The Week That Was
Bracketology, Oregon State and Jason Thompson’s little brother.
With Ol’ Man Winter bearing down on the northeast, Cub Scouts feels much closer to the NCAA Tournament than normal. Mired in a spell of mild, sunny and dry weather, my Colorado days and nights have the feel of spring time rather than the sometimes harsh late winter in the Rocky Mountains. With more of the white stuff certainly not far away, it is all a bit maddening. I guess this is the last week in February.
In honor of the impending national collegiate basketball tournament I shall step away from the standard “Bracketology” that is being done around the country and just give facts (and maybe an opinion or two) on some of the outer-fringe conferences. I will spotlight a different conference over the next couple of weeks. In truth, the actual number of viable “at large” bids is actually dependent on the number of conferences that might have upsets in their respective conference tournaments, forcing a potential “qualified” squad to take one of the aforementioned “at large” spots. Nine conferences appear to fall into this category: Horizon (Butler), Southern (Davidson), WAC (Utah St.), C-USA (Memphis), Big Sky (Weber St.), MAAC (Siena), CAA (VCU), MVC (Creighton) and the MAC (Buffalo) could in theory ruin the hopes of the Marylands, Notre Dames and Georgetowns of the college landscape.
That being said, as we inch closer to Selection Sunday, I will drop my thoughts on whether the BCS bubble teams should be relevant or in the NIT.
HEADLINE: You Knew We’d Start Here, Right?
For a league that I feel could match-up (top five) with a conference like the SEC, the Mountain West gets little national attention. Unfortunately, in the time we live in, that means, “ESPN DOESN’T BROADCAST THEIR GAMES.” Owners of their own network and a little side deal with CBS College Sports, the nine-team league—comprised mainly of schools that spent the previous century inhabiting the WAC—has become more than relevant in all areas of sport. In addition to the storm caused last year by Utah’s undefeated football team, “the U” has the distinction of being the only institution in D-1 history to have the No. 1 pick in the NFL and NBA drafts (2005 with Andrew Bogut and Alex Smith). Professional production for these two aside, this year’s MWC basketball action has been arguably its best in league history and one of the more compelling conference races in the entire nation.
I have been pushing all year for five teams to be invited into the tournament, but four is probably a more realistic number. I will jump the following standings to say that I will be cheering for New Mexico (not my regular squad) to win the conference tournament.
Utah (10-2, 19-7)
With an RPI of 10 and wins over Gonzaga, Weber St.,and LSU by 30, the Utes have to be noticed despite going just 9-5 before conference play. As their gaudy in-league record would suggest, they have also beaten BYU, UNM, and SDSU.
BYU (8-4, 20-6)
The nation’s top FG% shooting team has been dynamite at times and “just not enough” at others. Their wins out of conference (Weber St and Utah St.) might not be as good as their losses (Arizona St. by 2, had Wake beat before losing at end). They have only managed to beat SDSU and UNM of note in league, but the Cougars have a huge week coming up! (This is my squad.)
San Diego St (8-4, 18-7)
The Aztecs prepared themselves for league play by playing a relatively light schedule. Yes, there were some tougher opponents, but they did not manage to defeat any of those foes. When they went deeper into the year and beat Utah, UNM, and UNLV, I became interested. SDSU needs a strong finish and a possible Tourney Final to get that elusive “at large” bid.
New Mexico (8-4, 17-10)
This is probably the one of the top five that might be left out in a couple weeks. Like the Utes, the Lobos had an up-and-down start to their season and were forced into playing an almost “spotless” conference run. Utah basically has, but the Lobos have not. They have played bravely for Head Coach Steve Alford and the Lobo-crazed city of Albuquerque, but their wins over Mississippi, Oral Roberts, BYU and UNLV just might mandate them winning a conference tournament. Although that mid-season sweep over the Aggies of State always tastes sweet.
UNLV (8-5, 20-7)
For a team that has beaten Arizona and punked Louisville in Freedom Hall (even without their best player, Wink Adams), to have already lost five games in MWC play has to be considered, disappointing. They do have some nice wins over UNM, Utah, and have already taken two from BYU so their number of quality wins should more than put them high on “that list” in a couple weeks. Also, never underestimate the ability of a coach that has “been there before.” Lon Kruger has led teams from all over the country to deep tournament runs.
This week is a big on up here on the Mountain. The next two nights see four of the five “heavies” facing off against one another (BYU @ SDSU and UNLV @ Utah). The week is capped on Saturday with Utah traveling south on I-15 to Provo to go for the season sweep over BYU. With every win crucial for tourney resumes, these three loom especially large. If you don’t have the Mountain or have just seen highlights of these teams, trust me; pick one (or even two) of them into your Sweet 16.
TEAMS OF THE WEEK: Presidential Mojo
Oregon St. — I mean, c’mon! This is a joke, right? The Beavers of Corvallis did not win a single, solitary game last year in the PAC-10 and have currently put together three straight wins after a sweep of the NoCal teams. The double-dip was punctuated by a double-digit win over tournament-bound Cal. Head Coach Craig Robinson is surely dipping into the family mojo (he is, of course, Michelle Obama’s brother) and in his first season, he has led OSU to 7-8 in-conference and .500 overall at 13-13. After losing their first four games of the year, the Beavers beat a very game Nebraska side and have streaked their way ever since (Winning-2 streaks of four-in-a-row, 1 of three-in-a-row; Losing-2 of four-in-a-row, 1 of three-in-a-row, hence the record, I guess.) The are paced by 6-2 sophomore guard, Calvin Haynes, but can put forth seven guys that score at least 6/game. This extremely young team now “wears the pants” in their inter-state grudge match with Oregon and they finish down in Eugene before traveling even further south for a pair in L.A. with USC and UCLA.
Creighton — Eight wins in a row has suddenly put the Blue Jays back atop The Valley and owners of 23 wins. Dana Altman’s team is led by a pair of great names in senior guard Booker Woodfox and his lanky sophomore backcourt mate, P’Allen Stinnett. Wins over Saint Josephs, Dayton, and New Mexico coupled with the potential for 28 pre-tournament wins just might too much for the committee to ignore if they don’t procure the automatic bid.
Honorable Mention: Pittsburgh, Kansas, Siena, Florida State
SCOUTING CORNER: Guess Who?
This relative newbie to the game of basketball is a long, active post-player. His offensive game is obviously progressing as evidence by the stark contrast between where he was when he first set foot on campus to where he was by this past spring’s conference tournament. That progression has continued into his junior season where he has become one the conference’s most dominant big men.
This player, however, is still a project; to be sure, as he has played just over five years of organized ball. In the post, this guy relies heavily on a nice little hook but he is also an above average passer. Over the last two seasons, I have witnessed several occasions where this big man passed out of the post after scoring on the proceeding possession. His unselfishness can almost be to a fault, but it can also be chalked up to inexperience. It would be good to see this guy develop more into a dominating defensive presence, as his flashes of brilliance on that end of the court have been far too inconsistent.
In this season alone, this guy has moved into the mid-first-round and could be lottery if his progression follows the slope it is currently riding. If he stays for his final year he will be a lottery pick for the ’10 draft.
PLAYER ALERT: Rider, It’s a Family Affair
Most of you should be familiar with Jason Thompson of the Sacramento Kings. The ’08 lottery-pick tortured MAC opponents for years with his combination of size and talent. If you saw any of his last two years of college ball in Jersey, you knew of his younger and slightly shorter brother, Ryan Thompson. The 6-6, 210-pound junior blossomed last year right under big bro’s beautiful pedal, becoming a 15/6/3.5/2s-kinda-guy who somehow also shot 54 percent from the floor and 43 percent from long-range.
This year, not much has changed (the Broncs have dipped slightly) and Ryan has picked up some of the slack duplicating his “hustle board” stats while getting almost another three points a night. Silky smooth and efficient, Ryan is consistent and despite going for over 25 points, five times this year, he has never taken more than 20 shots in a game. His rebounding is strong for a projected 2-guard and he has a nice sense about his play-making skills. Rider Head Coach Tommy Dempsey’s move of Thompson to the point in January (to spark the team) will go far to helping him (im)prove those aspects of his game. Thompson’s athletic ability grades out and whether he can garner the professional attention his brother did last spring is still to be determined. From the half-dozen or so viewings I have had, I have always left impressed. That said, he should play out his college eligibility for the best eventual professional opportunity.
GAMES — THE WEEK THAT WILL BE: (All times ET)
ESPN has a solid doubleheader tonight starting with Penn St. in Columbus to play Ohio St. Both teams are in need of wins, one (OSU) because of recent poor play and the other (PSU) because of good play that has reinserted the Nittany Lions into the conversation.
Immediately following is an SEC match-up between two tournament teams in LSU and Florida. This might be the last time I mention, Nick Calathes; but probably not.
BYU and San Diego State meet in Southern California to make some last minute statements in the Mountain West. The game tips on the Mountain at 10:30.
ESPN gets two days right with another solid double-header starting with UConn in beer country to take on Marquette and in the second game, the suddenly resurgent Maryland Terrapins (wins over UNC will do that for you) look to extract some revenge for that pounding they endured at Cameron earlier this year. Much respect must be given to Maryland’s Venezuelan magician, Greivis Vasquez for his ridiculous triple-double in their win over UNC.
The Mountain gets more love with a great game in the SLC between UNLV and the Utah Utes.
The Big Ten Network has a solid 7 p.m. game with the Golden Gophers of Minnesota in Champaign to take on Illinois, who is fresh off an impressive road win at Ohio St.
I will ignore most of ESPN’s programming tonight other than two games that stand out. First is the second of their double-header when Memphis heads south to take on UAB. The Blazers (19-8, 9-3) are in a good position to be considered for an at-large bid and a win (that would snap Memphis’ unbelievable 54-game conference win streak) over the Tigers would be a nice piece on their resume.
I also have to mention a chance to not only see Gonzaga again, but to check out Santa Clara (and a Cub Scouts Player Alert mention) big-man John Bryant. The Zags and Broncos tangle at 11 p.m. on ESPN2.
CBS takes weekend center stage as they prepare to host the NCAA Tournament. (And NBC has the Match-Play which not only will have the return of Tiger Woods, but is golf’s version of the NCAA Tournament, complete with 64 players, one winner. I’ll be watching a lot of game this weekend. Basketball DVRs nicely. A doubleheader starts at 2 p.m. with a desperate Notre Dame in Storrs to face UConn, followed by LSU in Lexington to take on the Kentucky Wildcats.
3 p.m. on FSN has Arizona in the Emerald City to face Washington.
4 p.m on ESPN has another big game for Ohio St. as they travel to Indiana to take on Purdue.
5 p.m. on CBS College Sports has the huge Beehive State battle with Utah on the road at BYU.
9 p.m on ESPN has the Game Day Crew in Berkeley to see UCLA face the Cal Bears.
CBS is at it again with another double-dip starting at 2 p.m. with rivals Missouri crossing the border to play Kansas, followed by Michigan St. at Illinois.
I need suggestions for conferences you’d like me to break down before the tournament starts. Enjoy the games!
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