Posted on: January 30, 2012 10:45 am

Podcast: We've come to the end of the road trip

After talking road trip, the fellas from Ballin' is a Habit discuss the Ryan Boatright saga. (AP)

By Matt Norlander

The epic, groundbreaking Ballin' is a Habit road trip is over. With one day of sleep between them since coming home, I had to bring back Rob Dauster and Troy Machir to gab about the past 23 days and 13 games of their lives.

From Kentucky to Wisconsin to Ohio to Tennessee to Missouri to Kansas to freaking Utah and back, there are many things to share. After the road stories finish, the guys and I address the Ryan Boatwright situation at UConn, why he's so little of what's ailing the Huskies, and where the rest of the Big East is going this season. Plus -- other things that stood out from what turned out to be surprising weekend in college hoops.
  • From the beginning: The road trip is over. What was the roughest part?
  • 6:06: The best and worst arenas.
  • 8:46: Best and worst experiences in general of all the games attended.
  • 14:40: The #BIAHRoadTrip sign got held by someone at every game. How Rob got Gus Johnson to hold it, among other notable snapshots.
  • 19:25: The best/most memorable moments from the trip that had nothing to do with basketball.
  • 22:25: What it was like for these guys to go to tornado-destroyed Joplin, Mo., and help build a house.
  • 25:50: #BIAHRoadTripPart2?
  • 26:58: UConn and Ryan Boatright and all the Huskies' issues. Plus, bashing the NCAA, because they make it so damn easy.
  • 33:32: The highlights and what stood out from the weekend, which initially amounted to not all that much but turned into one with some surprises.
  • 39:18: Some bantering about Rob's new freelance gig with SI.com (hey, SI.com, don't be dumb: keep the guy around for a good while), receiving texts from the road after 2 a.m., and why I'm refusing to talk to Goodman until Wednesday.

Again, I thank you for taking the time to listen to the podcast--whenever you can. I ask that you, if you like what we're doing here, encourage like-minded hoopheads to subscribe in Tunes as well. Guests like Jay Bilas, Seth Davis, they're the guys who make me sound better and make the podcast worthwhile. The other guys? Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman, they really make it entertaining, and of course you can count on our trio show each Wednesday. The RSS feed is another way to keep the podcasts coming to you ASAP. We've got a Zune download link as well.

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Posted on: December 14, 2011 1:03 am
Edited on: December 14, 2011 1:32 am

Night Court: Belmont & MTSU have another thriller

Jeff Borzello

Here’s everything you need to know about Tuesday’s slate of college basketball games …

Game of the day: Considering the first meeting between Belmont and Middle Tennessee this season went to double overtime, we should have seen a great game coming. In this one, Middle Tennessee prevailed by three, despite going 2-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 40 seconds. Belmont couldn’t convert down the stretch, going 0-for-3 from the field with two turnovers in the final 71 seconds. Middle Tennessee's crowd rushed the court after the win, as seen above.

Win to brag about: It’s not the most impressive win on paper, but Wisconsin-Milwaukee was undefeated at home this season. Therefore, Wisconsin going in there and coming out with a six-point win is nothing to scoff at. Wisconsin looked like it would roll to an easy win, but UWM went on a 16-1 run midway through the second half to make it a game. Jordan Taylor’s 3-pointer in the final minute clinched the game for the Badgers.

Loss to hide from: Nothing in the way of embarrassing losses on Tuesday, as no teams above .500 besides Belmont and UW-Milwaukee lost.

Player who deserves improper benefits: It was against Rochester College, but Oakland’s Drew Valentine’s performance was impressive nonetheless. The junior forward totaled 20 points and 15 boards, shooting 8-for-10 from the field and knocking down two 3-pointers.

Player who does not deserve improper benefits: Mississippi State made sure it didn’t suffer a repeat of last season, staving off a late rally by Florida Atlantic to get a seven-point win. If the Owls were to pull off the upset two years in a row, they needed a big-time game from guard Greg Gantt. However, the junior only had five points on 2-for-5 shooting. He averages nearly 14 points per game on the season.

Numbers don’t lie:

  • Despite its win over double-overtime win over NAIA Point University tonight, Alcorn State has still not defeated a Division-I team since February 26 of last season.
  • Niagara went 14 minutes and 11 seconds without a field goal in the second half against Drexel, part of the reason the Dragons had a 29-4 run. Niagara fell 71-58.
  • Wyoming won 10 games in each of the past two seasons. The Cowboys’ win over UC-Irvine on Tuesday was their 10th already this year.

Three other notable results:

  1. J’Covan Brown scored 23 points to lead Texas to a 93-40 win over Nicholls State. The Longhorns held Nicholls without a field goal for 15:37.
  2. Villanova bounced back from a three point halftime deficit against Boston University with 45 points in the second stanza. ‘Nova won 68-43.
  3. Michigan racked up 17 assists on 22 field goals in its 63-50 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff.


  • In his fourth game back from the football team, South Carolina's Bruce Ellington scored a season-high 15 points in an eight-point win over Presbyterian.
  • Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally only combined for 26 points on Tuesday, but Jamie Serna stepped up with 22 and five blocks in a win for UC-Santa Barbara.
  • Marcus Jordan was suspended for UCF’s weekend win over Bethune Cookman, but he bounced back with a career-high 28 points against North Carolina A&T.
  • Oregon State’s Robert Nelson is heating up. In his last four games, the guard is averaging 15.0 points per game.

On tap: It’s another light day in the college basketball world, but there are some interesting tilts. Cincinnati returns to the court for the first time since the brawl, while Iona travels to Richmond.

Photo: US Presswire

Posted on: December 5, 2011 10:55 am
Edited on: December 5, 2011 12:02 pm

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 3

By Matt Norlander

Every Monday, we’re going to be giving you readers and fans and coaches more and more reason to hate us. How can we do this outside of just being our natural, irritating selves? By ranking as many teams in as many ways as possible, of course. And we won’t reserve our judgment for your scorn in big-boy country. No, we’d like to alienate ourselves to the fan bases around the nation, mid-major schools included.

This feature serves as a complement to the weekly Top 25 and One, which you can read right here.

No more ado — here’s how we see it, the 15 best non-BCS teams in college basketball as of Monday, Dec. 5, at 11 a.m ET.

Top Tier

1. Xavier (6-0). A Sentence: There’s a considerable difference between X and everyone else, when you take into account the Muskies’ wins over Vandy on the road and the comeback W against Purdue last week. A Statistic: The only major flaw with Chris Mack’s team right now is the free-throw shooting. X is under 60 percent as a team. Will get them eventually. The Schedule: at Butler Wednesday; vs. Cincinnati Saturday.

2. Iona (6-1). A Sentence: Saw this team in person a week ago, and no joke, they look incredibly dangerous for pretty much any team outside of the top five right now. A Statistic: The Gaels are scoring 1.14 points per possession, which is definitely good, but a little less than I expected from the highest-scoring and highest assisting team in the country. The Schedule: at Denver Wednesday; at Marshall Sunday.

3. Harvard (8-0). A Sentence: I’d love for Harvard to justify me putting them this high with a win Thursday, but they merely need to keep it compelling. A Statistic: The Crimson have been helped by a “defensive” stat they have such little control over: free throw defense. Opponents are shooting an NCAA-worst 54 percent from the line against them. The Schedule: at Connecticut Thursday; at Boston University Saturday.

Ron Swanson Approves

4. UNLV (8-1): A Sentence: Beating North Carolina, then losing on the road at a Power Pyramid Wichita State team equates to a UNLV team smelling the Pyramid’s ceiling. A Statistic: 52.2 was the percentage from 3-point range the Shockers put up against UNLV over the weekend. It was the first time this season Vegas has had a team shoot better than 50 percent against them from downtown. The Schedule: vs. NAIA Cal State San Marcos Wednesday; at Wisconsin Saturday.

5. Creighton (7-0). A Sentence: Greg McDermott’s team is playing so well because his son is on his way to an Adam Morrison-like year in terms of offense. A Statistic: Remarkably, the Jay’s effective field goal percentage has rise, up to a still-tops-in-the-U.S. 60.9 clip. The Schedule: at St. Joseph’s Saturday.

6. Gonzaga (5-1). A Sentence: I’m not quite sure what Gonzaga will become, but I do know they’ve got plenty of chances, plenty of talent, and believe they’d beat everyone below them here on a neutral floor more times than not (as of today). A Statistic: The game, and loss, to Illinois was the first road game of Gonzaga’s season. Last year, the team was 7-5 on the road, and didn’t get above .500 in that category until the end of the year. More road woes coming this year?. The Schedule: vs. Michigan State Saturday.

7. Saint Louis (7-1). A Sentence: Have been impressed with Saint Louis so far, but for reasons I won’t expound upon here and now, I still remain wary. A Statistic: Saint Louis is in the shorter half of D-I teams, and they’re rebounding like it. The 24.2 offensive rebounding percentage will eventually need to come up, unless the team’s able to keep the eFG% above 58 (which it is now). The Schedule: vs. Vermont Wednesday; vs. D-II Illinois Springfield Saturday.

8. San Diego State (8-2). A Sentence: Interesting about this team right now: the numbers don’t love it, but boy have I and so many others been impressed. A Statistic: Despite the strong start, Aztecs are 58 in KenPom. Where’s the love? BYU is 21! The Schedule: at San Diego Wednesday.

9. Memphis (4-2). A Sentence: Tigers had a couple of patsies last weeks, so they fall slightly be default. A Statistic: Just take notice of the team above and the team right here. One’s played 10 games, the other six. There is a lot of room to flex between groups right now; we’ll have a better sense of the Pyramid’s hierarchy in about three weeks. The Schedule: at Miami Tuesday; vs. Murray State Sunday.

10. Belmont (5-2). A Sentence: I’ll take this moment this week to say: Unless Belmont starts ripping up opponents by 20-plus on the regular, they’re just going to be a really good, nondescript team off most non-Pyramid radars until late February. A Statistic: Last year, Belmont was one of the best teams in the country at turning you over. This year, it’s the opposite. The 14.1 offensive turnover rate is third-best nationally. The Schedulevs. Tennessee State Tuesday.

Base Blocks

11. Northern Iowa (7-1). A Sentence: The Valley is going to be a multi-bid league this year, and UNI will be making the NCAAs — yes, I’m saying that on Dec. 5. A Statistic: The Panthers’ D, giving up .93 points per possession, hasn’t been given enough love so far. Let’s see if this team can become as good on the D end as the 2009-10 group. The Schedule: vs. Iowa Tuesday; vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee Saturday.

12. Temple (4-2). A Sentence: Pretty sure Owls are in a tough spot this week; they’ll most definitely need to go 2-0 to remain inside the Pyramid’s walls on Dec. 12. A Statistic: Owls senior Michael Eric is currently taking more of your misses than anyone else. He possess a 34.6 success rate at grabbing defensive boards. The Schedule: at Toledo Wednesday; vs. Villanova Saturday.

13. New Mexico (6-2). A Sentence: Sophomore guard Kendall Williams has turned into a better player than I’d expected and is the reason UNM keeps a logo on this graphic. A Statistic: 23-4. That was the opening run to start Saturday’s game against Missouri State, which was in the Power Pyramid last Monday. The Schedule: at USC Saturday.

14. Wichita State (5-2). A Sentence: Valley swaps one team for another, as the Shockers replace Missouri State this week, keeping three teams in the rankings. A Statistic: In the out-of-nowhere performance to date this season, senior Joe Ragland scored 31 in the 89-70 WSU W over UNLV, thanks to eight 3s. Ragland boosted his PPG average to 11.9. The Schedule: at Tulsa Wednesday; vs. Utah State Saturday.

15. Murray State (9-0). A Sentence: Small surprise of the season: Billy Kennedy’s former team has started out terrifically without him. A Statistic: Three of the nine wins have been against foes outside of D-I, so that’s a big caveat. Wins over So. Miss and Dayton were convincing, though, so I’ve got the heart to put them in, just ahead of Tulane and College of Charleston. The Schedule: at Memphis Sunday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦  Out this week: Missouri State, Marshall. In: Murray State, Wichita State.
♦  Marshall gets its chance to get back into the Pyramid if it beats Syracuse this week, and I think Murray State’s visit could be short-lived due to the Memphis matchup forthcoming.
♦  I know you’re unbeaten, Tulane. If you get through next Sunday with wins over Wofford and Jacksonville State — even though those aren’t great wins — I’ll get you in with an 11-0 D-I record.
♦ Brigham Young is the only highly ranked KenPom team not to make the Pyramid. Let’s see what happens Dec. 17 against Baylor and then we’ll assess.
♦ I considered ranking Northwestern until it got mollywhopped by Baylor. (I keed!)

Posted on: September 9, 2011 4:10 pm
Edited on: September 9, 2011 4:14 pm

Trippin': Belmont looks to continue success

In our Trippin’ series, we’re talking to teams as they return from preseason trips to foreign locales. Click here for all Trippin’ related stories.

By Jeff Borzello

Only nine teams won at least 30 games last season.

Easily the most surprising of that group was Belmont, which rolled through the Atlantic Sun at a 19-1 clip en route to a 30-5 overall record. With four starters back, the Bruins could be even better.

To some, though, a potential worry could be the team becomes complacent and no longer has the same motivation. On the Bruins’ trip to Italy in August, head coach Rick Byrd was pleased with what he saw.

“Our biggest concern is we can’t lose the edge that we had and held throughout last season,” Byrd said. “There was not a game that our guys weren’t ready to play and weren’t excited about playing. There wasn’t a drop-off. The things that made us good a year ago were still there, in terms of attitude and unselfishness. We saw those same characteristics.”

That should be scary to the rest of the conference – and country.

What Byrd learned: “We need to play with more discipline on both ends of the floor. We played with almost too much emotion; we needed to back off and be a little more solid. We were trying to make things happen, and some of that, offensively, is the 24-second shot clock. It doesn’t give us time to run a motion offense and make things happen. You’ve got to make adjustments, just like you do during the season.”

What impressed him: Motivation – “I was really pleased from the first practice on about the enthusiasm, energy and work ethic. That was the most positive thing our staff saw – there was no drop off.”

What concerned him: Conditioning – “It’s no different than playing games one week into practice. I think conditioning accounts for a lot of the mistakes that you make. It’s just very hard to get into game condition in a short period of time. We found that when we were tired, we made mistakes. We have to fight through fatigue better. We can talk about the Italy trip all year long: how loose we played in Italy when we played tired, now we have get in better shape and fight through it.”

- J.J. Mann, who was a member of the all-freshman team last season, impressed Byrd on the trip. “He stood out here in practice and in the games over there,” Byrd said. Mann came off the bench a year ago, averaging 6.0 points.

- What separates Belmont from most mid-major teams is its inside duo of Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders. Both players earned second-team all-conference honors last season, and Byrd pointed to them as two players who continued their stellar play.

- If Byrd could have planned when he took a trip, he likely would have taken it with a younger team. This year’s group has three seniors and five juniors, including seven players with starting experience. “We only had one guy on the trip that was an incoming freshman,” Byrd said.

- The team had quite the voyage around Italy, going to Florence, Rome, Milan, Pisa, Lake Como, Lucca, Siena, Bellagio and other cities. Byrd planned it that way, wanting to play only three games while there. “It was much less about basketball than about the whole the trip,” he said.

- The whole team took guided tours of the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basillica and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

CBSSports.com’s list of teams taking preseason trips

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: May 16, 2011 3:46 pm
Edited on: May 17, 2011 10:45 am

Ohio Valley Conference headed in right direction

Posted by Eric Angevine

The headline for this post might seem a little strange in light of the news that Murray State head coach Billy Kennedy just left for Texas A&M, but rest assured, that's part of the positive direction the OVC is taking these days.

Murray State has given BCS-level basketball a couple of head coaches of note recently. Mick Cronin, who just took Cincinnati to the Big Dance for the first time in his five-year tenure with the Bearcats, earned his shot at the big time by going 69-24 and making the NCAA tourney twice in just three years with the Racers. Mark Gottfried had a nearly identical record between 1995-98, when he was Murray State's leader. That earned him an eleven-year run at Alabama, and was no doubt considered when Gottfried was recently given an ACC job at North Carolina State.

In a conference like the OVC, even a revolving door of strong coaches is a good thing. Consider that the Nashville-based conference was ranked 22nd by kenpom.com at the end of last season. Keep in mind, also, that the OVC is resolutely buried in one-bid territory. Still, it has attracted national attention due to the upset-minded Racers and the four-year career of Kenneth Faried at Morehead State. In fact, the league that had zero NCAA tourney wins between 1994-2008 has notched a victory in each of the past three NCAA parties.

The league's profile is attractive enough to have lured Belmont - the bully of the similarly-sized Atlantic Sun conference - for the 2011-12 season. That brings Rick Byrd, who has been head coach of the Bruins for 25 years, into the same league with Dave Loos, who has given 21 years to the Austin Peay Governors. Assuming Murray State finds yet another tyro on the rise, the combination of long-term experience and youthful fire could give the league momentum going forward.

OVC commissioner Beth DeBauche recently gave her thoughts on the future of the conference:

Adding Belmont doesn't mean the OVC will become a two-bid conference in 2012, or any time soon, but it definitely adds to the overall prestige of the soon-to-be twelve-member group. Given that Murray State coaches have had so much success using the Racers as a stepping stone to the big time, and players like Faried and former Tennessee-Martin guard Lester Hudson have turned into pro prospects in spite of the low profile of the league, the Ohio Valley may be on its way to bigger and better things over the next decade.

Posted on: March 28, 2011 1:57 am

Southeast wrap-up: The best and worst of 15 games

Posted by Matt Jones

In the history of the NCAA tournament, there are very few accomplishments that match what Butler pulled off this weekend in New Orleans. With their victory over Florida, Butler is now going to back to back Final Fours, an utterly unbelievable feat for a program that lives outside of the BCS power conferences.

When Brad Stevens’s group made it to the national championship game last season, it was considered by most to be an exceptional Cinderella run, brought about by a unique combination of a NBA lottery pick leader, outstanding clutch play and a run of good fortune. But now, after four consecutive thrilling wins that will send Butler to Houston for another go-around on college basketball’s biggest stage, such simplistic reasoning will no longer suffice.

With the win on Saturday, Butler basketball has shown that it deserves to be seen as one of the top ten current basketball programs in the country. It is only one of those types of programs that can lose a player like Gordon Hayward to the NBA draft and then come back and contend immediately again. Teams like Kentucky, Duke, UNC and Kansas are used to seeing superstars leave, and then immediately reloading. Now we must put Butler in that same group.

This year’s Butler group is now realistically on the brink of winning a national championship. Matt Howard’s last second win over Old Dominion got the tournament off to a rocking start and showcased just how clutch a performer the senior has been throughout the course of his career. The upset over Pittsburgh produced the most shocking ending of March, and removed the biggest obstacle to a second Final Four run. 

And then in New Orleans, the Bulldogs came to play, but not as the upstart from a small conference seeking to shock the world. Rather, they were the cool, calm and collected team that had been there before and could handle the moment. The Bulldogs handled their business from the opening tap in the Sweet 16 against Wisconsin and then were the more poised team down the stretch against a veteran Florida team who they rattled in the final minutes. 

Butler now goes to Houston with a chance to win the whole thing. It will be favored against VCU in the national semifinal and in a one game scenario against either Kentucky or UCONN, the Bulldogs would once again have a chance to shock the world. What Butler has accomplished is unheard of in modern college basketball and it may not yet be over.

Regional MVP: Shelvin Mack: Since Butler turned around its performance midway through the season, Shelvin Mack has been the driving force in big moments. Saturday’s final versus Florida was no different, as Mack scored 27 points and hit a number of crucial shots. Mack may be the most clutch performer left in the NCAA tournament and he showcased in New Orleans that he could be the most underrated perimeter player in America.

All-Regional team

C Vernon Macklin, Florida
F Matt Howard, Butler
F Alex Tyus, Florida
G Shelvin Mack, Butler
G Kenny Boyton, Florida

Game to remember: Butler 71, Pittsburgh 70. This is a game that will be remembered for a long time and could define these programs for years to come. Butler’s win allows the Bulldogs to lay claim to one of the great accomplishments in recent college basketball history. While Pittsburgh’s loss means that Jamie Dixon will not yet be able to get rid of the stigma of having never made a Final Four. Add to it, the bizarre late foul calls and the Nasir Robinson pain of costing his team the game late, and this will be one of the 2-3 most remembered games of the tournament.

Game to forget: Wisconsin 72, Belmont 58.  It happens every year. One trendy upset pick comes into the tournament and lays a total egg, making everyone who talked about them all week look silly. This year’s team was Belmont, who most thought had earned respect through its demolition of the Atlantic Sun and thus respect was given before playing against a slow team from the Big Ten. But that slow team controlled tempo, used its dominating size and the game was a dud. Never listen to the 4-13 pick that is trendy...it rarely works.

Biggest disappointment: St. John’s. It was a great regular season for Steve Lavin’s club and a late injury did temper expectations. But after the senior-laden squad did so well, the Johnnies fans wanted more than simply a harsh defeat to Gonzaga. Lavin will have St. John’s back sooner, rather than later. But a better showing this year was expected.

Best individual performance in a losing effort: They don’t get much better than the show Jacob Pullen put on for Kansas State in its 70-65 loss to Wisconsin. Pullen willed his team to the tournament towards the end of the season and then showcased all of that same desire in his two games. 38 points against Wisconsin was part of one of the great tournament performances so far, win or lose.

Most memorable moments:

  • Matt Howard makes a great putback at the buzzer to get March Madness off to a great start. We knew the tournament was back in session. 
  • Michigan State put forth an amazing comeback, down 25 late, but coming back and only losing by two. It was a miserable performance up until the end, but Tom Izzo teams can never totally be counted out.
  • Any time Jimmer Fredette plays, it is worth watching. He ran out of magic against Florida, but in the first two games, his deep threes were quite a sight.
  • The late fouls by Shelvin Mack and Nasir Robinson in the Pitt-Butler game won’t soon be forgotten and ignited a debate on the roll of officials at the end of games.
  • How can a team like Gonzaga look so dominant against St. John’s and then so terrible against BYU? Every game is different.
  • Billy Donovan coached well all tournament...until the end. I still do not know what the offensive gameplan was at the end of regulation or in overtime versus Butler.

Team to watch out for next year: This was a senior-laden bracket, with most of the best teams losing most of their best players. But there were some signs that UCLA could get out of its recent funk. Josh Smith is fun to watch and is able to do some amazing things in the paint. If Ben Howland can keep everyone around, the Bruins will join Arizona at the top of the Pac 10 once again next year.

Posted on: March 15, 2011 12:40 pm

Those 13 seeds are mighty tempting

Posted by Matt Norlander

Have we ever seen a set of 13s look so good? While I've argued that, come the Elite Eight, we're going see seeding hold largely to form, there exists a lot of opportunity for upsets in the first round. And no crop is riper for excitement for than the 4-vs.13 games.

The reason this exists is due to some serious mis-seeding. The biggest issue for these 13s: they have to play arguably the best crop of fours in tournament history. If you look at the fours, Kentucky and Texas hardly seem like they belong; a three for each is more appropriate. And though Louisville and Wisconsin fit the description, they get opponents who rank among the best 13s of all-time, or are facing a player who's the best on the floor. This confluence of bracket blundering sets up games with a lot of intrigue and unpredictability.

Let's look at the 13s, and just how good they are. I think the odds set up fairly well that at least one of these teams break through to the weekend.

Oakland. I mentioned the Oakland-Texas game as one of my five favorites Sunday night. The Grizzlies have Keith Benson, a future pro who isn't just a plant-him-in-the-paint big man. He can step out and shoot it. Frankly, he poses miserable matchup problems for most teams. (Texas may not figure to be one of them, however.) Benson ranks in the upper echelon in 12 tempo-free categories. There aren't 20 other players who can claim the same. Reggie Hamilton, at 5-11, is a nice outside-outside option to Benson whenever the big man roams free. Hamilton is a more-reliable shooter than Benson and also ranks in the top 35 in assist rate.

Embrace the Big Bears because they shoot it terrifically. Their effective field goal percentage is third-best in the land at 56.1 percent. They hit their twos at a 55.8-percent rate -- second best, nationally. The only teams in the field who avoid getting their shots swatted is North Carolina and Wisconsin; the Grizzlies get soup sent back on 8.6 percent of their possessions.

There argument against the Grizzlies: They don't turn teams over and they foul way, way too much. Against Texas, this is problematic, to put it kindly.

Belmont. The sexy upset pick. No matter what team the drew, the Bruins would have their cult following eager and ready to pen them into the second round. Rick Byrd's team draw Wisconsin, which is unfortunate. Belmont turns people over more efficiently than every team except one (Duquesne). You know how turns the ball over the least? Yes, Wisconsin.

But back to the Bruins. The Atlantic Sun has never had such a dominant team represent the conference in the NCAAs. The Bruins were smacking conference foes by 30-plus on a nightly basis, acting, basically, as though it was a power-conference team in low-major purgatory. The Bruins are top-10 in effective field goal percentage and top 15 in offensive rebounding. The Bruins' efficiency split between offense and defense, per 100 possessions, is 22 points! That's rather ridiculous for a low-major team. Byrd's team is so efficient because he's incredibly strict in how much playing time he distributes. No one sees more than 25 minutes per game; 11 players total average between 12 and 24.6 minutes. To do that and go 30-4 is some serious coaching ability.

The argument against the Bruins: It's more about Wisconsin than anything else. This is a tough matchup. But, that said, Wisconsin doesn't play to blow people out, meaning this one's pretty much destined to stay close/up in the air for the first 35 minutes.

Morehead State. Kenneth Faried alone makes you hesitate in taking Louisville. If Benson makes Oakland a possible upset pick, then what does Faried do? After all, Morehead State probably has the best future pro of any 13. His rebounding skills are transcedent. Louisville is in the bottom fourth of Division I in defensive rebounding. That spectacle alone -- Faried tossing Cardinals aside en route to 15-plus rebounds -- will be a great side show. Eagles guard Demonte Harper is a high-volume shooter. Notice I didn't say high-volume shot-maker. But it's one hand feeding the other, and Harper can match up with the Cards' guards.

There is an element to this game that numbers can't pick up on, as well. Many of the MSU players are all too familiar with Louisville's. These are both Kentucky-based schools, and the guys see each other often in the summers. Faried, according to people who are familiar with the pick-up games and scrimmages, dominates, as you'd expect. There's something to be said for that, and I wonder if it carries over/translates in this type of high-press game.

The argument against the Eagles: None of the 13s struggled as much in conference play as Morehead State, who went 13-5 in the Atlantic Sun. Compounding the concern, the OVC is ranked below the Ivy (Princeton), Atlantic Sun (Belmont) and Summit (Oakland). And imagine how good Morehead State would be if it didn't turn the ball over once every four possessions.

Princeton. The 25-6 Tigers are, rightfully, seen as the 13 with the slimmest chance of moving on. Part of that is the athletic mismatch against Kentucky. Still, not bad to have the always-cute Ivy team tossed into the mix here. Dan Mavraides and Doug Davis form a good backcourt, one that will be a joy to watch face up against Kentucky. There's definite throw-them-off-their-game-early capability with the Tigers' guards. You know how that can happen, and you've seen it happen with Ivy teams, Princeton teams, before.

At 64.3 possessions per game, the Tigers are on the slow side, but not that slow; Kentucky doesn't force the ball that much more.

The argument against the Tigers: They don't have the size or ability to force Kentucky into anything. The Princeton Offense will certainly be fun to watch, but Kentucky's length and speed could negate that tactic by the end of the first half. Texas may be the best of the four seeds, but his would be the biggest of upsets. The Tigers haven't played anyone near Kentucky's ilk, in terms of athletes, this season. That's a face-to-face DNA problem you can't emulate until the game tips.

Photo: AP

More NCAA tournament coverage
Posted on: March 5, 2011 8:25 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2011 8:30 pm

Welcome to the Dance, Belmont Bruins!

As often as dominant teams fall in conference tourney games, nobody ever feels safe. Belmont, however, seemed destined to run the table from the beginning. The expected championship game with East Tennessee State didn’t materialize, however. The upstart North Florida Ospreys took down the Buccaneers and inserted themselves into the auto-bid picture.

Now, the Osprey was an endangered bird back in the 1970s, but these days the raptor is pretty much in the clear, so what Belmont did to them is actually legal, if a bit ugly. The 87-46 beatdown in Macon was heavily dependent on the ability of the Bruins to pound the ball inside, which they were able to do easily with big Mick Hedgepeth (pictured) in the game. The 6-foot-9 junior led his team with 23 points and 9 rebounds, which the smaller Ospreys had no answer for. 6-10 Scott Saunders – a transfer from Rice -- threw in 15.

The other player to watch for Belmont, though he wasn’t needed in the scoring arena much in the final, is guard Ian Clark. The sophomore shoots 43 percent from behind the arc, which could come in handy in the Big Dance, when larger teams may have more luck preventing the big men from getting inside.

Mick Hedgepeth battles down lowThe Vitals:

  • Record: 30-4, 19-1 A-Sun
  • Team colors: Navy blue and red
  • We’re thinking: 13-seed
  • KenPom ranking: 24
  • RPI: 51
  • Best win: ETSU, twice (22-11)
  • Worst loss: Lipscomb (17-13)
  • Most recent tournament history: 2008. 71-70 loss to Duke in first round.

Photo: US Presswire

Posted by Eric Angevine

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Category: NCAAB
Tags: ASUN, Belmont
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