Friday was a fun day of eliminations, with several good games involving a couple of buzzer-beaters, one step closer for #cheerfortheears, and the NCAA Tournament’s first automatic bid (Harvard). All told, 16 teams lost games and were removed from the Circle of March, with two more tournaments on tap to begin today (America East and The Summit). That leaves us with 282 “eligible” teams, but keep in mind that in order to respect the integrity of the regular season, we will not remove teams until their schedules are finished regardless of their current status. This means that the five other already-eliminated Ivy League teams, each of which concludes their seasons tonight, will come off the CoM on Sunday (Penn and Princeton, the two other Ivies, will be removed after their Tuesday night finale).
Teams Eliminated From National Title Contention (03.07.14)
The first ticket to the NCAA Tournament was punched in New Haven on Friday night, and as each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytic snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets next weekend.
Tommy Amaker’s Team Is Back In The Big Dance, And The Crimson Aren’t Planning On Leaving The Party Early
Ivy Champion (25-4, 12-1)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #52/#32/#37
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +11.4
Likely NCAA Seed: #10-#12
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
Well, well, well – look who we have here. The Harvard Crimson, by virtue of their victory Friday night over Yale, clinched the Ivy League title and earned the 2014 NCAA Tournament’s first official bid. Harvard and NCAA Tournament in the same sentence may have been quite a story a few years ago, but after three straight Tournament appearances, the NBA’s brief bout of Linsanity in 2012, and last year’s opening round takedown of New Mexico, the Crimson have become a familiar March entity. This year’s team may be Tommy Amaker’s best since he arrived in Cambridge, but navigating its way to another Ivy title was not the walk in the park many expected, as Yale proved a worthy challenger right up until the end. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Wichita State (23-0) at Indiana State (14-5) – 8:05 PM ET, Wednesday. This is probably the greatest remaining hurdle on Wichita State’s quest for an undefeated regular season. Now 23-0, the Shockers have just eight games left on their schedule, only three of which come against squads with a .500 or better record, and just one versus a team ranked within the KenPom top-100. That team is Indiana State, and that game is tonight at the Hulman Center.
Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)
Greg Lansing’s group should be dialed in after regaining some much-need momentum over the weekend at Northern Iowa, using a big second half rally to end the Panthers’ 11-game home winning streak and return to the win column. The Sycamores suffered a dreadful 19-point drubbing at Southern Illinois just three days earlier to all but end their at-large hopes, a sobering reality that perhaps bled into Saturday’s contest early. It took an angry locker room message from the head coach before the team finally woke up, ripping off 12 straight points in the first four minutes of the second half, tying the game before the first media timeout and maintaining firm control until the final whistle. It was an impressive comeback, the kind of focused, resilient effort they will need for a full 40 minutes in order to beat Wichita State.
American has reason to be confident after last week. (American University Athletics)
American University. No team in college hoops made a louder conference statement than American did last week, and perhaps no other program has exceeded expectations to the extent the Eagles have this season. With only two returning players who averaged more than seven points a game a year ago, just one returning senior, and a new coach to boot, D.C.’s other, other school (in terms of basketball notoriety, at least) was picked to finish ninth of 10 teams in the Patriot League and entered 2013-14 ranked 288th in the KenPom rankings. Merely finishing .500 or better in the conference would have probably been deemed a success, which is what makes American’s 9-0 start in Patriot League play such an unexpected and wholly remarkable feat. And after their three most recent resounding victories, it’s clearer than ever that the Eagles are no longer just a nice story in a revamped league — they are the team to beat.
First was the absolute shocker. On Wednesday night, American hosted preseason favorite Boston University in a contest that was supposed to be relative toss-up, the Eagles having the slight edge at home but most expecting the game to go either way. From about the five minute mark onward, however, it went only one way: Mike Brennan’s group absolutely eviscerated the Terriers, scoring 1.32 points per possession behind 11-of-14 three-point shooting and 71.4 percent shooting overall, recording assists on 22 of 30 made baskets and winning by a whopping 30 points. “Our chemistry is starting to grow,” guard Jesse Reed noted afterwards, in a massive understatement. The 86-56 final was BU’s worst loss since November 2012 and its first Patriot League defeat this season, giving American sole possession of first place near the halfway point. It was an impressive achievement, no matter how you slice it.
As conference hierarchies begin taking shape and teams gear up for the stretch run, this week offers a whole host of compelling O26 contests that are sure to impact the picture come March. Let’s take a look at the most intriguing match-ups on tap.
Game of the Week
Toledo (17-2) at Ohio (14-5) – 1:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday.
The Bobcats host the 17-2 Rockets on Saturday in a huge MAC tilt. (John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)
Efficient offense meets stingy defense in what could very well be a preview of the MAC Championship game on March 15. After losing at home to a gritty, defensive-minded Bowling Green group last Wednesday night, Ohio again found itself in serious trouble at Eastern Michigan last Saturday, trailing by 13 points late and completely unable to generate baskets against the Eagles’ 2-3 zone. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Bobcats ripped off 20 points in the final eight minutes — including a 12-0 run to take their first and final lead — and stunned EMU to remain a game back of Akron for the MAC East’s top spot. It was a big win for Jim Christian’s crew, but Saturday’s contest will be a different beast altogether. For all of the conference’s tough defensive teams, Toledo is the stand-alone offensive power, ranking 11thnationally in offensive efficiency and featuring five starters each within the top 500 in offensive rating. That ability to score has helped the Rockets to a 5-1 conference record and a stellar 17-2 mark overall, among the best in the entire country.
On the road and without its best player, Harvard lost a close game to UConn on Wednesday night in what might be the death-knell for its at-large hopes; at best, Tommy Amaker’s team will be sweating it out on Selection Sunday if unable to clinch the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Which is a shame. By most measures (including the dubious ‘eye test’), the Crimson is an NCAA Tournament-caliber group this season, something it could have cemented with a win against the Huskies this week or over Colorado back in November. But neither of those outcomes occurred, so Harvard’s March hopes now likely hinge on its ability to hold off Princeton in conference play. With the Tigers playing well and the unique Ivy schedule sure to cause trouble, that task will be more difficult than first thought.
Princeton could give Harvard a run for its money in Ivy League play. (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)
Ivy League teams play a 14-game, double round-robin schedule with the distinctive feature of squaring off on back-to-back nights — Fridays and Saturdays — for six straight weeks. Every weekend is either spent at home or on the road. In the latter case, it often means finishing a basketball game, taking a lengthy bus ride across the Tri-State Area and/or New England to another campus and suiting up again the very next night. It is a test of focus and conditioning that can make-or-break a team’s title chances. Take last year’s Princeton team as an example: After beating Harvard the prior weekend and carrying a half-game lead into the final back-to-backer (with the annual Princeton/Penn outlier game scheduled the following Tuesday), the Tigers went on the road and lost a tough game to Yale on Friday night, traveled to Providence the next day to take on Brown — a team it had beaten by 17 points a month before — and promptly lost by double figures; Harvard went on to win the conference and play in the NCAA Tournament. All totaled, not including their one-game playoff in 2011 (and including Harvard’s rare Sunday game at Columbia last season), exactly half of Harvard and Princeton’s combined Ivy League losses have come on the second game of road double-headers since 2010. Fatigue sets in and the schedule takes its toll.
Baylor’s win over Kentucky late Friday night in Arlington was encouraging in many ways. The Bears picked up another quality win against what has been a fairly strong schedule (minus the two non-Division I opponents). Baylor scored 1.12 points per possession against a good Kentucky defense by utilizing classic pick-and-roll action all game long, much to the dismay of John Calipari. The Wildcats never got comfortable defending Baylor’s sets and went down in defeat as a result. Kentucky’s rotations and closeouts came very late and it seemed it was bothered by a team of comparable length. Perhaps the most important thing in this game was Baylor’s offensive rebounding. Overall, that was what won the game for Scott Drew’s team. I was particularly impressed with Isaiah Austin. Given the strength of the competition, the sophomore big man played his best game of the season. Austin put up an efficient 13 points, six rebounds and five blocks against the strong Wildcats’ frontcourt. Kentucky made some nice adjustments on him in the second half but overall it was great to see some aggressiveness from a player who can be really good if he remains assertive.
Isaiah Austin took a step forward in his development against Kentucky on Friday.
One team that is flying way under the radar has to be Missouri. This past week served as a reminder that the Tigers, holders of the nation’s longest home court winning streak (24 straight wins at Mizzou Arena), are still a team to be reckoned with. Mizzou dispatched West Virginia and UCLA in Columbia and looked impressive in doing so. In addition to the overall home court winning streak, Frank Haith’s team has now won 79 consecutive non-conference games at home. While I’d like to see this team go on the road and beat a quality opponent before I fully buy in, there are some encouraging signs that Mizzou may not be a fluke. The Tigers shoot the ball well overall and excel inside the arc where they’re shooting nearly 57 percent. Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson has taken his game to the next level but his play is bolstered by the balanced scoring of Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross. This three-headed monster accounts for two-thirds of Missouri’s scoring and they’re incredibly hard to match up with given their height. All three players are listed at 6’5” so most teams can’t guard the trio effectively at the same time. So far, Haith has done a nice job incorporating the newcomers with some returning players. We’ll see if it holds together but make sure you keep an eye on the Tigers. Two interesting tests await with the annual Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois and a road trip to NC State.
High expectations can sometimes have an adverse effect on a basketball team, magnifying moments of failure and creating unnecessary pressure that otherwise would not exist. After pulling off an unexpected upset over #3-seed New Mexico in last year’s NCAA Tournament, Harvard entered this fall with entirely different expectations from a year ago. Whereas the 2012-13 Crimson squad was largely written off before the year began with star upperclassmen Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey having withdrawn from school due to an academic scandal, this season’s club returned both of those All-Ivy players in addition to four starters and a strong recruiting class to boot. Needless to say, expectations were sky-high coming into this season. And for a program that only recently became a regular contender in the Ivy League, a presumed conference championship and possible single-digit seed in the Big Dance inevitably meant there was going to be a certain amount of pressure.
Tommy Amaker will look to keep his team focused heading into the New Year.(Getty)
So it probably came as a relief for head coach Tommy Amaker that his team— after narrowly losing a winnable game at NCAA-caliber Colorado the Sunday prior—bounced back in resounding fashion over the holiday weekend by knocking off Denver, Green Bay and TCU on its way to capturing the Great Alaska Shootout. Despite playing without Curry and junior big man Kenyatta Smith, both of whom remain out with foot injuries, Harvard managed to win each game by a comfortable margin and was only really pushed in the second half by Green Bay. Guard Wesley Saunders, picked by many to win Ivy League Player of the Year, took home MVP honors by averaging 14 points, eight rebounds and nearly five assists a game, and sharpshooter Laurent Rivard—who struggled from behind the arc in the second half against Colorado—seemed to find his stroke in the final two games in Anchorage, shooting 10-of-24 from deep. Also notable was the Crimson’s dominance on the offensive glass throughout the tournament: The team gathered a combined 43 offensive boards to its opponents’ 23, leading to a bunch of second-chance points.
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. He filed this report after Saturday’s game between Bucknell and Columbia.
They don’t yet make a stat for a Mike Muscala. Sure, 29 points and 18 rebounds hint at greatness, as does an offensive rating that continues to hover in the stratosphere. None of those can truly capture or quantify what Muscala did to Columbia last night. The Lions led by 17 points in the first half of a game that Bucknell would ultimate win by eight. While the points that the Bison’s 6’11″ senior scored played a huge role in avoiding the minor upset, it was the points that Columbia couldn’t score that mattered far more. Lions center Mark Cisco was dominant early, scoring all 10 of his points in the first half. Cisco’s failure to score after the intermission wasn’t necessarily the product of great defense from Muscala, but quite simply because it’s impossible to score points from the bench.
Mike Muscala is an Outstanding Patriot League Player But He and His Team is Overshadowed By Lehigh and CJ McCollum
That’s where the Bison big man sent Cisco with three fouls in the first half. Cisco’s backup Cory Osetkowski would join him in foul trouble early in the second. Then, undersized forward Zach En’Wezoh picked up three fouls in a five minute span while holding on to Muscala for dear life. Columbia guard Brian Barbour and forward Alex Rosenberg did their best to provide enough offense to stay in the game, but without the senior Cisco, the Lions were just weren’t the same squad. More than the points or the rebounds, it was that Muscala had made Columbia a completely different team that encapsulates the greatness of his impact. He is a match-up nightmare – too big for undersized fours and fives to guard and too quick for bigger, burlier post players. Inevitably, massive numbers of fouls follow, evidenced by Muscala ranking 17th nationally in fouls drawn last season according to Ken Pomeroy.
From the we’ll-believe-it-when-we-see-it department, ACC coaches on Monday squarely put NC State’s Mark Gottfried right into the conference crosshairs with their decision to pick his Wolfpack as the front-runner for the 2012-13 league championship. Whew. NC State received eight of the 12 first-place votes, with second-place Duke receiving three, and North Carolina receiving the other top vote. Nobody will deny that Gottfried returns the most talent in the ACC from a Sweet Sixteen team — and adds quite possibly the best freshman in the league to boot — but still, the Wolfpack were a 9-7 conference team last season and Gottfried has never been a coach who has consistently gotten it done in the regular season. His best two teams at Alabama went 12-4 in the SEC (2001-02 and 2004-05) and he wasn’t facing the likes of Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams when he was cementing those records. From our perspective, the league belongs to Duke and North Carolina until it’s taken from them (the last team to win the ACC outright other than Duke/UNC occurred a decade ago).
While on the subject of Duke, the Blue Devil program made quite a bit of news on Monday. While spending the day 90 miles south of Durham at Fort Bragg, going through physical training drills and holding an inspired open practice in front of a number of US Army troops — apparently Duke players applauded the soldiers as they entered the gym – the school also announced some less inspiring news. Redshirt freshman forward Marshall Plumleehas developed a stress fracture in his left foot and will miss the next 6-8 weeks of practice, putting significantly more pressure on older brother Mason and senior Ryan Kelly to man the boards and shore up the low blocks defensively. This is especially true given that the Blue Devils will face an early-season murderer’s row of Kentucky in the Champions Classic on November 13, the Battle 4 Atlantis (including a loaded field of Minnesota, VCU, Memphis, Louisville, Missouri, and Stanford) soon thereafter, and Ohio State at in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at the end of November.
Harvard appeared to be on the verge of an Ivy League dynasty prior to a recent academic cheating scandal that has enveloped over 100 undergraduates including two of the basketball team’s best players, Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry. Still, there are hopes among Crimson faithful that Tommy Amaker’s team can bridge the gap this season while awaiting the return of its two stars in 2013-14 (both players withdrew from school this year, but plan on returning next season). Meanwhile, in coming off the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in over 65 years, the university is now backing a plan to build a brand-new basketball arena to replace its antiquated 1920s-era Lavietes Pavilion. The new arena will hold 2,700 people and be ready for the bouncing of balls some time between 2017-22. Whether Harvard will grow to become a regular NCAA Tournament participant by that date remains to be seen, but this next step in the progression of the program would not have been possible without the drive and vision for excellence that head coach Tommy Amaker had for Harvard basketball upon his arrival several years ago.
Another day, another scandal involving the, ahem, good name of college basketball. With all the allegations getting tossed around the sport in recent months, we’re starting to wonder if the best course of action is simply to burn the whole thing down and start completely over. After Tuesday’s disappointing news that even the nation’s top academic institution, Harvard, isn’t immune from student-athletes behaving badly, you’ll forgive us if we’re feeling a little more than down about our game. The skinny: SI.com’s Luke Winn has reported that senior co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry — two of the Crimson’s best three players — have been implicated in a cheating scandal along with over a 100 other students for acts in a class about Congress “ranging from inappropriate collaboration to outright plagiarism, on a take-home final exam.” With the fall semester enrollment deadline pending this week, Casey and Curry are expected to withdraw from school for the entire 2012-13 academic year in an effort to preserve their final year of eligibility after their cases have been adjudicated. And with those withdrawals goes much of the hope surrounding the Crimson basketball program next season — the Crimson had more than enough talent and experience to win the Ivy League again and make the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years. More to come on this later today…
How’s about some better news to focus on with your coffee this Wednesday morning? Mike DeCourcy has us covered with his column discussing six important factors that could shape the upcoming season. Most of his points revolve around the significant loss of elite talent from last season, but keep in mind that going into 2011-12 many people thought that the return of the likes of Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones would dominate discussion throughout the year. Although each player’s team made it to at least the Elite Eight, such a notion turned out to not be true. The talk last year mostly revolved around Kentucky’s precocious freshmen, Syracuse’s deep and athletic juggernaut, the resurgence of Indiana, and both Bill Self and Frank Haith’s coaching mastery. DeCourcy’s comment that “we’ll find something to enjoy” is absolutely spot on — predicting what that will be is the hard part.
It wouldn’t be a Morning Five this month without some mention of Billy Gillispie, so here’s the latest on the wild saga involving the Texas Tech head coach. On Tuesday two new pieces of information were released. First, an ambulance was called to Gillispie’s house on Monday of this week after a 911 call was made from the residence, but local hospitals had no record of Gillispie getting admitted anywhere. Next, in a text message sent to the AP Tuesday night, Gillispie himself stated that he plans on a treatment plan for high blood pressure “amongst other things” at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. In the meantime as he deals with his health issues, Texas Tech has named associate head coach Chris Walker as the man in charge of the day-to-day operations of the team and told Gillispie in no uncertain terms that he is not to engage with the program in any way until he’s ready to sit down with the administration and discuss his future.
If you’re a fan of the chaos theory of sports — that basically, the best possible scenario is the worst possible scenario — you’re going to love where the Lance Thomas case at Duke appears to be headed. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, not only is the New York City jeweler who extended Thomas nearly $70,000 in credit three years ago not talking to much of anyone, but in order for the NCAA to actually pursue what appears to be an obvious violation, they will have to do so by the end of 2013. So there are twin pressures building on the organization, but unless some degree of on-record information comes out through trial (highly unlikely), the NCAA will have to find a rat or some other documentation willing to assist them in this investigation. Chaos theorists loves this stuff, because it (mostly) leaves everyone outraged and upset.
Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Up next: the Ivy League.
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
When the final horn sounded, Harvard had finally claimed the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, sending it back to the Big Dance for the first time since 1946. There would be no rushing of the court, no cutting of the nets. In fact, the Crimson team was nowhere to be found. In a situation that can only happen under Ivy League rules, Harvard grabbed its automatic bid by watching one league rival (Princeton) knock off another (Penn). If the result had gone the other way, there would have been a one-game, winner-take-all playoff between the Crimson and Quakers at Quinnipiac University on Conference Championship Saturday. It was the second straight year that the title chase had come down to the final game, as Princeton won at Penn the season prior to earn a playoff against Harvard, from which it emerged victorious, grabbing the Ivy bid.
Harvard Finally Broke Through to the NCAAs Last Season (AP)
With the way the 2012-13 campaign is shaping up, there’s plenty of reason to believe that the Ivy League might just go 3-for-3.
Three Key Storylines
Roster Flux - With nearly half of the 2011-12 All-Ivy spots going to graduating seniors, the league had hoped to weather the storm with the return of several key players that missed most or all of last season with injuries. Brown will see 6’8″ forward Tucker Halpern return to the lineup, while Cornell gets back 6’6″ forward Errick Peck. Penn will finally get to see the much heralded forward Greg Louis, who missed his entire freshman season with hip surgery. That’s the good news. The bad news, though, is pretty bad. Columbia had hoped that 2010-11 All-Ivy First Team guard Noruwa Agho would take a second crack at a senior season, but he has opted not to return. The surprises weren’t limited to injury-related situations either. Brown’s roster release came with a huge surprise, as center Andrew McCarthy was dropped from the roster prior to what would have been his senior season.
Conference Tourney Debate – The Ivy League remains the only Division I basketball conference to hand its NCAA berth to its regular season champion, rather than deciding the bid via a postseason tournament. For a while this offseason, that distinction looked to be in serious jeopardy. The eight Ivy coaches unanimously supported a proposal that would have brought the league an eight-team tournament in exchange for each school dropping one non-conference game from its schedule every season. The eight athletic directors wasted no time in shooting down the proposal before it could even take the final step to the Ivy presidents. For the Ivy ADs, the trade of a game for a tournament missed the point, as they cited the philosophical belief in the superiority of the true round-robin in deciding a champion as the reason for rejecting what had been the most serious attempt at instituting a conference tournament in quite some time.
What Goes Around, Comes Around – When Penn lost Fran Dunphy to Temple in 2006, its exhaustive search for a new head man led it to another institution within its own league, as the Quakers poached then-Brown coach Glen Miller. This offseason, that move came full circle – sort of. Miller is long gone from Philly, fired just a month into the 2009-10 season, but Mike Martin, a Brown alumnus and one of the assistants Miller brought along with him from his previous stint in Providence, remained on with the Quakers even after his former boss’ departure. So, when Brown jettisoned Jesse Agel following an 8-23 campaign, the Bears made Martin a high priority target. It took Brown until the beginning of June to decide on its choice, but the result was bringing Martin back to his alma mater and handing him the keys to a program that has been on a steady decline since Craig Robinson took the squad to the CBI Tournament in 2008.
The MAAC conference tournament gave us another buzzer-beater last night. Saint Peter’s guard Desi Washington rushed down the court and nailed a trey to eliminate Fairfield 65-62 on Washington’s THIRD game-winning buzzer-beater against the Stags this season.
Clown, thy name is UCSB fan. Although players and coaches alike are expected to behave professionally, fans also have a responsibility to contain themselves. Incidents like last night’s approach by a rabid UCSB fan are dangerous for everyone involved.