Sunday, October 28, 2012
The Ohio Valley Conference got a major shot of adrenaline in the form of a talented Murray State team riding a loaded starting lineup, an All-America guard and a surprisingly potent schedule to a 23-0 start, a top-15 AP ranking and a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament. With Isaiah Canaan still in a Racers' jersey, four of the six announced OVC games to be televised on ESPN feature MSU.
The fly in the ointment for a Murray State team looking to win the league by four games once again is the addition of a veteran Belmont squad that terrorized the Atlantic Sun for most of the last decade. There ain't nobody winning this one by four games unless Canaan or one of the Bruins' guards breaks a leg.
Of course, looking around the rest of the league, is there anyone else qualified to win? Maybe not, but the Murray-Belmont battle is the kind of drama that hasn't surrounded basketball in Nashville for a while now. Well, aside from wondering how Vanderbilt's gonna hock up their opening NCAA tournament game, but that shouldn't be a concern this year.
Read on to see which titan takes TBI's No. 14 conference.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: As I write this, I'm nursing a 102-degree fever. If I don't go quite as in-depth on the OVC's teams as I have on some of the other leagues, please don't take it personally.]
Saturday, October 27, 2012
It takes a sensational season for a team from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to rate an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. That's what happened last season, when Iona's Runnin' Gaels led the nation in scoring behind the nation's assist king Scott Machado.
MAAC brass were doing cartwheels when Iona took a huge halftime lead against BYU, but the wheels fell off as soon as the Gaels left the locker room. BYU's 25-point comeback was the biggest in tournament history, and Iona was left to slink back to New Rochelle as critics clucked that they didn't deserve a spot.
The muttered response from those same MAAC brass was likely something along the lines of "Thanks for nothin', Iona."
Now that Iona's poisoned the well against future MAAC juggernauts, it's back to one-bid business as usual. The thing is, there are a bunch of teams in the league that could acquit themselves well against No. 2 and No. 3 seeds.
Even the teams that aren't projected near the top feature players who bear watching. It's for that reason that the MAAC is No. 15 on TBI's conference rankings for the 2012-13 season.
Which of the many contenders will prevail? Read on.
Friday, October 26, 2012
Did you know what conference Lehigh was in before March 16th? Hell, did you know what state Lehigh was in before March 16th?
Come on now, don't lie. I'd like our relationship to be built on a foundation of trust.
While Lehigh was becoming a national darling by toppling Duke in the NCAA tournament, Bucknell players and fans could only sit back and shake their heads. The Bison had the regular-season title. Instead of C.J. McCollum draining threes over Austin Rivers, it should have been Mike Muscala dunking over the entire damn Plumlee family, including posterizing Grandma so hard her dentures landed in some cheerleader's cleavage.
Alas, conference tournaments need something to justify their existence. At least Lehigh had had a worthy regular season. If the Bison had lost to a team that just had a Western Kentucky-type season, they'd still be putting out burning couches or whatever civil disobedience they get up to in Lewisburg.
Another season, however, brings one more chance at revenge for the Bison. One more round of David (McCallum) vs. Goliath (Muscala). Bucknell has two regular-season titles and one NCAA bid to Lehigh's one regular-season crown and two tournaments. To even it up, it's time for Lehigh to take the season and Bucknell to own March.
Is that what's coming? Read on after the jump.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
The Ivy League doesn't do athletic scholarships, but it's still not exempt from the pressures of Division I athletics.
Harvard's cheating scandal has cost the defending league champions its co-captains and drastically altered the league race. Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry may have the option to return next year, but we're here to discuss the here and now.
The league is coming off an unprecedented postseason, the first in history to invite four Ivy schools to tournaments. The league was beginning to see clear evidence that its academic mission and athletic success weren't at complete cross-purposes in a one-and-done basketball culture. Harvard's Government 1310 damaged the team and the school, but can the league continue to maintain its momentum?
Since no one else in the league is drawing the kind of touted recruits that Harvard's Tommy Amaker is bringing in, it may be the Crimson's tide that raises all boats. If Harvard slumps as a result of the scandal, it's back to business as usual for the Ivies, largely ignored until March, where its champion gets a little dap for earning a bid the hard way, winning for three months instead of three or four days. If a tournament upset gets pulled, all the better.
So, will Harvard slump without Casey and Curry? Who takes over and earns that tournament bid? Read on after the jump.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
The Horizon League doesn't have Butler to kick it around anymore.
A string of five straight regular-season titles, outright or shared, was snapped when the Bulldogs struggled through last season. Still, the Atlantic 10 wanted the cachet of bringing in a two-time NCAA runner-up and Butler was interested in being part of a league that can rate more than one tournament bid. So, a quickie marriage was consummated in a hurry and the rest of the HL threw a wild celebration.
Now, the reality of a new lower profile sets in. Some casual fans have heard of Ray McCallum of Detroit, but it takes the truly hardcore to discuss the merits of Ryan Broekhoff, Alec Brown and Kendrick Perry.
Can any of those stars topple McCallum and his coach/father Ray Sr., or are the McCallums headed back to March Madness as repeat champions?
Read on after the jump.
Monday, October 22, 2012
The Northeast Conference race had a wrench thrown in the gears last month when prospective league favorite Long Island University at Brooklyn saw four players, including three starters, involved in an on-campus fight. Expulsions were initially feared, but the resulting suspensions are relatively minor.
The players will miss the Blackbirds' first two NEC games, Jan. 3 at Sacred Heart and Jan. 5 at Quinnipiac. Considering that Quinnipiac is a dark horse contender and SHU has one of the league's top players in guard Shane Gibson, those games could prove pivotal in a race that's a little tighter than LIU might be used to.
But can Robert Morris or Wagner, or anyone else, break the Blackbirds' hold on TBI's No. 19 conference?
Read on after the jump.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Davidson's happy in the Southern Conference. At least that's what we can infer from the school's rejection of an invitation to join the Colonial Athletic Association.
The College of Charleston thinks it might be happier in the CAA. We can infer that from its Board of Trustees authorizing negotiations with the Colonial yesterday afternoon.
The question of who'd get the better deal if Charleston leaves is one to be debated in its own post. Right now, the question is: Which SoCon titan will be dancing in March, the Wildcats, the Cougars, or some other cats altogether?
Let's examine. Follow me past the jump.
Friday, October 19, 2012
Most of the Western Athletic Conference is passing through on its way to greener pastures. Of the 10 teams set to compete this year, only four (New Mexico State, Denver, Idaho and Seattle) are committed to play together next year, unless Idaho gets a proposal it can't refuse from the Big Sky. (UPDATE: They did. Idaho's gone.)
Texas-San Antonio and Louisiana Tech are headed for Conference USA.
Texas-Arlington and Texas State, like UTSA, are going the full Texas playboy route, giving the WAC a one-season stand before hopping a cab to the Sun Belt.
San Jose State and Utah State are ready to move to the WAC's bastard offspring, the Mountain West.
Oh, and you just missed Nevada, Hawaii and Fresno State. I swear they were just here a minute ago.
So, excuse the WAC if it's feeling a little bit used and abused. I'd be surprised if any of these unfeeling cads even left a fiddy on the nightstand.
As it is, though, all these lame-duck relationships have to co-exist for one more year, and it's still a 10-team league, so who wins?
More on that after the jump.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
The Sun Belt became a much more compelling basketball league when former Missouri recruit Tony Mitchell landed at North Texas, and speculation ran rampant over how he would produce in his new league.
He didn't disappoint.
The disappointment came in the conference tournament, where Middle Tennessee stumbled after the greatest season in the program's history. The NIT quarterfinal berth, victory over Tennessee and all, was a cold consolation after a 25-win season featuring wins over UCLA, Belmont and Ole Miss.
Aside from MTSU and North Texas, though, is there anyone else qualified to win this conference?
Yeah, read on after the jump.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
The Summit League is TBI's No. 23 conference for the 2012-13 season, and despite the loss of perennial contender Oral Roberts, the race to the top (the summit of the Summit, as it were) is still one of the more interesting minor-conference battles in America.
South Dakota State will ride do-everything guard Nate Wolters and a host of three-point bombers.
North Dakota State has a sturdy starting five, mostly drawn to the school in the wake of the Ben Woodside-led tournament appearance of 2009.
Oakland loses the national scoring leader, but retains a good sophomore big man and its own army of shooters.
Elsewhere, we get to talk about Kansas City, Fort Wayne and Omaha instead of Missouri-Kansas City, Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne and Nebraska-Omaha. IUPUI is still IUPUI, though, since no one wants to wade through saying its full name.
The line between the haves and have-nots in the Summit is pretty clearly drawn. If your biggest offseason story was one of nomenclature, it's a safe bet you're not considered a contender.
Read on after the jump to see who's expected to emerge victorious.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
The Big West Conference is about to experience some major sea changes. Hawaii has joined the league this season, and Pacific is leaving after the season ends. The big power move comes after this season's over, when Boise State (not too big a deal in hoop) and San Diego State (major deal in hoop) arrive and deposit all their athletic baggage in the BWC, except football. Football takes a right turn instead of a left and heads for the Big East.
(Incidentally, we have the Big East, West and South; would it be too much to ask for the Summit or Horizon to call itself the Big North?)
Losing Pacific in exchange for Hawaii, Boise and SDSU is a definite net positive, but before we get to 2013-14, what happens in 2012-13? Read on for predictions on TBI's No. 24 conference.
Monday, October 15, 2012
The Big Sky's most recent claim to fame was Weber State guard Damian Lillard getting picked No. 6 overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. There's no first-round draft prospect in the league this season, but there is another star guard with the ability to be the face of the league...if he plays.
Montana floor general Will Cherry (pictured against Wisconsin in the 2012 NCAA tournament) broke his foot a couple of weeks ago, an injury that could throw the entire Big Sky race into confusion. Weber State will return as a more balanced squad, conference newcomer North Dakota will be elated at not having to travel to New Jersey or Chicago or the Mexican border, and Sacramento State has multiple all-conference candidates.
The possibility exists that Cherry could return before league games start, but if he doesn't, the Grizzlies will have a serious fight on their hands. More on TBI's No. 25 conference after the jump.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
For once, a move in The Great College Sports Realignment Apocalypse made some sense. Oral Roberts bailed on the Summit League, forsaking all those wonderfully scenic trips to Fargo, ND and Fort Wayne, Ind., for the Southland, full of schools in the Tulsa-based university's recruiting wheelhouse of Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana.
After routinely being a heavy in the Summit, a move to the slightly lower-level Southland makes ORU a quick favorite to get to its first NCAA tournament since 2008. There are a few schools with something to say about that, however, including one of the nation's top defensive teams and a coach with a famous name and a now-famous rant (pictured).
For more on TBI's No. 26 conference, read on after the jump.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
The Atlantic Sun Conference has been Belmont's plaything for most of the past seven years. Six of those seasons ended with either a regular-season or tournament title for the Bruins, and five saw Belmont carry the league's banner into the NCAA tournament.
Now, the Bruins are in the Ohio Valley and the rest of the A-Sun is alternately bemoaning the damage to the league's national profile and joining in rousing choruses of "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead."
Every school in a conference with one dominant program (take a bow, Big West) knows the benefit of having a member with an elevated profile, but that benefit is often outweighed by the sheer difficulty of toppling the resident Goliath. Now, the A-Sun moves into a more balanced future, but one where the 10 remaining members have to create their own relevance.
The damage to the league's national profile drops the ASC to No. 27 on TBI's Conference Calling rankings. More after the jump.
Friday, October 12, 2012
UNC Asheville (pictured here in varying states of freakedness) scared the bejesus out of top-seeded Syracuse in the 2012 NCAA tournament, and came close to putting the Big South on the map for perpetuity. The league has a mere three tournament wins in its history, and the last one came in 2007, when Winthrop slugged its way up to a No. 11 seed. Siring the first triumphant No. 16, though, would have been major.
It's highly doubtful anyone in this conference will rate the kind of spot Winthrop got, and it's even questionable if anyone's got the kind of roster to catch lightning the way UNCA nearly did. There's no clear favorites for league champion, Player of the Year, all-conference or anything, but one team does have a large advantage that will materialize in March.
More on that and TBI's No. 28 conference after the jump.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Will the last player out of the America East Conference please turn out the lights?
Okay, not everyone has left, but it certainly feels that way. Players who won league honors left Vermont (Rookie of the Year Four McGlynn to Towson), Boston University (2010 all-conference big man Jake O'Brien to Temple) and Albany (leading scorer Gerardo Suero to an alleged pro career).
Even teams like Binghamton, of the whopping two-win season, were affected by attrition, losing three of its top five scorers to transfers.
Every player affiliated with Boston U. will also be leaving next year, since the school itself is headed to the Patriot League.
The situation in the AE is only slightly less fluid than that in the Atlantic Ocean. The talent drain has the AE weighing in as TBI's No. 29 conference for the 2012-13 season.
More after the jump.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
If you know nothing else about the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, know this: the league is responsible for three of the biggest, most annoying, most bracket-shredding upsets in NCAA tournament history.
1997: Coppin State stops a B.J. McKie/Melvin Watson-led South Carolina team 78-65. The MEAC's first tournament win, and only the third time a 15-seed had beaten a No. 2.
2001: Hampton (another No. 15) beats Jamaal Tinsley's Iowa State team 58-57, scoring the final basket with less than seven seconds left.
2012: You know about Norfolk State over Missouri. This writer certainly does, because he pegged Mizzou as a Final Four team.
Six times a No. 15 has beaten a No. 2, and three of those upsets have been perpetrated by MEAC schools.
Are there schools in this year's MEAC that could add to the line of scalps on the league's figurative wall? There might be one. Read on to find out who.
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
|Texas Southern's new coach Mike Davis.|
It's difficult to preview a league like the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Transfers in and out, among players and coaches, create a major lack of stability in SWAC programs.
The league is to college basketball what the Sun Belt and MAC are to college football, the schools who take overmatched teams to major-conference home courts, absorb ugly losses and limp home smiling with a large paycheck. The 10 SWAC schools had a record of 7-96 in games against Division I non-conference opponents.
Still, the league plays Division I basketball and has an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, so it merits a spot in the Conference Calling preview series. Its epic struggles against D-I opposition, though, mean that the SWAC gets to kick off the series as the No. 31 conference in America (yes, out of 31...sorry, SWAC fans).
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Oral Roberts 80, Akron 61
The Zips did a decent job of containing ORU scoring star Dominique Morrison, but Michael Craion's 24 points rendered the effort moot.
Craion drilled 10 of his 11 shots, also pulling down eight rebounds to headline a game in which the Golden Eagles never trailed. 14 of the 24 points came in the first half, helping Oral Roberts to a 38-27 lead at the break.
Akron was led by 14 points off the bench from Demetrius Treadwell. He was the only Zip in double figures. All-MAC selections Nikola Cvetinovic and Zeke Marshall combined for only 16 points and four rebounds, well off their season average of 20.3 and 10.8.
Damen Bell-Holter added 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Eagles, while Morrison kicked in 11 points.