In Part I of our three-part series, we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from eight different O26 conferences: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big South, Horizon, MAAC, NEC, OVC, and Patriot. In alphabetical order:
Brian Voelkel and the Catamounts led the way in the America East. (Photo/burlingtonfreepress.com)
Team of the Year – Vermont (21-9, 15-1). After starting the season 4-8, the Catamounts won 17 of their final 18 games, walloping nearly everyone in the league and capturing the America East title. The veteran team now looks poised to reach the NCAA Tournament, where it will be a serious upset threat.
Player of the Year – Brian Voelkel – Vermont. Voelkel is one of the most fascinating players in college basketball. At 6’6’’, the senior is a small forward who rebounds like a true big man and distributes like pass-first point guard. His numbers are both strange and excellent: 6.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 5.8 assists a game, with a free throw rate that ranks first in the country.
Coach of the Year – Pat Duquette – UMass Lowell. The River Hawks began their first year in D-I hoops 1-11 before winning nine of their final 16 games, finishing the season 10-18 overall and 8-8 in league play. Duquette is trying to build a program from the ground up, and 2013-14 was a great first step.
Upset of the Year – Duke over Vermont, 91-90. Okay, so this wasn’t actually an upset – Duke won! – but for a few minutes on a Sunday night in November, the Catamounts captured the imagination of the sports world, NFL fans included. Some Cameron home cooking, er, I mean a late foul on Clancy Rugg ended the bid, but it was one mighty effort.
Team of the Year– Mercer (23-8, 14-4). Sure, the Bears lost a couple games down the stretch and wound up sharing the A-Sun title with Florida Gulf Coast instead of winning it outright, but their 23 overall wins – including non-conference victories over Seton Hall, Denver and Ole Miss – was unmatched in the league.
Player of the Year – Langston Hall – Mercer. The 6’4’’ senior was a key scorer and superb distributor for the league’s best team, averaging 15 points per game and sporting a top-40 assist rate of 33.1 percent, just ahead of Shabazz Napier. Hall scored at least 24 points six different times and notched four games of 10-plus assists.
Coach of the Year – Bob Hoffman – Mercer. Hoffman will likely set his career mark at Mercer for wins in a season and is guaranteed a third-straight postseason appearance, perhaps this time in the NCAA Tournament.
Upset of the Year – East Tennessee State over Stephen F. Austin, 66-58. On November 23, Murry Bartow’s Buccanneers topped Stephen F. Austin at home. Guess how many games the Lumberjacks have lost since then? You got it – zero.
It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, and what better way to get you through the next 14 days of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s conference tournaments as they get under way, that’s right, starting tonight.
Dates: March 3, 5, 8, 12 Site: Campus sites (higher-seeded team hosts)
What to expect: American started 10-0 in conference play before Boston University came on strong to win the league, yet neither team comes in as hot as Bucknell. The Bison — which pulled off NCAA Tournament upsets in 2005 and 2006 — have won six games in a row and are playing their best basketball of the year, especially on the defensive end. Beating the Terriers in their home gym will be a tall task, but if Dave Paulsen’s club can take down the top dogs once again, it might just hear its name called on Selection Sunday. This should be among the more wide open tournaments during Championship Week, with every team in the top half of the conference having lost at least once to a team in the bottom half. The unexpected should be the expected in the Patriot League.
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.
San Diego State (22-2) at New Mexico (19-5) – 10:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday
This game — this week — is a huge one for New Mexico. If it can avenge an early loss to UNLV tonight in Las Vegas, Craig Neal’s team will return home on Saturday with a chance to pull even with San Diego State atop the Mountain West standings and solidify itself as an NCAA Tournament lock. Up to this point, the only major feather in the Lobos’ cap is a win over Cincinnati back in early December, so beating the Aztecs this weekend would not only shake up the conference race, it would also carry serious resume-boosting implications. Not to mention bragging rights in a match-up that features two of the best fan bases west of the Mississippi.
Kendall Williams and the Lobos welcome San Diego State to the Pit on Saturday. (Eric Draper The Associated Press)
In fact, considering how closely matched the game is on paper, New Mexico’s 15,000-plus screaming fans might very well become a deciding factor when it’s all said and done. According to KenPom, the Lobos are pegged as the slight favorites with a win probability of 54 percent, a figure that will dip considerably when they head to San Diego in early March. But first they get to host the Aztecs in The Pit, their menacing, subterranean arena in which they boast an all-time winning mark well over 80 percent. Not many visiting teams escape unscathed. For San Diego State fans, the silver lining is this: Steve Fisher units have gone an admirable 6-8 in the daunting stadium since he took over in 1999.
Of course, the outcome will ultimately be decided on the court, and there, each team will have distinct advantages. For New Mexico, the ability to get interior scoring from its imposing frontcourt duo of Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow will be critical. The big men combined to average 36 points and 15 rebounds in the Lobos’ two victories over the Aztecs last year; in the one loss, they mustered just two points and nine boards total. Paint production will be especially important considering that opposing guards Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard are stingy perimeter defenders, capable of minimizing Kendall Williams’ usually-considerable offensive production. San Diego State, meanwhile, hopes to continue playing the excellent team defense that has limited opponents to around 0.94 points per possession this season, good for 17th in the country. They are long, fast, physical and will suffocate teams that are ill-prepared. On the other end, the Aztecs are led by the gifted Thames — who’s likely to win Mountain West Player of the Year — and the team-wide ability to garner second-chance looks by crashing the offensive glass. Forwards Josh Davis and J.J. O’Brien must out-bang the sizable New Mexico frontcourt if San Diego State hopes to generate enough offense to survive Albuquerque. The game will be high-stakes and high-energy, so flip to The Deuce and check it out when Saturday night rolls around.
As great as the Steve Fishers and Gregg Marshalls and Jim Crews of the world are — and they’re pretty darn great — several other O26 coaches have also achieved remarkable success so far in 2013-14, often with less to work with and more to prove. Let’s examine a few of those head coaches around the country who have stood out to this point despite leading lesser-known programs.
Tony Jasick has raised the bar at IPFW this season. (gomastodons.com)
Tony Jasick– IPFW. At 18-7, Jasick’s team has already tied IPFW’s highest win total since it joined the Division I ranks 13 years ago, vastly exceeding expectations along the way. The Mastadons were picked to finish sixth out of eight teams in the Summit League preseason poll, making their current 6-2 conference record — enough to be tied for first place — quite a surprise, especially considering that they’ve already beaten the next three top contenders. In its win against overwhelming league-favorite North Dakota State, IPFW went 20-of-21 from the free throw line and committed just 11 fouls en route to a double-figure victory. It took Dayton some last-second heroics at home to beat Jasick’s club, and after falling to Illinois by just two points in late November, Illini head coach John Groce said of the Mastadons: “I thought they were going to be the best execution team that we have played so far. And they were.” Only 35 years old and in just his third year, Jasick could very well lead his program to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance this season and is sure to become a hot coaching name in the near future.
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.
This Rutgers/Julie Hermann thing appears to be getting worse before it gets better. A couple bits of news released on Wednesday further impugned the university’s protocols for not properly vetting its new athletic director, and depending on how much more is still locked in the closet of this woman’s past, it could begin to spell the end of her short career there. ESPN.com obtained emails from the 26-member (seriously?) executive search committee at Rutgers that was tasked with interviewing candidates, including Hermann, and has found that the process was expedited to the point that committee members did not have time to “delve deeply into either candidates’ documents” or “ask follow-up questions.” Furthermore, a former Tennessee volleyball player named Erin Zammett Ruddy, who played under Hermann in 1996-97, validated the accusations made by some of her teammates in last weekend’s Newark Star-Ledger piece. As she writes on her personal blog, “After our 96/97 season, the team got together—sans coaches—to figure out why we were all so miserable and why we felt so much animosity toward one another. We quickly realized Julie [Hermann] was the common denominator.” She goes on to say that events from 16 years ago do not necessarily reflect the talents of Hermann as an administrator, but we’re starting to get the feeling that those feeling the most fire from this storm on high in New Jersey will not come to the same conclusion.
On to better news, as the positive effects from Jason Collins’ coming out are starting to take hold with college basketball the first beneficiary. Outsports reported Tuesday that an NAIA player by the name of Jallen Messersmith at Benedictine College (KS) had also come out to his coaches and teammates last fall, and is believed to be the first openly gay men’s college basketball player in US history. A rising junior, Messersmith is a 6’8″ forward who averaged 4.9 PPG and 3.6 RPG last season but was ranked in the top five nationally in blocks per game (1.9 BPG). There are many more firsts to achieve in this particular civil rights movement, but the more exposure to gay people that folks like Messersmith can bring to places like Atchison, Kansas, the better. As he put it so well: “I’m just one of the guys, who happens to like guys.”
In a strange coincidence, there was actually quite a bit of conference tournament news released on Wednesday. First, if the SEC is indeed interested in moving its postseason tournament to a “primary” site in the future, Nashville has spoken up and is more than ready to take on the responsibility. The Music City already has the 2015, 2016 and 2019 tournaments locked up, but the CEO of the Nashville Sports Council believes that his city is well-suited for the event. Meanwhile, in the mid-major world of conference tournaments, the MAAC announced on Wednesday that it is moving its postseason event back to Albany, New York, from Springfield, Massachusetts, beginning in 2015 and lasting through 2017. The event enjoyed its best attendance year in 2010 at Albany’s Times-Union Center, where the total gate of 53,569 was nearly four times the average attendance in Springfield the last two years. Staying in the Northeast, the Patriot League also announced that with the additions of Boston University and Loyola (MD) to the conference, the postseason tournament would also be expanding to include all 10 teams in its membership.
Today’s exercise in silliness comes from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in yet another exhibit of eggheadedness getting the best of reasonableness. A group called Emory Sports Marketing Analytics decided to come up with a statistical model to rank order the “best fan bases” in college basketball by comparing team revenues with expectations of team performance. Louisville came out on top, with Arizona, Duke, Arkansas (?) and North Carolina following in the top five. Kentucky came in at #7, while Kansas, UCLA, Indiana, among others, were not listed. We’ll have more on this later today, but the problem with an analysis like this is that the metric simply doesn’t determine much of anything having to do with the quality of a fan base. For example, Louisville’s significant revenue stream has much to do with its exceptional lease deal with the Yum! Center, and little to do with the quality of its fan base (even though it is obviously very good). Mike DeCourcy agrees, as should anyone with half a brain who watches and enjoys this sport. The fact of the matter is that for something so ambiguous and difficult to define as “best fan base,” you simply cannot rely entirely on quantitative methods to get realistic answers. A holistic, qualitative component simply must be part of the methodology. To its credit, Louisville blog Card Chronicle went with the “hey, it’s a ridiculous premise, so let’s mock Kentucky fans” opportunity. Well played, sirs.
Let’s end today with a discussion of Indiana‘s undefeated 1975-76 national championship team. The last team to run the table in college basketball history is now putting its cachet together for the purpose of the greater good — stars Kent Benson and Bobby Wilkerson will release a commemorative line of products to celebrate the team’s enduring greatness, which will go on sale at their 32and0 site today. All proceeds will be split among four Indiana charities, the Hoosier Oncology Group, Komen Central Indiana, Macon Mentor Academy and Help Indiana Vets. Fans will be able to purchase home and road jerseys (with player names!), DVDs, and other memorabilia. We might just look into getting a sweet road Scott May jersey if we find some dollars hidden in the couch.
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.
In what seems to be a summer rite of passage involving several of the top recruits entering college basketball, UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad is the latest and greatest elite prospect whose eligibility the NCAA is investigating. According to the LA Times — and unlike the inquiry into NC State’s Rodney Purvis (the organization is reviewing the credibility of his high school) — the NCAA ” is reportedly investigating financial dealings between Muhammad’s family and friends,” specifically involving Muhammad’s former high school assistant coach, Geoff Lincoln, and his brother, Benjamin Lincoln. Of course, an investigation like this wouldn’t be any fun without an AAU connection, so the NCAA is obliging by also looking into the funding of Muhammad’s summer team by a New York financial planner named Ken Kavanagh. What does all this mean? Probably not much — the financial dealings likely involved trips that Muhammad made to visit North Carolina and Duke during his recruitment (worst case: he repays the cost of the trips), and good luck getting anything concrete out of the financial planner. Still, it means that UCLA has chosen to hold Muhammad out of its upcoming trip to China, costing the Bruins valuable preseason time to get to know each other and build team chemistry. At least one commentator believes that Ben Howland might be cursed.
From one piece of great news to another, the UNC academic scandal that not may or may not include former two-sport star Julius Peppers is getting uglier. And given what we’ve seen over and over and over again in this peculiar industry, it’s likely to get downright hideous. As an administrator you know that things are not going well when CBSSports.com’s Gregg Doyel focuses on your program, and his article on Tuesday blows up the entire athletic department with his description of UNC’s negligence as perhaps “the ugliest academic scandal in NCAA history,” and even suggests that the 200o Final Four banner should come down. Like Dana O’Neil before him, he also takes the NCAA to task for dragging its feet on a thorough investigation — perhaps they, like Doyel and most of the media, think that the revered Dean Smith is still running things in Chapel Hill? What we know is this: Public pressure is building on North Carolina to come clean with a comprehensive review of the entire department — basketball included — and as we’ve seen with the Peppers transcript (as bizarre a flub as we’ve ever seen), that means actually removing the veil of secrecy surrounding the program and allowing independent investigators to assess exactly what happened there. Louis Freeh is probably available.
One day after announcing its partnership with Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures to handle its upcoming television negotiations, the Big East announced the hiring of CBS Sports executiveMike Aresco as its new commissioner heading into those talks. Conference realignment across the board has fostered an alarmingly shortsighted arms race environment where every actor involved seems to believe that pursuit of the almighty dollar is without question the only thing that matters. The Big East, with its recent loss of West Virginia and the pending exits of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, hopes that by highlighting its numerous large markets and continent-wide footprint, it will enable the league to secure a massive television deal that will rival other major conferences and provide some much-needed stability. Perhaps it will work, but we have to believe that eventually someone is going to figure out that market penetration — how many people are actually watching the games? — is far more important than the total size of it. Right?
If you’re an unemployed head coach out there still fretting about the coaching carousel not holding a chair for you last spring, dust off that resume — Eastern Michigan’s position appears to be open as its head coach, Rob Murphy, is reportedly taking an assistant coaching job with the Orlando Magic. The 2012 MAC Coach of the Year led EMU to a 9-7 conference record in his only season, and with a couple of good transfers joining a strong returning core, bigger things were expected next season. No official sources have been cited, but Lehigh’s Brett Reed, Michigan State assistant Dane Fife, and former Utah head coach Jim Boylen were mentioned in the article as possible selections with Michigan ties.
Two players who were not expected to play college basketball in 2012-13 appear to be heading back to school after all. BYU sophomore guard Damarcus Harrison was expected to begin his two-year Mormon mission this fall, but instead he has decided to transfer closer to home at Clemson. The 6’5″ guard had a solid freshman campaign in Dave Rose’s lineup, averaging 3/1 in nine minutes per game, but he contributed 14 points and five boards in two NCAA Tournament games and showed considerable promise. American University picked up some great news when former all-Patriot League forward Stephen Lumpkins announced that he was returning to school for a senior season after spending last year playing minor league baseball in the Royals organization. In his sophomore and junior seasons, Lumpkins averaged 13/8 and shot a healthy percentage from the field — the talented big man will be able to slide into a starting lineup that returns three key contributors from a team that contended for the PL title last season.
Happy ID4 to you and yours, folks. Try to stay cool out there but make sure to enjoy the barbecues, fireworks and time with family and friends that this holiday has come to represent. From our perspective, the Fourth isn’t just a celebration of the nation’s birthday (Happy 236th USA!), but it also marks just about the halfway point of the college basketball offseason. It’s been 93 days since Kentucky cut down the nets in New Orleans, and we’re just under 100 days until practice tips back off again with Midnight Madness. It’ll be here before you know it.
People are still talking about last week’s NBA Draft, and with good reason. One of the top post-draft storylines among the blognoscenti has been how Harrison Barnes, Terrence Jones, and especially Perry Jones, III, and Jared Sullinger made poor financial decisions to stay in school for their sophomore seasons. It’s an easy ex post facto argument to make, but it ignores the fact that there are other extraneous values to sticking around campus for another year. Mike DeCourcy points out this very thing with respect to Jones and Sullinger through the prism of Indiana’s Cody Zeller, who, along with UNC’s James Michael McAdoo, is the top returning sophomore in college basketball next season. The key takeaway here is that even though players may have lost some of their elusive and fleeting upside by returning to school, they became better basketball players and more mature young men because of it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and could pay additional financial dividends down the line.
The Cody Zellers of tomorrow are of course already in the pipeline and it won’t be long before the Class of 2013 dominates all the recruiting news as elite prospects come off the board. As of today, only 15 of the Rivals top 50 prospects have committed anywhere, and only four of the top 25. But two names populating the top 100 recently made their decisions, and their ultimate destinations are places more familiar with the matriculation of elite academic types rather than athletic ones. This week Northwestern received a commitment from Jaren Sina, a player ranked #86 by Scout and #106 by Rivals, who is the highest rated player that Bill Carmody has ever signed in Evanston. This comes on the heels of the March decision by Zena Edosomwan to play basketball at Harvard after doing an additional college prep year, making it possible that the Ivy League school that reached its first NCAA Tournament in generations last year will garner its first top 50 recruit in program history (Edosomwan is currently #66 on Rivals and moving up).
In a mid-major episode of the high stakes world of conference realignment, you may recall that Boston University announced last month that it was leaving the America East Conference for the Patriot League. As a result, the America East announced yesterday that BU would not be allowed to participate in next year’s men’s or women’s America East Tournament in Albany, NY. Citing league bylaws that were instituted in the mid-2000s after Northeastern’s departure to the CAA, BU will suffer the punishment no matter how good next year’s team might be. On the above-linked article, a commenter named “BU Athlete” said that he is “a BU Athlete and I feel absolutely heartbroken that someone who doesn’t even know the amount of effort I put in to my sport can ban me from playing my senior season.” It certainly sucks for the student-athletes such as this player (assuming his legitimacy) who probably doesn’t want to waste his senior year but also likely has no interest in transferring elsewhere at the last minute. Realignment — isn’t it fun?
Finally, the 2013-14 NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has announced its next chairman, Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman (the 2012-13 chairman, in case you’ve forgotten, is Xavier’s Mike Bobinski). Wellman has two decades of experience as an AD for the Demon Deacons and is widely respected in the industry for building a strong athletic program despite Wake’s status as one of the smallest schools in the FBS (Division I-A). Wellman will need to see considerable improvement in his basketball team, though, if he hopes to have a chance to walk out of the room as his school is discussed next year — Jeff Bzdelik’s squad has a miserable two-year record of 21-42 (5-29 ACC).
As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. In this post, we have your SoCon, Ivy, NEC, Patriot, and Big Sky conference champions. Here’s what you need to know about these recent bid winners.
Southern Conference Champion (25-7, 19-2)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #66/#67/#69
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +8.8
Likely NCAA Seed: #13-#14
Davidson Is Back in the Dance Looking For More McKillop Magic (AP/B. Leverone)
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
First of all, let’s put this to rest immediately. Although Davidson’s record of 25-7 is nearly the same as it was in 2008 when the Wildcats came within a long three-pointer of the Final Four, this year’s team is not nearly as good as that one, led by a young Stephen Curry. But it wouldn’t be a Bob McKillop-coached team if it wasn’t dangerous, and the Wildcats are certainly that, as their mid-December upset win over likely #1 seed Kansas attests. Led by a group of sophomores and juniors who can score inside and out, Davidson likes to get out in transition and spread the floor in the halfcourt. All five starters are capable of hitting the three-ball (34% to 37%), and although the Wildcats won’t beat you that way, they use the threat of it to find easy looks inside. Whoever draws this team in its first game will have its hands full with the Davidson offense.
McKillop’s defense, however, is a bit of a different story. The Wildcats don’t turn teams over and, at least against good opponents, have a lot of trouble stopping dribble penetration. Duke dropped 82 on the Wildcats as Austin Rivers and Seth Curry had 17 points each; Vanderbilt went for 87 as Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins combined for 52 points; Wichita State had 91 in a win where Joe Ragland dropped 30 and his backcourt mate Toure’ Murray added 16 more. You get the point. Athletic scoring guards are a big problem for the Wildcats.
Given those conditions, Davidson is projected to play a #3 or #4 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. Among the teams in that group, there are a few that they absolutely do not want to see under any circumstances. For example, Michigan’s Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., would be disastrous. On the other hand, Georgetown’s Jason Clark and Martel Starks would be much more manageable. As the Wildcats have already shown against the Jayhawks once this year, they are a dangerous squad if the conditions are right. We wouldn’t bet on them pulling another first game upset this year, but keep an eye on teams built like them (high offense, no defense) for possible victims.
Ivy League Champion (26-4, 12-2)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #36/#38/#43
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +8.4
Likely NCAA Seed: #10-#11
Tommy Amaker Has His Harvard Team Focused on the NCAAs (US Presswire/G. Cooper)
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
Harvard basketball has been in the news a lot lately, mostly due to former player Jeremy Lin’s emergence as an NBA star point guard. But when Tommy Amaker and his team watched Penn lose to Princeton on Tuesday night, the Crimson sealed their first NCAA Tournament berth in 66 years. Not once did this team make it during Lin’s tenure, and Harvard is finally back in the Big Dance this year thanks to a terrific defense and overall efficient team. This squad challenged itself in the non-conference and won the Battle for Atlantis Tournament that included a field of Connecticut and Florida State. They also defeated St. Joseph’s and finished with a strong 12-2 record in the Ivy League with only two close losses to top competitors Princeton and Penn. Read the rest of this entry »
Tonight’s Lede. The Big East Tournament continued in the early afternoon, but nothing crazy has happened in New York City, yet, with all favorites moving on to Thursday’s quarterfinals. The Big 12 and Pac-12 tournaments also got underway on Wednesday, but all of the top seeds had byes until later rounds. The most exciting action once again took place in the smaller conference tourneys, providing more do-or-die action with Big Dance tickets on the line. We start with the best game of the night, which took place in the Patriot League:
Your Watercooler Moment.C.J. McCollum Outduels Mike Muscala for Lehigh Victory
C.J. McCollum Put the Team on his Back to Send Lehigh Dancing (Getty Images/R. Martinez)
The Patriot League final took place on #1 seed Bucknell’s court, and the home team’s star player went off for 30 points and 14 rebounds. But it wasn’t enough, as the conference’s leading scorer made a few more plays for the road team. C.J. McCollum, the league Player of the Year who put up ridiculous numbers this season, again ran wild for the Mountain Hawks on Wednesday night. The junior guard scored 29 points with five assists, three rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, doing it all for Lehigh including hitting 10-13 free throws with several of them in the final four minutes. Mike Muscala had a monster double-double for Bucknell, but he could not convert on the team’s final couple of possessions and didn’t get enough help from his teammates. Lehigh held on to win, 82-77, and is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Brooklyn Represents the Northeast Conference Once Again. LIU-Brooklyn is one of the highest scoring teams in Division I, and not even the NEC’s best defensive team could slow down the Blackbirds on Wednesday night. LIU defeated Robert Morris, 90-73, on Wednesday night to capture its second consecutive NEC title. The Blackbirds head back to the NCAA Tournament where they last were disposed of by North Carolina in a high-scoring round one game. Expect much of the same for an LIU team that has high-flying forwards (Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere each average about 17 points per game), but doesn’t play a whole lot of defense. The attacking style worked in the NEC, but could it work as a #15 seed in the NCAAs? Regardless, Brooklyn will be in the house for the Big Dance. Read the rest of this entry »
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find him on Twitter at @KLDoyle11.
Lehigh and Bucknell have established themselves as the early frontrunners for the Patriot League crown.
The Week That Was
Grading the Patriot League: At the conclusion of the non-conference schedule for all eight teams—although Colgate does have a date with NJIT in early February—the Patriot League is ranked #24 by Pomeroy which is in line with where it finished the 2010-11 season. It is worth noting that the PL falls marginally behind the Southern Conference and Big South Conference, however it will be difficult to leapfrog these leagues with league play beginning. The highest ranking for the Patriot League in recent memory came during the 2006-07 (#20) campaign, the final year of Holy Cross and Bucknell domination.
Five Down, Three Up: Three of the five PL teams will enter league play feeling pretty good about themselves as Lehigh, Bucknell, and American all posted records above .500 for the non-conference portion of their schedules. Lehigh is surging at just the right time having won six of their last seven games—the lone loss coming at Michigan State by nine points—while American is reeling losing four of their last five. The combined record of the five teams below .500 is a paltry 26-46.
Grading Langel & DeChellis: A 5-9 non-conference record with their best win coming against St. Francis (NY) may not seem like a successful start to the Matt Langel era at Colgate, yet the five wins is the most for the Raiders in the non-conference since 2007-08. Keep in mind that Colgate did not pick up their fifth win until February 2nd last season. As for Ed DeChellis’ start at Navy, the Mids have been less than impressive to say the least. Returning their top two players from last year—Jordan Sugars and J.J. Avila—coupled with playing a less than stellar schedule would suggest better than a 3-11 record. DeChellis will need to find greater production from Sugars for Navy to be competitive in the PL.
Mid-Major Top 25: In the latest Collegeinsider.com Mid-Major Top 25, Lehigh was the lone Patriot League team to garner any votes as they checked in with eight. Expect to see Bucknell to join them in the near future in the ORV category assuming the Bison get off to a fast start in league play.
Breaking Down Lunardi: Bucknell is the recipient from the Patriot League and is a 15 seed playing Duke in the East Region. Although Lehigh, at this stage, appears to be the frontrunner in the league as they impressed the most in the early going, remember that Lunardi selects each conference’s automatic berth solely on RPI. As of January 6th, Bucknell has an RPI of 95, while Lehigh’s is 105.
All-League Team for the Non-Conference:
G C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) —19.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.4 SPG—The face of the Patriot League, McCollum has become a more complete player as he is averaging a career best in assists and steals. Always a force on the offensive end, McCollum has active hands on defense and has become increasingly better at distributing the ball on offense.
G Devin Brown (Holy Cross) —15.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 40% 3PG—The Crusaders will lean heavily on Brown during league play as the senior from Baltimore has the ability to score in bunches and bail the Cross out on the offensive end. In a comeback victory at Dartmouth, Brown scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half. Earlier in the season, he had a career high 32 points against Boston College.
F Charles Hinkle (American) —20.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 40% 3FG—With Vlad Moldoveanu graduating, where much of the scoring entering the season for American would come from was largely unknown. The senior transfer from Vanderbilt has risen to the occasion in a big way as he leads the Patriot League in scoring, and is ranked 10th nationally in this department. The development of Hinkle’s shot from the outside has been astounding. A career 26% shooter from three point land who connected on just 22 threes prior to his senior season, Hinkle has already drilled 40 triples this year.
F Ella Ellis (Army) —17.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.6 APG — Although he does not get a whole lot of exposure playing at West Point, Ella Ellis will make himself known to the rest of the Patriot League soon enough. The junior from Texas has developed into one of the league’s most prolific scorers as he has reached double digits and hit a shot from downtown in each of Army’s games.
F Mike Muscala (Bucknell) —14.9 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.4 BPG—Undoubtedly the league’s best big man, Muscala has been his usual dominant self having posted seven double-doubles and averaging a league best 9.2 RPG. Muscala is a very efficient shooter and excels at the charity stripe hitting on 80% of his shots. Patriot League teams will struggle to contain him.
Player of the Year:
C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) —His numbers speak for themselves; he has put up gaudy statistics since Day 1 and is on pace to eclipse 2,500 points for his career. By all accounts, McCollum has grown into a much more complete and polished basketball player which is observed in Lehigh’s overall record. After posting consecutive 9-6 marks in the non-conference during his freshman and sophomore seasons, McCollum has led Lehigh to a league best 12-4 record coming against a more challenging schedule than the preceding years. There is no reason to think that McCollum’s and Lehigh’s success will not continue into league play.
Rookie of the Year
Seth Hinrichs (Lafayette) —An exceptional shooter, Hinrichs has been a staple in the Leopards lineup and has emerged as the league’s top freshman. Any shooter can find their way into a Fran O’Hanlon offense, and by shooting better than 45% from three, Hinrichs has carved out a nice niche for himself. To date, Hinrichs has captured four Patriot League Rookie of the Week honors.
Coach of the Year
Dr. Brett Reed (Lehigh) —For the past two seasons, it oftentimes looked like Lehigh basketball was made up of C.J. McCollum and everyone else, but that is far from the case in the 2011-12 version of Mountain Hawk basketball. Of course, McCollum is still the focal point, but there are many other parts Reed has integrated that have generated results. As of January 6th, Reed has Lehigh ranked #70 in the Pomeroy as victories over Wagner and close losses to Michigan State and Iowa State have bolstered their ranking. In just his fourth year as a head coach, Reed looks to be coming into his own.
1. Lehigh (12-4) (Last Week: 1)
Previous Weeks: W Wagner 70-69, W Arcadia 95-55, L Michigan State 90-81, W St. Peter’s 76-67, W Bryant 72-55, W Maryland Eastern Shore 82-55 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ Holy Cross, 1/11 American, 1/14 @ Colgate, 1/18 Bucknell
The Mountain Hawks are streaking heading into their opening league game at Holy Cross having won their last five games by an average of nearly 20 points per contest. Granted four of the five wins came against teams in the basement of Division 1 basketball—Arcadia is sub-D1—but the margin of victory is impressive nevertheless. Of note, Lehigh’s average margin of victory is 18 points. Lehigh has demonstrated they do not fall into the trap of playing down to their competition, an important trait considering that every game in the PL save Bucknell comes against teams ranked below 200 according to Pomeroy. The Mountain Hawks have a very balanced rotation that is keyed by Mackey McKnight, the league’s top point guard with Lafayette’s Tony Johnson injured, while Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner make a formidable frontcourt. Oh, Lehigh also has a guy by the name of C.J. McCollum who is pretty good too.
2. Bucknell (10-6) (Last Week: 3)
Previous Weeks: W Richmond 79-65, L Syracuse 80-61, W Boston University 75-61, L Loyola (MD) 72-67, W Cornell 63-60, W Dartmouth 67-59 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ Army, 1/11 Colgate, 1/14 @ Lafayette, 1/18 @ Lehigh
Despite the 10-6 record and good wins over Richmond and Princeton, it is quite apparent that this Bucknell squad is missing a vital component—a component they relied heavily on last season. The Bison returned virtually their entire frontcourt, their top three point shooter in Bryson Johnson, and a promising guard in Cameron Ayers, but a key cog in Bucknell’s success in 2010-11 was missing: Daryl Shazier. Boasting one of the best assist to turnover ratios in the nation, Shazier fit all the puzzle pieces together, something that simply isn’t happening this year. Through 16 games, Dave Paulsen has looked to three different players to fill the role: Ayers, sophomore Ryan Hill, and freshman Steven Kaspar. There is little doubt that Ayers is a capable point guard, but may he be more of a natural two guard as he shoots nearly 50% from long distance? Midway through December, Kaspar had been named the starter at the point, however, Paulsen eventually gave his starting spot away to Hill in late December. Growing pains were inevitable for the Bison at this position, but we are already halfway through the year and Bucknell seems to be playing point guard by committee.
3. American (9-6) (Last Week: 2)
Previous Weeks: L St. Francis (PA) 66-61, L Georgetown 81-55, L Villanova 73-52, L Mount St. Mary’s 49-42, W Brown 70-61 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Colgate, 1/11 @ Lehigh, 1/14 Holy Cross, 1/18 @ Navy
Was the first month of the season one giant fluke for American? An 8-2 start with a win over St. Joseph’s coupled with the emergence of Charles Hinkle as arguably the league’s most dominant scorer, and the Eagles looked like they may content for the league title. Four straight losses have brought them back to earth, but it would be foolish not to thrust American into title conversations, especially with Jeff Jones roaming the sidelines—Jones has reached the semifinals of every Patriot League tournament since 2001.
4. Holy Cross (6-8) (Last Week: 5)
Previous Weeks: W Sacred Heart 71-60, L Connecticut 77-40, W San Francisco 88-83, W Dartmouth 65-61, L Yale 82-67 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Lehigh, 1/11 Navy, 1/14 @ American, 1/19 Lafayette
1-13 vs. 6-8: Stark improvement from last year’s non-conference record to this year’s, right? The short answer is, yes, a huge improvement. It all comes down to the numbers that appear in the win and loss columns, so Holy Cross certainly has seen more success in year two of the Milan Brown regime. However, the grave inconsistencies and mistakes that are made from game-to-game have made this Crusader team a real rollercoaster ride for the Purple faithful. Tenacious defense and aggressive rebounding, which used to be staples of past Holy Cross teams, have gone way to an up-tempo style that looks to score in transition and take advantage of the athletic prowess of RJ Evans, Devin Brown, and Co. However, this poses problems when Holy Cross is forced to operate in the half-court as their offense oftentimes becomes stagnant. Meanwhile, the vanilla man-to-man defense that is imposed allows the opposition to run their sets with ease. It should not go unnoticed that the Crusaders are playing without their best on-ball defender as Mike Cavataio has been injured nearly the entire season. While there is still grave improvement needed, 6-8 is an awful lot better than 1-13, and getting back to winning ways is a step in the right direction.
5. Lafayette (5-10) (Last Week: 4)
Previous Weeks: L Sacred Heart 84-79, L Vanderbilt 89-58, W Monmouth 69-54, L Columbia 77-67, L N.J.I.T. 78-58, L Pennsylvania 78-73 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ Navy, 1/11 Army, 1/14 Bucknell, 1/19 @ Holy Cross
In the preseason, I surmised that losing All-League center Jared Mintz would spell major problems in Easton. Lafayette is a perimeter oriented team to begin with, so losing their only viable post presence would make it extremely difficult to score inside. Sure enough, this is the exact case as Lafayette ranks second to last nationally in points coming off of two point field goals. On the flipside, the Leopards rank fourth in points coming via the three ball. There may be no other team in the country that embodies the commonly used basketball expression “live and die by the three” as well as Lafayette. When Jim Mower (2.4 3PG), Nick Petkovich (2.0 3PG), and Seth Hinrichs (1.6 3PG) are all hitting from the outside, the Leopards can hang and beat anyone in the league.
6. Colgate (5-9) (Last Week: 6)
Previous Weeks: W St. Francis (NY) 65-63, W Dartmouth 61-55, L Hofstra 82-59, L Quinnipiac 80-70, L New Hampshire 71-64, L Columbia 66-59 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ American, 1/11 @ Bucknell, 1/14 Lehigh, 1/18 @ Army
Rebuilding any program takes time, and make no mistake about it, Colgate basketball needs to be rebuilt. Under previous head coach Emmett Davis, Colgate had just three winning seasons during Davis’ 13 years at the helm. The Raiders jumped out to a 5-5 start, but have dropped four straight to close out the non-conference on a sour note. And things don’t get much easier for the ‘Gate as their opening games in the PL come against the league’s best: American, Bucknell, and Lehigh. When it rains it pours for the Raiders—or, should I say in the ‘Gates case, when it snows it blizzards—as Yaw Gyawu has been sidelined for the past three games with what is presumably a recurring ankle injury. Without Gyawu, Colgate becomes very thin in the frontcourt.
7. Army (7-8) (Last Week: 8)
Previous Weeks: L La Salle 76-64, W Texas Pan American 61-59, W Dartmouth 67-64, L Presbyterian 71-64, W St. Francis (NY) 79-70, W Longwood 96-77 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Bucknell, 1/11 @ Lafayette, 1/14 @ Navy, 1/18 Colgate
Their 7-8 record looks nice, but bear in mind that Army has played the second easiest schedule in the country; their most challenging test thus far has come against La Salle. That being said, the Black Knights have won four of their last five heading into league play with their star forward Ella Ellis averaging a shade of 21 points during this stretch.
8. Navy (3-11) (Last Week: 7)
Previous Weeks: L Missouri 84-59, L Presbyterian 58-42, L Mercer 65-56, L Norfolk State 71-65 Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Lafayette, 1/11 @ Holy Cross, 1/14 Army, 1/18 American
Jordan Sugars needs to be doing more—it is that simple. Tabbed as an All-League performer the past two seasons, the senior is averaging just over 10 PPG and shooting a dismal 32% from the field and 29% from distance. Navy does not have many weapons to begin with, but Sugars is a legitimate threat who has underperformed throughout the non-conference. Scoring in single digits in seven of Navy’s 14 is too many for a player of his caliber. On the bright side, sophomore standout J.J. Avila has developed into the “go-to” player for Navy who is a reliable scorer (15.4 PPG) and shoots an efficient 50.6% from the floor. Entering league play, Navy has lost 10 of their last 11 games.
Critical Upcoming Games:
Holy Cross vs. Lehigh —If the Crusaders have any aspirations of making a run at the league title, a strong performance against Lehigh is a must. The big question entering this game is: Which Holy Cross team will show up? The team that collapsed against Columbia, or the team that blew out Boston College?
Lehigh vs. Bucknell —An early look at the Patriot League Championship? Hopefully fans in the Lehigh Valley realize what a great college basketball game this is and come out in droves for it—Stabler Arena has been empty far too often the past few years.
Lehigh vs. American —Lehigh is tested early on in league play as three of their first four games comes against teams that look to challenge for the league. The match-up between C.J. McCollum and Charles Hinkle is one to keep an eye on.
Army vs. Bucknell —The Black Knights gave Bucknell their only loss in the Patriot League last season as they blew them out 90-70. Army will have an opportunity to shock the Bison and the rest of the league once again as both teams kick off league play at West Point.
A Closer Look—Top Five Wins (+1) in the Non-Conference:
American 66 St. Joseph’s 60 —Without a doubt, this was the Patriot League’s best win in the non-conference as St. Joseph’s owns wins over Georgia Tech, Tulsa, Penn State, Drexel, Creighton, and Villanova. Phil Martelli has one of his better teams in recent memory as St. Joe’s will be in the upper tier of the Atlantic 10 and may even contend for an at-large berth. Charles Hinkle was an absolute monster posting a career high in points (32) and three pointers made (5). What makes this result seem like a fluke win, however, are the ensuing results from both teams. American is 2-4 since the upset with bad losses to Mount St. Mary’s and St. Francis (PA). Meanwhile, St. Joe’s has knocked off Creighton and Villanova. If the Eagles can get back to playing at the level they were during their eight game winning streak, they are Patriot League contenders.
Lehigh 70 Wagner 69 —At first glance, Lehigh’s win over Wagner appears to be out of place on this list as the Seahawks are not traditionally a very strong team. Thanks in large part to Dan Hurley, Wagner has turned the corner and become a force in the NEC. This is a team that has defeated Pittsburgh and owns a 10-3 record, which makes a Lehigh win on the road very impressive. Anthony D’Orazio’s clutch three-pointer with eight seconds left propelled Lehigh to the victory.
Bucknell 79 Richmond 65 —Richmond isn’t the same team that advanced to the Sweet 16 a year ago, but this is a great win for Bucknell nonetheless—maybe their best “W” of the season. It comes as no surprise that this was without question the most complete game Bucknell has played to date as they shot 59% from the floor, were a perfect 21-21 from the stripe, outrebounded Richmond 31-19, and held the Spiders to 38% shooting.
Bucknell 62 Princeton 56 —Similar to Richmond, Princeton is not as strong as they were last year, but the Tigers are still very much a formidable bunch. Princeton limped out of the gate getting off to a 1-5 start under first-year coach Mitch Henderson, but seems to have found their groove having won seven of nine. Mike Muscala had his best game of the season in the win as he scored 25 points on just 10 shots, while pulling down 12 rebounds.
Lafayette 61 Penn State 57 —Behind Seth Hinrichs 14 points on 4-9 shooting from three, Lafayette upset the Nittany Lions—their first win over a BCS opponent in years—to move to 4-5 on the season. Since then, Lafayette has lost five of their last six games and will need to find the mojo they had against Penn State if they wish to see success in the PL.
Holy Cross 83 Boston College 62 —In most years, this would be a banner win for HC and the Patriot League; defeating an ACC team by more than 20 points is something to beat your chest about. That is not the case this year as BC is the second worst team hailing from a BCS conference and is sandwiched in between San Diego and Army in the Pomeroy rankings (as of January 6th)—not exactly great company. Nevertheless, this is a victory that the Crusaders can be proud of as it is not too often they give their one-time big rivals this sort of drubbing.