Grand Canyon Looking to Take a Big Leap

14 Nov

At first Grand Canyon University was one of those online schools you saw advertising on TV, and then they applied to be a part of division one athletics.  Usually when teams go through the reclassification process they struggle while adjusting to division 1 basketball.  The Antelopes have faced fewer growing pains than the fledgling division one programs under head coach Dan Majerle.

Despite being ineligible for the NCAA Tournament during the reclassification process, Grand Canyon has earned three bids to the CIT Tournament since 2014 and earned their first-ever postseason wins in 2016 beating South Carolina State and Jackson State before falling to Coastal Carolina by two in the semifinals.

In the four years prior to becoming eligible for the NCAA Tournament this year Majerle’s squad won 81 games and never finished below .500.  Over that time they also have wins over New Mexico, Houston, Marshall, Central Michigan and San Diego State twice.  That kind of success is rarely seen in transitioning teams.  The Antelopes never finished lower than third in the Western Athletic Conference over the last four seasons.

DeWayne Russell was the team’s leading scorer last season averaging over 21 points per game, but he has graduated and Antelopes must replace him.  Majerle does return seven of the remaining eight players that saw action in at least 20 games and over 14 minutes per game last season including the second leading scorer guard Joshua Braun who averaged over 17 points last season.  The roster also has its share of newcomers with five freshmen and Oregon transfer Casey Benson who has made an immediate impact with 17 points, six rebounds and four assists in a win over Robert Morris on Monday.

Defensively over the first two games GCU has given up just 56 points per game and forced a total of 41 turnovers.  This year’s schedule has the likes of St. John’s, Boise State, Louisville and Illinois on it.  Don’t be surprised if Majerle’s men are well on their way to another 20+ win season before beginning WAC play at Seattle on Jan. 6.  This year however the rest of the WAC will have to put up with the Antelopes in the WAC Tournament.  Grand Canyon has lofty expectations in their first year of NCAA Tournament eligibility and the means to get there.

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South Dakota Becoming a Hoops Hotbed

13 Nov

Certain states are a hotbed for college basketball.  North Carolina has tobacco road with the likes of North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest.  Indiana has Indiana, Butler and Purdue among others and Kentucky has the Wildcats and Louisville.  Over the past two or three seasons South Dakota has become a quasi-hotbed for mid major hoops and is the state the Summit League title will run through again thanks to the intrastate rivalry that has developed between the South Dakota Coyotes and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.

In 2015 the Jackrabbits took down the Coyotes in the Summit League semifinals.  Last season South Dakota won its first league championship under the tutelage of head coach Craig Smith finishing 12-4 in conference and 22 wins overall, but again met up with their nemesis in the conference semifinals and again South Dakota State came out on top in an albeit closer game 74-71 on their way to the tournament title.  This season the two Mount Rushmore State squads are the consensus favorites again in the Summit League.

Coach Smith returns six of his top eight scorers including leading scorer, junior guard Matt Mooney who averaged over 19 points per game.  The Coyotes have to replace their leading rebounder and assist man from last season, Tyler Black and Trey Dickerson respectively but junior Trey Burch-Manning  averaged 6.6 rebounds and sophomore Triston Simpson 2.5 assists last season seem more than ready to step into those roles.  The Coyotes have a schedule that will test them before league play begins.  They have games at TCU, Duke and UCLA.

South Dakota State has been a bellwether program in the Summit league for the past six seasons with three regular season titles, four conference championships and four NCAA Tournament appearances since 2012.    The reigning two-time Summit Tournament champions return their two double digit scorers from last season Reed Tellinghuisen (11.7) and junior Mike Daum not only averaged 25.1 points and 8.1 rebounds last season but there is some talk that Daum could end up an All-American by the end of the season.  Like their rivals, Coach T.J. Otzelberger has a few tests in his non-conference schedule to get his team ready for Summit League play. The Jackrabbits play at Kansas and Wichita State as well as a match up with Missouri Valley favorite Missouri State.

They may not have the lineage, history or following of those teams in North Carolina, Indiana and Kentucky but for the middle of the country, mid majors and certainly the Summit League the state of South Dakota is becoming a hoops hotbed thanks to the Coyotes and Jackrabbits.

Jaylen is the Name for 2017

3 Nov

Some may remember from the 1980’s show Newhart, Larry with his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl.  Well college basketball has its own version of that with Northwestern State’s Jalan West with his hoop brother Jaylen Adams of St. Bonaventure and his other brother Jalen Adams of Connecticut.  If you have a variation of the name Jaylen, chances are you will put up major numbers during this season.

Jalan West stepped foot on the Northwestern State campus in 2011 when he redshirted for the year.  Fast forward to 2017 and the same West has been granted a rare seventh year of eligibility after tearing his ACL during the first game of his senior year in 2015 and subsequently tearing the same ligament in July of 2016 and receiving back-to-back medical redshirts.  When he was on the floor, West was a star for the Demons and the Southland Conference in general.  After being named Freshman of the Year averaging 10 points and five assists.  As a sophomore he jumped up to over 19 points, six assists and four rebounds.  The second game of his sophomore he tallied 30 points, six assists and nine rebounds in a 19 point win over Auburn.  He was the only player in the country to average at least 19 points, four rebounds, six assists and 2.5 steals.  As a junior he jumped up to 20 points a game and 7.7 assists per contest, good enough to lead the nation. So entering his final season big things were expected of Adams and he was off to a good start with 25 points and six assists against Ole Miss before he suffered his injury which has led him to a long road back and his seventh year of eligibility.

Heading north from Louisiana to New York where St. Bonaventure is home to someone who is on a similar statistical path to West.   Senior guard Jaylen Adams averaged 10 points and 4.5 assists as a freshman and over 20 points and six assists last year.  Now entering his final season with the Bonnies he is one of the most dynamic guards in the country and has St. Bonaventure potentially on the cusp of their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012.   The Bonnies were picked to finish second in the Atlantic 10 (behind Rhode Island) and Adams was selected to the First Team All A-10.  Look for Adams’ numbers to increase yet again this season.

In Connecticut junior guard Jalen Adams gets the keys to a Huskies team that has been depleted by graduation and transfers.  Adams made a significant jump between his freshman and sophomore seasons.  In his first campaign he averaged 7.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists and last season he nearly doubled each of those categories with 14.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists.  Adams really put himself on the map during the Maui Invitational where he averaged 28 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds over the three games in Hawaii.  Conference play will be an important indicator for Adams, last season his points per game dropped to 14 against American foes.

There are certainly more high-profile names elsewhere in the country but at least in Louisiana, New York and Connecticut this will be the year of Jalan, make that Jaylen, I mean Jalen.

Is this the Year for Texas-Arlington?

2 Nov

Over the past six seasons the Sun Belt Conference tournament has been hit or miss for the conference’s top teams.  While the top four seeds have reached the semifinals the last four years, the top seed has only been able to seal the deal twice.

This season a familiar face has been tabbed to be atop the conference.  Scott Cross’ UT-Arlington Mavericks have won 51 games over the last two years.  In that time they have victories over the likes of Saint Mary’s, BYU, Texas, Ohio State and Memphis.  The Mavericks’ season culminated in a trip to the NIT Quarterfinals after being upended in the Sun Belt semifinals.

After winning 27 games cross did lose three starters in Jalen Jones, Drew Charles and Jorge Bilbao, a trio that averaged over 29 points and 13 rebounds per contest.   While that trio was important to UT-Arlington’s success, they do return an equally important trio in seniors Kevin Hervey and Erick Neal who combined for nearly a triple double per game last season with 27.7 points, 12 rebounds and 8.7 assists. The third member of the trio is Coach Cross who interviewed for the opening at New Mexico but didn’t get it. The Mavericks have some replacing to do but have no shortage of candidates to fill those spots.

Senior Kaelon Wilson is someone who was a spot starter for the Mavs last year and seen on the same level as the departed Charles and Jones by Cross who hopes Wilson can step into a starting role and help continue the recent success the Mavericks have enjoyed.  Another addition who could pay big dividends is a JuCo transfer from Hill College (Tx) Davion Turner.  The 6-9 forward averaged 12.9 points and 7.3 rebounds last season while shooting 49% from the field and 35% from 3.  Another guy who could fill another wing position is red-shirt junior Mairega Clarke whose best asset is his ability to finish in transition.  Cross’ most promising freshman would be 6-5 David Azore who averaged 25 and 8 at Houston’s Clear Brook High School last year.  In the middle the Mavs hope to get some help from a pair of 7-footers, senior Link Kabadyundi who Coach Cross says has made the biggest jump from the end of last year till now in terms of development and Grad transfer Johnny Hamilton who played in just three games at Virginia Tech last season.

Looking at the schedule the big resume building chances early on for Texas-Arlington are a pair of games in the Barclay’s Center Classic against BYU and Alabama and a mid-December match up at Creighton.

After the last two seasons, this is the year that Cross and the Mavericks need to break through and reach the NCAA Tournament because Scott Cross is a growing hot commodity in the coaching ranks and there is no telling how much longer he will be at the helm in Arlington.

How to Close the Scheduling Gap

18 Aug

Over the past few seasons the NCAA Selection Committee has done a good job at making what they do more transparent.  They have allowed media members to join in mock committees for example, and this past year they talked to some of the best analytical minds in the sport to try and tweak the metrics that they use and even try to come up with a universal metric that they can use going forward.  Over the summer they announced another slight change where road wins will carry slightly more weight than home victories in the eyes of the committee this season.  These are all positive steps for the committee and their selection process but one major hurdle still exists that greatly impacts that process, the scheduling chasm between the haves and the have nots in college basketball.

Every selection Sunday people talk about the reason why mid-majors x,y, and z didn’t make the field and the answer is almost always, ”they didn’t win enough high-profile games”, while a middling high major team who has two or three times as many opportunities at high-profile games makes the field.  While the committee tweaks its process, scheduling is actually the biggest hurdle in getting the best teams into the tournament.  For a few years ESPN had the BracketBuster event which thrust mid-major teams into the spotlight.  The problem was those teams would play each other, thus giving one of them a potentially resume crushing loss before March.

To close the scheduling gap I propose the solution of using the new metric rumored to be adopted by the NCAA and pitting the top 10 conferences by that metric against the middle 10 in an ACC/Big 10 Challenge type format.

How it would work

Annually:

-Using the metric adopted by the NCAA a top 10 conference would be randomly matched up with a middle 10 conference.

-Once those match ups are set, randomly match up teams within those conferences so that every team from a middle 10 conference gets a game with a team in the top 10 conference it is matched up with.

-This process should be done early enough so any top 10 conference team without a game in this process can fill its schedule if need be.

-The randomization will be repeated if needed so that there are no repeat match ups in back-to-back years.

-Each resulting game would have a five-year window to complete a home-and-home series.

Logistics:

-Games will be played at all NCAA Tournament sites for that year (or future years if there are scheduling conflicts).

-Games will be played in Mid-February much like the BracketBusters.

-Games will be played at the most geo-centric venue to both teams.

-Games will be played with doubleheaders on Thursday and Friday and tripleheaders on Saturday and Sunday as needed.

-Gate money for the games will be split four ways with money going to each conference as well as each institution.

What happens to the bottom 12 conferences each season? If they agree to they would be randomly matched up using the same process and play each other, beginning a home-and-home series that would have the same five year window to complete.

I know there are probably logistical flaws I missed and getting conferences and schools to agree to something like this is an astronomical long shot but this would at least close the scheduling gap just a little and address the underlying issue that impacts the selection process the most.

Key Stat for Every First Round Game

16 Mar

East

  1. Villanova vs. 16. Mount St. Mary’s

Villanova is 7th in fg percentage (49.7) and Mount St. Mary’s is 227th in fg percentage defense (44.8)

  1. Wisconsin vs. 9. Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech is 13th in 3 point fg percentage (40.3) and Wisconsin is 307th in 3 point fg percentage defense (37.7)

  1. Virginia vs. 12. UNC-Wilmington

Virginia is 1st in scoring defense (55.6) and UNC-Wilmington is 10th in scoring offense (85.2)

  1. Florida vs. East Tennessee State

Florida is 48th in total free throws attempted (764) East Tennessee State in 313th in fewest fouls (679)

  1. Baylor vs. 14. New Mexico State

Baylor is 4th in rebound margin (8.9) and New Mexico State is 16th (6.9)

  1. SMU vs. 11. USC

SMU is 3rd in rebound margin (9.0) and USC is 184th (0.4)

  1. South Carolina vs. 10. Marquette

Marquette is 1st in 3 point fg percentage (43.0) and South Carolina is 5th in 3 point fg percentage defense (29.3)

  1. Duke vs. 15. Troy

Duke is 33rd in fg percentage (47.7) and Troy is 9th in total rebounds (1,330)

Midwest

  1. Kansas vs. 16. UC Davis

Kansas is 79th in steals per game (6.9) and UC Davis is 275th in turnovers per game (14.1)

  1. Miami vs. 9. Michigan State

Michigan State is 57th in fg percentage (46.8) and Miami is 55th in fg percentage defense (41.4)

  1. Iowa State vs. 12. Nevada

Iowa State is 14th in 3 point fg percentage (40.2) and Nevada is 16th in 3 point fg percentage defense (30.7)

  1. Purdue vs. 13. Vermont

Purdue is 65th in rebounds per game (37.94) and Vermont is 263rd (34.24)

  1. Oregon vs. 14. Iona

Oregon is 10th in scoring margin (14.1) and Iona is 109th (4.1)

  1. Creighton vs. 11. Rhode Island

Creighton is 18th in 3 point fg percentage (39.9) and Rhode Island is 3rd in 3 point fg percentage defense (29.0)

  1. Michigan vs. 10.Oklahoma State

Michigan is 1st in turnovers per game (9.4) and Oklahoma State is 31st in steals per game (7.8)

  1. Louisville vs. 15. Jacksonville State

Louisville is 14th in offensive rebounds per game (13.31) and Jacksonville State is 144th in defensive rebounds per game (25.59)

West

  1. Gonzaga vs. 16. South Dakota State

Gonzaga is 2nd in fg percentage (51.8) and South Dakota State is 243rd in fg percentage defense (45.2)

  1. Northwestern vs. 9. Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt is 8th in free throw percentage ( 77.6) and Northwestern is 185th in fouls per game (19.0)

  1. Notre Dame vs. 12. Princeton

Notre Dame is 2nd in turnovers per game (9.4) and Princeton is 5th (10.0)

  1. West Virginia vs. 13. Bucknell

West Virginia is 5th in offensive rebounds per game (14.32) and Bucknell is 299th (8.62)

  1. Florida State vs. 14. Florida Gulf Coast

Florida Gulf Coast is 5th in fg percentage (50.2) and Florida State is 45th in fg percentage defense (41.2)

  1. Maryland vs. 11. Xavier

Maryland is 40th in blocks per game (4.7) and Xavier is 261st (2.7)

  1. St. Mary’s vs. 10. VCU

St. Mary’s is 254th in turnover margin (-1.2) and VCU is 24th in total steals (256)

  1. Arizona vs. 15. North Dakota

North Dakota is 19th in fg percentage (48.3) and Arizona is 35th (47.6)

South

  1. North Carolina vs. 16. Texas Southern

North Carolina is 95th in fouls per game (17.8) and Texas Southern is 2nd in free throws made (643)

  1. Arkansas vs. 9. Seton Hall

Arkansas is 42nd in steals per game (7.5) and Seton Hall is 231st in turnovers per game (13.6)

  1. Minnesota vs. 12. Middle Tennessee State

Minnesota is 1st in blocked shots per game (6.8) and Middle Tennessee State is 12th in fg percentage (49.0)

  1. Butler vs. 13. Winthrop

Winthrop is 90th in rebounds per game (37.41) and Butler 325th (32.03)

  1. UCLA vs. 14. Kent State

UCLA is 6th in defensive rebounds per game (29.45) and Kent State is 2nd in offensive rebounds per game (14.97)

  1. Cincinnati vs. 11. Kansas State

Cincinnati is 10th in turnovers per game (10.0) and Kansas State is 28th in steals per game (7.8)

  1. Dayton vs. 10. Wichita State

Wichita State is 5th in rebound margin (8.9) and Dayton is 192nd (0.2)

  1. Kentucky vs. 15. Northern Kentucky

Kentucky is 285th in fewest fouls (656) and Northern Kentucky is 267th in free throw percentage (67.6)

Key Stats for the First Four

14 Mar

First Four

 

  1. Mount St. Mary’s vs. 16. New Orleans

Mount St. Mary’s is 182nd in turnovers per game (13.1) and New Orleans is 14th turnovers forced (16.29)

  1. North Carolina Central vs. 16. UC Davis

North Carolina Central is 10th in fg percentage defense (39.1) and UC Davis is 213th in fg percentage (43.7)

  1. Providence vs. 11. USC

USC is 23rd in assist to turnover ratio (1.37) and Providence is 132nd in turnovers per game (12.6)

  1. Kansas State vs. 11. Wake Forest

Kansas State is 56th in scoring defense and Wake Forest is 16th in offense

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