Digging Through the Low Mids For Possible At-Large Bids

Posted by Shane McNichol on January 7th, 2017

The path to the NCAA Tournament for any mid-major starts out simply: Win the conference tournament. The alternative is to build an impressive non-conference resume and cross your fingers on Selection Sunday. Ask last year’s Saint Mary’s team that went 27-5 and was relegated to the NIT. As the Gaels learned a year ago, the Selection Committee places the bar exceptionally high and scheduling is a significant factor. A lackluster non-conference resume meant that St. Mary’s two regular season games against Gonzaga held great value (which it swept), but a pair of losses against an uninspiring Pepperdine squad sealed the Gaels’ fate. The exact recipe for an at-large bid can be hard to determine because the committee changes every year, but the following teams in traditional one-bid leagues could have a shot at an at-large bid if they falter in their conference tournaments.

Randy Bennett Found Out the Hard Way How Important Scheduling Is (USA Today Images)

Randy Bennett Found Out the Hard Way How Important Scheduling Is (USA Today Images)

UT-Arlington

The Mavericks have three losses on the season, all of which came against respectable opponents in a span of five days on the road. Aside from that, no low-major can top their pair of excellent wins that came at Texas and St. Mary’s. UT Arlington holds a top-50 RPI, but recent history does not appear to be on its side. The Sun Belt has earned only one at-large bid in the last eight NCAA Tournaments, and that bid went to Middle Tennessee State in 2013 (which has since moved on to Conference USA — more on the Blue Raiders below). UT Arlington could at least make things interesting by running the table until the conference tournament semifinals, which would give it 30 wins prior to Selection Sunday. Read the rest of this entry »

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O26 Power 13: New Year, New Order, Same Teams on Top

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 4th, 2017

With 2017 now upon us and conference play ramping up, let’s take a step back and reexamine the best of the best across the O26.

1. Gonzaga (14-0) West Coast. Despite its cast of untested newcomers, chemistry and balance have not been an issue for Gonzaga this season. The Bulldogs have cruised to a 14-0 start behind a lineup whose top six scorers all average between 9.3 and 13.8 points per game. In fact, only two players—Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski—get more than 30 minutes per night, thanks largely to the effectiveness of bench players like Zach Collins (10.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG) and Killian Tillie (4.6 PPG). Mark Few’s club has been equally excellent on both sides of the ball, ranking among the top 12 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. That well-roundedness helped the Zags notch three neutral court victories over KenPom top-30 opponents, giving them a non-conference resume that should hold up very well in mid-March. A win or two over Saint Mary’s would only strengthen the cause. The Zags are once again a legitimate Final Four contender.

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary's opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary’s opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

2. Saint Mary’s (12-1) West Coast. Since its jarring, 14-point home loss to UT Arlington on December 8, Saint Mary’s has held five straight opponents under 0.90 points per possession. That’s a positive sign for a unit that has often struggled to win games when its offense goes cold. The Gaels—with victories at Dayton and Stanford—have also proven their ability to win on the road, which is not something they could claim last season (the NCAA Selection Committee took notice). With one of the nation’s elite point guards (Emmett Naar) and a center, Jock Landale, who currently ranks second in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings, it’s hard to imagine this team slipping much in WCC play. January 14, Saint Mary’s first tilt with Gonzaga in Spokane, can’t come soon enough.

3. Wichita State (12-3) – Missouri Valley. The Shockers’ 100-66 dismantling of Bradley on New Year’s Day perhaps best captures this team’s identity. Sixteen different players saw action (Wichita State leads the country in bench minutes); ball movement was crisp (25 assists on 34 made baskets); and the physicality was unrelenting. Put simply, Wichita State is going to pummel a whole bunch of inferior opponents in Missouri Valley play. With an already-tenuous at-large resume, however, one major question remains: can the Shockers avoid losing more than one or two games in the conference? With Illinois State and Missouri State both surging, nothing is guaranteed.

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Does Great Continuity Really Equate to Early Season Success?

Posted by William Ezekowitz on November 28th, 2016

Every season pundits and commentators often gush about the importance of team continuity and experience. The teams who return the most players, the thinking goes, are those that will transition most seamlessly into the new season. The teams that are integrating a bunch of new freshmen and transfers, by contrast, aren’t as likely to play up to their full potential before the new year. But is this maxim, repeated by so many inside the game, actually true? Is there data to support it?

The Champs Return 67.3 percent of Their Minutes This Season (USA Today Images)

The Champs Return 67.3% of Their Minutes This Season, 27th Nationally (USA Today Images)

KenPom recently developed a new statistic called minutes continuity, which measures “what percentage of a team’s minutes are played by the same player from last season to this season.” This allows us to analyze whether teams with greater continuity overachieve at the beginning of the season and teams with lesser continuity underachieve. While it is possible that most any preseason ranking mechanism (including KenPom) would already account for player continuity, any positive effect would most likely be exhibited in the first half of the season. The teams with more continuity would benefit earlier while the teams with less continuity would catch up as the season wears on. To determine if this is true, we examined team performance versus preseason expectation in two groups (based on Pomeroy’s list (paywall)): the 40 teams with the most continuity, and the 40 teams with the least continuity.

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O26 Power 13: WCC Teams Reign Supreme

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 8th, 2016

With the start of the regular season now just a few days away, it’s time to examine the O26 programs we think will shine in 2016-17. The school atop this list should come as no surprise.

1. Gonzaga  West Coast. No Kyle Wiltjer (20.4 PPG) or Domantas Sabonis (17.6 PPG, 11.8 RPG) this year? No problem. Like a true power program, Gonzaga simply reloads, adding three high-major transfers — guard Jordan Mathews (California), forward Johnathan Williams III (Missouri) and point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington) — along with several elite recruits to an already-talented lineup. Williams-Goss, a second team All-Pac-12 performer in 2014-15, should be a legitimate contender for WCC Player of the Year, while Mathews (41.6% 3FG in 2015-16), Williams (7.1 RPG in 2014-15), and McDonald’s All-American big man Zach Collins add scoring pop and defensive strength to the roster. With guard Josh Perkins (4.1 APG), rim-protector Przemek Karnowski (now healthy) and several other contributors back in the fold, Gonzaga’s ceiling appears higher than ever.

The stakes will be high when Gonzaga and Saint Mary's meet up this season. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

The stakes will be high when Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s meet up this season. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

2. Saint Mary’s — West Coast. Based purely on returning production, Saint Mary’s should probably top this list. The Gaels welcome back everyone from a unit that ranked 17th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, including All-WCC point guard Emmett Naar (121.6 Offensive Rating) and forward Dane Pineau (126.2 Offensive Rating), arguably the league’s two most effective players at their positions. But really, the offense is everywhere. Forwards Even Fitzner (8.7 PPG) and Calvin Hermanson (10.9 PPG) each shot better than 40 percent from behind the arc on 130-plus attempts. Joe Rahon (10.7 PPG, 4.5 PPG, 5.4 APG) is among the most versatile guards in the conference. Center Jock Landale — one of five Aussies on the roster — scored 8.0 PPG in just 14.5 minutes per game last season, and should see more of the court this year. This might be Randy Bennett’s best team yet in Moraga. Read the rest of this entry »

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O26 At-Large Watch: Early Season Games With Late Season Impact

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 7th, 2016

With March still several months away, it’s impossible to know which non-conference match-ups will actually prove critical once Selection Sunday arrives. But we here at the Other 26 microsite can certainly take an educated guess. Here are 11 pre-January contests that we think may play a significant role in deciding which O26 contenders will be in position to earn at-large bids on March 12.

Princeton will have several opportunities for resume-defining wins. (goprincetontigers.com)

Princeton has several opportunities for resume-defining wins. (goprincetontigers.com)

  • Princeton at Brigham Young – November 14, 10:00 PM EST, ESPN2. BYU essentially struck out in non-conference play last season and wound up paying the price on Selection Sunday. The Cougars’ margin for error may be even slimmer this year. As it stands, Princeton (#39 RPI in 2015-16) is probably BYU’s best non-league opponent, making this Tip-Off Marathon home tilt critical for Dave Rose’s offensively gifted group. For the Tigers — who also play VCU, California and Monmouth in the season’s first two months — a victory at the Marriott Center would be a giant feather in their non-conference cap.
  • San Diego State at #14 Gonzaga – November 14, 11:59 PM EST, ESPN2. If the Mountain West has another down year, San Diego State could find itself with a very hollow resume come March even if it lives up to its preseason billing. The Aztecs simply don’t have many opportunities for quality non-conference wins. Luckily, the bulk of their roster back, and the addition of two power-conference transfers should enable one of the nation’s most effective defensive teams to become more impactful on offense. Which is to say that Steve Fisher’s group should be able to compete with a talented-but-unproven Gonzaga unit, especially early this season. A win in the Kennel would be huge.

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Mapping Ohio State’s Path to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on February 23rd, 2016

After an uninspiring first half of the season, Ohio State has over the last few weeks slowly but surely crept back into the Big Ten race. The Buckeyes are unlikely to contend for the title but they are all alone in fourth place at 10-5. Teams among the top four of power conference standings in late February are usually considered safe bets for the NCAA Tournament, but Thad Matta‘s group is challenging that notion. After a miserable start to the season that included early losses to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech, the Buckeyes are now in position to lock up a bid with another good win or two. There’s just one problem, though: Winning another regular season game won’t be easy. Ohio State plays Michigan State twice in its final three games with a home date against Iowa sandwiched in-between.

Marc Loving and Ohio State face an important three-game stretch that will determine their postseason fortune (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch)

Marc Loving and Ohio State face an important three-game stretch that will determine their postseason fortune (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch)

Double-figure conference wins is usually enough for an at-large bid from the Big Ten, and every 11-win team in the history of the league has made the field of 68. But as we’ve learned in the era of expanded conferences, not all records are created equal. Eight of Ohio State’s conference wins came against Rutgers, Minnesota, Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern. The other two were notched against Nebraska and fellow bubble team Michigan. Furthermore, Ohio State has just one RPI top 100 win from the non-conference season (Kentucky). This means that the two wins over the Wolverines and Wildcats are the Buckeyes’ lone RPI top 100 wins of the season, and that they have more losses to teams outside the RPI top 100 (three) than wins over teams within it. Losses to Texas-Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Memphis all stink about as much or more as they did at the time. The tally to this point is that 18-10 record and an RPI rating of #75.

One more win pushes Ohio State to the 11-victory mark, but that won’t do much to improve the Buckeyes’ overall resume. Two more wins would result in a 4-8 record against the RPI top 50, but even 12 conference wins combined with an early Big Ten Tournament loss would make for a tense Selection Sunday. Three wins, however unlikely, means that Ohio State can think about seeding options instead of worrying about a bid. Go winless and the Buckeyes would need a deep conference tournament run and some luck around the country among the other bubble teams.

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Morning Five: 05.25.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 25th, 2012

  1. It wouldn’t be the Morning Five without a John Calipari mention, as the sport’s biggest newsmaker spins the media like a top with his almost-daily appearances, interviews, and social media missives. Yesterday on his website the Kentucky head coach wrote that his new scheduling strategy — pushing for more neutral site appearances against marquee opponents — will result in a one-year hiatus in the Kentucky-North Carolina series, but the home-and-home battle between two of the best programs in the country will return in 2013-14. The purpose of this move according to Calipari is to alternate years where the Wildcats will have to travel to Chapel Hill and Louisville, meaning that UK will play at least one tough non-conference road game each year. The Wildcats have also picked up a home/neutral series with Baylor starting next season that will allow them to play in Cowboys Stadium in 2013-14, the site of that year’s Final Four. Perhaps most interestingly, though, is that Calipari says that he’s in negotiations with Duke to begin an annual rotating neutral site game that he says would be on the same weekend each year and become “THE GAME” to watch. We certainly can’t argue with that.
  2.  What we can argue with was a curious comment that Calipari made in his post explaining why he’s so gung ho on scheduling future neutral site games in football stadiums: “I’m convinced we would have won the title two seasons ago if we would have played in a dome during the regular season. Our guys weren’t prepared for it.” At first blush, this sounds reasonable on its face. But closer examination suggests that the head coach is tailoring the facts of his argument to justify what he wants. First of all, the Wildcats lost to West Virginia in the Elite Eight in Syracuse in 2010, which means of course that they had to win a Sweet Sixteen game in the Carrier Dome two days prior — on the same floor, in the same dome, only against a different team (Cornell). Did John Wall and company forget what they’d learned about playing in a dome environment just 48 hours before the loss to WVU? Next, the 2012 team that just won the national championship in the Superdome didn’t play in a dome environment at all in this year’s regular season or in the SEC Tournament. Still, without that ‘necessary’ experience, the Wildcats successively rolled through Indiana, Baylor, Louisville and Kansas to win it all. All in domes. If Calipari wants to play the lack of experience card to forgive the failure of the 2010 Wildcats, he probably should be looking at the ridiculously soft schedule that his Wildcats ran through on its way to a 35-3 record that year. When both teams matched up in the Elite Eight, the Mountaineers were by far the best team UK had faced all season. Kentucky’s lack of experience in playing good teams was the problem; it wasn’t that they hadn’t played in a dome. [Ed. Note: It is unclear which team Calipari was referring to, but the 2010 team was a far superior team if he was talking about winning a national championship.]
  3. From a coach spewing nonsense to players doing likewise… Deadspin published a really interesting piece on Thursday examining in great detail documents from the cottage industry of companies who are tasked with monitoring college athletes’ social networking accounts. The article describes how it works: First, the schools get access to each player’s account through a special tracking mechanism that scans their pages regularly. Then, “once the computers gather all that data, the firms’ software searches it for trigger words and reports back to coaches and athletic department functionaries. This happens in near real-time.” It wouldn’t be Deadspin-worthy unless the examples were equal parts hilarious and horrifying, so we’d just suggest you set aside a few minutes of your time and get over there to poke around. Of particular interest is one company’s documentation and definition of many of the most common trigger words and phrases that could get players in trouble. Let’s just end this by saying that if you’re over 30 years old, you’re probably going to learn a few new slang words or acronyms to test on your buddies during the long weekend.
  4. More conference realignment! And it doesn’t involve yet another rumor about Florida State, Clemson or Miami. No, UT-Arlington, a Southland school who is (we’re not kidding) joining the WAC on July 1, will spend one year in that league before movin’ on up to the Sun Belt, effective next summer. You read that correctly — in a span of 366 days (from June 30, 2012 to July 1, 2013), UT-Arlington will be a member of three different conferences. At the mid-major level, it’s just short of impossible to keep up with who is heading where, but we think that the Sun Belt will also pick up Georgia State and Texas State to replace the losses of FIU, Denver, and North Texas to the WAC and Conference USA. Whether the WAC survives all of this re-shuffling remains to be seen.
  5. A couple of head coaching positions at the mid-major level were filled on Thursday, with Rider and Binghamton inextricably connected through the transition. Binghamton hired Rider head coach Tommy Dempsey to take over for Mark Macon, a former star player at Temple who was unable to dig out of the morass left by his predecessor, Kevin Broadus. Rider acted quickly to fill the vacuum, promoting assistant coach Kevin Baggett to the helm for purposes of continuity. Rider has averaged 18.5 wins per season in the six years that Baggett was an assistant for Dempsey, so it makes sense that the administration wants to keep the momentum moving forward.
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The Other 26: Bracketbuster Preview and Analysis

Posted by IRenko on January 31st, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. You can normally find him kicking off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.

In this special mid-week edition of The Other 26, we take a look at all of the premier (read: televised) Bracketbuster matchups that were announced on Monday and offer a guide to the uninitiated on what to watch for. The annual mid-major hoops feast typically offers a host of compelling contests, and this year is no different. In roughly descending order of interest/excitement:

Main Event — St. Mary’s at Murray State (2/18, 6 PM, ESPN or ESPN2) — I was hoping we would get a double main event with St. Mary’s at Creighton and Wichita State at Murray State. Perhaps the Bracketbuster selection committee didn’t rate Wichita State that highly or was intent on giving the undefeated Racers a ranked opponent against whom they could prove their quality. So they sent top 20, 21-2 St. Mary’s to Murray, Kentucky, to set up the undisputed headliner of this year’s Bracketbuster event. Murray State will have a clear advantage from playing at home, but apart from that, this looks like a very close matchup. Offensively, both teams rely heavily on the two lines — the three-point line and the free throw line. Defensively, both teams are pretty good at not giving up many attempts from either of those lines, with the notable exception of Murray State’s tendency to foul too much. Both teams are also somewhat turnover prone, but only the Racers play the kind of defense that is likely to exploit such a weakness. Finally, the Gaels may look to get easy points off of the offensive glass, as defensive rebounding is a liability for Murray State. Which, if any, of these games within the game will determine the outcome? Only one way to find out:  tune in at 6 PM on February 18.

Can St. Mary's End Murray State's Undefeated Season?

Battle of the Supporting Casts — Long Beach State at Creighton (2/18, 10 PM, ESPN2) — Most eyeballs will be trained to watch Casper Ware and Doug McDermott, two of mid-major hoops’ most recognizable players. But I hope that fans will also tune in to get a glimpse of the extent to which these conference-leading teams depends on their supporting casts. LBSU has three other players who average in double figures — Larry Anderson (who also stuffs the stat sheet with 5.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, while shooting 44% from three-point range), T.J. Robinson (who adds 10.2 rebounds a game), and James Ennis. Creighton, meanwhile, has discovered that they can be just as potent, maybe even moreso, when McDermott scores less than 20 a game. Antoine Young’s dribble penetration, Greg Echinique’s inside banging, and the marksmanship of Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat make the Bluejays a much more multi-dimensional team than they’re often portrayed to be. It’s worth noting, too, that each of these teams will be trying to bolster their at-large bona fides in the event that they don’t win their conference tournaments — an especially distinct possibility for Creighton, who will have to get through three games in the always tough MVC to cinch an auto bid.

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Checking In On… the Southland Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2011

Zach Birdsong is the RTC Correspondent for the Southland Conference. You can also find his musings online at houstonianonline.com or on twitter @zachbird_nerd.

Readers Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Pat Knight Era Begins at Lamar: The Pat Knight era at Lamar University began in earnest last Friday as the Cardinals took on Arkansas State in their home opener. Knight and the Cardinals picked up the win, 65-62, as Brandon Davis led all scorers in the game with 17 points for the game. Devon Lamb also contributed 13 points and picked up 15 rebounds. After that, the team traveled and lost to #8 Louisville, 68-48. Knight and his team endured its first loss of the season. Despite the score, Lamar was able to hang with Louisville for awhile before Rick Pitino’s team took control of the game. Two days later the team fell in their second consecutive game at Ohio in overtime, 85-78, but followed that up with an 18-point pasting of Charlotte on Saturday night.

Pat Knight Takes Over at Lamar

  • Sam Houston A Growing Team:  Last season, the Bearkats won the Southland Conference West Division. However, they lost numerous players including Conference Player of the Year Gilberto Clavell.  This season, Sam Houston has just three returning players, including one starter (Antuan Bootle), so SHSU is still looking to find its identity. In the season opener, the team beat Howard Payne, 76-42, and shot the ball at 40% from the field and 12.5% from three-point range. In the second game of the season, the team traveled to South Bend, dropping a 74-41 game to Notre Dame. SHSU had trouble shooting, with a clip of just 34% from the field, faring even worse from the perimeter. Overall, the young team is shooting 37.2% from the field and 16.1% from beyond the arc. They have also turned the ball over 33 times in two games as they struggle to find consistency.
  • Southland Schools Battle Power Conference Squads: Four schools in the Southland Conference battled teams from the Big 12 and Big East. Last Friday, Texas A&M-CC lost to Oklahoma State; then, on Sunday, November 13, Lamar traveled to Louisville and lost, followed by a game on  Wednesday, November 16, where Sam Houston State traveled to Notre Dame while UTSA lost a heartbreaker to Oklahoma State. Despite not having their leading scorer, Melvin Johnson III, who was serving his second game of suspension for violating team rules, UTSA built a lead before a miracle sequence from Cezar Guerrero eventually sunk the Roadrunners.

Power Rankings

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Preseason Bracketology: 10.28.11 Edition

Posted by zhayes9 on October 28th, 2011

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

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

Click to Enlarge Bracket

Notes

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