The differences in Aaron Craft and Marshall Henderson were astounding, really.
When you think about it, the 2013-14 basketball season, in part, was a study of how two men can be seen as “evil” to different people on totally different ends of the spectrum. Craft was, by all accounts, clean-cut, nice and did all the right things. Though he was still hated as if he somehow victimized an entire student section.
Then you had Marshall Henderson, who was 180-degrees in the other direction. The history with drugs. The arrests. The four schools in five collegiate seasons. Not to mention all the trashing-talking, jersey popping and general anger he incited….and that was just against Auburn.
They were the villains of the 2013-14 season (the last two seasons, really). But those two were seniors and have exhausted their eligibility.
So now we search for the next batch of possible prospects who are ready to cause fans to be ejected, security to be beefed up around the visiting bench and boosters’ wives to leave games early.
One caveat: No Duke players. Because, for the love of God, that’s just too easy. And y’all are better than that.
Ryan Boatright, Sr., G, UConn – The Mouth – There aren’t many great players going into 2014-15 that are known for their trash talk, but Boatright is one of them. He’s a smaller, talkative point guard who loves to get the the basket (12.1 ppg. 3.4 apg) and isn’t afraid to let you know that his game is up there with the best. He’s got a mouth to match his talent and I’d bet your life that we see it on a national stage.
Ron Baker, r-Jr., G, Wichita State - The Gun – Ron Baker has a well-rounded game (13.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.4 spg) , but he’s known for his range more than anything. He’ll piss off a fanbase from deep nightly (38 percent from 3-point range last year) and he’ll do it quietly, which added another dimension to how he’ll drive opposing fans crazy.
Aaron Harrison, Soph., G, Kentucky – Mr. Big Shot – Despite the insane amount of talent that recently descended upon Lexington, there’s no way student sections around the SEC forgot about Harrison’s big shot tour of March 2014. Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin fans sure as hell won’t. Every time the game is in the balance late, you can bet no. 2 will get more flak than his brother or the freshman phenoms for the Wildcats. And he and his 13.7 ppg will probably get the same attention from opposing defenses.
Kevin Pangos, Sr., G, Gonzaga - The Tradition – Pangos carries on a long, proud legacy for the Zags: Shorter, white point guards who somehow get to the rim with ease. John Stockton, Matt Santangelo, Dan Dickau, Derek Raivio, now Pangos. He’s already the most hated man in the West Coast Conference and, while he’s had some attention on a national stage, it should increase this season as a senior, where he should improve on his 14.4-point, 3.3-rebound, 3.6-assist per game averages. If anything, Pangos is already hated at Wazzu.
Siyani Chambers, Jr., G, Harvard and Wesley Saunders, Sr., G, Harvard – The Nerds -It’s the smart kid syndrome. Despite the Crimson having one of the better mid-major programs in the past five years under Tommy Amaker, the average fan at a college basketball game is going to prey on the fact that they go to a smart-kid school (which is a compliment, but you get the idea). Chambers (11.1 ppg, 4.6 apg) and Saunders (14.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg) have arguably the most talented mid-major backcourt in the land — rivaling Ryan Harrow and R.J. Hunter of Georgia State — and they’ll hear all about how they don’t belong all season.
Tyler Haws, Sr., G, BYU – The Jimmer Effect – I know, I know. It’s an easy play. But sometime you have to point out the obvious. He’s a white guard at BYU who gets all of the buckets — 23.2 ppg on 46.3 percent shooting, 40.4 percent from 3. He’s going to be the focal point of the Cougars attack and their opponents’ defensive strategy. And you can bet that he’ll be at the center of every student sections disparaging chants (though a lot of sections are slacking. Seriously, what’s wrong with you people? Get creative.)
Marcus Foster, Soph,, G, Kansas State – The Most Known Unknown – You’re welcome for the 3 6 Mafia drop. Foster had very few offers coming out of high school and he made the most of his Kansas State one. He averaged 15.5 points last season and with Oklahoma State losing so much and Texas bringing back a ton of good-but-not-marquee players, there needs to be a star in the Big 12 OUTSIDE of Lawrence, Kansas (though he’ll have to fight Georges Niang.) Foster could definitely be it for Bruce Weber’s team. He’s already probably made many enemie in Spokane.
Did I get it right? Did I get it wrong? Did I miss anyone? Let me know on Twitter at @David_Harten or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the rest of the week, we’ll be picking the players, coaches and teams most likely to do some big things, or, well, bad things for the upcoming season. We’ll start today with four individuals poised for big seasons.
Most Likely to Win National Player of the Year:
Cody Zeller: Easy answer, right? He’s being heralded as the best player in the nation on the best team in the nation. As someone who grew up in southern Indiana watching and reading about all three Zeller brothers, I’m pretty excited to see what Cody is capable of this year. Simply put, he can do it all. With freshman year averages of 15.6 points per game, 6.6 rebounds and a 62 percent field goal percentage, Zeller helped bring an IU team back from the dead into one of the top 10 teams in the nation. He also averaged over a steal and a block each time out. The Hoosiers have a really deep team this year, but I still anticipate Zeller getting more touches this year. Last season he only had 11 games with more than 10 field goal attempts. This is Zeller’s award to lose, as expectations are as high as they’ve been in over 20 years in Bloomington. Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan are the two guys that could challenge Zeller the most.
Most Likely to Lead the Nation in Scoring:
Doug McDermott: One of the guys that could possibly give Zeller a run for his money for PoY, McDermott can flat out score. Averaging 22.9 points per game last year for Creighton, good for third in the nation, McDermott did so shooting a staggering 60 percent from the field. Plenty of people shoot 60 percent, but very few of them are also deadly 3-point shooters. The Creighton sharpshooter connected on 49 percent of his three’s last season, making 1.5 a game. Word is he’s improved his shot off the dribble, so the Missouri Valley better be on the lookout now more than ever.
Brady Heslip: With apologies to Indiana’s Jordan Hulls and Butler’s Rotnei Clarke, I just can’t get Heslip’s performance from last year’s NCAA Tournament for Baylor out of my head. In a second-round game against Colorado, he made nine threes and scored 27 points. For the year he made 100 of them. All this kid does is shoot three’s, but why fault him when he makes 44 percent of them? He made 2.6 three’s per contest, and only 0.6 two-point field goals. Something tells me the folks down in Waco don’t mind, though.
Most Likely to Lead the Nation in Rebounding:
Andre Roberson: Fifth in the nation in rebounding last year, I think this Colorado big man has the tools to finish out on top for 2012-13. Last season he averaged 11.1 rebounds per game, grabbing down double figure boards 26 times. He helped Colorado upset UNLV in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year, hauling down 16 rebounds to go with 12 points.
Images: Google Images/SI.com
Even though Kentucky ended up winning the National Championship last year, it was Vanderbilt who took home the SEC title. Can UK recover from five players leaving for the NBA Draft, or will another team pull off another major upset in the SEC?
1- Kentucky. Nerlens Noel will lead another star-packed Kentucky recruiting class, that was ranked No. 2 in the nation. Scouts say Noel is every bit the shot blocker Anthony Davis was, though his offensive game still needs some work. Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin will both get big minutes in their freshman years as well. Of John Calipari’s five recruits from the 2011 class, only Kyle Wiltjer elected to stay for a sophomore season. He averaged five points a game and will be the only contributor back from that National Championship team. NC State transfer Ryan Harrow will be Calipari’s most experienced point guard he has had in years. It’s hard not to pick Kentucky to win the conference with the way Calipari is able to rebuild teams quickly.
2- Missouri. With Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon, Missouri will have one of the best starting backcourts in the country. The two combined for nearly 24 points and 10 assists a year ago. The Tigers had trouble with frontcourt depth last season, but 2010 starter Laurence Bowers (10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds per game in 2009-10) is back from a torn ACL, and they will also have UCONN transfer Alex Oriakhi, who has plenty of NCAA Tournament experience. They lost three players who averaged over 13 points a game, but with who they have coming back this is still a strong team.
3- Florida. The Gators are without two of the main backcourt members, including Bradley Beal who was the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft, but the cupboards are hardly bare. Shooting guard Kenny Boynton, who averaged nearly 16 points a game last year, will be counted on even more this year. Erik Murphy and Patric Young, who both averaged over 10 points and 4.5 rebounds a game last year return as well. This team will have a lot of depth and experience, including that of Mike Rosario and Brandon Ogbueze.
4- Tennessee. If the Volunteers can repeat what they did in their half season with freshman Jarnell Stokes, then this team will for sure be a top-five SEC team and borderline top-25 team in the nation. After Stokes was inserted into the starting lineup last year, Tennessee went 10-3. He provides a big physical presence that the Volunteers will need to rely on. He isn’t their only quality big man, as Jeronne Maymom (12.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg) will be a good counter for Stokes. Trae Golden is one of the SEC’s best point guards as well, leading the team in scoring at 13.6 a game. It’s NCAA Tournament or bust for Tennessee, as they return over 80 percent of the scoring and rebounding.
5- Arkansas. A 3-9 stretch to end last year ended squashed any chance of the Razorbacks making the Big Dance, but this year should be a different story. Arkansas got a huge break when BJ Young decided to not turn pro and stay in college another year. He led the SEC freshmen in scoring a year ago, shooting 50 percent from the field. Marshawn Powell tore knee ligaments after just two games last year — two breakout games, suggesting he is in for a big year this year. Mardracus Wade, Rickey Scott and freshmen JaCorey Williams and DeQuavious Wagner give this team a lot of depth.
9- Ole Miss
11- Texas A&M
12- Mississippi State
14- South Carolina
Jarnell Stokes- In just half of a year last season, Stokes was a monster in the post, and a full summer with the team will pay huge dividends going into his sophomore season. He only averaged 9.6 points a game, but that’s in limited playing time. Look for that to increase upward of 15 a game, as he has a full summer of workouts. He helped Team USA to a gold medal at the U18 FIBA Americas during the offseason, averaging 15 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.
Nerlens Noel- It’s hard not to compare him to Anthony Davis, especially when there have been plenty of people that said his defensive game rivals Davis’. If that’s the case, pencil Noel in for an SEC first-team selection. He may not be totally polished on offense, but in a Calipari offense the offense will definitely be there for him to average at least 10 points a game. He doesn’t have to be Anthony Davis, just Nerlens Noel, and by the looks of it — that kid can play.
BJ Young- As a freshman last season, this guard was fourth in the whole conference in field goal percentage. You just don’t see that in freshmen, especially guards. Fayetville must be excited to get Young back for another season, one that is filled with high expectations for the Arkansas squad. He averaged 15 points a game last season, and with even just a little bit of improvement I’d be shocked if he didn’t leave for the NBA after this season.
Phil Pressey- Though he averaged just 1.3 points a game, Pressey did pretty much everything else last season. He was tops in the Big 12 in assists (6.4) and steals (2.1). His field goal percentage went from 38 percent in his freshman year to 43 percent last year, but he will still need to improve on that. Pressey was the lone Tiger who showed up for their first round NCAA Tournament game with Norfolk State, scoring 20 points with eight assists. Expectations are high with this Missouri team, and a lot of their success will depend on Pressey’s play.
Kenny Boynton- With apologies to Alex Poythress, Patric Young and Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Florida’s Young gets the nod for the fifth spot on this list because of his ability to take over games with his scoring. The SEC’s leading returning scorer, Boynton has averaged at least 14 points a game in all three years at Florida. Last season he had 13 games of at least 20 points. The biggest improvement Boynton made was in his field goal percentage, which jumped from 38 percent to 44 percent.
Most Underrated Team- Alabama
The Crimson Tide had a two-man monster in JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell a year ago, but with both of them graduated Alabama will need a new identity. Look no further than Devonta Pollard, who may be the best freshman in the conference aside from UK’s. Pollard has tremendous athleticism and will fit in right away with Alabama. Returning for the Crimson Tide is Trevor Releford, who last year averaged 12 points a game on 48 percent shooting. There are no seniors this year, so if they finish in the middle of the pack this year, look for them to be in the top-5 in 2013-14.
Most Overrated Team- Vanderbilt
With all of the pieces they graduated, it’s hard to imagine the Commodores enjoying much success this year. Jeff Taylor, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli are all graduated, leaving a big hole on the Vanderbilt squad that won the SEC Tournament last year. Not many are picking the Commodores to do much of anything this year, but fans may look at this time as a top-half SEC team just by habit. But with their top six players graduated, that simply will not be the case.
This one was a toss up for me, but if Tennessee repeats what they did when they had Stokes in the starting lineup last year, then it should be their sophomore big man who takes home this award. Word in Knoxville is that Stokes has looked even more polished. He made his presence known in just his third game last year, pulling down 12 rebounds and scoring 16 points in an upset win over UCONN. I envision Stokes being a double-double machine this year. He is now used to Cuonzo Martin’s system and knows what to expect out of the team, including that of Trae Golden who will feed Stokes the ball early and often.
Coach of the Year- Cuonzo Martin
Not many people expected Tennessee to be good this soon after Bruce Pearl’s exit. But Martin has put the Volunteers in a position to contend for the No. 2 team in the conference behind Kentucky. With several players on his team recruited from Pearl’s team, Martin was able to keep the team focused enough to contend for the NCAA Tournament, and they will be better this year with most of their players returning. The biggest thing Martin has done was grab the aforementioned Stokes as a part of his first recruiting class.
Sleeper Impact Player- Marshawn Powell
Powell began the 2011-12 season as good as anyone, scoring at least 19 points with five rebounds in each of his first two games. His season was short lived, as he tore knee ligaments after in just the first week of the season. He’s back for an Arkansas team that has high expectations. Powell is a guy who averaged 14.9 points and then 10.8 points in his first two years at Arkanas, and the Razorbacks will need him to be a double-digit scorer again in what they think will be a big year for their team.
Photos: SEC Conference/Google Images
We have made it to the final weekend of college basketball.
New Orleans is the place to be, for those that are stuck watching CBS, hopefully they don’t use the SkyCam shot too much, and hopefully Jim Nantz doesn’t force his ‘non-scripted’ sayings into the broadcast.
On one side of the bracket you have a bitter instate rivalry, Louisville vs Kentucky. Being from Louisville I have to list Louisville first, Kentucky can not be first when you list these two teams. One the other side Ohio State and Kansas face off for the right to play in the last college game of the season.
Back on December 10 Kansas defeated the Buckeyes 78-67, Thomas Robinson led Kansas with 21 points and 7 rebounds, however Jared Sullinger was out for the Buckeyes with an injury.
The Jayhawks are making their 14th Final Four appearance, they are one of six schools to appear in the Final Four at least 10 times, Kentucky and Ohio State are also on this list.
Here are a few reasons why the Jayhawks might cut down the nets on Monday. Kansas has out rebounded 29 of their 37 opponents, shot a higher percentage than 34 teams. In all of their games this season six different players have led the team in scoring, so they do not rely on one player to provide the spark. The Jayhawks have won 11 Final Four games (6th best in college basketball).
Thomas Robinson was named the ESPN.com 2012 National Player of the Year, is a First-Team All-American as well as Big 12 Player of the Year. With 17.7 ppg and 11.8 rpg, Robinson is the only player in the Big 12 that is averaging a double-double. Tyshawn Taylor has scored 20 or more points in five of his last nine games. The downside for Kansas, they are 2-4 in the Superdome.
If you are a fan can this Final Four be any better? You are in New Orleans, you have Kentucky and Kansas, two programs that have fans that are everywhere and travel well. You have the Louisville fans that flock to destinations to watch the Cardinals and you have Ohio State wanting to prove that the Big Ten is a power basketball conference.
-Bo Ryan is a boring coach. His offenses are boring. His defenses? Boring. One can compare watching his Wisconsin teams to watching paint dry, or getting rusty nails shoved up your eyelids.
It’s almost painful to watch the Badgers. They average 58.8 possession per game according to Ken Pomeroy and his fool-proof numbers. That’s (ahem) the second slowest pace of any team of all 345 programs in Division I college basketball — the only team slower being Western Illinois.
The snail’s pace offense that Ryan has Wisconsin run amounts to 64 points per game, also near the bottom of all D-I teams. It’s excruciating.
But this is just one of the reasons Wisconsin will be a Final Four team. Yea, I said it. Here’s why.
1.) The painfully slow offensive sets.
-The Badgers are a slow-down offense. In a time when patience is a virtue, this team makes it a demand. Being able to run means jack in the NCAA Tournament. Any team that makes the Sweet 16, as Wisconsin now has, can run the fast-break. That’s what elite teams can do. They all have top-tier point guards that can run (I could run through them all, but you can look if you want).
What wins games though? Having the awareness that while the other team wants to pressure you defensively, knowing you’re just content swinging the ball around the perimeter and waiting for the right time to feed the post. It’s a necessity.
2.) A ball-securing point guard.
-Turnovers lose games for teams at this level. Wisconsin has possibly the most reliable point guard in the game when it comes to keeping possession. Jordan Taylor is not only a senior who’s been in this position before (played in 135 career games), but he knows what to do while in it.
The most important thing? Taylor has absolutely no clue how to make the risky pass. That’s a compliment. Along with averaging an even 4.0 assists this season, the 6-1 senior gives it away an average of 1.5 times per game. In 2011-12, he has just 55 total turnovers and just 97 total over the past two seasons (he averaged 4.7 assists last season). This season, he’s got 141 assists as well. In the clutch, you can have your playmakers, for my money, I want a guy who knows not only that a team needs points, but that they need the ball, before they can score.
Speaking of which….
3.) You don’t take their ball.
-Taylor is a major reason for this, but Wisconsin doesn’t give it away very often. In fact, the Badgers only cough it up 15.2 times per game, second in the nation. In big games, holding onto the ball means just as much as having a guy who can score in any way you need. They also know how to keep it from you in the 1-on-1, giving it away on steals only 7.2 times per game, eighth in the nation.
4.) Defense, defense, defense.
-Wisconsin doesn’t just guard you, no, they suffocate you. It’s in the numbers. Checking KenPom.com can really shed some light on it. The Badgers are top 10 in the nation in effective defensive field goal percentage (2nd, 42-percent), 3-point percentage defense (6th, 28.8-percent) and 2-point percentage defense (5th, 41.6-percent). Being that consistent means that you’re doing it right against all levels of competition.
They don’t necessarily force turnovers — they only force an average of 18.3 per game — but if their opponents don’t make shots, that doesn’t matter.
They aren’t flashy, and honestly, they make a lot of crowds that aren’t decked out in their colors want to fall asleep while watching them. But if the opponent is asleep, hey, who can stop them? Another advantage?
-PHOTO: DRAFTXPRESS.COM/GOOGLE IMAGES
-Everyone has method to their March Madness. Picking the best mascot, the colors they like, seeing which treat your dog goes after first. Some of us who go deeper with (over-think) our picks have a slightly more structured way of making our decisions on who advances in our brackets.
For those of you who haven’t locked in picks just yet, here’s a list of stats that can help you pick or not pick certain teams in the Big Dance. Thanks to the glories of KenPom.com, RealTimeRPI.com and Statsheet.com. These stats are essential to great teams in the NCAA Tournament. Trust us, we’re experts, sorta.
For obvious reasons, these stats aren’t just ‘points’ ‘rebounds’ and ‘field goal percentage’ because that’s too damn easy and obviously has an effect, but vary from game-to-game. These statistics you’ll see below have been consistent with winning all season and can go unnoticed.
1.) STATISTIC: Three-Point Defense
REASON: Aside from being scrappy last season, all four Final Four teams in 2010-11 had one thing in common, they could stroke the three. So you better damn will be able to defend it well to stop a squad who can. This also means a team has guard length, lateral quickness and is disciplined — no lunging in desperation while on the ball — when guarding a guy 20-feet out.
BEST REMAINING TEAM: No. 3-seed Georgetown, 26.6% (Best the nation)
2.) STATISTIC: Adjusted Tempo
REASON: This is a KenPom stat, but it’s crucial. It’s based on the number of possessions a team gets per game and if you ask anyone that knows the game, if a team can’t slow down and play a game in the half-court, a team won’t go very far/as far as they were projected. A perfect example is Kentucky in 2009-10. Despite being the best in the nation on the break, John Wall and Co. were slowed by West Virginia in the Elite 8, and succumbed as a result.
BEST REMAINING TEAM: Wisconsin, 58.9 possessions per game. (Best in the nation)
3.) STATISTIC: Assist-to-Turnover Ratio
REASON: Ok, so it’s not the least obvious stat, but it often gets forgotten that teams’ guards have to take care of the ball, especially in clutch situations. Experience means nothing if Point Guard X is dribbling the ball off his foot down two with less than a minute to play. It makes a coach trust his floor general, and relaxes the rest of the players on the floor. It goes way past just being able to make the play.
BEST REMAINING PLAYER: Kyle Cassidy, St. Louis, 3.6 A-T-T Ratio. (Best in the nation)
4.) STATISTIC: Free Throw Percentage
REASON: How many times per tournament does a game come down to free throws? A-freakin’-lot. Make sure the team has a solid percentage from the stripe, or else it could mean curtains for your dark horse Sweet 16 pick.
BEST REMAINING TEAM: Wisconsin, 81.8% (Best in the nation). Also, second in the nation? Harvard at 81%.
5.) STATISTIC: Percentage of Points for 2-Pts
REASON: Weird right? Why would it matter that a team gets most of their points from inside the arc? Because any team that relies on the three to win games rarely makes it THAT far. That’s why they’re called a “Cinderella Story”. A team that can penetrate and get it inside can make teams collapse, then open up the outside shot. It’s more than just scoring down there, it’s also about creating for the three.
BEST REMAINING TEAM: LIU-Brooklyn, 62.1% (Best in the nation). For safety’s sake the No. 2 is Duke (61.5%) and No. 3 is Wisconsin (60.4%).
Those few stats can help increase your bracket efficiency, maybe. We also learned that Wisconsin should win the whole friggin’ thing, according to our research. I’m going to redo my bracket now.
-PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS/GOOGLE IMAGES
December 10, 2011 marked a day that many college basketball fans in Cincinnati want to forget. With 9.4 seconds left in the game in the Crosstown Shootout a fight broke out causing the officials to end the game. The video that everyone viewed many times was one that showed a few punches being thrown by Yancy Gates.
It would have been easy for Mick Cronin to kick Gates off the team as well as others involved in the brawl. Instead Gates received a six game suspension, and the Bearcats were thought to be in trouble, pretty much left for dead with non-conference losses to Presbyterian, Marshall (in OT) and Xavier, most of those fears were valid.
A quote from Cronin that sticks out to me from the fight is one that should have foreshadowed the support he was going to give his players: “I understand there is media and people asking for autographs. It’s a prime example of you guys thinking they are too important. I’m talking about everybody involved. There’s too much glorification of all of sports in our society. The fact is guys are here the get an education. They represent institutions of higher learning. Xavier has been a great school for years. We’re trying to cure cancer at Cincinnati. I go to school at a place where they discovered the vaccine for polio and created Benadryl. I think that’s more important than who wins a basketball game. And our guys need to have appreciation for the fact that they are there on a full scholarship and they better represent institutions with class and integrity.”
Cronin understands the college basketball concept, they are called student-athletes for a reason, and they are there to learn. They learn not only for basketball but for a career off the court and to learn about life. Gates learned that his actions were not appropriate; he suffered the consequences and learned that he has the support of his coach.
The team pulled together, won seven in a row before dropping a road contest at St. John’s then pulled another three victories. Since the fight the Bearcats are 19-6, just pulled off the biggest win of the season vs Syracuse and are one win away from claiming the Big East Tournament Championship. Let me say that again, Cincinnati can win the Big East Tournament, after those early losses and the fight most Bearcat fans would have laughed at you if you told back in December that they would be in this position in March.
Coming into tonight’s game Gates is averaging 12.3 points and 9.4 rebounds in 32 minutes, with 9 double-doubles. In the double OT win over Georgetown he played 46 minutes, put up 23 points and grabbed 8 boards. In the opener against Villanova he had 16 points and 9 off the glass. Tonight Yates went for 18 points and 7 rebounds.
The Bearcats stuck with Gates, and Gates has stepped up to the plate and has become the type of player Cincinnati needs to advance in the tournament.
-Think back to last season. About this time, Virginia Commonwealth was an afterthought.
Really, who saw the run coming? Definitely not Jay Bilas. But it happened. A team with a younger-than-young head coach, a diminutive point guard in Joey Rodriguez somehow snagged an at-large bid that a lot of folks (myself included) thought they were undeserving of and made it through the First Four and into the Final Four. It was more improbable than Butler’s first run.
Then it ended. The Rams lost four of their top five scorers — Rodriguez, Jamie Skeen, Ed Nixon and Brandon Rozzell — the lone hold being now-senior Bradford Burgess. So coach Shaka Smart had to ask himself the most crucial question coming off the most successful season in program history, that included a 28-12 overall record: Where do we go from here?
The answer was ‘get better’. Obvious, but accurate.
VCU just locked up their second-straight NCAA Tournament, and this one probably won’t begin in the First Four, with a 28-6 record and a Colonial Athletic Association tournament title. They’re currently no.46 in the KenPom and no.39 spot in the RPI (according to RealTimeRPI.com). That’s nice, until you consider that they finished last season ranked 52 in the KenPom.
It’s tough to make the run the Rams did last season. It’s tougher to repeat that run when everyone knows you’re coming. It’s nearly impossible to do it when you’ve lost most of everyone that mattered to that run to graduation. Smart has done that so far.
He’s had help. Burgess has actually lightened his scoring load from 14.3 to 13.3 points per game this season and in turn, some of last season’s role players have stepped it up. Darius Theus went from 3.0 points to 8.6 this year. Juvonte Reddic? He’s now pumping out 10.6 points per game in 27.5 minutes per game after averaging 3.5 in 11.2 minutes in 2010-11. Troy Daniels drops in 10 per game after averaging 2.1 points in 4.8 minutes last season.
Granted, all teams get contributions from lesser players as seasons change. But not like this, not at a mid-major that until this past season hasn’t had any buzz outside of a few Metro Conference and Sun Belt Conference tournament titles.
This team does it more with their defense, averaging three less points (68.4 from 71.6) this season and holding opponents to 59.8 points per game, as opposed to the 66.8 teams put in against them in 2010-11.
So here they are waiting for Selection Sunday, not to see if they get a bid, but where they go. CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm has them as a 12-seed in Portland playing Louisville.
You don’t have to expect a deep tournament run, but you should respect what Smart and the Rams have done, despite starting essentially from scratch.
Get the ladders and succors ready, today is the day that we start cutting down the nets.
Big South Championship: VMI vs UNC Asheville. The top seeded Bulldogs defeated the Keydets twice this season, but they always say it’s tough to beat a team three times. Asheville is 5th in the nation is Points Per Game (81.3), VMI is 6thwith 80.2. (Noon ESPN2).
OVC Championship: Murray State vs Tennessee State. The Tigers were able to get the win February 9th, while the Racers won the 2nd meeting. What have we not said about the Racers, it’s been a season to that the team and fan base will not forget. (2pm ESPN2).
Atlantic Sun Championship: Florida Gulf Coast vs Belmont. To go dancing the Bruins will have to get their 3rd win over the Eagles this season, both wins have been by more than 20 points. The Bruins rank 4th in the nation in Points Per Game with 81.5, 5th in Assist Per Game with 17.5. (7pm ESPN2)
Other games to note today: The ESPN hype will be focused on Tobacco Road with UNC @ Duke (7pm ESPN), Georgetown @ Marquette (2pm Big East Network), Baylor @ Iowa State (7pm ESPN Full Court), San Francisco @ St. Mary’s (9pm ESPN2)
It really doesn’t matter that Temple lost on Saturday at St. Joseph’s. And neither should anyone else.
It’s really weird to think that the Owls, who had an 11-game winning streak snapped by the Hawks, haven’t been talked about more this season.
I get it, they play in the Atlantic 10, not exactly the Big Ten, or even, this season, the ACC. But look a little deeper, and Temple deserves more praise — and it has nothing to do with their no. 22 national ranking.
During their 11-game winning streak, they’ve scored at least 73 points in each game, and held six opponents to 60 points or less. At 22-6 and 10-3 in the A-10, a league hell bent on scoring in bunches, that’s pretty impressive.
Like most teams in the A-1o, their strength lies in the deep ball. They shoot 40.5-percent from 3-point range. That’s 11th in the nation, though surprisingly, second in the conference (behind LaSalle’s 40.8).
It seems like forever ago, but everyone seems to forget that this team has a win over Duke. At home, 78-73, on Jan. 4. It didn’t look like a lot against what most though was a down-trodden Blue Devils squad, but it looks better and better by the day. Throw in wins over Penn and Wichita State, two of the better mid-major programs this season, and the Owls A-10 record almost only needs to be average to get them an At-Large ticket.
Being senior-led doesn’t hurt. Ramone Moore (18.0 ppg) and Juan Fernandez (10.9 ppg) are two of the three scorers for the Owls. The second-leading scorer? Junior Khalif Wyatt’s 17.5 ppg.
And that one thing that everyone always harps on late this the season? Depth. Temple has it. Fernandez, Moore and Rahlir Jefferson-Hollis have started all 28 games this season, with With Anthony Lee playing in all 28, starting 17 and Wyat playing in 27 while starting 25. As for the rest, two of their bench players, T.J. DiLeo and Aaron Brown have notched minutes in all 28 games, while Will Cummings (20) and Michael Eric (15) have played in at least half the games this season, with Eric getting 11 starts. That’s effciency, homes.
It’s tough to define which teams will make runs when the Big Dance rolls around. But honestly, what more does a team have to do? Given the Owls’ schedule. As long as the final two games of their regular season, at home against UMass and at Fordham, are W’s, this squad should earn an at-large berth, with a no. 34 ranking in both the KenPom and Sagarin and a no. 15 ranking at RealTimeRPI.com.
Fran Dunphy has his postseason demons, which may be the only thing holding them back — the Owls haven’t been past the second round, and that was once, last season, in his six seasons in Philadelphia — but that doesn’t mean that this season is poised for a run. With Murray State riding a 28-1 record to national headlines and teams like Indiana sparking their own resurgence, it’s easy to understand why a story like Temple’s — a solid, deep, senior-led squad reeling off wins in an average conference — is overlooked.
Not that Temple probably cares. Just don’t say you saw it coming if this team gets on a roll next month.
But please, Fran, please, bring back the ‘stache. People want the ‘stache.
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