Archive | October, 2013

Conference Snippets Part 2

31 Oct

Atlantic Sun

Headline: Does Dunk City have an encore?

Storyline: Florida Gulf Coast was the story of last year’s NCAA Tournament but can they repeat?  The Eagles have a new coach but return four starters from the squad that took the country by storm.  Replacing emotional leader Sherwood Brown will be difficult but point guard Brett Comer, forward Chase Fieler and Bernard Thompson return to show that Dunk City is more phenomenon and less trending fad.

Keep an eye on: Mercer and South Carolina-Upstate are the two likeliest contenders to FGCU.  Mercer had hoped to take the reigns of the conference after Belmont left for the Ohio Valley but fell victim to the Eagles and are hoping to take their team one step further this season.  South Carolina-Upstate returns the league’s two-time leading scorer in senior guard Torrey Craig who is looking to lead his school to its first NCAA Tournament.

Big 12

Headline: Does Kansas finally get knocked off the Big 12 throne?

Storyline: The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the conference title nine straight years and some say this is the best recruiting class coach Bill Self has ever had.  Led by the country’s top recruit Andrew Wiggins and joined by center Joel Embiid and guard Wayne Selden, Kansas is super young but super talented.  Right on their heels however is Oklahoma State and the nation’s best returning player in Marcus Smart and a Baylor team loaded with experience that has to replace Pierre Jackson at the point.

Keep an eye on: Iowa State returns one of the country’s most versatile players in sophomore Geores Niang and the conference’s best rebounder, senior Melvin Ejim.  Add to them perhaps the most impactful transfer in the country DeAndre Kane who enters the Cyclones’ back court after a successful career at Marshall.  Fred Hoiberg has a squad that could be a real deciding factor in who wins the Big 12 in 2014.

Big East

Headline: The Catholic 7 and their new cohorts hope to start a new Big East tradition.

Storyline: How do Butler, Creighton and Xavier adjust to the new competition and how much of an impact can they make in order to make the Big East their home and not just additions to the group that broke off from the old Big East?

Keep an eye on: St. John’s is now experienced  under coach Steve Lavin and the Johnnies have the likes of D’Angelo Harrison and Jakar Sampson to help lead them back to the NCAA Tournament.

Big Sky

Headline: Another year Another Big Sky battle between Montana and Weber State.

Storyline: Montana has been one of the best teams in the country during the month of February the last few seasons , but has failed to reach the NCAA Tournament since 2007.  Last year they became the first team from the Big Sky to win 30 games and return a nice nucleus to continue that success.  Montana won the league last year but lost leading scorers Will Cherry and Mathias Ward but return senior guard Kareem Jamar to lead the charge towards a repeat.

Keep an eye on: North Dakota returns four starters led by 19-point scorer Troy Huff who along with his veteran team mates should mount a pretty good challenge for Weber State and Montana.

Conference Snippets

30 Oct

America East

Headline: Can someone end the Stranglehold of Vermont and Stony Brook?

Storyline: Over the last four seasons the only current member of the conference aside from Stony Brook and Vermont to play in the tournament final was last year’s champion Albany.  Was last year just an aberration for the Seawolves and Catamounts?

Keep an eye on: The Hartford Hawks.  Coach John Gallagher returns four starters from a squad that earned the school’s first post-season appearance, all of which are juniors.  Leading scorer Mark Nwakamma (14.7) and Nick Sikma lead a versatile Hawks’ offense that could crash the 2-school party in America East.

 

American

Headline: The defending champs have plenty of competition in their new conference.

Storyline: The Cardinals may be raising a banner this November but it will be far from clear sailing for Rick Pitino and crew.  Connecticut returns to the ranks of the post-season eligible and if they can figure out their front court issues they will become a familiar unwelcomed foe for Louisville.  Memphis also arrives after years of dominating Conference USA and Cincinnati won 22 games and returns one of the best guards in the conference in Sean Kilpatrick hoping to make their mark on the new conference.

Keep an eye on: The SMU Mustangs who haven’t made an NCAA Tournament since 1993 return all five starters from a 15-win season and welcome the school’s first ever McDonald’s All-American in 6-5 guard Keith Frazier. So don’t do a double take if Larry Brown has this group of Mustangs charging towards the front of the AAC.

Atlantic 10

Headline: Teams come, teams go but the top remains the same.

Storyline: Butler, Temple and Xavier are gone and George Mason arrives but the top of the A-10 shouldn’t change much despite the comings and goings.  VCU, last year’s tournament champ St. Louis and surprise Sweet 16 participant LaSalle should all contend for the league title again this season with the likes of UMass and St. Joseph’s nipping at their heels.

Keep an eye on: George Mason.  The Patriots return all five starters from their 22-win team last season, but can they translate their success in the Colonial to the Atlantic 10?

ACC

Headline: Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame make the ACC the best conference in the country.

Storyline: Can Duke be derailed?  An already loaded Blue Devils squad welcomes the highly touted recruit Jabari Parker and Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood to Durham in hopes of doing more than just erasing how 2013 ended.  How quickly will Syracuse become a rival of Duke? Hall of Fame coaches, Quinn Cook vs. Tyler Ennis at point guard and Hood/Parker vs. CJ Fair and Jerami Grant, good match ups abound between these two teams who will get to know each other well pretty quick.

Keep an eye on: Notre Dame.  Coach Mike Brey always seemed to get the Fighting Irish to exceed expectations no matter where they are picked. The Irish return a senior back court of Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant.  Can the Irish separate themselves from the North Carolinas, Virginias and Pittsburghs of the ACC?

Louisiana Tech Looking to Lead C-USA

15 Oct

When people talk about Louisiana Tech basketball, the women’s program comes to mind given their three national championships.  Coach Michael White is trying to change that perception in Ruston with the men’s program.

The Bulldogs have had very limited success in the NCAA Tournament having just one win in three tournament appearances since 1987 and haven’t made the March field since 1991.  But since White’s arrival the team has averaged 22 wins a season including a 17-game winning streak and a trip to the NIT last year.  Despite the post-season appearance, the Bulldogs season ended on a little bit of a down note losing their last two regular season games after starting the year 16-0 in the Western Athletic Conference and then being upset by Texas-San Antonio on the first round of the WAC tournament.

Junior forward Raheem Appleby wasn’t satisfied with the way last season ended, “The record shows we played pretty good, but we don’t feel we finished how we should’ve.”

With conference realignment hitting nearly every conference in the country, few conferences have had as much uncertainty over the last couple of seasons than the WAC.  After a decade in the conference Louisiana Tech has made the move to another conference that has seen a boatload of realignment changes, Conference USA.  In order to fill the spots vacated by teams leaving for other conferences C-USA welcomes schools from the Sun Belt, Colonial Athletic  Association and Atlantic 10 in addition to the Bulldogs and fellow WAC member Texas-San Antonio.

So after climbing to the top of the WAC White and his squad move to another conference with travel from West Virginia to Texas while getting accustomed to new teams and new styles of play.  Whether White’s style of pressure defense will be successful against teams that by and large are seen as an upgrade in competition remains to be seen.

Appleby definitely thinks that the Bulldogs will have to reestablish themselves moving to Conference USA, “it is a tougher conference and it’s bigger (and) better teams.  We may be picked at the top but we can’t go out like it’s going to be given to us.”

The 27 victories last season were the 2nd most in school history behind only the 1984-85 team that won 29 games.  Looking at LA Tech’s 2012-13 statistically it is not hard to see why the Bulldogs had such a successful season.   Their up-tempo offense that averaged 72.6 points per game ranked them 54th in the country.  As the old basketball adage goes it is a lot easier to run when you aren’t taking the ball out of your opponent’s basket and White’s group was good on the defensive end as well, ranking 87th in team defense (63.3 points), 26th in rebounds per game with 38.5 and 6th in the country in turnover margin forcing five more miscues a game than they commit.

Another successful aspect of White’s Bulldogs is its depth.  Last season they had 11 guys averaging at least 9.5 minutes per game.  Yet another key stat for the Bulldogs is the fact that for a team that averaged 73 points they only had one double-digit scorer, Appelby who scored 14.9 points per game.

For a team that likes to get out and run, the most important aspect of the team’s style is, “defense, I think that’s what makes our offense go.  We like to run and you gotta get stops to run.”

Of the 11 guys who saw substantial playing time last year nine of them return including Appelby, the team’s and WAC’s assist leader Speedy Smith who dished out five assists per game and leading rebounder junior Michale Kyser who pulled down 5.3 boards and his 92 blocks last season tied a school record.

That continuity should help Louisiana Tech as they adjust to life in Conference USA and Appelby thinks, “it will help a lot, we have a lot of chemistry and people who know the system so we won’t have to teach as much.”

Coach White thinks the team’s versatility, speed and depth and thinks the athletic Bulldogs will be even deeper this season with a lot of guys competing for minutes.  Louisiana Tech may have to relearn some new things moving to a new conference but the Bulldogs are looking to jump right to the head of the class.

Louisiana Tech is trying to reach its first NCAA Tournament in over 20 years, a fact not lost on Appelby and his team mates, “it would mean a lot, that was our goal ever since me and coach White got here, it has been our goal since day one and it would just be a great accomplishment.”

They came up just short last year but look for the Bulldogs to take another aim at the NCAAs this year and they hope to hit the mark.

Guards in Abundance in the NEC

11 Oct

For most basketball team’s their success (or failure) goes hand-in-hand with the success (or failure) of their guard play. Guard play may be even more important at the lower levels of the college hoops landscape and one of those leagues that has a dearth of hidden gems in the back court is the Northeast Conference.
From Bryant to Wagner this 10-team league is one to keep an eye on if you enjoy watching ball handlers that are good at what they do.
The most notable of the NEC guards may be Long Island’s senior point guard Jason Brickman. With fellow senior Julian Boyd who re-tore his acl this summer out until January at a minimum Brickman becomes the Blackbirds’ leading scorer as Long Island tries for an unprecedented four-peat in the NEC. While Brickman may need to have an increased offensive role, what he is known for is his ability to find open teammates. He returns as the nation’s assist leader at 8.5 last season.
If you are looking at last season’s assist leaders, right behind Brickman is fellow NEC guard, Sacred Heart’s Phil Gaetano finished 2nd in the conference and in the country with 7.9 assists per game. Gaetano is the epitome of a pass-first point guard having registered double digits in just two games last season. With the Pioneers struggling to regain the success they had in 2008 when they reached the conference tournament final Gaetano is one of the lone bright spots for Sacred Heart but is definitely worth the price of admission.
If a more offensive-minded guard is your style, the Northeast has plenty of those as well led by Central Connecticut State’s Kyle Vinales and his 21.6 points per game good enough to be the 4th highest returning scorer in the country. Not only did Vinales lead the other Blue Devils in scoring but he also led them in assists at 3.8 and that duel threat is enough to keep CCSU in most games, just ask LaSalle who was knocked off by CCSU in early November led by Vinales’ 23 points.
At Bryant University sharp-shooting junior guard Dyami Starks who led the Bulldogs to a 17-win turnaround from a two win 2011-12 season. Starks led the Bulldogs with 17.7 points per game and with the team returning five of the top seven scorers including the dynamic Starks the team will be hoping to improve upon the #4 seed they had in last season’s conference tournament.
One of the most well-rounded guards in the conference is Wagner’s senior back court wizard Kenneth Ortiz. Ortiz was third on the team in scoring at 11.8 points and rebounds with 4.3 while leading the Seahawks in assists (5.4) and steals (2.0). Ortiz did all he could to help carry the Seahawks last March but his 11 points, eight rebounds and nine assists wasn’t enough to get by Long Island in the first round. Head coach Bashir Mason has an experienced squad (eight upperclassmen) and a floor general he hopes can lead them to the top of a wide-open NEC.
Outside of the NCAA Tournament the biggest upset had to be Robert Morris’ upset of Kentucky in the NIT. The Colonials don’t have a superstar; instead they are a team that went 10 deep last season for a team that averaged over 72 points per game. Coach Andy Toole’s squad prides itself on defense as evidenced by holding Kentucky to just 57 points in that NIT win. On the offensive end their leading scorer was 6-2 Karvel Anderson at 12.5 points per game. It was hard to pin point someone on the colonials roster as Toole’s style is so guard orientated that the official lists only five pure forwards on the roster. There may be no marquee player but there are guards galore at Robert Morris and just ask the folks in Big Blue Nation how well it works.
If you like guard play in college basketball make sure you check out some of the little-known quality that the Northeast Conference has to offer this season.

Could the Ultimate Upset Come From the SWAC?

10 Oct

In the NCAA Tournament we know a 16 seed has never beaten a top seed, although some have come pretty close.   Will it ever happen? Probably.  Is that moment getting closer? I think so.  Who might be able to pull off such a historic and monumental upset? The answer as to where that team may come from could surprise some people.  The SWAC may have a team or teams capable of taking down a top seed.  That’s right the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

The same conference that has long been seen as an also-ran in college basketball, the same conference that had nine of its 10 teams ranked 321 or lower in men’s basketball expenditures last season, but also the same conference that has shown in the past it is capable of pulling upsets.

In its history the SWAC has five NCAA Tournament wins since 1980 with three of those coming in the recently added Opening Round/First Four games.  In 1980 Alcorn State won an #8/#9 match up and in 1993 Southern defeated Georgia Tech as a 13-seed.

It just so happens that the same Southern Jaguars are one of the teams that could pull off the upset only the Harvard women have been able to achieve.  Why Southern and why now?  Let’s start with the why now.  Teams seeded 15 and 16 have had more tournament success of late.  Two years ago #1 Syracuse got a scare from #16 UNC-Asheville before pulling out a 72-65 win and then both Lehigh and Norfolk State as 15 seeds knocked off a pair of #2s in Duke and Missouri respectively.  Then last year a 15-seed was again the talk of the tournament as “Dunk City” Florida Gulf Coast knocked off #2 Georgetown and #10 San Diego State on its way to the Sweet 16.  For the second year in a row a #1 seed got a scare from a 16, Gonzaga defeated the aforementioned Southern 64-58 with the Jaguars getting as close as 59-58 with 2:28 to play.

So why Southern?  They almost accomplished the feat last year and defeated Texas A&M on the road last season while finishing 15-3 in conference.  The Jags also return three of their top five scorers including potentially the league’s best player in senior guard Malcolm Miller.  Coach Roman Banks also has an experienced roster with nine juniors and seniors returning.   If Southern can find a way to replace leading scorer Derick Beltran they could certainly challenge for more than just the SWAC title.

Standing in Southern’s way may well be Texas Southern who would’ve earned the league’s top seed had they been eligible for post-season play finishing 16-2, unfortunately for the Tigers they were hit with APR sanctions.

The Tigers are led by former Indiana and Alabama-Birmingham coach Mike Davis so they are led by a man who knows what it takes to beat big time college basketball programs.  Even though they went just 1-12 during their non-conference schedule last year they did take #19 Colorado to double overtime and Houston to overtime before falling.

Despite the Tigers losing league Player of the Year Omar Strong and Defensive POY Fred Sturdivant they return three players who some believe are all capable of earning all-league honors in guards Ray Penn and Lawrence Johnson-Danner and forward Aaron Clayborn.  Davis also brings in possibly the league’s best recruiting class led by a trio of Texas Prep players, 6-8 Christian McCoogle, 6-6 Vicktor Arnick and 6-7 Victor Haywood.   In addition Davis also brought in Juco transfer 6-6 Jose Rodriguez.

Much like Southern with Beltran, if the Tigers can find a way to make up the production that Strong and Sturdivant brought them, the two-horse race in the SWAC should be one to keep an eye on because come March if a top seed is going to fall it could fall at the feet of one of these two teams.

The Evolution of a College Hoops Fanatic

8 Oct

We all have things that we are passionate about and it is a good bet that we remember the moment or moments that ignited that passion and those moments when we realized that passion was more like a raging inferno.  The following is my evolution as a college basketball fan.  When did you know you were extra passionate about your team, your sport or your cause?

In April of 1985 I was eight, I remember wanting to stay up to watch the National Championship game between Big East rivals #8 Villanova and head coach Rollie Massimino taking on John Thompson and the #1 Georgetown Hoyas.   I popped a tape in the vcr and the next morning watched the Wildcats pull off one of the monumental upsets in NCAA Tournament history capturing the national title.

After that game I would yearn for March to come in order to drown myself in brackets, seeds and upsets for the three greatest week on the calendar.

During my latter years in high school each November I would take a notebook and sit in front of a tv and watch game after game after game jotting down notes on all the top teams so that I could look back on them as the season went on.  Even then my main passion was still the NCAA Tournament and seeing such great moments as Indiana’s Keith Smart in 1987, UNLV destroying Duke in the 1990 final and the Blue Devils returning the favor derailing the Runnin’ Rebels shot at an undefeated season in ’91, UCLA winning the title in 1995 and then getting upset by Princeton in the first round in 1996.

As I entered college in 1996 I began buying season preview magazines, pouring over and over them trying to absorb as much information as possible as I also began a new tradition, trying to predict who would make the NCAA Tournament before the season began.

Each year I could be found in the lounge of my dorm with my magazines and notebook taking notes, but come March there would still be brackets strewn all over my room.  With this new tradition I began to watch more games between more teams as I knew more about them from the magazines.

As I watched more and more games I began to realize it didn’t matter which teams were on the floor I enjoyed watching the game.  After graduating from college I wanted to do something to keep busy and to share my love of college basketball with more people.  So I learned about HTML and developed my website, College Hoops Haven that was loaded with information on every college basketball team (standings, rosters, rankings, etc.).  In 2004 while sitting in my apartment I was watching early-season tournament games as I usually did, then I found myself up at 3am listening to the internet radio feed of a game between Furman and Alaska-Anchorage at the Great Alaska Shootout just because there was a game going on.  It was then I realized my passion was more like an obsession.  With the number of division 1 basketball teams growing to over 345 the website was more and more difficult to keep up with.

Not knowing how to evolve the website into something more controllable and still share the scope of my love for the college game with people I was at a standstill.  During the pre-season of 2011-12 I was listening to a CBS Sports podcast with Matt Norlander interviewing Rob Dauster and Troy Machir founders of the blog Ballin’ is a Habit.  I was shocked that there were people out there that loved college basketball as much as I did, and that’s when I decided to turn the website into a blog where I could share my thoughts on the sport.

Over the last two years I have been doing just that and in doing so preparation for the season now begins in September turning what began as fun hobby during the three weeks of the NCAA Tournament nearly 25 years ago into an eight month labor of love that has allowed me to talk to players and coaches from across the country and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Every fall I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas, I can’t wait for the season to tip November 8th!

That is my story, what is yours?

Boise State and Harvard Poised to take the Next Step

7 Oct

George Mason, VCU, Butler, Wichita State, it seems as of late there is a surprise entrant in the Final Four every season.  The question becomes not whether there will be another one this year but more, who are some of the teams could make that magical run in March?

The caveat of good health aside, one of the factors in finding dark horse Final Four candidates is looking at who had a successful season the year prior and returns most if not all of their key contributors.  There are a couple of teams that fit that mold for the 2013-14 season.  One plays in the Mountain West the other in the Ivy League.  Let’s take a closer look at the Boise State Broncos and Harvard Crimson.

When people talk about the Mountain West we hear about the usually names, San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV, but last season Boise State made a statement that they would be a force to be reckon with in the conference by winning 21 games and earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament.  The Broncos also earned season splits with San Diego State and UNLV and gave New Mexico fits falling in overtime and by 10 points.  Boise also beat #13 Creighton in Omaha by 13 and fell to #15 Michigan State on the road by just four points.

Coach Leon Rice and company are hoping to build upon what was started last season.  The Broncos have a good foundation, returning their top six scorers and nine of the 12 players to see action last season.  The team will once again be led by juniors and all-league candidates Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic.  Marks is the team’s overall best player having averaged 16.3 points, a team-leading 3.9 assists and pulled down nearly four rebounds a game.  Drmic the Australian product led the team in scoring at nearly 18 per contest.  He also grabbed 4.6 rebounds and shot 39% from beyond the arc.

The Broncos are a lot deeper than just Marks and Drmic, they also return the conference’s leading 3-point shooter in senior Jeff Elorriaga who shot 44.7% last season and senior Ryan Watkins who averaged 6.8 rebounds a game, benefitting from all the attention opposing defenses must pay to the perimeter.  Another Aussie Igor Hadziomerovic and Mikey Thompson add quality depth and could provide even more than the 13.1 points a game they combined for last year.  Watkins should get some help on the interior with the addition of the team’s third Australian import Nicholas Duncan who arrives having averaged 17.6 points and 14.9 rebounds last year.

On the east coast there is a team much like Boise who had a very successful season and is looking to make this year even more successful, Tommy Amaker’s Harvard Crimson.  Last year began with some turmoil for Harvard as two of their best players Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey were embroiled in an academic scandal that eventually saw the duo dismissed from the team for the season.  The team didn’t seem to skip a beat however as the Crimson won the Ivy League by winning nine of its first 19 in league play.  The team finished the season with 20 wins including arguably the biggest upset of the tournament not involving Florida Gulf Coast when they defeated #3 New Mexico 68-62 in the second round.

The loss of Curry and Casey may have been a blessing for Tommy Amaker and his crew as eight guys played in at least 22 games and seven of those return this season.  To further that point only one of those seven is now a senior, guard Laurent Rivard who made a team-high 80 3-pointers last season. Junior swingman Wesley Saunders averaged over 16 points a game and registered double figures in 29 of his 30 games last season and sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers became the first freshman in Ivy League history to be named first team all-conference.   Add to this now experienced group the returning Curry and Casey who averaged 19.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.7 assists the last time they were on the floor and four-star center recruit 6-8 Zena Edosomwan it becomes clear why Harvard is not only the favorite to repeat in the Ivy but a trendy pick to run in March.

Harvard and Boise State are just two of the teams who could make an unexpected run during the NCAA Tournament should they make it there.  The Broncos and Crimson are now experienced and deep teams that know the pressures of March basketball and unlikely to be fazed by them.

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