophomore (39% after 32% as a freshman), and should also serve as the Cats’ best perimeter defender in 2013-14. Sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski (6.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 22.2 MPG) and Brandon Ashley (7.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 20.5 MPG) return to anchor the frontcourt, with each likely seeing a slight minutes increase, despite the arrival of a duo of freshman studs in the same frontcourt. Both Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were McDonald’s All-Americans last spring, and immense immediate contributions from both freshmen would surprise no one. Gordon especially shapes up as a good candidate for a jump to the NBA after a season of stardom in Tuscon, as he is currently projected as a Top-20 pick in the 2014 draft on NBADraft.net. Gordon’s production will be one of the keys to this Wildcat season, but he may not be Sean Miller’s most important player. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell (11.4 PPG, 5.5 APG, 2.8 SPG in 2011-12) will be filling Lyons’ shoes and running the show in Tucson this season. McConnell was an efficient lead guard in the Atlantic-10 and should quickly acclimate to the Pac-12, but the absence of proven ball-handlers elsewhere on the roster means his transition has to be a smooth one for Arizona to be successful. He will be a welcomed change-of-pace for teammates used to the shoot-first Lyons dominating the ball, and his steal % of 4.7 (12th best in the nation in 2012) is ample indication of a dedication to both ends. The talented youngsters around him will keep expectations low for McConnell individually, but don’t be shocked if he emerges as the leader of this club. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s never too early for these, right? We all love the debates, projecting who is too high or too low, and taking a closer look at the upcoming college hoops season — six months goes by quickly, promise. In quickly looking at the Top 25, one would surmise that having five of a team’s top players forgo the remainder of their college careers in favor of the NBA Draft would absolutely kill that team’s prospects for the upcoming season, but that is simply not the case for Kentucky. Last year’s National Champions check in at #2 in the Top 25, proving that John Calipari doesn’t rebuild, he reloads. It would not behoove us to let Kentucky steal the storyline, however, as Tom Crean’s Indiana Hoosiers are the top dog in what looks to be a banner upcoming year. In what was arguably the most exciting and high-flying game of last year’s Tournament, the Hoosiers fell to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen, but have nearly all the pieces back. Just two years ago this was a 12-20 team with no postseason experience, and now they are the top team in the land — according to our group of experts, at least. What a tremendous job Tom Crean has done. The usual Quick ‘n Dirty after the jump…
Whether it is through an exceptional recruiting class, or an impressive finish to the 2011-12 season coupled with a strong nucleus returning, the following five teams surged upward—and for good reason:
After running the NCAA Tournament for over a decade, Greg Shaheen was replaced yesterday by Mark Lewis. As the article by Jeff Goodman points out Shaheen was widely respected within the college basketball community and was viewed as a good person to work with. We are not privy to the inner workings of the NCAA so we will not comment on how the entire process went down. We can however comment on our multiple interactions with him over the years and have to say that he always dealt with us fairly and when other people in similar positions of power may have been less likely to be as welcoming. We are not sure what his plans are, but there should be plenty of other organizations and companies that take a good, hard look at him for whatever openings they may have.
We may have identified the early 2013 national title favorite as Cody Zeller and Christian Watford announced that they will be staying at Indiana for at least one more year. Zeller was the key to the Hoosiers’ resurgence and in most years would have been a serious contender for most national freshman of the year awards while Watford provided what was widely considered the play of the year with his game-winning three against Kentucky. With those two returning Indiana should be poised to compete with Louisville and Kentucky (depending on their additions today) for next year’s national title.
With spring signing day upon us, we have a couple of articles to take you through the key players. The first is from Eric Bossi, who takes a look at the ten top uncommitted prospects and where they might be headed. The second is from Kevin Pelton and looks at the top incoming freshman from the Nike Hoop Summit. The names are mostly the same ones you have been hearing for the past year, but it is interesting to see legitimate criticism of their games, which you rarely see from most recruiting services when they discuss the top prospects.
Apparently adding one of the best freshman classes in the country was not enough for Arizona as they picked up T.J. McConnell, a transfer from Duquesne, yesterday. McConnell, who left Duquesne less than a month ago, picked Arizona over Virginia citing among other things his desire to win and compete in the NCAA Tournament. McConnell will not be eligible to play until the 2013-14 season due to transfer rules, but when he does he will have an outstanding supporting cast assuming that most of the incoming freshmen stay in college for more than a year. The addition of McConnell, who will likely be a four-year guy, should also add some stability to the roster over the long-term as many of the more highly rated recruits may not stay all four years.
The Indiana guys may have stolen the headlines, but there were a few others that made significant NBA Draft announcements yesterday. Jeremy Lamb decided that he would leave Connecticut before they had to deal with their 2013 NCAA Tournament ban. The move should not come as much of a surprise and our only question is how long until Andre Drummond joins him. Mason Plumlee will stick around Duke for his senior season, which may have led to Alex Oriakhi announcing that he had taken the Blue Devils off his transfer list. Plumlee’s return is fairly significant in that if he becomes a little more assertive the Blue Devils should be firmly in the top half of the very ACC next season. The last major announcement from yesterday was that Quincy Miller has decided to stay at Baylor for one more year. Miller’s announcement also should not come as a surprise as his freshman year was mediocre enough to scare away most NBA scouts.
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
As the calendar flips towards March, the nation will focus its attention to players on title contenders—Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, Syracuse’s Dion Waiters, North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes and Duke’s Austin Rivers, to name a few. Others will become infatuated with captivating players on endearing Cinderella teams– Oral Roberts’ Dominique Morrison, Iona’s Scott Machado, Long Beach State’s Casper Ware or Belmont’s Kerron Johnson. There will be ample opportunity to delve into the storylines of those vying to become household names once the brackets are unveiled. This space is reserved for those whose season will most likely end without any taste of postseason glory. Accolades are warranted for these ten players who, through no fault of their own and barring a miracle conference tournament run, are about to conclude praiseworthy seasons away from the national spotlight:
Providence's Council is an underappreciated player nationally
Vincent Council, Providence- Many theorized that Council’s robust assist totals during his first two seasons at Providence were more of a product of the Friars top ten adjusted tempo than any extraordinary court vision or gifted passing ability. Council’s resounding response to such fallacies: 7.4 assists per game and the third highest assist rate of any major-conference point guard despite a new coach and a much slower pace. Sure, Council plays almost every minute for a Friar squad lacking depth, but he’s still engineering a top-50 efficient offense without anyone resembling an all-conference candidate as support. The junior and Brooklyn native has posted eight games of double-digit assists and averages over 16 PPG to boot. It’ll be intriguing to see how Council and Scout.com’s top-ranked class of 2012 point guard Kris Dunn share duties at the position next season.
Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure- Nicholson has turned in one of the greatest careers in the history of the Atlantic 10, scoring nearly 2,000 point, grabbing nearly 800 rebounds, flirting with the all-time school record for field goal percentage and “bringing the program back from the underground” according to coach Mark Schmidt. Going out with a bang seems to be a priority for the best Bonnie since Bob Lanier; Nicholson has scored 29.8 PPG on 66 percent shooting over his last four games, all victories. With his array of advanced post moves, range out to the three-point line and an unquenchable motor, Nicholson is nearly impossible to contain. His play has buoyed St. Bonaventure to a respectable 17-10 and an NIT/CBI invite is likely in the cards, so make it a priority to catch Nicholson in action before he’s the next NBA Draft second round success story.
Jared Cunningham, Oregon State- He’s an Oakland native and Beavers guard with a voracious tenacity equally adept at whipping out a mean crossover or picking your pocket at midcourt. That same scouting report oft-repeated regarding former OSU star Gary Payton can easily be applied to Cunningham, not only the Pac-12’s leading scorer but one of the top perimeter defenders in the nation. The Beavers star is a risk-taker on both ends, susceptible to the occasional turnover but just as capable of pulling off a highlight reel steal and dunk on the next possession. Cunningham utilizes his phenomenal instincts to jump passing lanes and create havoc out of Oregon State’s 1-3-1 zone defense.
Tim Frazier, Penn State- Frazier has almost single handedly kept Penn State competitive in the brutal Big Ten despite losing four senior starters from an NCAA Tournament team. Playing with a lightly-recruited, largely unanimous supporting cast, Frazier leads the conference by a healthy margin with 6.3 assists per game and ranks second in the nation in assist rate. He’s also scored at a healthy clip, averaging 18.8 per game and pouring in 20+ point performances 16 different times. The junior guard from Houston brings that rare combination of exceptional point guard skills, ability to fill up the scoring column and tenacity on the defensive end (2.2 SPG). Of greater importance to a program featuring only one senior and bereft of elite talent, Frazier has proven a model leader for new head coach Patrick Chambers from the first day of practice.
Early Season Performances – The Oooh Aaaah Variety (Teams & Individuals)
The A-10 evened the record versus the six power conferences again last week, largely on the strength of performances by Xavier and Richmond. Xavier needed overtime to beat Vanderbilt in Nashville. Down by two with just under four minutes in regulation, Xavier held Vanderbilt scoreless and managed to tie on a Mark Lyons jumper with six seconds remaining in regulation. In overtime the Musketeers took the lead for good 68-66 on two Dezmine Wells free throws and Tu Holloway put a large enough margin between the teams (about eight points) when he hit two threes in successive possessions to absorb a Commodore mini-run. Vanderbilt chipped the Musketeers’ lead down to four, but could get no closer. Forced to foul, Holloway and Travis Taylor went a perfect 6 for 6 from the line to stretch the lead to 10 and suck the life out of the Commodore comeback.
Hosting Purdue five days later, Xavier again went down early, allowing Purdue to take the lead at the 18:49 mark of the first half and hold it for the next 37 minutes of play. The Boilermakers took an 11-point lead into the intermission and stretched it to 15 in the first 6:30 of the second half. Over the next 12:24 Xavier outscored Purdue 29-13 to take the lead for only the second time in the game. Once in control, the Musketeers did not let the Boilermakers back in, pushing their lead out to three in the last minute of the game.
Those numbers are more interesting, however, when you break up the game. For example, with 3:30 left in overtime against Vanderbilt, Holloway had just 14 points on 4-17 shooting. That stat line looks much more impressive after he hit back-to-back threes on the next two possessions and four straight free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Likewise, against Purdue, Holloway had just 10 points and six turnovers in the first 38 minutes of the game, but in the final two minutes he hit a three on three consecutive possessions (video of the last two below) and followed that up with two free throws, completing the most impressive comeback of the young season…in the final three minutes against Vanderbilt and the last two minutes against Purdue, Holloway had 21 points, went 5-6 from beyond the arc and knocked down all six of his free throws attempts.
The Richmond squad had to replace 59% of their minutes and 68.6% of their scoring from the squad that won the A-10 conference tournament and ran to the Sweet Sixteen last March. Freshman point guard Kendall Anthony, three times designated Rookie of the Week by the conference, has picked up a load of time and scoring responsibilities for the Spiders so far. Richmond leaned heavily on Anthony along with sophomores Cedrick Lindsay and Derrick Williams for offense. Both chipped in double digit points to complement Anthony’s production. Lindsay was a serviceable back-up to senior point guard Kevin Anderson last season, but Williams, who has started all eight games for the Spiders, saw very little action as a freshman.
Overlooked Temple off guard Aaron Brown turned heads the summer before coming to North Broad, but had few opportunities to show Temple fans and the A-10 what he could do. Brown scored 21 points in 22 minutes in a display during Temple’s 86-74 win over Central Michigan. Ken Pomeroy would find hard to ignore his performance, as he hit 7-11 (4-7 from three point land, 3-4 from inside the arc) shots from the floor while getting to the line for five free throws, of which he hit three. That computes to an 81.8% eFG% with a 1.57 points per weighted shot, an outstanding outing for the sophomore, who was pressed into action due to the injury-depleted squad.
Early Season Performances – The What the !@#!@@!# Variety (Teams & Individuals)
After winning their early season invitational tournaments, beating four power conference opponents (two each) during the tournament, both Dayton and Saint Louis stumbled in post tournament games. The losses are puzzling because for both teams, the games were winnable. Saint Louis took an “and-one” game with Loyola Marymount of the West Coast Conference, losing by seven with a performance that had team observers scratching their heads. Dayton compounded the first post tournament loss (by 29 to Buffalo of the MAC) with a second loss, this one by 17, to Murray State of the Ohio Valley Conference. The opponents were beatable, making the scoring margins downright consternating. Dayton was pegged to finish in the middle of the conference, but the two unexpected losses (albeit the Racers will most likely contend for the OVC title this season) could damage the Flyers chances for a post season NIT bid. Other inexplicable losses go to Saint Bonaventure’s home loss to Arkansas State of the Sun Belt Conference, a 3-4 team no one expects to make noise this season. The Bonnies were not helped by a lackluster six-point, nine-rebound effort from Andrew Nicholson.
The Power Rankings are shuffled again this week in response to the Ooohs, Aaaahs and What the heck games listed above. For the Atlantic-10 the post season margin for error is exceedingly slim. Three losses going into the first or second week of December can take a school off the RPI short list pretty quickly.
1. Xavier (6-0) #8 AP – Xavier took down two more power conference programs last week in fashion impressive enough to climb three more spots in the AP poll. I listed many of the impressive details in the impressive performances section above, but in addition to the video link below that shows two of Tu Holloway’s three “last two minute” three point field goals below (h/t to Dana & Victory Blog for the link). I should also mention that in Nashville Mark Lyons (19 points) and Travis Taylor (11 points) chipped in more than 10 apiece to go with Holloway’s 24 point performance, while Antoine Walker collected 14 rebounds in his return to Vanderbilt where he played for three years. Versus Purdue three Musketeers, Lyons (14 points), Walker (10 points) and Kenny Fraese (10 points) chipped in double digit points to complement Holloway’s 21 point outburst.
Xavier will travel to Indianapolis Wednesday for a game with Butler, then return home to host this season’s Crosstown Shootout versus Cincinnati on Saturday. Win these next two and Chris Mack’s squad deserves something special, like Christmas in Hawaii…wait.
2. Saint Louis (7-1) –Their top 25 ranking proved surprisingly short, the penalty for stumbling against the Lions last Tuesday. St. Louis recovered to beat another WCC team, Portland by 20, 73-53 at the Chaifetz. The Billikens’ defense limited Portland to 0.90 points per possession, much as they had Boston College and Oklahoma. Scoring centered on Brian Conklin and Cody Ellis, with Kyle Cassidy and Mike McCall providing efficient long-range scoring. They will host Vermont on Wednesday and Division II Illinois-Springfield on Saturday.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Atlantic 10 correspondent, Joe Dzuback. You can read more of his in-depth writing and analysis at Villanova By The Numbers.
Reader’s Take I
Bobinski to Chair NCAA Selection Committee: While the conference again sent seven teams, half of its membership, to the postseason — three to the NCAA, one to the NIT and three to the CBI, the Final Four runs by Butler (Horizon League) and Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial Athletic Association) overshadowed a showing, Xavier’s loss to Marquette excepted, that exceeded 2010’s NCAA results. The NCAA announced that Xavier Athletic Director Mike Bobinski will succeed Connecticut’s Jeff Hathaway as Chairman of the 2012 NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Bobinski just completed his third year of a five-year term on the Selection Committee. While the Atlantic 10 has been the most successful non-BCS conference in placing teams in the tournament field (with 20 NCAA bids allotted to six teams since 2004), its representatives have tended to draw the short straw when it comes to seeding, and Bobinski will likely lobby hard for that cause.
The Coaching Carousel: The conference had two coaching vacancies during the early phase of the coaching carousel. If the 2010 offseason saw coaching turnovers due to firings, the 2011 offseason saw suitors come to call on the Atlantic 10 coaching fraternity. Tennessee, having fired Bruce Pearl on March 21, made its first call to Xavier to talk with Chris Mack. Mack reportedly turned aside an offer of $2 million per year to coach the Volunteers in favor of staying in Cincinnati with the Musketeers. Richmond’s Chris Mooney signed a 10-year contract extension, his second extension in two years, ending Georgia Tech’s courtship. Mooney’s decision triggered a spate of articles (see “Old coaching assumptions are fading” by Dana O’Neil for example) about non-BCS coaches who pass on BCS offers to stay with their programs. The Yellow Jackets turned their attention to Dayton’s Brian Gregory, who succumbed to the lure of the BCS and packed his bags for Atlanta on March 28. Dayton conducted a six-day search and hired Archie Miller, brother of former Xavier head man Sean Miller, away from Arizona to succeed Gregory. In late April, George Washington’s Athletic Director, Patrick Nero, fired 10-year veteran Karl Hobbs. Nero, who succeeded retiring AD Jack Kvancz on June 30, was hired on April 20, and wasted no time in turning over the men’s basketball staff. Nero reached into his old stomping grounds, the American East Conference, and hired the league’s premier head basketball coach, MikeLonergan of Vermont, on May 6 to replace Hobbs. The resignation of Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis on May 24 (DeChellis took over the Navy program) triggered a few tense days among the Duquesne faithful as coach Ron Everhart landed an interview for the Happy Valley position. The Dukes exhaled on June 1 when Everhart withdrew his name from consideration in favor of staying with the Pittsburgh school next season.
Media Coverage: The Atlantic 10 and ESPN renewed their deal to have eight games (selected by ESPN) televised on either ESPN or ESPN2 in each of the next two seasons. The ESPN networks are committed to broadcasting the Women’s Championship and up to 32 appearances in each of the next two seasons.