Pac-12 M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 28th, 2014

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  1. Did you see Arizona on Wednesday night? Did you see them run through California at McKale in a barrage of suffocating defense and ridiculous transition throwdowns? Did you think what I thought? As Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star points out, Wednesday night was the Wildcats’ demonstration that they have healed and moved on since losing Brandon Ashley. He won’t, and I won’t, and I doubt anyone will claim that the Wildcats are better without Ashley, but they have definitely worked their way back to the point where they’re roughly as good, and as dominant, as they were before their sophomore power forward went down. There are still certainly some weaknesses there, but I’ll gladly put Arizona right up there with the best in the nation as equally deserving of national championship contender status.
  2. Thursday night, UCLA hosted Oregon and did so without their two best players, as sophomores Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams watched after being suspended in the middle of the day on Thursday for a “violation of team rules.” And, midway through the second half with the Bruins down 14, it looked like Oregon would walk away with an easy win that would help bolster their tournament resume. Well, those Ducks got that all-important win, but it took them an extra 10 minutes to do so, as a wild, literally-last second David Wear three forced overtime, much-maligned freshman point guard Bryce Alford went nuts for 31 points in 49 minutes and still the Bruins weren’t able to overcome the effort of Oregon transfer guards Joseph Young and Jason Calliste. For UCLA, it is no harm, no foul when it comes to their NCAA prospects while Oregon comes away a game south of .500 in the conference with three to play and another solid win for their resume. Anderson and Adams are expected to be back Sunday for UCLA’s home finale against Oregon State and in the end, no harm done, but hopefully a lesson learned.
  3. Tonight, Washington and Washington State will reignite their rivalry in an in-state battle that few outside of the Evergreen State will pay much attention to, even on a night largely barren of meaningful college basketball games. As Christian Caple of The News Tribune calls it, “apathy” has set in, as neither the Huskies nor the Cougars have been much worth watching in recent years. Their match-up earlier this year drew the least number of fans in more than a decade and excitement for Friday night’s match-up isn’t a whole lot stronger than it was.
  4. We mentioned this way back in October and were taken to task for it by a Washington fan, but… at what point does Lorenzo Romar’s seat on the sideline at Hec Edmunson Pavilion get a little tingly? Athletic director Scott Woodward still calls Romar the “right man for the job” and his contract that runs through 2020 (at $1.7 million per year) , which should guarantee that he won’t be run off too hastily. But the Huskies are now heading into their third-straight March on the outside looking in come the NCAA Tournament. And, with C.J. Wilcox graduating and the recruiting pipeline starting to dry up, there is no end in sight to the drought. Make no mistake, Romar’s still got plenty of leash in Seattle, but questions about his long-term viability absolutely need to be considered these days.
  5. Below is our panel’s selections for this weekend in Pac-12 basketball. We head to the mountains for our game of the week, where all three of us took the host Utes in a rare Saturday morning game. In fact, there is no differential between our panel’s selections this week. Very boring.
    Game Connor (27-7) Drew (23-11) Adam (22-12)
    Washington State @ Washington Washington Washington Washington
    Colorado @ Utah Utah Utah Utah
    California @ Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State
    Stanford @ Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona
    Oregon State @ UCLA UCLA UCLA UCLA
    Oregon @ USC Oregon Oregon Oregon
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Can Win at Rupp Propel Arkansas to the SEC’s Third NCAA Tournament Bid?

Posted by David Changas on February 28th, 2014

For the past several weeks, many have wondered if the SEC, a power conference with 14 teams, could actually only get two bids to the NCAA Tournament. The maddening inconsistency of teams other than Florida and Kentucky made it seems like a real possibility. After Missouri recently won three straight home games, it looked like the Tigers could be the third team to step up and solidify the conference’s standing. The Tigers proceeded to drop road games to Alabama and Georgia — the latter giving the Bulldogs a season sweep — and now again appear to be on shaky ground. Tennessee, which in the preseason was considered a lock by many to make the Big Dance, went to College Station last Saturday and lost to lowly Texas A&M for the second time this season, and, although a 4-0 finish to the regular season is possible, the Vols’ Tournament chances appear to be tenuous at best. LSU, another team many thought could compete for a bid, has been inconsistent, and does not have a resume that merits serious consideration at this point.

Is Mike Anderson on the verge of taking Arkansas back to the NCAA Tournament? (AP)

The only other hope the league has had for an at-large bid is Arkansas, and for most of the season, the Razorbacks have not been considered a legitimate contender because of their inability to win away from Bud Walton Arena. Prior to this season, Mike Anderson’s only two conference road wins came at Auburn, and this year started out no differently. After getting blown out in their first league road game at Texas A&M, Arkansas lost close but winnable games at Georgia and Tennessee, and began the conference season a chilly 2-6. That appeared to all but end any thought that the Razorbacks could make the NCAA Tournament this season. Since that time, however, the Hawgs have won six of seven, including three on the road. And none have been bigger than last night’s overtime win at Kentucky. Not only was it the first win for Arkansas at Rupp Arena since 1994, it was easily Anderson’s biggest win since taking over for John Pelphrey three years ago. Despite turning the ball over 20 times and giving up 26 offensive rebounds to the Wildcats, the Razorbacks, which led by double-figures for much of the first half and by seven at the break, were able to overcome a late five-point deficit to force the extra frame on their way to a 71-67 win. Thanks in large part to holding Kentucky to 34.2 percent shooting and a 16-of-16 mark from the line, Arkansas was able to get a win that will serve them very well with Selection Sunday just over two weeks away.

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Big 12 M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on February 28th, 2014

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  1. For a Kansas team hoping to push for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, finishing the remainder of the season without another loss looks like it’ll be a necessity, and even that might not be enough to earn a spot on the top line on Selection Sunday. One of the teams that appears to be poised for a #1 seed ahead of Kansas is, of course, Wichita State. On Thursday, Kansas head coach Bill Self said that he believes the Shockers should earn a #1 seed if they finish the season unbeaten, given how hard it is to consistently win on the road regardless of strength of schedule. If things play out like they could, we might find a situation where Wichita State and Kansas are in the same region as the #1 and #2 seeds. That would certainly be all the Sunflower State could handle.
  2. Competition in the Big 12 has been nothing short of stellar for most of the season, but as Dave Skretta of the Associated Press points out, we might be reaching a point where the league is cannibalizing itself. Because there are so many quality teams from top to bottom, beating each other could potentially have a negative impact on the number of berths that the league receives to the NCAA Tournament.  The last two weeks of the season are sure to have several games that will have a significant impact on the postseason, let’s just hope the selection committee is aware of just how tough it is to win in the Big 12 this season.
  3. In a sport like college basketball where so much of the talk is centered around underclassmen, it’s refreshing to hear some of the senior night stories that will take place in the next few weeks — such as this one about Oklahoma seniors Cam Clark and Tyler Neal.  While Neal has the luxury of welcoming his parents to every home game, Clark will for once have his parents in attendance as he plays his final game in Norman.
  4. One of the biggest reasons for the turnaround that Rick Barnes’ team has experienced at Texas this season is the improved play of big man Cameron Ridley. On Wednesday night, Ridley saw the type of size on Baylor’s front line that he can expect to see at the NBA level, and his performance didn’t disappoint. We’ve seen similar play at times from Ridley throughout the season, namely the home game against Kansas where Ridley dominated the talented Jayhawks’ frontcourt. For Texas to excel in postseason play, you can bet that Ridley will need to continue to have a significant influence.
  5. Speaking of postseason play, Bob Huggins’ West Virginia team is currently in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid, but will need some big wins down the stretch to get there. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, they will continue to be without the services of Terry Henderson, who has been out of action with an undisclosed illness since a game against Kansas on February 8. While West Virginia officials couldn’t get into the details of exactly what is wrong with Henderson, they believe he is appearing to come out of whatever is bothering him. It looks like superbly talented point guard Juwan Staten will continue to shoulder most of the load for the Mountaineers.
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Big Ten M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 28th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. For the first time in quite a while, Michigan State should have its full roster intact on Saturday when the Spartans take on Illinois. Branden Dawson will return to action for the first time in nine games, although head coach Tom Izzo doesn’t know how much he’ll be able to play. Dawson will have to wear a brace on his injured hand, but as long as said brace doesn’t hinder his ability to rebound and play defense, it shouldn’t be an issue. Even with players not necessarily playing at 100 percent health-wise, the Spartans will gain a lot of credibility with the selection committee by winning their last three with their lineup fully in place.
  2. Ben Brust has been slightly off shooting the ball as of late. He turned things around last game in the second half against Indiana however, and in the process became the 38th player in Wisconsin history to hit the 1,000-point plateau. Brust credited his teammates for this accomplishment saying, noting that “he was lucky to have good players when I got here to set an example for me.” Brust is shooting a slightly lower percentage (37.0%) on threes this season than in his last two (38.9% in both his sophomore and junior seasons), but he’s posting a much higher offensive rating and is knocking down almost 90 percent of his free throws. He could garner even more space in Wisconsin basketball lore with a hot shooting streak come March.
  3. Illinois is starting to turn things around after the Illini lost eight games in a row during conference play. They’ve now won three out of five games since they switched their starting lineup, putting Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn into the starting unit in place of seniors Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand. With their win against Nebraska on Wednesday night, the Illini guaranteed themselves a .500 record for the regular season. If they can miraculously win out against the likes of Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa, they may even have a remote opportunity to play themselves back onto the bubble. In this year’s Big Ten, you never know.
  4. That last statement could definitely also be applied to what happened with Minnesota forward Charles Buggs and his performance Tuesday night at The Barn. In this year’s Big Ten, you never know, and no one would have imagined or thought that someone who had played a grand total of 21 minutes all season could score 13 points and ignite a rally that may have saved the Gophers season. Buggs almost transferred in the midst of the coaching transition, but stick around because he thought his athleticism would work well in their up-tempo system. With Oto Osenieks hobbled with a knee problem, Buggs may have won himself extended time the rest of the season at the power forward spot.
  5. Anyone who saw the transition and success Northwestern had during their mid-season turnaround had to have noticed that JerShon Cobb was a huge part of their efforts. It was announced on Thursday afternoon that due to lingering knee and foot problems, Cobb will not play the rest of the season. Cobb will be heard from again as a senior leader for the 2014-15 version of the Wildcats, but for now they will struggle to win games for the rest of the 2013-14 campaign. This makes an already short bench even shorter, and hurts them defensively by losing Cobb’s length at the guard spot.
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SEC M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 28th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Chris Mannix’s NBA Big Board 4.0 has three SEC players on it, all of them Wildcats. None of the three, however, has the last name of Harrison. Mannix has Julius Randle at #4, James Young at #14 and Willie Cauley-Stein at #15. He writes that Cauley-Stein has the tools to be a solid defensive presence but his “lack of consistency is alarming.” This makes me wonder whether it would make sense for him to hold back on the NBA yet again? Cauley-Stein will always have a place in the league, at least for a few years; his seven-foot frame and athleticism virtually guarantee that. While going in the middle of the first round is attractive, if he were to stay another year and show a bit more consistency and development, he could potentially crack the lottery in a weaker draft class. That could be a decision worth several million dollars, but there’s also risk associated with it. In a somewhat smaller role, his rebounding and shooting percentages are down, and a similar setback next season could start to raise serious questions about his commitment. The point is that Cauley-Stein should at least consider hanging around Lexington another year. Again.
  2. LSU has gone over a week without a bad loss, and that’s an accomplishment in the SEC’s middle class. Their RPI is still too high (#66) to seriously be in the NCAA Tournament discussion, and as Brian pointed out yesterday on Twitter, Tennessee is the best bet for a third SEC bid. Still, LSU has a potential ace in its pocket. If the Tigers can somehow, someway, win at Florida this weekend, they’ll vault themselves right into the picture. It’s not likely, but LSU did play a great game at Rupp Arena last weekend and Florida hasn’t blown many teams away recently. Jarell Martin continuing the improvement he showed against Texas A&M could go a long way in LSU pulling off the upset. The freshman scored 20 points in part by tweaking his shooting form by going straight up more often and not falling back. “We had to double on Johnny O’Bryant so much that Jarell was just spotting up and shooting threes,” Billy Kennedy said. “He’s a McDonald’s All-American and played like it.” That’s the encouraging thing about LSU making a late run: The Tigers don’t lack for talent.
  3. Ole Miss will be without Derrick Millinghaus for the foreseeable future, as the sophomore guard has been suspended indefinitely. This caps off a disappointing season for Millinghaus. Despite getting six more minutes per game this season his usage rate has been virtually identical to what it was as a freshman. His PER (9.0) and true shooting percentage (37.7%) have both sharply declined, and his results have been especially poor lately. In the last three games he’s played 39 minutes, and scored five points on seven shots. Millinghaus has the ability to put up points, but is the type of player that needs a high volume of shots to do so. That simply isn’t a good fit alongside Marshall Henderson. But Henderson will be gone next season, and Millinghaus (if whatever spawned this suspension doesn’t linger) could be a candidate to replace some of those shots and points. In short, this suspension doesn’t hurt the Rebels much the rest of the way, but Millinghaus can still be a big part of their future.
  4. Matt Norlander has an interesting look at Billy Donovan’s career that is steeped in historical nuggets. Donovan will almost certainly get to 500 wins before he turns 50 and he has a legitimate chance to become only the sixth coach with three or more national titles. He definitely already gets recognized as a great coach, but Donovan seems to always slip through the cracks when the “elite coaches” discussion gets going. That’s obviously not a scientific statement, just based off a feeling. If Florida were to win the title this year, what would there be left for Donovan to prove? Putting together two completely different championship teams just about does it. To connect this team to the Al Horford/Joakim Noah teams, you need to go back to when these seniors were freshmen playing with Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes, who played with Walter Hodge and Mareese Speights when they were freshmen. That’s a lot of good recruiting and coaching. Would winning this year be enough for Donovan to finally make a (permanent) jump to the NBA? On a non-Donovan note, Norlander also mentioned Adolph Rupp’s “Cy Young-like unbreakable record” of being the fastest coach to reach 500 wins, in only 583 games. No matter in what era the achievement was reached, that is insanity.
  5. If you want to be called an idiot, just walk up to Kevin Stallings and suggest that Cuonzo Martin should be fired. The Vanderbilt coach went on the offensive to protect his in-state counterpart. “Hopefully, the powers that be over at Tennessee will tune those idiots out and give [Martin] the kind of time he deserves to do the job he needs to do,” Stallings said. This is an admirable coaching fraternity defense, but also goes deeper as Stallings and Martin both come from the Gene Keady-Purdue tree. On Wednesday we wrote about the growing calls for Bruce Pearl around the Tennessee program. And this makes sense, especially if Martin misses the NCAA tournament this year. It’s a difficult situation to really get a handle on because it is unique. Martin may be a good coach: he comes from a good coaching tree and did build a winning program at Missouri State, and you can’t always establish yourself in three years. But the pressure is ratcheted up on Martin with the fan favorite and uber successful Pearl still living in Knoxville and being visible on ESPN.
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AAC M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on February 28th, 2014

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  1. One of the main reasons Louisville has been successful this season, specifically lately, is its ability to take care of the basketball. Before the season began, Rick Pitino was worried about the team’s ball handling with the departure of stalwart point guard Peyton Siva. So, every time a player turned the ball over his name was taped on the wall at the practice facility. Everyone’s name is on the wall. The gimmick must have worked, because the Cards are on pace to set a school record for fewest turnovers per game (averaging 10.2 per game). How far back do you have to go to find the record holders? Not very. It was set last year with the national championship team, who averaged just 12.4. Louisville ranks second in the country in turnover margin at plus 6.8. Freshman Terry Rozier is leading the way with 3.4 assists for every turnover and Chris Jones’ number is close to 3. Solid work for two first-year Division 1 players.
  2. SMU could be a scary opponent for someone in the NCAA Tournament, assuming they do what they have to and earn a bid. ESPN’s John Gassaway said the Mustangs should be thought of as lil’ Ohio State because second-year coach Larry Brown has his team playing some of the best defense in the conference. That’s high praise when the AAC is home to Cincinnati and Louisville. No team has allowed more attempts from three-point land in all of the seven top conferences than SMU so if a team does not get hot from beyond the arc, the Mustangs should have a very good chance to win a game or two in the tournament. Down low SMU has rim protectors in Markus Kennedy and Cannen Cunningham. SMU could probably wind up anywhere between a six and 11 seed, depending on how it finishes the regular season and in the AAC tournament.
  3. Trying to keep Cincinnati forward Justin Jackson out of foul trouble is nothing new, coach Mick Cronin said. That, however, doesn’t make it any less of a pressing issue. Jackson averages 11.3 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots per game and is essentially the only other consistent offensive threat for the Bearcats outside of superstar Sean Kilpatrick. Jackson is quick and athletic and tries to block every shot and snag every rebound, which often gets him in foul trouble. Cronin said anyone that is an aggressive rebounder (Jackson no doubt qualifies) is always in risk of foul trouble. Against Louisville, Jackson picked up two fouls in just more than two minutes, sending him to the bench for the reminder of the half. Cronin said he’s actually done a better job with fouls this year, and the Louisville game was a glaring exception. He said no one was more upset than Jackson about spending so much time on the bench. Starting tomorrow at Connecticut, Jackson will need to stay on the floor for Cincinnati to reach its lofty goals of an AAC championship (or two) and a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
  4. At this point in the season it’s all about execution. Sunday against SMU, Connecticut simply didn’t do it. And until they had a second-half surge to get past South Florida Wednesday night, the Huskies weren’t very impressive again. “It’s always frustrating not when you’re broke yourself, but your whole team is broke,” Ryan Boatright said. “We’ve got to get better, man, at all aspects of the game.” Kevin Ollie continues to preach trust and ball movement to his group and not to bog down if the first or second offensive option is unavailable.
  5. Rick Pitino is not worried about his team letting up — it hasn’t all season — because he has a great group of seniors. Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Stephan Van Treese, and Tim Henderson have all been to two Final Fours but have not let up a bit. Pitino said the greatest sign of maturity from his team was after Smith’s shot went in against Cincinnati, all five guys got right back into defensive position and it was a tipped pass that officially sealed the game.
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Morning Five: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 28th, 2014

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  1. With the season winding down, UCLA appears to be looking at a fairly high seed (we have seen anywhere from 4-7 in brackets), but we have to wonder about them going forward after Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, the team’s two best players were suspended for last night’s game against Oregon. The outcome of last night’s game isn’t nearly as important as the suspensions–one game each for “violating team rules”. That could certainly mean a lot of things, but it has to make you wonder about the mindset of Anderson (14.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game) and Adams (17.2 points per game) heading into March.
  2. It has been a few weeks since we had heard much about the North Carolina academic scandal so we were a bit surprised to see that Business Week had decided to make it this week’s cover story. For those who have followed this story there is not anything particularly shocking in the story, but it will only serve to further damage the school’s reputation. At this point it seems unlikely that either the NCAA or any governing body will take significant action against the school and you can argue that print media is dying, but having that cover on newsstands across the world certainly won’t help North Carolina’s brand.
  3. For the Tar Heel fans who might be feeling a little down after yet another mainstream media source took a shot at the school for their handle of the academic scandal, Grantland has a feature on a topic–the 2005 title team–that should serve as a way to perk you up. Except that it is about how the key players on that team failed to live up to expectations. We don’t mind to pile on Tar Heel fans today, but it is an interesting topic particularly when you consider that you can make a strong case for that team being one of the top teams since 2000. Oh, and if you want to know if Illinois fans are still upset about losing that title game check out the comment section.
  4. Bill Self might not want to play Wichita State, but that does not mean he does not appreciate what they are doing. When asked about the Shockers, Self reiterated his stance that he would continue to schedule games to help his program not others. This certainly won’t endear him to Wichita State fans, but Self did come out in support of the Shockers as a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they are undefeated when Selection Sunday rolls around. Honestly, we don’t understand how anybody could believe that the Selection Committee would pass on an undefeated team much less one that made it to the Final Four last year (yes, we know the last part shouldn’t matter).
  5. By now you should know that we basically link Luke Winn’s Power Rankings almost every week. It’s not that Luke pays us (that would be a nice gift though), but it is because it is one of the few columns that we learn something new from every week. This week the two things that jump out at us are the block matrix that Luke created and how Xavier Thames‘ usage and production has decreased recently. The part of the block matrix that jumped out at us is how underrated Chris Obekpa is as a defender. He won’t generate the headlines that Joel Embiid does mainly because of Obekpa’s limited offensive repertoire, but these numbers suggest that he might be able to find his way onto a NBA roster some day. As for Thames, being on the East Coast we do not get to see as much of him as we would like, but the graph showing his drop in usage and production is instructive if you are trying to figure out what is wrong with San Diego State.
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The Case for UNLV’s Dave Rice

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 27th, 2014

For those interested in bashing Dave Rice this season, it hasn’t been a challenge finding a few friends to join in on the fun. Even our own Andrew Murawa took a rip at UNLV’s walking, breathing, coaching piñata a few weeks back, listing Rice dead last in a ranking of the MW’s 11 current head coaches. This lack of love from Mr. Murawa and others is understandable: The Rebels have slogged their way through a season that began with a seemingly loaded roster and Mountain West title aspirations. Thomas & Mack Arena has turned uncharacteristically hospitable — feel free to ask Air Force, Nevada and UC Santa Barbara about UNLV’s new, friendlier visitor initiative if you don’t believe me. The Runnin’ Rebels may still finish third in the Mountain West and UNLV fans will fairly entertain hopes of running the table (at home) in the MW Tournament to find a backdoor into the Big Dance, but like the Vegas weekender stumbling onto his Sunday flight home, there is no hiding the disappointment for this UNLV team. Just don’t blame Dave Rice.

Dave Rice Has Plenty Of Destractors After A Disappointing UNLV Season, But Let's See If The Same Critics Are This Vocal Twelve Months From Now

Dave Rice Suddenly Has Plenty Of Detractors After A Disappointing UNLV Season, But Let’s See If The Same Critics Are This Vocal Twelve Months From Now

Remember last year’s UNLV team? The one that won 25 games and earned a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament? If the memories aren’t flowing in, don’t look to this year’s team for any help. The only current Rebels to earn serious minutes a season ago are Khem Birch and Bryce Dejean-Jones — the result of Rice losing seven rotation players from last year’s team. Adding to the offseason chaos was the fact that four of those seven departees still possessed college eligibility, so their decisions to pursue basketball careers elsewhere (for a variety of reasons) were largely unplanned. The impact of those defections has been dramatically overlooked by Rice critics; lose that much talent and production from any team, and creating a brand-new winner the next season is bound to be difficult. For every Kansas there is a Miami, Temple or Illinois, where rebuilding years are understood as necessary steps to a brighter future. Somehow the folks in Sin City missed the memo preaching leniency in the wake of an offseason exodus, as most explanations for the Rebel malaise have skipped over the overhaul, choosing instead to focus on the perceived deficiencies of the man at the helm.

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Three’s a Crowd: Three Observations Near the End of SEC Play

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 27th, 2014

Three is a popular number in the SEC these days. There was Kyle Fuller’s missed three in regulation to tie the game against Florida on Tuesday night. There is significant and realistic discussion about whether the SEC will get three teams into the NCAA Tournament. And to top it off, time is running out as there are just three regular season SEC games remaining for each team (following Thursday night’s game between Arkansas and Kentucky). So why not go for an old fashioned three-point play with three observations headed into the final week of regular season action?

Is Georgia the SEC's third best team?

Is Georgia the SEC’s third best team?

The Third Best Team?

Georgia is nowhere near NCAA Tournament talk, but the Bulldogs may very well be the third best team in the conference this season. Mark Fox’s squad has won six of its last seven games, including home victories over LSU and Missouri. It also has four very bad losses (Temple, Davidson, Georgia Tech and Auburn) and lacks a true quality win, but I would not want to match up with the Bulldogs in a couple of weeks in Atlanta if I were an SEC head coach. In five of its last six games, Georgia’s defense has held opponents under 1.0 point per possession. Granted, those games were not against any offensive juggernauts, but the Bulldogs appear to be peaking at just the right time. The Bulldogs made a run to the SEC Tournament championship at the Georgia Dome in 2008, so perhaps the setting is right for them to do it again this season (hopefully without the tornado).

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on February 27th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the Rush the Court’s correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Looking Back

Perris Blackwell is pulling down rebounds for Washington, De’End Parker is leading Cal State San Marcos to the top of NAIA ranks, and Cody Doolin is plotting his comeback next year at UNLV. But Rex Walters has commanded a resolute Gang of Six anchored by senior forward Cole Dickerson to propel San Francisco to the brink of second place in the WCC with an outside chance of tying for the title. By holding off hapless Saint Mary’s and still-struggling Pacific at home last week, the Dons moved to 11-5 in conference play and into a virtual tie with BYU for the second spot (the Cougars have a half-game lead by virtue of having played one more game). If the Dons sweep Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount this week in Southern California and BYU and Gonzaga stumble in their final contests, Walters’ embattled troops will have pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in WCC history.

It is still a slight possibility that Cole Dickerson and USF could record an improbable conference crown. (ISI Sports)

It is still a slight possibility that Cole Dickerson and USF could earn itself an improbable conference crown. (ISI Sports)

Gonzaga paved the way for this potential outcome by dropping both its road contests last week, first to an aroused BYU in Provo, and then to a scrappy San Diego at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. The Zags’ lack of depth was a factor in both losses, as Mark Few has narrowed his rotation to exclude anyone besides Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower, Jr. in the frontcourt. Providence transfer Gerard Coleman, Louisville transfer Angel Nunez and two freshmen are anchored on the bench as the Zags plow unsteadily towards another conference championship and a top seed in the WCC Tournament, opening March 6 in Las Vegas. Read the rest of this entry »

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O26 Game of the Week: Saint Louis-VCU Pt. II, Iona-Manhattan & More…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 27th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Saint Louis (25-2) at Virginia Commonwealth (20-7) – 6:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday. Yes, this was our Game of the Week just two short weeks ago and yes, the Billikens all-but-clinched the Atlantic 10 crown by winning on their home floor. So why does the second iteration once again headline the week? Well, for one thing, it was a really good basketball game the first time around. Saint Louis held serve in Chaifetz Arena, sure, but not before VCU forced 17 turnovers and battled back from a double-figure deficit to make the final two minutes thrilling — it took a Rob Loe three-pointer with around 30 seconds left to ice it for the home team. And the defenses lived-up to their dominant billing, each limiting the opposing offense to well-under one point per possession on the afternoon. Even if you had tuned in for just five minutes of action, the high level of play and serious potential of both teams would have become quickly evident.

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (Chris Lee, AP)

And that’s the overarching reason why Saturday’s tilt — this time in Richmond — is the main event in an already-loaded week; Saint Louis-VCU isn’t merely a marquee A-10 match-up, it’s a marquee national match-up. Everything at stake in a high-profile power-conference game is also at stake here: perception, NCAA Tournament profile, late-season momentum, bragging rights, and in the case of the Billikens, a very long winning streak. Jim Crews’ bunch has reeled off 19 straight victories over the course of three full months, last losing way back on December 1 to still-undefeated Wichita State. Shaka Smart’s group, meanwhile — fresh off a painfully-close road loss to UMass last Friday — has not dropped a home game in more than a year, obliterating visiting opponents this season by nearly 17 points per contest. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object in Verizon Wireless Arena, and the basketball-watching public will be the beneficiary. KenPom has the home squad pegged as 62 percent favorites, which is to say, it’s more or less a toss-up. Tune in on Saturday — Round II should be great.

Four More to Watch

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O26 Resume Review: BYU, Saint Joseph’s, Stephen F. Austin Up; Gonzaga & Dayton Down…

Posted by Adam Stillman on February 27th, 2014

It’s hard to believe that we’re just several days from the start of the O26 conference tournaments. While most of those first-week tourneys feature one-bid conferences, the West Coast Conference is hoping that it won’t fall under that category for the first time since 2011. Selection Sunday is just over two weeks away, so let’s take a look at the O26 teams that helped and hurt their at-large candidacies this past week.

Helped

BYU

BYU is right back in the mix. (Getty)

  • BYU (20-10, #33 RPI): BYU got the win it desperately needed. The Cougars were living on a strong non-conference schedule — 27th-best according to Ken Pomeroy — and strong wins against Texas and Stanford. But BYU was taking hit after hit in WCC play, with losses to Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland and Pacific. The Cougars picked up a huge resume win last Thursday night with that 73-65 victory against Gonzaga. Sure, 10 overall losses and five losses in conference play isn’t inspiring, but BYU now boasts three wins over probable NCAA Tournament teams. The Selection Committee has to find 36 at-large teams to fill out the field somehow, and BYU now looks to be in position to earn a bid. There are certainly stumbling blocks the rest of the way, as BYU closes the regular season Saturday at San Diego, no easy place to win this season. KenPom gives BYU a 61 percent chance of winning that game, but a loss there and/or an early exit in the WCC Tournament would cause things to look dicey again. If the Cougars win out until the WCC Tournament championship game, though, they’ll go dancing. Projected seed for now: #12 Read the rest of this entry »
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