The Pac: Way Back?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 2nd, 2015

Three Sweet Sixteen teams. One in the Elite Eight. And yet when the Final Four rolls around this weekend, it will commence without an entrant from the West Coast’s major conference, the Pac-12, for the seventh consecutive season. Arizona has nothing to be embarrassed about from its loss to Wisconsin on Saturday. Utah and UCLA both put up good fights before going down to clearly superior teams. But this is turning into something of an issue. Since the last time a Pac-12 team advanced to the Final Four (UCLA, 2008), four different Big Ten schools have earned a total of seven spots in the sport’s final weekend. The Big East has earned seven as well, although all of those but Villanova have scattered in the wind to different conferences (the new Big East does have Butler, however, which earned two Final Four appearances as part of the Horizon League). Even conferences like the Colonial (VCU, 2011), the Missouri Valley (Wichita State, 2013) and the newly formed American (Connecticut, 2014) have Final Four appearances since the last Pac-12 appearance.

Not Only Is Arizona A Player's Program, It Is The Pac-12's Best (AP)

Not Only Is Arizona A Player’s Program, It Is The Pac-12’s Best. (AP)

Furthermore, if you throw out UCLA’s three straight appearances from 2006-08, you have to go all the way back to 2001 to find another Pac-12 school (Arizona) with a Final Four appearance. In the history of the conference that starts with the word “Pacific” and ends with a number, only three schools (UCLA, Arizona and Stanford) have made the Final Four. Current member Utah got to the final weekend back in 1998 (and in 1966, for that matter) as a member of the WAC, and had previously earned spots as a member of the Mountain States conference in 1944 and 1961. Refer to the bottom of the page for the complete list of when teams in the conference last reached that level of success. So, really, I didn’t sit down expecting to write the above. I was just going to write a simple season wrap-up and wound up diving down a rabbit hole. Now I’m left with these burning questions: 1) Why does the Pac-12 find itself in such dire straits? And 2) is there any hope of significant change? Let’s dive right into the first one with the caveat that, even after thinking about this for 24 hours, I’m not sure I have a great answer. So, we’ll leave it open for further discussion. Feel free to shoot down any of my theories and propose your ideas along the way.

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 23rd, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Your bracket is busted and the Sweet Sixteen is set. Let’s do a Regional Reset. Follow @rtcsouthregion for reporting from Houston this week. You can find all four regional resets here.

New Favorite: #1 Duke. The Blue Devils are well-positioned to make their first Final Four since 2010. Two wins in Charlotte (by an average of 24.0 PPG) did little to diminish their status as the South Region favorite, even with Gonzaga and Utah also impressively advancing en route to Houston. Duke, 31-4 and trending upwards, has made clear the crown will go through them.

Quinn Cook And Matt Jones Helped Duke Cruise By San Diego State And Into The Sweet 16

Quinn Cook and Matt Jones Helped Duke Cruise by San Diego State and into the Sweet Sixteen. (Getty)

Horse of Darkness: #11 UCLA. The only double-digit seed left standing in this NCAA Tournament is the South Region’s darkest horse, despite that double-digit seed owning more national titles than any program in the history of college basketball. UCLA’s serendipitous March has been well-documented, but 80 minutes of solid basketball earned the Bruins a trip to Houston and the second weekend. The impediment to advancement (Gonzaga) will be significantly greater in Houston; can UCLA’s mutation into Cinderella maintain itself for another weekend?

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #3 Iowa State. It was the quick departure of a pair of #3 seeds from the Big 12 that supplied this year’s NCAA Tournament an early jolt on Thursday afternoon. Baylor’s demise on the other side of the bracket was surprising in its own right, but Iowa State’s loss to UAB was legitimately shocking. Fresh off a takedown of Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game, the Cyclones had entered this tourney with engines revving. The draw was favorable in the South – many believed a Final Four run was in the cards. At worst, a second round victory over 14-point underdog UAB felt like a certainty. But the impossible becomes possible very quickly this time of year; before anyone knew it, Iowa State had become the first casualty of the Madness of March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: About Those Tourney Teams?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 18th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Four Pac-12 teams are going dancing. And we’ve got four Burning Questions. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. But, below, you’ll get takes from Adam Butler and Andrew Murawa about what to expect from the teams around the Conference of Champions this week and beyond.

Q: So, UCLA’s in the Tournament. On a scale of 1 to Holy Crap Really! how surprised are you. And can they do anything with their good fortune?

Adam Butler: I don’t know why but when the Bruins’ name was called on Sunday I wasn’t all that shocked. It makes no sense because they haven’t impressed by the numbers or the eyeball tests. But at the same time I like so many things about this team in a tournament setting. They’re the only Pac-12 team to keep things close on two occasions with Arizona and – while I don’t love moral victories – that’s something. Of course the committee doesn’t pay attention to any of the storylines so it’s not like Larry Brown ever coached UCLA or anything. I remain concerned about the Bruins’ cohesiveness but if all I need is to win one game, it’s hard not to at least be somewhat impressed with Kevon Looney and Norman Powell.

Yep, we had the same reaction, Bryce. (AP)

Yep, we had the same reaction, Bryce. (AP)

Andrew Murawa: I’m definitely all the way over on the Holy Crap Really! side of things. I just don’t get how the Bruins have done anything to deserve playing in this Tournament. They have home wins over Oregon and Utah which are, yeah, whatever, fine. Beyond that, the biggest smiley-face on their report card is only losing by an average of eight points in their two games against Arizona. Is that all you need to do these days? Play in a big conference and lose to good teams? All that said, when the Bruins have things clicking, they’re pretty fearsome. Tony Parker is coming along in the post, Kevon Looney makes “Wow!” plays on a regular basis, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton have proven themselves capable of big games. And Norman Powell is just playing lights out right now. This is a team that could beat SMU by 20. Or go 10 minutes without a bucket in the second half and fade into obscurity.

Q: Oregon gets an #8 seed and has to play Oklahoma State in Omaha. Did the Ducks get screwed?

AM: Given the lack of any truly notable wins on their non-conference slate, the Ducks’ relatively strong finish to the season in a weak Pac-12 shouldn’t really hold much sway. And it didn’t. But the fact that they’ve got to go to Big 12 country to play a Cowboys team that really didn’t do a whole lot to earn much good favor can’t sit well either.

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

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 16th, 2015

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

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

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

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 16th, 2015

Three Pac-12 teams turned on the Selection Show Sunday knowing they’d hear their names called. A fourth turned it on probably expecting to be disappointed. Below we’ll break down those four conference teams, from highest seed to lowest.

Arizona's Path To The Elite Eight Makes Them The NCAA's Unofficial Fifth #1 Seed (USA Today)

Arizona’s Path To The Elite Eight Makes the Wildcats the NCAA’s Unofficial Fifth #1 Seed (USA Today)

Arizona (#2 seed, West Region). The Wildcats certainly have the type of resume that would have landed them squarely on the #1 seed line in most seasons. But in a year with many qualified contenders for the top line, Arizona has no reason to be disappointed. The Wildcats got a #2 seed out West where they’ll play first weekend games in Portland before advancing to the regional in Los Angeles. Fan support in both places will be high, so it’s realistic to view Arizona as this year’s fifth #1 seed. Now that certainly doesn’t mean we can pencil them into the Final Four because, you see, that #1 seed in their region is none other than Wisconsin, a high-caliber team in their own right. Over the weekend in Las Vegas, Sean Miller‘s program exorcised the demon of not having won a Pac-12 Tournament since 2002. For Miller to kill off that other big demon – the tag of being the best head coach to have never made a Final Four – the Wildcats may get a chance to avenge last year’s overtime regional final loss to Wisconsin, again in the Elite Eight.

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Championship Week Primer: Bid-Stealers and Teams to Watch

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 10th, 2015

Championship Week is upon us. And while some mid-majors have already locked up their spots in the Big Dance, it’s time for the major conference tournaments to get under way. Here’s a brief look at each of those upcoming tournaments with a description of one team in each that is primed to use the postseason as the catalyst for a run and one potential bid-stealer.

AAC

SMU is Flying Under the Radar Somewhat (USA Today Images)

SMU is Somewhat Flying Under the Radar (USA Today Images)

  • Team to Watch: SMU – This one might seem obvious as SMU is the top seed and the best team in the conference. But such is the state of the AAC that the Mustangs are really the only team with a shot to make some noise in March. Temple is an NCAA Tournament team but isn’t anything special, and the same could be said for Cincinnati and Tulsa, if either cracks the field of 68.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: UConn – Hey, we’ve certainly seen the Huskies get hot before. There haven’t been many indications that Kevin Ollie’s team can put together a run, but its draw is favorable — SMU is on the opposite side of the bracket — so a Sunday date with the Mustangs with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line is a distinct possibility.

ACC

  • Team to Watch: North Carolina – The Tar Heels have amazingly lost six of their last 10 games en route to a fifth-place finish in the ACC. But since an ugly loss to NC State a couple weeks ago, they’ve looked decent and are capable of exploding at any time. North Carolina has elite athleticism and a guard in Marcus Paige who is one of college basketball’s best when he’s locked in. The Heels — playing in front of the always-friendly Greensboro crowd — should be favored against Louisville in the quarterfinals before meeting a Virginia team that could still be at less than full strength.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: Miami – Miami isn’t a bid-stealer, per se, because the Hurricanes don’t have to win the ACC Tournament to earn entry into the Dance. They probably only need two victories but they’ve been given an intriguing road as the #6 seed. Provided the Hurricanes win their Wednesday game against Wake Forest or Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and then potentially Duke await. Miami has already gone toe-to-toe with both this year in their buildings, and even beat Duke at Cameron. If Jim Larranaga’s team were to pull off those two upsets, anything could happen in the championship game.

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Pac-12 Senior Days: Arizona State’s Shaquille McKissic

Posted by Connor Pelton on March 7th, 2015

One year ago this week, Arizona State hosted California on Senior Day. Small forward Shaquille McKissic was honored, as were five other Sun Devil seniors. They dominated the Golden Bears on that afternoon, but the team would go on to lose its final four games. The last of those came in the Sun Devils’ NCAA Tournament opener, a game that was lost on a last second putback against Texas. You may have seen the heartbreaking pictures.

Heartbreak.

Heartbreak.

McKissic decided that he didn’t want his career to end that way. He and the university petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, and on April 18, the word from Indianapolis came back. Because of McKissic’s unique situation — mainly stemming from his time at Edmonds Community College — the NCAA gave him another chance. A second chance to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. A second chance to impress any professional scouts that might be watching. And a second Senior Day, coming once again on a Saturday against California.

The sixth year senior’s story is full of second chances. McKissic blew an opportunity at attending Northern Idaho, one of the country’s premier junior college programs, when he was arrested for breaking into a home. He spent three months in jail and ended up having to play his 2009-10 season in Lynwood, Washington. The small forward thrived at Edmonds, averaging 16.2 PPG. Things began to fall apart once the season ended, however, as he was left homeless when his mother and younger brother moved across the country. And worst of all, his best friend Devin Topps was shot and killed at a Halloween party on October 31, 2010.

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Pac-12 Basketball Programs as Craft Breweries

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 2nd, 2015

I really like college hoops. I really like craft beer. I have no idea why I never had this idea before, but here’s a simple, fun game: go through each Pac-12 program and find the brewery most simpatico in style, substance, history and quality. Now, I’ve had my fair share of beers in fine establishments all over the West, but living in California with the sheer number of excellent breweries in this state, we’re going to wind up with plenty of choices from the Golden State on this list. It would be nice to pick more geographically-fitting breweries, but for instance, while there are plenty of fine Arizona breweries, none can match the quality and national importance of the home Wildcats, so we’ll have to go elsewhere for that comparison. And by no means have I got the finger on the pulse of every single craft brewery that has arisen. So, if you’ve got better comparisons in mind, I’m interested in hearing them, especially true toward the bottom of the list where I admittedly ran out of steam. Enough nonsense, let’s get to the list!

Much like the ubiquitious Lagunitas Brewing Company, Arizona fans are a national presence. (AP)

Much like the ubiquitous Lagunitas Brewing Company, Arizona fans are a national presence. (AP)

  • Arizona: Lagunitas Brewing. My first instinct was to go Russian River here, but comparatively speaking, Russian River is a niche brewer. It’s legendary and excellent, but it’s also pretty small. Lagunitas, by comparison, is a national power. It’s the fifth-largest craft brewer in the nation (and the 11th biggest brewery overall, even on a list with the big boys) and ubiquitous, yet it still manages to crank out superbly high quality beers without fail. And if you’ve ever done the brewery tour, you know that Lagunitas is definitely A Player’s Program. The only significant problem I find with this selection is that Lagunitas’ mascot is a dog.
  • UCLA: Sierra Nevada. If Arizona is Lagunitas, the Bruins have to be somebody equally as big, so we’ll go with the Chico mainstay. Sierra Nevada is an old school classic. This brewery has been around forever; it has great history; it’s still committed to quality. But let’s be honest, it’s also been bypassed by a handful of other institutions, and although they still shoot for the stars, sometimes it disappoints. Here’s one thing Sierra has over UCLA, though — unlike Pauley Pavilion, their tap room is never whisper quiet.
  • Utah: Epic Brewing. I have some reservations about comparing a basketball program with the history of the Utes to a Beehive State-based microbrewery given the lack of history that the state has with sensible alcohol laws. But I’ll rationalize this choice by saying that Epic, a brewery that formed after Utah slightly modernized its regulations over the last decade, is making history of its own. Plus, like the current Utes squad, the beers that Epic makes are big and bold.

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Picking a Pac-12 All-Star Game

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 13th, 2015

I was poking around some of the upcoming posts on Rush the Court last night, not entirely sure what I wanted to write about, when I stumbled across Brendan Brody’s piece over on the Big Ten microsite about picking a pair of All-Star Game rosters out of that conference. Well, that seemed like a perfectly brilliant idea to me, so I figured I’d steal borrow that notion and shift out west to the Conference of Champions. He’s got 12-man rosters in a 14 (or 16 or 18? God knows how many teams are in the Big-Can’t Count) team league, and we’ve only got 12, so I’m just going to fill out two 10-man rosters and split them based on the North/South divisions that the conference uses for football. One other caveat: We’re going to steal an idea from the MLB (probably the first time I’ve ever used that phrase) and require at least one player from each team. And, since we’re going to have an All-Star Game, we might as well make a full weekend out of it and host a dunk contest, a three-point contest and a skills competition, right? Let’s jump right in.

Seriously. How Cool Would An In-Season Conference All-Star Game Be?

Seriously. How Cool Would An In-Season Conference All-Star Game Be?

Pac-12 North All-Stars

Starters

  • G: Chasson Randle, Sr, Stanford
  • G: Joseph Young, Sr, Oregon
  • G: Gary Payton II, Jr, Oregon State
  • F: Anthony Brown, Sr, Stanford
  • F: Josh Hawkinson, So, Washington State

Bench

  • G: Davonte Lacy, Sr, Washington State
  • G: Nigel Williams-Goss, So, Washington
  • G: Tyrone Wallace, Jr, California
  • F: Jordan Bell, Fr, Oregon
  • C: Stefan Nastic, Sr, Stanford

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Marching to Vegas: Utah Visits Arizona With So Much on the Line

Posted by Adam Butler on January 16th, 2015

Effort is one of those intangible things that we scream about from the couch. It’s not really something you can quantify but it’s something everyone notices. It’s ugly when it’s not there and it’s endearing when it’s there without results. The desired confluence is when effort meets talent. [insert Wooden quote here]. Because when ‘good’ couples itself with ‘try’, anything is possible. Special happens. But when ‘try’ doesn’t align with the talent component, well, sometimes you lose to Oregon State and coach Sean Miller rails his Arizona team publicly and what we can only assume is privately. Practice was more than likely hellacious these past few days in Tucson.

Sean Miller Was Not All Smiles This Week

Sean Miller Was Not All Smiles This Week

Last night, those frustrations or adjustments manifested as the Wildcats beat a hobbled Colorado team. From that game’s “effort” I think we learned nothing. Colorado was missing their heart, soul, and able bodies. Dead men walking. Arizona did little more than take care of business at home. Effort, as it were, was incalculable and perhaps irrelevant in dismissing the Buffs to Tempe; a game, it would seem, for which Colorado is saving its bullets. Arizona held a 21-11 rebounding advantage at the half. Askia Booker converted to his alter ego, As-three-a Booker, to keep them in the game. But enough on Thursday night.

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Pac-12 One-on-One: Chasson Randle vs. Joseph Young

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 2nd, 2015

With data heavily reliant on KenPom.com and Hoop-math.com, along with contributions from Adam Butler, Kevin Danna, Connor Pelton and Tracy McDannald.

Regularly here at the RTC microsite, I’ll send out questions or polls to my group of trusted Pac-12 experts: Adam Butler, Connor Pelton, Kevin Danna and Tracy McDannald. We’ll gather votes to come up with consensus all-conference teams. We’ll ask who is the best defender, best dunker, best shooter in the Pac. And every now and then, we have some disagreements. This year, Oregon’s Joseph Young is perhaps our biggest source of regular disagreement. For instance, at the start of the season, I voted Young as the second-best player in the conference, behind only Delon Wright. None of my other trusted advisors ranked him any higher than sixth. We voted for best shooter in the league and I dialed up Young (and his 88.1% FT, 52.8% 2FG, and 41.5% 3FG) as the best in the conference; nobody else ranked him higher than third. And then, when we picked our mid-season all-conference team this week, I put Young in my top five, while only one other voter – Pelton – ranked him among his first five.

On the Curious Case of Oregon's Joseph Young (USA Today Images)

On the Curious Case of Oregon’s Joseph Young (USA Today Images)

Now, all of this preamble of is not to lead into a 2,000-word post on why I’m right and everyone else is wrong, but it did allow me to dig into the numbers and compare Young to some of the other guards in the league. I looked at Washington’s Nigel Williams-Goss, I looked at Utah’s Delon Wright. And then I looked at Stanford’s Chasson Randle. And what I found was awesome. Below are screenshots from KenPom.com, detailing Young and Randle’s numbers as of New Year’s Eve.

Young_Randle_KP

The basketball nerd in me loved taking screenshots of those two stat lines and comparing them. Look at how similar they are, almost right across the board, starting with height, weight, class and continuing on. Their minutes, offensive ratings and usage numbers are almost all exactly the same. I shared these screenshots with the group, and the idea for a new post comparing similar players to each other was born. I remember some baseball magazine I used to read when I was a kid, back when I still thought baseball was interesting. One of their regular features was to compare and contrast players with some similarity: Alan Trammell vs. Ozzie Smith; Tony Gwynn vs. Wade Boggs; George Brett vs. Mike Schmidt. I loved those things, even if for the life of me I can’t remember the name of the magazine or the name of the feature. (Oh, by the way, the fact that guys like Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Jack Morris are not in the baseball Hall of Fame is ridiculous, says this guy, who hasn’t watched more than nine innings of baseball in a season since before the MLB cancelled the 1994 World Series). I figured we’d try a similar thing here. Sure, baseball is more of an individual sport made up of clearer one-on-one match-ups – pitcher vs. hitter and whatnot. And just looking at the numbers for any individual basketball player without taking into account team composition and even the variability of a schedule is a fool’s errand, but I’ve never been scared of looking foolish. I’m not always going to try to establish exactly which player is better, but I’m going to try to lay out all the facts you’ll need to come up with your own opinion. Here is the first edition of RTC Pac-12 One-on-One.

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O26 Weekly Awards: GW, Christian Wood, Benjy Taylor & Pac-12 Upsets

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 30th, 2014

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

George Washington. While many folks were drinking eggnog and caroling and having holiday fun, George Washington was in Hawaii stringing together three impressive, defensive-minded victories in a row to win the Diamond Head Classic. In doing so, not only did the Colonials establish themselves as the Atlantic 10’s second-best unit, they also picked up a resume-defining non-conference victory that should work wonders come Selection Sunday.

George Washington beat Wichita State and won the Diamond Head Classic. (Eugene Tanner / Associated Press)

George Washington beat Wichita State and won the Diamond Head Classic. (Eugene Tanner / Associated Press)

Mike Lonergan’s club entered last Monday with essentially zero quality wins of note, having dropped all three opportunities against KenPom top-100 units – including a 13-point handling at Penn State the previous week – and running out of chances. Luckily, the trip to Hawaii offered a few finals shots before A-10 play, and the effects from that contest in Happy Valley (especially defensively) were apparently left on the mainland: GW opened the tournament by holding Ohio to 15 points in the second half and steamrolling the Bobcats, 77-49. Big man Kevin Larsen finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds and the Colonials allowed their MAC opponent a mere 0.77 points per possession – a dominant defensive effort that continued into their next two games. Against Colorado the next night, Lonergan’s group limited the Buffaloes to just 50 points on 36.5 percent shooting, their second-worst offensive output of the season. Then, on Christmas night, GW notched its biggest win (and probably the A-10’s biggest win) of the young season by storming back from eight down against Wichita State, grabbing the lead with under five minutes to play and holding off the Shockers for a 60-54 triumph. Lonergan’s decision to switch to a 1-3-1 zone in the second half enabled GW to limit Wichita State to its fewest points per possession since February 2, 2013, and helped spark the game-clinching, 20-6 run late in the contest. In fact, over the course of three games, the Colonials allowed just four (total!) double-figure scorers and never surrendered more than 0.90 points per trip – a stretch of defensive excellence that puts them firmly in the NCAA Tournament at-large discussion, likely from now until March.

Honorable Mentions: Loyola-Chicago (2-0: N-Texas Tech, N-Boise State); Stony Brook (2-0: vs. American, at Washington); UNLV (2-0: vs. Arizona, vs. Southern Utah); Iona (2-0: vs. Florida Gulf Coast, at Drexel)

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