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2013-14 Mountain West Post-Mortem

by - Published May 19, 2014 in Columns, Conference Notes
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With conference realignment being a headline the last few years, few conferences have escaped unharmed outside of the BCS conferences. The Mountain West is one of them, although they almost lost out big. The end result, as pertains to 2013-14, was another excellent season, led by the program that has become the standard bearer of late.

San Diego State had another big year, winning 31 games, including a 16-2 mark in Mountain West play to pace the conference. The 16 conference wins set a new record. They also reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament before being eliminated by Arizona.

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How the conferences shake out as 2014 approaches

by - Published December 31, 2013 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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Non-conference play is just about over at this point. Conference games are ready to take over the rest of the slate, with a few having an “opening day” of sorts, including the Big East with its well-publicized day of five games on Tuesday. A few have already had early conference games, with the West Coast Conference having its opening day on Saturday.

How are the conferences shaping up? Which ones look like we thought and which ones look nothing like what we thought before the season? Here is a look at all 32 conferences as conference play beckons.

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How the conferences shake out as 2013 approaches

by - Published December 28, 2012 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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Non-conference play is almost over, and it has been quite a stretch. We’ve learned a good deal about a lot of teams, while some are still a mystery for various reasons – injuries, suspensions, ineligibility and a light schedule are all possible reasons. In addition, a few conferences have already seen a game or two mixed in with the non-conference schedule.

Conference play is right around the corner, and while a non-conference resume doesn’t tell the whole story, it does shed some light on teams and conferences. In conference play, there is more familiarity since teams play each other every year, although the changing landscape is starting to diminish that factor a bit. That’s one reason why we see some teams put forth a very good non-conference showing, including some good wins, then go on to have a mediocre showing in conference play.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how every conference in America shapes up.

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BracketBusters takes center stage once again

by - Published February 19, 2012 in Columns
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Every year, there is a lot of talk about how to make BracketBusters better, or if it should just go away entirely. While teams have undoubtedly benefited from it over the years of its existence, the feelings on it seem a bit mixed, and it’s debatable whether or not it has been good as a whole. Right now, it’s what we have, and on Saturday it was center stage.

Proponents have talked about teams getting an extra national television appearance for people to see them. They have also cited the chance to get an RPI boost. Certainly, some of the teams that have benefited can look back and argue that they would not have made the NCAA Tournament if not for a win in the BracketBusters, including Final Four teams from George Mason and VCU. … Continue Reading

The countdown to Selection Sunday starts — less than a month to go

by - Published February 14, 2012 in Columns
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It’s hard to believe, but Selection Sunday is officially less than a month away — 26 days to be precise.

That means it’s separation time. The best teams throughout the nation need to raise the bar to claim a regular-season conference championship and jockey for NCAA Tournament seeding.

For the vast majority of the 31 conferences that receive automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament, winning a regular-season conference title is about more than bragging rights. In many conference tournament formats, the regular-season winner gets a bye or home court advantage — sometimes both — at some point in the upcoming conference tourneys. Teams like the America East’s Stony Brook, Big Sky’s Weber State, and SWAC’s Mississippi Valley State won’t be getting at-large bids to the Big Dance if they don’t capture a conference championship in the tournaments. So they’ll take any advantage they can get. … Continue Reading

BCS hurts college sports, especially basketball

by - Published January 7, 2012 in Columns
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Last month, Boise State head football coach Chris Petersen talked to local reporters about the BCS. Mainly, he simply unleashed a lot of feelings that many of us have, and rightly so for a lot of reasons. Many of us understand that the BCS is hurting college sports, especially college basketball.

From the outset, the BCS was a joke as far as its place in college football is concerned. There is no national championship in the Football Bowl Subdivision; the winner of the BCS Championship Game is like the winner of the NIT Season Tip-Off or the Maui Invitational in basketball, not a national champion. (The Division I national champion will be either Sam Houston State or North Dakota State, who will play on Saturday.) The system is your basic old boy network applied to college football, as it’s designed to benefit the six conferences that were in on the whole deal all along. The Big East has been a laughingstock in football for a while now, yet it still gets its champion into a BCS bowl while more deserving teams – which often have included Petersen’s Broncos – are pushed back into less prestigious bowl games (and ones without nearly the same payout).

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UNLV drafted a blueprint for taking down the Tar Heels

by - Published November 27, 2011 in Columns
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Don’t be surprised that North Carolina lost to UNLV.

The Tar Heels had looked phenomenal in five blowout victories against mostly overmatched teams. But those wins masked an Achilles heel. And the Runnin’ Rebels fired a perfect shot to strike North Carolina in that vulnerable spot, sending the No. 1 team tumbling back to earth.

In short, North Carolina doesn’t do a great job of guarding the perimeter, doesn’t dominate the boards, and doesn’t have well-developed depth behind the front line.

All three of those weaknesses are related to UNC’s vaunted frontcourt, especially Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Those two make a perfect tandem, as Zeller’s offensive game is far more developed than Henson’s, while Henson is a defensive beast with his shot-blocking ability. On defense, they tend to rely on their height and length to stop driving opponents. Not surprisingly, North Carolina ranks among the Division I leaders in blocks, swatting more than 6 percent of opponents’ shots, according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics.

But that affinity for blocks makes the team susceptible to penetrating guards who only intend to kick the ball out to good perimeter shooters. It makes perfect sense. A guard at the top of the key could sprint off a high screen into the lane, with his man in tow. Henson or Zeller would slide off his defender to get in position to reject a shot attempt into the third row. Someone else would rotate to cut off a pass to anyone else near the post. As the guard enters the lane, he should have at least one perimeter player open.

One pass to the outside might be enough to get an open look. If a Tar Heel defender could get out to the perimeter in time, the odds are that another rotating perimeter player would be wide open, and an extra pass should get a clean look. And that’s pretty much how UNLV attacked North Carolina.

In addition, the Runnin’ Rebels fought for rebounds. When the Tar Heels help out on defense, they occasionally move out of position for rebounds. Coach Roy Williams will probably preach on proper technique in practice during the next couple of days, which is necessary for a team with only middling stats for rebounds despite holding a height advantage over most opponents. Somewhat interestingly, North Carolina actually did better against UNLV at the defensive end despite allowing 13 offensive rebounds. The Tar Heels collected 68 percent of all missed shots at that end, which is slightly better than the 65 percent that they usually get. On offense, though, the Tar Heels grabbed only 24 percent of their missed shots, down from their season average of 32 percent.

Part of the reason that the rebounding was down is that Zeller and Henson’s minutes were down because of foul trouble. Zeller was on the court for 24 minutes in the loss. Henson also had to deal with foul trouble. Although freshman James Michael McAdoo is off to a strong start, there’s not much quality depth behind the starters right now.

UNLV outlined a strategy for taking down North Carolina that is clear and repeatable – for the teams that are actually equipped to execute that game plan. Five Runnin’ Rebels attempted at least 3-pointers, with Chase Stanback and Oscar Bellfield hitting four apiece. It will be tough to beat the Tar Heels without that kind of firepower.

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Updating the NBA Entry List and Honoring a Maryland Legend

by - Published May 9, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

BASELINE TO BASELINE

Go coast to coast with a roundup of news from across the nation.

Here’s a quick recap of all the major NBA decisions from the past week. The NCAA’s deadline for early entrants to remain eligible required players to decide by May 8 if they wanted to remain in the NBA Draft or return to school.

Remaining in the draft:

  • Boston College’s Reggie Jackson
  • Butler’s Shelvin Mack
  • Georgia Tech’s Iman Shumpert
  • Kentucky’s Brandon Knight
  • Kentucky’s DeAndre Liggins
  • Louisville’s Terrence Jennings
  • Maryland’s Jordan Williams
  • Michigan’s Darius Morris
  • Stanford’s Jeremy Green
  • Tennessee’s Tobias Harris
  • Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson
  • Texas’ Cory Joseph
  • Texas’ Tristan Thompson

Returning to school:

  • Kentucky’s Terrence Jones
  • Miami’s Reggie Johnson
  • Missouri’s Laurence Bowers
  • Missouri’s Kim English
  • Northwestern’s John Shurna
  • Pittsburgh’s Ashton Gibbs
  • West Virginia’s Kevin Jones
  • Xavier’s Tu Holloway
  1. The biggest news of the past few days is Gary Williams’ retirement at Maryland. The Terrapins’ coach unexpectedly decided to call it a career at age 66 after working at his alma mater since 1989. Maryland moved quickly to court Arizona’s Sean Miller, who passed on the the offer by signing an extension with the Wildcats, according to John Marshall of the Associated Press. That makes Notre Dame’s Mike Brey one of the top choices right now, according to the Washington Post.
  2. In other Washington, D.C., area coaching news, George Washington picked Mike Lonergan to be the Colonials’ next coach, according to the Associated Press. Lonergan comes back to D.C. after working at Vermont for five seasons, compiling a 126-68 record. Lonergan coached Catholic University to a Division III title in 2001 and worked with Gary Williams as an assistant at Maryland for a few years.
  3. Gonzaga needs to find a new starting point guard after Demetri Goodson announced that he’s leaving the team to play football, according to the Associated Press. Goodson averaged 5.2 points and 2.6 assists per game for the Bulldogs this past season.
  4. Michigan State Tom Izzo returned the favor for Spartan fans last week. To help boost student morale during final exams week, Izzo joined other Spartan coaches in serving food at the university’s dining hall, according to Diamond Leung of ESPN.com’s ìCollege Basketball Nation.î That’s a nice way to thank the Izzone fans who help give Michigan State one of the toughest home court advantages in the nation.
  5. Speaking of Izzo, the Spartans’ coach might be getting some much-needed backcourt help in Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood, according to the Associated Press.. The Horizon League’s No. 3 scorer is transferring to Michigan State after completing his undergraduate degree. Because of NCAA rules for graduate transfers, Wood might be eligible to play immediately for a team losing Kalin Lucas to graduation.
  6. Jeff Capel has returned to a familiar sideline. The former Oklahoma coach, who was fired after this past season, accepted an offer to become an assistant coach on coach Mike Krzyzewski’s staff at Duke, according to the Associated Press. Capel played four years in Durham and put up more than 1,600 points.
  7. The Pac-10 can’t complain about an East Coast bias for much longer. The conference soon to be known as the Pac-12 signed an agreement with ESPN and Fox Sports worth $250 million per season, tops in men’s basketball, according to Josh Dubow of the Associated Press.
  8. Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt has recruited his first big name as the Cowboys’ new coach. Larry Nance Jr., son of longtime NBA player Larry Nance, will arrive in Laramie this fall after averaging about a double double as a senior in Ohio this past season.
  9. Looking ahead to 2012, Louisville might not have the services of Rodney Purvis, a top-rated shooting guard in the class of rising high school seniors who reopened his recruitment, according to Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com’s ìCollege Basketball Nation.î Louisville had received a verbal commitment from Purvis, partially thanks to the hard work of assistant Tom Fuller, who left Pitino’s staff recently to work for Frank Haith at Missouri.
  10. Former Cyclone John Lamb, a walk-on who left Iowa State mid-season, was arrested last week and charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell and a violation of Drug Tax Stamp Act, according to the Associated Press.

HOME COURT ADVANTAGE

This section is aptly titled for a Washington, D.C., area writer looking to write a column honoring the importance of recently retired Maryland coach Gary Williams.

In his 22 years at Maryland, Williams helped craft the Terrapins into a perennial ACC contender. His continued success eased the path to the construction of the Comcast Center, which is one of the largest arenas in the conference and has one of the best home court advantages. The 20,000-plus fans who fill the Comcast Center haven’t always approved of the quality of the home team, but they consistently fill the arena with rowdy fans, giving Maryland one of the best home court advantages in the country.

After the turmoil of the late 1980s, it’s amazing that Williams was able to get this program back to the top of the ACC so quickly. Trouble started in 1986 with the death of Terrapin hero Len Bias, who seemed destined to become a national hero as a possible heir apparent to Larry Bird in Boston. However, his cocaine-induced death and the subsequent brouhaha in College Park derailed the program, leading to the ouster of coach Lefty Driesell.

Without Driesell, the team fell into mediocrity — and NCAA violations — during the tenure of Bob Wade. With the program on probation and lackluster performance on the court, Williams returned to his alma mater with a tough task at hand.

It took Williams five seasons, but once he got the Terrapins into the NCAA Tournament, they remained fixtures of March Madness until 2005. That includes a Final Four run in 2001 that ended mercilessly with the team’s fourth loss of the season to eventual national champion Duke. But Williams and Maryland vanquished those demons the next season when the Terrapins won the 2002 title.

The championship title was a turning point for Williams’ tenure at Maryland. Until then, the critics liked to talk about Williams as one of the greatest coaches to have never won a title — a fraternity no coach enjoys being part of. With that monkey off his back, Williams then had to deal with detractors who bemoaned that Williams failed to use the program’s success to attract the top recruits to College Park.

Recruiting is a touchy subject for Maryland fans. On the plus side, no one has even sniffed an NCAA violation during Williams’ years. But on the other hand, Williams drew the ire of many fans because he couldn’t keep a lot of the talented kids in Prince George’s County, Md., and Baltimore in-state. Highly touted recruits like Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Ty Lawson, Rudy Gay, Nolan Smith and seemingly half of Georgetown’s starting lineup each season are all locals. That would be acceptable if Williams had a slew of talented recruits on a conveyor belt to College Park from across the country.

But after three NIT appearances in four seasons, the natives became restless. Williams had the misfortune of dealing with a few disastrous recruits, including the much-maligned post-championship class of Chris McCray, John Gilchrist, Travis Garrison and Nik Caner-Medley. That core failed to meet lofty expectations, and the fans nearly revolted at the perceived inability of Williams to coach a great class. But the players just didn’t work out. It happens.

Williams got Maryland back on track with Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes. He helped Vasquez mature from a sloppy point guard and nearly out of control hothead to a dominant ACC player who was a threat to post a triple double nearly any night. The Terrapins returned to the NCAA Tournament three out of four seasons but never advanced further than the second round.

Heading into this off-seaosn, Maryland was at a cross-roads as another disappointing recruiting class — Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker and Dino Gregory — finished their collegiate careers. Jordan Williams, one of the top recruits in recent years to come to Maryland, figured to be the linchpin of next season’s team, but he is heading to the NBA instead.

At age 66, Williams was staring at a complete rebuilding project in an era that makes it increasingly difficult to run a clean and successful program. Williams refused to sacrifice one for the other. That makes now a great time for Williams to step down. To rebuild the Terrapins, Williams would need at least a couple of years to get the right guys around solid building blocks like Pe’Shon Howard and Terrell Stoglin. Williams might be pushing 70 before the Terrapins have another legitimate shot at a deep run.

When I’m pushing 70, I hope have the energy to work more than 60 hours a week recruiting, strategizing and representing a major college program. After such a remarkable, program-defining coaching career, Williams has earned this respite.

Larranaga Jumps Into Shark-Infested Waters

by - Published April 25, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

BASELINE TO BASELINE

Go coast to coast with a roundup of news from across the nation.

  1. Miami finally got its man in hiring George Mason coach Jim Larranaga to become the Hurricanes’ next coach, according to the Associated Press. In Larranaga, the Hurricanes get a coach with a Final Four pedigree, and that’s coming out of the Colonial Athletic Conference. The Colonials’ coach has family roots in Florida, and the opportunity was particularly alluring, even though George Mason is a perennial NCAA Tournament contender in the CAA.
  2. IUPUI hired its new coach from within in the program, elevating associate coach Todd Howard to the top spot, according to the Associated Press. Former head coach Ron Hunter left the program to coach Georgia State.
  3. It’s a little hard to figure what Hollis Thompson is thinking, but the sophomore Hoya announced he will enter the NBA Draft without an agent, according to the Associated Press. Thompson averaged 8.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game this past season — not exactly attention-grabbing stats.
  4. As much as Texas faithful don’t want to hear it, the decisions of Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Jordan Hamilton make a little more sense. All three players will go through the NBA Draft process, according to ESPN’s Dana O’Neil. However, only Hamilton has immediate plans to sign with an agent, though Thompson figures to be a possible lottery pick.
  5. Former Wake Forest sophomore guard Ari Stewart is heading to the West Coast to play for USC and coach Kevin O’Neill, according to Pedro Moura for ESPN Los Angeles.com.
  6. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, you just won the 2011 national championship. Where are you going next? The weed man? Not a great idea. Police arrested the sophomore swingman April 21 and charged him with marijuana possession, according to the Associated Press.
  7. Redemption remains a possibility for Coombs-McDaniel, much like it is for BYU’s Brandon Davies, according to a CBS Sports.com wire report. Davies had possibly the most noteworthy sex of any college athlete this year when the news broke in early March that the Cougars would suspend their best big man for violating the university’s honor code, which prohibits premarital sex. However, Davies is confident that he’ll complete the necessary penance to return to campus as a BYU student-athlete, then return to the court as a solid post player for the Cougars.

HOME COURT ADVANTAGE

The Miami coaching gig is a death trap.

It’s not that the Hurricanes will never succeed, and it’s not that a talented coach can’t attract some talented players to Coral Gables. The problem is that it will be almost always impossible to get fans in the stands, which is one of the primary concerns of athletic departments.

And without a naturally enthusiastic fan base, Miami’s coach must produce fantastic seasons on a regular basis. For new coach Jim Larranaga, that’s a tall order.

The Hurricanes have some talent heading into next season, especially if Reggie Johnson returns to school instead of remaining in the NBA Draft. He would join Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott in south Florida. Unfortunately for Larranaga and the ‘Canes, most people in south Florida are more interested in other teams and activities. The city’s mercurial fan base has the Miami Heat as their primary object of affection on the hardwood. Among the Coral Gables community and student body, ‘Canes football will always be the No. 1 sport on campus.

That leaves Larranaga’s crew fighting for the No. 3 spot in town with other sports teams, including the Florida Marlins, Florida Panthers and Miami Dolphins — NFL lockout permitting. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the allure of the beach and notorious night life. Unless Miami can knock off North Carolina and Duke on an annual basis, getting fans to show up at the BankUnited Center will be a very tough task.

The Hurricanes’ 7,200-seat arena would need about 50 percent of all Miami undergrads present and accounted for just to fill three-quarters of the seats. Larranaga would need to attract some serious talent to generate enough buzz to fill the rest of the arena. And that wasn’t his M.O. at George Mason, nor will ACC rivals like Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, Gary Williams and Leonard Hamilton make it easy for him to get the best kids to play at Miami. Within the state of Florida, the Gators have the best shot at recruiting local kids, with Florida State’s Hamilton not far behind.

Despite that shark-infested climate, Miami remains an ACC team with ACC expectations. That means the Hurricanes need to sell out the big games, finish in the top third every now and then, and make a run to at least the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament when talented recruiting classes come through town. Ask Paul Hewitt and Al Skinner how that goes.

Good luck to Larranaga. This won’t be a vacation.

Health Comes Before Hoops

by - Published April 18, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

BASELINE TO BASELINE

Go coast to coast with a roundup of news from across the nation.

When forward Emmanuel Negedu transferred to New Mexico, he figured he had a fresh start ahead after heart problems at Tennessee. While with the Volunteers, he entered a sudden cardiac arrest in 2009. He had the all-clear to play, barring any more bad news. But more bad news struck in December 2010 when he a bad reading on a defibrillator, according to Diamond Leung of ESPN.com’s “College Basketball Nation” blog. And that means Negedu’s playing career is through, though he’ll remain on scholarship to complete his degree as a Lobo.

Washington State fans are holding their breath that Klay Thompson won’t follow junior DeAngelo Casto to the NBA after the Cougar forward announced that he’ll enter the draft and hire an agent, according to the Associated Press. Casto was Wazzu’s top big man last season, with 12 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

In addition to losing Josh Selby and the Morris brothers to the NBA and Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar and Mario Little to graduation, Kansas will be without guard Royce Woolridge, who announced he is transferring, according to the Associated Press. Woolridge said he wants more playing time, which he apparently isn’t convinced he’d get in Lawrence despite the roster turnover.

In other transfer news, Loyola Chicago is getting some Big Ten talent in Iowa guard Cully Payne, who will have three years of remaining eligibility, according to ESPN Chicago’s Scott Powers. And sparingly used forward J.J. Richardson is leaving Pittsburgh in search of a better fit, according to the Associated Press.

On the flip side, the Jayhawks could be on the receiving end of a transfer if La Salle’s Aaric Murray picks Kansas over West Virginia. According to Jon Rothstein, the sophomore big man is leaving the Explorers for one of those destinations after averaging 15.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game this past season.

Miami’s coaching search continues, writes the Miami Herald’s Michelle Kaufman, as new athletic director Shawn Eichorst talked to Wisconsin-Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter about the position. Eichorst has connections to the state after coming to Miami from Wisconsin, where he was an associate athletic director at the school.

Whoever ends up in south Florida as the Hurricanes’ coach might not bring highly regarded recruit Bishop Daniels to Coral Gables. According to Barry Jackson’s “Sports Buzz” blog at Miami Herald.com, Daniels wants a release from his letter of intent so that he can choose Tennessee or Rutgers. Given that the Scarlet Knights are the only team of the three with a returning coaching staff, that could bode well for Mike Rice’s squad.

HOME COURT ADVANTAGE

You’ve got to feel for New Mexico’s Emmanuel Negedu.

The Lobos sophomore overcame the scare of a cardiac arrest at Tennessee and found a fresh start in Albuquerque. New Mexico is one of the top programs of the Mountain West Conference, especially with BYU bolting for the West Coast Conference.

But it just wasn’t in the cards for Negedu to make an impact on the court. A bad reading on a defibrillator means team doctors won’t clear him to play ever again. It’s just too risky.

Although Negedu must manage his condition carefully, his life is still full of opportunity. The Lobos intend to keep Negedu on scholarship, which will give him the opportunity to earn his degree as a Lobo. And if Negedu has interest in contributing to team activities, the squad should be able to find an off-court role for him.

For players gifted enough to earn a Division I scholarship, the concept of imminent mortality might not be an everyday realization. But Negedu now has a perspective that gives him the opportunity to keep his teammates grounded in the face of adversity and focused on greater goals.

And that’s a perspective that could allow Negedu to make an on-court impact vicariously through the rest of the Lobos.

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Conference Coverage

2013-14 Big Ten Post-Mortem

July 8, 2014 by

bigten

The Big Ten had some teams slip as the season went on, but plenty of others picked up the slack in another good year for the conference.

2013-14 Sun Belt Post-Mortem

July 7, 2014 by

sunbelt

Membership changes have been happening at quite a pace of late in the Sun Belt, and it was a new member that stole the show for much of this past season and seems poised to lead the way in the future.

2013-14 Big Sky Post-Mortem

July 1, 2014 by

bigsky

The teams that have led the way in the Big Sky of late were right there again this season. One of them won both the regular season and conference tournament, and also had a nice time with the post-season awards as well.

2013-14 MEAC Post-Mortem

July 1, 2014 by

meac

The 2013-14 season was N.C. Central’s year in the MEAC, as the Eagles completed their four-year ascent to the top of conference.

2013-14 Big 12 Post-Mortem

June 30, 2014 by

big12

When it comes to overall depth, the Big 12 this season may have been one of the strongest leagues in a long time. The conference sent seven of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament, the first time in 21 years and just the fifth time ever that a league sent 70% or more of its teams to the tourney.

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