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2013-14 American Athletic Conference Post-Mortem

by - Published May 13, 2014 in Columns, Conference Notes
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A year ago at this time, much about the American Athletic Conference was unknown. The conference had a new name for barely a month, and aside from that, what we knew it had was a bunch of schools that were breaking away from the old Big East. It did have an office – that which had long belonged to the Big East in Providence, even though Providence College would remain in the Big East.

But when the 2013-14 season was over, it was clear the conference had quite a bit going for it on the hardwood. They had the runner-up in the NIT and the national champion – not bad for a conference that barely existed a year before the season ended.

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Duke-Temple: Points of emphasis

by - Published December 10, 2012 in Columns
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – College basketball was back in the Izod Center, but the feature matchup turned out one-sided. Duke defeated Temple 90-67.

1. If you are a Duke hater, this probably won’t be your year. No one-and-done looms for these Blue Devils. They are 9-0 with wins over Kentucky, Minnesota, VCU, Louisville, Ohio State and now Temple. In this game the Blue Devils did a fine job dismantling a good Temple team and have a nice inside/outside mix. They also have strong ball-sure defense as usual.

2.  There are multiple weapons. Mike Krzyzewski has a post presence in Mason Plumlee, an inside/out big in Ryan Kelly, and the steady lead guard in Quinn Cook. We can’t forget Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulamon, who can step outside and hit shots. Duke runs their well-patented motion offense but is comfortable putting the pedal to the floor in transition.

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Notre Dame reminds us that we don’t play the games on paper

by - Published February 5, 2012 in Full Court Sprints
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We always talk about how the games aren’t played on paper when looking at teams that don’t do what we expect. It’s a cliché, and it sticks around because everyone loves to predict how things will turn out in sports, no matter how wrong we could wind up being. All the while, the teams that end up better than we project can just laugh at us all they want.

Enter the 2011-12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame lost a great deal from last season’s team that entered the month of March playing about as well as any team in the country. Gone from that team are Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough and important role players Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott, the latter a big defensive leader for that team and a surprise early defection. Already, projections for this team were going to be that they were unlikely to contend for the top of the Big East. When they went 0-2 in Kansas City, including an 87-58 thrashing at the hands of Missouri, it looked like they would be who many thought they would be.

That wasn’t all. The Fighting Irish were not certain to have Tim Abromaitis back, as he played in two exhibition games in the 2008-09 season where he redshirted. But the NCAA granted him this year, so that helped as he was an experienced player and was second on the team in scoring last season. Then in late November, he tore the ACL in his right knee in practice, putting him out for the season.

At that point, the outlook was decidedly not good. But no one told head coach Mike Brey and his team that, and after Saturday’s convincing 76-59 win over Marquette, the Fighting Irish are alone in fourth place in the Big East.

“From the start of the season, no one thought we would be here,” said sophomore point guard Eric Atkins.

Notre Dame hasn’t compiled its record by beating up on the bottom feeders of the conference. Along the way, they have knocked off Louisville, Seton Hall and Connecticut on the road, and now Syracuse and Marquette at home.

“I am very proud of my group,” said Brey, who at this point looks like the runaway Coach of the Year in the Big East, if not nationally. “I told them in one of the final media timeouts that I felt like I was coaching men today. Last year’s team was men. That had a look of more than one fifth year senior on the court. I am thrilled where we are.”

Notre Dame can only get better given that this is a young team with a lot of players who are just finding themselves. Scott Martin is the only other senior besides Abromaitis on the team, while the emerging perimeter unit of Atkins, Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton are sophomore, sophomore and freshman respectively. Connaughton wasn’t expected to play much, but he scored 21 points on Saturday and now starts on the hardwood as well as the mound (the San Diego Padres drafted him last year).

“Right now, we’re really confident that we can beat any team – we can play with any team,” said Grant. “Our team confidence is really high right now, and I’d like to keep it that way because we are playing really well.”

That’s one thing no one can doubt at this point. The Irish have proven that to this point, and as a more confident team they will be even tougher to beat.

 

We take you coast to coast with news from around the college basketball nation.

Arizona had a big weekend, sweeping their trip to northern California after a 56-43 win at Stanford on Saturday. The Wildcats may be starting to come alive at a good time.

Syracuse got Fab Melo back for Saturday’s game, and they rolled to a 95-70 blowout win at St. John’s. The win was the 879th in Jim Boeheim’s career, tying him with Dean Smith for third on the all-time list.

Seton Hall’s struggles continued as Connecticut annihilated them 69-46 in Hartford.

Kentucky had an easy time at South Carolina, committing just three turnovers in their blowout win.

The Big 12 gets a little more interesting at Missouri rallied to knock off Kansas in a big rivalry showdown. Both teams are now 8-2 in conference play.

Who’s on top of the ACC? No, not Duke, although the Blue Devils will be tied if they beat Miami on Sunday. North Carolina is in a tie after a big 83-74 win at Maryland to move into a tie for that spot. The team they are tied with is Florida State, as the Seminoles are 7-1 after a 58-55 win over Virginia.

Temple is now alone in first place in the Atlantic 10 after a 73-56 win at Rhode Island, combined with Saint Joseph’s knocking off La Salle earlier in the day. Temple’s perimeter trio continues to be the driving force for this team.

Wyoming knocked off road-weary UNLV in a close one after the Runnin’ Rebels ran into snow-related travel delays en route to Laramie.

Northern Iowa beat Creighton on a buzzer-beater, right after Creighton had tied it on a big shot.

Iona won a big showdown against Manhattan for the lead in the MAAC.

George Mason grabbed a share of the lead in the Colonial Athletic Association with a 54-50 win over Old Dominion in a first-place showdown. The Patriots are joined by VCU, 59-56 winners over Northeastern, and Drexel, 65-57 winners at Towson, at 11-2 in the conference.

Mississippi Valley State is now 10-0 in the SWAC and two games ahead in the standings, after knocking off Alabama State.

 

Sunday’s key matchups:

  • Michigan at Michigan State
  • Miami at Duke
  • Northwestern at Illinois
  • Stephen F. Austin at McNeese State
  • The biggest one of all: New York Giants vs. New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI

Perimeter trio a driving force behind Temple’s success

by - Published February 5, 2012 in Columns
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SOUTH KINGSTON, R.I. – Temple has rode a six-game winning streak to the top of the Atlantic 10 after Saturday’s 73-56 win at Rhode Island. While it’s been a balanced effort for the Owls to get to this point, there’s no question that their perimeter trio of Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and Juan Fernandez is the driving force behind this team’s success.

The Owls’ perimeter trio asserted themselves right out of the gates on Saturday, scoring the game’s first eight points on two three-pointers and a steal and layup by Moore, who leads the Atlantic 10 in scoring (Wyatt is second in that category). That helped them build a 16-5 lead before the first media timeout and later a 16-point lead in the half.

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Quick Hitters – November 11, 2011

by - Published November 11, 2011 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops

 

Some quick hitters as we reach the night college basketball opens for all teams:

  • St. John’s showed that they are a scrappy bunch and will try to win games by speeding teams up and winning the hustle battle.  In each of their first two games, they turned the game around by speeding up the opponent and turning loose balls and second chances into baskets.  They are a very young group, but they’re athletic and acquitted themselves very well in starting out 2-0 this week.

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Selfish NCAA Rule Betrays Mission to Student-Athletes

by - Published May 2, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

BASELINE TO BASELINE

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

  1. Starting next season, players will no longer be able to test the NBA Draft waters. According to the Associated Press, the NCAA approved a rules change that forces players to decide whether they wish to remain eligible for the NBA Draft by the first day of the spring signing period for recruits. This move helps college coaches replace departing players. But it kills players’ opportunity to gauge their draft stock as few NBA teams are prepared to provide full predictions by mid-April.
  2. George Mason wasted no time in finding a new coach. According to the Associated Press, the Colonials picked former Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, who was fired at Georgia Tech this past season after 11 years and a 190-162 record. In more than a decade with the Yellow Jackets, Hewitt established a reputation for recruiting top-notch talent, but he only made one deep run in the NCAA Tournament, losing to Connecticut in the 2004 championship game. He replaces Jim Larranaga, who left the school to coach Miami.
  3. Nearby, in Washington, D.C., George Washington will be in search of a new coach after firing Karl Hobbs, according to the Associated Press. Hobbs led the Colonials for 10 years, including a great 2005-06 season in which George Washington finished 27-3 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
  4. And in Atlanta, Georgia Tech replaced Paul Hewitt with Brian Gregory, choosing Dayton’s coach over several other candidates, including a 15-year-old from Connecticut. Wha?! According to the Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy, Ethan Peikes sent Georgia Tech Athletic Director Dan Radakovich a letter containing a cogent argument for why Peikes should become the Yellow Jackets’ next coach.
  5. Colgate presumably didn’t get any applications from 15-year-olds, but the school did find its coach from a relatively young member of the coaching ranks. According to the Associated Press, Colgate hired 33-year-old Temple assistant Matt Langel to replace Emmett Davis, who was dismissed after 13 seasons and a 165-212 record.
  6. Wisconsin extended the contract of coach Bo Ryan through 2015-16, ensuring stability for one of the best programs in the Big Ten, according to the Associated Press. Ryan has a 242-91 record in 10 seasons in Madison, and his teams regularly excel in the NCAA Tournament and enjoy one of the toughest home court advantages in basketball.
  7. Likewise, in Athens, Ga., coach Mark Fox received an extension with Georgia. The Bulldogs will keep Fox through 2015-16 and increase his pay to $1.7 million per year, according to the Associated Press.
  8. Amid coaching changes, some players decide it’s time for a fresh start, especially if a new coach has a significantly different system. That looks to be the case at North Carolina State, according to Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com’s “College Basketball Nation” blog. Freshman point guard Ryan Harrow will leave the Wolfpack to look for a fresh start rather than play for new coach Mark Gottfried.
  9. Give coach Bill Self credit. Even though Kansas is losing plenty of firepower this off-season, the Jayhawks will face a brutal schedule next season, with Kentucky and Ohio State definitely on the horizon, according to the Associated Press. Kansas also will be in the Maui Invitational with Duke, UCLA, Georgetown, Memphis, Tennessee and Michigan.
  10. And Kansas might find some tougher competition out of Oklahoma in the Big 12 than originally expected. New Sooners coach Lon Kruger has added two Juco players recently to help hasten the rebuilding of the Oklahoma program, according to Sports Illustrated’s “Fan Nation” blog.
  11. Louisville coach Rick Pitino has completed a major overhaul of his staff, according to the Associated Press. Pitino added Kevin Keatts as an assistant coach. Keatts arrives at Louisville after coaching Hargrave Military Academy for 10 seasons and winning two national prep championships. Keatts joins Wyking Jones and Pitino’s son Richard on the staff.
  12. Quick hits from the NCAA’s attendance report, via ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan for the “College Basketball Nation” blog: total number of people attending games is up compared with 2009-10, average per Division I game is down a tad (because of more Division I schools), and average NCAA Tournament attendance is down slightly.

HOME COURT ADVANTAGE

The general consensus is that the NCAA is being selfish in its decision to change the rules on players testing the NBA Draft as early entrants. It’s hard to argue with that sentiment, though the NCAA has an opportunity to do right by student-athletes.

The NCAA is responsible for guiding student-athletes through the collegiate educational experience. That’s not my take; it’s theirs. From the NCAA’s website:

The NCAA’s core purpose is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.

By shifting the deadline for players to decide whether they will remain in the NBA Draft or return to school to mid-April, the NCAA is robbing student-athletes of a chance to maximize their educational experience. To borrow a Texas Hold ‘Em poker analogy, the NCAA will be forcing players to go all-in or fold before the flop while letting them see only one card.

In recent years, players have been able to figure out the strength of their draft hand — to see that other card — by receiving evaluations from NBA scouts during late April and May. A few years ago, players had until June to decide whether they’d remain in the draft or return to school. NCAA coaches hated that because they didn’t know what their roster would like and how they should adjust their recruiting strategy in the spring.

The first step in this anti-player direction was a change to the players’ decision deadline to early May. That prevents players from receiving much information, but they can at least make an educated decision about the likelihood that a team will pick them in the first round.

To clarify what’s at stake, the NBA only guarantees contracts to first-round picks. If you’re No. 31, you have to compete with every other unrestricted free agent, NBA Developmental League player and international walk-on who wants a shot at an NBA contract. Good luck. Oh, and you can’t go back to your college team. When early entrants remain in the draft, they’re no longer eligible. You don’t hear of too many players who pay to earn a degree without a scholarship from a school if they fall out of the first round and don’t receive a contract.

For NCAA early entrants, the NBA Draft can be a life-altering decision. Because the NCAA will restrict the relevant information that student-athletes can gather by the mid-April deadline, the NCAA has the responsibility to fulfill its core purpose: ensure that the educational experience is paramount. And that experience is paramount to the self-centered interests of coaches who fear they’ll lose their jobs without NBA-caliber players on their roster instead of leftover recruits.

For the NCAA to fulfill that purpose, it needs to create a method for student-athletes to receive NBA evaluations throughout the season. Perhaps the NCAA should form a consortium of current or former NBA scouts who provide monthly ratings or reviews, citing comments from NBA executives. If the NCAA wants to follow the money, it would need to wade into the world of sports agents, who are perhaps most motivated to gauge players’ value and translate that into NBA dollars. An objective sports agent might not exist, but that’s for the NCAA to figure out.

As the rules stand now, the NCAA is failing its student-athletes. A failed system is bound too fall apart as soon as a better alternative presents itself. And that could quickly emerge from the heavily financed underworld of unscrupulous sports agencies and self-employed talent consultants, who might take an even more aggressive stance and try to fill a need in this evaluation process — if the NCAA doesn’t step up to fully educate its players.

2010 Atlantic 10 Post-Mortem

by - Published May 27, 2010 in Conference Notes

The 2009-10 season came after an off-season of transition for the Atlantic 10, as the conference moved its offices from the long-time home of Philadelphia to Newport News, Virginia. That was forgotten once the action got going on the hardwood, and not just because that’s what fans cared about. It was a big year for the conference, as it topped the previous record for non-conference wins with 135 and placed three teams in the NCAA Tournament. For good measure, two teams made a run to the NIT Final Four, with Dayton taking home the title, and three teams made the CBI, with Saint Louis making it to the final before losing to VCU (which also took out George Washington in the opening round).

For a lot of conference play, there was much buzz about how many teams might make the NCAA Tournament. At one point, many felt the conference could get as many as six teams, especially with the weak Pac-10, disappointing Big Ten and down years in conferences like the ACC and Conference USA. Six teams were certainly in play for a while, but much like two years ago, some of the teams in the bottom half of the conference started playing spoiler late in the season.

The post-season has been a good one thus far for the conference in the coaching ranks. Chris Mooney and Brian Gregory passed on overtures from other schools who had head coaching vacancies to stay with Richmond and Dayton, respectively. Fordham hired Tom Pecora to take over its program, while Charlotte hired Alan Major, regarded by many as an under-the-radar assistant, to take over for Bobby Lutz. Overall, there is some stability, which bodes well for the future.

Final Standings

Overall Atlantic 10
Temple 29-6 14-2
Xavier 26-9 14-2
Richmond 26-9 13-3
Saint Louis 23-13 11-5
Charlotte 19-12 9-7
Rhode Island 26-10 9-7
Dayton 24-12 8-8
Duquesne 16-16 7-9
St. Bonaventure 15-16 7-9
George Washington 16-15 6-10
Massachusetts 12-20 5-11
Saint Joseph’s 11-20 5-11
La Salle 12-18 4-12
Fordham 2-26 0-16

Conference Tournament

The first round took place at campus sites, with the home team winning three of the four games by double digits. The only game that did not fit that description was UMass’ 59-56 win at Charlotte in a defensive struggle. The seeds held in the quarterfinals save for Rhode Island’s 63-47 win over Saint Louis, although Xavier had to hold off Dayton and Richmond had to do the same with UMass to move on. Temple shut down Rhode Island for a 57-44 win in one semifinal, while Richmond needed overtime to knock off Xavier in a great game in the other semifinal. The Spiders got a game-tying layup from Kevin Anderson (27 points) to send it to overtime, where David Gonzalvez (26 points) hit a three-pointer to start them on the road to victory in the extra session.

In the championship game, Temple appeared to pull away early in the second half as they were up four at the half and led by 12 with just over 12 minutes left. But Richmond rallied, holding the Owls to just 33 percent from the field in the second half, and made it a ballgame late, where the Owls had to make free throws to seal the 56-52 win.

Postseason Awards

Player of the Year: Kevin Anderson, Richmond

Rookie of the Year: Chris Gaston, Fordham

Most Improved Player: Chris Johnson, Dayton

Defensive Player of the Year: Damian Saunders, Duquesne

Coach of the Year: Fran Dunphy, Temple

All-Conference Team

Kevin Anderson, Jr. G, Richmond

Lavoy Allen, Jr. F, Temple

Jordan Crawford, So. G, Xavier

Damian Saunders, Jr. F, Duquesne

Chris Wright, Jr. F, Dayton

Season Highlights

  • Of the 135 non-conference wins, 19 came against BCS conferences. That ranked fourth this season behind the Big 12 (28 wins), SEC (25) and ACC (25).
  • Fran Dunphy continues to be a master on the bench. Temple lost a lot from last season’s team, including Dionte Christmas, but all the Owls did was win 29 games and their third straight conference title.
  • The All-Atlantic 10 first team didn’t have a single senior, although one member of it (Jordan Crawford) will not be back next season.
  • Rhode Island didn’t finish the regular season well after winning a lot of close games early, but Jim Baron became the first Ram coach to lead the team to three straight 20-win seasons.
  • Although they faded in conference play, George Washington had a nice non-conference run that included five road wins. Only two teams in the conference won more road games than the seven the Colonials posted in total on the season.

What we expected, and it happened: Xavier had a new coach and no clear go-to guy, but the Musketeers continued to win. They didn’t miss a beat with Chris Mack taking over for the departed Sean Miller, and Jordan Crawford became the star of the team. Mack posted the most wins of any first-year coach in Division I, and the Musketeers reached the Sweet 16 for the third straight season.

What we expected, and it didn’t happen: La Salle was far from the contender many expected them to be, finishing 4-12 in the conference and not making the conference tournament. The Explorers were a senior-laden team, but an early injury to Ruben Guillandeaux set them back and a foot injury to Kimmani Barrett around the start of conference play was a back-breaker. The Explorers didn’t win a game in the month of February after they looked like they might come to life early in Atlantic 10 play. They weren’t deep in the backcourt before the injury to Guillandeaux, who started the season strong, and it showed as no team turned the ball over more than the Explorers did. They didn’t make up for it at the other end as only one team forced fewer turnovers.

What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Saint Louis finished in fourth place and made a deep postseason run, reaching the championship of the CBI. The Billikens looked to be at least a year away with a roster that featured 11 freshmen and sophomores and no seniors. But they racked up a good record in a manageable non-conference slate, then started February with six straight wins.

Team(s) on the rise: Saint Louis. The Billikens had no seniors on the roster, and after getting to the final of the CBI expectations will certainly be higher next season.

Team(s) on the decline: Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks were expected to be in rebuilding mode this year, but they looked worse than a rebuilding team. The upshot is that they finished with a winning record at home in their first year in the new arena, but there wasn’t much else to write home about this year and next year isn’t certain to be much, if any, better. Three players have transferred, Darren Govens and Garrett Williamson graduate and only two seniors will be on next year’s roster.

2010-11 Atlantic 10 Outlook

As good as this year was, next year could be even better for the conference. Ten all-conference players return next year, including four of five from the first team, as well as a strong crop of players that comprised the All-Rookie team. Stability is ever-present with many teams, especially from a coaching standpoint. Teams that lose key players won’t drop all the way back; Xavier and Temple will be fine, as will Dayton despite graduating several starters. Richmond shouldn’t be a one-year wonder, and Jim Baron appears to have Rhode Island in a good place although they’ve fallen agonizingly short of the NCAA Tournament a couple of times recently. Saint Louis, St. Bonaventure and George Washington appear to be on the way up, although a few teams don’t look to be on the rise right now. The immediate future for some middling programs like Charlotte, Duquesne and UMass is a little tough to figure right now.

A year ago, the conference’s move to Newport News, Virginia seemed like an odd destination given the conference’s geographic footprint. It had to make one wonder what the future of the conference would look like. Right now, the future looks quite positive based on the season just completed and what the season ahead could look like.

Bracket Breakdown: How the Atlantic 10 Will Fare

by - Published March 16, 2010 in Columns

The Atlantic 10 Conference didn’t receive a lot of respect from the selection committee after a fantastic season. Temple, Xavier and Richmond will look to prove that they are better teams than their seeds would indicate. But a couple of them have tough match ups. Here is a preview of the Atlantic 10 teams in the Big Dance.

Temple Owls (Overall: 29-5, A-10: 14-2)

No. 5 seed, East Region

The Owls have to be wondering what more they need to do to earn a top four seed. The selection committee gave Temple a No. 5 seed in the East Region after the Owls finished 29-5, won both the regular-season and tournament titles, and knocked off Villanova in non-conferece action. But Temple won’t whine about positioning — this team is too mentally tough for that. And that toughness has the Owls poised for a potentially shocking tournament run — if they can past pesky No. 12-seed Cornell first.

Temple is heavily imbalanced toward defense. But that defense is impeccable. The Owls are No. 1 in the country in effective field goal percentage, according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency statistics. Temple shuts down opposing team’s perimeter players, allowing them to shoot only 28.1 percent from three-point range. But it’s not any easier to score inside the arc against Temple. The Owls’ opponents shoot only 42.5 percent from there.

On offense, Temple is not exactly a juggernaut. The Owls don’t shoot particularly well from anywhere. But they don’t commit many turnovers or beat themselves. Guards Ryan Brooks and Juan Fernandez lead the offense with 14.3 points per game and 12.6 points per game, respectively. Fernandez is the perfect foil for opponents’ three-point shooters because he makes 46.1 percent of this long-range shots. It won’t be easy for opponents to make deep shots, but when they do, Fernandez will be ready to answer.

And he might need to do so often in the first round if Temple’s vaunted defense falters against Cornell, the best three-point shooting team in the nation. The Big Red hit 43.8 percent of their shots from the perimeter. But Cornell doesn’t play great defense, which should aid Temple’s plodding offense. The Owls should get past Cornell in a low-scoring, ugly match up. No. 4-seed Wisconsin will likely await. Like Cornell, the Badgers rely heavily on three-pointers. Temple and Wisconsin are nearly mirror images of each other, except Wisconsin’s offense is far more efficient while Temple’s defense is tougher.

In the end, Wisconsin’s better balance will deliver the win, but either team figures to match up well against No. 1-seed Kentucky in the Sweet 16. If Temple can find a way out of Jacksonville, Fla., with two wins, the Owls could easily be playing for a Final Four berth in Syracuse March 27.

Xavier Musketeers (Overall: 24-8, A-10: 14-2)

No. 6 seed, West Region

Unlike Richmond and Temple, Xavier can’t complain much about its seeding. The Musketeers might be worthy of a No. 5 seed, but there’s nothing wrong with No. 6 in the West, especially with Minnesota on the slate in the first round. Minnesota played four games in four days during the Big Ten tournament and a total of five games in eight days.

Xavier relies on a balanced offense led by sophomore Jordan Crawford, famous for dunking on LeBron James last summer. The Musketeers will need Crawford to become famous for big-time performances in the tournament if Xavier plans to advance past one round. Crawford averages 19.7 points per game and shoots 39 percent from three-point range. Minnesota is vulnerable to teams that shoot well from long range, allowing opponents to shoot 34.0 percent from behind the arc. That might make Dante Jackson and Brad Redford, both of whom shoot about 40 percent from three-point land, more critical in the first round than Xavier fans might expect.

In a tight one, the Musketeers will advance to face No. 3-seed Pittsburgh, which eliminated the Musketeers in the Sweet 16 last season. But Xavier will once again fall short against the Panthers in another tight game. Pitt’s slow pace, orchestrated by junior Brad Wanamaker and senior Jermaine Dixon, will frustrate the up-tempo Musketeers. With only one senior starter, Xavier figures to be back next season when the Musketeers will be better equipped to make another deep run in the turnament.

Richmond Spiders (Overall: 26-8, A-10: 13-3)

No. 7 seed, South Region

The Spiders entered Selection Sunday figuring that five wins against the RPI top 50, including wins against conference heavyweights Temple and Xavier, would deliver a No. 5 or 6 seed. But Richmond slipped to No. 7 in the South Region and gets a tough first-round game against No. 10-seed Saint Mary’s.

Richmond is a defensive-minded team that runs coach Chris Mooey’s version of the Princeton offense. The result is a slow-paced, perimeter-oriented attack. The backcourt duo of Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez pace Richmond’s offense by probing the opponents’ defense for easy layups. If the close-in shot isn’t available, they look outside, where Justin Harper and Ryan Butler are also legitimate long-range threats. Each of the Spiders’ top four scorers has made at least 37 three-pointers this season and attempted more than 100.

Although Richmond is great at avoiding turnovers and plays stifling defense, the Spiders might just be facing their worst possible first-round match up. Saint Mary’s has plenty of long players who can bother the Spiders’ three-point threats. And senior Omar Samhan is a game-changing defensive stalwart who hoovers up all rebounds. The Gaels have the fourth-best three-point defense in the country. Saint Mary’s will likely shut down the perimeter game, and Samhan can single-handedly erase the Spiders’ cuts to the basket.

A one-and-done performance will overshadow a fantastic season for the Spiders, who fortunately will return all but two of their major contributors next season.

Bracket Breakdown: Atlantic 10 and Mountain West Get Little Respect

by - Published March 14, 2010 in Columns

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 11:15 a.m., March 16, 2010, to indicate that UNLV beat New Mexico once during the regular season.

In the final Mock Tournament this afternoon, four teams from the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West conferences received a No. 5 seed or better: New Mexico, Temple, Richmond and Xavier.

The selection committee only agreed with New Mexico’s position. Even though the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 conferences ranked No. 6 and 7, respectively, in the RPI, they failed to receive much respect in seeding from the committee. Projected to be a No. 5 seed, Richmond fell to No. 7. UNLV also slipped two lines, from No. 6 to No. 8.

Although BYU was only seeded No. 7 by the selection committee, the Cougars might have received the biggest break of any team from the Mountain West or Atlantic 10. They would get to play Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in Salt Lake City if they can find a way past No. 10 Florida and probably No. 2 Kansas State. Of course, BYU would have its hands full against the Wildcats in Oklahoma City.

No. 5-seed Temple might feel slighted that power conference teams like Vanderbilt and Maryland received No. 4 seeds even though the Owls have more wins against the RPI top 50 than those teams do. The Owls also won their conference championship, but Vanderbilt and Maryland didn’t make it to their conference championship games.

UNLV’s reward for winning four games against the RPI top 25, including games against No. 3-seed New Mexico and BYU, is a No. 8 seed and has a potential second-round match up against top-seeded Kansas in Oklahoma City. The Mock Tournament projected UNLV to be a No. 6 seed because the Rebels have several quality wins.

Although the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West teams received more difficult draws than the Mock Tournament projected, they can prove their value by knocking off some higher-seeded opponents. Temple matches up well with Wisconsin, and BYU has a real chance to make a deep run in the West region. If the Cougars find a way past Kansas State, they will feed off the home crowd in Salt Lake City against No. 1 Syracuse, No. 3 Pittsburgh or any other highly seeded team that they crosses paths with.

Bracket Breakdown: Pac-10′s Struggles Will Benefit Mountain West, Atlantic 10

by - Published January 30, 2010 in Columns

With the Pac-10 experiencing more upheaval than the conference has had in 20 years, it’s increasingly likely that the Pac-10 won’t field more than one team in the NCAA Tournament if California wins the conference’s automatic bid.

Since 1989, the Pac-10 has had no fewer than three bids in the NCAA Tournament, and that only happened twice. In the past three tournaments, the Pac-10 has placed six teams in the field. With the sudden decline of traditional powerhouses such as Arizona and UCLA, a couple other conferences stand to benefit, specifically the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West.

Entering the final weekend of January, only one Pac-10 team, California, has an RPI better than 50. And Cal’s solid computer profile — an RPI of 18 — largely depends on the second toughest schedule in the country. But the Golden Bears have fared poorly against those tough teams, losing all four games against top 50 opponents. Only half the conference has any wins against teams in the RPI top 50.

Besides California, every other Pac-10 team has significant hurdles to overcome. The second-place team, Arizona, already has nine losses and is only two games better than .500. The Wildcats probably need to win eight or nine of their final 10 conference games to have a legitimate shot at the NCAA Tournament. Part of the problem is that with so many struggling teams, it’s hard for a team like Arizona to notch any résumé-building victories.

Meanwhile, the Mountain West has four teams in contention for at-large bids. BYU is 20-2 and has an RPI of 22.  The second-place team, New Mexico, is 19-3 and has a higher RPI, at 11. UNLV and San Diego State also are in the top 50 and figure to remain in the at-large discussion until Selection Sunday. In existence since 1999, the conference has never fielded four teams in the NCAA Tournament.

On the East Coast — and Midwest and Southeast — the Atlantic 10 Conference, which has 14 teams, looks ever stronger. The conference’s pre-season favorite, Dayton, sits at seventh place entering the final weekend of January. The Flyers match the Pac-10′s best, California, with a 14-6 record, but Dayton has two wins against teams in the RPI top 50. The team’s non-conference strength of schedule is excellent at No. 20, and the best win is against surging Georgia Tech. No offense to the Ohio Valley Conference’s premier program, but California’s best win is against Murray State on opening day. If you had to pick right now, whom do you want in the NCAA Tournament — California or Dayton?

Besides the Flyers, Temple, Xavier, Charlotte and Rhode Island all have compelling arguments for automatic bids. Temple has the best victory of any team in the Atlantic 10, Mountain West or Pac-10 with an upset of Villanova — the Wildcats’ only loss entering the last weekend of January.

So while the Pac-10 could flirt with one-bid conference status, several strong teams in the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West are poised to seize an opportunity to grab more automatic bids for two non-power conferences. Based on the Pac-10′s performance this season, it’s hard to consider it a power conference on par with the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten and SEC.

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2013-14 Big Sky Post-Mortem

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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

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2013-14 Big 12 Post-Mortem

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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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