The Other 26: Bracket Analysis, South and West Regions

Posted by IRenko on March 14th, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen (and maybe beyond).

Joe Ragland Point Guard Play Will be Key to the Shockers' Sweet Sixteen Chances

Wichita State (#5, South) – I’m a great fan of the Shockers, who finished the season atop our TO26 top 15 rankings.  They have a balanced lineup that can do it all.  Inside scoring presence?  Garrett Stutz.  Steady point guard play?  Joe Ragland. Attacking guard?  Toure’ Murry.  Blue-collar enforcer?  Carl Hall.  Three-point marksmen?  Ragland, Ben Smith, and David Kyles.  And they back it up with a solid, steady defense.  If this team has a weakness, it’s the lack of a single go-to player, which can come in handy in crunch time in March.

The key for the Shockers’ getting to the regionals may be slowing their games into halfcourt contests.  They have a tough first-round draw against VCU and its frenetic defensive style.  It will be a challenge to maintain calm amidst the storm that the Rams will bring – Murry in particular can play undisciplined — but if I had to make a call, I’d say that the Shockers will rise to the challenge and get the ball into the lane, where VCU is vulnerable.  In the next round, Wichita State would likely face an Indiana team with a fast-paced offense, but somewhat softer defense that is susceptible to dribble penetration.  Again, if the Shockers can slow things down and turn it into more of a halfcourt game, they could be on their way to the Sweet Sixteen.

Memphis (#8, West) – No team has a more legitimate grievance about its seed than the Tigers.  They have steadily, but markedly, improved ever since a nearly two-hour closed door team meeting following a loss at Georgetown on December 22.  Few have taken notice because it came mostly against C-USA competition, but during this stretch, the Tigers have gone 19-3, with their three losses coming by a combined total of 6 points.  Oh, and freshman standout Adonis Thomas just returned to the lineup.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Tuesday Night

Posted by KDoyle on March 13th, 2012

No matter whether you feel the First Round of the NCAA Tournament is legitimate or not (and we know at least one person writing Amicus briefs to the Supreme Court on this very issue), it all gets under way at 6:40 PM tonight. From 68 to 16 in the next six days… let’s analyze the first two games this evening.

#16 Western Kentucky vs. #16 Mississippi Valley State — South Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 pm ET on truTV.

It's Still the Big Dance to Big Red

It is hard to believe that the NCAA Tournament officially tips off tonight — it seems like the 24 hours of college basketball marathon on ESPN was just last week — as Western Kentucky will do battle against Mississippi Valley State in the First Round. Things looked bleak for both squads midway through the year as MVSU entered conference play with a 1-11 record, while Western Kentucky stood at 5-14 just six games into league play. In fairness to the Delta Devils, however, they did play one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the nation with virtually all of their contests being so-called “guarantee games.” As for the Hilltoppers, they fired Ken McDonald halfway through the season, and have looked like an entirely different team since. Mississippi Valley is 20-1 since SWAC play began, while Western Kentucky is 10-7 since Ray Harper took over the helm in Bowling Green. Hailing from the weakest conference in America, the Delta Devils will enter the game as slight underdogs, even though they have a much more impressive overall record than their opponent. Western Kentucky is led by freshman Derrick Gordon (11.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG), but junior transfer Teeng Akol — formerly of Oklahoma State — has provided the Hilltoppers with a formidable presence in the frontcourt as of late; Akol scored a career high 23 points in the Sun Belt championship game. Meanwhile for MVSU, it has a balanced approach as five players on the squad average nine points or better. Terrence Joyner is their sharpshooter as he connects on just over two triples a game, while Paul Crosby (13.3 PPG, 7.4 RBG) mans the paint. Despite Sean Woods‘ team losing only one game since the New Year, Western Kentucky is the more talented team and is playing with a real chip on its shoulder.

The RTC Certified Pick: Western Kentucky

#14 BYU vs. #14 Iona — West Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 9:10 pm ET on truTV. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by KDoyle on March 12th, 2012

Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), South (11 AM), Midwest (2 PM), West (4 PM). Here, Kevin Doyle breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Kevin breaking down the South Region here.

South Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (32-2, 16-0 SEC). Shouldn’t really need much of an explanation here. The most talented team in the nation — unquestionably — the Wildcats will be the odds-on favorite to not just emerge from the South Region, but also to cut down the nets in New Orleans. Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones spearhead a terrifyingly good starting five.

The Length And Athleticism Of Terrence Jones and Kentucky Are Just One Of Many Issues That Teams Face

Should They Falter: #2 Duke (27-6, 13-3 ACC). Austin Rivers does not play like a typical freshman and while Duke has its flaws on defense (perimeter defense, especially), the Blue Devils are more apt to make a run to the Final Four due to their balance on offense. Rivers and Seth Curry are prolific shooters/scorers in the backcourt, while the Plumlee brothers make for a formidable frontcourt. Much of Duke’s success hinges on junior Ryan Kelly’s health (sprained ankle). Kelly, while not a lockdown defender by any means, is 6’11″ and really helps in defending the three-point line for Duke. Even without a healthy Kelly, Duke still has an easier road to the Sweet Sixteen than other contenders in the South Region.

Grossly Overseeded: #11 Colorado (23-11, 11-7 Pac-12). Clearly, the committee thought higher of the Pac-12 than many others did. First, there was much debate whether this power six conference — far from “powerful” this season — would even receive an at-large bid, but they did in California. Secondly, Colorado was not on anybody’s radar prior to the Pac-12 Tournament as it stood at 19-11 with seven losses in conference play. Yet, winning the conference tournament propelled Colorado to a very respectable seed at #11. Many prognosticators had the Buffaloes at a #13 seed going into Selection Sunday.

Grossly Underseeded: #14 South Dakota State (27-7, 15-3 Summit). It is too big of a stretch to say that South Dakota State is “grossly” underseeded, but I do believe they were worthy of a #13 seed. When comparing the Jackrabbits to the #13 seed in this region, their resume is every bit as good, if not better, than New Mexico State: SDSU has a better overall record, higher RPI, more wins against the Top 100 RPI, and a more challenging non-conference schedule. Not to mention South Dakota State’s thrashing of Washington 92-73, even though the Huskies are not a Tournament team, is very impressive.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Bracket Prep: St. Mary’s, Western Kentucky, Detroit, and South Dakota State

Posted by EJacoby on March 7th, 2012

As we move through Championship Week (the second half of Championship Fortnight, of course), we’ll continue to bring you these short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. In this post, we’ve got the WCC, Summit, Horizon, and Sun Belt winners from the past two nights…

St. Mary’s

Matthew Dellavedova (And His Mouth Guard) Are Dangerous (AP/ Tony Avelar)

  • WCC Champion (27-5, 16-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #25/#43/#35
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +11.3
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #6-#8

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. St. Mary’s has been a nationally-recognized mid-major for a number of years now, but the Gaels program did something this year that it had never done before, and especially not in the Mark Few/Gonzaga era — win both the outright regular season WCC title and the conference tournament championship. Whether this is a notable achievement en route to a nice run in the NCAA Tournament or something that represents the highlight of the season remains to be seen, but there’s no question that this group has the team chemistry, coaching, and talent to do some damage in the coming week. Two years ago, the Gaels rode a red-hot Omar Samhan past two perimeter-oriented teams into the Sweet Sixteen, and if the matchups break favorably for them again, Randy Bennett‘s team certainly has the capability of breaking through again.
  2. The straw that stirs the Gaels’ drink is WCC Player of the Year, Matthew Dellavedova. The sneaky-quick Australian point guard can score (15.6 PPG), shoot (59 threes, 36.0% 3FG), dish (6.4 APG) and board (3.3 RPG), but more than any of that, it is his ability to successfully run Bennett’s offensive sets that makes him invaluable. St. Mary’s has an elite offense (#20 nationally), which is roughly on par with the Sweet Sixteen team of two seasons ago. Where it struggles, of course, is on the defensive end. As exhibited on nights against athletic teams when the shots aren’t falling, the Gaels have trouble keeping the game close enough to grind out a victory.
  3. As good as Dellavedova and his senior compatriot Rob Jones are (14.8 PPG, 10.7 RPG), the duo struggles against superior athletes. Jones was harassed into a rough outing against the waves of rangy athletes that Murray State threw at the Gaels in their Bracketbuster game last month, while Dellavedova was bumped into a 3-10 shooting performance (1-8 from three) against Baylor earlier in the season. This is why matchups are absolutely key for St. Mary’s next week. If they come up against a first game opponent that can out-run and out-jump them at most positions, they’re probably in big trouble — Connecticut or Mississippi State comes to mind — but if they instead find themselves matched up against a team that plays under the rim like they do — say, Harvard or Purdue — they have a great shot to advance one or two rounds.

Western Kentucky

  • Sun Belt Champion (15-18, 11-9)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #193/#192/#203
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = -2.4
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16 (First Four)
Share this story

Sun Belt Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-Up

Posted by CNguon on March 3rd, 2012

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can find him Twitter @dspewak.

Tournament Preview

Sun Belt Tourney Outlook (by seed)

  1. Middle Tennessee (25-5, 14-2): The heavy favorite to win the tournament, the Blue Raiders have a decent computer profile in case they falter. Still, Kermit Davis won’t want to leave anything to chance.
  2. UALR (15-15, 12-4): The Trojans won the tournament last year out of nowhere. This year, they can’t sneak up on anybody.
  3. Denver (21-8, 11-5): By far the scariest team in the league right now. If you watched them play back in November and December, you probably thought they’d win this league running away. Now, they’re starting to play like that again.
  4. Louisiana (16-14, 10-6): Yes, the ULM loss is ugly, but this team must simply forget about that and move on.
  5. North Texas (16-13, 9-7): The Mean Green are in a different position in the tournament this year as opposed to 2011. Back then, a senior-laden team was on a mission—a mission that fell short in the final seconds thanks to UALR. These young guys are a little more happy-go-lucky, though, which could be to their benefit.
  6. South Alabama (16-11, 8-8): The Jaguars are one of the league’s most surprising teams, finishing .500 despite bringing in an entirely new backcourt. Ronnie Arrow definitely has a major sleeper here.
  7. Western Kentucky (11-18, 7-9): UALR could have a difficult time with WKU in the quarterfinals, especially since the Hilltoppers have nothing to lose and have played well lately.
  8. Florida Atlantic (11-18, 7-9): Despite this season’s disastrous results, four wins in four days are all Mike Jarvis needs to forget all about it.
  9. Arkansas State (12-19, 6-10): The Red Wolves probably aren’t as bad as their record suggests, since they’ve lost a lot of close games and have competed somewhat against the top of the league.
  10. Florida International (8-20, 5-11): In DeJuan Wright’s last stand, maybe his teammates will rally for him.
  11. Troy (10-17, 5-11): The Trojans closed the season with two straight victories. That counts for something.

Reader’s Take

 

The Year That Was

  • After entering the season in the shadow of East favorite Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee dominated the Sun Belt Conference and ran away with the division.
  • The slumping Owls fell well short of expectations, but Kermit Davis’ team played masterful defense and pounded the ball inside to LaRon Dendy and J.T. Sulton. This was supposed to be a team with major offensive question marks. And this was supposed to be a program that could never get over the proverbial hump. This season, though, Davis finally elevated the Blue Raiders to the top.

    After Entering The Season In The Shadow Of East Favorite Florida Atlantic, Kermit Davis' Middle Tennessee Crew Dominated the Sun Belt Conference (Getty)

  • No team experienced more turmoil than Western Kentucky, which fired Ken McDonald after a lackluster start. Even with one of the league’s youngest squads, Ken Harper took over and immediately instilled a new confidence in his players. Apparently, he impressed somebody at the top. The school gave Harper the reigns as the full-time head coach after originally tabbing him as an interim replacement. Harper led WKU to three wins in its final four games, including an upset of Middle Tennessee in the season finale.
  • Arkansas-Little Rock lost Sun Belt Player of the Year Solomon Bozeman to graduation, and the 2011-12 season did not begin with much fanfare. UALR struggled through a difficult non-conference schedule and as Denver flew high in November and December, it appeared the reigning Sun Belt tourney champs may fall flat. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The Pioneers used a late surge to finish with 11 conference wins, but UALR edged them for the West title by playing good old-fashioned Steve Shields basketball all winter.
  • We said before the season not to anticipate immediate dominance from Tony Mitchell at North Texas. Again, we couldn’t have been more wrong (that’s a theme here, as you’ve probably noticed). Mitchell averaged a double-double in his first season of collegiate basketball to help keep the Mean Green afloat despite the ineligibility of Chris Jones and Jordan Williams. If Mitchell stays another year, look out.
  • Louisiana-Monroe will not compete in the Sun Belt tourney due to a poor academic rating, but it closed the regular season with one heck of a victory. It’s so significant and shocking, in fact, that it’s worthy of inclusion in this section as a part of the overall landscape of the Sun Belt’s 2011-12 season. It was one of those scores that simply makes you shake your head: ULM 78, Louisiana 60. That happened this weekend. In Lafayette, mind you. And remember, ULM has lost 26 games this season. This is the kind of stuff they make Hollywood movies about. Just consider the storylines: 1) it was a rivalry game 2) Louisiana is one of the league’s better squads 3) ULM’s seniors will never play again and the team cannot compete in the postseason 4) it was on UL’s home floor 5) brothers Steven (ULM) and Darshawn (UL) McClellan were playing against each other 6) ULM won by 18 points and 7) ULM has, um, 26 losses this season! By the way, Steven and Darshawn both scored in double figures. Steven may have won, but Darshawn’s team is playing this weekend, so he’s got bragging rights there.

Tony Mitchell's Outstanding Season Earned Him Player of the Year Honors (Denton Record-Chronicle)

Sun Belt Conference Awards

Player of the Year: Tony Mitchell, North Texas

In some ways, we’re almost hesitant to give this award to a freshman. But Mitchell earned this. He averages a double-double, he’s the best shot-blocker in the league and he changes the game by simply stepping on to the court. Who else in this league can grab 20 rebounds one night, block six shots the next night and then score 30 points the next night? In a league with several terrific stars, Mitchell is an incomparable talent.

Coach of the Year: Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee

Surprisingly, as much as a slam dunk as this pick may seem, it’s hard to pick against Steve Shields at UALR or Joe Scott at Denver. Still, Davis crafted a team with a lot of new parts into a big winner. He got the most out of Dendy after he transferred from Iowa State and he molded his guards into a really solid unit. In the end, this team played its tail off. It showed.

First-Team All-Conference:

  • D’Andre Williams, UALR, Guard: A quintessential leader, this man was the driving force behind the Trojans’ surprising West title this season. They don’t make them like D’Andre Williams anymore: solid, gritty, defensive-minded and able to make his teammates better in every way.
  • DeJuan Wright, FIU, Guard: The senior may actually be the league’s most underrated player, despite leading the league in scoring. How’s that for bizarre?

    D’Andre Williams (far left), DeJuan Wright, Chris Udofia and LaRon Dendy Rounded Out the Sun Belt First Team

  • Chris Udofia, Denver, Forward: Finally, we got one right—we chose Udofia to break out this season, and he certainly did. But frankly, it wasn’t hard to see this coming. As a sophomore, he simply built on his success as a reserve the year before, and with more consistent playing time he became a stud on both ends of the floor.
  • LaRon Dendy, MTSU, Forward: Chosen by the league as the Player of the Year, Dendy could put a scare into somebody in the NCAA Tournament. He matches up well with any major frontcourt.
  • Tony Mitchell, UNT, Forward: Let’s pray he comes back for another season.
Share this story

Checking In On… the Sun Belt Conference

Posted by dnspewak on February 24th, 2012

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can find him Twitter @dspewak.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was

  • Surprise, surprise: Middle Tennessee is your East Division champion. Reeling off four straight victories after that lone loss at Denver on national television earlier this month, the Blue Raiders tallied 30 assists in a 94-61 win at Louisiana-Monroe on Thursday night. That’s downright unheard of. They also made 10 three-pointers and allowed 15 players to appear in the game. Kudos to Kermit Davis for sharing the love.

    Kermit Davis and Middle Tennessee Are On The Brink Of Joining The NCAA Tourney Party (AP)

  • It’s official: Ray Harper is no longer an interim head coach at Western Kentucky– he got the full-time gig. The move adds a little stability to an increasingly unstable program in Bowling Green after the rocky tenure of previous head coach Ken McDonald. Harper, who served as an assistant on McDonald’s staff, won two national championships as a head coach in the Division II ranks. His team has responded relatively well to him, despite youth and major adversity.

Power Rankings

East

  1. Middle Tennessee (25-4, 14-1): With a top-40 RPI and a decent computer profile, the Blue Raiders could actually sneak into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large. Kermit Davis certainly won’t want to bank on that, though especially since Middle Tennessee lacks that elusive signature victory. As a biased observer of the Sun Belt, it’s clear this team belongs in the Big Dance. Watch these guys play for 10 minutes and you’ll understand that. Unfortunately, the selection committee needs to be able to quantify success, and a few wins over Loyola Marymount, UCLA, Belmont, and Mississippi won’t get the job done. This is all a pointless debate if the Blue Raiders take care of business in Hot Springs though.
  2. South Alabama (16-10, 8-7): Here come the Jaguars: with six victories in their last seven games, they have locked up the two-seed in the East Division. South Alabama completed a sweep of Florida Atlantic by edging the preseason favorites in overtime on Thursday, a symbolic victory in more ways than one. If you are looking for a trendy upset pick in the Sun Belt Tournament, here’s your team. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Morning Five: 02.20.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 20th, 2012

  1. Western Kentucky announced yesterday that its new head coach was its current head coach. Despite starting his career at 4-7 since taking over for Ken McDonald, the school has opted to retain the services of Ray Harper. Citing the difficult circumstances that Harper inherited with taking over the team in early January, the school claimed it had “total confidence his ability to return our program to prominence”. Based on his record at the Division II level where he was named national coach of the year four times in nine season while winning two national titles and claiming four runner-up finishes (one was later vacated) the Hilltoppers might be moving in the right direction very soon.
  2. Critics of the NCAA will have one less thing to rail against at schools opposing the previously accepted proposal allowing schools to award mulityear scholarships failed to reach the veto threshold. When the rule was passed in August 2011 it was hailed as a small, but important concession for athletes, whose scholarships and academic/career goals can swing with a coaching change or an injury. However, a few months later, a large number of schools petitioned the NCAA asking for a repeal of the rule leading to Friday’s vote. Needing 62.5% (more than 206) of the 330 institutions to vote against it for a repeal, the schools were only able to get 62.12% (205 votes) so when the NCAA parades around its new multiyear scholarships remember that it was two votes away from having it repealed and not everybody voted (the NCAA would only say more than 90% voted).
  3. There are a lot of way to have your bubble burst and Purdue appears to have taken the most publicly embarrassing one. On Friday, the team suspended starting point guard D.J. Byrd and dismissed starting guard Kelsey Barlow following an incident that morning where Byrd was arrested for public intoxication while Barlow, who had been thrown out of the bar earlier that night apparently came back with several teammates including Robbie Hummel where Barlow reported hit a bouncer and was arrested. Even though they are still technically in contention for a NCAA Tournament bid with every other team bubble team falling apart this seriously damages their chances of making any kind of run.
  4. It will be an eventful few days for several members of the 1988-89 North Carolina State team. On Saturday, in one of the more bizarre interactions between an official and the crowd that we have seen, veteran official had Chris Corchiani and Tom Gugliotta removed from the stands in a game between NC State and Florida State even though they did not appear to do anything that you typically see fans get ejected for and afterwards did not offer any explanation for his actions. Yesterday, the school announced that tomorrow it would honor that Wolfpack team that Corchiani and Gugliotta were on in a tribute to the team before Tuesday’s game against North Carolina as part of its inaugural “Wolfpack Unlimited” award that honors the spirit of Jim Valvano. According to Debbie Yow, the school’s Athletic Director, the 1988-89 team was up for consideration before Saturday’s events although she did not specify how those events impacted her choice.
  5. “A season with few bright lights grew even dimmer Friday.” That opening sentence from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sums up our thoughts on Georgia Tech dismissing Glen Rice Jr. from its team. Normally, the loss of a player who leads your team in scoring, rebounds, and steals is crippling, but when you had already lost 12 of your last 14 you cannot get much worse. This suspension is Rice’s second of the season as he was also suspended for three games earlier this year for violating unspecified team rules and while the school would not go into detail about what led to the dismissal they did say that it was not basketball-related. Fortunately for the Yellow Jackets their last four games are against four of the teams they are competing against to stay out of the ACC’s cellar. With three of those games at home perhaps they can avoid finishing dead last in the conference.
Share this story

Checking in On… the Sun Belt Conference

Posted by dnspewak on January 13th, 2012

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can find him Twitter @dspewak.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was

  • It wasn’t Ken McDonald‘s fault this his team lost in overtime to Louisiana earlier this month. The Ragin’ Cajuns, after all, scored the winning bucket with six players on the floor. After more than three years of McDonald’s frustrating tenure, though, the Sixth Man loss must have been the final straw for athletic director Ross Bjork. McDonald lost his job after the game, departing with a 67-49 record. Now, interim head coach Ray Harper must mold this young team into a competitor this winter, which should be a tall task for a team mired in a 1-7 free-fall since December 7.
  • Tony Mitchell‘s debut in Sun Belt play did not exactly make any headlines, as he fought foul trouble and scored just six points in each of his first two games. The third SBC contest with South Alabama was a charm, however. Mitchell went for 34 points and 16 rebounds, scoring in every way imaginable. He attacked the glass, fired from three-point range and finished 11-14 from the field. And last night, Mitchell’s hot streak continued with a 21-point effort in front of several NBA scouts in Denton. We knew this would be the case, but it’s starting to look like Mitchell is a sure one-and-done.

The Dynamic Tony Mitchell Hasn't Disappointed So Far (North Texas)

Power Rankings
East
  1. Middle Tennessee (16-2, 5-0):  Here’s an easy formula to dominate a league: bully people on the glass and on the defensive end. That’s where MTSU makes its living. Averaging 11 offensive rebounds per game as a team, the frontcourt duo of LaRon Dendy and J.T. Sulton is simply unfair right now. Plus, with Bruce Massey playing well at the point and MTSU’s depth starting to round into shape, Kermit Davis doesn’t appear to have many weaknesses right now. Except, of course, for one big one: three-point shooting. Even though they do most of their damage in the paint, the Blue Raiders do not have an outside threat right now. Raymond Cintron is the only player really capable of getting hot from the perimeter, and even he shoots less than 40 percent from the field. Besides that, it’s hard to envision Davis’ team suffering a collapse after this 5-0 start. Saturday’s game at preseason favorite Florida Atlantic might be the most important game of the season. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume VII

Posted by jbaumgartner on January 9th, 2012


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

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….a coach getting into the action. Not that we like to see anyone getting hurt, but who doesn’t love a clipboard-toting coach taking his turn in the layup line like Xavier’s Chris Mack? Unfortunately for him, his second uncontested drive to the hoop somehow ended up in knee surgery. We love the spirit, coach, but you’ve gotta remember – two steps, jump, and come down soft.

I LOVED….that a sharp-shooting Kentucky freshman got his $10K prize after all. Count on a big-chain food store to consider not doling out the prize because the participant’s foot was not completely behind the half-court line (Really, Kroger? Really?). Luckily they came to their senses, and the swish just made that freshman a very popular man on campus.

Mike Krzyzewski And Duke Took One On The Chin Over The Weekend (AP)

I LOVED….Duke taking one on the chin against Temple. And no, not because I’m a Carolina grad (though yes, I took pleasure in that capacity as well). Anyone who follows Duke knows that Coach K doesn’t go out of his way to schedule true non-conference road games. He greatly prefers neutral sites (where his team might play during the NCAA tournament) or home games against top competition. Now, Duke didn’t actually play at Temple, but still, a game against the Owls in Philly qualifies in my book. Though Krzyzewski is the one with four titles, I just find it hard to believe that the Blue Devils can’t use 2-3 of these games during the non-conference schedule to toughen them up for the latter part of the season. It’s hard to imagine that this loss won’t be a helpful building block down the road for a young team.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking in On… the Sun Belt Conference

Posted by dnspewak on December 31st, 2011

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can also find his musings online at Sun Belt Basketball or on Twitter @dspewak.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • There’s not much excitement to report from the Sun Belt’s first night of conference play on Thursday, but UALR looks like the big winner with a road win at North Texas. The Trojans, who have struggled on the road under Steve Shields in recent years, had lost all six away contests during non-conference play, but a double-double from forward Will Neighbour and stellar guard play helped grind out the victory over the Mean Green. That will probably be a theme this year in the wide open West Division, where only Denver has established itself as a power. The Pioneers, by the way, handled Troy at home in their opener. East leader Middle Tennessee also held off a pesky Florida International team in Murfreesboro, and Western Kentucky escaped in overtime at Louisiana-Monroe.
  • With the second semester underway, the much anticipated debut of Tony Mitchell at North Texas hasn’t disappointed anybody. Although Mitchell struggled with foul trouble in the loss to UALR on Thursday, he has already showcased his freakish athleticism by throwing down dunk after dunk during his first four games. In wins over Jackson State, Grambling and New Orleans, Mitchell averaged more than 13 points per game and looked more than comfortable on the court. Even in a loss to LSU, Mitchell scored 11 points in 27 minutes after earning the start for Johnny Jones. He’s still improving at this point, but Mitchell should be a different player by early March.

Kermit Davis Has His Middle Tennessee Squad In Mid-Season Form (AP)

Power Rankings

East

  1. Middle Tennessee (12-2, 1-0) — Congratulations, Kermit Davis: you are now the winningest coach in MTSU history. Davis won his 165th game against FIU on Thursday, but more importantly, his team looks like the runaway favorite in the East after completing an impressive non-conference run. Two months ago, suggesting another division champ besides Florida Atlantic would have seemed insane, but Davis finally may have turned the corner with this program. This team is physical, nasty and downright intimidating, especially on the defensive end with LaRon Dendy and Shawn Jones as the shot-blockers. These forwards rebound well and they don’t give an inch in the paint, and on the other end — Dendy in particular has emerged as a back-to-the-basket scorer. There was never a question that MTSU would defend this season, but Bruce Massey, Marcos Knight and the rest of the guards have also answered every offensive concern Davis had in the pre-season. Middle Tennessee looks like a machine on offense right now, and that’s because it shares the ball as well as anybody in the Sun Belt.
  2. Florida Atlantic (4-9, 0-0) — Don’t give up on the Owls. Sure, the record doesn’t look pretty, but Mike Jarvis challenged this team by taking his players to every city imaginable: Seattle, Washington D.C., Hempstead (N.Y.), Tampa, Lawrence, Starkville, Sunrise (Fla.) and Cambridge. That’s a lot of plane trips and bus rides, so it’s not surprising that the East Division favorite stumbled. It’s not encouraging that Jarvis’s squad could not pull even a single road upset over the likes of Kansas, Mississippi State, Miami or Harvard, but this team has not looked intimidated in any of those contests. It fought admirably in a double-overtime loss to the Hurricanes, using a frantic comeback late in regulation to shock UM. And the good news is, all-league point guard Ray Taylor is starting to play better after an early-season slump, and freshman Omari Grier has cracked into this loaded backcourt as the team’s best outside shooter. When FAU kicks off Sun Belt play on Saturday at Louisiana, don’t expect it to roll over and die. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume VI

Posted by jbaumgartner on December 29th, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish on Mondays throughout the season. This week’s was delayed due to the lack of college basketball over the weekend. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….defenders who are willing to risk being the #1 highlight on SportsCenter. Two brave Texas Longhorns bit the bullet last week against North Carolina, and they paid a hefty price. First Dexter Strickland went up and over his Texas defender for the poster slam. Then, P.J. Hairston put on a hit that would make NFL safeties smile before throwing down a one-hander.

I LOVED….the strong early showing from the Big Ten. I’m the first to admit that I don’t love the style of play from this conference, but it’s nice to see so many teams with quality wins early in the year. On the top of that list is Indiana, which finally dropped its first game on the road against Michigan State (more than excusable). If Tom Crean’s revitalized Hoosiers can put together a decent conference season and Michigan State continues its strong recovery, you could be looking at a lot of high seeds from the Big Ten come March.

Crean Has Turned Indiana Around

I LOVED….a name like Fab Melo of Syracuse. First off, you can’t go wrong when you are a seven-foot Brazilian named Fab. Combine that with an identical last name to the program’s national championship hero/NBA star, and it’s almost too much. And if Fab puts up more games like the 12-point, 10-block, and 7-rebound performance against Seton Hall, Cuse fans will be chanting his name plenty by the end of the season.

I LOVED….the Georgetown Hoyas setting me up again. After Wednesday’s big win against Louisville on the road, they’re 11-1 and rolling. So just like the last few years, I will get too excited, expect big things, think this year is different, and end up frustrated with them all season and still picking them too far in my bracket. Oh well, at least I’m prepared early this time around.

I LOVED….this feel-good moment around the holidays, with UConn’s Andre Drummond giving back his scholarship to teammate Michael Bradley, who initially sacrificed it so that UConn could have room for the star recruit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking In On… the Sun Belt Conference

Posted by dnspewak on December 16th, 2011

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can also find his musings online at Sun Belt Basketball or on Twitter @dspewak.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Middle Tennessee continues to roll. Despite a slip-up at UAB, the Blue Raiders got revenge on Belmont with a narrow three-point victory, offsetting a double-overtime loss earlier in the season to the Bruins. Behind a spirited home crowd at the Murphy Center, MTSU’s physicality and strength eventually wore down Belmont, who could not hold its own on the boards. With the victory, the Blue Raiders improved to 10-2, and they picked up what could prove to be the most important win of the season for coach Kermit Davis. 
  • Speaking of important wins, Florida Atlantic has wasted several opportunities to claim them recently. Mike Jarvis scheduled a difficult slate to test his defending Sun Belt champion squad, but so far, the Owls have fallen flat against the likes of Washington, Kansas, South Florida and Mississippi State. But don’t give up hope for an upset just yet: FAU travels to Miami and Harvard during the next week.
  • A week after shocking the nation with a road win at Utah State, the Denver Pioneers dropped an overtime heartbreaker to MAAC favorites Iona. There’s no shame in losing to a team that has the talent to win 25 games this year, and the Gaels might be an at-large contender if they do not win their conference tournament. Still, in the end, it was Iona’s up-tempo style that sped up DU and forced it into 20 turnovers. The Pioneers actually held their own on the boards and shot reasonably well from beyond the arc, and had they held on to the ball, they could have picked up another quality victory in the non-conference.

Mike Jarvis and Floirda Atlantic Have Faced a Rugged Non-Conference Schedule (AP)

Power Rankings

East

  1. Middle Tennessee (10-2, 0-0): Kermit Davis may finally have the team his fan base has been waiting for all these years. Gone are the days that MTSU finished with a middling .500 record — these Blue Raiders look like NCAA Tournament contenders. With LaRon Dendy (14.4 PPG/6.7 RPG) leading the way, Middle Tennessee has the sort of size you might find in a power conference. Davis’s team rebounds with authority and dominates its opponents in the paint. The Blue Raiders are the best defensive team in the conference, and though they won’t wow you with perimeter shooting and an explosive offense, this team plays as hard as anybody around. Florida Atlantic has the guards we all love to talk about, but you won’t find any team with more intimidating size than MTSU.
  2. Florida Atlantic (4-6, 0-0): It’s not time to panic yet, but we’re finding out early in this 2011-12 campaign that FAU is human. The consensus pick to repeat as East champs, the Owls’ undersized forwards have struggled against bigger post players. What’s more concerning, though, is the way FAU’s experienced guards have struggled. In particular, Ray Taylor (8.3 PPG/5.1 APG) hasn’t quite found his groove yet, and he’s even started coming off the bench. We’re talking about one of the league’s best players here, people — playing off the bench. He scored 20 points in a loss to Mississippi State, but coach Mike Jarvis even said he can still play better. He has to, or Florida Atlantic won’t go anywhere this season. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story