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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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Four

Posted by Walker Carey on December 12th, 2016

Another week of college basketball is in the books, and with it came three previously-unbeaten squads suffering their first setbacks of the season. First, #16 Butler experienced its first loss last Wednesday when it traveled to Terre Haute to take on a feisty Indiana State squad that emerged victorious with an impressive one-point win. The Bulldogs, however, bounced back on Saturday with a nice home victory over a solid Cincinnati team. #20 Saint Mary’s was the next unbeaten to fall, as the Gaels were thoroughly outplayed in Thursday’s home loss to a pesky UT-Arlington team that already has a win over Texas. Much like Butler, the Gaels bounced back with a home victory over UC Irvine on Sunday. #22 Notre Dame was the final unbeaten of the week to fall, as Mike Brey’s squad gave #1 Villanova all it could handle before bowing out with a 74-66 defeat. There are now only seven unbeatens (#1 Villanova, #4 UCLA, #5 Baylor, #7 Gonzaga, #11 Creighton, #18 South Carolina, and #24 USC) remaining one month into the season, so keep an eye on each of these squads as we move into the holiday season and approach conference play. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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The Extremely Tough Road Mids Face in Earning #1 Seeds

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 7th, 2016

A quick glance at the top of the college basketball rankings reveals that blue-bloods roam the landscape. Duke, North Carolina, Indiana, UCLA, Kansas, Kentucky and defending champion Villanova all currently inhabit the top 10. For a mid-major school, the path to a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is fraught with so many hurdles that it may seem all impossible. This is certainly not a new development, of course, as 37 of the last 40 top seeds in the Big Dance came from a power conference — the exceptions were Wichita State (2014), Gonzaga (2013) and Memphis (2008). Those three teams from the Missouri Valley Conference, West Coast Conference and Conference USA, respectively, entered the NCAA Tournament with a combined record of 98-3, and their three losses came to teams with an average KenPom ranking of #32. Furthermore, each of those non-power conference top seeds played a top-40 non-conference schedule.

Wichita State Parlayed a Perfect Regular Season into a #1 Seed in 2014

Wichita State Parlayed a Perfect Regular Season into a #1 Seed in 2014. (Getty)

The point of this is to show that mid-majors can most certainly earn a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, but their margin for error is next to nothing — the recipe seems to involve running the regular season table or suffering a maximum of one loss. This year’s crop of teams constituting the elite of the non-power conferences is made up of three excellent teams. There are significant barriers to entry, but each of the three has at least a respectable chance of joining the top line conversation on Selection Sunday if their regular season goes exceptionally well. Let’s examine what each team must do to get there.

Gonzaga

Gonzaga is the obvious choice if any mid-major this season has designs on a #1 seed. The Zags are currently #6 in the RPI and already have good-not-great wins over likely NCAA Tournament teams Arizona, San Diego State, Florida and Iowa State. With non-conference games still to come against power conference foes Washington and Tennessee, Gonzaga will have a case to make to the committee on Selection Sunday. An unbeaten regular season that would necessarily include at least two wins over St. Mary’s (currently #3 RPI) could put Mark Few‘s team into contention for a coveted top seed. A one-loss Bulldogs team would have a much tougher time given a non-conference schedule that rates weaker than years past and all the firepower at the top of the polls this season, so anything less than perfection probably means a ceiling of a #2 seed for the Zags.

 

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O26 Feast Week in Review: Winners, Losers and a Little Extra Stuffing

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 29th, 2016

With December nearly upon us and early-season narratives finally taking shape, let’s take a moment to assess which O26 teams fared well—and which didn’t—during last week’s onslaught of holiday hoops.

Winners

Gonzaga looked every bit like a Top 10 team during Feast Week. (Photo: ZagsMBB/Twitter)

Gonzaga looked every bit like a Top 10 team during Feast Week. (ZagsMBB/Twitter)

  • Gonzaga (6-0). Despite blowing a 15-point halftime lead against #21 Iowa State on Sunday, Gonzaga won the AdvoCare Invitational title and now owns one of the best resumes in college basketball. In addition to its early-season drubbing of San Diego State (a win which should only gain in value as the season progresses), the Bulldogs beat previously-undefeated Florida on Friday before taking down the Cyclones. That’s three wins in three weeks over NCAA Tournament-caliber teams, with Arizona, Washington, and MAC favorite Akron still on deck. Assuming Przemek Karnowski continues rounding into form—the now-healthy big man finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists on Sunday—the Zags have the pieces to be one of the deepest, most consistent groups Mark Few has ever had. And that’s saying a lot.

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O26 Early Impressions: Takeaways From First 10 Days

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 21st, 2016

With Feast Week now upon us and two weekends of college hoops in the books, let’s take a step back and reflect on what we’ve learned, which teams have impressed, and why Florida Gulf Coast’s loss at Michigan State was unforgettable… for all the wrong reasons.

Saint Mary's center Jock Landale has been nothing short of excellent. (USATSI)

To this point, Saint Mary’s center Jock Landale has been nothing short of excellent. (USATSI)

The West Coast Conference looks even better than expected. We ranked Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s #1 and #2 in our preseason Power 13, respectively, with Brigham Young also cracking the list. Each has lived up to—perhaps even exceeded—expectations in the early going. In their first major test, the Zags crushed San Diego State by 21 points, holding the Aztecs to 0.69 points per possession and receiving major contributions from freshman big man Zach Collins (16 points on 6-for-7 FG). The Gaels, to their credit, blitzed a talented Nevada team in their opener before earning a huge, resume-bolstering road win at Dayton two games later. The Cougars began their season with a double-digit victory over Ivy League favorite Princeton. As for potential WCC Player of the Year candidates? There may wind up being too many to count. Along with Gonzaga’s cast of contenders, BYU forward Eric Mika (21.0 PPG, 11.0 RPG), back from his two year LDS mission, has looked downright dominant on both ends of the floor through three games. Likewise, Saint Mary’s center Jock Landale (20.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG)—who averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game in 2015-16—has been an offensive revelation for Randy Bennett, in addition to hyper-efficient point guard Emmett Naar (9.0 PPG, 9.7 APG). Strap in for a heavyweight battle atop the WCC.

Rhode Island is the real deal. Sure, the Rams (4-1) lost handily to #1 Duke in Sunday’s Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship game, but they looked like they belonged, and they only got there by grinding out a 76-71 victory over #24 Cincinnati one day earlier. E.C. Matthews (19.5 PPG) appears to be his old self after missing last season with a knee injury, while forward Hassan Martin (4.3 BPG)—who blocked seven shots against Duke—looks well on his way to repeating as Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year. Rhode Island has the grit, the talent, and (finally) the offensive punch to reach its first NCAA Tournament since 1999. The season’s first 10 days have only reaffirmed that.

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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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O26 Stars in the Making: A Non-Comprehensive Guide to Breakout Candidates

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 24th, 2016

If you’re reading this post, chances are you already know about Alec Peters, Justin Robinson, E.C. Matthews, and a number of Other 26 players who have cemented themselves among the nation’s best. Look past those names, though, and you will find another tier of players on the fast-track to (relative) stardom. Whether because of increased minutes, increased visibility or both, here is a list of guys outside the power conferences poised to break out in 2016-17.

  • Jeremy Morgan, G – Sr., Northern Iowa – 2015-16: 11.3 PPG, 1.9 SPG: There’s no two ways about it: Northern Iowa’s collapse against Texas A&M last March was a brutal, all-time debacle that will not soon be forgotten in Cedar Falls. If there was a silver lining, though, it’s the fact that Morgan (36 points) accounted for a whopping 41 percent of his team’s scoring that night. In an MVC that saw many of its best players graduate (including the Panthers’ top two scorers), the 6’5″ senior—whose Valley-leading steal rate already earned him All-Defensive Team honors—should see his offensive numbers increase and his national profile rise.
Northern Iowa's Jeremy Morgan should become a household name in 2016-17. (Credit: Getty Images/ Ronald Martinez)

Northern Iowa’s Jeremy Morgan should become a household name in 2016-17. (Getty Images/ Ronald Martinez)

  • Markis McDuffie, F – So., Wichita State – 2015-16: 7.4 PPG. 3.3 RPG: McDuffie is a true breakout candidate in the sense that his minutes and usage are almost surely going to skyrocket this season. The 6’8″ wing showed flashes of brilliance in limited action last year, using his versatility and athleticism to impact nearly every facet of the game. Among Missouri Valley Conference players, McDuffie finished among the top 15 in offensive rating, offensive rebounding percentage, and two-point percentage. As a defender, his length enables him to defend several positions. Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet may be gone, but McDuffie—who will be relied on heavily to help fill that void—has the talent to become another Shockers legend.
  • Cameron Oliver, F – So., Nevada – 2015-16: 13.4 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 2.6 BLK: As a freshman, Oliver logged 12 double-doubles and earned Mountain West All-Defensive Team honors before nearly turning pro. His game-changing ability on both ends of the floor helped Nevada turn in its first winning season since 2012, including a CBI championship run on which Oliver averaged 19.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.0 blocks per contest. Now in his second year, the powerful, athletic forward will be the unquestioned anchor for a Nevada club with its highest expectations since the Mark Fox era ended in 2009. Expect Oliver to shine, the Wolfpack to contend, and the basketball world to take notice. Just don’t count on him returning to Reno next season if he lives up to expectations.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Miami 65, #11 Wichita State 57

Posted by Chris Stone on March 19th, 2016

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

Three Key Takeaways:

Miami's Angel Rodriguez Led His Team to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Miami’s Angel Rodriguez Led His Team to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

  1. The Shockers are gritty and tough, but so is Miami. After the Hurricanes jumped out to an early 27-6 first half lead, Wichita State fought back using offensive rebounding and turnovers to take a one-point lead on a Ron Baker three-pointer with 10:26 remaining. It was what we’ve come to expect from a Wichita State team that is never completely out of it. Miami’s response, though, was noteworthy. The Hurricanes could have wilted under the pressure, but they held strong behind impressive performances from Sheldon McClellan (18 points) and Davon Reed (10 points).
  2. Angel Rodriguez went from Hurricane to drizzle to Hurricane. Rodriguez started the game on fire for Miami, scoring 16 points in the first 10 minutes without missing a shot. But then things turned for the worse. As the Shockers made their eventual comeback, Rodriguez was nowhere to be found. He didn’t attempt a shot for the rest of the first half and didn’t make another field goal until there was just 2:05 left in the game. During that drought he also committed five turnovers, but he woke up to close out the game, scoring the Hurricanes’ final 10 points (including a dagger three to push the lead to seven). This performance only reinforces the idea that a good Angel Rodriguez is the Hurricanes’ most important factor this March.
  3. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, it’s been a pleasure. The Shockers’ two senior guards have been college basketball mainstays for the past four seasons, helping Wichita State to a Final Four, an undefeated regular season and another Sweet Sixteen. Throughout the weekend, it’s been clear that opposing coaches and players hold VanVleet and Baker in high regard because of how they play the game. What’s next for the two guards is uncertain, but their time at Wichita State sure was fun while it lasted.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Wichita State 65, #6 Arizona 55

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2016

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

Three Key Takeaways:

Gregg Marshall calls out to his team during its win over Arizona on Thursday. (Credit: AP/Charles Krupa)

Gregg Marshall calls out to his team during its win over Arizona on Thursday. (Credit: AP/Charles Krupa)

  1. It’s time to quit talking about if Wichita State deserves to be here. In the lead up to the NCAA Tournament there was an interesting debate about whether the Shockers should be in the field — in large part because the answer would help define how the Selection Committee makes its decisions. Now that they’re here, that debate can end. Wichita State is a very good basketball team (something we already knew), just as capable as nearly any team in the field of making it to Houston. Now the question is whether future committees can start getting seeding right by using metrics as a better arbiter than resume.
  2. The Shockers have the best defense in the country. This isn’t that bold of a statement given that Wichita State has the top-ranked defense nationally, according to KenPom, but the Shockers had critics because of their weak league. On Tuesday, Wichita State held Vanderbilt’s top 50 offense to 0.72 points per possession. They then one-upped themselves tonight by completely shutting down an Arizona offense that ranks in the top 15. The Shockers play a stingy man-to-man defense that creates turnovers (23 percent turnover rate, fifth nationally), doesn’t allow offensive boards (23.6 percent, fourth) and protects the paint (41.7 two-point percentage, seventh). If they do make it to Houston in two weeks, their defense will be the reason why.
  3. It was a disappointing end to a disappointing season for Arizona. The Wildcats started the year ranked in the top 15 of both the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll before climbing into the top 10 with a 12-1 non-conference record. Unfortunately, Arizona couldn’t get it going away from the McKale Center during Pac-12 play, finishing 12-6 in the conference before bowing out in the conference tournament semifinals. The additions of Allonzo Treier, Kadeem Allen and Ryan Anderson were supposed to result in more than a first round exit for the Wildcats. Sean Miller has is still searching for that elusive first Final Four.

Star of the Game: Sean Miller’s soaked dress shirt captivated Twitter audience after the he sweated completely through it with eight minutes remaining in the first half. It even drew the attention of Gregg Marshall’s son, Kellen, who hollered across the court at Miller to let him know that Men’s Warehouse is having a two-for-one sale tomorrow. On the court, it was the Shockers’ stellar defense that starred more than any one player could.

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