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Tag:Horizon
Posted on: March 6, 2012 11:17 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 11:23 pm
 

Tiny Dancers: Detroit

Talk about validation for Little Ray. 

Everyone questioned Ray McCallum's decision to spurn the big boys -- UCLA and Arizona included -- to play for his dad in the Horizon for Detroit. 

However, the father-son duo just got the Titans into the NCAA tournament after an upset over top-seeded Valparaiso in the hostile confines of the 5,000-seat Athletics-Recreation Center. 

The win got Detroit into the Big Dance for the first time since 1999 and also snapped a five-game losing skid against the Crusaders.

McCallum finished with 26 points, six rebounds and five assists in the semifinal win over Cleveland State and had 19 in the victory against Valpo. 

But this team has more than just Little Ray. Senior guard Chase Simon helps on the perimeter and the Titans have a couple of legitimate bigs in LaMarcus Lowe and Eli Holman, the Indiana transfer who comes off the bench. 

Ray McCallum and his father led Detroit to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. (US Presswire)

Player to know: Ray McCallum - Little Ray opted to play for his dad despite having offers from plenty of high-major programs. The sophomore point guard had a terrific season, averaging 15.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4 assists per game this season. He's led the team in scoring, assists and steals both years in college. 

The Vitals:

  • Record: 22-13 overall, 11-7 in Horizon
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 1999
  • We’re thinking: 14
  • KenPom ranking: 131
  • Sagarin ranking: 133
  • RPI: 136
  • Best wins: Cleveland State, Butler (twice)
  • Worst losses: UIC, Youngstown State
  • Notable stat:  Ray McCallum is in his third head coaching gig. He was 126-76 in seven seasons at Ball State, spent four years at Houston (44-73 mark) and is in his fourth season at Detroit. 

-- Jeff Goodman

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 3, 2012 11:11 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 12:06 am
 

A note on Butler and the unrepeated future

Brad Stevens the Bulldogs pulled off something that likely won't be duplicated for decades. (US Presswire)

By Matt Norlander


This sounds so trite, but you know it's so true. It wasn't until it the body was cold and the clock was officially out of countdown, until the schedule was out chances, that we could count Butler out. How many times had we done that in the past two years? Easily a half-dozen. And then the Bulldogs kept on winning, winning until the national title game and taking down a lot more than basketball nets and basketball programs with five times the spending budget. They never won a national title, but getting there is nearly the same level of accomplishment for a school like Butler.

Tonight, the chances of the Bulldogs entertaining us and making us doubt them once again officially extinguished, as Valparaiso acted like the top seed that it is, defeating Brad Stevens' Butler team 65-46 in the semifinals of the Horizon League tournament. They're the fun story, the new brand of underdog for fans to flock to -- and they won't be in this year's NCAA tournament field. It's not sad or anything, it's just a change of guard in the Horizon League for at least a year, and merely a hiccup of a season for Butler, which should be back in the thick of things next season when a very good recruiting class arrives and senior sharpshooting transfer Rotnei Clarke is eligible for his one year of sniper service.

Butler finishes its wobbly season with a 20-14 record. It's probably going to get an invite to some postseason tournament, but for all intents and purposes, the Bulldogs' campaign ended tonight. Valpo -- who a decade ago was the synonym for small guy success stories in the NCAAs -- gets to play for its first tournament appearance in eight years Sunday. The semifinal result was a nice way to dovetail the story lines of two programs who very well could build a new rivalry, what with the Crusaders have their own young coach (Bryce Drew) to build their program with, too.

The Valpo narrative can wait, though. After all, it still has to win one more. So here's my primary takeaway from the end of the Butler story, for now. Picture it. It's 2030, and we're all reading our news off of folding tablet screens that unlock by command of a face scanner. Something has replaced Twitter. Mike Krzyzewski looks the same as he did in 2005, which is the same as he did in 1988. Jeff Borzello wears a wig to hide his ever-thinning hair, because scientists still haven't found a way to reverse balding. Some things can't be overcome. The NCAA's adoration for the RPI falls under this category too, I'm afraid.

My point is, it's going to 2030 and we're going to remember and look back on Butler with more awe than what we had in 2010 and 2011. Because, while we're inevitably going to have another team from outside a major conference win a national title, we're not going to have a team come from a small league and make two straight national title games. Butler will have no peer in that regard for the next two decades. Brad Stevens will be there, Indianapolis, or at Indiana, or UCLA -- or maybe even Duke. He'll be climbing up the all-time wins list and cementing himself as one of the greats of all-time.

And he'll probably never come close to accomplishing something as unlikely as what he and his team did the past two years. Think about your impression of Butler the night it was two inches away from beating Duke in the most dramatic way in the history of the sport. And then how did you see this team in 2011? On the night Butler falls short of another chance at doing the improbable, our appreciation for that only grows. That appreciation will inflame, coincide and correlate with every team that falls well short of doing what this one did in the tournaments to come.

MOCKSESSION.COM presents "ALL OF US--EACH OF US"

Posted on: February 27, 2012 9:41 am
Edited on: February 27, 2012 12:52 pm
 

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Final Edition


By Matt Norlander

This is the final edition of the 2011-12 Non-BCS Power Pyramid. That sentence will come with not one reaction of anguish or woe on your end, I know, but in the interest of our Monday routine at the blog, I figured I'd bring it up. Instead of giving the usual rankings from my subjective viewpoint, I’ve decided to slot the teams today in order of how I think they’ll ultimately be seeded. Every team in the Pyramid I do believe will play its way into the field, so that means two CAA teams should expect bids. (Don’t you go dying on my, VCU and Drexel.)

It's been a fun and time-consuming process to put together this rankings system every Sunday night for the past 16 weeks, but the responses back and email have made it worth it. It will most definitely be returning next season, only you can expect vast improvements. At least in my own mind they will be.

So here's the final tally, the 15 best teams from outside the Big Six -- and how I expect them to get slotted into the greatest sporting event in the world.

Geographically protected

1. Wichita State, 26-4, four seed. A Sentence: I’m curious to see how the public reaction will be to this team once it gets a good seed, because so often when non-Big Six teams get high billing a backlash effect follows. A Statistic: The Shockers went undefeated in February, only lost once in January and once in December. The Schedule: No. 1 seed in the Missouri Valley tournament! Runs from March 1 to 4.

Wichita won its first MVC regular-season title since '06. The league has had a different champ six straight seasons. (AP)

2. Murray State, 28-1, five seed. A Sentence: The Racers’ seed has become a big curiosity of mine. A Statistic: The impressive afterthought of this team’s accomplishments this season: it was undefeated on the road and in neutral-court play. No other team can say the same. The Schedule: No. 1 seed in the Ohio Valley tournament! Runs from Feb. 29 to March 3.

3. Gonzaga, 23-5, five seed. A Sentence: No one’s truly bought into this team, so can this be a second-weekend year for Gonzaga, being that there’s a lack of pressure? A Statistic: Every Gonzaga starter is scoring more than 1.1 points per possession. It’s a very good sign for things to come. The Schedule: vs. Longwood, Monday; No. 2 seed in WCC tournament! Runs from Feb. 29 to March 5.

The rest of the single-digit seeds

4. UNLV, 24-6, six seed. A Sentence: UNLV hasn’t won on the road in a month, and though that will hurt its seeding I don’ think that’s a factor at all in how this team will play in March. A Statistic: An efficient 65.7 percent of UNLV’s baskets come via an assist. That’s the second-highest in the nation. The Schedule: at Colorado State, Wednesday; vs. Wyoming, Saturday.

5. Temple, 22-6, six seed. A Sentence: I’ve got Temple this high because I think it’s going to with the A10 tournament (it already nearly has the A10 regular-season title). A Statistic: Saturday’s loss to St. Joseph’s marked the first time since 2008 Temple didn’t sweep the Hawks. The Schedule: vs. UMass, Wednesday; at Fordham, Saturday.

Matthew Dellavedova and the Gaels could leapfrog Gonzaga in seeding, but they'll have to win the WCC tourney in order to do so. (US PRESSWIRE)

6. Saint Mary’s, 25-5, six seed. A Sentence: . A Statistic: The Gaels shoot 54.6 percent from the field from 2-point range. It’s eight-best in the country, but it’s also as good as SMC’s ever been under Randy Bennett in the tempo-free era. They are big and can score — and can also grab the O boards 36 percent of the time. The Schedule: No. 1 seed in the WCC tournament! Runs from Feb. 29 to March 5.

7. San Diego State, 22-6, eight seed. A Sentence: SDSU closes up its season with a TCU road game, which New Mexico and UNLV already fell prey to, so beware. A Statistic: The Aztecs have never cracked the 30s of KenPom.com this year, and only been in the 40s twice. That indicates this team isn’t likely to win when it gets to The Tournament. The Schedule: at Boise State, Wednesday; at TCU, Saturday.

8. Creighton, 25-5, nine seed. A Sentence: I only hope Creighton doesn’t have a similar ending to Drake in 2008. A Statistic: You want to know why Creighton’s fallen off the radar? Yeah, it had that three-game losing streak, but forget that. The past three Bluejays wins have come by a total of four points, one of them needing overtime. The Schedule: No. 2 seed in the Missouri Valley tournament! Runs from March 1 to 4.

9. Virginia Commonwealth, 25-6, nine seed. A Sentence: I feel real good about writing this on the Rams last week. A Statistic: What I’d love for the committee to pay attention to: details beyond the schedule and teams. VCU finishes the season with a 16.1 percent steal rate, the highest in the nation. A team that good indicates it plays very well defensively and certainly is one of the 37 best at-larges. The Schedule: No. 2 seed in the CAA tournament! Runs from March 2 to 5.

Double-digit territory

10. New Mexico, 22-6, 10 seed. A Sentence: The great dichotomy with New Mexico is that it’s a really talented team with an overall underwhelming resume, considering that talent. A Statistic: Lobos allow .87 points per possession, far and away the best of any Pyramid team, and it’s been that way most of the season. The Schedule: vs. Air Force, Wednesday; vs. Boise State, Saturday.

11. Harvard, 24-4, 12 seed. A Sentence: Another Ivy playoff is now a possibility, but I still think the Crimson will make the field and avoid a repeat of 2011’s heartbreak. A Statistic: With 61.4 possessions per game, Harvard is the slowest Pyramid team and one of the slowest in the nation, ranking 328 out of 345. The Schedule: at Columbia, Friday; at Cornell, Saturday.

12. Oral Roberts, 26-5, 12 seed. A Sentence: It’s going to take a heck of a five seed for me not to pick Oral Bobs to win its first game (the same goes for if ORU is sent to the First Four). A Statistic: How many teams have only lost once since Dec. 15? You’ve got Syracuse, ORU and the team listed directly below. The Schedule: No. 1 in the Summit League tournament! Runs from March 3 to 6.

13. Drexel, 25-5, 13 seed. A Sentence:  I only have ’em as a 13 because I think the Dragons get in as an at-large after losing the CAA title game. A Statistic: No Pyramid team has less of a bench than the Dragons, who only get their pine guys into the game 24.4 percent of the time. With mid-majors I often don’t think this is a problem, though. The best guys get adrenaline rushes and need to play as much as possible, and at their best, to stand a chance at winning. The Schedule: No. 1 seed in the CAA tournament! Runs from March 2 to 5.

14. Southern Miss, 22-5, 13 seed. A Sentence: While I’ve always appreciated the Southern Miss story, this is a team I don’t have much belief in. A Statistic: How can you turn your head from the awful 2-point shooting stat? At 43 percent, the Golden Eagles are pulling off one of the greatest capers ever by fighting for bubble position while being one of the worst teams from inside the 3 I can remember. The Schedule: vs. SMU, Wednesday; at Marshall, Saturday.

15. Iona, 24-6, 13 seed. A Sentence: I'll be furious with the Gaels if they squander this talent and miss the NCAA for the second straight year after winning the league. A Statistic: Cannot get over the fact this team went on a 31-0 run against St. Peter's Sunday. The Peacocks are a bad team this year but they're still stubborn defensively. A 31-0 run? How many times has that ever happened in college basketball? The Schedule: No. 1 seed in the MAAC tournament! Runs from March 2 to 5.

Posted on: February 26, 2012 9:03 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 5:08 pm
 

What-to-know conference previews: Horizon

Brad Stevens and his national darlings at Butler will need to run the table and win four consecutive games in seven days to get back to the Big Dance.

The Bulldogs have made two straight improbable appearances in the national title game, but now the odds are stacked against them as Stevens & Co., which has lost Gordon Hayward, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack over the past two years, earned the No. 5 seed in this year's league tourney.

Valparaiso and first-year head coach Bryce Drew earned the top spot by virtue of going 14-4 in league play this season. The Crusaders, led by Player of the Year candidate Ryan Broekhoff, will host the second round and semifinals on March 2-3 and would also host the championship game -- if it gets that far.

But there are several teams that could make a run at Valpo. Cleveland State was in control of the league at one point before stumbling late in the season, but Gary Waters' team still earned the double-bye. Detroit has Ray "Little Ray" McCallum and tied with a Milwaukee team that comes in on a four-game winning streak for third place.

Then you've got Butler - which doesn't have a star this year or enough offense, but you can't ever count out a Stevens-coached team. Not after what he's done the past two years. 

Title game: Tuesday, March 6 on ESPN (9 p.m. ET)

TOURNAMENT BRACKET

BEST PLAYERS

  1. Ryan Broekhoff, Valparaiso
  2. Ray McCallum, Detroit
  3. Alec Brown, Green Bay
  4. Kendrick Perry, Youngstown
  5. Trevor Harmon, Cleveland State

Conference RPI: 14

KenPom.com rating: 15

Sagarin rating: 12

NCAA Tournament Locks: None

NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams: None

Last NCAA Tournament Appearances: 

  • Butler Bulldogs: 2011, 8 seed, lost to UConn 53-41 in the national championship game
  • Cleveland State Vikings: 2009, No. 13 seed, an 84-69 win over Wake Forest in the first round followed by an 71-57 loss to Arizona in the second round
  • Detroit Titans: 1999, No. 12 seed, an 56-53 win over UCLA in the first round followed by an 75-44 loss to Ohio State in the second round
  • Illinois-Chicago Flames: 2004, No. 13 seed, an 78-53 loss to Kansas in the first round
  • Loyola-Chicago Rambers: 1985, No. 4 seed, an 59-58 win over Iona in the first round, followed by an 70-57 win over SMU in the second round, followed by a 65-53 loss to Georgetown
  • Valparaiso Crusaders: 2004, 15 seed, an 76-49 loss to Gonzaga in the first round (as a member of the Mid-Continent Conference) 
  • Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix: 1996, No. 8 seed, an 61-48 loss to Virginia Tech in the first round
  • Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers: 2006, No. 11 seed, an 82-74 win over Oklahoma in the first round followed by an 82-60 loss to Florida in the second round
  • Wright State Raiders: 2007, No. 14 seed, an 79-58 loss to Pittsburgh in the first round
  • Youngstown State Penguins: N/A

- Jeff Goodman

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 23, 2012 4:11 pm
 

Butler's issue is perimeter shooting. Seriously.

By Jeff Goodman

It shocked me to hear the words. 

"Our biggest deal all year has been our inability to shoot it. We're one of the lowest teams in the country in 3's." 

That was courtesy of Brad Stevens. 

We've all come to expect that if there's one thing Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs can do, it's shoot the you-know-what out of the ball. 

But the Bulldogs are shooting a dismal 28 percent from beyond the arc this season. That checks in at 274th in the country. Wow. 

"We're shooting it better lately," Stevens said. "It's just taking a while for guys to get comfortable in their new roles." 

There's no star on this team. No Gordon Hayward. No Matt Howard. No Shelvin Mack. 

Junior gig man Andrew Smith leads the team at 10.6 points per game. No one else is in double figures. Khyle Marshall (9.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg) is having a solid season, but hasn't quite delivered what some had hoped as a sophomore. Fellow sophomore Chrishawn Hopkins has been up-and-down while freshman Roosevelt Jones has started 24 games and will be a fixture for this program. 

Butler goes into the regular-season finale at first-place Valparaiso with an 18-12 record and a half-game up on Cleveland State and Detroit for second place in the Horizon. 

Can these guys make a run in the Horizon league tourney and get back into the NCAA tournament -- where the Bulldogs have become the nation's ultimate Cinderella story each of the past two years?

"The tourney is up for grabs," he said. "But our road to the league championship is a long one -- and that's not always advantageous." 

The top two teams in the league earn a double-bye and right now Stevens didn't sound overly optimistic that the Bulldogs would be in that position. They lost both games to Detroit and split against Cleveland State -- the two teams that sit a half-game back at 10-6 in league play. 

Stevens will lose just one player in the rotation off this year's team: Senior point guard and leader Ronald Nored. Look at his numbers and it doesn't appear that Stevens & Co., will have a tough time replacing the Alabama native, but Nored brings defense and all the intangibles that have made this program so successful over the last few years. 

But Stevens will add someone that will immediately fix the team's perimeter shooting woes: Rotnei Clarke. 

The Arkansas transfer is arguably the best long-range shooter in the country. 

But that's next year -- and Stevens isn't quite ready to turn the page and give up on this group just yet. 

After the last two seasons, who can blame him?

Posted on: February 13, 2012 9:47 am
Edited on: February 13, 2012 11:35 am
 

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 13



By Matt Norlander

I love Marchuary. You see those games over the weekend? Lots of shift and results of note. Felt like March. But it’s February. Hence: Marchuary. Sounds terrible, but let’s roll with it. Tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day, so I had to dress up the graphic nice and romantic for you. I’ll have Valentine’s Day-themed post coming, too. It’s already done, but I’d rather save it for the 14th and all, you know?

It’s now, officially, less than a month until Selection Sunday, which means we’ve got only three more editions of the Power Pyramid remaining. I’m always taken aback by how fast February moves, as if someone’s TiVo’ing the season and got two arrows boo-booping through out of angst and anticipation for the real show in March. I still maintain the teams here, a good cluster of them, will be heard from and do damage in this year's bracket. Let's see who's in the top 15 this week.

Top Tier

1. UNLV (22-4). A Sentence: A one-week break and UNLV returns to the top, where it’s likely to remain the rest of the regular season. A Statistic: Ask a coach the two things he wants out of his team more than anything — aside from the obvious of making as many baskets as possible. The two things? Don’t let the other team get offensive rebounds and don’t turn the ball over. UNLV is so good because Mike Moser is the third-best d-boarder in the nation (27.9 percent), and starting 1 Justin Hawkins is top-10 in turnover percentage, only coughing it up on 8.2 possessions for every 100. The Schedule: at TCU, Tuesday; at New Mexico, Saturday.

2. Saint Mary’s (23-3). A Sentence: The reason why I’ve enjoyed tracking non-BCS teams so much this year, you can make the argument six or seven teams were the best, and Saint Mary’s is still in the thick of that discussion. A Statistic: Is it Rob Jones, not Matthew Dellavedova, who’s the most valuable Gael? Jones is top-three in points, rebounds, steals, blocks and assists for this team. The Schedule: vs. Loyola Marymount, Wednesday; at Murray State, Saturday.

3. San Diego State (20-4). A Sentence: As far as I’m concerned, barring a real collapse, SDSU locked up an at-large Saturday with how it played against UNLV. A Statistic: Despite this good year, SDSU is not on KenPom.com’s good side. It started out the season as the No. 54 team, it’s never been better than 48, and as of today it’s 56th. The Schedule: vs. New Mexico, Wednesday; at Air Force, Saturday.

Ron Swanson Approves

Temple is looking pretty these days. (US PRESSWIRE)

4. Murray State (24-1). A Sentence: Tennessee State did a great job getting that win Thursday night, but TSU is no world beater, and so Murray has to take a hit this week. A Statistic: Looking ahead, regardless of who reps the Ohio Valley in the NCAAs this year, there’s history on the line. After going 19 years between wins in the Big Dance, the Ohio Valley’s now had a team win a game three years in a row. It’s never happened in four straight seasons. You’d think chances are fairly decent with the year Murray State’s had.  The Schedule: at Southeast Missouri State, Wednesday; vs. Saint Mary’s, Saturday.

5. Temple (19-5). A Sentence: I’m claiming Temple as my own now, considering I never kicked it out of the Pyramid and it’s clear Dunphy’s 8-2 A10 team is just as good as last year’s group. A Statistic: Yes, the Atlantic 10 had been pretty muddied up until this past weekend, but the Owls are now in control, and here’s why they should get a good seed. With an SOS of 21 according to KenPom, I think a five or a six is in store (this is me assuming they lose only one more game before the NCAAs). The Schedule: at St. Bonaventure, Wednesday; vs. Duquesne, Saturday.

6. Wichita State (22-4). A Sentence: Been awesome to watch the Shockers play themselves into the role of trendy mid-major sleeper. A Statistic: Joe Ragland has a true shooting percentage of 69.3, which is the second-best in the country. Yeah, that’s awesome. And he’s only behind Ricardo Ratliffe (73.1). Here’s the kicker: Ratliffe’s a big who bolts himself to the paint. Ragland a 6-foot guard who throws it up from everywhere. Truly remarkable. The Schedule: vs. Missouri State, Wednesday; at Davidson, Saturday.

7. Gonzaga (20-4). A Sentence: The Zags have been building to something very nice all season, but I get the feeling most won’t fall for this team until it reaches the Sweet 16 again. A Statistic: And on that note, only twice in the past 10 years have the Bulldogs made it to the second weekend, never beyond the Sweet 16. They’ve become a March staple but to me it feels like a bit of crying wolf these days whenever anyone really tries to prop up Mark Few's team as a serious March threat. The Schedule: at Santa Clara, Thursday; at San Francisco, Saturday.

We've loved Gonzaga all season long, but can this year be different from others? (US PRESSWIRE)

8. Oral Roberts (23-5). A Sentence: If you can believe it, the first regular-season conference title should be wrapped up this week, when ORU beats IUPU Fort Wayne and wins the Summit. A Statistic: ORU is a top-15 KenPom team in effective field goal percentage, free-throw percentage, two-point percentage and block percentage. No one else is so elite in four offensive categories. This team is no joke whatsoever. The Schedule: at IUPU Fort Wayne, Wednesday; vs. Akron, Saturday.

9. Harvard (21-3). A Sentence: I saw this squad in person Friday night, a night before it lost to Princeton, and I’m selling on them for now. A Statistic: I mentioned the loss at Princeton. Harvard snake-bitten at Jadwin, where it hasn’t won since 1989. The Schedule: vs. Brown, Friday; vs. Yale, Saturday.

10. New Mexico (20-4). A Sentence: I still say there’s an MWC Power Three, even if everyone else is giving all the love to San Diego State and UNLV. A Statistic: If the Lobos can’t get widespread respect, it may be due to the team’s turnover ways. UNM gives it away now 21.3 percent of the time, more than any Pyramid team. The Schedule: at San Diego State, Wednesday; vs. UNLV, Saturday.

Base Blocks

11. Creighton (21-5). A Sentence: I didn’t have any issue with Greg McDermott getting aggressive with his son during Saturday’s loss to Wichita State. A Statistic: Creighton averages 80 points per game, which is top-10 in the nation. But in its five losses? 64.6. The Schedule: at Southern Illinois, Tuesday; vs. Long Beach State, Saturday.

12. Southern Miss (21-4). A Sentence: I’d say Southern Miss needs two more wins this week, and then it’s about as close to a lock as a C-USA can be. A Statistic: Southern Miss is 8-2 through its first 10 Conference USA games. It’s never had a start this good in-league. The Schedule: vs. Tulsa, Wednesday; at Houston, Saturday.

13. Virginia Commonwealth (22-5). A Sentence: Well, well, well, look who just showed up at the party. A Statistic: Since they’re new to the Pyramid, you probably want to know what they do best. The answer: turn teams over. Shaka Smart’s teams gets a TO on 27.3 percent of opponents’ possessions, third-best in the country. The 15.7-percent steal rate is No. 2 in the nation, behind East Tennessee State. The Schedule: at George Mason, Tuesday; vs. Northern Iowa, Friday.

14. Middle Tennessee State (23-4): A Sentence: I know this: Kermit Davis’ team is going to be a formidable 13 or 14 seed. A Statistic: With 15 points and seven rebounds per game, LeRon Dendy (formerly of Iowa State) has been among the best transfer stories this season nobody’s paid attention to. The Schedule: vs. Florida Atlantic, Saturday.

15. Long Beach State (19-6). A Sentence: The 49ers made the inaugural Pyramid on Nov. 21, then promptly fell out … until making their grand return this week. A Statistic: Why’d LBSU get put back into the rankings this week? They’re undefeated in conference play — something no other Pyramid team can lay claim to. The Schedule: at Creighton, Saturday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦ Out this week: Cleveland State, Iona. In: Virginia Commonwealth, Long Beach State.
♦ It was appropriate last week’s two teams who didn’t feel like they belonged, Cleveland State (14) and Iona (15) promptly got the boot this week.
♦ And Ohio, who has been as close to inclusion as any team, essentially ruined its chances with back-to-back losses.

Posted on: February 6, 2012 1:41 pm
Edited on: February 6, 2012 1:43 pm
 

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 12



By Matt Norlander

The Super Bowl set all of us back a little bit. I got around to Power Pyramid sorting this morning, and here’s what we have: 15 teams that have pretty much separated themselves. Yeah, a few fringers and teams that just missed out are there, but not like the mainstays who’ve been paying rent for well over a month.

We also have a new top-ranked team.

Top Tier

1. Murray State (23-0). A Sentence: I think I’ll make the rule now that, if you get to February undefeated, you take the top spot(s) in the Pyramid. A Statistic:  Including Saint Mary’s, the average KenPom ranking of the teams Murray State has left on its schedule: 173. More and more I begin to doubt this team can get a 3 seed if it runs the table.  The Schedule: vs. Tennessee State, Thursday; vs. Austin Peay, Saturday.

2. Saint Mary’s (22-2). A Sentence: To put it is clearly as can be, I didn’t ever think SMC would reach these kind of heights this season.  A Statistic: The Gaels are not the biggest or tallest team, but they grab 73.7 percent of their defensive-rebound opportunities. I think that’s the biggest aspect to their success. Randy Bennett’s teams have never rebounded like this before. The Schedule: at Gonzaga, Thursday; vs. Santa Clara, Saturday.

3. UNLV (21-4). A Sentence:  When it lost to San Diego State a few weeks ago I didn’t flinch, but another L, this one at Wyoming, forces me to shift the playing pieces. A Statistic: Since the Mountain West is just an eight-team league now, it’s actually got a schedule where the second half mirrors the first. The league just finished the first half of conference play, so now everyone will go through the same eight-game cycle again, only switching home/away teams. The Schedule: vs. San Diego State, Saturday.

Ron Swanson Approves

4. Harvard (20-2). A Sentence: Ivy play comes to a head when the Crimson get a tough road game at Penn Friday, and that’s going to be the game that essentially decides of Harvard cruises to a tournament bid. A Statistic: It’s the defense that’s getting it done. Harvard’s not ranked in the top 25 in any tempo-free category. The Schedule: at Penn, Friday; at Princeton, Saturday.

5. Creighton (21-3). A Sentence: Creighton, like a lot of Pyramid teams lost this week, so it’s not really warranted to shake the cage too much. A Statistic: Creighton’s lack of urgency on defense is what came back to kill it in losing at Northern Iowa. The Panthers only turned the ball over on 3.3 percent of their possessions, and Creighton is ranked 336th in turnover percentage. The Schedule: at Evansville, Tuesday; vs. Wichita State, Saturday.

6. San Diego State (20-3). A Sentence: I feel a little dirty keeping SDSU this high after it barely got out alive playing at home against Boise State. A Statistic: Steve Fisher now has seven straight 20-win seasons at a place that was a miserable basketball school before he got there. What a coaching job. The Schedule: at UNLV, Saturday.

Temple has quietly taken control of an unpredictable Atlantic 10. (AP)

7. Temple (17-5). A Sentence: I’ve never wavered on Temple, who has no excuse not to run away with the Atlantic 10 now. A Statistic: I say that about the Owls because, to me, they’re clearly the class of the conference, yet the top eight teams are separated by two games. The A10 is so hairy it’s ridiculous, and I think unprecedented. The Schedule: vs. George Washington, Wednesday; vs. Xavier Saturday.

8. Wichita State (20-4). A Sentence: There aren’t two other games Saturday I’m looking forward to more than the one Wichita State is playing in. A Statistic: With an average experience of 2.5 years per player, Wichita State is the fifth-oldest team in the nation. The Schedule: vs. Northern Iowa, Wednesday; at Creighton, Saturday.

9. Oral Roberts (20-4). A Sentence: I didn’t expect ORU to win on the road at both of the Dakota States, so they take a little tumble in the Pyramid. A Statistic: For as good as it is on offense, ORU is hampered defensively. Effectively, teams make more than 50 percent of their shots against them, including 36 percent of 3-pointers. The Schedule: vs. IUPUI, Thursday; vs. Western Illinois, Saturday.

10. Gonzaga (18-4). A Sentence: Couldn’t beat BYU on the road last week, and now Saint Mary’s comes to town for what amounts as a reputation-staking game for Gonzaga. A Statistic: Robert Sacre now has a free-throw rate of 94, meaning he takes 94 percent of his field goal attempt total from the foul line. If you played a game and Robert Sacre shot 100 field goals, he’d also have 94 free throws. Easy enough, right? It’s the highest free-throw rate in the nation. The Schedule: vs. Saint Mary’s, Thursday; vs. Loyola Marymount, Saturday.

Base Blocks

11. New Mexico (19-4). A Sentence:  UNM has been blowing out teams but it also doesn’t have an impressive win in 2012 yet. A Statistic: This is, far and away, the best defensive team Steve Alford’s had at UNM. The team’s adjusted defensive efficiency is 87.7 points per 100 possessions. The only time Alford had a better team was the top-ranked squad at Iowa in 2005-06, when the 84.4 points per 100 possessions was best in the country. The Schedule: vs. Wyoming, Saturday.

12. Southern Miss (20-3). A Sentence: The Golden Eagles will be back in the NCAA tournament if they merely beat all the teams they’re supposed to beat from here on out. A Statistic: The most surprising factor to USM’s success is, this team shoots 47.1 from the field in effective field-goal percentage. That number is surprisingly low. The Schedule: at UAB, Wednesday; vs. Central Florida, Saturday.

13. Middle Tennessee State (21-4): A Sentence: Didn’t like how MTSU was thoroughly handled on the road against a decent Denver team, but I’m willing to let one loss be a cushion. A Statistic: This team has five games remaining on its schedule, by far the fewest of any Pyramid team. No BracketBusters hurts. The Schedule: vs. Western Kentucky, Thursday; vs. Arkansas Little Rock, Saturday.

14. Cleveland State (20-4). A Sentence: With Nevada losing and Gary Waters’ team continue to roll in the Horizon, it’s time to get the Vikings back in the mix. A Statistic: No Pyramid team is worse in any category than Cleveland State is at getting to the foul line. The team’s free-throw rate is 26.1 percent, third-worst in the country. The Schedule: vs. Valpo, Thursday; vs. Butler, Saturday.

15. Iona (19-5). A Sentence: The Gaels are so tempting because they’ve got guys who can score 30 with ease, dish 14 assists like it’s nothing and run so many teams out of the gym. A Statistic: Iona’s been able to win four games in a row for the first time in more than two months. The Schedule: at Loyola, Friday; vs. Marist, Sunday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦ Out this week: Nevada. In: Cleveland State.
♦ At 19-4, Ohio’s still right there.
♦ The 19-4 Wagner Seahawks are also getting closer and closer.
Posted on: January 24, 2012 1:09 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 7:12 pm
 

The tightest league races right now

Drexel and George Mason are two of five teams chasing down the CAA crown. Many conference races remain four-team-or-more chases nearly halfway through league play. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Matt Norlander

We’re now more than halfway through the college basketball season (blink long enough and conference tournaments will be there before your eyes as you open them), and what intrigues me is the number of conferences with good races/clogs at the top. I wanted to see which leagues had the best tussles for supremacy right now, so I’ve laid them out on the table, so to speak. In three weeks, separation will become natural and many of the conferences featured below will either see the top of its respective mountains less crowded — or perhaps find a late bloomer making a spirited run.

For now, these are among the tightest, densest races and chases going in college hoops right now. Yes, there had to be some ground rules. First of all, you couldn’t be from the Pac-12. Secondly, you couldn’t be from any of the major conferences, because we’re all very aware of those marathons. Plus, those leagues are covered in a column I wrote today. To be fair to sample size, I set a bar: each team had to have played a minimum of seven conference games, eliminating C-USA for now, which could become really enrapturing, and the Atlantic 10 which, as of this post, had teams 1 through 12 with one to three losses. No one knows what’s going to happen in that league. As Tony Horton would say, “I hate it, but I love it.” Both of those conferences will get standalone posts on their prospects near the end of the month.

Lastly, conferences that qualified for this post needed at least four teams within two games of each other in the loss column in the top of the standings. You’ll notice I use points per possession and points per possession allowed in addition to league/overall marks. The format is similar to John Gasaway’s super Tuesday Truths, only I’m not using efficiency margins as means of ranking, and the PPP metrics are for all games, not in-conference, which John uses.

Here they are, college basketball’s six closest non-Big Six conference chases.

CAA

Team                     League   Overall      PPP     PPPA

George Mason          8-1       16-5         1.04    0.92
VCU                            7-2       16-5         1.04    0.90
Drexel                         7-2       15-5         1.03    0.89
Old Dominion            7-2       12-9         0.96    0.92
Georgia State            6-3       14-6         1.02    0.86

Prior to the start of the weekend, the Colonial was the only conference with a viable six-team quest. Since then, Northeastern fell out of favor. How about Mason, eh? That’s my preseason CAA pick. And it doesn’t play any of the top six teams again until Feb. 4, when it gets ODU. Speaking of the Monarchs, Old Dominion challenged itself greatly in the non-con, so the overall record doesn’t do justice to the ceiling that team has. Drexel, by the way, was the coaches’ pick for conference winner back in October. But it ain’t October no mo’.

Few leagues have been as defensively stout as the CAA. Its collective .97 points-per-possession-allowed is the best of any conference listed here. Georgia State still leads the league in efficiency margin — something to keep an eye on.

Upcoming games between top teams:

Georgia State at Drexel, Wednesday
VCU at Georgia State, Saturday

NEC

Team                   League    Overall     PPP     PPPA

Long Island             8-0       14-6         1.06    1.01
Wagner                     6-2       15-4         1.08    0.94
Central Conn.          6-2        9-9          1.02    1.00
Robert Morris           5-2       15-6         1.05    0.96
St. Francis (NY)       6-2       9-10         0.98    0.98

The Northeast Conference’s chase has been a long time coming. Four of the five teams fared well in the non-con, even CCSU, which is treading water overall. But Central Connecticut also could have the league’s best player, Ken Horton, and the best freshman, Kyle Vinales. Plenty’s already been written about Wagner (which could easily be 14-5, not 15-4), but now that LIU is still undefeated, the defending NEC champs should see an uptick in pub, including on this here blog.

It must be noted, again, that Robert Morris is playing so well despite suspending its best player, Karon Abraham, for the season. How many teams could duplicate that?

Upcoming games between top teams:

Long Island at Robert Morris, Thursday
St. Francis (NY) at Robert Morris, Saturday

Big South

Team                   League    Overall     PPP     PPPA

UNC-Asheville           9-1       14-7         1.15    1.02
Campbell                    8-2       14-8         1.08    1.03
Coastal Carolina       7-2       14-5         1.09    0.94
Charleston Southern 7-3       13-7         1.1     1.01

The Big South is the best league you don’t’ know anything about. Yeah, defense isn’t the motto — but the teams can score! And they can win out of conference, too; Charleston Southern is graded out to a top-20 non-con strength of schedule, according to KenPom.com.

Upcoming games between top teams:

Campbell at Asheville, Saturday

Rob Jones and the Gaels are off to the best start in league play since 1959. (AP)

WCC

Team                   League    Overall     PPP     PPPA

Saint Mary’s              8-0       19-2         1.17    0.91
Gonzaga                    6-1       16-3         1.1     0.94
Brigham Young         6-2       17-5         1.11    0.90
Loyola Marymount    5-2       12-8         1.01    0.96

Who knew Saint Mary’s would be THIS good? Tough games are upcoming, but still, the Gaels haven’t ever started West Coast Conference play 8-0 before. They started 8-0 in ’58-’59, back when they were a part of the West Coast Athletic Conference, which became the WCC. Kudos to them. What I love about this race is how each team can score — and isn’t allowing more than a point per possession. Some good old fashioned domination going on. I like Gonzaga to ultimately win the league in the regular season. Marymount’s going to remain to be a problem for everyone, though.

Upcoming games between top teams:

Saint Mary’s at Marymount, Thursday
Saint Mary’s at BYU, Saturday

Horizon

Team                   League    Overall     PPP     PPPA

Cleveland State       7-2       17-4         1.04    0.92
Valparaiso                7-2       14-7         1.08    1.01
UW-Milwaukee        6-3       13-8         0.98    0.93
Butler                         6-3       12-9         0.97    0.95
Youngstown State    6-3       11-8         1.03    1.00

Look at cute little Butler, just hiding in the weeds at 12-9 and tied for second. It’s no secret this Bulldogs team has had trouble scoring, but at least they’re still, just barely, better on O than D. Cleveland State has done very well for itself, but I think the Horizon, which ends league play Feb. 25, before most other leagues, will see four teams own the top spot before the season ends. I don’t think Youngstown State is worth taking seriously, but they met the qualifications and are playing better than Milwaukee. Then again, the Penguins have had a much easier schedule than the Panthers.  

Upcoming games between top teams:

Butler at Milwaukee, Thursday
Cleveland State at Youngstown State, Saturday
Valpo at Milwaukee, Saturday

MAAC

Team                   League    Overall     PPP     PPPA

Iona                        7-2       15-5         1.14    1.00
Manhattan             7-2       14-7         1.01    0.93
Loyola                    7-2       14-5         1.01    0.96
Fairfield                 5-3       10-9         1.00    0.96

In the preseason I expected Fairfield to narrow past Iona for the league title. Then it became clear the Gaels were far superior to the Stags, who are enduring one of the most disappointing seasons of any team in the country. They’re barely keeping chase to make this feature. Now Iona’s staggered after blowing an 18-point lead to Siena Monday night. Siena, as you can see, is not even in position to win the MAAC right now. The Gaels are still the best team this league has by a wide margin, but now they’re not to be trusted, despite having three all league-level players in Scott Machado, Mike Glover and MoMo Jones.

Manhattan has transformed itself in the first year under Steve Masiello. What a job. And talking to some in the league in the preseason, they expected Loyola to be a top-three team. That’s true so far.

Upcoming games between top teams:

Iona at Fairfield, Friday
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com