O26 Weekly Awards: Hawaii, Javon McCrea, Leon Rice & Loyola MarymountPosted by Tommy Lemoine on January 1st, 2014
Aside from some Diamond Head Classic fun and a solid slate on Saturday, the past week in college basketball was probably the lightest we will see all season, thank goodness — there were two entire days (before and after Christmas Day) that featured zero games. Luckily, the sheer quantity of contests will pick up dramatically as conference play starts up across the country this week. Despite the lack of hoops action, though, there were still several impressive performances and exciting finishes that caught our attention during the holiday week, so let’s ring in the New Year by passing out a few awards to some worthy O26 recipients.
O26 Team of the Week
Hawaii. Maybe because it’s the only thing on at that time, but the Diamond Head Classic has become something of a beloved Christmastime tradition for college basketball fans in recent years. Last season’s tournament featured an awesome, tournament-winning blocked-shot by Arizona, and the two years prior included top-15 upsets against unranked opponents. It’s a fun event. This year, the Classic’s host — a Hawaii team already outperforming expectations in non-conference play — made the most of its home-court advantage, nearly beating eventual runner-up Boise State and then winning back-to-back hard-fought games over quality opponents.
Last Sunday, the Warriors were a Garrett Nevels three-pointer away from knocking off the Broncos, ultimately falling 62-61 to a team that will likely compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament come March. It was a close-but-no-cigar kind of defeat. So how did Hawaii respond to the disappointment? By coming out the next night and winning an equally close game against Saint Mary’s, another squad with legitimate postseason potential. In a back-and-forth contest throughout, senior forward Christian Standhardinger was the eventual hero, answering a game-tying basket by the Gaels’ Beau Levesque with a baseline jumper of his own to give the Warriors a thrilling 76-74 victory. Then, on Christmas Day, Gib Arnold’s team did what it does best on the defensive end, forcing 17 turnovers and beating Oregon State in decisive fashion — the six-point margin does not indicate how much better Hawaii was — to win the consolation title. The victory was the Warriors’ first over a Pac-12 opponent in seven years and moved their record to 9-3. After handling Norfolk State on Monday night, Hawaii reached double-figure wins before January for the first time since 2001-02… the last season it reached the NCAA Tournament. A program appears on the rise in Honolulu.
Honorable Mentions: Boise State (@Hawaii, N-South Carolina, N-Iowa State); Cleveland State (vs. Laroche, @Kent State); Indiana State (vs. Belmont).
O26 Player of the Week
Javon McCrea – Buffalo. This guy has had gaudier numbers before and will likely have gaudier numbers again as the season progresses — he’s already notched 29 career double-doubles, including several games of 30+ points and 10+ rebounds — but McCrea’s work last week still may have been among his best. After doing it all in an easy win over Binghamton on Monday night (25 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, three steals, three blocks), the 6’7’’ all-MAC forward willed his team to a surprising 55-52 victory over Drexel on Sunday, despite the Bulls’ otherwise awful shooting. McCrea shot an efficient 8-of-13 from the field while his teammates combined for a paltry 13-of-46, enabling the senior to account for 20 of his team’s 55 points to go along with nine rebounds. It is safe to say that if he was not on the floor, the Bulls would not have left Philadelphia with the impressive road victory. Thankfully for Buffalo, he was, garnering McCrea our Player of the Week award.
Honorable Mentions: Anthony Drmic – Boise State (21 points @Hawaii, 30 points vs. South Carolina, 16 points vs. Iowa State); Antoine Mason – Niagara (39 points, six steals vs. Brown); Billy Baron – Canisius (33 points, six rebounds, five assists, six steals @Notre Dame).
O26 Coach of the Week
Leon Rice – Boise State. Unfortunately, ‘almost’ does not always cut it with the NCAA Tournament committee, but the Broncos’ near-win over Iowa State in the Diamond Head Classic championship game was still mightily impressive. Especially when you consider the team’s position heading into the event. Rice’s club had lost back-to-back games to Kentucky and Saint Mary’s after starting the season 8-0, leaving it desperate for additional non-conference resume fodder before entering Mountain West play; a poor showing in Honolulu would likely derail Boise State’s at-large hopes completely. Rice, though, was not about to let that happen. His team followed-up a close win over Hawaii in the opening round with a 26-point drubbing of South Carolina the very next night, demonstrating seemingly excellent preparation and an ability to game-plan effectively in a quick-turnaround situation — a trait that could prove vital come March. Then on Christmas Eve, the night before the championship, Rice decided against taking his team to the Hawaii Bowl to watch the Boise State football team play, instead opting to watch Iowa State film back at the hotel room — “The mission comes first,” the coach said. Although his group ended up losing, Rice’s ability to focus his players throughout the tournament was proof of exemplary coaching by the former Gonzaga assistant, making him our Coach of the Week.
Honorable Mentions: Max Good – Loyola Marymount; Greg Lansing – Indiana State; Rex Walters – San Francisco.
O26 Upset of the Week
Loyola Marymount over BYU, 87-76. This was not the biggest upset of the week — that distinction belongs to Maine, which somehow beat Middle Tennessee State on Sunday despite starting the game with a win-probability of just 7.7 percent — but Loyola Marymount’s wire-to-wire victory over BYU was still rather surprising and far more impactful. Thanks to some great offensive play by freshman guard Evan Payne (27 points, 10-of-12 from the free throw line) and early foul trouble for BYU big men Eric Mika and Nate Austin, the Lions were able to maintain a comfortable lead throughout the entire contest and begin WCC play with a win that either sheds light on the league’s quality depth or signifies weakness among its top teams — something pundits had already begun to ponder after Saint Mary’s poor showing in Hawaii and BYU’s recent string of losses. Regardless, the Cougars entered the game as a top-50 team in KenPom and were projected to win with relative ease, despite being on the road. So when Max Good’s squad played the way it did, dominating for 40 minutes, the outcome proved good enough to earn LMU our Upset of the Week.
Honorable Mentions: Maine over Middle Tennessee State (89-85); Binghamton over Bryant (67-62).