Tag Archives: VCU Rams

Virginia’s Win over Duke is a Big Win for College Basketball

The scoreboard in Durham read:

Virginia 65

Duke      63

But the bigger story was this:

Real College Basketball – 1

NBA Minor League – 0

The University of Virginia scored a big win for college basketball on Saturday. Virginia, notched an improbable, but not shocking win against the NBA’s minor league franchise-in-residence at Durham, otherwise known as the Duke Blue Devils.

Let’s be clear about one irrefutable truth – Duke has the most talent of any team in college basketball. I am not sure there is a close second. Kentucky maybe, but no other team has the wealth of talent that a Coach K has assembled at Duke. Duke has multiple NBA lottery draft picks on their roster. So how did UVa, who has zero NBA lottery draft picks on their roster, beat Duke at Cameron Indoor?

I am not sure it’s that hard to understand. Virginia is a tightly knit team of college basketball players who are completely vested and committed to the University of Virginia and the success of UVa basketball. Duke is a confederation of future NBA basketball players, none of whom give two rips about Duke, Durham, or college basketball unless it impacts their route to the NBA. In real world terms, the Virginia players are home owners with a vested interest in the success of their program. Duke’s players are renters, looking to move out as soon as they can. Which one of those is better for the long term prospects of the neighborhood? Which is better for college basketball?

I was awed by some of the jaw-dropping plays Duke made on Saturday. They are an impressive collection of massively talented basketball players. To their credit, the Duke one-and-dones seem like good kids in addition to being ridiculously talented athletes. They are not dirty cheap-shot artists, like Grayson Allen. They are not foul-mouthed cry babies…like Greyson Allen. The fab Freshmen at Duke have not emulated Grayson Allen, primarily because they don’t care about Grayson Allen or anything else about Duke basketball…and that’s why Virginia won on Saturday.

I think the one-and-done kids play hard. I think they would much rather win than lose. I am sure they work hard in practice. However, there is no doubt that the success of Duke basketball is not at the top of their list of priorities. Duke is a holding bin, a way station on the way to the NBA for all of Duke’s contributing players. While I am sure they like Duke and respect Coach K, if VCU could convince these kids that VCU was a better conduit to the NBA than Duke, there is no question these kids would punt the Devils and embrace the Rams. This is why Duke lost today. This is also why Duke lost to Boston College and NC State. When your NBA highlight reel is your highest priority, winning is nice, but it’s not the ultimate goal.

By contrast, Virginia’s players are fully vested in their university, their coach, and their program. Several of Virginia’s players will certainly have professional basketball careers and one or two might have long careers in the NBA. However none of Virginia’s starting 5 will be NBA lottery picks, but they will all be Virginia basketball legends and adored by Virginia fans for the rest of their lives.

There is no question that Virginia’s players love UVa. They love their coach. They love Charlottesville. By the time they graduate they will have spent 4 or more of their most formative years immersed in the culture of UVa, Charlottesville, and the Virginia basketball program. They are part of the fabric of UVa. They bleed for UVa. Duke’s current crop of fab-freshmen will spend the obligatory 8 months in Durham before moving on to the NBA. While I am sure they would like to win the ACC championship and the NCAA tournament, the Virginia players would given their first born to bring championships home to Charlottesville. That’s why the Bad News Bears won today. It is why Virginia will remain relevant on the national stage as long as Tony Bennett is leading the program.

I have no illusions that Virginia is the favorite to win the NCAA tournament this year.  I will be thrilled if they can win the ACC regular season. It is a long road ahead and Virginia has to clear many high hurdles to win the ACC much less win the NCAA championship. By the time March rolls around, less talented legs are tired and the Duke thoroughbreds might be in a better physical condition to make a tournament run. However, if the winner of the Big Dance comes down to heart and determination, a real college team like Virginia will be tough to beat and fab-freshmen can move on to the NBA, making room for next year’s mercenaries.

The Road to Houston Starts in Dayton

Ah, can you smell it? March Madness is in the air! And what better way to start out the madness than in the best basketball town in America, Dayton, Ohio. Many can eye-roll at that statement all they want, but there’s a reason the NCAA picks University of Dayton Arena to open the tournament every year since 2011. UD Arena is a family-like, friendly atmosphere, exactly what the NCAA wants their image to be. Big enough to house 13,455, have a good seat no matter where you are, and have fairly priced food and a beer or two. Even if you can’t get a ticket, there are plenty of bars or restaurants down the road from the arena that are showing the games that you can go to. UD Arena will be packed Tuesday and Wednesday night, with both townees and out-of-townees alike. Daytonians love their basketball, so don’t be surprised to see many red sweater vests around UD Arena that night displaying their beloved Dayton Flyers logo. Dayton truly is the best place to open the tournament.

The first four always has a diverse group of teams from all around the country, so let’s take a deeper look at the match-ups, shall we?

11 Vanderbilt vs. 11 Wichita State

Two shockers (really just one, pun intended) to get into the tournament by most people, Vanderbilt and Wichita State is the first match-up of the two 11-seeds. The winner of this game will get Arizona on Thursday. Vanderbilt finished the season at 19-13, good for 3rd in the SEC. I had the Commodores in the tournament to begin with. They had sort of a disappointing season after being a preseason top 20 team. They score 73 points a game, but their defense can be stingy at times, allowing only 67 a game. Wichita State had a season full of injuries to start, but then won 12 in a row and then ended the season winning their last 6 before losing to Northern Iowa in the MVC tournament. The Shockers score around 73 a game, but to me it should be more with studs like Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. WSU’s defense is 1st in the country allowing only 59 points a game. Usually that would be enough for this team to be a lock to win, but being in the Missouri Valley might not count for much.

Prediction:  This is a tricky game. Both teams are very similar on offense and defense. It’s going to be close. I got Wichita State winning a defensive battle by two, 68-66, moving on to play a very beatable Arizona team. Here’s your game to look at for one of these teams to make a long tourney run.

11 Michigan vs. 11 Tulsa

Woah. TULSA?! The universe was lightheaded after seeing Tulsa getting into the tournament. Most bracketologists did not even have them in the first four out. Michigan played themselves into the tournament by beating Indiana in the Big Ten tournament, but Tulsa? Craziness already in March. Let’s start with the clear favorite in Michigan. The Wolverines come into Dayton with a big win over IU, but then a crushing defeat from Purdue. It seems like this team either wins close or gets blown out. They score close to 74 points a game and give up 67 points a game, pretty average for any college basketball team. One stat that sticks out is that they average 32 rebounds a game, good for 326th in the country. Now…to the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. Tulsa is similar to its opponent, averaging 74 points a game, gives up about 69 a game, and is also terrible at rebounding, averaging 35 boards a game. Tulsa finished 3rd in the AAC and got blown out by a weak Memphis team in their conference tournament. The winner here plays a very good Notre Dame team that just beat Duke.

Prediction:  Both teams’ averages on offense and defense are similar, so to me, it comes down to who is the toughest down the stretch. Michigan just showed that against IU in the Big 10 tournament with the buzzer beating three. Tulsa got a beat-down by a bad Memphis team. Michigan wins this thing 72-64, and Monmouth trolls Tulsa on Twitter every day until next March.

A few quick notes about the 16-seed matchups

No one really does their research about the 16 seeds since none of them have ever beaten a 1-seed, so I’ll just add a few quick notes about the two games:

Holy Cross vs. Southern:  Holy Cross is the only team under .500 to make the tournament, which is a nice little story. Southern was a 16-seed a couple of years ago and almost upset 1-seeded Gonzaga. So if you are feeling really confident this year to pick a 16-seed to beat a 1-seed, Southern might be the way to go. The winner plays Oregon, which was a surprising 1-seed to most people. Hmmmm…

Florida Gulf Coast vs. Farleigh Dickinson:  Dunk City is back. Florida Gulf Coast shocked the world in beating Georgetown as a 15-seed back in 2013. Farleigh Dickinson won their conference tourney as a 2-seed and finished their season at 18-14. FGCU is fun and exciting, so I would go with them I guess. The winner gets North Carolina. Have fun with that one.

Why should we care about the First Four?

So this is fun and all, but why should anyone watch or even care about the First Four? Do any of these teams actually matter in the big scheme of things? Well, I will tell you what, since the First Four was started in 2011, no team has won a national championship, but there have been some great runs. In fact, every year since the event started in Dayton, a First Four team has advanced to at least the third round of the tournament. That’s pretty good for a bubble team that barely squeaked into the tournament. Let’s recall those successful First Four teams:

Last year, my hometown Dayton Flyers cause a controversy playing in the First Four on their home court as the away team, not that it helped Boise State or anything. Dayton won as an 11-seed and marched right into Columbus to upset 6-seeded Providence. They eventually lost in the third round to Oklahoma, but they put up a pretty good fight. In 2014, Tennessee made it to the Sweet 16 as an 11-seed by beating Iowa, 6-seeded UMass, and 14-seeded Mercer (remember when that team ate your bracket by shocking Duke?). In 2013, another A-10 team in La Salle played in as a 13-seed and eventually made it to the Sweet 16 as well by beating the likes of Boise State (rough time for the Broncos in this event), Kansas State, and Ole Miss (and they say that the A-10 is a weak conference). 2012 saw 12-seed South Florida beat Cal and Temple to reach the third round. And finally, 2011 was the best Cinderella from the First Four yet, with 11-seeded VCU riding its victory over USC to wins over Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and 1-seeded Kansas all the way to the Final Four. The Rams are in the A-10 now, so the conference inherits that Final Four appearance right?

So why should we care about these games? Well, the four 16-seeds are nothing to make noise about, but the other 11 seeds are something to be curious about. Out of the four spoiler teams, one of them is going to ruin your bracket. And what’s nice about the ESPN Tournament Challenge (assuming that’s what most people use), you can change your tournament choice depending on who wins their First Four game. If I were you, I would be watching those marquee match-ups to see which team is going to upset their second round game.

It’s going to happen, people. Prepare for it while you still can.

Photo taken by Chris Pyle

Stats from ESPN.com

Kyle Davis: The Dark Knight of Dayton

Your Dayton Flyers are Atlantic 10 Conference Co-Champions. It is a remarkable feat that will go down as one of the most memorable moments in Dayton history. This season, you could look at a plethora of players that have stepped up, made big shots here and there, provided leadership, and especially showed heart in the game they love. We can talk about the emergence of a great player in transfer Charles Cooke. You could point to the leadership of Scoochie Smith, who looked lost at some points of the year, but suddenly finds his way with back to back career high games in points. There’s also Dyshawn Pierre and the trouble he was in since last year, suing the university, and eventually coming back to make this team even better.

These are our core guys, the players we give the most responsibility to make this team what it is, a champion. To me, there’s one guy that might just go unnoticed from time to time, maybe from his lack of scoring or stats in the box score, but provides the role of hero for the Flyers in crucial moments.

That player is Kyle Davis, Dayton’s Dark Knight.

Davis is not your typical sized guard, being just under six feet tall. He is not your main point guard or shooting guard. Davis is this team’s glue guy, a player that every successful team needs. Glue guys are those players you put in the game that can do just about anything a coach needs. Drive to the hoop? Hit a needed wide open three? Guard the opponent’s best player, no matter the size? Who you gonna call?

Kyle Davis.

Almost every big game this year, Kyle has been the man. Who could forget the game-winning floater against Miami in December? That loss would put the Flyers in the very bad loss category. But here we are today, sitting pretty with 24 wins. And let’s look at Saturday night against VCU. Davis scored only four points in that game, but his lay up with under a minute to go in overtime, with his team down one, will go down as one of the most heroic and memorable shots in UD basketball history. Even after Dayton got a stop and the ball back out of bounds, VCU got the steal and were poised to take the lead back, only to have Kyle Davis swing in to the rescue to steal the ball right back and get fouled. All of this won’t show up in the score book, but the Flyer Faithful will remember.

Davis is mostly know for his defensive tenacity. Archie Miller prepares Kyle to be ready to guard their opponent’s best player. Normally with Kyle’s size, we would assume he would be guarding the opponent’s best guard. Nope. Kyle Davis was even put in to guard DeAndre Bembry, a 6’6″ forward and arguably the best player in the A-10. Davis was not too successful, but that just shows the trust that Miller has in his player. It doesn’t look like the best match-up, but it’s the best chance we have to win. Kyle Davis gives us a chance to win in those close games. Whether it’s defense, offense, or just leadership, Kyle is there. He may get lost on the floor with his size;  you may not see his name in the score book, but do not underestimate him. The biggest moments sometimes come from the smallest of places.

When it’s crunch time, it’s Kyle Davis time.

Picture taken by Chris Pyle.

Flyers Back on Track, A-10 Title Scenarios

Dayton 85, Richmond 84

The Dayton Flyers got a much needed win Tuesday night in Richmond, downing the Spiders 85-84. The final score was a one-point difference, but make no mistake, the Flyers got big buckets down the stretch and made their free throws in the final minutes.  TJ Cline hit a three with 0.1 seconds remaining to make it a one-point game, but that was moot….that is, unless you bet on the game. That TJ Cline three-ball, or if you look at it as Scoochie missing both free throws before the three, helped Richmond to cover the spread. So those of you betting on Dayton to win (which I saw some tweets of bets placed on Dayton to win at -1.5) ended up losing with 0.1 seconds to go in the game. This is why I do not bet on sports (except on the big horsey races).

Anyway, Dayton finally looked like a team again. The funk is over as we know it with one game left in the regular season. Dayton jumped out to an early 8-2 lead, unlike the past 4 games. It did not last, as Richmond led for the rest of the half, riding on the back of TJ Cline, who had almost half of Richmond’s points. Charles Cooke hit a late three to go into the half down five. It seemed like an “oh no, not again” type of game.

Enter Scoochie Smith.

Scooch came out like a man on a mission, scoring at will inside and out. He was getting to the hoop, hitting open jump shots, and setting up his teammates to score. The heartbeat of the Flyers ran through Scoochie this game. Smith ended with 26 points, scoring 24 in the second half. That’s a career game people. This is what the Flyers needed from their starting point guard. And better yet, it’s at the end of the season, so this is the time to get hot. Hopefully this will last with Scoochie. When he plays well, the Flyers play well. Oh yeah, and they are still unbeaten when no one is out, just as I pointed out in my last column. Finally, a complete team.

Next game: VCU at Dayton, Saturday, March 5 at 8:00 p.m.

This is going to be fun. The tied-for-first-place VCU Rams come into Dayton on Senior Night. This is easily the biggest game of the year. Schedule makers are licking their chops when they set the date for this game. VCU is tied for first coming into Saturday while Dayton is tied for second. There are no stats, no predictions needed for this one. It’s coming down to the final minutes. Whichever team wants it more will win. Just buckle up, and control your heart rate.

A-10 Title Scenarios:

Let’s look at how each of the top 4 teams in the A10 could share or win outright:

Dayton:  Dayton got the job done and beat Richmond. They have VCU remaining. In order to win it outright, they need:

  • Win vs. VCU on Saturday
  • St. Joe’s loss at Bona on Wednesday
  • VCU loss to Davidson on Wednesday
  • St. Joe’s loss vs. Duquesne on Saturday
  • Bona loss at Saint Louis on Saturday

In order to share the title with anyone, they need:

  • Win vs. VCU
  • St. Joe’s loss at Bona or loss vs. Duquesne

St. Joseph’s:  The Hawks are currently tied for VCU in first. If they want to win the league outright, they need:

  • Win at Bona
  • Win vs. Duquesne
  • VCU loss vs. Davidson or loss at Dayton

If my math is correct (most likely I’m missing something), to at least share the title with anyone, they only need:

  • Win at Bona or vs. Duquesne

VCU:  Just like St. Joe’s, the Rams are tied for first and don’t need much. To win the league on their own, they need:

  • Win vs. Davidson
  • Win at Dayton
  • St. Joe’s loss at Bona or loss vs. Duquesne

And to at least share it, they need:

  • Win vs. Davidson or at Dayton

St. Bonaventure:  I didn’t think I was going to write about the Bonnies’ chances at this point in the season, but here I am. Unfortunately, Bona cannot win the league outright because of math, but they can still remarkably share it. The road to sharing the title with anyone goes like this:

  • Win vs. St. Joseph’s
  • Win at Saint Louis
  • VCU loss at Dayton or VCU loss vs. Davidson.

Odds are there will be at least two teams sharing the regular season title. How crazy would it be if three or even all four teams shared the title? And who said the Atlantic 10 isn’t a good conference?

From Bad to Worse: Time to Panic Yet?

Everything I wrote about before…. throw it out the window. Our beloved Flyers are lost and nowhere to be found. Saturday afternoon’s loss to a depleted Rhode Island team is very bad, folks. Very bad indeed.  Dayton struggled, mostly on offense, from the tip off to the very last whistle. They could not get a basket to save their lives. It seemed like everything bounced off the rim for the Flyers, and everything went in for the Rams.

Rhode Island did shoot very well from three, where the Flyers have struggled to defend all season.  Rhody must have made it the plan to try and exploit that, and they most certainly did, hitting 52% from behind the arc. Not good enough for an Archie Miller-coached team. That seemed to be a main contributor to this disappointing loss, but there’s plenty others you could look at as well.

My last column talked about three important keys that would determine a win against URI. Those were points in the paint, rebounding, and energy.  The Flyers got into the paint, but could not execute putting the ball in the hoop, so there’s one flaw (not to mention that Big Steve was in foul trouble for the entire game, so his size was of no use). They edged Rhode Island in the boards by only one rebound (not good enough), but the one defining factor that was absent was their lack of energy.

Not even bringing Kendall Pollard back could get this team fired up. From my television screen, UD Arena was as loud and boisterous as ever, and the team just didn’t look ready. They looked tired, lost, scared.  This doesn’t look good people. Archie Miller tried everything he could in his bag of miracles to get the team going, including a late run at the end of the game to get within seven, but the Flyers ran out of time. Rhode Island got a positive out of a letdown season, leaving Dayton with questions and uncertainty of itself.

It was Herb Brooks that said, “The Soviets win because they take that talent and use it inside a system that’s designed for the betterment of the team. My goal is to beat ’em at their own game.” That’s what Rhode Island did to Dayton on Saturday, beat it at its own game. Irony is fun.

Is it time to panic?

Well, not yet. Here’s why:

Dayton is still making the NCAA tournament no matter what. That’s the goal every year, right? This is only Dayton’s second bad loss this year, next to La Salle. That’s pretty good 28 games in. They have good wins over Iowa and Monmouth on neutral floors, over Alabama and George Washington at home, and at St. Bonaventure. No one is looking at the Chattanooga loss as bad, since the Mocs are really good this year and are probably going to win their league and make it to the tourney (do I sense a Cinderella brewing in Tennessee?). As long as Dayton doesn’t fold up and lose all its remaining games, they should be in good shape. Even if they do, we wouldn’t mind playing in the First Four again, right?

The team is still not complete. Kendall Pollard was back on Saturday, but Darrell Davis was not suited up because of a death in the family. Maybe not a huge loss for this game, but Baby D did hit the game-winner against Rhody last time out. In fact, in all of Dayton’s losses this year, the Flyers did not have all of their players in the game. Dyshawn Pierre missed the Xavier and Chattanooga games, obviously. Kendall Pollard missed the La Salle loss (honestly, no excuse, but still). Pollard also missed St. Joseph and St. Bonaventure. And Saturday, Darrell Davis was out against Rhode Island. I’m not saying that those are excuses for losses, but they could be a contribution. Archie Miller looks lost trying to find the right five to be on the floor when Dayton is missing a guy. Dayton has won games missing guys as well, which is what you want good teams to do. My point is that when this team has everyone playing, they’ve never lost.  That’s something to think about, especially how bad they’ve beaten some teams when everyone plays.

Conference tourney is the time to get hot. Even if Dayton doesn’t win out the regular season and loses out on winning the regular season title, it could still run the table in the conference tournament in Brooklyn. In fact, Dayton, along with St. Bona, VCU, and St. Joe’s, have locked up the top 4 seeds in the A-10 tournament, which guarantees them a double bye. That pretty much steers them away from any other bad losses, depending on who they play in their first game. If they get by that, then the next two games could possibly lead to more good wins, which looks good on a resume come Selection Sunday. If Dayton could win their three games in the conference tournament, that’s three wins in a row and momentum going into the NCAA tournament. Remember when UConn barely made the Big East tournament, won five conference tournament games in a row and rode that all the way to an NCAA championship? Good times.

Next game:  Tuesday at Richmond, 7:30 p.m. EST. It’s a tough matchup, but the Flyers have to get something going. A loss here, and we are in serious trouble.

Also, I want to give a shout out to my dad’s Pitt Panthers for their big win against Duke this weekend. You happy, Ron?

Image found at: creativecommons.org

Stats provided by ESPN.com

E-mail Chris at chris.pyle@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @chrislvsketchup.

Dayton Basketball: Recap and Looking Ahead in the A-10

Let’s look back at this past week’s games for the Dayton Flyers:

Wednesday:  Saint Joseph’s 79, Dayton 70

We all knew this was going to be a tough game. It became even tougher when Archie Miller revealed that Kendall Pollard would be missing his second game in a row with a deep bruise in his knee.  Coach has said that Pollard can play, but it is not worth the risk of a bigger injury.  Coach Miller is absolutely right about this.  The bigger picture is the NCAA tournament.  Miller know’s that the Flyers have pretty much locked up a bid to the tournament at this point, so there is no need to risk Pollard’s injury to get worse.

The Flyers got by without him in Rhode Island, but not in this game. St. Joe’s took it to the Flyers for 40 minutes.  DeAndre Bembry looked scary good, tallying 16 points and adding 13 rebounds.  He really couldn’t be stopped.  I will say the Flyers did a great job on Joe’s leading scorer (no, it’s not Bembry) Isaiah Miles, who was not a huge factor.  The Hawks should be given a ton of credit.  Their defense was stout, and they got key baskets when they needed them.  It seemed that whenever the Flyers got within two possessions of tying or taking the lead late in the second half, they got clutch baskets to keep Dayton out of reach.

Although St. Joe’s deserves a lot of credit for the victory, many Flyer Faithful on the twittersphere questioned many of Archie Miller’s in game coaching strategies, mainly the lineups on the floor.  At one point, I noticed a lineup of Crosby, Miller, Mikesell, Pierre, and Darrell Davis.  Another time, I saw Bobby Wehrli playing center trying to defend on the low block. That did not look pretty, as it led to a St. Joe’s slam.  Dyshawn Pierre played all 40 minutes, Charles Cooke 35, and Scoochie Miller 34.  Williams did not even make an appearance (no one knows what that is about). That seems odd for a deep team missing one guy.  The coaching just did not seem there for a normally sound coach in Archie Miller. It seems to be a trend in these kinds of losses for Archie, but for all he’s done for this program the past 5 years, I think we can let this one slide.

The direct result from this game? Well, VCU won on Tuesday, and Dayton loses to Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday.  You know what that means….a three way tie for first.  This should be fun.

Saturday:  St. Bonaventure 79, Dayton 70

Yikes. The Flyers’ 20 game conference home win streak…gone. The Bonnies played really tough on Saturday, and Dayton jsut did not match it. Not only was the streak snapped, but the Flyers lost two games in a row for the first time all season.  Kendall Pollard was once again missed. The Flyers are not the same team without him, which starts to make Pollard the X-factor for Dayton.  When he and Dyshawn Pierre play, Dayton doesn’t lose (literally they are 11-0 when they play together).  Dayton needs him back badly.

With this loss, the “15th” ranked Flyers might drop out of the top 25 polls. That would not look good moving down 11+ spots. Archie Miller might actually love it, considering how much he hates being ranked (maybe this will keep him at Dayton and away from the big schools). Rankings are all just for fun, but it has been pretty nice to see our guys be this high.  It also probably drops them down in Joe Lunardi’s bracketology, whatever that’s worth. This might be a wake up call to the rest of the team. It will be interesting to see how the team responds after two disappointing performances.

The loss might have really hurt Dayton’s chances of being first in the A10, and they needed a prayer to get back up to the top. Well, boy did they get one when Davidson beat St. Joseph’s in the game right after. Didn’t expect that to happen. VCU did win on Friday night, which moves them back up to the top, and St. Joe’s and Dayton tied for second, and St. Bona in third. This is getting crazy folks. 4 games to go. Anything is possible.

This week in the A-10

Looking ahead, Dayton has Saint Louis on the road on Tuesday and then Rhode Island comes to the Arena on Saturday. I would make a prediction, but that seems moot at this point since I’ve been wrong in the last post. Dayton SHOULD win both games, but without Pollard, your guess is as good as mine.

VCU travels to George Mason on Wednesday and then they travel to Foggy Bottom on Saturday for a revenge game against George Washington.  Road games in the A10 are no guarantee (see VCU at UMass), so both games could be tough or a breeze for the Rams. We shall see.

St. Joseph’s travels to UMass on Wednesday, who we learned is tough at home. Then they have a home game against Saint Louis on Sunday, after they see how Dayton and VCU perform on Saturday. Poor Saint Louis having Dayton and St. Joe’s two games in a row.

2016 State of the A-10: The Home Stretch

 

Atlantic_10_conf_logo

It’s that time of year in the conference season of college basketball where we finally know who the pretenders and contenders are for the regular season and conference tournament title. With five or six games left to go, the race to the regular season crown and number one seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament is starting to look like a close finish.

Currently, we have three teams sitting within one game of a tie of first place (who saw that coming), and one sneaky good team that could make a run for it. Right now, our top four, respectively, are Dayton, St. Joseph’s & VCU (tied for 2nd), and St. Bonaventure. George Washington is sitting in 5th with a 7-5 record, but with their recent loss to Bona over the weekend, their hope is all but gone.

Let’s take a gander at where we (mainly me) predict these four teams will finish and if they have NCAA tournament bid chances:

Dayton (16-2)

Ranked as high as 13 in any poll and 9 wins in a row, my Flyers are rolling. Sure they are my team, but can you blame me for putting them at the top? No sir. Dayton has been just as good as advertised this year, especially in conference play. They should take the crown for the regular season, but it will be close.

The Flyers have tough road games on Wednesday at St. Joseph’s and at Richmond on March 1st. They have historically had many problems at both places, so these games will not be any different. I do not think they lose again at home, though. UD Arena is selling out every game since the Flyers have been ranked. The Red Scare will be ready for March 5th against VCU. Flyers cut down the nets that day.

As for the national tourney, the Flyers are obviously in, but what seed? Joe Lunardi has them as a 4, CBS Sports the same. Personally, I’m going with them at a 6. Yes, the dreaded 6-11 matchup. I would go with a 4 seed, but in all reality, mid-majors do not get that much respect in the NCAA tournament. Wichita State was a controversial #1 seed two years ago, and they went UNDEFEATED that year. It is just proof that mid-majors really don’t get much respect.

The Flyers do have some very impressive wins (that Iowa win on neutral floor keeps looking better and better every day), and they have run the table in conference play, but they have to lose at some point. I just don’t see them winning out in conference play. They may very well win the A10 tourney, but one more loss in conference play and that 4 seed goes up a couple numbers. It’s just the way the committee works with teams like Dayton.

Saint Joseph’s (15-3)

What a season for the Hawks. This team is a legit contender for the regular season title. It’s too bad that Dayton has been amazing this year, otherwise they would be in first. Joe’s has definitely been the most surprising team in the A10 this year. DeAndre Bembry is a stud and future NBA baller. Phil Martelli has done an amazing job with these guys.

The only reason I believe they finish second is because of a March 2nd game at St. Bona. The Bonnies have already beaten the Hawks in Philly this year, and I do believe it happens a second time in Olean. With that, you have your runner-up and 2nd seed in the A10 tourney.

Selection Sunday will sure be a real treat for the Hawks. Many bracketologists have St. Joe’s either as a Last 4 In or First 4 Out. Joe Lunardi, a St. Joe’s alum, actually has them as a 10 seed, right in the thick of the tournament. They are really a mystery team to be quite honest. The committee is going to look at their RPI ranking of 29, which is pretty good. That should put them on the good side of the line.

Then come their wins and losses. St. Joseph’s really doesn’t have any outstanding wins. They beat Temple and Virginia Tech on the road (which is decent), but other than those two, that is really it. Winning at Dayton on Wednesday would look very nice, though. Now, do they have any bad losses? The Hawks…really don’t! All 4 of their losses are to Florida, Villanova, VCU, and St. Bona. Considering how those 4 teams are doing now, that isn’t too bad. Unless they improve their resume by beating Dayton, my vote is Last 4 IN. The Hawk mascot comes a flappin’ to UD Arena for the First Four.

St. Bonaventure (14-4)

St. Bona is also one of those surprising teams in the league this year. The Bonnies have put together an impressive run in conference play to put them currently in 4th place and one game back of both Joe’s and VCU. Out of the top 4 teams in the A10, Bona has what appears to be the easiest strength of schedule left, including 3 home games in a row against Duquesne, UMass, and St. Joe’s, respectively. Squeezed in between those three are road games against La Salle, Dayton, and Saint Louis. They could very well win out (even though I believe they lose at UD Arena on Saturday), but who knows. Playing on the road in the A10 is a tricky business.

The Bonnies tourney chances are not very high. They have wins against George Washington and St. Joseph’s, which are good, but a December loss to Siena doesn’t help. Right now, I believe the Bonnies have a couple options to make the big dance, all which are hard to accomplish. They can win the A10 tournament (that obviously gets you in), but if they don’t, they need to win out in the regular season, that means beating the Flyers in UD Arena, and win at least 2 games in the A10 tourney. They are not really in the bubble as we speak, but there is still time.

VCU (14-4)

VCU has put on a good season, one that could be better, but with Shaka Smart leaving, I would say they exceeded expectations. VCU was once undefeated in the A10, but now with losses to GW and UMass (yikes), they are tied for second. This team once looked like they could win the league, but with their remaining schedule, it could be tough to accomplish. They have a rivalry game at home against Richmond still, which is always a challenge for them. The Rams face three road games to end the year, at George Mason, at George Washington, who beat them already, and then at Dayton to end the year. Davidson visits them as well, which is a very sneaky team too. Because of this, I think the Rams finish tied with St. Bona for 3rd. Remember, head-to-head doesn’t matter in the A10 for tiebreakers; sharing is caring.

VCU right now is most likely getting a bid on Selection Sunday. Lunardi has them at a 10 seed, which is about right. VCU is in for me, but I would give them maybe an 11 seed. To me, they don’t have many quality wins outside of conference play. Their schedule was set up so perfectly for that, but they failed to take advantage against Duke, Florida State, Cincinnati, and George Tech. They did win at St. Joe’s, which looks nice. Their only bad loss is to UMass, but everyone gets a mulligan, right? Unless they collapse, you will hear the Rams number called on Selection Sunday.

So there you have it. Buckle up, mid-major fans; this should be a wild finish.

E-mail Chris at chris.pyle@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @chrislvsketchup.

Six is the Magic Number

As a lifelong College hoops fanatic, I’m typically resistant to any significant changes to the rules. However, when the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel released the rule updates which were being put in place for 2015-16, it was the first time I can recall agreeing with the changes.

I had my concerns about reducing the shot clock, but 30 seconds is a sweet spot I can live with; and for years, I’ve been shouting to the rooftops to change the 10 second rule. The NCAA did the right thing, and no longer resets the 10 second count if the team in possession calls a time out while still in the back court. Those were the two most significant adjustments to the actual game play; and two months into the season, college basketball is largely unchanged, with some nice enhancements via the rule modifications.

Despite the improvements brought about due to this year’s updates, the one rule change which should have been pushed to the front of the line was to increase personal fouls from five to six. Now, that was proposed, and is in experiment mode to some extent this coming post season; however, it won’t be in play come NCAA Tournament time. Giving players a little bit longer leash would have been a major upgrade to college hoops, and I’ll tell you why.

Across the sports landscape these days, officiating is under heavy fire. Whether it’s college or pro, football, basketball, baseball, you name it; officials in every sport are, let’s just say, not very well liked. Of course it’s not always warranted, but college basketball has its fair share of really poor referees. And more than any other sport, college hoops seems to have more officials, who inject themselves into the game, and think they’re part of the show.

What does any of this have to do with adding a sixth personal foul? It has everything to do with it. Allowing each player an additional personal foul will reduce the impact the officials have on the outcome of the game. I’m not suggesting that by adding that sixth foul, poor officiating shouldn’t be addressed. However, you can’t very well discipline a bad official during the game. So let’s clip their claws a bit.

Scaling back the damage caused by quick whistles will do wonders for the game and the viewers. Even on nights when the refs want to impose their will on both teams, guys who normally would need to sit on the bench for the last 10-15 minutes of the first half, will now have new life. While the constant stoppages will still be annoying, at least the fan favorites will still be on the floor.
That brings me to my next point.

College basketball has a popularity problem, particularly during the regular season. So let’s keep the stars on the floor. There isn’t nearly the amount of true “stars” in college hoops, as there were in decades past. Many teams are carried by one or two strong players, with a bunch of role players around them.

Take the Providence Friars as an example. Last week, Kris Dunn got two first half fouls against Butler. The inability to keep him on the floor, led to a 12 point deficit. While they were able to climb out of it, and ultimately win the game, his absence put them in peril. Dunn needs to be on the floor producing highlight reels, not walking on egg shells trying to avoid picking up number three.

More and more college freshmen are hanging around for one year, until they bolt for the NBA. With such limited opportunity to watch these rising stars play, we need to reduce the possibility of having them saddled with early fouls, planted to the pine.

Ben Simmons is one of the most hyped freshmen in recent history. Given that his LSU Tigers squad has been underwhelming thus far, there’s a distinct possibility America won’t see him in the Big Dance. In the meantime, we run the risk of flipping over to the rare, nationally televised LSU game, and having Simmons nowhere to be found if he gets slapped with a couple early fouls. College ball needs the stars and future stars out there showing off their talents.

A while back, my esteemed colleague Hollis Mclain III wrote a piece explaining how the new rules would narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots. You can check that out here after you finish this post. I personally disagree, and feel that by and large we won’t see much difference than we have in recent years. However, I do believe that adding a sixth personal foul will actually widen the gap; and that’s a good thing. Allow me to explain.

As I stated earlier, by adding another personal foul to each player’s arsenal, we’re drawing power away from the referees; and keeping the best players on the floor for longer periods of time. Over time, the cream will rise. More skill and physical talent will eventually wear down lesser opponents. It will also provide the viewing audience with a better basketball experience.
This won’t be as evident during the regular season, though it will certainly have an impact. Come March, when the games are being played on the biggest stage, that’s when it will really show. Rather than having a top seed sweating it out against some double-digit nightmare because their best player picked up two quick ones, coaches will be able to keep their stars in the game, thus avoiding the scare.

Look, I’m all for the VCUs, Wichita States, and Butlers of the world making a deep tournament run. I enjoy watching a 14 or 15 seed pull off a stunner. However, when we get down to the Elite Eight, and the Final Four; it’s time for the little guys to go, and let the big boys play. This rule change would increase the likelihood that as the NCAA Tournament progresses; the top teams have their best players at their disposal, allowing the tournament to take proper shape.

I love college basketball above any other sport, and I certainly don’t want to see it mirror the NBA game. But adopting the six personal foul rule permanently, like the NBA, is the right move. Ultimately I believe it will be put in play. Since it wasn’t done this year, it needs to be done sooner rather than later, for the good of the game.

Photo: ATrumbly/Flickr

NCAA Tournament Seeds of Doubt

The science of populating the NCAA Tournament bracket is unquestionably inexact. While most of the bubble griping which goes on tends to be much ado about nothing; there are usually some legitimate cases of inaccurate seeding of the teams which make the field. There is also a lot of ranting about a handful of teams which may or may not have deserved to make the field.

What I always find fascinating is the immediate overreaction to seed placement, or inclusion in the field, based on the results of the first weekend. The action this past weekend certainly stoked the fires of those discussions. However, I’d argue that regardless of whether a team should’ve been higher, lower, or left out of the field; winning or losing in the first couple rounds doesn’t validate a team’s Tournament status.

The most prevalent argument tends to be the “Obviously (Insert School Name) didn’t deserve a (Insert Number) seed”. Villanova was the most noticeable victim of this dubious honor. The Wildcats were given the top seed in the East Region, and subsequently amplified the voice of the naysayers by losing to NC State in the round of 32.

Despite the loss to a Wolfpack squad which simply wasn’t a great physical match-up for them, Villanova more than earned the #1 seed they were given. Although they didn’t have any real headlining wins early in the season, the Wildcats did up end a tournament team in VCU. They also beat two Big 10 teams in Michigan and Illinois, along with Syracuse out of the ACC. Certainly Jay Wright couldn’t anticipate that all three of those teams would be average coming into the year.

The Wildcats also finished the regular season on a 15 game winning streak, winning the Big East regular season going away; and then completing the sweep by taking the Conference Tournament crown. Undoubtedly one could lobby for Arizona, or perhaps Virginia over them, but Villanova was worthy of the #1 seed they achieved.

While Villanova fell on the proverbial “Over Seeded” sword, there were a couple of glaring examples of “Under Seeded” teams. These squads typically garner an outpouring of sympathy and outrage from the College Basketball public, as they are perceived to deserve a much higher seed. Wichita State and Dayton filled this role nicely.

Let’s start with Wichita State. The Shockers somehow fell to a #7 seed in the Midwest Region. As a champion of the mid-major, and more specifically, representatives from the under-appreciated Missouri Valley Conference; I was amongst the loudest voices crying foul on their assignment.

While most will say that performance in previous seasons should have no bearing, I’m of a differing opinion. That’s not to say that results from last year should allow a team to be handed an invite. However, based on their Final Four appearance in 2013, and 34-0 start last year, which was accompanied by a #1 Seed, the Wheat Shockers have earned some street cred.

Being under seeded can have some interesting consequences. Either said recipient runs into a stronger opponent earlier than they should, or they serve as a much more difficult opponent than a higher seed should have to face in the early rounds. Wichita proved to be the latter. Beating Indiana was expected, and to some, it came as no surprise that they were able to oust #2 Kansas in the round of 32.

The other prime example of a team which deserved a significantly better seed is Dayton. Heading into Selection Sunday, the Flyers by all accounts were a safe bet to join the party. On the day of reckoning they ended up as the last team in, drawing the #11 seed in the East Region, coupled with a play-in game. In similar fashion to Wichita, the slight by the committee proved to be detrimental to their opponents.

The Flyers were awarded a game on their home floor, and took advantage as such. Again, that’s not to say they wouldn’t have won a couple of games regardless; but Dayton was able to dispatch Boise State and Providence, before battling Oklahoma to the bitter end. Ultimately, both Wichita State and Dayton won in spite of the fact they weren’t given the respect they were due.

Since Dayton received a snub from the committee, someone else had to be awarded. Now, there were a few culprits who could be named. Indiana, Texas, and UCLA all should have been left out of the field of 68 in my estimation. While I champion the cause of the deserving mid-major, I am staunchly against rewarding the mediocre high-major. All three of these teams fit the description.

The big boys from the power five conferences have chance after chance all season to get “good” wins. None of these teams did that. As expected, the Hoosiers and Longhorns went out with a whimper. On the other hand, UCLA is still hanging around, so of course the “UCLA was deserving” crowd are shouting from the rooftops.

The Bruins trip to the Sweet 16 has been a perfect storm of good fortune. After SMU coughed up a multiple possession lead in the waning moments, UCLA was catapulted into the next round with a huge assist from the infamous goal tending call. One of the worst calls I’ve ever seen in NCAA Tournament history. Perhaps they would’ve found a way to win without the help, but we’ll never know.

Earlier that day, the first stroke of luck went the Bruins way. When the UAB Blazers upset the Iowa State Cyclones, it removed a large obstacle from their path. Taking nothing away from the Blazers victory, but one upset was all they had in them. It showed when they were overwhelmed by UCLA, allowing the Bruins to make another appearance in the Sweet 16.

None of the success UCLA has experienced to this point expunges their pre-tournament rap sheet. Yes, the Bruins did manage to finish above .500 in a very average PAC 12 Conference. However, finding a good win on their schedule is near impossible. The win over Utah in late January has gained some legs now that the Utes have made the Sweet 16; and they did beat those same UAB Blazers way back in November.

Otherwise, they got blasted by every legitimate team they faced, and mustered seven points in the first half against Kentucky in December, on a neutral floor. Based on the body of work UCLA put together throughout the regular season, there had to be at least one candidate more deserving of a bid.

Part of what makes the NCAA Tournament so great is the emotion it stirs amongst all of those watching. Naturally, in the “what have you done for me lately” culture of sports, it’s easy to assume that a team’s recent performance is their true identity. However, whether a team deserves to move up a seed, down a seed, or receive no seed at all, should be determined by what they did to get there; not justified by their subsequent Tournament performance.

The only thing missing from the Sweet 16 is a #16 seed

Obviously that’s an exaggeration.  Other seeds besides the 16’s have been obliterated from the NCAA Tournament field after the first weekend.  Hell, there’s not one #5 seed remaining.  It just feels like we’re only missing a #16 because we still have a #12 Oregon, #13 LaSalle, and #15 Florida Gulf Coast still hanging around the bracket.

As with any inexact science, I was hit or miss with some of my pre-tournament predictions last week.  However, I’ll give it another crack now that the field has been whittled down a bit.  To try and maintain some semblance of sanity, we’ll start with the most orderly region, and work our way to insanity.  So here we go with a breakdown of the Sweet 16, starting in the East region.

East

The only region to stay true to form in the Sweet 16.  Not that it didn’t come awful close to blowing up.  Indiana, Miami, and Marquette each escaped by the skin of their teeth.  I’m sticking to my guns in the East.  I still think the Syracuse Orange make it to the Final Four.

Although I’m a firm believer that many championship runs are started with narrow victories, I don’t think it’ll hold true for the Hoosiers.  The Syracuse zone defense, along with their length and athleticism will be bothersome for Indiana.  Plus Jim Boeheim has the big bodies to throw at Cody Zeller all day. 

I didn’t think Marquette would make it past day one, so I certainly don’t think they’ll get past the Hurricanes.  It’ll be another battle, but Shane Larkin is playing so well, I think he’ll lead the Hurricanes into the Elite Eight.  But two straight physical matchups with Big East foes, and a short prep time for the ‘Cuse zone spells the end of Miami by the end of next weekend.

Midwest

The #1 Louisville, #2 Duke, and #3 Michigan State survived, so that makes for a pretty normal region.  #12 Oregon joins them; but as I said before the tournament, that seed didn’t make a lot of sense for the PAC 12 Tournament champions. 

The Ducks are the fun story in this part of the bracket after knocking off the #5 seed Oklahoma State and #4 St. Louis; a team that was supposed to threaten the likes of Louisville and make a run to the Final Four.  Well, the fun ends for Oregon on Friday.  The Cardinals have ramped up an already nasty defense to a new level.  Oregon isn’t going to enjoy it.

Coach K and Coach Izzo is a matchup of epic proportions.  Like Louisville, the Spartans have put a couple of beat downs on their competition.  Quietly Duke has gone about their business, cruising to two easy victories.  I’m just not sure how the Blue Devils are going to handle the frontcourt of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix. 

Like they did in 2009 the overall #1 seed Louisville Cardinals will face Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans, on one day’s rest.  The game will be held in Indianapolis once again.  The outcome will not be the same.  The Cardinals will take this one, and move on to the third weekend.

South

The #15 seed Florida Gulf Coast Eagles have become the headliner, despite the presence of some heavy hitters.  #1 Kansas looked asleep in the first half against #8 North Carolina, but woke up in time to stomp the Tar Heels in the second half. 

I had my doubts about #4 Michigan coming into the dance, but they’ve more than proved me wrong.  The Wolverines throttled #5 VCU; and are the one team that is making me question my original Final Four projection.  I still think the Jayhawks best them.  Better coach, better defensive team, and plenty of talent to go toe to toe with Michigan.

One would assume at this point that the #3 Florida Gators should smoke FGCU.  Then again, the Eagles were supposed to get smoked in the round of 64.  I won’t claim to know a ton about this club.  But when I watched them play this past weekend, I didn’t see a team skating by on luck.  I saw a team that was outplaying what was supposed to be better competition.  I’ve got to think the Gators will prevail, but I sure hope FGCU makes it fun.

I still have a chance to salvage three of my original Final Four picks.  The Jayhawks won’t disappoint.  The Gators are making a habit of exiting in the Elite Eight.  They’ll do it again this year.  Kansas takes them down, and marches on to Atlanta.

West

This is the region of insanity.  The #13 LaSalle Explorers are trying to replicate the play-in game magic that VCU showed a couple of seasons ago.  It’s not a surprise to me, but #9 Wichita State shocked #1 Gonzaga, ousting the first top seed.  And the west did have what looked to be the major upset of the tournament when #14 Harvard upset #3 New MexicoThat lasted just until some team named FloridaGulfCoast arrived on the scene.

The nice thing about the LaSalle and Wichita State matchup is that it guarantees a mid-major makes the Elite Eight.  On the other hand, one of them will have to go.  I think it’ll be LaSalle.  I’ll go with the Shockers to move on and face the winner of Ohio State/Arizona.

The Buckeyes/Wildcats is an intriguing matchup.  Arizona was a popular pick to go out early.  The talent is certainly there, but running into Aaron Craft without a true point guard is an issue.  Craft will give the Wildcat guards fits.  Ohio State will send the Wildcats packing.

The West region will be decided by a brawl.  Two tough defensive teams, that struggle to score at times.  Malcolm Armstead versus Aaron Craft will be an unbelievable duel.  In the one region where I lost my Final Four pick, I think Ohio State gets it done.  Too much experience and the better floor general move on to the Final Four. 

Obviously, it’s never going to be this simple.  Although it looks like the bracket is about to normalize with higher seeds after this weekend, there’s bound to be more insanity.  I can’t wait until Thursday night for the Madness to continue!