Bracket Prep: Albany, Hampton & UAB

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 14th, 2015

As we move through Championship Weekend, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners.

Albany

Sam Rowley and Albany are going dancing for the third-straight year. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Sam Rowley and the Great Danes are going dancing for the third-straight year. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

America East Champion (24-8, 15-1)

  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #108/#132/#134
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +3.1
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #14 or #15

Strength: Albany led the America East in both adjusted offensive efficiency (110.2 AdjO) and time taken per offensive possession; which is to say, the Great Danes are slow but effective. They are a solid shooting team from all areas of the floor (36.5% 3FG/48.4% 2FG/76% FT) and do a decent job on the offensive glass, thanks in large part to brothers Sam and Michael Rowley (combined 12.0 RPG). Fellow Australian Peter Hooley (13.8 PPG) – who hit the clutch shot on Saturday – is back to being one of the team’s top offensive weapons after missing several games during conference play to be with his sick mother.

Weakness: The Great Danes often play some zone and like to pack in their defense, which helps them clean up misses (12th-best defensive rebounding rate in college hoops) but precludes them from taking away the three-point line; opponents are shooting nearly 37 percent from three against Albany and scoring around 38 percent of their points from behind the arc. Will Brown’s group surrendered 13 triples against Holy Cross in a 17-point loss back in December and could be overwhelmed by a good outside-shooting team next week.

Key Player: Sam Rowley (14 PPG, 7.7 RPG). The Aussie big man leads Albany in scoring and rebounding, but even that doesn’t quite illustrate his importance. Rowley uses over one quarter of his team’s possessions while on the floor (which is 82 percent of the time), either going to work down low, knocking down mid-range jumpers or passing out of the post. His ability to locate open shooters might be especially important against larger opponents that prevent interior scoring.

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Conference Tourney Primers: America East

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 4th, 2015

It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the next 13 days of games by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

America East Tournament

Dates: March 4, 8, 14

Site: Campus sites (higher-seeded teams host)

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What to expect: Albany looks to go dancing for a third straight year after pulling off conference tournament upsets in back-to-back seasons. The only difference this time around is that the Great Danes enter as the top seed, while Vermont and Stony Brook – favorites of seasons past – attempt to play spoiler. The Catamounts are the America East’s best defensive unit and the Seawolves boast its most dominant player, 6’8’’ forward Jameel Warney. Both teams are good enough to threaten for the title. Still, Albany went 8-1 against league opponents in SEFCU Arena this season and won’t have to leave its friendly confines during this event. The regular season champs are in a good spot.

Favorite: Albany. After hosting the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds in both 2013 and 2014 – and taking full advantage – the Great Danes find themselves in similar position this year despite the conference’s format change. The road to Selection Sunday likely travels through Albany, one way or another. That leg-up, along with their veteran head coach and Australian inside-out duo (big man Sam Rowley and guard Peter Hooley) that combines for 28.0 PPG, is enough to make them favorites.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Albany, Saah Nimley, Ben Jacobson & Dartmouth…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 27th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Albany. Last Monday, Albany learned it would be without leading scorer Peter Hooley indefinitely following the junior’s decision to return home to Australia to be with his ill mother. While the move was understandable and even encouraged by head coach Will Brown, it left the Great Danes – in the thick of an America East title race – without one of their most important players… just in time for a road trip to Stony Brook. With the preseason conference favorites on deck before games at Hartford and against UMBC, the week suddenly spelled ‘gut-check’ for Brown’s group. And boy, did they respond.

Without its top scorer, Albany grabbed control of the America East. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Without its top scorer, Albany grabbed control of the America East. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Not only did the Danes beat Stony Brook in the face of long odds (KenPom gave the home team an 82.3% win probability), they did so convincingly, jumping out to an early 10-point lead and never looking back. The team’s other top Australian, forward Sam Rowley, stepped up with 16 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and three blocks – outworking America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney underneath – and Albany scored 19 of its 64 points at the free throw line. Defensively, Brown’s 2-3 zone baffled Stony Brook all night long, holding the Seawolves to a season-low 0.77 points per possession. The final margin: a whopping 17 points. “I thought it was a gutsy effort tonight,” Brown said after the dominant victory.

But the week (and the winning) was far from over for the Danes. Next up was a trip to Hartford on Thursday to battle a talented-if-underachieving Hawks team also vying for a top-four seed. That game, tabbed as a coin-flip, played out much the same for Albany; Rowley was excellent (22 points, eight rebounds) and the team rolled, 62-53. The cherry on top for Brown’s short-handed unit came on Sunday, at home against UMBC, when four players scored in double-figures and the Danes again won big, topping the Retrievers by 14. A week that began with difficult news and could have gone in the opposite direction – again, Hooley leads the team in scoring – ended with Albany standing alone and undefeated atop the standings, in prime position to grab the America East Tournament’s top seed – a spot that means more than ever in 2014-15.

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Imbalanced America East Makes for Crucial Battles at the Top

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 13th, 2015

Vermont and Stony Brook have finished first and second in the America East for three straight seasons and neither has beaten the other at home (in the regular season) since 2011, so it goes without saying that the Catamounts’ 71-57 victory in Burlington on Saturday was fairly important. For John Becker’s club, it was a key win against this year’s preseason favorite and validation of the program’s resiliency after graduating the bulk of last year’s starting five. For the Seawolves, the loss was a missed opportunity and fifth-straight defeat in Patrick Gymnasium, but the outcome might end up carrying even more importance than it would have in previous years. Not only do the conference’s top four seeds host preliminary games in its postseason tournament for the first time since the mid-1990s, but there are few leagues in the country with a more substantial dropoff in quality between its top and bottom than the America East. With Vermont, Stony Brook and a few others jockeying for position — and the rest of the league offering minimal competition on a nightly basis — regular season battles among its handful of contenders are more important than ever.

Vermont bested Stony Brook on Saturday in a crucial America East tilt. (Photo: BRIAN JENKINS/For the Free Press)

Vermont bested Stony Brook on Saturday in a crucial America East tilt. (Photo: BRIAN JENKINS/For the Free Press)

First, the top. Three America East teams – Stony Brook, Vermont and Albany – currently rank in the KenPom top-200, with the Seawolves standing above the rest at 113th. Boasting the league’s best player in Jameel Warney (16.6 PPG, 12.2 RPG), and wins over Washington, Western Kentucky and Columbia (x2), Steve Pikiell’s crew certainly looks like the class of the conference. Still, Vermont reaffirmed its contender status over the weekend, and Albany – the league’s NCAA Tournament representative in each of the last two seasons – has enough talent and experience to challenge anyone, especially at home. At the bottom, on the other hand, it’s a far different story. UMass-Lowell, Binghamton, UMBC and Maine, the league’s four worst teams, are each currently ranked 290th or below, and although Pat Duquette’s River Hawks have had their moments this season, the latter three squads are especially bad, coming in at 337th, 342nd and 343rd, respectively – ranking among the 15 worst teams in college basketball. To date, they’ve combined for just five total wins on the year, and as a result, the chasm between the top three teams and the bottom four teams is so large that Stony Brook, Vermont and Albany are each favored – in many cases heavily – to win the vast majority of their league contests (outside of each other) for the remainder of the season. And while that does not mean there won’t be the occasional slip-up, the fact that the Seawolves (43%) and Catamounts (38%) each have a very real chance of going undefeated against the bottom four from here on out speaks volumes about the significant imbalance.

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O26 Midseason Awards: Jeff Jones, Kyle Collinsworth, 10 All-Americans…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 8th, 2015

With conference play having begun in most leagues across the country, it‘s time now to pass out some midseason superlatives to deserving players and coaches across the O26 world. A few of these guys will probably do enough to earn national honors by season’s end, but all of them are worth keeping an eye on over the next couple months.

O26 Midseason Coach of the Year

Jeff Jones has done a masterful job at Old Dominion. (Courtesy: Rick Voight)

Jeff Jones has done a masterful job at Old Dominion. (Courtesy: Rick Voight)

Jeff Jones – Old Dominion. The Old Dominion basketball program took a sharp turn in 2013 when – after more than a decade of sustained success – the school fired its longtime coach, Blaine Taylor, during a 5-25 campaign in which the coach’s behavior had become increasingly erratic. In came Jones after spending 13 seasons at American, and immediately things turned around as the Monarchs went 18-18 last season and reached the CBI semifinals. But perhaps even the most optimistic Old Dominion fan couldn’t have envisioned how quickly the team would go from the dregs of the CAA to the cream of Conference USA; at 12-1 with wins over LSU, VCU, Georgia State and Richmond, the Monarchs have cracked the Top 25 and should be in the at-large discussion by season’s end. How has Jones orchestrated such a sharp turnaround? Campbell transfer Trey Freeman has helped. The 6’2’’ point guard paces the team with 16.4 points and 3.5 assists per contest, with Jones calling him “one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached” after the team’s victory over LSU in November. The success has been the result of more than just Freeman, though, as the Monarchs have thoroughly bought into Jones’ system, predicated on patient offense and tough man-to-man defense – the latter of which has held opponents to 0.91 points per possession so far, the best mark in C-USA. Likewise, Jones deserves credit for his ability to seamlessly integrate both Freeman and George Mason transfer Jonathan Arledge into a deep cohort of returnees. The head man said in an interview recently (regarding his first year at the program), “We just needed to make people understand it would take some hard work [and] it would take some time, but we were going to just try to be as patient as we could moving forward.” “Time” and “patience,” sure, but it’s taken not even two full seasons for Jones to completely revamp and re-energize things in Norfolk; and for that, he earns our Midseason Coach of the Year honors.

Honorable Mentions: Ben Jacobson – Northern Iowa; Bob McKillop – Davidson; Porter Moser – Loyola (IL); Keno Davis – Central Michigan; Mark Few – Gonzaga; Eddie Payne – USC Upstate

O26 Midseason Player of the Year

BYU's versatile point guard is our O26 Mid-Season POY. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

BYU’s versatile point guard is our O26 Mid-Season POY. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Kyle Collinsworth – BYU. It feels a little weird deeming Collinsworth O26 Midseason Player of the Year when his teammate, Tyler Haws, is college basketball’s third-leading scorer. But remember how BYU looked last March without Collinsworth after he went down with a torn ACL? The Cougars were crushed by Oregon in what should have been a competitive #7/#10 NCAA Tournament match-up. The point guard’s versatility, defense and toughness – not to mention eye-popping numbers, which we’ll get to in a moment – make Collinsworth the glue that holds BYU together and the player worthy of our midseason honor. “He is a really effective player in so many different areas of the game,” head coach Dave Rose said recently. At 6’6’’, there are few players (perhaps no player) who do what Collinsworth does: Not only is he the facilitator for the nation’s ninth-most efficient offense, but he also serves as BYU’s best rebounder and defender, leading the team in assists, rebounds and steals. At this point, the junior’s impressive across-the-board averages (13.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.2 SPG) are overshadowed only by his record-setting triple-double pace. With three already under his belt, Collinsworth needs just one to tie and two more to break the single-season NCAA mark. That all-around ability has allowed Rose to utilize a four-guard lineup in recent weeks, a move that’s enabled BYU to hit its stride just as WCC play heats up – evidenced by the team’s 99-68 drubbing of San Francisco on Saturday. “Kyle’s a big reason because he can rebound as well as any guard in the country. To have him on the floor, you have a guard that’s a great rebounder,” Rose noted. With Collinsworth healthy and playing at an incredibly high level, the Cougars should return to the Big Dance this March.

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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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RTC Rewind: Kentucky Flexes Muscles, Rough Pac-12 Weekend, More…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 29th, 2014

Never a dull week… Never a dull week, I tell you. The holiday season was supposed to be the last down time for college basketball, but this past weekend – the last without wave after wave of important conference games – was anything but silent. From a clash at the summit in Kentucky to another stunner from Texas Southern – yes, really – it was another fine weekend on the hardwood.

Weekend Headliner: Kentucky 58, Louisville 50.

If it was going to happen, it was going to happen here; at least, so it seemed. Only one game stood between Kentucky and a feeble SEC slate. Only one major challenge remained. Only Louisville. And thus, there’s no place to start but here when rehashing the final 2014 weekend of college hoops. Because it – a Kentucky loss – didn’t happen.

It Was Another Defensive Masterpiece From the Wildcats (USA Today Images)

It Was Another Defensive Masterpiece From the Wildcats (USA Today Images)

John Calipari’s team further cemented itself atop the collegiate basketball landscape with an ugly but effective victory over its bitter rival. The most striking thing about Saturday’s game was the difficulty Louisville had finding shots and scoring on the offensive end. If a top-five team with an All-American forward and an electric home crowd looked overwhelmed, how must other teams feel? The Wildcats’ smothering defense held the Cardinals to an ice cold 26 percent shooting and 0.85 points per possession. Most importantly though, Kentucky was able to do exactly what makes its defense so special: It forced Louisville to take an inordinate number of contested mid-range jumpers. A whopping 34 of the Cardinals’ 58 field goal attempts (58.6 percent) came from between five and 20 feet from the basket, an area from which they’ve shot 29 percent on the season. This was a significant departure from Louisville’s standard shooting distribution, and its a big reason why they had such trouble with Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.

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Top of the O26 Class: Ivy, MAAC, America East, NEC & Patriot

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 22nd, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Northeastern U.S: the America East, Ivy League, Metro Atlantic, Northeast Conference and Patriot League.

Top Units

Harvard is the Ivy League favorite again in 2014-2015. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Harvard is the Ivy League favorite again in 2014-15. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Ivy League

  • Harvard – 2013-14 record: 27-5 (13-1). After failing to reach the NCAA Tournament for 66 straight years, Harvard suddenly finds itself in position to reach a fourth straight Big Dance. But just as times have changed, so have expectations — not only is Tommy Amaker’s club tabbed to win another Ivy League title, many expect it to do more damage in the postseason. Those lofty expectations can be largely attributed to the return of Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders, one of the top backcourt duos in the nation. Chambers is a precocious third-year point guard who has proven himself to be a gifted distributor and quality outside shooter (40.2% 3FG on his career), while Saunders is the team’s top scorer, best perimeter defender and reigning conference Player of the Year. And yet, despite those two, Harvard’s biggest strength might actually be in its frontcourt, which features a deep stable of athletic forwards who should wear down Ivy opponents in the paint. Best among them is Steve Moundou-Missi, a 6’7″ Cameroonian who logged a double-double against Michigan State in the Round of 32 last March. Jonah Travis, Evan Cummins, Kenyatta Smith, Zena Edosomwan — the list of expected contributors seems endless, and if the Crimson can avoid injury to its guards, a sustained presence in the Top 25 is a legitimate possibility.
  • Yale2013-14 record: 19-14 (9-5). Yale was the only Ivy League unit to knock off the Crimson last season, so with the majority of its starting five back, the Bulldogs should present the most serious threat to Harvard’s crown. Most crucial among the returnees is Justin Sears, a 6’8″ junior who was something of a statistical machine last season: The forward averaged nearly 17 points and seven rebounds per game, ranked in the top 100 nationally in block rate and drew over seven fouls per 40 minutes. With Javier Duren (13.6 PPG) pacing things in the backcourt and veteran guys like Armani Cotton and Matt Townsend shoring things up down low, Yale fans can expect another top-three Ivy League finish.

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Bracket Prep: Albany, Tulsa, Texas Southern

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2014

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As we move through the final stages of 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. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners. 

Albany

For the second straight season, Albany surprised the America East and is going dancing. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

For the second straight season, Albany surprised the America East and is going dancing. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

  • America East Champion (18-14, 12-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #210/#195/#199
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +0.2
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. For the second straight year, Albany capitalized on its home court advantage in the America East non-championship rounds before pulling off a road upset in the title game. That means the Great Danes – instead of league champion Vermont or preseason favorite Stony Brook – will represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament. The Catamounts or Seawolves would probably have been more serious upset threats (especially Vermont, once projected in the 13-seed range), but Albany is among the more experienced teams in the country and did go dancing last season, which never hurts.
  2. The Danes’ identity lies on the defensive end, where they held opponents to under one point per possession in conference play. Will Brown’s club switches between man defense and a stout 2-3 zone that gave Stony Brook all kinds of issues on Saturday, including a six minute stretch where the Seawolves failed to make a single field goal early in the second half. Albany is anchored inside by 6’10’’ center John Puk, whose defense against America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney showed he’s capable of holding his own against skilled big men – the kind he’ll surely face in the NCAA Tournament. Offensively, the team is led by Australian shooting guard Peter Hooley, who averages nearly 16 points per game and shoots 40 percent from behind the arc. Fellow Aussie Sam Rowley is the team’s leading rebounder and was the go-to scorer on Saturday – he averages 11 per night – while speedy point guard DJ Evans and small forward Gary Johnson also score in double figures.
  3. With an adjusted tempo of 63.3 possessions per game and an average offensive possession length of 19.3 seconds, the Danes look to methodically execute in the half-court and control the pace. The vast majority of their shots are taken from inside the arc – besides Hooley and Evans, no player has attempted more than 50 threes on the season – and they are proficient both at drawing fouls and making their free throws; Hooley ranked second in the conference at 86 percent from the stripe. Ultimately, though, Albany wins with its defense, preventing opponents from getting easy looks and cleaning up misses at a high rate. In their upset of Vermont, the Danes allowed the Catamounts to corral just 20 percent of their misses.

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Conference Tournament Primer: America East

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 8th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with yet two more conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the next week-plus of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the America East and the Summit get started.

Dates: March 8, 9, 15
Site: Quarterfinals and Semifinals: SEFCU Arena (Albany, NY); Championship: Campus site (higher-seeded team hosts)

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What to expect: After suffering its only conference defeat in late January, Vermont thoroughly dominated the America East over the remaining five weeks of the regular season. Throughout the month of February, the team steamrolled opponents, winning ten straight games by an average of 21.3 points per contest and capturing the league’s top seed in the process. Their KenPom ranking has skyrocketed from 169 to 62 since the New Year, a byproduct of the numerous beatdowns in that span. Stony Brook has talent – 6’8’’ forward Jameel Warney is a load underneath – and should present the most substantial threat in this tournament. There could be some level of drama if they meet up in the title game, but either way, expect the senior-laden Catamounts to go dancing for the third time in five years.

Favorites: Vermont. The Catamounts nearly upset Duke back in November, yet they might be a better team now than they were then. Five of their six top-scorers are seniors, and each of them probably remembers the sting of last year’s home loss to Albany in the conference championship game. Focus will not be an issue for Vermont.

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O26 Game of the Week: Saint Louis-VCU Pt. II, Iona-Manhattan & More…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 27th, 2014

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.

Saint Louis (25-2) at Virginia Commonwealth (20-7) – 6:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday. Yes, this was our Game of the Week just two short weeks ago and yes, the Billikens all-but-clinched the Atlantic 10 crown by winning on their home floor. So why does the second iteration once again headline the week? Well, for one thing, it was a really good basketball game the first time around. Saint Louis held serve in Chaifetz Arena, sure, but not before VCU forced 17 turnovers and battled back from a double-figure deficit to make the final two minutes thrilling — it took a Rob Loe three-pointer with around 30 seconds left to ice it for the home team. And the defenses lived-up to their dominant billing, each limiting the opposing offense to well-under one point per possession on the afternoon. Even if you had tuned in for just five minutes of action, the high level of play and serious potential of both teams would have become quickly evident.

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (Chris Lee, AP)

And that’s the overarching reason why Saturday’s tilt — this time in Richmond — is the main event in an already-loaded week; Saint Louis-VCU isn’t merely a marquee A-10 match-up, it’s a marquee national match-up. Everything at stake in a high-profile power-conference game is also at stake here: perception, NCAA Tournament profile, late-season momentum, bragging rights, and in the case of the Billikens, a very long winning streak. Jim Crews’ bunch has reeled off 19 straight victories over the course of three full months, last losing way back on December 1 to still-undefeated Wichita State. Shaka Smart’s group, meanwhile — fresh off a painfully-close road loss to UMass last Friday — has not dropped a home game in more than a year, obliterating visiting opponents this season by nearly 17 points per contest. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object in Verizon Wireless Arena, and the basketball-watching public will be the beneficiary. KenPom has the home squad pegged as 62 percent favorites, which is to say, it’s more or less a toss-up. Tune in on Saturday — Round II should be great.

Four More to Watch

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In America East Race, Vermont vs. Stony Brook Looms Large

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 24th, 2014

Stony Brook entered 2013-14 with a combined 49-15 record in conference play over the previous four seasons, a stretch which included three regular season titles and a few trips to the NIT — a categorical success by most measures. But for Steve Pikiell and the Seawolves, there’s one ever-important goal that has continuously eluded them despite all that winning, often in heartbreaking fashion: a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Odd things tend to happen in a league that rewards the highest remaining seed in its conference championship game home court advantage. And that is why Stony Brook’s tilt against fellow-undefeated Vermont tonight looms large in the team’s quest to go Dancing — the top seed matters in the America East.

Jameel Warney and the Seawolves look to take control of the America East tonight. (Ryan Restivo/Big Apple Buckets)

Jameel Warney and the Seawolves look to take control of the America East tonight. (Ryan Restivo/Big Apple Buckets)

Based on tangibles alone, the Seawolves are probably the most talented team in the conference, featuring a stable of excellent guards and one supremely skilled, load of a big man in sophomore Jameel Warney. The 6’8’’, 280-pound center is almost unguardable when he gets the ball on the low block, either using his size to back down defenders or finding buckets by utilizing his wide range of post moves, the soft-touch baby hook being among his favorites. With any one of team’s backcourt studs able to attack the basket — Dave Coley and Anthony Jackson the senior leaders, Carson Puriefoy the breakout sophomore — or run the pick-and-roll with Warney (who also possesses great hands, mind you), Stony Brook has a clear personnel advantage over just about every other league opponent. Indeed, Pikiell’s group would probably be the standalone favorite this season if it weren’t for one area where it might have a meaningful disadvantage, especially against Vermont: experience.

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