O26 Superlatives, Part II: CAA, C-USA, MAC, MEAC, MVC, SoCon, Summit & WCC…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 10th, 2014

In Part II of our three-part series, we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from eight different O26 conferences: CAA, Conference USA, MAC, MEAC, Missouri Valley, SoCon, Summit and WCC. In alphabetical order:

Colonial Athletic Association

The Blue Hens outworked the rest of the CAA for much of 2013-2014. (The Post and Courier)

The Blue Hens outworked the rest of the CAA for much of 2013-2014. (The Post and Courier)

  • Team of the Year – Delaware (22-9, 14-2). Not even early- and late-season suspensions of two of Delaware’s best players could stop the Blue Hens’ run to a CAA regular season title. Monte Ross’ up-tempo club raced off to an 11-0 start in conference play, amassing a large enough lead that preseason favorite Towson was never able to catch up.
  • Player of the Year – Jerelle Benimon – Towson. You want beastly numbers? How about these: In 32 games, the 6’8’’ Benimon averaged 18.9 points, 11.7 boards, 3.7 assists and 1.3 blocks per game, recorded an NCAA-best 20 double-doubles and reached the free throw line 258 times, good for sixth in the country.
  • Coach of the Year – Monté Ross – Delaware. Ross found a way to keep things together, to keep winning after guard Devon Saddler – the team’s leading scorer – missed seven games due to suspension early in the season and Jarvis Threatt – the team’s third-leading scorer – was suspended for the entire month of February.
  • Upset of the Year – Northeastern over Georgetown, 63-56. In the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, miles from Boston or Washington D.C., Scott Eatherton and the Huskies pounded Georgetown in the paint and pulled off an unexpected upset. Alas, it was another full month before Bill Coen’s bunch wound up back in the win column.
  • Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Johnathan Burroughs-Cook – College of Charleston. Burroughs-Cook cares not that you are D-II school or that he is playing in a preseason game—he will still annihilate your attempt to draw a charge.

Conference USA

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Wichita State’s Pursuit of Perfection Continues Friday in Arch Madness

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 6th, 2014

The Wichita State Shockers are looking to make some more history. After finishing the regular season undefeated at 31-0, becoming the first team to accomplish the feat since Saint Joseph’s in 2004, the Shockers look to become the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament unbeaten since UNLV pulled off the trick in 1991. Will Wichita State succeed in its pursuit of perfection? Based on its dominance of Missouri Valley Conference foes this season, you’d have to think the odds are in the Shockers’ favor to run through Arch Madness. Only three league opponents stayed within single figures of Wichita State this season, and just one — Missouri State — played them within six points. That 72-69 overtime win came on January 11 after the Shockers had rallied from 19 points down with 11:48 left in the game. Otherwise it’s been mostly an exercise in cruise control for Gregg Marshall’s team. Those numbers don’t really inspire much confidence for a shocking winner this weekend. In fact, Ken Pomeroy gives Wichita State a 78 percent chance to earn the league’s automatic bid.

Fred Van Vleet and the Wichita State Shockers look to remain unbeaten through the MVC Tournament.

Fred Van Vleet and the Wichita State Shockers look to remain unbeaten through the MVC Tournament.

Let’s take a look at the Shockers’ likely path in the MVC Tournament. First up will be the winner of the #8/#9 game between Drake and Evansville, which tips off this evening. In the four games Wichita State played against the two opponents this season, the Shockers won by an average of 19 points with the closest an 81-67 victory against the Aces on February 1. There’s virtually no way that Wichita State drops its quarterfinal game, as KenPom gives the Shockers a 95.2 percent chance of advancing to the semifinals on Saturday. That’s where Wichita State would meet either Missouri State or Illinois State, depending on Friday’s result between the two. Sure, the former gave the Shockers quite a scare two months ago before capitulating in overtime, but Wichita State rolled through the Bears in the return game last Saturday, winning by 23 points in the regular season clincher. The Shockers beat Illinois State by an average of 17 points in their two meetings this season as well. KenPom gives Wichita State an 87.4 percent chance to advance to the title game here.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Wichita State, Davon Usher, Gary Waters & Yale…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 12th, 2014

With just over a month until Selection Sunday, many teams across the landscape of college basketball are beginning to show their true colors, for better or for worse. Some early conference pace-setters have returned back to the pack, while a number of apparent-disappointments have readjusted and begun to find their way. And others yet just keep on winning. Let’s pass out a few awards to those who took care of business last week.

O26 Team of the Week

Wichita State. The Shockers have been written about and discussed at length over the past several days, so there’s no need to overanalyze the implications of last week’s big road victories, followed up with a closer-than-expected home win on Tuesday night — most everyone understands the undefeated potential that now lies ahead. But that does not mean we shouldn’t still celebrate the accomplishment. The fact is, no other O26 program had near the expectations, attention or build-up that Wichita State did entering the week, and perhaps no other O26 team proved as focused, unwavering and simply excellent on the basketball court either. In two of its most difficult conference road tests of the season, Gregg Marshall’s club displayed the same mental and physical toughness it has all year long, locking down defensively — especially in key moments, when it needed it most — and draining timely shots to remain perfect and march one step closer to history.

Wichita State got the job done on the road last week. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Wichita State got the job done on the road last week. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

First, on Wednesday in Terre Haute, the Shockers found victory by responding with immediate answers for each crowd-igniting, lead-dwindling run that Indiana State threw at them. After the Sycamores used a late first half surge to pull within one at the break, Wichita State responded by outscoring the home squad 14-4 in the opening eight minutes of the second. When Greg Lansing’s team went on an 8-0 spurt to then cut the lead to two, the Shockers punched back with four straight points and five straight stops. And when the gap was again sliced to a single possession with under two minutes remaining, Marshall’s guys earned key trips to the free throw line and shut things down on the defensive end. The ultimate result: a 65-58 victory and a season sweep of the Missouri Valley’s second-best unit. Three nights later in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the story was much the same. Wichita State was again too deep, too physical, too consistent over a full 40 minutes, pounding Northern Iowa on the glass — they secured 46 percent of available offensive rebounds — and squashing potential threats to the lead before they could gain traction. The effect was both defeating and demoralizing for the Panthers: “They play every possession perfectly,” UNI sophomore Matt Bohannon said after the game. Again, ‘perfect’ was the prevailing word used to describe the Shockers. Those perfect possessions led to another perfect week, a three-game stretch that might be crucial in their quest for an even greater form of perfection this season.

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Wichita State Might Have the Necessary Tools to Reach Perfection

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 17th, 2014

“Play angry” became Wichita State’s motto on its fantastic run to last year’s Final Four. The motto has stuck this year and been a part of the longest winning streak and best start in school history. But last Saturday night the Shockers’ motto was more “play with fire” than anything else, as they survived an 18-point halftime deficit and raucous road atmosphere against Missouri State to stay unbeaten. Playing with fire is exactly what Wichita State will continue to do as the team attempts to post the first undefeated regular season since St. Joseph’s turned the trick in 2003-04. Wichita State passed its next test with a dominant home win over Bradley on Tuesday night, but not every game will be in the friendly confines of Koch Arena and against a team that came in having lost nine of 10. It’s not that the Shockers aren’t good enough to pull off a perfect regular season, but two axioms of the often wacky and unpredictable world of college basketball are: a) that it’s hard as hell to play on the road, and b) it sure isn’t easy to win them all. Last Saturday’s win in Springfield illustrated why a perfect season, even in a down conference, is so hard to achieve; but it also showed that Gregg Marshall’s Shockers could just have what it takes to make it happen.

Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker bottled up Missouri State in the second half of their overtime win (Wichita Eagle, www.kansas.com).

Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker bottled up Missouri State in the second half of their overtime win. (Wichita Eagle, www.kansas.com).

The recipe for the upset was in full swing against Wichita State last Saturday: a home team red-hot from the three-point line in front of a rabid crowd. The undefeated season talk had already slowly begun to gain steam, but this was the type of game that many predicted would prevent it from happening. Wichita State will, after all, be the the Super Bowl game for every Missouri Valley team this season. Yet the perfect record was still alive when the Shockers tipped off against Bradley, and in battling back against Missouri State, they showed that even if they run into a similar situation against Indiana State in Terre Haute or Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls (or anywhere else, for that matter), they have shown the ability to keep sneaking out road wins.

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Introducing the RTC Big East Preseason Power Rankings

Posted by Dan Lyons (@Dan_Lyons76) on November 8th, 2013

College basketball is back! Seven Big East teams open their seasons tonight, including a few big match-ups like St. John’s vs. Wisconsin and Georgetown vs. Oregon. There is no better time to unveil the Big East microsite’s preseason rankings, with comments and analysis from our group of Big East writers:

Marquette Needs to Go Inside Against Davidson

Marquette tops Rush the Court’s preseason Big East rankings.

10. DePaul

  • Dan Lyons – With Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young heading into their senior years, this might be DePaul’s best chance to get out of the Big East basement, but I’m definitely taking a wait and see approach with the Blue Demons.
  • George Hershey - It’s DePaul… They have some talent in Melvin and Young, but they don’t play defense.
  • Todd Keryc - It doesn’t matter what league they play in or who else is in it, the poor Blue Demons are destined for the cellar almost every year.
 9. Butler
  • DL – With the injury to Roosevelt Jones, Butler is without a returning double-figure scorer this season. I’m not one to bet against the Bulldogs, with or without Brad Stevens, but this inaugural Big East campaign isn’t shaping up too well for this Cinderella.
  • GH - They lose many pieces from last year’s team. Roosevelt Jones’ injury really hurts, but they are Butler and they always surprise everyone. Expect Kellen Dunham to have a big year.
  • TK - Bad timing for the Bulldogs. They ride two straight national title appearances into two straight conference upgrades, only to see their boy wonder coach Brad Stevens leave for the NBA.

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20 Questions: Who Are the Winners and Losers of Conference Realignment This Season?

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on October 29th, 2013

seasonpreview-11

While it appears that the realignment carousel in Division I collegiate athletics has come to a halt — at least for now — plenty of college basketball programs will be getting used to new surroundings this season. In all, over 50 schools were affected in the 2013-14 round of realignment, an upheaval that has radically changed the athletic landscape over the past three years. As power conference schools chased the football dollar, the domino effect reverberated throughout the NCAA. Many schools in lower and mid-level leagues changed their associations as the news from president’s and athletic director’s offices cascaded down throughout almost all of the conferences. Realignment has been widely panned by college basketball fans and pundits alike who lament the extinction of great, historic rivalries such as Kansas-Missouri and Syracuse-Georgetown. While that is absolutely true, realignment is not all bad. New, interesting rivalries will now be created such as Duke-Syracuse, Memphis-Louisville (an old rivalry resurrected for at least one year) and Xavier-Butler (a continuation from last year’s Atlantic 10). Undoubtedly, many more new rivalries will emerge over the long term.

realignment europe

Realignment Felt Like This at Times, But It Seems to Have Finally Settled Down

Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of this year’s round of conference realignment.

Winners

The ACC: When word first leaked that Syracuse and Pittsburgh were discussing an exit from the Big East, some people may have thought it was a joke. Alas, it was real and it happened very quickly. ACC commissioner John Swofford successfully raided the Big East yet again, pulling off a 48-hour coup that effectively drove the final nail into the coffin of what we all knew as the Big East. Now the ACC has effectively become the old Big East, a 15-team behemoth that is absolutely loaded at the top. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame join legendary programs Duke and North Carolina, along with a collection of schools that have been historically solid. This year’s ACC will be great, but in the long run the battles at the top of this league will be second to none with the powerhouses sure to be involved. What we saw in the Big East over the last decade should become commonplace in the new-look ACC. It will get even better next season when Louisville replaces ACC founding member Maryland, which will depart for the Big Ten.

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With Creighton on the Way Out, Arch Madness May Never be the Same

Posted by dnspewak on March 11th, 2013

Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is an RTC correspondent. He covered the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis over the weekend.

On the first weekend of every March, a mob of blue invades St. Louis. In this baseball-crazed city normally occupied by nothing but Cardinal red, these blue people seize the downtown area and take no prisoners. They are everywhere. At the Sheraton Hotel on 14th street. The bars. The restaurants. The Metrolink train. Some might call them obnoxious.

This Could Be The Last Year Creighton's Blue Mob Comes to St. Louis

This Could Be The Last Year Creighton’s Blue Mob Comes to St. Louis

Others might call them winners. This blue mob supports the Creighton Bluejays, who have claimed nine Missouri Valley Conference Tournament titles since the league moved the championship event to St. Louis in 1991 and effectively created the phenomenon known as “Arch Madness.” There are nine other teams in the Valley, of course, all of which fill the Scottrade Center with their own mobs of yellow, purple, red and even other shades of blue. But they’re not Creighton. Two months ago, for instance, the league released the pre-sale numbers for Arch Madness tickets sold before January 1. Drake, Bradley, Indiana State and Missouri State had sold 150. Evansville had sold 200. Southern Illinoishad sold 300. Illinois State and Northern Iowa had sold about 400. Wichita State finished in second place with a robust 1,019.

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Rushed Reactions: Creighton 68, Wichita State 65

Posted by dnspewak on March 10th, 2013

rushedreactions

Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Scottrade Center following Sunday’s Missouri Valley championship game.

Three Key Takeaways.

Creighton Will Get To Strut Its Stuff In the NCAAs

Creighton Will Get To Strut Its Stuff In the NCAAs

  1. The Last Hurrah: Rumors have swirled all weekend about Creighton’s departure to the Big East, and there’s a widespread feeling here in St. Louis that the Bluejays will never make this pilgrimage to Arch Madness ever again. That’s sad for the nostalgic and sentimental folks in the Valley, but if it’s the last time Creighton ever competes in this tournament, it could not have exited in more memorable fashion. After Doug McDermott shook off a poor first half to help his team open up a double-digit lead late in the second half, Wichita State nearly erased a 13-point deficit with 4:21 remaining in regulation. Malcolm Armstead, the hero of the afternoon with a career-high 28 points for the Shockers, had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer but missed wide left off the rim with a hand in his face. “I didn’t get a good look like I should have,” Armstead said. And so the Creighton faithful stormed the floor, One Shining Moment played a few minutes later, and the Shockers once again walked away from St. Louis without an Arch Madness title — they’ve never won this championship in this city. The Bluejays, on the other hand, have owned this league, and they’ve now won two straight MVC Tournament titles. “It says a lot about how special a group of guys we have,” Creighton’s Gregory Echenique said. “I’m just glad we were able to accomplish this and prove a lot of people wrong.” Heck of a way to say goodbye.
  2. Defensive Battle: It’s the old chicken-or-the-egg argument: Was Sunday’s title game a display of good defense or bad offense? The two teams both shot just south of 35 percent from the floor, and the first five minutes of the game were nothing short of brutal on the offensive end. Creighton and Wichita State combined to start 0-of-14 from the field, even though they warmed up after releasing a little nervous energy. The physicality had to have taken a toll. The officials allowed the players to play what looked like a controlled brawl. “To me, it felt like we were Muhammad Ali out there, boxing the whole time,” Wichita’s Ron Baker said. “Went through all the rounds.” That’s a pretty accurate description of the game. Everybody got on the floor. Everybody hacked each other, call or no call. In the end, it facilitated a rough but entertaining basketball game. Read the rest of this entry »
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ATB: Bluegrass Battle Produces Drama, UNC Steps Up Against UNLV, and One Excellent Day For Kevin Ollie….

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 31st, 2012

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The Weekend’s Lede. Commonwealth Rivalry Lives Up. It doesn’t get any bigger than Louisville-Kentucky. There are little rivalries that make for great shows of organic competitiveness and bitterness, but they have nothing on what took place Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center. Each year, no matter the disparities in talent or experience, these teams come to play in this rivalry game. The emotional baggage makes the Commonwealth clash an event in itself. When you get two Top 25 sides trading jabs, two coaches with well-established personal gripes – one of whom has navigated the delicate balance of a blue-to-red partisan conversion – there’s added drama to throw on top of the natural hatred. One side (Louisville) entered with more talent, experience and depth, but as is the case in most rivalry games, the final outcome was decided based on who could execute better in crunch time (and who could convert from the free throw line). Whatever your allegiance, or if your viewing interest was of the impartial variety, it’s hard to begrudge the sheer quality and entertainment factor of Saturday’s contest. Louisville-Kentucky was the massive event overshadowing the rest of the weekend, but there were a few other interesting games on tap. Time to wrap up the final weekend of non-conference play.

Your Watercooler Moment. Harrow Doesn’t Break Under Pressure.

Considering he was facing the most relentless ball-pressuring backcourt in the country, Harrow managed the big stage with unexpected poise (photo credit: Getty Images).

Considering he was facing the most relentless ball-pressuring backcourt in the country, Harrow managed the big stage with unexpected poise (photo credit: Getty Images).

The biggest question mark looming over Kentucky’s slow start was the comfort and progression of point guard Ryan Harrow. No one ever said he was going to be Derrick Rose, or even Marquis Teague – the Calipari point guard dynasty is a tough standard to maintain – Harrow simply needs to operate at a level that allows the Wildcats to maximize the talents of Kyle Wiltjer, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin on the perimeter, and enable Nerlens Noel to capitalize on easy lobs and putbacks. Even that seemed like a pipe dream for Harrow following a mysterious four-game absence in November. He’s made huge strides over the past three weeks, and had his best game (23 points on 10-of-17 shooting) just over a week ago in an 82-54 win over Marshall. That was a small step. In Louisville, Harrow was walking into one of the best defensive backcourts statistically-speaking in NCAA history (its 80.0 adjusted defensive efficiency entering Saturday’s game ranks among the best marks in Ken Pomeroy’s database, dating back to 2003), and few believed he was ready to handle the type of pressure Russ Smith and Peyton Siva were going to throw at him. Harrow jumped into the biggest spotlight of his career and performed like a point guard of Calipari’s recent vintage. Not only did Harrow score 17 points and help spearhead a furious second-half rally, but he committed zero turnovers, found ways to ward off the active hands and smothering pressure of Siva and Smith, and commanded Kentucky’s offense with aplomb. The scoreboard reflects a Kentucky loss, a short-term disappointment. In the long term, if Harrow’s performance is a barometer for his development and maturation in Calipari’s system, Saturday was a huge win. With a capable point guard puppeteering the offense, the future is bright for Kentucky.

Also Worth Chatting About. Don’t Count Out UNC Yet.

The Tar Heels Looked locked-in defensively against the talented Rebels (photo credit: Getty Images).

The Tar Heels Looked locked-in defensively against the talented Rebels (photo credit: Getty Images).

If any team needed a statement win heading into conference play, it was North Carolina. Besides a puzzling loss at Texas (and even that, given the Longhorns’ defensive chops, is not a fatal misstep) The Tar Heels hadn’t exactly dropped the ball in non-conference play – they lost to two very good teams from the state of Indiana, one an offensive juggernaut (IU) and one a vaunted perfectionist (Butler) in the art of sizing up and beating down more talented opponents – but they hadn’t exactly looked like the ACC front-runner many expected them to be. The visiting UNLV Rebels offered a prime opportunity to hold court against a top-20-level outfit, and build some serious momentum for ACC play in the process. UNC’s stifling defense and balanced scoring overwhelmed the Rebels, who suffered a brutal five-minute field goal-less streak in the second half and received an uncharacteristically inefficient showing from freshman wunderkind Anthony Bennett (15 points on 6-of-16 shooting). Neither team was at full strength – Mike Moser played just 12 minutes in his return from an elbow injury, and Reggie Bullock was scratched with a concussion – but UNC seized its last big chance to make a splash before ACC play. And with a brutal six-game stretch featuring games against Virginia, Miami, Florida State, Maryland and NC State up next, the Tar Heels needed a momentum boost in the biggest way. The proud fans in Chapel Hill can breathe, for now, and feel better about this season not mimicking a 2009-10 campaign that saw the Tar Heels follow up the Hansborough-Lawson-Green-Ellington supergroup with an NIT appearance.

Your Quick Hits….

  • Santa Clara Tests Duke. It is a fundamental truism of the 2012-13 college hoops season that Gonzaga will win the West Coast Conference. In fact, I’m willing to go ahead and bet the Zags will have created enough distance from other challengers by February 1 to have rendered the word “race” completely and utterly moot. The rest of the league is far less certain. St. Mary’s is the logical favorite to claim the No. 2 spot. Loyola Marymount is always a tough out. And you can never discount BYU and the daunting road trip that is Provo, Utah. Time to insert a new name in the conversation: Santa Clara. The Broncos went into Cameron Indoor Saturday night and put a scare into the No. 1 Blue Devils, their upset bid powered by 29 points from senior guard Kevin Foster. That’s the kind of confidence-building performance that pays dividends in conference play, when you can rest assured Santa Clara will ride into any road environment exuding confidence and poise.
  • Ollie Gets First Win With New Job Title. Hours before Cincinnati’s Saturday night tipoff with visiting Washington, ESPN’s Andy Katz reported UConn had signed Kevin Ollie to a five-year contract extension, thus eliminating the interim tag and granting the long-term security most believed Ollie had earned after leading the Huskies to a 9-2 start and creating a smooth transitory bridge from Jim Calhoun’s fiery coaching style to a new era of UConn basketball. Losing your first game after receiving a big financial commitment from AD Warde Manuel would have been a bad look. The Huskies’ talented backcourt trio of Shabazz Napier, Omar Calhoun and Ryan Boatwright ensured their new coach had a win to back up his new job title, with each posting double-figure scoring totals in an eight-point victory over Washington. UConn may not have postseason motivations on its side, but what it does have, thanks to Saturday’s extension, is a huge incentive to help lay the foundation for Ollie’s tenure and a return to national relevance. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 02.01.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 1st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent and regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Two previously Top 10 teams (UConn and Indiana) are in major slides right now and have a chance to regain confidence with road wins tonight, though both are in very difficult spots. Also, perhaps the biggest game of the C-USA season takes place this evening. Here’s what to look for:

#22 Indiana at #20 Michigan – 6:30 PM ET on Big Ten Network (****)

Can Indiana Stop Trey Burke's Dribble Drive Tonight? (AP Photo)

  • The Hoosiers have lost four of six games and are rapidly descending in the rankings. However, they are coming off a 103-point scoring performance in a win over Iowa and they hung tough at Wisconsin in their previous game before coming up short. If Tom Crean’s team is really turning the corner in the Big Ten, then they need to prove it tonight with nothing other than a victory. Cody Zeller has been outstanding in conference play and will be the go-to man tonight against a suspect Wolverines interior defense that allowed the freshman to go 8-10 with 18 points in their first meeting, a slim Indiana win at home. IU has been efficient offensively lately without being overly reliant on the three-point shot, which is a good formula on the road. But their chances at winning tonight really boil down to  their ability to stop Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.’s penetration, as both players have the ability to carve up soft defenses. Indiana has an insanely high 110.4 defensive efficiency in conference, which will not cut it tonight. An improved defensive effort, however, will give them a great chance to win.
  • The Wolverines have held serve at home this season at 12-0 and will look to feed off the Ann Arbor crowd. As discussed above, this game is all about Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. for Michigan. The two guards are the only players in double-figure scoring (14.1 PPG and 15.2 PPG, respectively) and should have plenty of opportunities to penetrate a weak Indiana half-court defense. If they are making plays and setting up Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Evan Smotrycz for open threes, UM is right where they want to be. Michigan has played much better defense at home this season and should not allow Indiana to shoot the lights out like they have been able to in some games.
  • It’s probably getting repetitive, but this game completely comes down to Indiana’s defensive intensity in the half-court. Michigan has the advantage at home and is a four-point favorite, but this would be no upset if Indiana won. If early in the game you see Burke bouncing the ball for 20 seconds during possessions and struggling to get into the paint, you’ll know IU is doing a good job on the perimeter. Prediction: Michigan comes through with a slim victory.

Connecticut at #15 Georgetown – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

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The Missouri Valley’s March Back to Prominence

Posted by dnspewak on January 19th, 2012

Danny Spewak is an RTC correspondent. You can find him on Twitter @dspewak. He filed this report following Creighton’s 66-65 victory at Missouri State in Springfield on Wednesday. 

No need to remind Paul Lusk about the strength of the Missouri Valley Conference this season. During the past five days, his Missouri State team has lost three games by a total of four possessions. “It’s just one tough game after another,” Lusk said. “You have to go play good basketball in this league.” That’s a theme across the Valley in 2011-12, as the conference looks poised to earn multiple bids in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.  Even in a 66-65 loss, the Bears’ game against Creighton at JQH Arena Wednesday night serves as a prime example of the MVC’s rise. Missouri State forced the Bluejays into 11 first-half turnovers, held the nation’s second-leading scorer to just 15 points and kept an animated home crowd involved by playing the #19 team to the final possession. Had Anthony Downing’s jumper at the buzzer fallen, a middle-of-the-pack team would have completed a sweep of the league’s top contender and Wooden Award candidate Doug McDermott. 

And nobody would have blinked an eye. “I think parity is a sign of strength in a league,” commissioner Doug Elgin said. “Absolutely, I think the league is much better this year than it was a year ago. And I think if you look at the talent that’s coming into the league, we’re going to be stronger next year still.”

Creighton's Nailbiter on Wednesday is an Example of MVC Parity (photo by the Associated Press)

The results from non-conference play support Elgin’s opinion. Thanks to a strong performance against other leagues in November and December, the MVC ranks eighth in conference RPI right now, above the Pac-12, Conference USA and the West Coast Conference. Wichita State, the other main contender for a league title and an at-large bid, embarrassed UNLV by 19 points at home. Illinois State beat Rutgers on a neutral floor, while Drake and Northern Iowa both beat Iowa State. But the best example of the MVC’s parity may be Indiana State, which lost again on Wednesday to fall to 2-6. Yet the defending tourney champs still won at Vanderbilt earlier this season and represented itself well on national television with two victories in the Old Spice Classic during Thanksgiving week.

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O26 Primers: America East, Missouri Valley, and Northeast Conference Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 3rd, 2011

RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.

Three more conferences get underway this evening with teams in the America East and NEC all gunning for the coveted automatic-bid to the Tournament, while the Missouri Valley is vying to send two teams to the Dance. Boston University is all of a sudden the favorite to win the America East with the uncertainty of Evan Fjeld‘s ankle, while Missouri State and Long Island are the favorites in their respective leagues. Something tells me though that the Wichita State Shockers will be looking for vengeance following their two losses to the Bears earlier this year.

America East

The Favorite: Vermont appears to be the favorite, but a lot depends on the status of Evan Fjeld’s ankle that he injured in UVM’s final regular season game against Boston University. In what very well could be the America East championship game, BU went on to defeat the Catamounts in overtime. Allison Shepherd told John Fantino of the Burlington Free Press Blog that: “[Fjeld] is receiving daily care and treatment for the injury. We will have a better idea regarding his playing status for the upcoming America East tournament as the weekend approaches.” Something tells me that even if Fjeld and his ‘Stache are able to go, he will not be at 100%. I like Boston University.

Dark Horse: Behind senior Tim Ambrose, Albany is a team that has come on strong as of late and is capable of making a run in the A-East tournament. The Great Danes have won four straight to end the regular season, but getting by Stony Brook will be no easy task in the first round.

Who’s Hot: Boston University has not lost in February and is 8-0 during the month. They defeated Vermont to conclude the regular season and are flying high with John Holland—arguably the league’s best player—leading the way.

Player to Watch: John Holland has been a staple in BU’s rotation since the day he stepped on campus. The senior has averaged double-figures in scoring for all four years, and his 19.2 points a game this year is tops in the league.

First-Round Upset: Hartford over Maine. The Black Bears were an intriguing team and story to follow early on in the season. They beat a solid Penn State team and began league play with an 8-1 record, but since then they have fallen flat on their faces. Although their date with Hartford is technically not in the first round—the America East essentially has a play-in game between the #8 and #9 seeds to begin the tournament—fourth seeded Maine will have their hands full with Hartford who has already beaten them twice.

How’d They Fare? As a 16 seed last year, Vermont could not handle the athleticism or shooting ability of Syracuse as they lost 79-56.

Interesting Fact: Not an interesting fact, but simply one of my favorite NCAA Tournament highlights of all-time:

Easily the best part of the clip is Tom Brennan’s reaction after T.J. Sorrentine swishes home the three from about 35 feet away, and if you look even further past Brennan the reaction of the guys sitting on press row are priceless too. This is what makes March so Mad!

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