O26 Weekly Awards: GW, Alan Williams & Green Bay…Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 9th, 2013
It was a return to normalcy for many teams last week after the bevy of tournaments and showcases and neutral-court extravaganzas that marked the latter part of November in college hoops. Across the O26 landscape, some programs were able to play much-needed home games after weeks of travel, while others made trips to take on regional power conference foes or fellow mid-majors. Conference play even tipped off for one league in particular (we’re looking at you, MAAC). And while only a handful of schools took the court more than twice last week, there was plenty enough action in the opening days of December to hand out some superlatives to deserving performers.
O26 Team of the Week
George Washington. After capping off Thanksgiving weekend with an upset over 20th-ranked Creighton in the Wooden Legacy, the Colonials had every reason to be on letdown alert in a return home on Wednesday versus a maligned-but-talented Rutgers team. Instead, George Washington maintained its momentum by defeating the Scarlet Knights by six in an outcome that featured knock-down shooting and a 106-point second half. The team’s two star transfers again the led the way for head coach Mike Lonergan, with former Villanova forward Isaiah Armwood scoring 20 points and grabbing nine rebounds, and Maurice Creek — the Indiana graduate who took to D.C. for his final year of eligibility — dropping in 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Yet, while that contest was relatively tight throughout, it paled in comparison to Sunday’s outcome at the Verizon Center in the BB&T Classic. Thanks to the late-game heroics of Creek, the Colonials edged out fellow capital-area opponent Maryland, 77-75, in a thrilling, impressive win that helped further solidify George Washington as a legitimate at-large (and A-10) contender. The Terrapins made a furious rally in the game’s final stages after trailing by 14 with fewer than seven minutes to play, turning GW over multiple times and eventually tying the game at 75 with a few seconds remaining. But in the game’s final possession, Creek worked his magic, drilling a clutch shot over Nick Faust to make it three straight victories for the Colonials, moving them to 8-1 on the year. With several more very winnable non-conference games on the slate before league play begins in January, Lonergan’s club has a great chance to continue its winning ways and put itself in the NCAA Tournament discussion for the first time since 2007. If that happens, its work this past week may be one big reason why.
O26 Player of the Week
Alan Williams – UC Santa Barbara. UC Santa Barbara had a tall task this week, playing intra-state games at 18th-ranked UCLA on Tuesday and at home against California on Friday. Lucky for the Gauchos, they have themselves a not-so-tall center who happens to be an excellent basketball player in KenPom favorite Alan Williams. The 6’7’’ Williams, who had a mammoth outing against South Dakota State in his return from injury the week before, scored 23 points and hauled in eight rebounds versus the Bruins before his team faded in the last five minutes against the more talented bunch. This valiant effort was followed by an even better performance from both Williams and his team three days later, as the big man poured in 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting, ripped down 12 boards and made six of his seven free throw attempts en route to the Gauchos’ 72-65 upset victory over Cal. Williams has been nothing short of a statistical juggernaut this season, ranking second in overall scoring and among the top 65 players in the country in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, block percentage and fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Needless to say, there is a good chance Williams has several more weeks like this to come, especially when he faces less-stiff competition in Big West play.
O26 Coach of the Week
Tod Kowalczyk – Toledo. It is never easy beating a team twice, much less beating a team twice in an 11-day span. Yet Tod Kowalczyk’s Toledo squad did just that on Wednesday, overcoming a 25-point, 12-rebound output by Detroit’s Even Bruinsma and downing the Titans at home, 91-75. The Rockets followed that up with a tough road win over Robert Morris, a team never easy to beat in its home gym (just ask Kentucky), keeping the MAC favorites undefeated through eight games. While neither one of these victories were headliners on their own, they do point to the wonderful job Kowalczyk is doing at meshing together his combination of experienced upper-classmen, talented transfers and important young contributors, all while managing the program’s high expectations in 2013-14. Having all-conference players like senior Rian Pearson and point guard Julius Brown helps, but Kowalczyk’s ability to seamlessly integrate do-it-all forward Justin Drummond [Loyola-Maryland] and J.D. Weatherspoon [Ohio State] into the lineup — as well as work into the rotation a stable of quality underclassmen — is an a example of fine coaching that should not be overlooked. He had his team ready to play against familiar Detroit and he kept his team calm in a narrow victory at Robert Morris, and for that Kowalczyk is our O26 Coach of the Week.
O26 Upset of the Week
Green Bay over Virginia, 75-72. It might not have been the biggest upset of the week in college hoops — after all, Green Bay is a solid team and was playing at home — but the Phoenix’s victory over Virginia might have been the most impressive. The stingy Cavaliers had only allowed 70 points once this season (in a 77-73 win over SMU) and were ranked among the 15 slowest teams in adjusted tempo coming into Saturday, but that didn’t stop Green Bay from controlling the game’s pace and putting up 75 points to spoil Tony Bennett’s return to his alma mater. The Phoenix controlled the contest from start to finish, jumping out to a double-figure lead early in the second half and never letting Virginia have the advantage, even after they tied the game late. It was the type of confident performance from Brian Wardle’s talented team that should enable it to compete for a Horizon League championship this year and possibly knock off another high-major opponent in the Big Dance come March, should it get there.