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2016-17 OVC Post-Mortem

by - Published July 5, 2017 in Columns, Conference Notes

The beat continued to go on in 2016-17 for one of the model college basketball programs in the entire country.

A move to the Ohio Valley Conference has proven no problem for Belmont, which under Rick Byrd continues to win games and championships, graduate players, and largely avoid being plundered by the transferring epidemic that has stung many programs like it. The Bruins were outstanding again this past year, winning their fourth regular season title in five years of membership in the OVC, and doing so in dominant fashion with a 15-1 record in league play five games better than anyone else.

The Belmont resume is impressive, almost staggering. Between the OVC and their former home in the Atlantic Sun, the Bruins have won nine regular season titles over the last 12 years. That stretch has also included seven NCAA Tournament trips, as well as three more appearances in the NIT in that time which have resulted in three wins from seeds fifth or lower. … Continue Reading

The Morning Dish – Saturday, March 4, 2017

by - Published March 4, 2017 in The Morning Dish

The last couple of nights have reminded us why March is the best month of the year. I have said it many times, and have been fortunate to cover many conference tournament thrillers, but it bears repeating because there are always reminders of it.

And we can be sure more are still to come. It’s early yet this Championship Week, after all.

… Continue Reading

Scanning the Nation: Notes from opening weekend

by - Published November 14, 2016 in Columns

A lot happened on Friday night. Not so much on Saturday, and a little more on Sunday. The season is still very, very young, but here are some quick hit notes looking around the country on the first weekend of the college basketball:

  • We mused before the season about whether Saint Mary’s could get any better offensively after being so, so good there last year. It was only one game, but one player who certainly looks like he may have is Jock Landale, who scored 33 points in the Gaels’ convincing 81-63 win over Nevada. Landale is part of an underrated SMC frontcourt that has size and skill, if not heaping servings of athleticism, and if he, Evan Fitzner and Dane Pineau can find more consistency then the Gaels are just that much more dangerous. … Continue Reading

The Morning Dish – Saturday, November 12, 2016

by - Published November 12, 2016 in The Morning Dish

And we’re off and running on the 2016-17 season. The first official game of the season, with a noon Eastern tip, was Middle Tennessee’s 102-64 win over Milligan. Everything followed from there, peaking with the early evening games on two fronts.

Opening night tends to be a good mix of lopsided matchups and really good ones. We saw plenty of both, and we’ll focus more on the dandies after noting some surprises and close calls.

… Continue Reading

2015-16 OVC Post-Mortem

by - Published August 24, 2016 in Columns, Conference Notes

No longer just the stomping grounds for a few elite teams, the Ohio Valley Conference unveiled a deeper version of itself in the 2015-16 campaign.

Contrary to history, the OVC was more than just longtime flagbearer Murray State or recent challengers Belmont or Eastern Kentucky, as six teams finished within two games of the top record in the conference. Belmont led the pack, but just barely, with three teams just one game behind and two more two games back.

As if that wasn’t enough, it was the OVC’s No. 8 regular season team that won its conference tournament. Austin Peay won four games in the league tourney, knocking off Belmont and then West Division co-champion Tennessee-Martin on the way to snapping an eight-year NCAA Tournament drought. … Continue Reading

The Morning Dish – Tuesday, November 10, 2015

by - Published November 10, 2015 in The Morning Dish

With opening day now just three days away, we continue our quick glance look at all 32 NCAA Division I conferences with six more today.

The Big East will again be one of the best conferences top-to-bottom in the country and certainly the best secret among the biggies. That says more about viewers still adjusting to national sports network options than the league, which if one is watching they’ll see it still retains a good share of the charm from its golden days. Villanova is the favorite for another league title, but Georgetown and Butler are capable of wresting it away. Xavier will remain good, and watch out for Marquette with a talented freshman class, including McDonald’s All-American Henry Ellenson. Unfortunately for the league, it’s still quite conceivable that there once again are a lot of very good teams and no great ones, which would lead to questions after the NCAA Tournament once again.
… Continue Reading

2014-15 OVC Post-Mortem

by - Published August 24, 2015 in Columns, Conference Notes

Undeniably, the story of the Ohio Valley Conference in 2014-15 and for much of the past 30 years starts with the Murray State Racers. The story of OVC basketball at the moment, though, currently features equal parts of the Racers and the Belmont Bruins.

Murray State was one of the most-discussed teams in the country by the end of this season after a blazing run through the regular season. The Racers shook off a shaky start to win 25 straight games, gained a spot in the national rankings and were a hot topic for their at-large candidacy for the NCAA Tournament.

… Continue Reading

2013-14 OVC Post-Mortem

by - Published May 21, 2014 in Columns, Conference Notes

Even though the conference is split by divisions, the Ohio Valley Conference was a distinct three-team race last year. And though just one of those three made the NCAA Tournament, it can be said that all three ended their seasons on a high note.

Eastern Kentucky won the OVC Tournament and the league’s automatic NCAA bid, as the Colonels’ veteran team knocked off the top two seeds. The season was a success for EKU, a perimeter-oriented team that was expected to be around the top of the OVC, maximized its talent and gave Kansas a serious run in the NCAAs.

… Continue Reading

The Fire Isn’t There For UMass

by - Published November 27, 2008 in Columns

AMHERST, Mass. – This surely wasn’t what any of the Minuteman faithful had in mind to open the season – certainly not for Derek Kellogg’s first home game as head coach.

No, what they had in mind was something like what the scoreboard looked like with 29 seconds left. At that point, UMass had a 74-69 lead on Jacksonville State, a young team picked last in the Ohio Valley Conference preseason poll of head coaches and sports information directors. But the last 30 seconds were something the new coach had seen before, and it wasn’t good.

“That was very reminiscent of something that happened to me not too long ago,” said Kellogg, referring to the ending of last season’s national championship game while he was an assistant at Memphis. “It was almost the perfect storm of everything that could go wrong in a short period of time did, from missed free throws to missed assignments to putting a three-point shooter at the line.”

But as much as that might get noticed and talked about by the casual observer, that’s not the most salient aspect of the game or the Minutemen thus far. Instead, it’s something the players wasted no time talking about and Kellogg added similar thoughts on: playing with a purpose.

“Dudes need to learn about themselves,” said senior Tony Gaffney. “Dudes need to go home and look in the mirror and decide if they want to play, if they’re going to play with heart and passion. From the jump, no one played with that urgency.”

Indeed, Gaffney was perhaps the one Minuteman who played with urgency throughout the game. He was probably the best player on the floor, and his 20 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocked shots only tell part of the story there. His motor is always running, and that’s been a big thing holding up the 1-3 Minutemen right now.

Chris Lowe was great in the second half, when he scored 15 of his 20 points, but he had no assists in the second half. That means teammates didn’t set themselves up for passes like they did in the first half, and while Lowe had some big baskets, he didn’t make all of the plays on the night. And he was quick to point a finger at himself.

“Right now, Tony’s the only one playing with leadership,” Lowe said after the game. “Myself, just because I had that many points, whatever, that don’t mean nothing. I’m not providing enough leadership, and if I don’t do that, the team’s not going to be successful, to tell you the truth, so everything’s really falling on me.”

While the floor leader is important and sets the tone, Lowe is hardly alone on the court. Much has been expected of Ricky Harris and Anthony Gurley, but neither gave them much on Monday night. They combined for 20 points while being capable of scoring about 35 a night, but more importantly, they seemed invisible on the court.

The Minutemen reject the notion that this is explained by the fact that they’re a young team. They aren’t off their rockers in thinking that; it’s not a team full of freshmen and sophomores. Their lack of experience is less of an issue than their lack of depth. But most of all, the lack of a consistent effort, especially at the defensive end, is a real issue.

“I thought our guys competed at times, especially in the run where we did some good things,” said Kellogg. “I just have to find a way to get them to play harder and continue to buy into what we’re trying to do on the defensive end of the floor.

“Until we improve defensively, we’re just going to be an okay basketball team.”

Kellogg had a recurring them in his post-game comments. Namely, the Minutemen have worked hard and shown some intensity, but not all the time. The consistency of effort and intensity hasn’t been there, and it’s showing as the team looks good in spurts.

“My whole speech before the game, after the game, during the game, is let’s play intense basketball for 40 minutes. Let’s go out there and compete on every play, every possession,” said Kellogg. “The only way you do that is if you do it every day in practice. We do that sometimes, but we don’t do it enough every day in practice, and I’m trying to stay on these guys and get them to compete and play harder.”

At 1-3, UMass is in a hole early. They had a chance at beating Southern Illinois, although that was far from a given since it was in Carbondale. They had Monday night’s game as well. There’s enough talent and even experience on the team, and Gaffney and Lowe are capable leaders. The latter knows, however, that he has to change for the benefit of the team, and that’s something he’s accustomed to as a point guard.

“I’m not a rah-rah guy who likes to yell and scream,” said Lowe. “I’ve just got to get out of my shell now. We’re in a hole, we’ve got to get out of this hole.”

The players certainly aren’t about to give up on their season, and the coaching staff certainly isn’t as well. They just realize they have to change course if the results are to change.

Jacksonville State Gets a Building Block Win

by - Published November 25, 2008 in Columns

AMHERST, Mass. – You can’t read too much into one game, especially early in the season. But the final score on Monday night can’t be the only good thing Jacksonville State takes home.

The Gamecocks came to town on an evening that was big for the UMass faithful, although the crowd wasn’t very large. The paid attendance was over 4,800 (the Mullins Center seats nearly 9,500), but they were there for the home debut of new head coach Derek Kellogg, a hometown hero who was among the keys to UMass becoming a national power in the 1990s. The young Gamecocks at first glance would seem like an opponent the Minutemen could certainly beat to give Kellogg a win in his home debut.

But that’s not what happened. Despite trailing by five points with 29 seconds left, Jacksonville State walked out with a 75-74 win that had plenty of positives.

Jacksonville State was picked last in the Ohio Valley Conference preseason poll of the head coaches and sports information directors. At first glance, that seems like an understandable selection. The Gamecocks have just four upperclassmen among their top 11 players and a new head coach after a 7-22 showing last season. Four true freshmen are on the roster, and a fifth freshman, Geddes Robinson, was a non-qualifier last season.

Those freshmen are among the reasons for Gamecock fans to be hopeful. Only Stephen Hall, who has already been a steady contributor off the bench, was signed before James Green took over as head coach. Green then had to work with just one live weekend in April to evaluate players, but went out and recruited Brandon Crawford, who has been an instant impact player, then added John Barnes and junior college forward Jacques Leeds.

Crawford already has the look of a star player. He’s athletic and has a good body for his position, and in his first four games he has averaged 16 points and is 9-15 from behind the three-point line. On Monday, he came into the game with his team trailing 13-12 and wasted little time making his presence felt. He scored six straight points to cap a run of eight unanswered to give the Gamecocks the lead at 20-13.

“During practice, we felt he had a chance to be a really good player for us, but he’s actually scored the ball a lot better in the games than what he did in practice,” said Green. “He’s very athletic, he’s long, and he gives us a guy that really sometimes is a mismatch for other teams in the fact that he’s athletic enough to go down inside and do some things there, too.”

Green can see the effect Crawford has had on his teammates with his play. While he surely wasn’t the sole or even main reason for the poise they showed late in the game, he had a role in the end as well, as he converted a four-point play with 23 seconds left that pulled the Gamecocks within one, setting up the dramatics in the final seconds.

“I think when you see young guys play like that, it gives everybody confidence,” said Green.

While this was one game in a long season, you have to think this gives them a confidence boost. This is a road win for a young team early on that can only help them. It also came after events that might normally deflate a young team and perhaps even serve as knockout blows. After the Gamecocks blew a seven-point lead by allowing UMass to run off 13 unanswered points, the psychological impact of giving up the lead might be damaging enough all by itself, especially that late in the game.

Green talked about this game being something for his team to learn from, and he felt they gained something from their season opener at South Carolina. Those are signs that this team is buying into what the coaches are teaching, and that their talent won’t be all that they have going for them.

“As a coach, and being a part of about seven different programs, I can’t really remember having as many young players that have been as poised as we have in the two road games that we’ve had,” said Green, who had been the head coach at Mississippi Valley State before taking this job.

Some of the credit there has to go to the veterans, notably seniors Jonathan Toles (who scored the winning basket) and DeAndre Bray, one of the shortest players in college basketball at 5’6″. Toles led the team with 18 points and added five assists with just one turnover. In fact, the Gamecocks had 19 assists with just nine turnovers on the night.

It’s still early in the season, and Jacksonville State is sure to have some growing pains along the way. They could just as easily finish the season winning just three more games to go with the three wins they already have. But a win like the one they had on Monday night can go a long way towards helping a team grow better, especially if, as Green talked about, it is a game his team learns from.

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We hope you enjoyed COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT during the 2016 NCAA Tournament. COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT is a comprehensive look at the NCAA Tournament hosted by veteran college basketball broadcaster Ted Sarandis, along with co-hosts Mike Jarvis and Terry O'Connor, both former Division I coaches. It also included many great guests, including Hoopville's own Phil Kasiecki.

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