Circle of March: Vol. IV

Posted by rtmsf on March 5th, 2015

Four more conference tournaments got under way yesterday, resulting in 14 more eliminations (listed below) from the 2015 Circle of March. That leaves us with 306 eligible teams on the CoM, noting that it’s our standard that we do not remove teams until their seasons are over — therefore many Ivy League squads and several other teams that will not qualify for next week’s conference tournaments will remain with us through the weekend. Two more tournaments get started today — the Missouri Valley‘s Arch Madness in St. Louis and the MAAC in Albany — while the Patriot League, Atlantic Sun and OVC pick back up with their second days of tournament action.

2015_CircleofMarch_v4

Eliminations (03.04.15)

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Conference Tourney Primers: Missouri Valley

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 5th, 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.

Missouri Valley Tournament

Dates: March 5-8

Site: Scottrade Center (St. Louis, MO)

mvccbs

(cbssports.com)

What to expect: Northern Iowa versus Wichita State: Round Three. After they split a pair of games in the regular season, Arch Madness now serves as the backdrop for what should be an epic title game between the Missouri Valley’s two most dominant teams. Any other match-up would be a surprise. The Shockers probably have the slight edge because of their considerable experience in pressure-packed, neutral-court games, but look for both clubs to receive single-digit seeds on Selection Sunday. Evansville is the only other conference opponent to beat one of them – narrowly edging the Panthers on New Year’s Day – while the advanced metrics like Illinois State as the third-best team. Still, neither the Aces nor the Redbirds are likely to threaten here.

Favorite: Wichita State. Could go either way here considering the regular season split, but let’s call Wichita State the favorite since it’s been in this position before.

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A Column of Enchantment: Fantasy Booking ESPNU

Posted by Joseph Nardone on March 5th, 2015

The wonderful idea of ESPNU turns 10 years old this week. The reason I mention it as an idea is because it hasn’t exactly been what it was originally designed to be — you know, a network dedicated solely to the world of college sports. Now, while it is mostly revolved around everything college athletic competition related, the programming on it sometimes goes off the beaten trail.

ESPNU

ESPNU

All of that did make to do some pondering, though, which is an incredibly dangerous thing. What if ESPNU was scheduled the way it should be booked for a network designed to cover all things in amateur athletics? Don’t get me wrong either. I get why they do some of the things they do. As much as I dislike Colin Cowherd, he is put on that network to generate ratings, attention and other things that something like Katz Korner unlikely provides. I would argue that — if the network truly dedicated itself in a more proper way — that more broadcasts of college-only related material would work. In my opinion, and it may very will be only mine, is is ESPN’s lack of dedicating ESPNU in the correct areas that makes it the non-blood relative of the ESPN family of networks. ESPN is obviously the patriarch, with ESPN2 the spouse. I suppose it also makes ESPN Classic (I honestly don’t even know if that’s still a thing) a distant cousin. ESPN3 and Watch ESPN are like the cool in-laws — you really like them, but that has as much to do with consuming them whenever you want and never being over saturated with their presence. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Here is how we are going to go about booking ESPNU. I am going to go through a random day’s lineup. After each show I will say if it works, why it works, how it can be tweaked and some other nonsense. Now, with that being said, I should also mention that one of my true dislikes is ESPNU’s constant rerun approach, mostly because of its lack of original programming. There might be instances when I will like a program on the network, but when we book a day’s lineup to my suiting later, it will appear less in the day’s programming. For your information and reference I am using an actual 24-hour window of the channel’s broadcast lineup — as pulled from ESPN’s own TV listing section — for the reference of listings. Let’s start at 9:oo AM ET and take a look at their lineup.

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Nebraska: What Happened and What’s Next?

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 4th, 2015

The buzzer sounded at Value City Arena in Columbus last Thursday as Nebraska suffered an embarrassing 24-point loss to Ohio State. It was the Cornhuskers’ sixth straight loss — sinking their record to 5-11 in the Big Ten and 13-15 overall — and the margin served to emphasize the altogether deflating season it has been. It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Tim Miles in his third year as the head coach in Lincoln. Nebraska was the surprise of the league last year when it went 11-7 in Big Ten play and made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years. Backed by an administration finally willing to invest in its basketball program, Miles had the program trending upward and there was no reason to believe that this season wouldn’t be just as successful. The returns of Terran Petteway (the team’s leading scorer and a Big Ten First Teamer), Shavon Shields (second-leading scorer) and much of their supporting cast promulgated chatter about a deep NCAA Tournament run. With this season’s losing record, however, Miles will instead have to figure out what went wrong and how to move forward.

Terran Pettaway is hoping to lead Nebraska to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. (NU Media)

Without much of supporting cast, Terran Pettaway’s efficiency numbers have taken a hit. (NU Media)

What went so wrong this season? Put simply, the Nebraska offense that last year was just good enough to get into the NCAA Tournament (107.7 – 112th nationally) has sunk to one of the worst in the country with an adjusted offensive rating 95.7 (297th). Breakout star Petteway still takes a plurality of the team’s shots (34%) and scores most of the points (17.9 PPG) but his offensive rating has dropped to a 94.2 after last season’s 102.4. Some of the factors contributing to this decline are that Nebraska turns the ball over more often (+3.0%), shoots worse from the behind the arc (-4.5%), and hardly ever gets to the line. But probably the most staggering difference from last season is the dropoff in production from the Cornhuskers’ supporting cast. As of right now, the duo of Petteway and Shields tallies 53.5 percent of all the team’s points per game; last year, they scored 46.3 percent of Nebraska’s total points. Last year’s third- and fourth-leading scorers, Walter Pitchford and Ray Gallegos, averaged 9.3 and 7.3 PPG, respectively — this year, the third- and fourth-leading scorers contribute 7.5 and 4.5 PPG. This vanishing of the Corhnhuskers’ supporting cast has torpedoed an already-middling offense into a woeful one. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 15

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona

Arizona Earned Another Conference Title On The Strength Of A Full Team Effort (USA Today)

Arizona Earned Another Conference Title On The Strength Of A Full Team Effort. (USA Today)

Two teams in the conference went on the road and came away with sweeps last week. Alas, we can only pick one in this space, so we leave Oregon – and their likely NCAA Tournament-clinching week aside – to go with the team that locked up a share of the conference title by knocking off upstart Utah in Salt Lake City. After blowing out Colorado in a dominant performance with everybody contributing, Saturday night’s game was all about toughness. The Wildcats started fast and closed fast, taking home the Pac-12 title largely on the strength of their calling card, defense. In a one-point game down the stretch, the Wildcats held Utah without a point in their final four possessions to pull out the title-clinching win.

(Also receiving votes: Oregon)

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The Remarkable Consistency of Kansas in a Sport That Favors the Unexpected

Posted by Chris Stone on March 4th, 2015

Kansas rather unceremoniously captured a share of its 11th straight Big 12 regular season title when Iowa State roared back for a 77-70 win over Oklahoma in Ames Monday night. The Jayhawks came into last night’s home game against West Virginia wanting to be selfish, as head coach Bill Self told the Lawrence Journal-World, “We don’t want to share it.” It took five extra minutes of basketball to get it done, but Kansas clinched the outright Big 12 regular season title with a thrilling overtime victory over the Mountaineeers. The Jayhawks’ 11th Big 12 title in a row (shared or outright) ties Gonzaga’s WCC streak from 2001-11 for the second-longest streak in college basketball history. Nothing else in the modern era of college basketball even comes close. “I will be shocked if it happens again in a major conference,” Self said after the game. The streak, though, doesn’t end here. The number Kansas is chasing is 13 — John Wooden’s UCLA program won every Pac-8/10 conference title from 1967-79.

Screenshot 2015-03-04 09.17.03

Before chasing more historical milestones, the Jayhawks must worry about a somewhat cloudy remainder of this season. After an NCAA issue was raised last week, Kansas is still awaiting word on freshman Cliff Alexander’s eligibility. He has missed the last two games and his family has hired an attorney to expedite the investigation, but it remains unclear whether the big man will return to the Jayhawks’ lineup this season. The larger concern is with junior Perry Ellis. Ellis suffered a sprained knee in last night’s game against West Virginia and is likely to miss Saturday’s final regular season game with Oklahoma. Team doctors told Self that Ellis may be able to return in time for the Big 12 Tournament and Kansas will assuredly need its leading scorer at full health if it hopes to make any sort of run in the NCAA Tournament this year.

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The SEC Week That Was: Volume IX

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 3rd, 2015

For the next three weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume IX, including games from February 24 to March 1.

Team of the Week: With all due respect to undefeated Kentucky (which won its highest-profile SEC game by beating Arkansas), this week’s award goes to LSU. The Tigers avoided a black mark by picking up a road win at Auburn, and then added a top 50 RPI win by knocking off Ole Miss at home. The win over the Rebels also gave LSU the tie-breaker for conference tournament seeding purposes if the two teams are still knotted at the end of the week. The question for the Tigers, at least in terms of how high their ceiling is, was always going to be how well the roster developed around big men Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. Depth hasn’t arrived and Josh Gray has struggled his way into Johnny Jones’ doghouse, as he hasn’t logged more than 21 minutes over the last five games. But Jones seems to have found a five-man lineup that he likes and is having success with. Tim Quarterman recorded only the seventh triple double in program history, and first since Shaq did the trick in 1992, against Ole Miss. This was an indicative of the all-purpose role he’s played all year. Jalyn Patterson has also stuffed the stat sheet all season (nine points, five assists, four rebounds against the Rebels) and has clearly improved throughout the year and earned Jones’ trust as a freshman. Along with Keith Hornsby, the Tigers have three solid parts to plug alongside their two stars and a team that is athletic, defends well and is deadly in transition. The concern is that Jones has still played fast (seventh highest adjusted temp according to KenPom) despite the thin rotation, and this could catch up to LSU, especially in a back-to-back game tournament setting. But the Tigers know what they are, and there’s something to be said for that at this time of year. Honorable mention goes to Missouri, which snapped its 13 game losing streak against Florida midweek. And let’s also say something for Vanderbilt, which picked up solid wins over Alabama and Tennessee and sits at a respectable 7-9 in SEC play.

Trey Lyles had a career week for Kentucky (collegebasketball.ap.org).

Trey Lyles had a career week for Kentucky (collegebasketball.ap.org).

Player of the Week. At this point in the season it doesn’t hurt to spread the love as much possible, so let’s split the award among three freshmen: Trey Lyles, Wade Baldwin IV and Namon Wright. Lyles had his finest week as a college player, at least in terms of scoring, with a career-high 18 points in back-to-back games. Often times this season defenses have been content with the Wildcat offense settling on two-point jump shots from Lyles, so it was encouraging that he scored those 36 points on an efficient 15-of-22 shooting. Baldwin has quietly had a strong freshman season, and this week put up 28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and just four turnovers while leading Vanderbilt to two wins. He’s a big, aggressive lead guard that should be fun to watch over the next few seasons, especially alongside Riley LaChance and the other young Commodores. Wright carried Missouri for much of its streak-busting win against Florida, dropping in a career-high 28 points and going six-for-eight from three. Besides a season-opening hot stretch from Teki Gill-Caesar, none of the Mizzou freshmen have shown the type of offensive explosion Wright did in that win over the Gators. Not to get greedy, but Quarterman deserves some more ink for his triple-double too.

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Boise State’s Big Win Proves This Team Is Different

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 3rd, 2015

It’s Saturday night, 30 minutes after Boise State put the finishing touches on a road win at San Diego State, breaking the Aztecs’ 29-game home winning streak. Broncos’ head coach Leon Rice is in the tunnel at Viejas Arena talking about his team’s accomplishments for the day, the month, the season. And he’s looking around at the empty red seats in Viejas, his face a mixture of amazement and accomplishment. “My guys are deserving of respect,” said Rice. “They’ve won, what, 12 of their last 13 games now? In this league, that’s tough to do because of the places you have to go. Nobody beats these guys [San Diego State] here. What was it, 29 games in a row here? I mean, nobody wins here.”

Derrick Marks and Kevin Allen Celebrate The Broncos Win At San Diego State (Lenny Ignelzi, AP Photo)

Derrick Marks and Kevin Allen Celebrate The Broncos Win At San Diego State (Lenny Ignelzi, AP Photo)

And yet, that’s exactly what the Broncos did, even after getting off to a dreadfully slow start, scoring just eight points on their first 19 possessions (13:30 game time). Part of the slow start could certainly be chalked up to the length, athleticism, activity and intelligence of the San Diego State defense, but you can bet the intimidation factor in playing in Viejas was also a part of it. After a pregame routine featuring The Show professing its belief that its team would win; after lineup introductions that would make many NBA teams blush; after the Aztecs came out with the swagger of having played in and won countless meaningful Mountain West games in this very venue; a little nervousness was expected, especially for a team without that same prior history of success. But this Broncos team has proven themselves to be very different from their predecessors. “It’s funny, this is a team of new accomplishments,” Rice bragged, while making sure to give full credit to his players and his staff. “I mean, before this year, we’d never won at New Mexico; we’d never won at Utah State. We’d never won here. And I know how tough this place is. We have a ton of respect for this team and these fans. I mean, I come out before the game and get goosebumps looking around this place. For me to come in here and see this place and see what Coach Fisher has done here, it’s pretty fantastic. And we have so much respect for San Diego State, the win here means a lot to us.”

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 3rd, 2015

On the penultimate weekend of Big Ten conference play, the heavy hitters came up with some large performances.Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, Iowa’s Aaron White, and Illinois’ Rayvonte Rice all stated their cases for all-Big Ten inclusion in leading their teams to key wins. The quartet combined for 99 points over the weekend, showing that they are ready to go as the calendar has flipped to March. Nothing too earth-shattering happened in terms of results from the weekend games, but as always, here are some of the highlights.

Frank Kaminsky managed to put up 31 points in his final home game in Madison Sunday. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Frank Kaminsky managed to put up 31 points in his final home game in Madison Sunday. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Player of the Weekend: As he’s done for the majority of the season, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky lit up the stat sheet against Michigan State in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. If you thought that the Spartans’ front line may have given the Badgers a tough time down low, think again. Rather, Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes had their way inside with Tom Izzo’s team, combining for 28 points in the first half. Kaminsky, quiet from the outside lately, nailed 3-of-4 attempts from deep en route to 31 points for the game. He led the Badgers in scoring, steals and blocks, and tied for the team lead in assists — just a typical game from a senior who’s having an absolutely tremendous season.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Iowa’s Josh Oglesby hasn’t had a very good senior season. Considered one of the better outside shooters in the Big Ten, he is only shooting 31.4 percent from behind the arc, even after his 4-of-8 effort in Iowa’s 81-77 overtime win over Penn State on Saturday. That number won’t matter if Oglesby can find his stroke to give the Hawkeyes a consistent perimeter threat from here on out. He managed 12 points off the bench, combining with fellow senior Gabriel Olaseni to produce 24 of Iowa’s 27 bench points for the game. The Hawkeyes are still one of the most difficult teams in the country to figure out, but the riddle will be easier to answer if Oglesby can give his team some consistent outside scoring.

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RTC Weekly Primer: Regular Season Championships and Potential Cinderellas

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 3rd, 2015

The bubble is everywhere. You can’t escape it. Pick any site that covers college basketball, and one word inevitably appears when you visit it: “bubble.” Blind résumés are all the rage; Joey Brackets has taken over our TV screens; coaches inevitably plead with the Selection Committee in postgame press conferences. The bubble consumes us all. But as we hit the home stretch of the regular season, it’s important to not lose sight of what’s going on outside of those 15-20 teams that comprise the globule of uncertainty. Sure, it’s nice to make the NCAA Tournament, but just getting there only to get blown out doesn’t compare to winning championships. Winning the NCAA Tournament is the ultimate goal for any Division I program. Reaching a Final Four is a close second. The third and most attainable in the hierarchy of goals, though, is to win a regular season conference championship.

These Guys Know Something About Conference Championships (USA Today Images)

These Guys Know Something About Conference Championships (USA Today Images)

Regular season championships have become criminally devalued. Conference tournaments get all the buzz and corresponding attention because it is through those that teams punch their tickets to the Big Dance. But anybody can get hot and make a three- or four-game run next week. True champions are crowned over the course of a couple of months of games. This year we enter the final week of the regular season already with three outright champions among the power leagues: Kentucky has locked up the SEC; Virginia clinched an outright ACC title on Monday night; and Villanova is your Big East champion. Kansas has already clinched at least a tie in the Big 12, and barring something unforeseen, Wisconsin and Arizona are on track to win their respective conferences too. There are a few others, however, that should garner some of your attention.

  • AAC. The watered-down AAC has been pretty poor this year but it could end up with as many as four NCAA Tournament teams. Two of that group — Tulsa and SMU — are in contention for an outright conference title. The Golden Hurricane have been the surprise package, sitting atop the standings at 14-2. SMU, the preseason favorite, sits a half-game back at 14-3. Tulsa hosts Cincinnati on Wednesday before the perfect scenario could play out in Dallas on Sunday: Tulsa at SMU. The winner will be the top seed in the AAC Tournament in Hartford, and if Tulsa falls to the Bearcats in the midweek, this weekend’s game will be for an outright title.

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Is This Finally the Year for Villanova?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 3rd, 2015

Save for one or two uncharacteristically poor seasons, Villanova has been on the college basketball map nearly every year in the last decade. And being on the map doesn’t mean an above average team that wiggles its way into the NCAA Tournament every year; rather, the Wildcats have finished with 20 or more wins in 10 of their last 11 seasons. Still, for reasons unknown to most everyone around the program, Jay Wright‘s team has fallen short of expectations in every season since its magical 2009 Final Four run. One year the issue was a lack of team chemistry in the backcourt; the next year it was supposedly a lack of size. For one reason or another, Villanova has simply been unable to progress past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Is this finally the year for Jay Wright and Villanova? (Getty)

Is this finally the year for Jay Wright’s Villanova Squad? (Getty)

Many initially questioned whether Villanova would be adequately challenged in the new Big East. While the league has had a great season and is likely to place six teams in the NCAA Tournament, the concerns remain. Just how good is Villanova? As of Tuesday morning, Jay Wright’s team is 27-2 and just three wins away from tying the school record for single-season wins. The Wildcats are 10-1 against the RPI top 50, 6-1 against the RPI top 25, and have just two road losses to top 100 teams. According to KenPom, Villanova ranks third in the country in offensive efficiency and is one of five teams to rank among the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (17th). With Wisconsin and Gonzaga’s losses over the weekend, the team ranks 4th in the AP poll and is firmly on the cusp of landing a No. 1 seed for the first time since the 2005-06 season. And yet, many have failed to take notice. Is public dismissal of the team based on its general lack of NBA-caliber players? Or the falsely-held notion that the Big East is not as good as it once was? Read the rest of this entry »

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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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