Morning Five: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 17th, 2014

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  1. We know that predicting the recovery time from a sprained ankle can be difficult, but the information from BYU about Tyler Haws‘ sprained left ankle is more nebulous than we are used to hearing. According to the school, Haws, the third-leading scorer in the country at 23.8 points per game, will be out for an undetermined period of time. Dave Rose seems to be targeting the team’s December 27 game against Gonzaga, which would mean that Haws would miss two weeks, but the school does not want to put a timetable on his return. We have even seen one local writer say that Haws could play as early as this Saturday, but that seems wildly optimistic.
  2. Illinois State suffered a big loss as DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell is expected to be out indefinitely with a broken right hand. Akoon-Purcell was the Redbirds leading scorer this season at 14.1 points per game and was second in rebounding at 5.5 per game. To make matters worse for the Redbirds, senior guard Bobby Hunter (fourth on the team at 8.9 points per game) is recovering from concussion-like symptoms. Akoon-Purcell is expected to miss four-to-six weeks, but it has not been decided yet if he will need surgery, which would obviously have a big impact on his expected recovery time.
  3. We have heard many people ask questions about the potential impact of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, but one possibility we had not consider was a state requiring that college athletes be paid. We might get our first example in South Carolina where a state senator is attempting to introduce a bill that would require state schools with at least $50 million in revenue (Clemson and South Carolina) to pay student-athletes in revenue sports in good academic standing a weekly stipend and set up a trust fund to pay those who graduate while providing a financial literacy course. The weekly stipend is expected to be around $150, which according to the bill should not be an issue for Clemson or South Carolina, which had budgets of approximately $90 million and $70 million respectively. While the NCAA might be willing to look the other way to a degree on the legalization of marijuana we doubt that they would be able to ignore this type of law.
  4. Yesterday, Creighton suspended junior guard James Miliken indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules. While Miliken’s season averages–5.7 points and 2.4 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game–are pedestrian, he did score 23 points in 34 minutes in a double-overtime win against South Dakota last week. While these suspensions for undisclosed violations of team rules tend to typically be merely a slap on the wrist, the school’s statement that “a decision on [Miliken’s] standing within the program is not expected until after the Christmas break” does seem somewhat ominous. If Miliken does not return, the Bluejays should be fine thanks to their depth.
  5. hile the Chris Herren story gets plenty of attention thanks to the 30 for 30 on him as well as his speaking engagements, there are countless other tales of similarly talented players who saw their careers and lives wrecked by drugs. One such player is Tommy Gaines, who was featured in an excellent piece on Grantland by Jordan Ritter Conn. To be honest, we don’t remember much about Gaines and the article doesn’t give a great account of his background mostly because it is so difficult to piece together information about a person like him back then (something we won’t have a problem with if it were to happen today). Still the story about his past and his attempt at redemption is certainly worth your time.
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Dear Utah: Seriously, Can You Learn How to Close the Door?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 11th, 2014

Against Wichita State, it was sort of heartwarming; Utah getting that close-game monkey off their back (they had been 3-9 in games decided by two possesions or less since Delon Wright put on a Utah uniform at the start of last season). The fact that they had to blow a comfortable lead in the waning moments to make the game close to begin with was forgivable givne the final result. Against BYU on Wednesday night, heartwarming turned into heartburn.

Winning Easily Seems To Fit As Awkwardly On The Utes As A Suit Jacket Does On Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak

Winning Easily Seems To Fit As Awkwardly On The Utes As A Suit Jacket Does On Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak

Really, by the time this game reached the first TV timeout early in the first half, there was no doubt as to who was the better team, who had more talent. Sure, BYU’s Tyler Haws is an elite scorer capable of keeping his team in a lot of games it has no business being in. And Kyle Collinsworth? Goodness. I have neither the time nor the imminent desire to list all the things I love about that dude’s game. But beyond that, the rest of that BYU roster is more or less indistinguishable from any other random team that will likely be on the periphery of NCAA Tournament discussion in a few months. They’ve got some decent parts (Anson Winder is nice, Chase Fischer is flammable, some passable bigs), but on a whole, there ain’t a whole lot to write home about beyond those two.

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O26 Intrigue: Eight Storylines on Opening Weekend…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine & Adam Stillman on November 14th, 2014

Basketball is nearly upon us! Here are eight O26 storylines to keep an eye on during the opening weekend of hoops:

Does VCU seize the opportunity against Tennessee without Briante Weber?

VCU will have to attack Tennessee without Briante Weber. (Daniel Sangjib Min / Times Dispatch)

VCU will have to attack Tennessee without Briante Weber. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Times Dispatch)

The Rams should be one of the better teams in the country this season, and they will have several marquee opportunities to prove it before the calendar flips to 2015 – opportunities not only to justify their top-15 ranking, but also to better position themselves come Selection Sunday. The first of those chances will be tonight against Tennessee in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis. The fact that the Vols, a decent-but-not great SEC squad, have serious questions at point guard would normally be good news for VCU and its disruptive pressure defense. But without Briante Weber in the lineup – the senior guard is serving a one-game suspension – the Rams are down their peskiest defender and a guy who’s on track to break the NCAA’s all-time steals record. HAVOC will press on (literally), but keep an eye on whether Weber’s absence enables Tennessee to limit its turnovers, make this more of a half-court game, and minimize VCU’s easy transition buckets. The last thing Shaka Smart’s group wants is to drop a nationally-televised opener (6:30 PM ET, CBSSN) against a beatable power-conference opponent. Read the rest of this entry »

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 13th, 2014

With the season tipping off on Friday night, there’s no better time to roll out our preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week or so, and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

FirstTeam

  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina – Paige enters his junior season at North Carolina following a sophomore campaign when the guard take his game to new heights. After a fairly productive freshman season (8.2 PPG), the 6’1″ point guard took home the ACC’s Most Improved Player Award by upping that average to 17.5 PPG as he led the Tar Heels to the NCAA Tournament. Paige’s season was good enough for him to be the first North Carolina point guard to be named first-team All-ACC as a sophomore since Tar Heels’ legend Phil Ford in 1976. Expectations are high in Chapel Hill again this season, and with Paige running the show, it is easy to understand why. Factoid: In an informal poll of college coaches taken by CBSSports.com in August, Paige was named as one of the players the pollsters would most like to have on their team this season. Once coach said of the Tar Heel, “he really doesn’t get enough credit for what he did for North Carolina last season. Won’t surprise me if he’s National Player of the Year.”
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia – Not many guards can fill up the stat sheet like Staten. The highly productive senior returns for the Mountaineers following a season when he become the first player in West Virginia history to score 500 points (598), grab 150 rebounds (186), and dish out 150 assists (193) in a season. With the offseason transfers of Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, Staten will almost definitely see those numbers rise during his final collegiate season in Morgantown. After a two-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, Staten appears primed to lead what one expert is calling an underrated Mountaineers squad back to the Big Dance. Factoid: Following Staten’s first season at West Virginia, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins gave his guard the assignment of watching tape from two of the great point guards Huggins coached at Cincinnati – Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville – It was a bit of a surprise in April when Harrell announced that he would return to Louisville for his junior season rather than enter the NBA Draft. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is undoubtedly pleased with his big man’s decision, as Louisville is set to begin its first season in the arduous ACC. With Russ Smith and Luke Hancock gone, Harrell seems to be the best bet to pick up the slack in Pitino’s up-tempo offense. The junior forward has reportedly added what he and his coach call a more consistent 14-to-16 foot jump shot to his offensive repertoire. While that development unquestionably has Louisville fans giddy, it should worry the Cards’ new conference foes. Factoid: Harrell originally committed to Virginia Tech out of high school, but he reopened his recruitment following Seth Greenberg’s abrupt dismissal. A few weeks later, Harrell signed with Louisville and the rest, as they say, is history.
  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke – The Chicago prep superstar-to-Duke pipeline continues as Okafor is set to begin his freshman season in Durham. The consensus number one high school player in the Class of 2014 enters his college career with a tremendous amount of hype. He has been described as “one of the most skilled and poised back to the basket centers to come along in some time.” Duke brought in a star-studded recruiting class to help offset the early departures of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, and there is no question that Okafor is the jewel of that class. If the big man turns in the type of season that many expect from him, there is no telling what the ceiling for the Blue Devils could be. Factoid: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has already acknowledged that he expects Okafor to be a one-and-done: “We won’t have him long. We’ll have him this year and then he’ll be one of the top NBA picks.”
  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin – Kaminsky entered the 2013-14 season as a relative unknown after averaging just 4.2 points in 10.3 minutes per game as a sophomore. He did not remain an unknown for long, though, as the junior emerged as one of the top big men in the Big Ten, taking home consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors. While his regular season was outstanding, what really turned Kaminsky into a household name was his 28-point, 11 rebound effort against Arizona to send Wisconsin to the Final Four. The Badgers return four starters from that Final Four squad, but none are more important than the seven-foot senior. Factoid: Kaminsky was lightly-recruited coming out of Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois. In fact, he was a Plan B for the Badgers after one of their top frontcourt targets, Nnanna Egwu, committed to Illinois.

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2014-15 RTC Preseason O26 All-America Teams

Posted by Tommy Lemoine and Adam Stillman on November 12th, 2014

Considering the sheer number of teams competing in O26 conferences, reaching a consensus on the top 15 players – much less the top five – is an incredibly difficult task. Alas, here are our Preseason O26 All-Americans, along with the Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Newcomer of the Year for the upcoming season. Where did we go wrong?

Player of the Year

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. Evaluating players based on their “leadership” and “composure” and ability to “play within themselves” can be a slippery slope, prone to subjectivity and flaws in perception. But when the numbers seem to back those claims up – a sparkling offensive rating, an eye-popping assist-to-turnover ratio – the intangible qualities quickly seem much more tangible. Which brings us to VanVleet. The 5’11’’ junior possesses nearly all the skills and qualities you could want in a point guard: He is a floor general, who posted the best assist rate in the Missouri Valley last season and fourth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the entire country; he is an efficient scorer who shot 41 percent from behind the arc and 83 percent from the stripe; he is a good defender who recorded four-plus steals on six different occasions. And by all accounts he is a true leader on and off the court, the steady hand guiding the steadiest bunch in mid-major hoops. Considering all those attributes, VanVleet is our Preseason O26 Player of the Year.

First Team

  • Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. See our Player of the Year writeup above. VanVleet is one of the best point guards in the entire country, regardless of league.
  • Ron Baker – G – Wichita State. If VanVleet is the best non-power conference guard in the country, then Baker, his backcourt running mate, is not far behind. The 6’3’’ junior punctuated an impressive 2013-14 campaign (13.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.1 APG) by scoring 20 points on 4-for-6 three- point shooting against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last March and squashing any doubt about whether he could compete at the highest level. Baker now enters this season as the offensive cornerstone for a top 15 team, whose versatility and perimeter shooting is only expected to shine brighter for the Shockers.

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Top of the O26 Class: Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, WAC & WCC

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 10th, 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 Western region of the U.S: Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, Western Athletic Conference, West Coast Conference. Previous installments include conferences from the Northeast region, Midwest region, Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region and the Southern region.

Top Units

Mountain West

Guys like wing Dwayne Polee II need to step up offensively for the Aztecs. (Ben Margot — AP)

Guys like wing Dwayne Polee II will need to step up offensively for San Diego State. (Ben Margot/AP)

  • San Diego State – 2013-14 record: 31-5 (16-2). San Diego State will be very good defensively, that much we know, but whether it can replace do-everything guard Xavier Thames (17.6 PPG, 120.0 ORtg) is the most pressing concern this time around. The Aztecs – which have ranked among the top-20 nationally in defensive efficiency in three of the last four seasons – return several long-armed stoppers like Dwayne Polee II and 6’10’’ center Skyler Spencer (best block percentage in the league) while adding a highly-touted Arizona transfer in 6’9’’ Angelo Chol. But Thames was the only consistent offensive threat last year and points were hard to come by when he struggled, so the ability of guys like Polee and guard Winston Shepard to thrive in more prominent scoring roles is crucial. Steve Fisher’s club should win the Mountain West considering the talent he has on hand (five-star forward Malik Pope also joins the mix), but the team’s offensive development, especially in the backcourt, will determine its ultimate national stature.

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Fright Club: The O26 All Hallows’ Eve Team

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 31st, 2014

With Halloween upon us, it’s only natural that we examine the spookiest, scariest, creepiest, crawliest, most fear-inducing hoopsters in the O26 world. WARNING – you may experience nightmares, especially if none of these guys play for your school.

Siena's Jimmy Patsos coaches our All Hallows' Eve team. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)

Siena’s Jimmy Patsos coaches our All Hallows’ Eve team. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)

‘The Robbin’ Goblin’

Briante Weber – PG – Virginia Commonwealth. Weber is arguably the most terrifying player in college basketball. Over his first three years in Richmond, the 6’2’’ guard has consistently and relentlessly harassed opposing ball-handlers to the point that Phil Martelli hailed him as the best defender in the country last March. Not only does Weber own the VCU and Atlantic 10 records for career steals, but he’s also posted the highest steal rate in the country for three consecutive seasons. In 2013-14, he logged more than five thefts 11 different times, including seven apiece against Stony Brook and George Washington – impressive outings to be sure, but neither of which even touch his 2012 season opener. In one of the most incredible defensive performances in recent memory, Weber tallied a whopping 10 steals in just 18 minutes on the court, a rate so absurd that even Gary Payton would have to tip his cap (er, glove). To this day, the mere thought of Weber must send shivers down Andy Enfield’s spine.

‘The Serial Thriller’

Desi Washington – SG – Saint Peter’s. The Peacocks’ second-leading scorer does his most sinister work late in games, a fact that repeat-victim Fairfield knows all too well – Washington beat the Stags with buzzer-beaters (or near buzzer-beaters) three different times last season. That’s uncanny, improbable and – if you’re Sydney Johnson, or really any other MAAC coach – downright horrifying entering 2014-15. Incredibly, the now-senior shooting guard also picked off Seton Hall in similar fashion, scoring 34 points and drilling a deep three in the closing seconds to pull off the road upset. To call Washington ‘clutch’ would be an understatement; ‘categorically lethal’ is probably more appropriate.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Oregon 87, #10 BYU 68

Posted by Walker Carey on March 20th, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion, @RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

All game long, Elgin Cook and Oregon were one step ahead. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

All game long, Elgin Cook and Oregon were one step ahead. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Oregon’s reserves played an important role. Dana Altman has used his bench very effectively all season and that continued against BYU. Redshirt sophomore forward Elgin Cook, a Milwaukee native, turned in a career-best performance at the Bradley Center. Cook finished the afternoon with 23 points and eight rebounds in just 23 minutes. The Ducks also received a boost off the bench from senior guard Jason Calliste. Calliste entered the afternoon as the team’s most consistent bench player, averaging 12.4 points per game in limited minutes, and that did not change against BYU. Calliste finished with 14 points and four assists in 26 minutes. The senior also displayed his free throw shooting prowess, as he was 11-of-12 from the charity stripe. To advance in March, you normally need good play from your bench to win. Cook and Calliste provided that against BYU and that is a major reason why the Ducks advanced to the round of 32.
  2. Oregon actually performed well on the defensive end of the court. Oregon’s defense was a concern all season, but it actually equated itself quite well in Thursday’s victory. Part of the reason why the Ducks were able to build a first half lead that was never relinquished was because BYU shot just 28.1 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes. The Cougars ended the afternoon at just 32.8 percent from the field, as the Oregon defense made it difficult for them to establish any sort of offensive rhythm. BYU guard Matt Carlino had a forgettable afternoon. He struggled all game to finish just 4-of-16 from the field. BYU leading scorer Tyler Haws also had difficulties getting on track and finished just 7-of-18 from the field. While it would be inappropriate to say the Oregon defense is “fixed” after just one game, the Ducks’ effort on that side of the court Thursday afternoon certainly gives the team something to build upon as the Tournament continues. Read the rest of this entry »
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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 17th, 2014

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), Midwest (11:00 AM), South (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Andrew breaking down the West Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

West Region

Favorite: Arizona, #1, 30-4. The Wildcats are the nation’s best defensive team – this is beyond debate. In 34 games to this date, they’ve allowed teams to score better than a point per possession just six times all year (and seven times they’ve held their opponent to less than 0.8 points per possession). They’ve got freshman Aaron Gordon, who is on the short list of most versatile defenders in the nation, capable of guarding players from power forward to point guard. Likewise, guys like Nick Johnson, T.J. McConnell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are terrific athletic defenders, while sophomore Kaleb Tarczewski is a rugged rim protector. Point is that it is going to be very hard for any opponent to score consistently on this team. Throw in the fact that the Wildcats are a quality offensive team as well (only six times all season have they scored less than a point per possession in a game) and that they’re playing arguably their best ball of the season at the right time for rising star Sean Miller, and the West is theirs to win.

Arizona Earned A #1 Seed In The West Region And Fortunate Geographic Placement

Arizona Earned A #1 Seed In The West Region And Fortunate Geographic Placement. (AP)

Should They Falter: Wisconsin, #2, 26-7. Aside from a head-scratching downturn in the middle of the season when the Badgers lost five out of six games, Bo Ryan’s squad has been excellent. Only once in the last 12 seasons has Wisconsin had a more efficient offense (2011, and even then, it is a razor-thin margin), but what is different about this team is an increased tempo, a sparkling shooting percentage, and a complete avoidance of turnovers. However, all of this offensive wonderment does not come without a price, as this is also the worst Badgers team on the defensive end in those same dozen years, with the team – especially in that bad stretch in January – failing to contain dribble penetration and regularly getting scorched. This happened again this past weekend against Michigan State, so the Badgers are not here without concerns. But in a region where there are few teams without some blemishes, the Badgers are the safest bet – beyond Arizona – to wind up in Dallas.

Grossly Overseeded: BYU, #10, 23-11. Let’s just refer back to 2012 in the West region and read what I wrote then. Sure, some of the details have now changed, but the gist of this is the same: Why is BYU in the field again? They’ve got a solid win over Gonzaga, they beat Stanford and Texas in the non-conference. Sure. But all of those good spots are balanced out by atrocious losses to Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland and Pacific. There aren’t a ton of other great options to go into BYU’s spot, for sure, and rewarding them for playing a tough non-conference slate is fine. But if anything, the Cougars should have to win their way into the field of 64 by getting through the First Four in Dayton.

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The RTC Other 26 Superlatives

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 14th, 2014

From the quiet of November to the clamor of March, several O26 performers and performances stood out from the pack in the regular season. Let’s pass out some awards to the most deserving among them.

O26 Team of the Year

Wichita State's run to perfection was historic. (Peter Aiken)

Wichita State’s run to perfection was historic. (Peter Aiken/USA TODAY Sports)

Wichita State (31-0, 18-0). When the Shockers rolled through their non-conference schedule and entered league play 13-0, people began to talk. Could this team be better than the Final Four squad from a year ago? Then, as they hammered their Missouri Valley challengers game after game, week after week, month after month, an even more profound question began to emerge: Does this team have a legitimate chance to go undefeated? National media attention descended on Wichita, the pressure mounted (or was supposed to) and every time Gregg Marshall’s group took the floor, something historic – but still unlikely – was on the line. Yet it was only when they completed the impossible, finished 31-0 and promptly dominated Arch Madness that an even weightier thought took hold. Will Wichita State go down as one of the best teams of all-time? The mere asking of the question is indication alone that these Shockers are truly special. Only team to win 30-plus games in the regular season without suffering a loss. Most ever wins entering the NCAA Tournament. First team since UNLV in 1990-1991 to enter the Dance undefeated. Regardless of whether or not they wind up in North Texas in a few weeks, those records are enduring, this team’s legacy will be enduring.

Honorable Mentions: San Diego State (27-3, 17-2), Saint Louis (26-5, 13-3), Stephen F. Austin (29-2, 18-0), VCU (24-7, 12-4), Green Bay (24-5, 14-2)
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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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#rushthetrip Day 16: Marriott Center Experience Uniquely Amazing

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on February 22nd, 2014

RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.

With Thursday night’s visit to Provo for Gonzaga vs. BYU, the trip was poised to wrap up much like it had started 16 days ago in The Pit – in one of college basketball’s loudest and greatest gymnasiums. BYU’s Marriott Center is the sixth largest home arena in the country and is oft-described as one of the toughest places to play out West. Still, though, I was unsure of what to expect. My curiosity/ignorance extended beyond the Marriott Center to both the university and Provo; the Mormon presence in town (98% LDS) would obviously be influential, but where exactly would the manifestations of faith appear in this college town – and college basketball atmosphere?

BYU's Marriott Center Has Long Been Considered An Unwelcoming Locale For Visitors, But Could It Still Be Underrated? I Vote Yes.

BYU’s Marriott Center Has Long Been Considered An Unwelcoming Locale For Visitors, But Could It Still Be Underrated? I Vote Yes.

Everyone was extremely nice in town. Provo is not the first place I’ve made this observation about, but the kindness here is ubiquitous enough to disarm someone unused to it (me). It didn’t matter if they were pumping gas or cleaning hotel rooms — everyone seemed legitimately happy with whatever it was they were doing at the time I ran across them. While it did feel a bit contrived at times, the friendliness was refreshing and welcomed by a weary traveler nearing the end of his journey.

After a day of familiarizing myself with the affable denizens of Provo, I entered the Marriott Center expecting 20,000 of the most genteel college basketball fans you could find. Boy, was I wrong. I don’t want to say that the BYU faithful offered the most aggressive display of ref-riding I’ve ever seen, but they didn’t miss the mark by much. There were a couple of shaky pro-Gonzaga calls early, but the Cougars wound up +5 in free throw attempts, and Gonzaga bigs Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski managed only 20 and 19 minutes, respectively, due to foul trouble. So while I didn’t find significant merit in the boisterous shouts of the fans, their relentlessness was both admirable and effective. More than anything else, home court advantage is for shifting close decisions from the referees in favor of your team; I cannot imagine an official being unaffected in the environment I witnessed there. I’m no Mormon, but I’m now pretty confident that LDS doctrines must not include any prohibition relating to the verbal treatment of basketball referees.

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