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.


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


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)


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


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


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
Posted on: January 7, 2012 8:58 pm
Edited on: January 7, 2012 9:04 pm

Towson sets NCAA record for consecutive losses

By Jeff Borzello

It’s been a long time coming for Towson. 375 days, to be exact.

That’s the last time the Tigers won a game – December 29, 2010 at La Salle.

On Saturday, Towson set an NCAA record with its 35th consecutive loss, a 75-38 defeat at Old Dominion. The Tigers dropped to 0-16 on the season, 0-4 in the Colonial.

They were held to 50 points or fewer for the fifth consecutive game, but had a slight improvement over Wednesday’s 27 points – the new CAA record for fewest points scored in a game. Saturday's game was also the 14th game this season that Towson has lost by double figures.

Pat Skerry is in his first year as the head coach of Towson, coming over after being an assistant coach at Pittsburgh. The Tigers returned just one player from last season, but do have a very good recruiting class entering the fold next season.

Sacramento State had the previous Division-I record for consecutive losses, set in 1997-1999. Towson gets its next opportunity to end the streak on Wednesday at home against William & Mary. Coincidentally, that game is the best chance Towson has the rest of the season at getting a victory.

Photo: US Presswire

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 3, 2012 1:22 am

Night Court: UVA reps for hoops on Bowl Monday

Jeff Borzello

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

Game of the day: Alright, so we didn’t have anything that matched Oregon vs. Wisconsin or Oklahoma State vs. Stanford, but Virginia holding off LSU down the stretch wasn’t too bad. The Cavaliers needed two late free throws from Mike Scott to get the 57-52 win over a Tigers team that had defeated Marquette and was on a seven-game winning streak. Virginia improved to 13-1 on the season; Monday night’s win was its 11th in a row.

Win to brag about: Despite turning the ball over 31 times, Robert Morris went into Ohio and knocked off the Bobcats, 70-67. Ohio had won nine in a row heading into the game, including wins at Marshall and Northern Iowa. The Bobcats’ only previous loss had been to Louisville. The Northeast Conference should be very competitive at the top this season, but Andy Toole’s Colonials might be the favorite.

Loss to hide from: Wake Forest was without leading scorer C.J. Harris, but that’s no excuse for losing 56-52 at home to Wofford. The Terriers had lost four starters from last season and already had losses to High Points and UMKC this season. Travis McKie had 25 points and six rebounds for Wake Forest, but Wofford’s Brad Loesing countered with 17 points – and a win.

Player who deserves improper benefits: Auburn’s Kenny Gabriel went for the first triple-double in school history in a 67-41 win over Bethune-Cookman. The senior forward had 24 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks. Gabriel shot 11-for-13 from the field and also pitched in with three assists and four steals for good measure.

Player(s) who does not deserve improper benefits: In order to beat No. 5 Baylor on the road on Monday night, Texas A&M needed all the offense it could get. Instead, leading scorer Khris Middleton shot just 4-for-17 from the field and also turned it over four times en route to a 61-52 loss. The team as a whole shot below 29 percent from the field and scored just 17 points in the first half, but Middleton’s struggles set the tone. Perry Jones’ 14 points and 12 rebounds paced Baylor.

Numbers don’t lie:

  • 16.4: That’s how many points per game Jamal Wilson was averaging before Rhode Island kicked him off the team. The Rams are 2-0 since dismissing him, including a double-overtime win at Boston College on Monday.
  • 10: Georgia State has now won a school-record 10 straight games after beating Drexel by 14 on Monday. The Panthers are one of the biggest surprises in the CAA.
  • 12: That’s how many consecutive points Miami’s Shane Larkin scored against UNC-Greensboro. And he did it in 1:27. The Hurricanes won, 99-89, behind 30 points and 12 boards from Kenny Kadji. Trevis Simpson had 36 for UNCG. 

Three other notable results:

  1. VCU further showed why it is the CAA favorite heading into the final two months, beating Hofstra on the road, 80-63.
  2. Long Beach State kicked off Big West play with a 74-60 win over UC-Irvine. The 49ers can’t afford more than one or two losses if they harbor even remote at-large hopes.
  3. Vanderbilt made just two of its first 14 shots, but the Commodores bounced back to beat Miami (Ohio), 69-62. 


  • UC Santa Barbara’s Orlando Johnson hit a 3-pointer with five seconds left to give the Gauchos a 58-57 win over Cal Poly. UCSB head coach Bob Williams is now the winningest coach in school history.
  • Vermont and Stony Brook could be the two best teams in the America East. On Monday, Stony Brook landed the first punch, knocking off the Catamounts.
  • In other America East action, Gerardo Suero had 24 points, nine rebounds and five assists for Albany in its win over Hartford.
  • VMI’s Stan Okoye had one of the best all-around lines of the night: 25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, three blocks, four steals.
  • Campbell stayed undefeated in the Big South, beating previously-unbeaten Coastal Carolina in overtime, 70-65. The Chanticleers didn’t hit a field goal in the extra session.
  • Keith Rendleman racked up 24 points and 18 rebounds to lead UNC-Wilmington to a win over Delaware. The two teams combined for just two turnovers in the second half.

On tap: The competition picks up a little bit on Tuesday. The game of the night features Michigan State putting its 13-game winning streak on the line at Wisconsin. Two of the best big men in the Big East will battle when Seton Hall’s Herb Pope takes on Connecticut’s Andre Drummond. I will be in attendance for that one. Missouri also puts its undefeated record to the rest against Oklahoma in the Big 12 opener.

Photo: AP

Posted on: December 27, 2011 8:57 am
Edited on: December 27, 2011 9:02 am

Towson's Skerry undeterred as futility mark nears

By Jeff Goodman

The record-setting game could come on Jan. 7 at Old Dominion.

That's when rookie Towson coach Pat Skerry and the Tigers could set the Division 1 mark for futility - with 35 consecutive losses.

But if neither athletic director Mike Waddell nor Skerry seem overly concerned, it's because they aren't.

"There's a reason I gave Pat a six-year contract," Waddell told CBSSports.com. "I knew it was going to be a process."

Simply put, previous coach Pat Kennedy left the cupboard beyond bare. This was a team that lost its final 19 games under Kennedy - and then its leading scorer, Isaiah Philmore, transferred to Xavier. Big man Braxton Dupree bolted overseas to play in Israel and RaShawn Polk was kicked off the team by Skerry.

Skerry was forced to start from scratch. Towson is the lone team in the entire country with just one returning letterwinner: Erique Gumbs, who averaged 3.6 points per game. The Tigers are just one of three programs, along with Texas and Boston College, that didn't bring back a single starter.

"I knew exactly what I was getting myself into," Skerry said. "While we may not be loaded with talent, I can't fault these kids for their effort. They are playing hard."

Despite the current state of the team, Skerry is optimistic about the future. He has two impact transfers sitting out this season -- Georgetown's Jerrelle Benimon and South Florida's Mike Burwell - and he's put together a four-man class, headlined by guard Jerome Hairston, that nearly every every recruiting guru is raving about.

Skerry will take its 0-12 mark to Charlottesville next with a matchup against a ranked Virginia team on Friday. Then comes its most optimistic shot of ending the skid, a home game against Northeastern on Jan. 2. What follows are tough league road contests against Drexel and then ODU.

"We're competing and that's important," Skerry said. "And we're building something here. We knew it was going to take time."

Skerry isn't known for his patience, but even he has managed to remain even-keel as the one-year anniversary of the program's last victory approaches this Thursday.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: December 22, 2011 12:26 pm
Edited on: December 23, 2011 12:34 am

Eight frosh bring optimism to UNC-Wilmington

Jeff Borzello

WILMINGTON, N.C. – It might not show in the win column, but there is a sense of rejuvenation at UNC-Wilmington.

Yes, the Seahawks are only 3-7, but they did beat 8-3 Illinois State on the road, and have also hung tight with Maryland, Davidson and Wake Forest. Another example of renewed excitement in the program was Monday’s comeback win over Campbell, capped by a Matt Wilson tip-in with 1.4 seconds left.

“It means a lot,” junior forward Keith Rendleman said. “Going into the season, we knew we had a great freshman class. This was more about coming together. It may help us make a run in this league.”

After last season’s 13-18 campaign, head coach Buzz Peterson welcomed eight freshmen into the fold this year. Adam Smith has been the star, averaging 15.3 points and starting at the point guard spot. Cedrick Williams and K.K. Simmons have also been staples in the lineup, while Craig Ponder was the team’s best facilitator until an injury sidelined him.

Freddie Jackson provides a boost off the bench. Luke Hager, the team’s highest-rated recruit, will take a medical redshirt. Nate Anderson and Dylan Sherwood give minutes here and there, as well.

“We can’t hold back,” sophomore Dante Morales said. “Some of us only have two more years, three more years. We’ve got to come together.”

Fortunately, there is only one senior and two juniors in the rotation, meaning Peterson has the pieces to be an upper-half Colonial team within the next couple of years. The Seahawks haven’t had a winning season since 2007-08, when T.J. Carter led Benny Moss’ troops to a 20-13 record.

While UNCW might struggle to another poor season this year, there is certainly optimism in the locker room.

“We’re a way better team than we were at the beginning of the year,” Rendleman said. “We’re becoming more of a team now.”

Bouncing back from a 28-turnover performance against VCU to beat a talented Campbell team is something Seahawks teams of the past few years would have trouble doing. They took care of the ball, only giving it up five times. They also overcame horrendous shooting and a 2-for-12 outing from Smith to get the win.

Getting a win without hitting on all cylinders bodes well for UNC-Wilmington in the future. Peterson is excited about the possibilities in the program.

“We know what it’s like now,” Peterson said. "I think it will help them, give them some of the confidence they need.”

Photo: US Presswire

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: November 8, 2011 12:28 pm

Hewitt gets first look at Cornelius today

By Jeff Goodman

Paul Hewitt will get his first look at Andre Cornelius in practice today.

Cornelius, who was projected to start for the new George Mason coach, will miss the first 10 games of the season as a result of pleading guilty to credit card fraud of less than $200.

"To get someone like Andre back is invaluable to this team," Hewitt said. "It'll be a huge addition."

Cornelius hasn't been allowed to participate in any team activities since Sept. 19.

"I haven't seen him, but I know exactly what we're getting," Hewitt said.

Cornelius was an "instant offense" guy a year ago, making 61 3-pointers and starting every game as part of a talented group of perimeter players that also included Cam Long and Luke Hancock.

"He's also a very good on-ball defender," Hewitt said of Cornelius. "He's tailor-made for our style of pressure defense."

But for the first 10 games, Hewitt will likely go with a starting unit of sophomores Bryon Allen, Vertrail Vaughns and Sherrod Wright on the perimeter and seniors Mike Morrison and Ryan Pearson up front.

The strength of the team - once Cornelius returns - could be its depth as Hewitt said that freshman big man Erik Copes should make an impact this season.

"He's got a chance to be a big-time player," Hewitt said.
Posted on: November 2, 2011 12:05 pm

Skerry filling a bare cupboard at Towson

By Jeff Goodman

New Towson coach Pat Skerry was asked whether the cupboard was bare.

Hs response:

"We went out and bought a new cupboard," Skerry said. "Now we're in the process of stocking it."

Skerry has just one player on his team that logged a minute on the court last season.

Erique Gumbs.

He averaged a whopping 3.6 points per game last season.

Skerry has no false illusions. He understands that his team will likely struggle this season.

In fact, they'll be fortunate to surpass last season's win total.

The Tigers won a total of four games.

Leading scorer Isaiah Philmore transferred to Xavier shortly after Pat Kennedy was fired. Braxton Dupree opted to play pro and is in Israel. Rashawn Polk, who averaged 11.6 points last season, has been suspended and likely won't return to the team.

Josh Brown and Brian Morris both graduated - as did walk-on Danny Quinn.

That leaves Gumbs as the lone player who made his way into any box score a year ago that remains on the team.

Skerry will get senior Rob Nwankwo, who was ineligible last season after leading the CAA in rebounding and blocks as a junior, back in the fold.

He's also got four freshmen - wing Deon Jones, point guard Kris Walden, forward Jervon Pressley and guard Will Adams - in addition to junior college forward Marcus Damas.

Skerry is regarded as a relentless recruiter and that's where he's been able to make strides. The class he's assembled for next season - to go along with then-eligible transfers Jerrelle Benimon (Georgetown) and Mike Burwell (South Florida) - are reason for optimism.

"We've been extremely well-received on the recruiting trail," Skerry said. "With the new arena opening up, we've got a lot to sell - including playing time."

The Tigers have four commitments that are expected to sign in the early period: Combo guard Jerome Hairston, ranked in Rivals.com's Top 150; shooting guard Frank Mason; big man Barrington Alston and forward T.J. Parker.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: October 12, 2011 5:40 pm
Edited on: October 12, 2011 7:46 pm

Hofstra is ready for life after Charles Jenkins

By Jeff Borzello

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – Over the past decade or so, Hofstra has always had a stud guard to lead the way – and someone waiting in the wings to replace him. Speedy Claxton gave way to Norman Richardson, who passed the baton to Rick Apodaca, with Loren Stokes and Antoine Agudio following him.

The latest was Charles Jenkins, a two-time CAA Player of the Year who was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in June. On the surface, it seems like the star guard lineage could be coming to a halt.

“We have a saying at Hofstra, ‘In Guards We Trust,’” senior Mike Moore said on Wednesday at Hofstra’s Media Day. “I think one of us will carry on that legacy.”

Although he’s not Jenkins, Moore could be the best candidate to step in and replace Jenkins' 22.9 points and 4.8 assists per game. Moore is the second-leading returning scorer in the conference, posting 14.9 points. He scored at least 20 points on six separate occasions, including a 28-point outing against Binghamton.

The former Fordham transfer could be ready to take that next step.

“That’s what you’d like to see,” head coach Mo Cassara said. “He’s going to be featured a bit more. He’s got to become more consistent, but he’s a scorer by nature.”

When asked who will take the big shots when the shot clock or game clock are winding down, Moore was confident in his response. “I think it’s going to be me,” he said. “I can carry that load.”

Fortunately for Cassara and the Pride, Moore won’t be alone on the perimeter. Rhode Island transfer Stevie Mejia sat out last season and will likely be slotted into the lineup at point guard. He registered nearly a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio during his sophomore year in the Atlantic-10 and will be able to replace some of the playmaking ability of Jenkins.

Mejia is not a big-time scorer, but his defensive aggressiveness and ability to facilitate offense will be an asset.

“He’s a dynamic floor leader and he’s been successful everywhere he’s been,” Cassara said. “He’s a personality in the locker room, and he’s a guy who will have the ball in his hands.”

Season tips Nov. 7

Additional help will come in the form of Nathaniel Lester, who sat out last season with a torn quad muscle. Two seasons ago, the 6-foot-5 Brooklyn native started 22 games and averaged 8.0 points. Fully healthy, Lester expects to be one of the key replacements for Jenkins.

“We can handle that,” Lester said of replacing Jenkins. “When the season ended, me and Mike [Moore] looked at each other – we know what we have to do.”

Cassara and his players don’t want to underplay the loss of Jenkins; after all, he was one of the best players in Hofstra history and one of the best guards in the country over the last two seasons. However, there was a tendency at times last year to stand around and wait for Jenkins to make a play.

This season, it will be different.

“Last year when he had the ball, it was like we didn’t have to worry about it,” junior David Imes said. “There’s no more watching.”

With the arrival of several impact newcomers, as well as Lester and Mejia completing their redshirt years, the team is optimistic that they will be able to replace Jenkins and make a move in the CAA standings.

“Teams win games, not individual players,” Mejia said. “I think we can do a lot better than last year.”

Photo: Hofstra Athletic Communications (Mike Moore)

Category: NCAAB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com