Archive | January, 2012

A Capsuled look at 3 of the Marquee Bracket Buster Games

31 Jan

St. Mary’s at Murray State 6:00PM Feb. 18 ESPN or ESPN2

This is the match up everyone was hoping for, the best available road team in the pool squaring off with the nation’s last undefeated team.   Both teams are undefeated in their respective conferences and neither should have to sweat anything come Selection Sunday.

St. Mary’s 21-2, 10-0 1st in West Coast Conference

RPI: 20

SOS: 110

Key Wins: vs BYU 98-92,vs Gonzaga 83-62,at BYU 80-66

Bad Losses: NONE

Leaders:

Points: Matthew Dellavedova 15.4

                 Rob Jones 14.3

Rebounds: Rob Jones 10.8

                         Stephen Holt 4.9

Assists: Matthew Dellavedova 6.4

                  Stephen Holt 3.5

Why it is important to St. Mary’s

While a loss doesn’t hurt the Gaels at all in terms of an at-large, a win however gives them another notch on the bedpost heading into the NCAA Tournament.

 

 

Murray State 21-0, 9-0 1st in Ohio Valley Conference

RPI: 33

Isaiah Caanan leads undefeated Murray State

SOS: 227

Key Wins: vs Southern Mississippi 90-81 2OT ,vs Dayton 75-58,at Memphis 76-72

Bad Losses: None

Leaders:

Points: Isaiah Canaan 18.7

Donte Poole 14.7

Rebounds: Ivan Aska 5.8

Ed Daniel 5.3

Assists: Isaiah Canaan 3.8

Jewuan Long 3.0

Why it is important to Murray State

Let’s be honest, to some it is still Murray State  from the Ohio Valley, undefeated or not.   The level of competition is always going to be a question.  And for the most part that is true as the Racers will not face anyone with an RPI above 178 the rest of the season.  A win against St. Mary’s will give them legitimacy in some eyes and perhaps improve their seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

Long Beach State at Creighton 10:00PM Feb. 18 ESPN2

The leader in the Big West travels to the Valley to take on Creighton.  Creighton should be in the tournament no questions asked.  When looking at Long Beach, they could use a resume building win. But you can’t say they haven’t tried, having played the toughest non-conference schedule in the country.

 

 

Long Beach State 16-6, 9-0 1st in Big West Conference

RPI: 34

Casper Ware leads Long Beach State into Omaha to face Creighton

SOS: 70

Key Wins: vs Pitt 86-76vs Xavier 68-58

Bad Losses: None

Leaders:

Points: Casper Ware 16.8

Larry Anderson 15.2

Rebounds: TJ Robinson 10.2

Eugene Phelps 5.5

Assists: Casper Ware 3.3

Larry Anderson 3.2

Why it is important to Long Beach State

Could use another top 100 win to add to the wins over Xavier and Pittsburgh.  The 9ers also have losses to; San Diego State, Louisville, North Carolina, Kansas and Kansas State. One more win could help them sleep easier if they happen to fall in the Big West Finals.

 

 

Creighton 20-2, 10-1 1st in Missouri Valley Conference

RPI: 14

SOS: 120

Key Wins: at San Diego State 85-83at Wichita State 68-61

Bad Losses: None

Leaders:

Points: Doug McDermott 23.5

Antoine Young 11.2

Rebounds: Doug McDermott 8.4

Gregory Echenique 7.2

Assists: Grant Gibbs 5.7

Antoine Young 4.4

Why it is important to Creighton

Another chance for Creighton to solidify its at-large resume (which should be as solid as it gets).  Player of the Year Candidate gets to shine in a spotlight pre-March.

Nevada at Iona 4:00PM Feb. 18 ESPN or ESPN2

 

 

 

Nevada 18-3, 7-0 1st in Western Athletic Conference

RPI:  59

SOS: 182

Key Wins: vs Washington 76-73 OT

Bad Losses: None

Leaders:

Points: Deonte Burton 15.5

Malik Story 14.6

Rebounds: Dario Hunt 9.0

Olek Czyz 6.1

Assists: Deonte Burton 4.5

Malik Story 2.2

Why it is important to Nevada

A win by Nevada will give them an extra boost in the eyes of the Selection Committee, and the Wolf Pack could use a quality non-conference win.

 

 

Iona 17-5, 9-2 tied for 1st in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

RPI:  53

SOS: 145

Key Wins: None

Bad Losses: at Hofstra 83-75at Siena 65-62

Leaders:

Scotty Machado will lead Iona's get up and go pace against Nevada

Points: Michael Glover 18.8

Lamont Jones 14.9

Rebounds: Michael Glover 9.0

Scott Machado 5.2

Assists: Scott Machado 9.9

Lamont Jones 3.3

Why it is important to Iona

Like Nevada, Iona lacks that signature win, and with a couple of questionable blemishes on their dockett, and currently being in a 3-way tie for the lead in the MAAC with Manhattan and Loyola (MD), could use a result to distinguish themselves one way or the other.

College Hoop Haven

Quick Thoughts on Bracket Buster Games

31 Jan

Just some really quick thoughts, I will have a detailed look at some of the match ups in the coming days.

#16 St. Mary’s (21-2) at #9 Murray State (21-0) 6:00PM Feb. 18 TBA:-One of the marquee match ups of Bracket Buster weekend, the Gaels travel to Murray, Kentucky to give the undefeated Racers its biggest test before the NCAA tournament.

Why Watch:

Other than finding out if the last unbeaten in college basketball can stay that way, there are two match ups worth watching: St. Mary’s guard Matthew Dellavedova going head-to-head with Isaiah Caanan of Murray State.  Inside big men Rob Jones (St. Mary’s) and Ivan Aska (Murray State) will be interesting to watch.

Long Beach State (16-6) at #12 Creighton (20-2) 10:00PM Feb. 18 ESPN 2:-The leader of the Missouri Valley welcomes the leader in the Big West.

Why Watch:

This is an opportunity to see potential Player of the Year Candidate Creighton Sophomore Doug McDermott who is averaging nearly 24 points and 9 rebounds a game.  For Long Beach State who hasn’t been afraid to play anyone this season, they can showcase their senior-laden squad and leader Casper Ware.

Northern Iowa (14-9)  at Virginia Commonwealth (18-5)  7:00PM Feb. 17 ESPN 2:-A battle between perhaps the two biggest Cinderellas in the last 2 NCAA Tournaments; Last year’s Final Four participant VCU and the team that took out #1 Kansas in 2010, Northern Iowa.

Why Watch:

An interesting match up in this one is between two young forwards; Jake Koch of Northern Iowa and Juvonte Reddic of Virginia Commonwealth.

Valparaiso (15-8) at Loyola Marymount (13-9) 9:00PM Feb. 17 ESPNU:-The 2nd place team in the Horizon League travels to Los Angeles to take on up and coming Loyola Marymount of the West Coast Conference.

Why Watch:

Valpo who is coached by Bryce Drew, who hit that memorable shot in 1998 to beat Mississippi, but his team is lead by a couple of Juniors.  Kevin Van Wijk and Ryan Broekhoff average 30 points and 14 rebounds for the Crusaders.  LMU has a trio of their own worth keeping an eye on in Drew Viney, Ashley Hamilton and Anthony Ireland.

Nevada (18-3) at Iona (17-5) 4:00PM Feb. 18 TBA:-If you like points you will enjoy this game, Nevada averages 70 a game and Iona puts up 82 a game, 5th in the country.

Why Watch:

This is easy: watch the backcourts Nevada’s Malik Story and Deonte Burton against Iona’s Scotty Machado and Momo Jones.

Wichita State (18-4) at Davidson (15-5) 12:00PM Feb. 18 TBA:-Wichita State is right on the heels of Creighton in the Missouri Valley and Davidson is again running roughshod over the rest of the Southern Conference.

Why Watch:

Can Davidson get another resume-building win to help their at-large chances should they happen to slip up late.  Wichita State has a chance to show a national audience why they beat teams like UNLV, Tulsa and Colorado this season.

Akron (14-7) at Oral Roberts (20-4)  2:00PM Feb. 18 TBA:-The best team in the Mid-American Conference travels to Tulsa to face the team currently holding court in the Summit League.

Why Watch:

This game features two of the country’s best kept secrets: Akron’s Zeke Marshall is one of the nation’s best shot blockers and Oral Roberts’ Dominique Morrison is a star ready for the big stage.

Drexel (17-5) at Cleveland State (18-4)  11:00AM Feb. 18 ESPNU:-Bruiser Flint takes his Drexel Dragons into Cleveland to take on the new head honcho in the Horizon League.

Why Watch:

If you like defense this may be your game as both teams have combined to give up 70 or more points just 3 times this season.

Old Dominion (14-9) at Missouri State  (13-10) 5:00PM Feb. 18 ESPNU:-Perennial Colonial favorite Old Dominion heads to Springfield, Missouri to take on the Bears of Missouri State.

Why Watch:

A battle between two star forwards; Old Dominion’s Kent Bazemore and reigning MVC Player of the Year Missouri State’s Kyle Weems.

Buffalo (12-6) at South Dakota State (17-6) 2:00PM  Feb. 18 ESPNU:-The highest scoring team in the MAC goes on the road to take on the Jackrabbits.

Why Watch:

This is another game for the offensive enthusiasts, Buffalo averages nearly 74 points per game and SDSU 80.  This game should also feature a great 2-on-2 game;  Buffalo’s Mitchell Watt and Javon McCrea against one of the best back courts in the country Nate Wolters and Griffan Callahan of SDSU.

Drake (13-9) at New Mexico State: (15-7) 3:00PM Feb. 18 ESPNU:-Two teams in the thick of their conference races do battle in Las Cruces.

Why Watch:

Drake’s Mr. Everything is Sophomore guard Rayvonte Rice and his counterpart is New Mexico State’s senior forward Wendell McKines.

UNC-Asheville (16-7) at Ohio  (17-4) 7:00PM Feb. 18 ESPN3-The best team in the Big South travels north to take on the Bobcats of Ohio.

Why Watch:

One of the best back courts in the country UNC-Asheville’s J.P. Primm and Matt Dickey take on Ohio’s talented D.J. Cooper.

Texas-Arlington (15-5) at Weber State (16-4) 8:00PM Feb. 18 ESPN3:-The undefeated leader in the Southland goes on the road to take on the Big Sky’s co-leader.

Why Watch:

Two words: Damian Lillard, Weber State’s Junior guard averages over 24 points, nearly 6 rebounds and leads the team in assists (3.7)

College Hoop Haven

Mid-Major Watch: The Week Ahead

29 Jan

As the calendar turns to February, the intensity is cranked up in those conferences where at-large bids are not guaranteed.  Here are a few games to keep an eye on this week:

Tuesday

Youngstown State (11-9,6-4) at Milwaukee (14-9, 7-4) 8:00PM-The Penguins defeated Milwaukee in Youngstown 68-66 on Jan. 20th. In that game Youngstown got a season-high 27 points from Blake Allen and the Panthers shot a crippling 48% from the free throw line.  This is one of only two games remaining in which Youngstown plays someone above them in the Horizon standings (Feb.11th vs.Valparaiso).  The Penguins could use a key road win to keep pace in the Horizon.

Wednesday

Will Barton and Memphis try to hang on the C-USA lead when they face Southern Mississippi on Wednesday

Memphis (15-6, 6-1) at Southern Mississippi (19-3, 6-1) 8:00PM-In a showdown showcasing the top two teams in Conference USA, Memphis travels to Hattiesburg looking to sweep the Golden Eagles after they squeaked out a 2-point win in Memphis despite blowing a 12-point lead with 12 minutes to play.  Chris Crawford knocked down two free throws with 32 seconds left to give the Tigers the win.  Southern Miss is out to prove that their balanced 10-man attack is ready to knock off the kings of C-USA.

Texas-San Antonio (14-7, 6-1) at Texas-Arlington (15-5, 7-0) 9:00PM-The top two teams in the West division of the Southland Conference (and the conference overall) meet up for the first time in Arlington.  The two conclude the season in San Antonio on Mar. 3rd.  UTSA’s lone conference loss came at the hands of 4-win Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.   Texas-Arlington is riding an 11-game winning streak heading into Wednesday’s match up.   The Mavericks made 4 free throws in the last 15 seconds to defeat Texas State 82-79 in their last game.

Thursday

Oral Roberts (20-4, 12-0) at South Dakota State (17-6, 9-2)-In the most underrated contest of the week, the class of the Summit League hit the floor in Brookings, South Dakota.  The Jackrabbits will be looking to avenge a 20-point loss suffered at Oral Roberts on Jan.7th.

Oral Roberts' Dominique Morrison is one of basketball's best kept secrets

In that game two of the best players in the country,South Dakota State’s Junior guard Nate Wolters who had 22 points and Oral Roberts’ Senior forward Dominique Morrison who had a career-high 38 in the victory.  For some background on Morrison take a look at this feature done on him by the guys at Ballinisahabit.net who say its time to stop overlooking Dominique Morrison.  His battle with Wolters may be the least publicized battle between two top teams and two fantastic players, but based on their first meeting, could be the most exciting.

Gonzaga (17-3, 7-1) at Brigham Young (18-6, 6-3) 11:00PM-Both of these teams have something in common, they both have been beaten handily by conference-leader St. Mary’s (21-2, 10-0).  They also believe they are the second best team in the West Coast Conference. The question is, who is it?  Both teams have 9 players averaging at least 12 minutes per game, so depth is not an issue.  The Cougars have a formidable duo inside in Nate Hartsock and Brandon Davies who average 32 points and 13 rebounds a game, while Gonzaga’s versatile 6’713.7  forward Elias Harris leads them in scoring (13.7) and rebounding (8.0).  This battle is critical because the top 2 teams in the WCC receive byes to the semifinals of the conference tournament. If Gonzaga prevails they could lock up that second bye.

Saturday

George Beamon has been on a tear since he last met up with Iona

Iona (16-5, 8-2) at Manhattan (15-7, 8-2) 7:00PM-Michael GloverLamont Jones and Scott Machado get their chance to avenge a  home loss to Manhattan and break the logjam at the top of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, both teams are tied with Loyola (MD) at 8-2, with whom they each have a game remaining.  The Iona trio throwdown an average 47.6 points a game while grabbing 17.5 and dishing out 13.8 assists.  In the first meeting Jones and Machado combined for just 15 points, although Machado did hand out 16 assists.  Iona must figure out a way to contain George Beamon who has averaged 24 points and 6 rebounds for Manhattan since the first meeting with the Gaels.

Ballinisahabit

College Hoop Haven

Quick Hitting Saturday Recap

29 Jan

Plumlee had a career-high 17 rebounds in Duke's win

11:00AM-2:00PM Games:

Ohio 59 Ball State 55: The Bobcats get a key MAC win despite 25 pts and 28 rebounds from Jarrod Jones and Chris Bond for Ball State.

#6 Duke 83 St. John’s 76:  Mason Plumlee with 15pts and 17rebs helps Duke fight off a pesky St. John’s squad who were led by Moe Harkless who had 30pts and 13 rebs for the Johnnies.

#18 Marquette 82 Villanova 78:  This game saw 57 free throws and 45 fouls called. Darius Johnson-Odom (26 pts) and Jae Crowder (20pts, 13rebs) led the Golden Eagles in victory.

#4 Syracuse 63 West Virginia 61: Syracuse survives thanks to a missed goaltending call on a Deniz Kilicli lay up that should’ve tied the game with 6 seconds left.  The Orange desperately miss Fab Melo inside being out rebounded 36-20 15-5 on the offensive glass.

North Texas 76 Arkansas State 64: The other Tony Mitchell:21 pts 15 rebs 2asts, 2stls 6blks, take notice.

#7 Baylor 76 Texas 71: Perry Jones III was the man for the Bears today 22pts 14 rebs in the win.  J’Covan Brown poured in 32 in the loss for the Longhorns.

#13 Florida 69 #16 Mississippi State 57: The Gators finish off an important 2-game stretch sweeping the Mississippi schools.  Patric Young had 12pts off the bench and Florida hit 11 3-pointers in the win.

Towson ended a NCAA record 41-game losing streak with a 66-61 win over UNC-Wilmington

Towson 66  UNC-Wilmington 61: The longest losing streak in college basketball (41) is over!

Valparaiso 55 Milwaukee 52: The Crusaders get a big road win to stay atop the Horizon.

George Mason 89 James Madison 79: Ryan Pearson with 29 and 15 for the Patriots in the win.

Iowa State 72 #5 Kansas 64: The Cyclones get a big win at home. Royce White (18pts 9 rebs 5 asts) gets the better of Thomas Robinson (13pts 7 rebs) this time around.

Vanderbilt 84 Middle Tennessee State 77: The Commodores finished the game on a 10-2 run to finish of a very good MTSU (20-3) team. John Jenkins scored 26 in the win for Vanderbilt.

3:00pm-6:00PM Games

Tulsa 66  SMU 60:The Golden Hurricane get a nice road win to stay in the hunt in C-USA.  Tulsa was led by Jordan Clarkson 22pts, 6rebs, 6asts, 4blks and 3 stls.

Colorado State 77 #12 San Diego State 60: The Rams shot 49% from the field and held the Aztecs to 31% and walked away with a resounding win on there home floor. Wes Eikmeier led 4 Rams in double figures with 19.  Jamaal Franklin had 24 and 10 boards in the loss.

Pittsburgh 72 #10 Georgetown 60: The Panthers’ Nasir Robinson was a perfect 9-9 from the field for 23 points and addded 8 rebounds to help Pitt to its 2nd straight Big East win.

Mount St. Mary’s 81 Sacred Heart 80 2OT: Shane Gibson dropped 41 in the heartbreaking loss for Sacred Heart.

Texas A&M 76 Oklahoma State 61: Elston Turner scored 23 to help the Aggies stay above water in the Big XII.

Illinois State 60 Southern Illinois 40: Jackie Carmichael and John Wilkins combined for 29pts and 22 rebounds to spearhead the Redbirds victory.

JP Primm and Matt Dickey combined for 54 points in a win over Campbell on Saturday

UNC Asheville 95 Campbell 84: The backcourt of Matt Dickey and JP Primm went nuts in beating Campbell 54 pts, 8 rebs, 8 stls, 8 asts.  The win opened up a 2 game lead on the 3rd place Camels.

Samford 77 Davidson 74: Davidson trailed by 16 at the half, but their effort fell just short. The Wildcats fall to 9-1 in the SoCon.

North Dakota State 78 Oakland 75: Reggie Hamilton poured in 37 in a losing effort for the  Golden Grizzlies.

7:00PM-10:00PM Games

Southern Mississippi 78  Central Florida 65:Neal Watson and Darnell Dodson combined for 45  points to help the Golden Eagles stay atop Conference USA.

Rhode Island 86 Dayton 81: Dayton’s at-large hopes took a big hit with this loss, Rhody no longer winless in the A10.

Oklahoma 63 #24 Kansas State 60: Steven Pledger scored 30 of Oklahoma’s 63 points in helping the Sooners upset KSU in Manhattan.

Nevada 65 Louisiana Tech 63: Olek Czyz scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to help the Wolf Pack stay undefeated in the WAC.

Idaho St 64 Weber St 62: Weber State is no longer undefeated in the Big Sky. Opening the door for Montana.

#20 St. Mary’s 80 Brigham Young 66: Brad Waldow had 19 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Gaels over BYU in a testy match up.

Will Barton had 29 points and 8 boards in Memphis' win

#12 UNLV 65 Air Force 63 OT: Mike Moser with 27 and 12 in helping the Rebels survive on the road.

Memphis 83  Marshall 76: Will Barton with 29 and 8. Memphis tied with So. Mississippi for C-USA lead at 6-1

Drake 93 Wichita State 86 3OT: The Shockers at large chances took a hit in a triple OT thriller in Des Moines.  Ben Simons had 29 and 8 boards and Rayvonte Rice added 19 and 14 to lead the Bulldogs to victory.  Garrett Stutz and Joe Ragland combined for 52 for Wichita State.  With the loss the Shockers fall 1 game behind Creighton in the Missouri Valley.

11:00PM Games

Long Beach State 75  Cal State Fullerton 61: The 49ers improved to 9-0 in the Big west, and they did it with defense forcing 19 Fullerton turnovers.  Kwame Vaughn and D.J. Seeley , the two leading scorers for Fullerton were held to just 11 points.

 

College Hoop Haven

Teams Seeing Young Contributors Leaving Their Programs

28 Jan

Now, student-athletes transferring out of programs is not a new phenomenon in college sports.  Players leave for a variety of reasons; lack of playing time, home sickness, family emergencies, etc.   The prevailing thought and perhaps misconception concerning transfers was that for the most part they weren’t seen as major contributors in their first season, or in some cases, their second.  This year however could be seen on an episode of “Mythbusters” as there have been a handful of underclassmen that have decided to change programs, even though they had contributed to some of their team’s early season success.

Things  were finished seemingly before they started in Oregon for guard Jabari Brown, just two games into his first season he decided to say goodbye to Dana Altman and the Ducks.  About a month later Nurideen Lindsey bid adieu to St. John’s and head coach Steve Lavin deciding that St. John’s wasn’t for him.  Khem Birch, a young forward that Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh had high hopes for coming into the season, but Birch struggled much like the Panthers as a whole and decided to see if he could find greener pastures elsewhere.  As the calendar turned to 2012 the tumultuous season of New Mexico State sophomore guard ended with him requesting and being granted his release from his scholarship.

Jabari Brown decided to leave Oregon after just two games

One thing these four kids had in common–they were contributing or at least were thought to be contributors by year’s end.  That is, until they decided to leave.

Things were looking up for Dana Altman and Oregon coming into the 2011-12 season.  E.J. Singler returned, transfers Olu Ashaolu and Devoe Joseph became eligible and Brown, a 6’3 guard from Oakland was a five-star recruit that Altman was hoping would add depth to his back court.

Brown started the first two games of the season averaging 6 points and two rebounds in 25 minutes of play for the Ducks.

But after the win over Eastern Washington Brown decided to take his college career in a different direction and leave the Oregon program.

The move clearly surprised Altman, given the fact that Brown was a part of a top-25 recruiting class for Oregon.  Brown said upon his signing that, he was excited to turn Oregon around, and “I am really excited about working with Coach Altman and his staff.”

After announcing that Brown had left the program, Altman clearly disappointed said, “”I will say it up front, I don’t want him to leave. The door is still open.”

Some people such as CBS Sports’ Seth Davis viewed the move as running from adversity, asking of Brown and fellow transfer Khem Birch;  what happens when the going gets tough again? Will they keep running for the hills?

A month later Brown decided he would take his talents to Columbia, MO signing with Missouri.  So Brown will spend the next few months honing his skills against the #2 team in the country while he waits to play next year.  Upon landing at Missouri Brown says he liked what coach Haith has done and, “and I felt like I could fit in well.”

Ask Dana Altman, and this is a song and dance he has heard before.

Entering the season, most people assumed that St. John’s would struggle in the Big East, having as many scholarship players (one of which was a former walk-on) as freshmen on the roster (9).

But the Red Storm were one of the most intriguing stories of the first week, winning their first three games and one of the reasons for the quick start was a Junior College recruit out of Oklahoma 6’3 guard Nurideen Lindsey.

Nurideen Lindsey decides to leave St. John's despite a hot start

The diminutive guard was exciting fans with how hard he was playing, he had a motor that never quit.  He averaged 16 points in his first three games and nearly recorded a triple-double (15pts, 10 rebs,9 assists) in a blow out win over Maryland-Baltimore County.

Something happened after the Thanksgiving break, in the two games that followed Lindsey only played 20 minutes a game scoring 5 points with 1 assist and turning the ball over 11 times.  Three days after a loss to Detroit, coach Lavin announced Lindsey was leaving the program, “He is a basketball player with a bright future. Our basketball family supports Nuri as he moves in a new direction.”  He said.

“I love St. John’s and appreciate all the love and support from the staff and school. I think this team will be special. I think what I’ll miss most about St. John’s is miss my teammates. Those guys are like my brothers. So I will continue to support St. John’s and my brothers. Thank you for the memories, regardless of how brief.”  Lindsey said of his time with the Johnnies.

Lindsey has since decided to enroll at Rider, who plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Pittsburgh seemed to be off to a good start, expectations were high. Then came the 10-point home loss to Long Beach State, the Panthers seemingly had righted the ship winning 9 straight, before a stunning loss at home to Wagner.  That loss sent Jamie Dixon’s squad into a tailspin that saw Pitt lose its first seven Big East contests.

Prior to the loss to Wagner it was announced that 6’9 forward Khem Birch was returning home to Montreal.  The question was, why?

Khem Birch leaves Pittsburgh and ends up at UNLV

Some thought it could be bad advice from advisors, so says Ryan Hurd, Birch’s former coach at Notre Dame Prep.  Others hypothesized that Birch had gripes about his playing time.  “I’m leaving,” Birch told CBSSports.com. “I’m headed to Toronto now. I enjoyed my time at Pittsburgh, I love Coach (Jamie) Dixon, had no problems with the staff and the players. It just wasn’t the right fit for me.”

It’s not as if Birch wasn’t getting stiffed on playing time.  He was averaging 15 minutes a game, including seven starts. The young forward was productive while on the floor, averaging 4.4 points and 5 rebounds per game, including back-to-back games with double figure rebounds in wins over Pennsylvania and Robert Morris.

Birch has decided to play at UNLV next season.  He recognizes however that he needs to make things work in Las Vegas.

“I feel happy, because this is my decision,” Birch said. “I felt like when I was in high school, going to Pitt was 50-50. But this one was 100 percent my decision, so if I mess up, it’s all me.”

Head Coach Marvin Menzies was looking forward to the 2011-’12 season.  His New Mexico State Aggies were picked to finish 2nd by the WAC coaches, so they figured to be in the thick of the WAC race all year long, and they have been.

One guy Menzies had hoped to rely on was Sophomore guard Christian Kabongo.  The Toronto native was Mr. Everything this season, putting up 14.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.5 rebounds a game.

Christian Kabongo's career at New Mexico State is over

On December 13th Kabongo was suspended for a violation of team rules.  Which turned out to be rude gestures directed at opposing fans in a loss at UTEP on December 11th.   He was reinstated a week later after issuing an apology to everyone involved.

“I am very sorry to all of New Mexico State University for my actions,” Kabongo said. “I have apologized to (UTEP) coach (Tim) Floyd, and I let the emotions of a big rivalry game get the best of me.”

Kabongo returned for two games, then was granted a release from his scholarship.

“I agree that a fresh start somewhere else may be the best thing for him right now.”  Menzies said in a statement about Kabongo’s release.

Kabongo has yet to decide where he will play next, where ever it is hopefully the time off will give him a new perspective on what it takes to succeed in college basketball at the highest level on and off the court.

Coaches do more than coach, they nurture and help young people enter into adulthood.  Transfers come with the territory that is college athletics.  But no longer do coaches have to just worry about placating the recruit at the end of the bench, adjusting to life as a collegiate athlete.  At least it seems, they now have to worry about the guys they’re putting on the floor to help them win games.

For Oregon, St. John’s, Pittsburgh and New Mexico State, adjusting on the fly in 2012 may have been unexpected, but its just another detour in the road of a college season that coaches have to navigate.

College Hoop Haven

Five Key Top 25 Games on Saturday

27 Jan

Tomorrow could be a real treat for fans of games that involve the Top 25, here are just five games that should pique your interest on a Saturday in late January:

#13 Florida(16-4,4-1) vs. #16 Mississippi State (17-4,4-2) 1:30pm:  In the lone game of the day that pits two top-25 teams against each other, this key SEC showdown in Gainesville features Arnett-Moultrie averaging a double-double 17 pts 11 rebs against Florida’s two-headed monster inside of Patric Young and Will Yeguete.

The Bulldogs have won five of their last seven including an overtime victory at Vanderbilt.  The Gators have won six of seven in their own right and are 11-0 this season at the friendly confines of the O’Connell Center.

#5 Kansas (17-3, 7-0) at Iowa State(14-6, 4-3) 2:00pm: This is a match up that some experts have been touting as a possible upset on Saturday. Traveling to Ames has not been as easy as in years past, this season only #2 Missouri and Northern Iowa have escaped with victories.  One of the reasons has been the emergence of Sophomore forward Royce White who averages nearly a double-double; 13.4 points and 9.6 rebs.

Many people want to see how White stacks up against the leading candidate for National Player of the Year, Kansas forward Thomas Robinson (17.8pts, 12 rebs)

It won’t be easy, but a win for the Cyclones would give them the marquee win they need to join the at-large conversation for the NCAA Tournament, while for the Jayhawks a win would further cushion their lead over Missouri and Baylor in the Big 12.

West Virginia (15-6, 5-3) at #4 Syracuse (21-1, 8-1) 1:00pm: After losing to Notre Dame and struggling early at Cincinnati the Orange return home to face West Virginia.  The Mountaineers are coming off a 78-62 defeat at the hands of St. John’s, you can beat Bob Huggins will have his team more than ready to face the Orange.

With the news that Fab Melo could be out a whileKevin Jones and the rest of the Mountaineers will look to take advantage of a possibly vulnerable Syracuse squad and remain in the upper echelon of the Big East (if there is such a thing).

#20 St. Mary’s(20-2, 9-0) at Brigham Young(18-5, 6-2) 9:00pm: Well St. Mary’s went to Los Angeles and announced to Loyola Marymount (and the rest of the West Coast Conference) that they are still the class of the league (along with Gonzaga) by beating the Lions 71-64.  In doing so pushing LMU 3 games back and forcing Gonzaga to keep pace by beating Portland, which they did.

The winners of 11 straight, the Gaels now travel to Provo for a battle with another team hoping to make the WCC a 3-team race, conference newcomer BYU.

The key to this game may come in the paint as St. Mary’s Rob Jones (14pts 11 rebs) battles the Cougar duo of Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies who combine to average 32 points and 13.5 rebounds a game.

#21 Virginia(16-3, 3-2) at North Carolina State(15-6, 4-2) 8:0opm: After getting an ACC wake up call at the hands of in-state rival North Carolina 74-55 on Thrursday night, the Wolf Pack welcome Virginia to Raliegh on Saturday.  Mark Gottfried’s team, while having four conference wins, all of them have come against teams behind them in the standings (BC,Miami, Wake Forest and Maryland) they also have lost to conference cellar dweller Georgia Tech.  Needless to say they could use a win to hang their hat on.

Despite being ranked nationally, Virginia is in the same boat.  Besides a home win over #15 Michigan in the non-conference, their 3 ACC wins are over BC, Georgia Tech and Miami.  While their 2 losses have been close (by 3 at Duke and by 2 to Virginia Tech) the Hoos could use as many good wins as possible and Saturday holds that chance.

Let’s be honest the CJ Leslie and Mike Scott tete-a-tete should be fun too.

Honorable Mentions:

#25 Louisville (16-5, 4-4) at Seton Hall (15-5, 4-4) 8:00pm: A key battle in the muddled middle of the Big East.

#24 Kansas State (15-4, 4-3) vs Oklahoma (12-7, 2-5) 7:00pm: The Wildcats can’t afford to be caught looking ahead to a trip to Iowa State in this one.

#1 Kentucky (20-1, 6-0) at LSU (12-8, 2-4) 4:00pm: Kentucky should win this one, but I bet Maqruette and Mississippi thought the same when they stepped foot into Pete Maravich’s place earlier this year.

College Hoop Haven

Thursday Rundown

27 Jan

Well it was your typical Thursday night in the world of college basketball; an 80-foot shot made, multiple overtimes, surprising defeats and much-needed victories.  Here’s a look at some of the key happenings.

#8 North Carolina 74  NC State 55: The Wolfpack discovered that even though they were 4-1, the road to the ACC title still runs through Chapel Hill (and Durham).  Tyler Zeller was a man on a mission for the Tar Heels pouring in 21 points and grabbing 17 rebounds in the win.

The lone highlight for NC State came at the end of the first half, trailing 47-30

Lorenzo Brown happened

Alas, that was the lone highlight for NC  State on thins evening.

#13 Florida 64  Mississippi 60: After trailing by as many as 16 in the first half, the Gators righted the ship and grinded out a four-point win, in Oxford something no one had been able to do this season.  Florida climbed back in the game with balanced scoring (Patric Young led the team with 15 points) and good second half defense, holding the Rebels to just 27.6% shooting in the final 20 minutes. The win keeps the Gators in the thick of the SEC race at 4-1.

Monmouth 58 Central Connecticut State 56 OT: The other Blue Devils (6-3) took a step back in the logjam atop the Northeast Conference falling to the Monmouth Hawks at home in overtime.  Mike Myers Keitt scored two of his five points at the free throw line with 14 seconds left to give Monmouth the lead and the win.  Ken Horton registered 16 points and 11 boards in the loss.

Gardner-Webb 78 Campbell 72:  Campbell fell a full two games behind Big South leader UNC-Asheville with this loss to GWU. The Bulldogs had 4 of their 5 starters score in double figures to backbone the win. The key in this game came at the free throw line where GWU outscored the Camels by 16.  Campbell gets a chance to get right back in the race, traveling to Asheville on Saturday looking to avenge a -point loss earlier in the year.

Travis Bader hit 10 3s to lead Oakland to a 92-87 win over SDSU

Oakland 92 South Dakota State 87: Yes the 2nd best team in the Summit League fell to Oakland on the road last night, but they didn’t just fall to Oakland they fell to Sophomore Travis Bader who set a school record with 10 3-pointers and 37 points off the bench, yes off the bench! For the win.

Robert Morris 75 Long Island 66: Things got even tighter at the top of the Northeast thanks to RMU’s (7-2) win over conference leader Long Island (8-1).  Robert Morris never trailed in the game and took the lead for good at the 18:01 mark of the first half, 5-3.  Impressive statement against the team you’re chasing.

Milwaukee 53 Butler 42: The Panthers used stellar defense, holding the Bulldogs (6-4) to 28% shooting including 1-16 behind the line to hold Butler to 17 2nd half points.  Milwaukee also used a 13-1 run to begin the 2nd half to take control of the game.  Milwaukee now welcomes fellow 7-2 Valparaiso to US Cellular Arena on Saturday.

Green Bay 75 Valparaiso 60:  The reason Valpo is 7-2 is because they fell victim to the Resch Center just as seven others before them.  After a Ben Boggs hit a layup to cut the lead to 42-40, the Phoenix went on a 23-9 run to seize control.

#25 Wisconsin 57 #17 Indiana 50:  When you walk into the Kohl Center you know what you are in for; a football game on a basketball court.  The leading scorer in the game was Ben Brust for the Badgers with 13.  Wisconsin forced Indiana (4-5) to grind out every possession in handing them their 4th loss in the last 5 games.  Meanwhile Wisconsin (6-3) was just as deliberate on the offense end en route to their fifth straight win.

Nevada 68 New Mexico State 60: Nevada (6-0) grabbed a 2-game lead in the WAC with this victory over the Aggies in Las Cruces.  The Wolf Pack had 4 starters in double figures and shot 57% from the field for the win.  New Mexico State (4-2) was led by Hernst Laroche who had 21 points 5 rebounds and 3 assists in the loss.

#20 St. Mary’s 71 Loyola Marymount 64: The Gaels (9-0) went into Los Angeles and came out with their 11th straight victory and  a stranglehold on the West Coast Conference.  Matthew Dellavedova and Stephen Holt combined for 32 points. Out dueling the trio of Drew Viney,Anthony Ireland andAshley Hamilton who combined for 47 for Loyola Marymount (5-3).

Long Beach State 77 UC Riverside 70 OT: LBSU (8-0) kept their at-large bid alive (should they not win the Big West) but got all they could handle from a UC Riverside (4-3) that led by five with 3;37 to play.  That was before Casper Ware took over scoring 11 of his team-high 18 in the extra session.

Whose down with Outstanding Player Performances?

Kevin Murphy-had 34 points and 6 rebounds in Tennessee Tech’s 82-65 win over Eastern Kentucky.

CJ McCollum was unstoppable for Lehigh Thursday night

Brandon Richardson– had 25 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in Nebraska’s win over Iowa.

CJ McCollum was a one-man show with 24 points and 14 rebounds for Lehigh in there win over Navy Thursday night.

J.P. Primmhad 30pts, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals as UNC-Asheville beat High Point 90-70 to stay atop the Big South.

Leon PowellPoured in 12 points and grabbed 18 rebounds (9 offensive) in Southeast Missouri State’s 65-60 win over Austin Peay.

Idaho State 99 Northern Colorado 94 2OT: These two teams might as well have played a game of 3-on-3 Thursday.  Tevin Svihovec,Elliott Lloyd and Emmanuel Addo (28 off the bench) combined for 74 points but it wasn’t enough to beat the trio of Chase Grabau,Kenny-McGowen, and Melvin-Morgan who combined for 70 points in the win.

Southern Utah Starters: Southern Utah defeated Missouri-Kansas City 57-47 last night with 4 of their 5 starters in double figures.  The rest of the team–4 points.

Vander Joaquim-Had 24pts and 14 rebounds for Hawaii in a 77-72 loss to Utah State.

College Hoop Haven

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