Coaches We Hope Stick Around… But Won’t Blame If They Don’t

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 26th, 2015

Ah, late March – the most worrisome time of year. There will be firings, hirings and anxiety over whether several beloved mid-major coaches finally make the leap. Nothing like the smell of pink slips and greenbacks in the morning. With the carousel already fully in motion, let’s take look at a few of the most highly-coveted O26 coaches out there and why they should stay put… but why we also won’t blame them if they leave. [Note: We don’t include Shaka Smart on this list because we hope he’s entering Mark Few O26 lifer-status.]

Gregg Marshall – Wichita State

Here's to hoping Gregg Marshall is a lifer. (David Eulitt / Kansas City Star)

Here’s to hoping Gregg Marshall is a lifer. (David Eulitt/Kansas City Star)

  • He should stay! You know what Wichita State has that Alabama doesn’t (besides Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, of course)? A Final Four banner. Better yet, two Final Four banners. In fact, the Shockers probably have a better basketball program than the Crimson Tide from top to bottom – history, community support, momentum, etc. – and they don’t fall far behind in terms of compensation, either; Marshall’s base salary is $1.85 million this year, not including incentives. The eighth-year head coach has already led his team to a #1 seed, a Final Four appearance and a Sweet Sixteen, accomplishments he’s sure to build on next season if VanVleet and Baker stick around. Plus, how would he “Play Angry” at a power program? That ethos depends on perceived disrespect and thrives on an underdog mentality, which I’m not sure he could manufacture at a revenue mill like Alabama or Texas.
  • Why we wouldn’t blame him… If someone backed up the Brinks truck and said, “Just give me a price,” how would you react? At some point – regardless of landing spot – the monetary offer becomes too eye-poppingly good to pass up. According to CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish, Alabama is willing to offer Marshall “in excess of $3 million per year,” which would put him among the very highest-paid coaches in the game. If the Texas job opens up, the ‘Horns might offer something similar. That’s serious money and both schools’ available resources can back that up.

Steve Prohm – Murray State

  • He should stay! Cameron Payne – one of the best point guards in college hoops – is only a sophomore. Sharpshooters Jeffery Moss (11.1 PPG) and Justin Seymour (45% 3FG) are also set to return next season. Prohm, who has gone 104-29 since taking over in 2012, should continue winning big for the foreseeable future. Murray State’s fan base is among the strongest at the mid-major level, and the 36-year-old coach signed an extension through 2018 just last summer. Stick around, Steve!

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Gonzaga: Why You Should Take The Zags Seriously This Year

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 17th, 2015

Maybe it is just that the naysayers are louder. Maybe it is the whole “once bitten, twice shy” nature of postseason college basketball. But despite a 32-2 record, a #6 overall KenPom ranking, a #2 seed in the South Region, and a veteran-heavy lineup, the once beloved Gonzaga Bulldogs seem to be going the way of Rodney Dangerfield. Not only are they getting no respect on the national scene from the average college basketball fan, they’re at a point in the program’s history where the combination of overwhelming regular season success (they’ve won 14 of the last 15 WCC titles, for example) and relative lack of postseason success (just three Sweet Sixteen appearances in that same span) has drawn a peculiar combination of jealousy and dismissal. Fans around the WCC are sick of their dominance the way New York-hating baseball fans love to hate the Yankees, while the rest of the country doesn’t take them all that seriously due to their handful of NCAA Tournament flameouts.

Despite a 32-2 Record, Many Dismiss Gonzaga's Chances

Despite a 32-2 Record, Many Dismiss Gonzaga’s Chances. (Getty)

Now, I wrote about Gonzaga a year ago following their blowout loss to Arizona in the Round of 32. I stand by everything I wrote there: Gonzaga’s postseason record is a result of a combination of bad luck in a small sample size and, frankly, a relative lack of talent. I wrote about them again back in December, wondering if this year was really any different than those in the past. I’ve now watched the Zags play maybe a dozen times this season. I’ve seen them up close and personal four of those times. I’ve seen them grow from a point in December when they easily handled UCLA at Pauley Pavilion to last Tuesday night in Las Vegas when they took home another WCC Tournament title. And let me tell you, from a guy who watches a lot of college basketball, there aren’t very many teams in this country that are better than Gonzaga.

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Atlantic 10 Postseason Previews

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on March 17th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vbtnblog.

Sunday, Sunday

As expected, the Atlantic 10 sent six teams to the postseason: three to the NCAA Tournament — Davidson, Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth — the other three to the NIT — George Washington, Richmond and Rhode Island. VCU benefited the most, not just with the championship and accompanying automatic bid, but in seemingly finding some of the answers that Shaka Smart has been searching for much of the season.

Archie Miller might be the most important returnee of the entire A10 conference. (AP)

Will the home court advantage give a slightly tired Dayton team the boost it needs? (AP)

NCAA Bound

Dayton head coach Archie Miller was reluctant to admit that the cumulative effect of a 33-game schedule may have played a role in his Flyers’ blowout loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship game on Sunday. “These guys, they have battled hard all year so it’s kind of hard to say we are finally tired. I don’t think we played tired.” He later tacitly acknowledged that sophomore point guard Scoochie Smith, who carried a good deal of the offensive burden through Dayton’s three-game run in Brooklyn, may have been feeling it. “He may be the one guy I look and say from a legs perspective he had some really good looks and was short on all of them, so hopefully we get Scoochie back.” The Selection Committee essentially said to the Flyers, “You get to open the Tournament at home! On three days rest” — a classic good news/bad news punch line. Their opponent, Boise State, will traverse a time zone to make the game. Smith, along with consistent play-makers Kendall Pollard and senior Jordan Sibert, should win this game, and after another two-day layoff and a bus ride to Columbus, will face #6 Providence, another uptempo team with a short bench. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Eight Best Championship Week Games in Las Vegas in the Last Five Years

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 16th, 2015

Over the past week in Las Vegas, I’ve taken in three conference tournaments at three different venues, seen as many as 10 different NCAA Tournament contenders (and that’s without even getting out to the WAC Tournament to see New Mexico State) and several wildly enjoyable college basketball games. It takes some time to pass before you can consider how an event will fit in with other events over the course of history, but all these great games got me thinking. You see, this was the sixth straight season I’ve been in Las Vegas for Championship Week. And over those years, I’ve seen some absolutely classic basketball games. So, I figured I’d put together my list of the best games I’ve seen in Las Vegas in the previous five seasons. Games like Wyoming/San Diego State in this year’s Mountain West title game, or the latest iteration of Arizona/UCLA, or several other games from this week (Gonzaga/BYU, USC/Arizona State, Stanford/Washington, among others) will doubtlessly be on this list in the future. But we need time to age and mellow the remembrances of this vintage of Vegas epics. So, for your consideration below, here are the eight best March masterpieces that Las Vegas has served up in the past five seasons.

  1. San Diego State 65, Boise State 62, March 8, 2012, Mountain West Quarterfinal. For 39 minutes and 59 seconds, the then 13-16 and eighth-place Broncos would play Mountain West Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin and his Aztecs to a draw. And then, on a three-pointer as time expired, Franklin showed everybody why he was the MW POY and why the Aztecs were the #1 seed. After getting a hand-off at the top of the key and with two guys in his face, Franklin drilled a 22-footer to send the Aztecs to the semifinals in dramatic fashion.

  1. New Mexico 72, UNLV 67, March 9, 2012, Mountain West Semifinal. The Runnin’ Rebels raced out to the first 12 points of this game. Playing on their homecourt, a place where they hadn’t lost since the previous year’s Mountain West tournament, the Rebels had to feel confident in knowing that they had never lost to the Lobos in their previous eight Mountain West tournament matchups. New Mexico took that early punch and then rode Drew Gordon and some great defense on the comeback trail, setting up a championship matchup against San Diego State.

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Atlantic 10 Tournament: Semifinal Saturday Review

Posted by Joe Dzuback on March 15th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent at the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Brooklyn this weekend. He filed this report after Saturday’s semifinal action.

No Bid Thieves Among Us

With four opponents and three NCAA-bound teams left in the field, the chances for an NIT-bound team to play on Saturday were a given. Which team that would be, however, was not decided until Rhode Island crushed George Washington in the evening quarterfinal session on Friday night. Rhody’s burgeoning bid steal attempt ended at the hands of Dayton on Saturday in a game that was not decided until there were 20 seconds left. Davidson, unsteady in its A-10 Tournament debut in the quarterfinals, was saved by a Jake Gibbs drive and bucket in a one-point win on Friday before falling to Virginia Commonwealth in the semifinals on Saturday. That means Dayton and VCU will meet today (1:00 PM ET) to determine which team will take the Atlantic 10’s automatic bid. Of the three widely-recognized NCAA-bound teams, Dayton and VCU seem to be securely on the #8/#9 seed lines. Only Davidson appears in slight danger, located on the #10 or #11 lines depending on whose bracket you consider.

Archie Miller Once Again Has Dayton Peaking in March (USA Today Images)

Archie Miller Once Again Has Dayton Peaking in March (USA Today Images)

Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley made the obligatory argument for an NCAA bid after his team’s loss. The Rams have the 10th-best defensive efficiency in Division I basketball, no losing streak longer than two games, a 20+ win season, etc. All are legitimate points, but he failed to mention Rhody’s RPI (#60), a strength of schedule ranking of #161, an 0-6 record versus top 50 teams and a 3-2 record versus teams ranked between #100 and #200. In the end, Hurley tacitly acknowledged that his Rams were a bit short: “If that’s [the NIT] where we end up landing we will be thrilled with that.” Expect the Rams along with conference-mates Richmond and George Washington to have at least one home game when the NIT field is announced on Sunday night. All three NIT-bound teams are projected as squarely on the #4 seed line or higher, making them very secure in that field. Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg removed his team from consideration for a CIT/CBI bid, leaving St. Bonaventure, the remaining unclaimed team with a winning conference and overall record, waiting for a phone call Sunday night.

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Wyoming, Relentlessness, and a Mountain West Title

Posted by AMurawa on March 14th, 2015

Relentless. It’s the one-word answer Mountain West Tournament MVP Josh Adams chose to describe the play of his Wyoming basketball team this week. It was personified, to just choose one example, by All-Mountain West senior forward Larry Nance Jr. – a year past a torn ACL – who, early in the hard-fought second-half grind-a-thon against San Diego State, blocked a Winston Shepard layup attempt, recovered to challenge his second shot following an offensive rebound, then dove out of bounds to save the ball to his teammate. “We’ve been relentless all year,” Adams expounded on the word. “We’ve been in dogfights all year. This is the style we play. I know a lot of the critiques about us — we’re grinding it out; we’re going to lose energy – but we had a bounce in our step and were able to grind it out all the way to the end of the game, and now we’re going dancing.”

Josh Adams, Mountain West Tournament MVP, Celebrating A Championship

Josh Adams, Mountain West Tournament MVP, Celebrating A Championship

Effort. Between the 3:39 mark at the end of the first half and the 11:29 mark in the second half, Wyoming did not score. Over the course of 15 possessions, the Cowboys had five turnovers, five missed layups and three missed threes. Over that stretch, however, San Diego State was only able to turn a nine-point deficit into a five-point lead mainly because the Pokes were still selling out on every defensive possession. Five seniors and their brothers all fighting to extend their careers. It was tense. It was rough. It was difficult to watch. And it was beautiful. By the time Adams finally knocked the lid off the basket and cut the Aztecs’ lead to two, it was easy to see that the Cowboys weren’t going anywhere. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dunk Town Laramie: America’s Most Likable Team?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 13th, 2015

About four minutes into their quarterfinal win over Utah State on Thursday afternoon, Wyoming’s Larry Nance unsuccessfully attempted to throw down a dunk over his back in traffic. The next time down the court, it was a tomahawk attempt (again unsuccessful) over a couple of Utah State defenders. They were spectacularly entertaining misses. The Cowboys did, however, have more success in their attacks on the rim in the second half, throwing down four increasingly spectacular dunks as they fought back from a seven-point second half deficit to come away with the season-sustaining win. There is a reason this team has earned the moniker of Dunk Town.

Larry Nance And The Cowboys Have Earned The Moniker Of "Dunk Town" (Ryan Dorgan, Star-Tribune)

Larry Nance And The Cowboys Have Earned The Moniker Of “Dunk Town” (Ryan Dorgan, Star-Tribune)

“We love it,” said junior guard Josh Adams, author of the Cowboys’ most emphatic dunk on Thursday, when asked about the nickname after the game. “We fully embrace that nickname. And our fans have too.” And so has head coach Larry Shyatt. “It’s a pretty good percentage shot,” he said, a master of understatement. “I sort of like seeing [Derek Cooke’s] elbows above the rim when they drop it off to him.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Atlantic 10 Tournament: Second Round Review

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on March 13th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Making Their Case

The forecasters say three conference teams — Davidson, Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth — are comfortably in the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68. Meanwhile three other teams — George Washington, Rhode Island and Richmond — are projected as a #4 seed or higher in the NIT. In an ironic twist all too common for the Atlantic 10, the #1 seed in the conference tournament, Davidson, holds the lowest projected NCAA seed (#11) while the highest projected NCAA seed, Virginia Commonwealth (#8), fell to fifth in the conference race. While the projected NIT contingent are all comfortably “in,” none appear on anyone’s NCAA “First Four” or “Next Four Out” lists. Short of a win on Sunday, the destination for those three teams will not change.

Jordan Price (#), who scored a game-high 28 points Thursday afternoon against UMass, will likely need to show that type of production again against Davidson. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Jordan Price (#21), who scored a game-high 28 points Thursday afternoon against UMass, will likely need to show that type of production again against Davidson. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

For the nine teams not penciled into either of the premier postseason tournaments, Wednesday and Thursday at the Atlantic 10 Tournament have become the moment of truth. Saint Louis and George Mason did not make it out of Wednesday night. It also ended poorly for a Massachusetts team that came out on the short end of a 77-69 game against La Salle. When asked about a potential CBI or CIT bid, UMass coach Derek Kellogg declined. NIT or bust. For Saint Joseph’s, last year’s tournament champion, the season ended at the hands of St. Bonaventure. With a 13-18 record, Phil Martelli’s Hawks will recuperate on Hawk Hill and plan for next season. The Bonnies must continue to win in order to work their way into the postseason conversation. They could steal an NIT bid if they can gather two more top 100 wins (which they will have to do to advance to the Sunday game). Taking down Dayton and then either George Washington or Rhode Island should do. Having compiled an 0-4 record versus that competition, however, and with star point guard Jaylen Adams sidelined, the odds are good that they will watch the game from the comfort of their dorms in Olean, New York. Read the rest of this entry »

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Conference Tourney Primers: Sun Belt

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Sun Belt Tournament

Dates: March 12-15

Site: Lakefront Arena (New Orleans, LA)

sunbeltreal

What to expect: Georgia State was thought to be a Cinderella-in-the-making before an uneven and somewhat disappointing campaign quieted that talk. The Panthers still won the Sun Belt title, though, and few other teams boast a pair of guards as offensively gifted as R.J. Hunter, the coach’s son, and Ryan Harrow, the former Kentucky and NC State transfer. Possible challengers include Georgia Southern and Louisiana Monroe – two of the league’s best defensive units – along with Louisiana-Lafayette, which broke Georgia State’s heart in the title game last season. The top seed has not won this tournament since 2009, a trend Ron Hunter’s group hopes to buck this weekend. A double-bye to the semifinals helps.

Favorite: Georgia State. Georgia State was the most efficient offensive and defensive team in conference play this season, led by that stellar backcourt and Ron Hunter’s 2-3 zone – which limited eight of its last 10 opponents to under a point per possession. The Panthers’ defense has improved so much from a year ago, in fact, that it’s helped the team overcome slightly worse offensive numbers overall. That well-roundedness – along with a double-bye to the semifinals – puts them in great position this weekend.

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Conference Tourney Primers: Big West

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Big West Tournament

Dates: March 12-14

Site: Honda Center (Anaheim, CA)

bwreal

What to expect: UC Davis, picked seventh in the preseason, put together its best campaign in program history and won the conference championship with ease. The Aggies are the best three-point shooting team in America and nearly impossible to stop when guard Corey Hawkins and his pinpoint accurate teammates catch fire. Still, UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine – beset by injuries for much of the year – are finally healthy and playing their best basketball of the season, while inconsistent-but-talented Long Beach State remains a threat. The Big West has good star players – Hawkins, USCB’s Alan Williams and LBSU’s Mike Caffey among them – along with an element of unpredictability that should make for a fun few days in Anaheim. In 2014, #7 seed Cal Poly beat #5 seed Cal State Northridge for the tournament crown, so anything is possible.

Favorite: UC Davis. The Aggies won their first-ever Big West title by three full games after going just 4-12 in conference play last season. How did that happen? For one thing, they got healthy – forwards Josh Ritchart (11.9 PPG) and J.T. Adenrele (6.3 RPG) returned after missing most of 2013-14 – but also because they simply shot the lights out. Both Hawkins and coach’s son Tyler Les shoot around 49 percent from behind the arc, and as a team they drill 45 percent of their attempts – easily the best mark in college hoops. With the conference’s most lethal offensive attack, UC Davis is the team to beat.

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Conference Tourney Primers: WAC

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

WAC Tournament

Dates: March 12-14

Site: Orleans Arena (Las Vegas, NV)

wacrealWhat to expect: The talent gap between New Mexico State and the rest of the conference is substantial, a reality which the final standings confirmed; Marvin Menzies’ team cruised to a 12-1 WAC record and won the league by four games. The Aggies are led by an athletic point guard, senior Daniel Mullings, and one of the tallest frontcourts in college basketball. Since losing to Seattle in mid-January, the league champs have reeled off 11 straight victories, including their last seven by an average of nearly 16 points per game. And on top of all that, they are the only team with a bye to the semifinals. It’s hard to imagine the Redhawks or any other challenger stopping them from reaching a fourth-straight NCAA Tournament.

Favorite: New Mexico State. The Aggies were hit with the injury bug in early December, losing preseason all-conference forward Tshilidzi Nephawe for one month with a foot injury, and Mullings – reigning WAC Player of the Year – for eight weeks with a broken finger. Both are back and fully healthy, and the team now looks as good as it has all season. That is bad news for everyone else.

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Conference Tourney Primers: Big Sky

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Big Sky Tournament

Dates: March 12-14

Site: Dahlberg Arena (Missoula, MT)

skyrl

What to expect: Montana clinched the top seed and earned the right to play in its own building, which is bad news for everyone else; the tournament host has won this event five years running. But the Big Sky is also more competitive than it has been in years, with Eastern Washington (co-champions), Sacramento State and Northern Arizona all finishing tied or within a game of the Grizzlies. The Eagles, which snapped Indiana’s 43-game non-conference home winning streak in November, are an especially dangerous team – lethal from behind the arc and proven on the road. Jim Hayford’s bunch was the only Big Sky unit to win in Missoula this season. In reality, the conference race became so unpredictable towards the end of the year that it’s hard to give an advantage to any one contender outside of Montana’s obvious home-court edge.

Favorite: Montana. Montana won eight of its last nine games to end the regular season and now welcomes its Big Sky comrades to Dahlberg Area, where it was 8-1 in conference play. The Grizzlies parlayed home-court advantage into a pair NCAA Tournament appearances in both 2012 and 2013, and while this year’s group might not be as good as those teams, it’s hard to argue with history – especially in a league where home teams went 66-42 in 2014-15.

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