Atlantic Sun Tournament Schedule

24 Feb

Atlantic Sun Quarterfinals Schedule: Monday, Feb. 27th
No. 1 FGCU (23-7) vs. No. 8 Stetson (11-20) – 7 PM ET

FGCU swept season series 89-88 and 80-70
No. 2 Lipscomb (19-12) vs. No. 7 NJIT (11-19) – 7 PM CT

Lipscomb swept the season series 66-62 and 87-63
No. 3 North Florida (13-18) vs. No. 6 Jacksonville (17-14) – 7 PM ET

North Florida swept season series 80-64 and 73-69
No. 4 USC Upstate (17-14) vs. No. 5 Kennesaw State (13-17) – 7 PM ET

Teams split season series USC-Upstate won 79-73 and Kennesaw St won 84-79

Atlantic Sun Semifinals: Tuesday, March 2nd

Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 4

Winner Game 2 vs. Winner Game 3

Atlantic Sun Championship: Saturday, March 5th

Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6 3:00 pm ET

High Major Mediocrity May Meet the Mid Majors

21 Feb

The annual debate that takes place in regards to the selection process for the NCAA Tournament is would it make a better tournament to have mediocre high major teams or mid major teams with decent resumes.  This year we might actually get to find out as both could possibly end up in the bracket on Selection Sunday.

There are still over two weeks until the tournament field will be revealed so a lot can change, but in the latest version of multiple brackets, teams such as Clemson, Texas Tech, Seton Hall and Tennessee are either in the field or right on the cusp of being so.  Taking a closer look at these teams shows how much mediocrity is filling up the at-large pool right now.

Clemson is currently 14-12 and just 4-10 in the ACC (13th out of 15 teams).  The Tigers have just four top 50 RPI wins (Wake Forest twice, UNC-Wilmington and South Carolina) which is the same number of true road wins the Tigers have this season.  The big saving grace for Clemson is their 18th best strength of schedule by virtue of playing in a conference that could get as many as ten teams into the tournament.

Texas Tech is in a similar position they are 15-10 and just 5-10 in the Big 12.  The Red Raiders are probably in a more precarious position due to their two top 50 wins and one road win at Richmond.  Much like Clemson, Texas Tech is hanging their hat on their two top 50 wins against Baylor and West Virginia and the fact that nine of the team’s 11 losses have been by single digits.  The death knell for the Red Raiders however might be its 338th   non-conference strength of schedule.

The Seton Hall Pirates are 16-10 (6-8 in the Big East) which is good for just 6th in the conference.  They do have three top 50 wins but only one is in conference, at home against Creighton.  Much like Texas Tech, the Pirates have just two road wins and like the other teams being discussed here, he team’s non-conference schedule has left something to be desired, ranked 159th.

Tennessee might have the best case to make, they are 15-12 and 7-7 in the SEC.  They have just two top 50 wins over Kentucky and on the road at Vanderbilt.  Unlike the other teams though, the Volunteers challenged themselves before SEC play, facing the likes of North Carolina, Gonzaga, Oregon and Wisconsin.  That schedule has given them a top 10 strength of schedule.  All four of the teams’ road wins have come against teams in the RPI top 100.

If these teams find their way into the NCAA Tournament they may find themselves up against a few mid to low major teams that have had solid seasons like Monmouth, Vermont, Belmont and UNC-Wilmington.

At 23-5 and 15-2 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference the Monmouth Hawks have clinched top seed in their conference tournament.  A year after finishing the regular season 25-6 with wins over UCLA, Notre Dame, USC and Georgetown but being left out of the Big Dance after falling to Iona in the conference tournament final the Hawks are looking to not only make the field but make some noise.  They do have just one top 100 RPI win (Princeton), but they also only had four such chances.

The America East conference has grown in strength thanks to the sustained success of Stony Brook, Albany and Vermont over the last ten years.  This year Vermont (24-5, 14-0) is again on the cusp of locking up the top seed for the conference tournament .  Like Monmouth, the Catamounts had just four games against the RPI top 100 with 0 wins but they do have three true road wins on the season.  Any team that potentially goes through their conference schedule undefeated is someone you don’t want to see in your bracket on Selection Sunday.

The Ohio Valley’s Belmont Bruins is a mid-major that seems to be on the Cinderella/bracket buster landscape every year and 2017 is no different.  At 20-5 and 14-1 in the OVC the Bruins have clinched the top spot for the OVC tournament.  Much like the other mid majors discussed here the Bruins have just four top 100 games with no wins but coach Rick Byrd will have the Bruins ready to make a run in the OVC tournament and into the NCAA Tournament.

The best of this bunch may be the Colonial Athletic Association’s UNC-Wilmington Seahawks.   The Seahawks are 24-5 and 13-3 in conference.  Unlike Monmouth, Vermont and Belmont, UNCW doesn’t have a stranglehold on the conference’s top spot.  They have a one game lead over College of Charleston, a team they split the season series with, with two games left in the regular season.  Also unlike the other teams the Seahawks have had seven top 100 RPI games with four wins and three of those are true road wins.

Less than three weeks from Selection Sunday and things are fluid daily but right now the at-large pool is very shallow and that may mean high major mediocrity may finally have to face the mid majors they avoid the first two months of the season.

Rebuilding From Katrina: University of New Orleans Looks to Take Another Step this Year

13 Feb

In the summer of 2005 the Gulf Coast was hit with the most catastrophic storm in decades, Hurricane Katrina.  The storm devastated an entire region that has taken well over a decade to recover.  College and universities all over the gulf were devastated and displaced, student-athletes transferred to schools where they could continue their educations and athletic careers.

One of the schools that was hit hardest in the aftermath of Katrina was the University of New Orleans.  The campus, like the rest of the region was devastated not only structurally but the infrastructural foundation had to be rebuilt.

Before Katrina hit the gulf in 2005 New Orleans had an enrollment of 17,142 and in the immediate aftermath that number plummeted to 6,684 in the back half of 2005.  In 2006 the enrollment nearly doubled up to 11,747 but in the 11 years since Katrina the enrollment at the University of New Orleans hasn’t come close to its pre-Katrina levels.  In fact those numbers have again dropped every year since 2006 down to 8,037 in 2016, the lowest since the storm hit in 2005.  To help alleviate the enrollment issues the Louisiana legislature attempted to merge the campuses of UNO and Southern University New Orleans.  After Katrina the students that remained at the school also struggled in the classroom with only 21% of the undergrad students finishing their degree within a six year span.  Another roadblock in the recovery of the school is that the local government severely cut funding to the schools in the area.

As a result of all of this the athletics at UNO after Katrina were just as unstable as the university itself.    Due to the budget cuts and flooding damage to athletic facilities, the school ended up cutting six of its 15 sports programs.  All of these adversities prompted the school to look into moving from Division 1 all the way down to Division 3.  The Athletic Director at the time Amy Champion says, “The Chancellor at the time of the storm thought downsizing to DIII was the ‘saving grace’ for the department. The students had rejected an increase in the student fee which, in his mind, justified his decision.”   According to Champion the move to Division 3 was rejected by nearly everyone, the LSU System, the community, etc.  The school’s alternative idea of remaining in Division 1 was also rejected and everyone decided to meet in the middle with a move to Division 2 with an invitation to the Gulf South Conference.  Before that could happen however, “We were moving along that path and 4 months later, UNO is moved from the LSU system to the U of L (University of Louisiana) system. The President of the U of L system at the time (he retired 4 months after) decided UNO would remain DI and join the Southland. Despite not having any budget or revenue remotely to support the scholarships required for DI, sports required for DI, facilities, etc.” says Champion.

It is hard enough to win basketball games at the division 1 level but to have to do it after Katrina when you have nearly nothing was an impossible task.  That was indeed the task for Monte Towe in 2006 and Joe Pasternack from 2007-2011.   In addition to the lack of facilities the team still had to recruit and schedule with the instability of not knowing what level the team would be competing at.  From 2006-10 the team finished over .500 just once, in 2008 when they finished 19-13.  The following two years is when the real logistical turmoil took place.  The Privateers finished 2011 at 16-6 playing a schedule made up entirely of non-division 1 opponents and in 2012 they played just eight division 1 games in which they went 1-7.   Things began to somewhat stabilize for New Orleans in 2013 when they found a home in the Southland Conference.  The transition to conference stability hasn’t been easy for new coach Mark Slessinger averaging just 10 victories over the last four seasons, but for New Orleans (and every other university impacted by Katrina) the recovery and rebuilding takes precedence over wins and losses.

It has been 12 years since Katrina and it has been a long road back to recovery, a road they are still on.  This season the Privateers seemed to have turned the corner in the win column. They currently sit atop the Southland Conference at 10-3 and 15-9 overall which is their 2nd highest win total with a division 1 schedule since Katrina.  With five games to play before the Southland Conference tournament the Privateers hold a one game lead over Sam Houston State (who beat New Orleans in their only meeting 70-68).  Their other two conference losses were to Abilene Christian by a point and Stephen F. Austin by 10.  Offensively Slessinger’s squad has three players averaging over 10 points per contest, led by senior forward Erik Thomas and his 19.9 points and 7.8 rebounds (also a team high).  The other two are the Privateers’ senior back court of Christavious Gill (11.7) and Nate Frye (10.2).

What New Orleans has done well this season on the court are a couple of things; they share the ball well, their 16.1 assists per game is 29th best in the country. They also force turnovers at a high rate, their nearly 17 per game is the 12th highest in the country.  They also shoot well at a 47% clip and defend the three-pointer holding opponents to 32%.

Of the 12 division 1 schools based in Louisiana just four; Louisiana-Lafayette, LSU, Northwestern State and Southern have earned a total of eight bids to the NCAA Tournament since Hurricane Katrina but the University of New Orleans is on track to make a run at the NCAA Tournament, the first for the city and clear another roadblock on the road to recovery for the basketball and athletic programs, the school, the city and the Gulf.

SoCon in for a Wild Finish

9 Feb

There are just over two weeks remaining in the Southern Conference schedule and the top four are all within two games of each other.  Furman currently leads the pack at 9-2 followed by Chattanooga and East Tennessee State at 8-3 and UNC-Greensboro at 8-4.  Adding to the uncertainty in the SoCon is that the four teams each have multiple games left against each other starting tonight with Furman hosting Chattanooga.

At 16-8 and 9-2 in the conference tonight’s tilt with Chattanooga is critical for the Furman Paladins having already lost to the Mocs once.  After back-to-back losses at Chattanooga and Wofford the Paladins have rattled off six straight victories.  For a team that averages 75 points per game Furman is 42nd in both scoring defense (65.7) and scoring margin (9.5) as well as 10th in three-point defense (30.1%).  Offensively the Paladins have three players averaging double figures led by junior guard Devin Sibley’s 17.7 a game.

Pre-season favorite Chattanooga is a game behind Furman but they have a chance to pull even with the Paladins with a win tonight completing the season sweep of the SoCon’s top team.  They also have a chance to earn a season split with the team they are tied with, ETSU on 2/18.   The senior-laden and preseason favorite Mocs returned nearly everyone that won 29 games and earned the conference’s automatic bid last season.  The team top five scorers are all seniors and four of the five (Tre’ McLean, Justin Tuoyo, Greg Pryor and Casey Jones) average double figures, while the fifth Johnathan Burroughs-Cook is right on their heels at 9.6.

The other team that is 8-3 the Buccaneers of ETSU are a scoring machine that as well as being highly rated in rebound margin and their ability to get to the free throw line.  The Bucs average over 80 points per game but have only two, T.J. Cromer at 18.4 and Desonta Bradford with 10.7 in double figures, but there are five others that average at least seven per game.  They also rank 30th in scoring margin at 10.9 and they shoot the ball at a 49% clip good enough for 17th in the country.  Despite grabbing just 37.5 rebounds per game they rank 38th in rebound margin (5.6) as well as 20th in steals (8.3) and 21st in free throws taken with 611 but they are just 231st in free throw percentage at 68%.  The Bucs have as good of a chance as any of the top four teams to make hay before season’s end with games against Chattanooga, Furman and a season-ending match up with UNC-Greensboro.

The final team in this front foursome is the Spartans of UNC-Greensboro.  There aren’t a lot numbers that stick out when looking at the Spartans but if there’s a team of these four that could have a say in how the top four finish it is UNCG.  They have already split with Chattanooga and have a chance to do the same with frontrunner Furman on 2/18 and a chance for a season sweep of ETSU on the season’s last day.  Offensively they are led by sophomore Francis Alonso’s 13.7 points while seniors Diante Bladwin and R.J. White combine for 25.3 points per game.

With the end of the regular season now in sight for a large number of the non-power conferences there will be a lot of jockeying before tournament time comes, but the Southern Conference will be a wild ride we should keep an eye on.

Akron and North Carolina Central Making the Tournament Would Be a Good Thing

9 Feb

Last season I wrote about how an unpredictable and exciting NCAA Tournament is in part reliant on the smaller conference tournaments having the top seeds win them and sending their best teams to the tournament.  While there is about three weeks to go before the final hierarchy of those conferences to shake out there are a couple conferences that have clear-cut favorites that we should hope win their tournaments.

Akron and North Carolina Central lead the Mid-American and Mid-Eastern Athletic conferences respectively.  The Akron Zips are 20-4 overall and 10-1 in the conference while the next closest teams in the MAC sit four games back at 6-5 with just seven games left in the regular season.  While NC Central  at 8-1 only leads Norfolk State by a half game and Morgan State by a full game with seven games left to play, the Eagles are the only team in the conference with an above .500 overall record at 17-6.

After an opening season loss to Youngstown State, the Zips reeled off 19 of their next 21 including 12 straight after a loss to #8 Gonzaga.  The other loss in that stretch came to #10 Creighton, the team’s lone conference loss also came on the road at Ohio this past Saturday.  Despite averaging over 23 wins the past four seasons the Zips have just one trip to the NCAA Tournament over that span that resulted in a blowout loss to VCU four seasons ago.

Coach Keith Dambrot now has 12 20-win seasons in his 13 years on the job.  While not many stats catch your eye one that will is that they are seventh in the country in 3-point field goals made per game at 10.4 and eighth in total 3’s made but one of the team’s senior leaders and leading scorer Isaiah Johnson is a 6-10 center and not attempted a 3 pointer all year.  The Zips second leading scorer and leading rebounder Kwan Cheatham, Jr. has made a team-high 54 threes.  The Zips are looking to get another shot at the NCAA Tournament and if they can be as dominant in March as they have been so far they will get that chance.

In the MEAC only one team has a winning record and has already beaten their two closest competitors, the North Carolina Central Eagles.  Coach LeVelle Moton has gotten his Eagles to the NCAA Tournament just once in the last four seasons despite 22 wins per campaign over that span.  The Eagles began the season 0-2 after a six-point loss to Ohio State they finished the non-conference portion of their schedule 9-3.  They then began conference play with a 69-68 loss to Delaware State after scoring the game’s final six points left them just short.  Since then the Eagles’ closest game was a six-point victory at Morgan State.

Moton’s squad hangs its hat on defense giving up just over 63 points per game, 20th best in the country but during conference play that number goes down to just 60 points per game.  The Eagles also hold teams to just 39% from the field and 30.4% from three point land.  The other thing that makes NC Central successful is its senior back court of Patrick Cole and Dajuan Graf who are the only to Eagles to average double figures with a combined 34.4 points per game along with 10.4 rebounds and 10.5 assists.

Akron and NC Central aren’t locks to win a game in the tournament by any means but they have the elements to make the first weekend a little more intriguing.

From Turmoil to the Tournament?

27 Jan

Last year at this time SMU had little to play for.  The Mustangs were without their head coach Larry Brown for nine games during the season and were banned from postseason play for multiple NCAA infractions, including academic fraud.  They continued to play hard despite the finality of their season and finished 25-5.  They have continued that momentum into the 2016-17 season.

Brown abruptly resigned before the season and assistant Tim Jankovich was named head man.  Also gone are leading scorers Nic Moore and Keith Frazier.  But the Mustangs currently sit at 18-4 including an 8-1 record in the American, the lone loss being a two-point defeat at conference leading Cincinnati.

So how has SMU kept the ball rolling after last season?  One word: defense.  The Mustangs are 4th in the country in points allowed per game at just 59.4.  It is not only the points but they hold opponents under 40% from the field and average almost 40 rebounds per game good enough for 29th in the country.  They share the ball to the tune of nearly 17 assists per game while turning it over just 11.4 times per contest.

Offensively they are averaging over 73 points per game and those points come from a balanced attack with four players in double figures and another on the cusp at 9.6 points.  They are led by junior Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye averaging 17.7 points and seniors Ben Moore and Sterling Brown 11.9 and 11.2 points respectively and sophomore Shake Milton pours in 13.5.  It is those four guys and sophomore Jarrey Foster that pull in 30.9 of the team’s 39 rebounds per game.

Along with Cincinnati the Mustangs are the clear class of their conference and after a season of turmoil from start to finish SMU seems to be in line to show everyone what they missed out on last March.

Marquette’s Time to Make Strides

18 Jan

In the three years prior to Coach Steve Wojciechowski’s arrival Marquette was hardly wallowing in losing seasons and bad teams.  Now in his third season the program has his footprint with his recruits and his style and the Golden Eagles are turning the corner and looking for an NCAA Tournament bid.

In Buzz Williams’ final three seasons Marquette averaged 24 wins with two trips to the Sweet 16 and an Elite Eight appearance in 2013. In Williams’ final season Marquette finished 17-15 and at 9-9 in the Big East.  After the season Williams jumped to the ACC and Virginia Tech and Marquette hired Wojciechowski who was a longtime assistant at Duke.

His first season as a head coach wasn’t exactly picture perfect with a 13-19 record and winning just four games in the Big East.  The team struggled scoring, rebounding and nearly all aspects of the game especially during conference play where they scored 68 points per game but gave up over 76.  In his second year Wojciechowski’s squad saw a seven game improvement finishing the season at 20-13 but again struggling in conference play finishing just 8-10.  While the wins and losses showed an improvement, the team really improved offensively averaging 76 points per game and shot much better from the field at nearly 47%.  The team still struggled to get stops on the defensive end giving up 74 points per game, but when they did get stops they were also much better on the defensive glass grabbing over 26 per contest.  One of the reasons Marquette showed improvements offensively is because they had more scoring options.  Last season they had five players average double figure points led by freshman Henry Ellenson who scored 17 and grabbed nearly 10 rebounds per game.  Ellenson left for the NBA after his one season but the other four who averaged double figures; Luke Fischer, Duane Wilson, Jujuan Johnson and Haanif Cheathem have all returned for this season.

So far this season the Golden Eagles are 3-3 in the Big East with wins over the bottom three teams DePaul, Georgetown and Seton Hall.   Through the first six games they are averaging 79 points per game but are still giving up over 76 per contest and still struggling rebounding the ball at just 33 per game is 307th in the nation.  The good news for Marquette is there is still plenty of time to take another step forward with six games remaining against the four teams currently ahead of them in the standings.  Offensively the team is more balanced than in Wojciechowski’s first couple of seasons with freshman Markus Howard and senior Katin Reinhardt joining the returning trio as double digit scorers add to that a couple of guards, freshman Sam Hauser and junior Andrew Rowsey average 9.2 and 9.3 respectively.

It has been baby steps for Marquette in the last couple of seasons and for the Golden Eagles to continue to move forward they will need to get a marquee win or two before March and make strides towards the top of the Big East.

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