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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Amid Controversy, Dan Majerle is Quietly Building a Winner in Phoenix

Posted by Greg Mitchell on May 8th, 2014

The news that Royce Woolridge had decided to spend his final year of eligibility at Grand Canyon University may be a bigger deal than you think. The Phoenix-area native is returning home to play for Dan Majerle at the first for-profit university to call Division I home. Yes, Thunder Dan Majerle. In its inaugural Division I season in the reconfigured WAC, the former Phoenix Suns star and assistant coach guided the Antelopes to a surprising 15-15 (10-6 WAC) record, good for third in the conference (after being picked to finish last in the preseason). The Antelopes will lose four rotation players to graduation, including their top two scorers, but adding Woolridge is another small step forward for what one day turn out to be a major story in college basketball.

Dan Majerle is trying to build a winner at for-profit Grand Canyon (azcentral.com).

Dan Majerle is trying to build a winner at for-profit Grand Canyon (azcentral.com).

The former Washington State and Kansas guard is a high major player (7.4 PPG, 2.3 APG), and an even more important get for Majerle because he was a two-time high school All-Arizona selection at Phoenix Sunnyslope. The Antelopes’ top returning player, Jerome Garrison (37.8 MPG, 16.5 PPG, 20.5 PER), was also a Phoenix prep standout. Having these two local products to generate good will with area high school coaches and players could be a boon for future recruiting. It’s not as if Majerle lacks for local notoriety; current high schoolers may not remember NBA Jam or Thunder Dan’s playing days, but his list of All-Star appearances and NBA coaching chops should be attention-grabbers. Still, when Garrison was initially recruited by Grand Canyon, he’d never heard of the school that is located in his own backyard. “Nobody knew about Grand Canyon,” Garrison told USA Today. “Nobody knew anything going on at Grand Canyon. All you heard about was [Arizona State] and [Arizona] here.” Having players like he and Woolridge in the fold could allow Majerle to capitalize on what he already brings to the table.

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Bracket Prep: UCLA, New Mexico, New Mexico State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 16th, 2014

As we move through the final stages of Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners. 

UCLA

Steve Alford's Hire Was Met With Resistance Last Spring, But Less Than Twelve Months Later, He Has The Bruins Back On Top Of The Pac-12

Steve Alford’s Hire Was Met With Resistance Last Spring, But Less Than Twelve Months Later, He Has The Bruins Back On Top Of The Pac-12. Next Stop: NCAA Tournament.

  • Pac-12 Champion (26-8, 15-6)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #21/#16/#16
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +13.8
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #4-#5

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In making Arizona look mortal for the first time all week in Vegas, UCLA became Pac-12 Tournament champions and earned the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. UCLA has now scored 75 points against the Wildcats in both meetings this season, and since Michigan is the only other Wildcat opponent to score 70+ points on Sean Miller’s team, it’s an achievement worth noting. If you can score on Arizona, you can score on anyone, and UCLA looks likely to accomplish just that in the Tournament. Each member of Steve Alford’s eight-man rotation is capable of scoring in double figures on any given night, paced by leading scorer Jordan Adams (17.2 PPG, 2.7 SPG). The high game totals that the Bruins’ quick pace generates obscures what has actually been a pretty decent defensive effort (UCLA has the 49th best defense in the country according to Ken Pom), but there’s no hiding that it’s the hyper-efficient offense that makes the Bruins go.
  2. Kyle Anderson (14.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 6.6 APG) is a joy to watch on the court, but it might be even easier to appreciate him on KenPom.com, especially if you like to spend Saturday nights poring through free throw rates and true shooting percentages. The All-Pac 12 selection and Pac-12 Tournament MOP ranks in the top-500 in a whopping 12 of 15 individual categories on the site, with the only average categories being percentage of shots taken (who cares), offensive rebounding percentage, and turnover rate. Figuring out how many players have a similar variety in their statistical profile would take quite a while, but it’s difficult to imagine any player in college basketball even having ten of their fifteen categories among the top-500. He’s as proficient at cleaning the glass as he is setting up teammates, equally likely to knock down a three as he is to a shot block a shot. There will be only one Kyle Anderson is the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and that absurd Ken Pom stat-line is testament to just how diversely special he has been all season.
  3. Steve Alford is a massive part of the UCLA narrative heading into this NCAA Tournament. Alford has done a wonderful job in Westwood this season, but don’t think it’s nearly enough for him to outrun his shaky Tournament resume. Seeing is believing, and the latter will only happen with Alford after the former occurs.  The reticence to trust the UCLA head man stems from Alford’s 3-6 Tournament record at Iowa and New Mexico, a mark that includes exactly zero Sweet Sixteen appearances and one nice ugly upset to #14 seeded Harvard just twelve months ago. Do you want to believe in Alford already? Hang your hat on the differences between this UCLA team and the eleven previous ones he coached at Iowa and New Mexico, because only one of those teams (2004 Iowa) finished among the top-100 teams in possessions per game (and still just 66th). The Bruins are currently 14th in the metric, and there’s little doubt that this is the most up-tempo, offensively efficient basketball team that Alford has ever coached.

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Conference Tournament Primer: Western Athletic Conference

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with the last five conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the final push of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the O26 tourneys starting are the Big Sky, Big West, Sun Belt and WAC.

Dates: March 13-15
Site: Orleans Arena (Las Vegas, NV)

(cbssports.com)

(cbssports.com)

What to expect: It’s been a strange time for the pillaged WAC, a conference that saw seven of its 10 teams from last year defect for greener pastures in the offseason. The overhauled league consists now of just eight tournament-eligible programs, and only two of them – New Mexico State and Utah Valley – were reliably competitive in 2013-14. The Aggies, by far the most talented bunch, will be without leading assist man K.C. Ross-Miller this week, suspended following an on-court brawl in the team’s recent loss to UVU. It’s a tough break for a squad that was expected to dominate its less-talented conference-mates this season. After underwhelming and under-performing on the road numerous times throughout WAC play, though, and now without a key player, NMSU’s quest for the automatic bid seems like far less of a sure thing. Still, even without Ross-Miller and despite the inconstancy, Marvin Menzies’ group – one of the tallest in the country – should have enough firepower to reach its third-straight NCAA Tournament.

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O26 Superlatives, Part III: Big Sky, Big West, Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt & WAC…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2014

In Part III of our three-part series (click here for Part I and Part II), we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from six different O26 conferences: Big Sky, Big West, Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt and WAC. In alphabetical order: 

Big Sky

Davion Berry and Weber State finally edged Montana and won the Big Sky. (Photo by Weber State)

Davion Berry and Weber State finally edged Montana and won the Big Sky. (Photo by Weber State)

  • Team of the Year – Weber State (17-11, 14-6). After winning 55 games in the previous two seasons, this was the year – the most parity-driven in recent memory – that Weber State outlasted Montana and won the Big Sky. The Wildcats now host the conference tournament, which could mean a return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2007.
  • Player of the Year – Davion Berry – Weber State. Narrowly edging out Montana’s Kareem Jamar and North Dakota’s Troy Huff for our Player of the Year, Berry averaged 19 points per contest, distributed the ball effectively, shot almost 40 percent from long range, and led his team to a title.
  • Coach of the Year – Tyler Geving – Portland State. Portland State was picked to finish ninth in the conference, an outlook that became even worse when senior Aaron Moore, averaging nearly 12 points per game, was dismissed from the team in early January. After the Vikings lost four straight close games in the middle of the Big Sky season, Geving deserves credit for leading his guys to a 5-1 finish and a fifth-place tie in the league.
  • Upset of the Year – Northern Colorado over Kansas State, 60-58. Until last Saturday, Kansas State was pretty much unbeatable at home this season: Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State, and George Washington — all these teams left Manhattan without a win. But you know who did manage to leave Manhattan with a win (aside from Baylor)? BJ Hill’s Bears. Gotta love early November.
  • Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Jaron Nash – North Dakota. Nash goes baseline, emphatically stuffs it with one hand, then salutes the home crowd. Great stuff.

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#rushthetrip Day 11 (Continued): Unlikely WAC Leaders Enjoying the Ride

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on February 18th, 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.

No conference has been decimated by conference expansion like the WAC. Perennially one of the better mid-major conferences for much of the last two decades – even sending a team (Utah) to the national title game in 1998 – the current iteration probably looks nothing like how you remember it. Good luck figuring out who is in this new WAC, because only two schools have been conference members for more than a full season (New Mexico State and Idaho), and many of the newbies emphatically fail to fit the geographic profile of the conference. After beginning my Saturday with a signature member of WAC’s past (Utah State), the second half of the weekend two-fer had me paying a visit to the unlikely leader of this new and (un)improved league: Utah Valley University. I think my sanity might be called into question if I had any idea of what to expect out of the trip to Orem, so suffice it to say, I headed in there ready for anything.

After An 89-88 Victory Over Idaho Saturday Night, Utah Valley Is Still Your WAC Leaders -- Try Processing That Information!

After An 89-88 Victory Over Idaho Saturday Night, Utah Valley Is Still Your WAC Leader — Try Processing That Information!

What I got was a highly entertaining basketball game. There wasn’t much defense to be found (that’s usually what happens when teams ranked 210th and 304th nationally in defensive efficiency meet), but Utah Valley and Idaho submitted a tidy offensive display, combining to score 177 points on 58 percent shooting from the floor. The Vandals’ leading scorer, 6’5” forward Stephen Madison, poured in 42 points (16-of-21 FG), but UVU forced the ball out of the crafty senior’s hands on the game’s final possession, and two misses later, the Wolverines had escaped with a one-point victory. In doing so, Utah Valley hardly conjured up memories of ’98 Utah or ’04 Nevada, but at least for a few more days, the road to the WAC title still runs through Orem.

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Bumpy First Ride Through MW For Utah State, But Program Belongs

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 23rd, 2014

Life is not easy on the road in the Mountain West. The conference’s newest member has quickly learned the harsh reality of a league notorious for protecting its home courts, as Utah State dropped its fourth league road game in as many tries Wednesday night, falling 62-42 at UNLV. In a development typical of both conference and program, the Aggies have taken care of business in their two conference home games, but dwindling at-large hopes will only truly be resuscitated away from the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. However, NCAA Tournament or not, Stew Morrill’s program should fast find comfort in its new league. An entrenched coach, a passionate fan base, and a paradigmatic home court all make Utah State a natural fit for the Mountain West. But for now, the Aggies are learning that a step up in class doesn’t always make for the smoothest transition.

After An 0-4 Road Start In MW Play, Preston Medlin And The Aggies Are Looking Forward To Returning Home

After An 0-4 Road Start In MW Play, Preston Medlin And The Aggies Must Be Looking Forward To Returning Home

The last time Utah State switched leagues, it found the changeover a bit more manageable. Back in 2006, Stew Morrill led his charges from the Big West into the WAC, where they went 11-5 in their first regular season, then pushed Nevada to overtime in the WAC Tournament title game. No matter that the WAC brought a significantly enhanced reputation to the table: the Aggies belonged from the get-go. In this round of conference roulette, the MW brings a similar upgrade in class for Utah State. If geography still means anything when it comes to conference affiliation (the AAC may tell you that it doesn’t), the Aggies have positioned themselves in a western league that has to be second to only the Pac-12 in terms of desirability for the Logan, Utah, based school. It’s an elevation well-worth a season – or two, or three – of struggles on the court.

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

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 22nd, 2014

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

O26 Team of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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20 Questions: Who Are the Winners and Losers of Conference Realignment This Season?

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on October 29th, 2013

seasonpreview-11

While it appears that the realignment carousel in Division I collegiate athletics has come to a halt — at least for now — plenty of college basketball programs will be getting used to new surroundings this season. In all, over 50 schools were affected in the 2013-14 round of realignment, an upheaval that has radically changed the athletic landscape over the past three years. As power conference schools chased the football dollar, the domino effect reverberated throughout the NCAA. Many schools in lower and mid-level leagues changed their associations as the news from president’s and athletic director’s offices cascaded down throughout almost all of the conferences. Realignment has been widely panned by college basketball fans and pundits alike who lament the extinction of great, historic rivalries such as Kansas-Missouri and Syracuse-Georgetown. While that is absolutely true, realignment is not all bad. New, interesting rivalries will now be created such as Duke-Syracuse, Memphis-Louisville (an old rivalry resurrected for at least one year) and Xavier-Butler (a continuation from last year’s Atlantic 10). Undoubtedly, many more new rivalries will emerge over the long term.

realignment europe

Realignment Felt Like This at Times, But It Seems to Have Finally Settled Down

Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of this year’s round of conference realignment.

Winners

The ACC: When word first leaked that Syracuse and Pittsburgh were discussing an exit from the Big East, some people may have thought it was a joke. Alas, it was real and it happened very quickly. ACC commissioner John Swofford successfully raided the Big East yet again, pulling off a 48-hour coup that effectively drove the final nail into the coffin of what we all knew as the Big East. Now the ACC has effectively become the old Big East, a 15-team behemoth that is absolutely loaded at the top. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame join legendary programs Duke and North Carolina, along with a collection of schools that have been historically solid. This year’s ACC will be great, but in the long run the battles at the top of this league will be second to none with the powerhouses sure to be involved. What we saw in the Big East over the last decade should become commonplace in the new-look ACC. It will get even better next season when Louisville replaces ACC founding member Maryland, which will depart for the Big Ten.

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Who Won the Week? MCW, Chicago State, Not Jerry Jones…

Posted by rtmsf on December 7th, 2012

wonweek

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), an Oregon-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Chicago State

The Cougars found themselves a home. Amid the constant turmoil found during this extended period of conference realignment, Chicago State has managed to go from the schedule conglomerate of the Great West to an actual conference in the WAC. (Let’s ignore the fact that the WAC would lose its automatic bid if the historically black university didn’t join its ranks.) Granted, the Cougars are 0-8 in Division I play this season, but their campus lies atop a recruiting hotbed, and they could easily snag many a player who falls through others’ cracks, especially now that they offer the same chance at an automatic NCAA Tournament bid that about 250 other schools promise every season. This move makes sense for both parties, but it should help save Chicago State from the fate of Winston-Salem State, another HBCU that tried to make the move to Division I but failed before retreating back to Division II.

(Related winners: The WAC. Related losers: None.)

LOSER: Florida State

Hamilton Hasn’t Been Smiling Much This Season (Photo Credit: Glenn Beil / Democrat).

The Seminoles have had an extended run of success in the Atlantic Coast Conference, one unseen for that program since the Hugh Durham era in Tallahassee, but that’s threatening to fall apart in Leonard Hamilton’s 11th season roaming the Florida State sidelines. FSU is currently riding a three-game losing streak, and last week’s losses to Mercer and Florida were both ugly in their own ways. Falling 61-56 to a team from the Atlantic Sun is ignominious in its own right, but especially so for a team riding a school-record four-year NCAA Tournament streak. Having only one player score more than seven points in the process is even worse. But the Seminoles actually managed to one-up that loss with an embarrassing 72-47 loss to rival Florida, this time where no Florida State player scored more than 10 points. Michael Snaer, the scoring guard who helped lead the team to three wins in the last two years in the NCAA Tournament, scored 17 points between the two games on 5-of-17 shooting while having five assists and seven turnovers. This is foreboding for a team many picked to finish in the top half of an ACC that has often looked lackluster during the start of the season.

(Related winners: Florida; Mercer, but more so had the Bears not gotten shelled by Denver later in the week. Related losers: The ACC, Snaer.)

WINNER: Greg Gantt

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The WAC’s New Additions Reveals Just How Far the League Has Fallen

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 10th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Conference realignment has not been kind to college basketball. There are exceptions to this statement: The Atlantic 10, who over the past year added VCU and Butler, very much won out. But on the whole, hoops leagues have watched flagship programs jump ship to chase lucrative media rights contracts and better positioning in the increasingly football-oriented college athletics landscape. The winds of change prompted high-profile departures from the Big East (West Virginia, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse), pillaged the CAA (Old Dominion, Georgia State, VCU) and swiped thriving outfits from other leagues. While the reasons sometimes differed – with a few exceptions, football and TV money reigned supreme; the variant motives were more a matter of degree than type – the overall result was mostly unilateral. Hoops conferences were weakened, either by losing teams to football-savvy and/or more monied leagues, taking on substandard replacements or having natural rivalries eroded. The good news is we’re witnessing a temporary conference-hopping lull after a summer teeming with realignment buzz. The college hoops offseason is a long and frustrating stretch that challenges the outer limits of creative resolve. Filling that gap with realignment news, particularly when that news includes negative consequences for the sport’s competitive balance, is not fun. We should probably enjoy this peace while it lasts, because conference loyalty is hardly the same enduring relationship it used to be. These are massive changes with lasting impacts. College hoops may never be the same.

It will fall on programs like New Mexico State to carry the WAC’s flagship going forward (Eric Jamison/AP).

Through all the program-hopping and controversial departure dates and spiteful conference tournament bans (I’m looking at you, CAA), there is no league that learned the perils of realignment in a more devastating way than the Western Athletic Conference. Over the past two decades, the once-thriving mid-major outfit has suffered a slow and agonizing decline, with a whopping 24 schools leaving for greener pastures. The extended bout of membership attrition prompted the WAC to steep to new levels of realignment hopelessness. That’s no disrespect to Cal State Bakersfield and Utah Valley, which the league announced Tuesday will gain full membership by July 1 of next year and begin competition in 2013, but is this the best the WAC can do? When your membership has been whittled down to four and league administrators have relegated football to the BCS ranks (a tell-tale sign of league futility), the answer is, almost invariably, yes.

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Morning Five: 10.10.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 10th, 2012

  1. There was a scary moment Tuesday morning in Washington, DC, at a session of The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics when former Maryland star and current ESPN college basketball analyst Len Elmore collapsed in his chair during a Q&A session. Luckily, the 6o-year old Harvard Law graduate and resident hoops intellectual was back up on his feet after paramedics arrived and he shortly walked under his own power to his hotel room thereafter. According to the Washington Post, Elmore told SMU president Gerald Turner that this incident was related to a “longstanding health issue” of his and has happened before. We’re glad to hear that Elmore appears to be doing alright, but we sure hope that his ailment is manageable and doesn’t cause him additional and dangerous related problems.
  2. One thing we failed to mention from Monday’s fire hose of preseason information released by CBSSports.com was their article outlining the group’s selections for conference champions, Final Four teams/champions, and major postseason awards. Some of the more interesting choices were Gonzaga making the Final Four on two ballots (Goodman and Norlander), Arizona doing likewise (Goodman and Gottlieb), along with UNLV (Norlander and Borzello) and Michigan State (Parrish). None of the five writers chose the same national champion — Louisville, Arizona, Kentucky, Missouri, and Indiana — and they were equally disparate when it came to picking Freshman of the Year and Coach of the Year. When it comes to NPOY, though, the group was nearly uananimous — Cody Zeller showed up on four ballots, with Doug McDermott picking up the lone contrarian vote. One thing is for sure: The field is completely wide open this year and any number of schools will start practice on Friday with reasonable dreams of cutting down the nets next spring in Atlanta.
  3. Yesterday the WAC announced two new additions to its basketball-only league — and make sure you’re sitting down when you read that these titans of the sport are joining the once-venerable old conference — Utah Valley and Cal State Bakersfield. After all the recent defections, these two schools will join a ragtag group that now only includes Denver, Seattle, Idaho and New Mexico State. For the next two years, the league will keep its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament under an exemption that allows it to do so without the requisite minimum of seven schools. For a conference that at one time or another boasted such notable basketball schools as Arizona, BYU, UNLV, San Diego State, Tulsa and Utah, this is a little bit like looking at a former supermodel in her 70s — it ain’t pretty anymore.
  4. The Battle of the Midway has been saved from liquidation, much to the relief of both Syracuse and San Diego State, the two schools set to face off on the retired ship come Veteran’s Day. But if you want to grab a ticket, make sure to bring your American Express platinum card — ducats for this outdoor game will start at $150 a pop and increase up to as much as $500 the closer you get to the court. Novelty plus scarcity is a certain way to increase demand for a product, but we’re not convinced that pricing a game like this in the rarefied neighborhood of courtside seats to an NBA game is the right way to handle it. Honestly, we’d have preferred that some deep-pocketed sponsor pick up the tab and let military personnel make up the entire audience, but nobody asked us.
  5. It’s not very often that we’ll mention a SWAC school in this space, but it’s also unusual that a school is hit by the NCAA with the dreaded “lack of institutional control” penalty. Texas Southern received just that news on Tuesday, as the NCAA in a statement said that the school was “responsible for booster involvement in recruiting, academic improprieties, ineligible student-athlete participation and exceeding scholarship limits” over the course of a number of years. As a result, the basketball program, now led by former Indiana and UAB head coach Mike Davis, will be banned from the postseason next season and lose two scholarships for the immediate future. The most surprising punishment is that the school must vacate all of its wins in every sport from 2006-10, one of the most egregious penalties we’ve ever seen the NCAA mete out to a school. Davis was certainly informed that he would be walking into a difficult situation at TSU, but we’re guessing that he’ll spend quite a few days clicking his heels together and hoping that he magically re-appears in Bloomington again.
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