Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 31st, 2013
As part of our preseason coverage on the ACC microsite, we will be looking at ACC teams competing in early season tournaments in a three-part series . Today we present Part III, which includes a look at the NIT Season Tip-Off, the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Barclays Center Classic, the Corpus Christi Challenge and the Wooden Legacy. Here are links to the earlier two parts in the series – Part I and Part II.
In this final look at ACC teams in early season tournaments let’s examine just how important these events may be to the conference this year. The topic of “Greatest Conference Ever” has been a popular discussion point for the rebuilt ACC. There are many popular measures used to compare conferences, including National Championships, Final Four appearances, conference RPI, and non-conference winning percentage. But most folks judge conference strength by the number of NCAA Tourney bids that are earned. So is there a correlation between a conference’s performance in early season tournaments and the number of NCAA bids they get?
Duke Celebrates the 2012 Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament Championship (Photo Credit: cbssports.com)
Looking at the last three seasons provides an answer. Over that time, the two heavyweight conferences have been the old Big East and the Big Ten. From 2011 to 2013, the Big East received 28 NCAA bids out of a possible 47 (60%), and the Big Ten is right behind with 20 out of 35 (57%). The ACC has lagged way behind those two conferences with only 13 bids out of 36 (36%). Over those same three seasons, seven different Big Ten schools have combined to win nine early season tournament titles. The Big East has also claimed nine titles with eight different schools. Ironically, only new ACC member Syracuse won more than one of those. Meanwhile the ACC only claims five such titles, and even worse for overall conference strength, Duke has won three of those. By comparison, the Big Ten won five tournament titles last year alone. Furthermore, the record-setting 11 bid Big East in 2010-11 won six early season tournaments, which clearly established it as the dominant conference of that season well before conference play even started. If the ACC wants to get to that level again soon, they need to start by winning four or five of these events for a change.
Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and a Pac-12 microsite writer. He filed this report after Saturday night’s John Wooden Classic between UCLA and San Diego State in Anaheim.
When asked Saturday night following San Diego State’s nine-point win over UCLA at the Wooden Classic whether the Aztecs’ 26-game winning streak over teams from the state of California was proof that, for now at least, SDSU is the best college basketball program in the state, Bruin head coach Ben Howland was not about to play ball. “There are a lot of teams in California,” he said before changing the subject. When Jamaal Franklin was asked a similar question just minutes later, he wasted no time answering in the affirmative, with one caveat: “We are the best, but I’m not saying we’re the best forever.” And whether UCLA’s Howland (or USC’s Kevin O’Neill, or Cal’s Mike Montgomery, or Saint Mary’s Randy Bennett, or any other head coach of a California team whose scalp SDSU has taken recently) are ready to publicly admit it, it is hard to argue the point. Right now the Aztecs are ranked higher than anybody else in the state, and in recent history, they’re the team that has had the most success. The lone Sweet Sixteen appearance by a team from California in the past three years belongs to SDSU; arguably the most accomplished current player in the state (Franklin, the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year) calls SDSU home; and as is rapidly become clear, the Aztecs have the best fan support of any team in the state this side of the Lakers.
Steve Fisher Has Taken A Program That Was Once a Non-Factor And Turned It Into The Best In the State (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)
When Steve Fisher agreed to become the head coach for SDSU 14 seasons ago, the announcement was little more than a curiosity. Having taken Michigan to the mountaintop in his first six games as head coach of that program back in 1989, and then following that up with the fabled Fab Five recruiting class, Fisher was unceremoniously run out of Ann Arbor for his tenuous connection to the scandal that resulted in a vacated Final Four appearances. When he showed up in San Diego, he was taking over a program with zero history that had gone 4-22 the previous season. Two years into the job, he had a .500 ballclub on his hands, and now, in the past seven seasons, his team has racked up a 177-63 record, including the Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2010-11. But perhaps the biggest feather in Fisher’s cap has been the explosion of fan interest in the Aztecs. There was a time when this team played in the sterile and crumbling San Diego Sports Arena in front of a handful of diehard fans and maybe a small group of students. Nowadays, Viejas Arena (opened just in advance of Fisher in 1997) is regularly packed to the gills and roaring loud, in part due to its large and vocal student section, The Show. And, as Aztec fans proved Saturday night, they’re ready and willing to go on the road and change any venue within striking distance into a temporary home court; on Saturday night, of the 17,000-plus at the Honda Center, a clear majority of the fans were there to support SDSU.
UCLA and Arizona have their 2012 blockbuster recruiting classes all sewn up, with up north, Washington mostly struck out. But all eyes begin to turn to the 2013 class, and it could be Lorenzo Romar and the Huskies who are in a position to score big. Romar landed his first verbal commitment this week as 6’3” guard Nigel Williams-Goss, regarded as a four-star prospect, chose Washington over UCLA, Oregon State, and UNLV (a school he once committed to prior to head coach Lon Kruger’s defection to Oklahoma). While one four-star guard does not a recruiting class make, Romar still has his eyes on players like Jabari Parker (the number one overall prospect), Aaron Gordon (the number two rated power forward), Jabari Bird (the fourth rated off-guard), and Isaac Hamilton (the fifth rated off-guard) among others.
Aside from offseason trouble, some typically minor tweaks to rosters and the shaping of the 2013 recruiting class, the other big news that can be expected throughout the summer is the trickling out of teams’ 2012-13 schedules. UCLA’s calendar dropped on Thursday, with the highly-regarded Bruins reopening Pauley Pavilion on November 9 with a visit from Indiana State. Ben Howland’s club will also host Long Beach State and Missouri (along with a handful of low-major schools), play San Diego State in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim, and participate in the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn with potential matchups against Indiana, Georgetown, and Georgia. Here’s hoping the Bruins find matchups with both the Hoosiers and the Hoyas awaiting them in New York.
Elsewhere around the conference, schedules are starting to take shape. Late last week, it came out that Colorado after a year away, would be renewing its competition with long-time opponent Kansas. While nothing is official yet, both schools have confirmed that an agreement is in place for the Buffaloes and Jayhawks to schedule a home-and-home series in each of the next two seasons. It’s unclear yet exactly where the 2012-13 edition will be played, but while Kansas has had Colorado’s number on a regular basis in their meetings, head coach Tad Boyle certainly has the Buffs on the upswing and his squad should be able to give the Jayhawks a couple interesting games. Down south, Arizonahas added games with Charleston Southern, Long Beach State and Southern Miss. While none of those three teams is a huge name, both Long Beach State and Southern Miss made the NCAA Tournament last year and should provide solid challenges for an already strong Arizona schedule. The Wildcats are still looking to add two more games, both of which are expected to be home-and-home series’.
Continuing our tour around the conference, Oregon State is on the verge of breaking ground on a new basketball practice facility. The structure will be a four-story structure with a couple different regulation-sized basketball courts layer in with locker rooms, support areas, offices and an entrance to the facility that will feature an Oregon State basketball hall of fame. With the upgrade in facilities, head coach Craig Robinson hopes to be able to induce a higher caliber of recruit to Corvallis.
Lastly, last week Pacific Takes unveiled a feature on the ten best sleeper recruits in the last decade, with Kyle Weaver of Washington State leading the way. Interesting to note that of the 14 players on the list (including a four-man honorable mention), six of the players (Weaver, Derrick Low, Brock Motum, DeAngelo Casto, Robbie Cowgill and Reggie Moore) matriculated to Washington State. This speaks well for the Cougar coaching staffs’ (beginning with Dick and Tony Bennett and continuing to current head coach Ken Bone) ability to target under the radar players and develop the talent once it arrives on campus. Given that five-star recruits are rarely going to find their way to Pullman, that is a must for the Cougs.
Something unique to keep an eye on this year is UCLA, one of the teams on the short list of conference favorites, playing all of its games away from the friendly confines of Pauley Pavilion this season as the venerable old place gets a much-needed facelift. The Bruins will play home games in three different Southern California arenas this year, including 14 home games just down the street from the campus of their crosstown rival, USC, in the Los Angeles Sports Arena. The Sports Arena was the old home of the Trojan basketball program before the Galen Center opened in 2006 (as well as the old home of the Los Angeles Clippers prior to the Staples Center) and it will most often be the Bruins’ home away from home this year, including a game on February 15 when they’ll host USC. UCLA will also play a game at the Citizen Business Bank Arena in beautiful downtown Ontario when they open the season with a trip inland to host Cal State San Bernardino in an exhibition game. They’ll also play four games at the Honda Center in Anaheim, including two conference games against Arizona and Arizona State. The game against Arizona will be played under the banner of the Wooden Classic, which has in the past been a two-game event on a December Saturday featuring two inter-conference games.
UCLA fans Will Have Plenty to Cheer About at the New Pauley Pavilion.
As for Pauley Pavilion, a college basketball landmark housing 11 national championship banners, it is badly in need of a facelift. Opened in 1965 on the heels of John Wooden’s first two championships at the school, the facility featured limited restrooms and concession stands, narrow concourses, and, perhaps worst of all, a large open area behind one of the baskets that kept fans in the end zone away from the action. The renovation will add a new entryway outside the arena, and inside there will be new concourses, restrooms, concession areas, a scoreboard, and a new LED ribbon board, not to mention a new section of seats behind the basket.
Games #74-75. RTC Live heads to Anaheim for an interesting double-header of west coast powers.
RTC Live returns to Anaheim for the Wooden Classic, the 17th annual edition of this event, but the first without its legendary namesake, where a quartet of western teams make up a solid schedule. The matinee features Long Beach State and St. Mary’s, a couple of teams expected to at least challenge for their regular season conference titles, although both teams still have a lot to prove. The Gaels have posted an 8-2 record thus far, but have come up short in their two biggest tests of the season (against BYU and San Diego State) with their best win over St. John’s looking a little less impressive by the day. LBSU has again played a brutal schedule, at this point considered the toughest in the country by KenPom, but have only had middling success on their way to a 5-6 record, with a win over Iowa their best outcome balanced against losses at North Carolina, Utah State, Washington and at home against San Diego State. The Niners gave North Carolina a good run their last time out behind a career-high 31 from junior forward T.J. Robinson, and he could be in for an interesting matchup with SMC junior forward Rob Jones, who has led his team in scoring in each of the last four games, including two straight double-doubles. In the main event, UCLA faces #16 BYU in a good test for the Cougars. While Anaheim is just 40 miles from the UCLA campus, and the Bruins are certain to have more fans at the game than any of the other teams, UCLA fans just don’t travel well (especially on what is supposed to be a rainy weekend in the Southland), so this won’t be a de facto home game for Ben Howland’s squad. However, if UCLA can find some kind of way to slow BYU’s Jimmer Fredette (much easier said than done, but the bulk of this task will likely fall to Malcolm Lee, with plenty of other Bruin eyes keeping track of the All-American candidate at all times), they could cause matchup problems up front. While BYU does feature a string of big guys up front, UCLA’s frontline of Tyler Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith could give the Cougars trouble. BYU head coach Dave Rose will want to see his team get out in transition early and often, and it will be interesting to see Howland’s response, as he has claimed a desire to see his team up the tempo from recent years. But likely the best chance for the Bruins to keep this one close is to ugly things up and turn this into a rockfight. Should be an interesting day of basketball in Anaheim, and we’re hoping you’ll drop in and join the conversation, starting at 11:45am PST.
The annual ESPYs were held last night in Los Angeles, and there were a few college basketball-relevant winners in the mix. The most notable was in the Best Upset category, with Northern Iowa’s elephant-sized win over top-ranked Kansas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Duke’s men’s athletic program was named the best collegiate sports program, undoubtedly in no small part due to the hoops Devils’ fourth national title in Indy, while the best Male College Athlete was Kentucky’s John Wall.
A brilliant idea from our friends over at College Chalktalk. To honor John Wooden’s lifetime of humanitarianism and excellence, CCT has had the UCLA coaching staff in addition to several other notable teachers (such as Rick Barnes, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, and Tubby Smith) give their thoughts on a particular block of the Pyramid of Success. Our favorite so far: Bobby Hurley’s piece on Alertness.
Speaking of Wooden, the family of the exalted coach has decided to continue with the Wooden Classic in 2010, the seventeenth edition of the event. Rebuilding UCLA will play Pac-10 pass-over BYU, while St. Mary’s and local Big West favorite Long Beach State will tip the other matchup.
Jason Jeffries, the former assistant director of ticket operations at Kansas, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with federal authorities to identify if any other principals were involved and what, if any, crimes may have occurred. But the most interesting part of this story is that the federal judge assigned to his case (Wesley E. Brown) got the job when all three Topeka federal judges recused themselves for no reason. Even odder, Brown, at 103 years young, is the oldest sitting judge in the entire federal system. During the hearing, he even made mention of “the Twitter,” a creation that was barely a year old when Brown hit triple digits. Amazing stuff.
In Robert Tuchman’s list of his favorite ten Sporting Events You Must See Live, there are two relating to college sports. One is fairly obvious — Michigan vs. Ohio State football in the Big House; but the other one isn’t Duke-UNC in Cameron or even the Final Four. It’s Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness event, taking place on the first Friday after October 15 every year. Bold choice.
Before the season started, the Wooden Classic in Anaheim appeared to feature four probable NCAA Tournament teams in a double-header that oozed with potential — #13 Georgetown vs. #16 Washington in the first game, followed by Mississippi State vs. UCLA. That was before the local draw UCLA crapped the bed in the 76 Classic during their last trip to Anaheim, and Mississippi State lost to the two Rs — Rider and Richmond. Still, the season is only a month old, and there’s reason to believe that both UCLA and MSU will get it together to make a push back toward the Big Dance before it’s too late. UCLA had a solid showing in a loss against #1 Kansas in Westwood last weekend, and there’s enough talent here that it’s just a matter of time before Ben Howland figures out his team and maximizes his personnel. Mississippi State dominated DePaul in their last outing, which may not sound like much, but the Blue Demons had played fellow SEC teams Tennessee and Vanderbilt very tough in two previous losses. There’s one thing we know for sure about this game, though, and that’s the fact that local Fairfax product Renardo Sidney will not be making a homecoming debut for the Bulldogs — which is unfortunate. As for the early game, it will feature Georgetown’s first visit to the west coast in eight years, and the Hoyas will be looking to build on their strong showing at MSG in the Jimmy V Classic earlier this week by feasting on the smaller Huskies’ frontline and shutting down the inside (#3 in FG% defense). Washington, on the other hand, will attempt to save some Pac-10 face within the league’s regional footprint by knocking off an unbeaten Big East foe. This will not be an easy task, as Georgetown is getting superb production from its starters, including the kind of all-american numbers (15/11) from Greg Monroe that everyone expected from the talented center. It should be a fun afternoon on a rainy day in Anaheim (yes, it actually rains in SoCal!), and we hope you’ll take some time out of your weekend to spend it with us.
It’s actually been a fairly busy week in the world of college hoops despite the mid-summer lull, so let’s take a look at some of the other key stories coming down the pike…
Hoop Dreams, 15 Years Later. This week in his Hoops Thoughts column, Seth Davis pushed us down memory lane to the grungy days of 1994, a year of Cobain, Madonna’s undies and OJ’s white Bronco, but also of a bedraggled jewel of a documentary called “Hoop Dreams.” We have a fair amount of younger readers on this site, so if you’ve never seen this movie, stop what you’re doing RIGHT NOW, and rent it on Netflix or your local movie shop. It is without question the best basketball film ever made. Davis’ summary of the movie is good so we won’t belabor that here, but even fifteen years later, the movie holds its color, bouquet and taste much better than most items from that era. We slightly quibble with Davis on his contention that HD was the first reality tv (The Real World says hello) or that the two players featured in the film, William Gates and Arthur Agee, were ordinary people (their extraordinary skills at basketball at a young age is what made them not ordinary), but we completely agree with his fundamental assessment that the authenticity behind these two players’ struggles still resonates today. The early 90s, when Gates and Agee were documented in the film, was an era at the edge of a precipice in two key cultural shifts that are still impacting the game: 1) the worldwide online revolution of 1995, which has impacted scouting and recruiting in an exponential fashion now that players can be commodified based on Youtube clips and independent assessments from anywhere on the globe; and 2) Kevin Garnett’s decision to go to the NBA straight out of HS in 1995 led to a sea change in how high school players were viewed, pushing scouting (and dreams of riches) earlier and earlier into a player’s development. From a re-viewing of the movie in 2009, it’s easy to see the seeds of World Wide Wes and his ilk as assembly-line talent evaluator-cum-agents strategically dropping their whispers of fame and fortune into player family’s ears at a young age. What was once limited to the bigger cities and at a much smaller scale is now ubiquitous; where elite players were once counseled by their coach (as in, their HS coach, not their AAU coach), they now listen to runners and quasi-representatives from shoe companies. All of the dirty elements that are plaguing today’s amateur player development and the college game are there on display, in a rawer, more transparent form, in Hoop Dreams. The authenticity of how the system uses these players, only to spit them out when they’re no longer useful, is front and center – how have things changed? Thanks to Seth for re-awakening everyone to this movie – it’s a must-see.
SEC-TV. Starting this fall, the SEC announced that it will broadcast an all-SEC sports network as part of its new $2.25B deal with ESPN. The SEC Network (through ESPN Regional) will syndicate its college football and basketball games to 73 (and counting) markets, but what makes this announcement particularly compelling is how the SEC has strategically decided to move outside its traditional nine-state southeastern footprint for this deal. Local affiliates in the major markets of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as the three major Texas cities, are included in this deal, which unequivocally shows that the SEC isn’t playing games in terms of its foray to dominate college sports through national recruiting. Where this could really pay dividends is not with the Kentuckys and Floridas, but with the Mississippi States and the Georgias of the SEC. If games involving those teams are on tv in major media markets showing recruits a fun, winning style, they might be more inclined to consider going there over local state U. How will the other leagues react?
F the Gazelle Group. They’re back again this season with another faux-tournament in the form of the Legends Classic. Remember our piece shredding them on this last year? If you don’t, here’s a refresher. The Gazelle Group got upset when little Gardner-Webb upset Kentucky in Rupp two years ago during a preliminary round game, meaning that the legions of UK fans they expected to buy tickets the next week weren’t showing. So what’d they do the next year – they fixed the tournament! Yep, all four of the ‘host’ teams get automatic entry to the Championship Rounds (final four teams) despite what happens in the prelims. Total asinine garbage. This year’s four faux-champs? Michigan St., Rutgers, Florida and UMass. MSU-Florida could be interesting, and definitely keep an eye on summer hotshotMike Rosario from Joisey (playing in AC).
Imagine that during your senior year of high school, you manage to scrape and claw your way onto the varsity basketball team. You sit the bench, but you’re the first number called by the coach in most games, and you provide leadership, hustle and smarts in the twenty games you see action for your 26-2 conference championship team. But a D1 collegiate prospect you’re assuredly not - your 3.4 ppg and 2.5 apg averages don’t even rise to the level of your GPA (4.3). So you send your college applications out like everyone else in the Class of 2008, and the year of varsity hoops is but one of your many extracurriculars that you hope will give you an edge in the process. Good fortune intervenes as you are accepted into your dream school, and before you know it, you’re not only on the varsity of a national powerhouse team coming off of three straight Final Four trips, but sitting on the bench in uniform alongside several HS all-americans and actually seeing a minute-plus of playing time in a real game against a Big East opponent (he missed his only three, by the way).
John Wooden with great-grandson Tyler Trapani
Preposterous? Nah. Meet Tyler Trapani, UCLA’s walk-on seventeenth man, who also happens to be the great-grandson of a rather illustrious presence around Westwood - John Wooden. Normally, we’d be up in arms over this clear case of nepotism, but actually, we don’t have any problem with this story. As Ben Howland said in a recent AP report, he’s just acting as a caretaker for Coach Wooden’s program, and it’s not as if Trapani’s presence on the team otherwise injures any current Bruin’s standing (apparently, for most games he sits in the stands in street clothing).
photo credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
As part of the Wooden Classic festivities against Depaul on Saturday, the elder Bruin coach was there when Trapani (#4) played for ninety glorious seconds. Given that the current walk-on Bruin once as a child told his great-gramps that he already knew how to shoot the ball when “Papa” was trying to correct his form, what was the WoW’s take on his 6’0, 185-lb. scion’s all-around game?
He’s a little heavy-footed, but he works hard for a young fellow just starting college. He doesn’t have the quickness for changing direction that I always like to have.
Translation: I was too busy recruiting players like Lew Alcindor, Sidney Wicks, Walt Hazzard, Bill Walton, Marques Johnson, et al., than to go after slow-as-molasses chumps like you. Still love ya, though, kid.
It’s officially Autumn, which means cooler air is around the corner and the sweet cacophany of bouncing basketballs echoing through a gymnasium is coming…
Dana O’Neil gives a pretty good roundup of injured players who are either all the way healed or expected to be so by the time the meat of the season begins. One of those players, Syracuse’s Eric Devendorf, is back from an ACL injury with another year of eligibility in tow. Another, Alabama’s Ronald Steele, is a hard-luck guy who RTC is hoping catches a few breaks this year – he deserves it.
Tubby Smith’s nephew, William L. Smith, was stabbed and killed last weekend at an off-campus apartment complex in Worcester, Mass.
UConn’s Nate Miles, he of the five high schools, was arrested for violating a restraining order. We’re shocked, I tell you, that Jim Calhoun’s charge is acting up! Shocked!
Jamie Dixon‘s deal with Pitt has been extended through the 2016 season at a minimum of $1.3M per annum.
Remember Pierre Pierce? The former Iowa star who spent 11 months in prison for a multitude of charges will be allowed to serve his probation in France while playing professional basketball there this winter.
More Stephen Curry. The Wooden Tradition, not to be confused with the Wooden Classic (UCLA v. Depaul; San Diego St. v. St. Mary’s), will feature Purdue v. Davidson and St. Mary’s v. S. Illinois on Dec. 19 in Indianapolis. In case you were wondering how the new Mr. March spent his summer, click here.
HoopsAddict has it’s All-Americans out – Tyrese Rice over Darren Collison is a weak call.
WYN2K. The Southern Conference has a reputation as a league on the rise, and deservedly so. After stellar regular seasons in 2006-07 from division winners Davidson and Appalachian St., including five wins over BCS schools among the league members (the highest total wins among the conferences we’ve rated thus far), the league has its sights on breaking into mid-major territory. If this is to ultimately happen, it will likely be led by Davidson, who with spectacular sophomore guard Stephen Curry, will challenge itself with several elite OOC games this season. Even though the league has been a one-bid conference throughout the 64/65 team era, last year Appalachian St. was very close to earning an at-large NCAA bid before ultimately settling for an NIT berth. And with the name cachet of Bobby Cremins bringing in exceptional recruits at College of Charleston, this league could be knocking on the door for two bids sooner rather than later.
Predicted Champion. Davidson (#9 seed NCAA) is the clear choice here. Davidson returns all five starters from the team that pushed extremely talented and athletic Maryland in the NCAA first round last year (down only four after the last tv timeout), including the aforementioned Curry, who had sick numbers for a freshman guard (22 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg, 2 spg, .408 3fg%, .855 ft%) including a run of 26.1 ppg the last ten games. But this is no one-man show. Aside from excellent point guard Jason Richards (#2 nationally in total assists), post men Thomas Sander and Boris Meno also both had outstanding seasons manning the inside, clearing boards and playing tough defense. Coach Bob McKillop also adds two significant recruits – Aaron Bond, who received some Burger Boy consideration last year; and his son, Brendan McKillop, who turned down ACC teams Virginia Tech and NC State to play for his pops. Knowing that Davidson needs a high RPI to offset any chance of being left at the altar should the Wildcats stumble in the conference tourney, McKillop has beefed up the OOC schedule considerably, setting up made-for-tv games with local bullies UNC and Duke in Charlotte and a trip to Raleigh to play NC State. Another road trip will include a game vs. UCLA at the Wooden Classic. All four of those teams are ranked in the Top 25.
Others Considered. We don’t expect another team to push Davidson like Appalachian St. did last season, but if Davidson gets lackadaisical or suffers a significant injury, we’d expect UNC-Greensboro to be next in line. Believe it or not, Curry didn’t win conference POY last year, and it’s not a sure thing that he will this year either. This is due to the fact that UNCG has a 6’6, 230 lb. Sir Charles clone named Kyle Hines returning in the post. Hines has scored in double figures in fifty straight games, and the last time a team went single coverage on him, he dropped 38 on their heads. Although #2 scorer Ricky Hickman is gone, UNCG returns a trio of talented sophomore wing scorers who all showed promise of bright futures. Appalachian St. is another team to watch despite losing three key seniors. The key is that two post men, Donte Minter (who should be healthy this year) and Jeremy Clayton, are returning, and in a league of little size, this could carry them a long way. One concern is the loss of heady PG DJ Thompson, who led the team’s uptempo attack, along with two other guards that saw significant time. Georgia Southern is another team on our radar, simply because they have an all-conference performer in the post (Louis Graham – #18 nationally in defReb%) and at the point guard position (Dwayne Foreman – #32 nationally in asstRate). And although College of Charleston lost three starters and a transfer from a 13-5 team, Bobby Cremins brought in the best recruiting class the league has seen in some time, and we should keep an eye on his team for that reason alone.
Games to Watch. The SoCon is going to a 20-game round robin conference schedule this season, which is the largest we’ve ever seen. Next year when the league expands to twelve teams with the addition of Samford, we suspect there will be a push by league coaches to return to a more reasonable sixteen game schedule. But for this year, it guarantees that Davidson will have to visit every road arena to test its mettle.
Davidson @ Appalachian St. (11.26.07) & Appalachian St. @ Davidson (02.27.08)
UNCG @ Appalachian St. (01.12.08) & Appalachian St. @ UNCG (02.16.08)
Southern Conference Championship Game (03.10.08) ESPN2
RPI Booster Games. We alluded to it above, but the SoCon went 5-38 (.118) against BCS teams last year (Appalachian St. – 2; Davidson – 1; Furman – 1; Wofford – 1). The number will be reduced this year, thanks to the additional conference games, but we expect a similar showing.
UNCG @ Georgia Tech (11.09.07)
Western Carolina @ Cincinnati (11.10.07)
Davidson vs. UNC (Charlotte) (11.14.07) ESPN
College of Charleston @ Arkansas (11.15.07) ESPNU
Chattanooga @ S. Illinois (11.22.07) ESPNU
Wichita St. @ Appalachian St. (11.28.07)
Davidson vs. Duke (Charlotte) (12.01.07) ESPNU
Tennessee @ Chattanooga (12.04.07) ESPNU
Davidson @ UCLA (12.08.07)
Georgia Southern @ Florida (12.15.07)
Western Carolina @ Illinois (12.17.07)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. This one is interesting, because if Davidson performs well against the ACC trio + UCLA, has a great SoCon record (like 18-2), yet loses in the conference tourney, we believe that this will be a two-team league.
Neat-o Stat. The Citadel must be one of the most historically horrific basketball programs in the NCAA. It joined the Southern Conference in 1937, and has yet to see its first NCAA or NIT bid. Pat Conroy wrote of his losing season there in the 60s, and not much has changed since. His cousin, Ed Conroy, will begin his second season at the school with what he calls the youngest team in America – 15 freshmen (incl. redshirts), one sophomore, one junior and one senior. Good luck, Ed, you’re going to need it.
64/65-Team Era. The SoCon has been a one-bid league throughout this era, and it will probably remain so this year (unless Davidson lays an egg in the conference tourney). The conference record (3-23, .115) reflects the success of two Tennessee teams, one of which is no longer in the league. In 1992, #14 ETSU defeated #3 Arizona 87-80 in one of Lute Olson’s earlier tankjobs, and in 1997, #14 UT-Chattanooga went to the Sweet 16 by defeating #3 Georgia (the year prior to Tubby Smith winning the NCAA title at Kentucky) 73-70, and #6 Illinois 75-63. Since then the conference (as an average #13.6 seed) has lost ten straight first round games by an average of 13.0 pts – not too encouraging. Still, the last four years show improvement, as the league representative has only lost by an average of 9.8 pts. Below is a nice clip of Curry dropping three of his thirty against Maryland.
Final Thought. This league is all about Davidson this year. The MSM will remember the Wildcats’ performance against Maryland in the NCAA Tournament and pundits like Dickie V. will be touting Curry as a PTPer all season long. Even if Davidson merely pulls one upset against the four ranked teams it plays in the pre-conference schedule, that’ll be enough to entice everyone to claim it as their Cinderella come March. But there are other good teams in this conference, so Davidson shouldn’t be reading its press clippings too closely. Several other teams could surprise much as Davidson did last year, and the level of talent entering the league is rising. It should make for a very fun SoCon season this time around.
“Hoops” Weiss reports that 2007 A10 rookie of the year Robert Mitchell (16ppg; 5rpg) from Duquesne is transferring to Seton Hall.
More injuries – Louisville’s Edgar Sosa is out four weeks with a sprained ankle, and Arkansas’ Sonny Weems is out the same amount of time with a broken hand (Weems has to miss the Hawgs’ trip to Cancun – rotten timing for him).
The Wooden Classic matchups are set, with San Diego St. taking on St. Mary’s in the undercard and Davidson vs. UCLA in the headliner game on Dec. 8. We can’t wait to see Stephen Curry match up against Darren Collison.
NC State’s Gavin Grant has high expectations for his squad this season (memo to GG: you’ll have four losses by Jan. 12). Find all 12 ACC teams’ scheduling highlights here.
Ever the shameless promoter, OJ Mayo is floating the idea of sticking around USC for two seasons.
OJ’s former HS buddy Bill Walker is ready for his first full season in Manhattan (Kansas).
Speaking of USC, we always wondered how that big lead against UNC evaporated so quickly in last year’s sweet 16. Oh, right, Tim Floyd.
Sticking with the SoCal theme, here’s the next wannabe crossover conglomerate that Floyd can “recruit” to USC – 2009 #1 player Renardo Sidney (and his pops).
Large things are expected in HoosierLand for Eric Gordon (best since Isiah?? Wow!). Kelvin Sampson gives an interview on his team’s prospects prior to IU’s trip to the Bahamas here.
Finally, the Big 10 Network is set to come on the air tonight at 8pm. According to Mike DeCourcey, ”among the intriguing games that will show up on the BTN will be Indiana at Iowa (January 2), Purdue at Michigan State (January 8), Wisconsin at Illinois (February 20) and three conference tournament games.”
The MAAC conference tournament gave us another buzzer-beater last night. Saint Peter’s guard Desi Washington rushed down the court and nailed a trey to eliminate Fairfield 65-62 on Washington’s THIRD game-winning buzzer-beater against the Stags this season.
Clown, thy name is UCSB fan. Although players and coaches alike are expected to behave professionally, fans also have a responsibility to contain themselves. Incidents like last night’s approach by a rabid UCSB fan are dangerous for everyone involved.