Archive | October, 2012

Is the Mountain West’s Newest Backcourt Its Best?

28 Oct

If you enjoy watching good guard play then the Mountain West may be the conference for you this season.  The now nine-team league with the additions of Fresno State and Nevada has seven teams that return a double-digit scoring guard who also finished in the top two in assists last season, Luke Martinez (Wyoming) and Kevin Olekaibe (Fresno State) both finished 3rd in assists.

Four of the top teams in the league bring back guard combos that have been together since 2010-11. Colorado State has Wes Eikmeier and Dorian Green for Larry Eustachy to build on an NCAA Tournament bid last season.   New Mexico returns Tony Snell and Kendall Williams to a team that won 28 games and lost a squeaker in the 3rd round of the NCAAs.  San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley are the only backcourt teammates to make the all-conference first or second team.  The duo returns to an Aztec team that has won 60 games over the last two seasons.

As talented as those veteran backcourts are, the best pair of guards in the conference may reside in Reno, Nevada.  The Wolf Pack went from 13-19 in the first season Deonte Burton and Malik Story played together in 2010 to a 28 win season and a trip to the NIT Quarterfinals last season.  The Burton/Story tandem is the only one of the four to return as their team’s leading scorers and assist men.

One of the oldest college basketball adages about being successful in March includes good guard play.  Part of being a good player is consistency and someone your team can count on night-in and night-out.  Granted you can try to quantify consistency any number of ways, I decided to take the last two seasons  and see how many games the two played together, how many games neither player registered double figures in points and how many games they failed to combine for five assists.

Players/School Games Together Since 2010-11 Games Neither Player Scored Double Figures Games Players Combined for 5+Assists
Eikmeier/Green-Colorado State 61 14 or 23% 30 or 49%
Williams/Snell-New Mexico 68 15 or 22% 43 or 63%
Franklin/Tapley-San Diego State 52 *Only 20 in 2010-11 due to injuries 12 (All in 2010-11) or 23% 17 or 33%
Burton/Story-Nevada 66 5 or 7.5% 45 or 68%

Burton and Story have been the most consistent of the conference’s returning backcourts over the past two seasons.   Moving from the WAC to the Mountain West will give the Nevada the chance to face strong backcourts night in and night out, but a case can be made that the conference’s newest guard tandem could be its best.

College Hoop Haven

As the Great West shrinks, NJIT Left to Wonder Where Home Will Be in 2013

25 Oct

Utah Valley has announced that they will be leaving the Great West Conference for the Western Athletic Conference in 2013. As Jeff Goodman of Cbssports.com wrote, almost immediately there were rumblings that the WAC may merge in some way, enveloping two of the remaining three Great West teams, Chicago State and Texas Pan-American into the WAC.

A Great West basketball coach said, “With the league going down to four teams, don’t be shocked to see some sort of merger between the remaining teams — except for maybe NJIT — and the WAC.”

The two schools are almost certainly looking for new homes in 2013.

Texas Pan-American Sports Information Director Jonah Goldberg said the Broncs, “We continue to monitor the landscape of conference realignment and have taken a proactive approach to provide our student-athletes and coaches with an opportunity for NCAA postseason competition and conference rivalries.”

Chicago State Athletic Director Dan Schumacher, while declining comments on specific discussions did say, “There are many discussions involving Chicago State and conference affiliation.”

With Chicago State and Texas Pan-American seemingly on the move in the near future, what does that mean for the soon-to-be lone remaining member of the Great West, New Jersey Institute of Technology?

According to Athletic Director Lenny Kaplan schools have yet to hear from the Great West specifically, there is a conference call coming up, but the school is moving forward with the premise they will need a new home in 2013.

While other conferences continue to expand, the Great West has shrunk and shrunk rapidly, Kaplan says, “the way the NCAA looks at us as a conference has prohibited us from growing.”

The GWC was never a good fit for NJIT geographically and they have been seeking membership elsewhere even prior to the Utah Valley announcement.

Kaplan says that he would like the new home of the Highlanders to be “geographically compatible, preferably in the northeast” and “academically comparable.” “We want to make sure when you get into a league you want to make sure you can compete, and I think in the northeast we can compete.”

To that end NJIT has centered its relocation efforts in the northeast, “We are constantly in contact with a couple of regional conferences, we have not had luck in gaining membership into any of those.”

The Northeast Conference and more specifically perhaps the America East, who may be looking to replace Boston University who is leaving for the Patriot League in 2013, seem like logical landing spots for NJIT.

Kaplan doesn’t believe a school can survive competing as a complete independent but says, “there has been no discussion about moving backwards” when asked about the possibility of moving back to Division 2.

The ever-shrinking Great West has left three teams without a home and for one at least it gives them hope that they can finally be able to compete in a stable conference in their own part of the country.

Messages left for the Great West and Western Athletic Conferences were not returned.

College Hoop Haven

Creighton Following in Gonzaga’s Footsteps for Success

21 Oct

Since the 1998-99 season the Gonzaga Bulldogs have been the program that all mid-major programs aspire to be.  The Bulldogs have appeared in 14 straight NCAA Tournaments thanks in large part to their 10 West Coast Conference Tournament titles in that span.  Having amassed a 325-97 (17-14 in the NCAA Tournament) record and five trips to at least the Sweet 16, Dan Monson and Mark Few have built the epitome of a nationally-successful program.

While no program has reached the heights of Gonzaga over such a prolonged period of time, there is another mid-major team that has had enough success over the past 14 seasons that they should be 2nd off the tongue of most people when talking mid major successes.  George Mason? Nope.  Virginia Commonwealth? Try Again. Back-to-back National Runner-up Butler? Wrong again.  The answer is Creighton.  The Bluejays have had eight trips to the NCAA Tournaments and four NIT bids over the last 14 years. Much like Gonzaga, much of Creighton’s success starts with being a perennial contender in the Missouri Valley Conference.  The Bluejays have seven conference tournament championships over the last 14 seasons.

Dana Altmanarrived in Omaha before the 1994-95 season, fresh off a four-year stint at Kansas State where he led the Wildcats to three straight

Altman was the architect of Creighton’s successes.

postseason appearances.  He took over a Creighton team that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991.  In his first season the team won just seven games, three years later the Bluejays went 18-10 and earned a bid to the NIT in 1998.  The following season Altman led Creighton to a 22-win season and its first Missouri Valley Tournament championship in eight years, earning the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.  As a 10-seed the Bluejays upset 7th seeded Louisville in the 1st round before falling to Maryland in the 2nd round.

The ’98-‘99 season began a run of five straight trips to the NCAA Tournament and four conference tournament titles in five years. The run that ended in 2003 with a 29-5 record and first round loss to Central Michigan in the tournament ended a stretch that saw Creighton average 24 wins a year over that span. By comparison Gonzaga averaged 26 victories a season over the same five-year period.

Altman benefited by having sharpshooter Kyle Korver arrive on campus in 1999, by the time he graduated in 2003 he was 5th on the school’s all-time scoring list (1,801).  After the loss of Korver to the NBA, Creighton had a 2nd year player Nate Funk to lead the next crop of Bluejays to continued success. Funk and Altman would lead Creighton to two more NCAA tournaments and two NITs over the next four years. Funk would graduate in 2007

Korver was the catalyst behind the Bluejays’ turnaround during the early part of the 2000s.

as the team’s 6th highest scorer (1,754 behind Korver) and the school’s all-time leader in games played. With seven NCAA bids under his belt (the school had eight total in the years prior to Altman’s arrival) he would stay at Creighton three more seasons before leaving for the head coaching job at Oregon.  Altman spent a total of 16 seasons at Creighton with career record of 327-126 (273 of those coming between 1998-2010).

Looking for a new coach Creighton turned to someone familiar with the Missouri Valley Conference. They followed the blueprint that brought Altman to Omaha. They went to Big 12 country and grabbed Greg McDermott from Iowa State for the job.  McDermott had a first-hand look at what Altman built at Creighton, he coached at the Bluejays’ biggest rival during that time, Northern Iowa during the heart of the Kyle Korver/Nate Funk run (2001-2006) earning three straight NCAA Tournament bids of his own from 2004-06.  When McDermott decided to coach at Creighton, his son Doug who had originally signed to play at Northern Iowa was released from his commitment in order to plougay for his father.  In the McDermotts’ first year at Creighton the Bluejays finished 23-16 and despite losing in the conference semifinals they received a bid to the College Basketball Invitational where they made it to the finals, losing a three-game series to a familiar face, Dana Altman and the Oregon Ducks.  The freshman McDermott led the Bluejays in scoring and rebounding with 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds respectively.

McDermott jumped onto the national stage thanks to 2 very productive seasons in Omaha.

Last season there was a lot of optimism in Omaha as the Bluejays returned 10 players from their CBI finalists’ team.  In addition to the returning players, the younger McDermott was joined by a fellow Iowan transfer guard Grant Gibbs.  Gibbs may be the only person who knows what has made both Creighton and Gonzaga so successful, having spent his freshman season at Gonzaga.  The optimism was well warranted as the experienced Bluejays won 28 games en route to another MVC Tournament title.  Outside of a three-game losing streak in February Creighton went a remarkable 28-2 heading into the NCAA Tournament.

The season earned Creighton an eight seed and a second round date with #9 Alabama.  In one of the more exciting games of the second round, Creighton erased an 11-point 2nd half deficit thanks to McDermott’s 16-point 10-rebound effort and hung on for a 58-57 victory earning them a date with #1 seed and McDermott’s former High School teammate Harrison Barnes.  Despite 20 points and nine rebounds the Bluejays fell to Barnes and the Tarheels 87-73.

The Bluejays enter 2012-13 with even higher expectations than last season.  They come in ranked in the preseason top 25 and have Doug McDermott whose 23.2 points per game in 2012 makes him the nation’s leading returning scorer, a unanimous preseason first-team All American and one of the early favorites for National Player of the Year.  Heading into 2012-13 nine of the top 10 scorers return for Creighton including McDermott, Gibbs and senior big man Gregory Echenique.  Joining them are a couple of guards that should add to the Bluejays depth, redshirt freshman Nevin Johnson is a big 6-5 guard who has the potential to be a defensive stopper, something the team needed after giving up over 70 points per game last year.  Also freshman guard Andre Yates who also had offers from Dayton and Nebraska (among others) may see significant time backing up Gibbs at the point guard position.

The Bluejays’ success has helped in recruiting for 2012 and beyond as they already have three commits for 2013 that each had multiple offers from BCS-conference schools, including 6-9 South Dakota forward Zach Hanson who also had an offer from the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

There is no argument that Gonzaga is and always been the mold for mid-major teams that want to compete on a national level.  Since the 1998-99 season the Bulldogs have 12 West Coast Conference regular season titles, 10 WCC tournament titles, 14 straight trips to the NCAA tournament, four Sweet Sixteens and a trip to the Elite Eight.  Dan Monson and Mark Few have led Gonzaga to over 26 wins a season over the last 14 years.

Creighton will be tested early and often in 2012-13, they open the season November 9th against Sun Belt favorite North Texas and their sophomore star Tony Mitchell.  In addition they have games with Wisconsin, Atlantic 10 favorite St. Joeseph’s and Pac-12 contender California.

Dana Altman and Greg McDermott have quietly built their own marquee mid major team in Nebraska.  Over the same 14-year span Creighton had 10 seasons with either a regular season or conference tournament title, four NIT berths and eight trips to the NCAA Tournament.  With the building blocks having been in place, this may be the year that Creighton breaks through to the postseason successes that Gonzaga has enjoyed.

College Hoop Haven

Under the Radar, On the National Map in 2012-13

9 Oct

Last season saw a number of players from non-BCS conferences thrust into the national spotlight and performing well.  A preseason National Player of the Year contender Doug McDermott of Creighton led the Bluejays to a 3rd round trip to the NCAA Tournament while finishing 3rd in the country in scoring at 23.2 points per game.  Isaiah Caanan led the Murray State Racers to a 32-2 record and their own 3rd round trip to the NCAAs as well as the school’s first-ever national ranking.  North Texas’ star freshman Tony Mitchell averaged a double-double, 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game (the only freshman in the country to accomplish the feat).  Mitchell led the Mean Green to the finals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament where they fell to a red-hot Western Kentucky squad.   Nate Wolters of South Dakota State led the team in scoring at 21.2ppg, led the Jackrabbits to its first-ever Summit League and NCAA Tournament berth where they gave 3-seeded Baylor all they could handle in a 2nd round loss.  Wolters caught the eye of many with a nationally televised 22-point performance in a win over Buffalo on Bracketbuster Saturday.

These four have something in common, they all made CBSSports.com’s list of the top 100 for the 2012-13 season.   McDermott (2), Caanan (4), Mitchell (7) all made the top ten while Wolters checks in at 71. So who are some guys from non-BCS conferences that aren’t on this list but may be by year’s end?

Let’s start in the conference where McDermott resides, the Missouri Valley.  Evansville’s Colt Ryan just missed the cut on CBS’ list but the 6’5 leader of the Purple Aces finished last season as the team leader in points (20.5) and steals (1.9) per game while finishing 3rd in rebounds (4.2) and assists (3.3) per game.  What makes Ryan so good is his consistency, not only will he dish out assists and crash the boards, but since he arrived at Evansville he has scored at least 20 points in 33 games, that’s a full season and a better than a one out of every  three game clip.

Julian Boyd the senior leader and reigning Northeast Conference Player of the Year will try and lead the Blackbirds to a 3rd straight conference championship and  NCAA Tournament bid.  He will however have to wait to take his stranglehold on the conference.  Boyd was one of four players originally suspended from school for their part in an on campus brawl.  Those bans have been lifted but those players will serve two game suspensions to begin conference play, among other sanctions.   During the Blackbirds NEC reign over the last two seasons, Boyd has been a rock, scoring at least 12 points in all but four games and grabbing at least six rebounds in all but five contests.  Boyd jumped from 13 points a game in 2010-11 to 17.4 last season, while averaging over 9 boards a game.  A similar jump would assuredly put Boyd more squarely on the national map.

Like Long Island, Belmont is coming off back-to-back Atlantic Sun conference championships and 57 wins over the last two seasons.  Now move to the Ohio Valley which should give the Bruins an even bigger  national  profile playing with Murray State who again should be a high profile mid major team.  Kerron Johnson leads the Bruins into its first season in the Ohio Valley averaging 13.8 points and 5.2 assists per game.  Having Caanan in the same conference could push Johnson, his game and Belmont to an even higher level.

De’mon Brooks is coming off a quietly stellar sophomore season in which he averaged nearly 16 points and six rebounds per game and 18 points and 6 rebounds in leading Davidson to the Southern Conference Championship.  After his freshman campaign Brooks improved his 3-point, field goal and free throw percentages and his points per game jumped up from 9 to 15.7.  With the top six scorers returning, Brooks has the chance to lead Davidson to another NCAA Tournament bid and shine brighter on a national stage in the process.

After being upset in the first round of the Western Athletic Conference tournament, Utah State made it to the finals of the CIT tournament.  Preston Medlin the Aggies Junior guard burst on the scene averaging 17.0ppg including 25 games of 15 or more points.  Medlin outdueled Oakland’s Reggie Hamilton in the semifinals of the CIT scoring 26 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. Stew Morrill’s team should once again challenge for a WAC title with Medlin leading the charge.

These are just a few of the guys to keep an eye on as the season goes on.  A year end list of the best players in college basketball in 2012-13 could very well see these names on it.

College Hoop Haven

Battle of the Midway to go on as Planned

5 Oct

Syracuse and San Diego State have confirmed the Battle of the Midway will go on as planned.

According to the San Diego Tribune the game was in a bit of peril after sponsorships were lacking for the event.

Peter Moore Men’s basketball Sports Information Director at Syracuse said, “We are looking forward to a great event and the chance to salute the U.S. Military at the same time.”

Fox Sports San Diego will go ahead with broadcasting the event. Henry S. Ford, Sr. Vice President and General Manager said “Fox Sports San Diego is committed to ensuring that the game takes place as scheduled, we’re happy to work with San Diego State and Syracuse to make the Battle of the Midway a first-class event here in San Diego and an outstanding telecast to our national audiences.”

The game is one of three scheduled to take place on naval ships on Nov. 9th, Ohio State plays Marquette and Georgetown takes on Florida on similar venues.

College Hoop Haven

Opening Night Gems

4 Oct

On November 9th the ball goes in the air popping the top on yet another glorious season of college basketball.  The first couple of weeks are usually littered with lopsided mismatches without a lot of intrigue.  This opening night however is a little different with a handful of games that should pique the interest of many:

Lehigh vs. Baylor: This is not only a marquee battle of perspective conference favorites; Lehigh in the Patriot League and Baylor looking to finally unseat Kansas in the Big 12.  It is a battle of senior point guards, Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum who scored 30 points in a second round upset of #2 seed Duke last March and then decided against the NBA draft and Baylor’s Pierre Jackson whose floor leadership brought the Bears within a game of the Final Four, falling to National Champion Kentucky.   Watching these two go head-to-head is certainly an opening night treat.

Alabama vs. South Dakota State: Alabama returned to the NCAA Tournament in 2012 but ran into Doug McDermott and Creighton in the second round falling 58-57.  The Crimson Tide and its junior guard Trevor Releford open the 2012-13 campaign against another potent scorer in South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters who finished 9th in the country and scoring (21.3ppg).  Wolters , who caught the nation’s eye in a nationally televised 22 point, 6 rebound, 8 assist effort in a 21-point win over Buffalo on Bracket Buster Saturday.  With the graduation of Alabama’s JaMychal Green and South Dakota State’s Griffin Callahan you can look for Releford and Wolters to shoulder even more of the load for their respective teams this season.

Maryland vs. Kentucky: Not only is this opening night for the defending National Champs, it is also the debut of John Calipari’s latest crop of Kentucky Blue Bloods headed by Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress.  They face a Maryland team looking to continue its resurgence in the ACC thanks to sophomore guard Nick Faust and the hopeful return of Junior forward Pe’Shon Howard who missed much of last season after tearing an ACL.  While an upset may not be in the cards for Mark Turgeon’s young Terrapins, it will be a good early litmus test.

North Texas vs. Creighton: Some are touting Creighton as a preseason top 25 team and they start off with a tough test.  A match up of star 6-8 forwards; North Texas’s dynamic Tony Mitchell and Creighton’s National Player of the Year Doug McDermott who finished 3rd in the country in scoring (23.1 ppg).  Mitchell averaged a double-double in his freshman campaign, the only freshman in the country to do so.  McDermott is hoping to lead the Bluejays to a better finish in the NCAA Tournament than the 3rd round defeat to North Carolina they suffered last season.

The next three games all have something in common; they will take place on the decks of really big boats.

Ohio State vs. Marquette:  On a ship docked off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, DeShaun Thomas and Aaron Craft will lead the Buckeyes in an opening night battle against Marquette’s own guard/forward combo of Vander Blue and Davante Gardner.

Georgetown vs. Florida: This game will take place off the coast of Jacksonville, FL and will feature an interesting matchup of power forwards.  Georgetown’s young emerging star Sophomore Otto Porter who becomes the face of the 2012 Hoyas and Florida’s Will Yeguete who missed the SEC Tournament and the NCAA due to a concussion.  Yeguete should add to a solid Gator frontcourt that boasts Patric Young and Erik Murphy.

San Diego State vs. Syracuse:* (Postponed due to weather) On the deck of the  retired USS Midway in San Diego Syracuse, coming off an Elite 8 run takes the court with Brandon Triche and his young sophomore backcourt mate the 6’5 smooth-passing Michael Carter-Williams to take on a San Diego State team that despite a 2nd round loss to NC State in the NCAA Tournament finished last season with 26 wins and a 6 seed.  The Aztecs return everyone of significance from that team including a backcourt of Senior Chase Tapley and Junior star Jamal Franklin.

There are some opening night duds as there always will be, but there are also a few games that are if shined right could be gems on the first night of college hoops in 2012-13.

College Hoop Haven

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