O26 Weekly Awards: BYU, Derrick Marks, Bruiser Flint & Southern Miss…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 3rd, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

BYU pulled off a stunner in Spokane. (Young Kwak / AP)

BYU pulled off a stunner in Spokane. (Young Kwak / AP)

BYU. Want to know how to get back in the NCAA Tournament discussion? Beat the third-ranked team in the country on its own floor. Snap its nation-leading 41-game home winning streak. Ruin its chance for a No. 1 seed. That might do it. Not only was BYU’s 73-70 victory over Gonzaga on Saturday one of the biggest victories in program history, it put the Cougars right back on the right side of the bubble – a residence they had not visited in weeks. Point guard Kyle Collinsworth led the way for Dave Rose’s club, scoring 20 points, securing eight rebounds (six offensive) and coming up with two huge steals, his aggressive play setting the tone from the outset. “We made a lot of mistakes but we were so energized with each play on both offense and defense,” Rose said of his team afterward. BYU held Bulldogs forward Kyle Wiltjer – likely the WCC Player of the Year – to just four points and never enabled Gonzaga to assemble a serious run. After picking up a solid road win at Portland earlier in the week, the Cougars are now projected to be in the field of 68 by numerous prognosticators. A run to the WCC Tournament title game would probably be enough to guarantee BYU a bid come Selection Sunday. As for Collinsworth’s thoughts on the NCAA Tournament committee and his team’s fate: “I’ll let them decide.”

Honorable Mentions: Boise State (2-0: vs. New Mexico, at San Diego State); Wichita State (2-0: at Indiana State, vs. Northern Iowa); Davidson (2-0: at Rhode Island, vs. George Washington); Northern Illinois (2-0: at Toledo, vs. Central Michigan); UC Santa Barbara (2-0: vs. UC Davis, vs. UC Irvine)

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CAA Breakdown: Four Teams Still Vying for Top Spot in Final Week

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 25th, 2015

The Colonial Athletic Association could just as easily be called the Chaotic Athletic Association this season, considering its level of parity and unpredictability. Currently, four of the league’s 10 teams – William & Mary, Northeastern, UNC Wilmington and James Madison – are tied atop the standings with just two games left on the schedule. And since only two of those squads play each other this week, the CAA’s top seed will likely be decided by tie-breakers. Let’s examine the four teams in contention, several possible scenarios from this week’s action, and why William & Mary is in the best position heading into next week’s conference tournament.

The Top Four

William & Mary has its sights set on the CAA's top seed. (TribeAthletics.com)

William & Mary has its sights set on the CAA’s top seed. (TribeAthletics.com)

  • William & Mary – 17-10 (11-5). The Tribe boasts the league most efficient offense and one of its most lethal offensive players in senior guard Marcus Thornton (19.3 PPG). He, along with do-everything forward Terry Tarpey (11.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG) and a cast of dangerous shooters, should handle both Towson and Drexel at home this week, which – as explained below – will be enough to earn the top seed in Baltimore.
  • Northeastern – 19-10 (11-5). The preseason conference favorite downed William & Mary at home last Wednesday before squeaking by Drexel over the weekend. It lacks depth – ranking 344th nationally in bench minutes – but is balanced offensively and possesses the CAA’s premier big man in Scott Eatherton (14.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG), a 6’8’’ center who has fouled out just once this season. The Huskies get the league’s two bottom units this week – Elon and College of Charleston – but both games are on the road and both opponents have proven peskier than their records show.
  • UNC Wilmington – 16-11 (11-5). First-year coach Kevin Keatts has done a remarkable job in Wilmington, taking the Seahawks from last place a year ago (3-13) to first place this season. All that stands between them and a share of the title is a home game against James Madison tonight and a trip to Elon on Saturday.
  • James Madison – 18-11 (11-5). Since dismissing embattled guard Andre Nation in mid-January, James Madison has gone 9-3 and put itself in contention for a share of the conference crown. Unfortunately, of the four contenders, the Dukes have the most difficult route: an elimination game at UNC Wilmington tonight and a tough home game against Hofstra (18-11 (9-7)) on Saturday.

Tie-Breaking Procedure – William & Mary in Control

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O26 Weekly Awards: Northern Iowa, Damion Lee, Jon Coffman & Richmond…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 3rd, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Northern Iowa knocked around Wichita State on Saturday. (Bryon Houlgrave, The Register)

Northern Iowa knocked around Wichita State on Saturday. (Bryon Houlgrave, The Register)

Northern Iowa. The Panthers beat Southern Illinois last Wednesday, 59-52, which was a nice MVC road victory; but let’s be honest – this league is all about the Shockers. While plenty of folks figured Northern Iowa could defeat Wichita State (they were in fact slight favorites by KenPom), I’m not sure anyone thought Ben Jacobson’s group would manhandle the reigning Missouri Valley champs. After trading baskets for the opening 10 minutes, the Panthers spent the final 30 minutes of game time pummeling a team that hadn’t been pummeled in a long, long time. In fact, Wichita State had not lost an MVC contest since the 2013 league championship game against Creighton, racking up 27 straight regular season conference victories entering Saturday. So it goes without saying that Northern Iowa’s performance – a 70-54 beatdown – was something special. Trailing by two with 9:50 left in the first half, the Panthers used stifling defense and an energetic home crowd to close out the period on a 21-6 run, confronting the Shockers with their largest deficit since January 11, 2014. And even though Wichita State had won 12 games in a row when trailing at the break, they were simply overmatched this time around; Northern Iowa began the second-half on another 8-2 spurt to open up an insurmountable 19-point lead. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker were unable to find consistent looks against the home team’s stingy pack-line defense – now the 17th most efficient in college basketball – and Northern Iowa senior Seth Tuttle had the game of his career, scoring 29 points against the Shockers’ usually-tough interior. How did the Panthers dominate Wichita State so thoroughly? Perhaps it was a matter of expectations. “We didn’t really talk about coming in and beating them by one or two,” Tuttle said afterwards. “We talked about coming in here and beating them by 15.” Northern Iowa is now projected as a #5 seed in multiple mock brackets and has a real shot to win the league. February 28 – the return match-up in Wichita – looms large. But for now, the Panthers are our Team of the Week.

Honorable Mentions: Richmond (2-0: vs. Duquesne, at VCU); William & Mary (2-0: vs. Hofstra, at James Madison); Pepperdine (2-0: at Pacific, at Saint Mary’s); Albany (2-0: at Vermont, at Maine); Radford (2-0: at Charleston Southern, vs. Radford); USC-Upstate (2-0: at Jacksonville, at North Florida)

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O26 Shake-Up: Assessing an Ugly Week of Suspensions & Injuries

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 4th, 2014

The past 10 days have been especially fraught with injuries and suspensions and ineligibility rulings, many of which are sure to affect conference races across the Other 26. Let’s examine some of the major losses and their impact as the season approaches:

Isaac Fotu's career could be over at Hawaii. (Photos courtesy Charles Simmons / www.chasingthemomentphoto.com)

Isaac Fotu’s career might be over at Hawaii. (Charles Simmons/chasingthemomentphoto.com)

Isaac Fotu – F – Hawaii. Just a couple days after head coach Gib Arnold was abruptly fired, Hawaii lost its best player last week when Fotu was ruled ineligible due to an ongoing improper benefits investigation. The 6’8’’ all-conference forward averaged 14.9 PPG and 6.1 RPG a year ago and figured to at least keep the Warriors competitive in the Big West. Without him, the outlook is much grimmer. Christian Standhardinger – last year’s leading scorer and rebounder – graduated and starting point guard Keith Shamburger transferred to Missouri, leaving shooting guard Garrett Nevels (13.1 PPG) as Hawaii’s lone returning starter. In fact, he will be the only returner who averaged more than five points per game in 2013-14, meaning Hawaii is effectively a collection of young, unproven players adapting to a new coach with the season opener right around the corner. If Fotu does not return – which appears to be the case, as of late Monday night – this could be a rough season in Honolulu. Read the rest of this entry »

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Conference Tournament Primer: Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 7th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with two more conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the next week-plus of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the CAA and SoCon get started.

Dates: March 7-10
Site: Baltimore Arena (Baltimore, MD)

CAA.jpg

(caasports.com)

What to expect: Help may have arrived just in time for Delaware. After starting 11-0 in conference play, the Blue Hens dropped two of their final five games and appeared vulnerable without starting point guard Jarvis Threatt and key reserve Marvin King-Davis, each suspended at the end of January. Both players have since returned to the court and will likely prove much-needed in the team’s run for the automatic bid. It won’t come easy: Towson, the preseason league favorite, enters the tournament on a six-game winning streak and is equipped with the conference’s best player, Jerrelle Benimon. Since the event will be held in Baltimore instead of Richmond this year, both teams should feel comfortable — Towson is right down the road, and Delaware’s campus is only one hour away. Drexel and William & Mary could be semifinal threats, but expect a Hens-Tigers championship game on Monday night.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Toledo, Jerrelle Benimon, UTEP & Chicago State…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 22nd, 2014

The rigors of conference play began taking its toll last week as several O26 league favorites discovered just how hard conference road games can be. Some teams dealt with these hurdles better than others, the results of which ranged anywhere from surprising upsets to crazy comebacks to clutch shots. Let’s pass out a few awards to the performers who handled themselves best during the O26 week that was.

O26 Team of the Week

In part thanks to some Juice Brown heroics, Toledo had an excellent week. (BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH)

In part thanks to some Juice Brown heroics, Toledo had an excellent week. (Jeremy Wadsworth/Blade)

Toledo. First it was the expected-but-still-disappointing loss to Kansas followed by a forgettable defeat at Western Michigan, and all of a sudden the Rockets — once unbeaten and the talk of the mid-major world — were in serious jeopardy of losing their groove. Some teams might have become deflated, lost confidence and continued to slide, but not Toledo. Head coach Tod Kowalczyk remained calm after falling to the Broncos, noting “We didn’t play well in two games all year. This is one of two… we’ll be fine.” His team has responded in similar fashion, handling Central Michigan with ease two Saturdays ago before collecting a pair huge wins this past week to remain the MAC West kings. First was a home contest against surging Buffalo, a squad on a four-game winning streak that looked poised to make it five in a row. The Bulls jumped out to a quick lead in the opening minutes that it wouldn’t hand over until midway through the second half, even then not backing down from the Rockets. A big reason for that was because Javon McCrea was his usual beastly self, finishing with 20 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks and enabling his team to keep pace and ultimately knot things up at 59 with a minute and a half to play. But just when the game appeared to be headed for overtime, Toledo point guard Julius “Juice” Brown made the magic happen, capping off an eight-point, 90 second stretch by receiving the second pass off a full-court inbounds play, hoisting from just inside the arc, and nailing a buzzer-beater to win the game, 67-65. It was one of the most exciting finishes you will see all season and an emphatic completion to an important win for the Rockets.

Despite the mid-week heroics, though, it was Saturday morning’s match-up at Akron that was supposed to provide the drama, with two teams pegged to win their respective divisions in the preseason and each featuring first-team all-conference talent. But as the game wore on, it became more evident that this was not going to be the hotly contested battle many thought — Toledo thoroughly and resolutely outplayed the Zips for much of the 40 minutes, pounding them on both ends of the glass and putting the game completely out of reach midway through the second half. Brown finished with his second straight 20+ point outing, while former Ohio State forward J.D. Weatherspoon — who has emerged as a vital paint presence in recent games — scored 20 points and secured a game-high 14 rebounds. The win was something of a statement for the Rockets, an assertion of dominance over a club predicted by many to win the league and return to the NCAA Tournament this season. Now 15-2, Kowalczyk’s group has regained its status as one of the more dangerous non-power conference teams in America, a position it hopes to maintain through MAC play and into the postseason. The wins over Buffalo and Akron were key steps on that path and important demonstrations of resiliency, earning Toledo our award for Team of the Week.

Honorable Mentions: George Washington (2-0: vs. VCU, @St. Bonaventure); Towson (2-0: @Drexel, @College of Charleston); UTEP (2-0: @Middle Tennessee State, @UAB).

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What Devon Saddler’s Return Means for Delaware and the CAA

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 18th, 2013

After missing the previous seven games for an unspecified violation of team rules, Delaware guard Devon Saddler returned Monday night in a difficult road meeting with North Dakota State that did not go well for the Blue Hens — they surrendered 1.23 points per possession, shot just 5-of-22 from three-point range, and lost by 19 points. “We were not sharp,” head coach Monte Ross commented after the game. Saddler, though, was, dropping in 24 efficient points off the bench and showing onlookers why he is one of the preeminent scorers in college basketball. It was a significant silver lining in an otherwise disappointing night for Delaware, the type of impressive return that could be a harbinger of good things to come in CAA play this season.

Devon Saddler should make Delaware real contenders in the CAA. (US Presswire)

Devon Saddler should make Delaware real contenders in the CAA. (US Presswire)

But before we just assume that Saddler’s return automatically means all positive things for the Hens, it is important to note how the team performed during his absence. In those seven games, Ross’s up-tempo club won five of them and pushed both Villanova and Notre Dame to the brink in two close road losses by a combined nine points. The offense was arguably more efficient since before the personnel loss, never finishing below 80 points and receiving increased production from emerging scoring option — and verifiable sharpshooter — Kyle Anderson, who currently ranks first in the country in three-point percentage for players with at least 60 attempts, at 54 percent. Impact transfer Davon Usher, who was eligible immediately after coming over from Mississippi Valley State in the offseason, also shouldered a large amount of the scoring load with considerable success, finishing with at least 25 points in four of the contests without Saddler. Additionally, Delaware moved up a whopping 83 spots in KenPom during that time, from #162 to #79, making it second among CAA teams behind only ailing-but-resilient Drexel.  Put simply, the Blue Hens were playing good basketball.

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Can Drexel Win the CAA Without Damion Lee?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 6th, 2013

After losing senior guard Chris Fouch for almost the entire season and finishing in the bottom half of its league last year, Drexel’s 2013-14 campaign seemed to be one filled with resurgent optimism, especially after a promising month of November. The Dragons nearly beat UCLA in Pauley Pavilion on college basketball’s opening night before winning three straight contests, including victories over Elon and Rutgers, to advance to the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals in Madison Square Garden. There, Bruiser Flint’s squad jumped out to an early 27-8 lead on fourth-ranked Arizona, proving to a national audience — and perhaps itself — that it could play with anyone. But in the second half, CAA Player of the Year candidate Damion Lee went down with a torn ACL, and the outlook for Drexel this season changed in an instant. A team predicted to compete for the league title was suddenly and decidedly shorthanded.

NCAA Basketball: NIT Season Tip-Off-Drexel vs Arizona

Does Damion Lee’s Injury Change the Outlook for the Dragons?

With Lee, Frantz Massenat and Fouch, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility because of his ankle injury, the Dragons were set to have arguably the best backcourt in the conference. And while they still might, what with Massenat’s preseason all-conference stature and Fouch’s elite shooting ability, losing a player as dynamic as Lee undoubtedly lowers the team’s ceiling going forward. The question will be to what extent. At 6’6″, Lee led the team in scoring last season with 17.1 points per game, consistently displaying his ability to pull up from anywhere on the court and attack the rim when his team needed it. He was also an effective rebounder for his position, compiling four 20+ point, 10+ rebound performances over his career up to this point. With all three guards back and healthy this year, merely keying on Lee or attempting to shut down Fouch or Massenat was simply not a viable strategy for opponents; if one or even two guys had bad night, another of the backcourt stars was there to carry the load. Perhaps most importantly, the three of them on the court together meant that no one had to play outside of their comfort zones, unlike last season when Massenat struggled to be both point guard and relied-upon scorer each night.

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College Basketball By The Tweets: Title Game Tilts, Coach Fights & Parker Shows Off

Posted by David Harten on November 28th, 2013

bythetweets

Wednesday night made for one of the better nights we’ve had so far in this year’s college basketball season. It’s holiday tournament time — the three days in Maui were capped, the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off got underway, and a host of other tournaments across the country start today. Trophies were raised and big performances were necessary… and Syracuse and Baylor made it tough to appreciate having 20/20 vision in what I like to call “the day-glow game.”

Let’s take it to the best tweets of the night, shall we?

The top games on the night came in Madison Square Garden, with Duke taking Alabama after Arizona got all it could want from Drexel, and in the Lahaina Civic Center, with Syracuse and Baylor playing for all of the surfboards in Maui. As far as the Blue Devils’ play was concerned, it wasn’t the start they envisioned.

Arizona also fought back after trailing by as much as 19 to the Dragons, pulling away very late for the win. Drexel suffered more than a loss on its record, with one of their better players in Damion Lee exiting the game in the second half with a knee injury. The good news is that Dragons’ head coach Bruiser Flint said the team doesn’t believe there’s any serious damage.

And before things got underway in the Maui title game, Dayton proved its worth in the third place game, beating California, 82-64. As possibly the most impressive team in the tournament, you’d expect this to be a huge confidence boost for Devin Oliver, coach Archie Miller and the rest of the Flyers.

Staying in Hawaii, Syracuse started fast against Baylor, thanks mainly to Tournament MVP C.J. Fair’s scoring and Tyler Ennis being the steady presence at the point.

Oh, and between the Orange and Baylor’s uniforms, the television was tough to look at.

We cut back to Duke and Alabama, where midway through the first half, Blue Devils’ wunderkind Jabari Parker hit possibly the most impressive shot of the night, with a turnaround, baseline fadeaway over a defender that made so many in attendance and watching on TV say “that’s an NBA elite-level shot.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Arizona in the NIT Season Tip-Off

Posted by Connor Pelton on November 27th, 2013

With Feast Week tipping off over the weekend, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Pac-12 teams involved in neutral site events this week. 

What They’ve Done So Far: Arizona has shown up on the nation’s radar once so far this season, and the Wildcats took advantage of the opportunity. Jumping out to a 24-11 lead, the Wildcats were in firm control of the proceedings at San Diego State. Junior guard Nick Johnson led the Cats with 23 points, and his four free throws in the last seven seconds put the 69-60 victory on ice. Outside of that night in Southern California, they have had a quiet campaign clean of any losses.

Nick Johnson And The Wildcats Have A Tantalizing Potential Matchup With Duke On Friday

Nick Johnson And The Wildcats Have A Tantalizing Potential Matchup With Duke On Friday

First Round Preview: The NIT Season Tip-Off actually began in Tucson last week, with Arizona taking care of Fairleigh Dickinson and Rhode Island in the initial two rounds of this tournament. This tournament actually respects the results of its on-campus competitions (unlike every other early season event), and for that reason, the Wildcats get Drexel this afternoon. The Dragons have opened the season at a 3-1 clip, playing all four games away from home. They started the year with a five-point loss at UCLA, proving they can hold their own against Pac-12 competition. Drexel is led by senior guard Chris Fouch, who averages 17.3 PPG and is a threat to score every trip down the floor. The Cats are certainly the pick in this one, but don’t be surprised if this one is tight into the final minutes.

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AAC M5: 11.20.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 20th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Last night was supposed to be the national stage on which Josh Pastner and his Memphis Tigers announced they were for real. Instead, Marcus Smart happened. And now the scrutiny on the Tigers and their inability to win games against quality opponents will be even greater. Last night’s game was never close at any point as Smart and the Cowboys led by 18 at the half and cruised to an easy victory from there as the Tigers turned the ball over 14 times and made just two of their 13 three-point attempts. There was never any question that Smart would be the best player on the floor for either team last night, but many expected Memphis’ veteran and deep backcourt to make things competitive. Instead the team’s best player was reserve forward Nick King and the quartet of senior guards were basically non-existent for much of the game. Senior leader Joe Jackson had exactly zero assists in 25 minutes and super-transfer Michael Dixon went just 1-of-10 from the field and turned the ball over three times. For years the Tigers and Pastner have garnered national recognition thanks in large part to the program’s ability to beat up on Conference USA opponents and bring in ballyhooed recruiting classes. But after last night’s drubbing, it seems like everyone is starting to figure it out and Memphis will have to earn its way back into the national conversation as Pastner fends off questions about whether his coaching will ever catch up to his recruiting.
  2. Yesterday was a good day for Louisville guard Kevin Ware. The junior made headlines last year when news leaked that he had missed a court date for a reckless driving and speeding citations. To make matters worse, the media immediately started asking questions about a 2013 Dodge Challenger that Ware was driving. Right before another solid 13 minutes of play in an easy win over Hartford, Louisville announced that Ware has been cleared by school compliance and would remain eligible. It seems like Ware had simply been lent the car by his close friend (I wish I had close friends who would lend me their awesome cars), which is not a violation of any NCAA rules. Ware still has to be back in court next Monday for his rescheduled hearing, but he will probably be allowed to pay the fine and move on with his life. This story appears to have quickly runs its course, but before it disappears it did the handy job of wrecking the feel-good story of Ware’s triumphant return to the court. This is all fine by us as we weren’t particularly comfortable with the cheesy “long road back” stories and we aren’t comfortable with all of the moralizing being done by some media members on the issue of this speeding ticket. Having now been on both ends of the media barrel, hopefully Ware can move on and we can talk about his play on the court rather than all of the extra noise off it. Although it’s worth noting that any time we can get an opportunity watch Rick Pitino scold the media about doing their jobs, we all win.
  3. It has only been five games but it already feels like it is going to be an up-and-down season for Rutgers and new head coach Eddie Jordan. One night after the Scarlet Knights looked impressive in knocking off Canisius, they were completely throttled last night by a Drexel team that was clearly better than them in every facet of the game. This is what happens when you combine legitimate talent with a complete lack of depth under the tutelage of a first-year coach still navigating the college game. Unfortunately, the ups and the downs have already started happening and the Scarlet Knights really haven’t played anybody yet, which makes some of us wonder whether they are in for a long season. There was some good news for the program today as the 2014 recruiting class officially signed and it is a good one. It’s only a three-man class, but it offers talent and versatility that will hopefully help the team return to relevancy sooner rather than later.
  4. In the most trivial news of the day, Cincinnati freshman guard Deshaun Morman broke his foot in practice and will be forced to redshirt this season for obvious medical reasons. We say trivial not because breaking a foot is trivial but because Morman hadn’t played in any of the team’s first three games and was likely going to redshirt anyway. Head coach Mick Cronin seemed to indicate there was a chance Morman wouldn’t redshirt, but now the decision has been made for him and the limping Bearcats’ backcourt will need to find depth from somewhere else. In the same story, Cronin mentions that starting point guard Ge’Lawn Guyn‘s status for the Bearcats’ next game is up in the air as Guyn recovers from a sore right knee. The silver lining is that at least these injuries are happening in the early part of the schedule and not in February.
  5. Larry Brown has forgotten more about coaching basketball than my puny head will ever be able to comprehend, but it’s quotes like the one he gave after last night’s disappointing loss to Arkansas that make me wonder why recruits enjoy playing for him. The quote, if you are really too lazy to click on the link, went something like this, “Ben Moore was great… found out that I have some freshmen that need to play more and seniors who shouldn’t.” Giving Moore credit where credit is due is all well and good, but calling out two seniors on your team in front of the media after the third game of the season seems like an irrational tactic. Shawn Williams and Nick Russell were the only two seniors who played last night, so it’s not hard to figure out who Brown was throwing under the bus, and the best part is that neither Russell nor Williams played particularly poorly last night. Brown cleaned house when he arrived in Dallas and got away with it because he quickly replaced those departing players with more talented ones, but it’s hard to believe Brown has any loyalty to any of his players given the way he talks about them publicly. Forward Jalen Jones has already announced he will transfer and the Mustangs could actually use him. Don’t be surprised if some of the newcomers now get pushed out of the rotation as Brown tries to continue to improve the talent level in the program. There is nothing wrong with trying to improve the team, but you won’t get the team to play hard for you if you don’t have their backs and Brown has made it very clear that if you don’t play well, he won’t have your backs.
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Alford Era Begins With a Win But Program Still Lacks Excitement

Posted by Brendan Mulvihill (@themulv) on November 9th, 2013

The Steve Alford era officially began at UCLA in front of a sparse crowd at Pauley Pavilion, as the Bruins kicked off their regular season against Drexel last night. Alford’s team held off the Dragons, 72-67, in a game that was not decided until the final minute of play. While the new coach was extremely positive about his team’s performance and ability to dig out a tough win, there still seems to be lack of urgency and excitement around the UCLA program. On the opening night of college basketball at a program with the history and tradition of UCLA, there should be electricity in the air. Unfortunately, that was not the case at all.

It's a New Era in Westwood (Don Liebig/ASUCLA Photography)

It’s a New Era in Westwood (Don Liebig/ASUCLA Photography)

Alford needs to bring some fire to his program, his players and the fan base. He seems to be re-instilling a defensive toughness back to the Bruins. They held Drexel to 38 percent shooting overall and forced mostly jump shots. However, there isn’t a killer instinct in this team. It’s still early in his tenure, but that is something to keep an eye on as we move towards conference play. UCLA let Drexel hang around in this game, particularly coming out of halftime, but the Bruins will not be able to do that against the better competition in the Pac-12.

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