College Basketball Nation: MAC

Video: Western Michigan wins MAC title

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15

David Brown had 32 points in Western Michigan's 98-77 MAC championship game win over Toledo.


MAC team previews

October, 4, 2013
From Sept. 30 through Oct. 25, Insider will be rolling out its college basketball preview, including breakdowns on every Division I team, projected order of finish for every conference and essays from Insider's hoops experts.

Here are previews for each team in the MAC:

Akron Zips Insider
Bowling Green Falcons Insider
Buffalo Bulls Insider
Kent State Golden Flashes Insider
Miami (Ohio) Redhawks Insider
Ohio Bobcats Insider

Ball State Cardinals Insider
Central Michigan Chippewas Insider
Eastern Michigan Eagles (free)
Northern Illinois Huskies Insider
Toledo Rockets Insider
Western Michigan Broncos Insider

You Gotta See This: Mid-American

October, 4, 2013
Alex Abreu, Austin ChatmanEric Francis/Getty ImagesAkron played through Alex Abreu's arrest late last season and went on to win the MAC tournament.
It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season — from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Up next: What's next in the MAC?

Fans of Mid-American Conference basketball, please don't take this the wrong way: The MAC is not exactly the most exciting conference in the world.

In some very real ways, this is a compliment. The MAC has been relatively untouched by conference realignment in recent years. Members know each other well and play each other tough. Road trips are geographically compact. Rivalries are regional, and real.

The reason this doesn't always lead to excitement, at least for those of us with a full hoops plate, is that the MAC has always felt relatively predictable. It would produce a decent team, maybe two, would send its tournament champ to the NCAA tournament, and maybe there'd be an upset, and maybe not.

The past two years have been different. In 2012, Ohio blitzed its way to the Sweet 16, nearly took down North Carolina in the Elite Eight and earned its coach, John Groce, a chance to put his intense intelligence to work as the coach at Illinois. Last season, the surprise was even more dramatic: Just a few days before title favorite Akron's final regular-season game of the year, star point guard Alex Abreu was arrested and charged with felony drug trafficking. Abreu was selling marijuana, and not casually; police caught on when dogs sniffed a five-pound package filled with the stuff that was shipped through the postal service to the home of Abreu’s friend in Akron. Last month, the Akron Beacon Journal's reporting -- including the transcript of a meeting Abreu and his attorney had with narcotics agents, at which Abreu asked repeatedly about his chances of playing Kent State on March 12 -- revealed how harrowing, and how devastating, that situation might have been. The Zips had every excuse to fold down the stretch, but they didn't, overcoming the drastic loss of their point guard in time to take the MAC tournament crown and head to another NCAA tournament under Keith Dambrot.

There was a chance Abreu could have returned to the Zips this season; a judge suspended his two-year sentence (and waived his fine) in favor of an 18-month probation. Abreu was trying to work his way back into his team's good graces when he was arrested in July for an unspecified probation violation. School officials told the Beacon Journal Abreu has left the school.

The narrowest upshot from all this is that the league's most consistent NCAA tournament participant in the past five years is out a point guard in addition to star center Zeke Marshall. The other point(s) worth making is that Akron managed to cope without Abreu last season, never seemed to expect his return in the first place, returns three solid starters (Demetrius Treadwall, Brian Walsh, Jake Kretzer), and has 6-foot-11 center Pat Forsythe and 6-foot-7 wingman Reggie McAdams ready to step into larger roles as sophomores. It's kind of amazing that Akron still could look like a favorite to win its league after everything the program lost last spring, but that's a testament to the program Dambrot has built.

The wider upshot is this: The MAC got kind of crazy! Sweet 16 runs? Felony drug trafficking arrests? I realize the league surely would not want the Abreu situation tacked on to its image, and for good reason. But you have to admit, it's exciting. And with so much turnover, and an apparently new willingness to live on the edge, perhaps MACtion need not be reserved for Thursday nights anymore.
Every new coach hopes to start strong. But that’s rarely an easy task. The transition is usually difficult. New system, new staff, new players and new rules. Sometimes, however, it works immediately, in the right situation. The following coaches have a chance to orchestrate impressive debuts at their new schools.

  1. Craig Neal (New Mexico): The Lobos should be the favorites to retain their Mountain West crowns. Neal, a former assistant for Steve Alford, guaranteed continuity and stability for a squad that brings back conference player of the year Kendall Williams and center Alex Kirk. The Lobos lost Tony Snell, a first-round draft pick by the Chicago Bulls, but they’ve added a recruiting class that includes top-100 prospect Cullen Neal (the coach's son), who should be available at some point next season after a recent health scare during the team’s trip to Australia.
  2. Joe Dooley (Florida Gulf Coast): “Dunk City” lost its maestro when Andy Enfield switched coasts to take the USC gig. But Dooley, a former Kansas assistant, inherits a roster that features four of the top five scorers from last season. That returning crew includes point guard Brett Comer (8.0 PPG, 6.6 APG), a star throughout FGCU’s Sweet 16 run in March. Plus, transfers Jamil Jones (Marquette) and Nate Hicks (Georgia Tech) will be available in 2013-14. Dooley’s program is in good shape as it prepares for the upcoming season.
  3. [+] EnlargeDan Guerrero, Steve Alford
    AP Photo/Damian DovarganesUCLA has enough high-level talent to make Steve Alford's first year in Westwood a success.
  4. Steve Alford (UCLA): His messy exit from New Mexico only compounded the surprise surrounding the hire. But he’s the Bruins’ $18.2 million leader now. And even though he seized a roster that features just six scholarship players from last season, Alford commands a UCLA squad that could compete for the Pac-12 title it won in 2012-13. Kyle Anderson, David Wear, Travis Wear, a slimmer Tony Parker (he’s lost 20 pounds this offseason) and top-100 point guard Zach LaVine will anchor Alford’s first UCLA squad. There’s plenty of talent to utilize in his first season.
  5. Robert Jones (Norfolk State): Jones was given the interim coaching title hours after Anthony Evans left to fill the opening at Florida International. That “interim” label, however, shouldn’t stick. Norfolk State, the reigning MEAC regular-season champion, is stacked entering next season. Pendarvis Williams, last season’s conference player of the year, is one of four starters from last season returning in 2013-14. Jones’ rise from assistant to interim head coach was unexpected, but he has the pieces to be successful in his first season. Norfolk State didn't lose a game in conference play last season. That streak could continue under Jones.
  6. Bobby Hurley (Buffalo): The former Duke star left his brother Danny’s staff at Rhode Island to take his first head-coaching job. Buffalo finished 7-9 in the MAC and 14-20 overall last season. But six of the Bulls’ top seven scorers from last season are back. And with Javon McCrea (18.0 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.6 BPG) and Will Regan (11.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG) inside, Hurley’s squad will boast one of the league’s top frontcourts. Last year wasn’t a great one for the program, but Hurley has the building blocks to make immediate improvements.
  7. Ron Verlin (Pacific): Verlin, a longtime assistant under Bob Thomason, will guide Pacific as it returns to the West Coast Conference. Three of his top five scorers return, including Sama Taku (8.1 PPG, 38 percent from the 3-point line). Brazilian center Gabriel Aguirre could help, too. Pacific finished second to Long Beach State in the Big West last season, and the Tigers could make noise in the WCC, too. The league’s hierarchy is undefined, with Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s losing key players. So there’s a chance for multiple teams to rise. Pacific could be one of them.
  8. Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin): The new Lumberjacks coach took a hit when he lost three of his top five scorers and four seniors total. But the reigning Southland champions can build around senior Desmond Haymon (10.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 37 percent from beyond the arc) and junior Jacob Parker (7.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 41 percent from the 3-point line). Junior college transfers Tanner Clayton and Sharife Sergeant, a pair of 6-foot-9 athletes, will give Underwood some size inside. If the Lumberjacks are tough on defense again (12th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy, last season), they should be a threat to win the Southland again.
  9. G.G. Smith (Loyola-Md.): Tubby Smith’s son took over when former coach Jimmy Patsos accepted the Siena job. In the program’s first season as a member of the Patriot League, the Greyhounds should be players in their new conference. Dylan Cormier (16.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.8 SPG) is the obvious star for a squad that lost three senior standouts. Plus, Jordan Latham (1.2 BPG) and freshman Nick Gorski should help the Greyhounds fill the gaps. Smith is in a solid place for a first-year head coach.
  10. Matthew Graves (South Alabama): Augustine Rubit (All-American honorable mention by The Associated Press last season), Mychal Ammons and Antoine Allen combined to average nearly 40 points per game in 2012-13. Graves, a former Butler assistant, will rely on the trio as the Jaguars make a push in the Sun Belt. In his first news conference, Graves told team supporters that he intends to compete for a league championship in his first season. And with the talent his team returns and Sun Belt powerhouse Middle Tennessee’s move to Conference USA, it’s not a crazy thought.
  11. Chris Casey (Niagara): The bad news is that Juan'ya Green and Ameen Tanksley followed former Niagara coach Joe Mihalich to Hofstra, and T.J. Cline transferred to Richmond. The good news is that top scorer Antoine Mason is back. And that’s a big return. Mason averaged 18.7 PPG last season. He’ll face even more pressure to score now that three of the team’s top five scorers from last season are gone. But Marvin Jordan (8.2 PPG) and a number of new faces will have to back Mason in Casey’s first season. He could do worse, however, than coaching a team that’s led by the MAAC’s top returning scorer.
Of all the random skills you can develop during high school gym class downtime -- from scrambling to finish neglected problem sets to dunking on an eight-foot rim; they are legion -- the ability to make a reasonable percentage of half-court shots has to be the most underrated. There is a lucrative sub-economy surrounding half-court shots; win the right lottery at the right school (or when College Gameday comes to town) and you could change your life in a matter of seconds.

And yet, so many people picked to shoot for prizes arrive at their moment lacking the basic skills they need to succeed. They try to heave the ball from a standstill. They chuck it over their shoulder like a shot-put. They never took the time to learn the proper running one-legged form, and they don't even give themselves a chance. As someone who sees a fair number of half-court promotions, it's never not massively frustrating.

Ball State freshman Markus Burden, a native of Frankfort, Ill., is not one one of these people. At Ball State's "Welcome Week" festivities this weekend, Burden was selected to shoot for a free semester of tuition, and after a couple of misses, this happened:

The Indianapolis Star has some good detail from Burden himself, who said he wanted to win the tuition for his mom -- who didn't believe her son until his friend sent her photographic evidence. The win notches Burden a semester of out-of-state tuition priced at $11,084, a huge relief for any family staring down those unfathomable bursar bills every month. "“It just gives us a lot of breathing room right now,” Burden told the Star.

But I want to focus on another part of the story. As the Indy Star writes:
He didn’t play basketball for his high school team but often hit the court with friends, goofing around with half-court and trick shots.

See? The perfect form in that YouTube clip wasn't an accident. Nor was it the product of a high school basketball career. Burden put in the hard, tireless work of half-court shot practice long before he ever knew he'd need that arrow in his quiver. He arrived at his moment ready.

Let that be a lesson to every high-schooler in the country: If you work really hard and attempt to master this seemingly pointless craft, one day you too can will have an infinitesimal chance of winning a free semester of tuition. And if your gym teachers tell you to stop flinging the ball at the rim from 50 feet away, tell them you're just trying to better yourself, and if they have a problem with that ... well, actually, you should listen to them, because they can probably give you detention. High school's kind of a bummer that way.

The best thing about the college basketball offseason is that it ends. The second best thing about the college basketball offseason is that when it ends, it ends so quickly and so exhaustively that within a few days you have to remind yourself that there was ever an offseason in the first place. By mid-November, it's impossible to imagine life without basketball.

We have the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon to thank for that. Hey, it might still be warm outside and the campus dorms are mostly empty here in the dog days of August. But exactly three months from now, college hoops will be back in full force with the Marathon, which will include more than a dozen games in more than 24 consecutive hours of basketball in what has become a great annual excuse to call into work sick.

At 7 p.m. ET on Nov. 11, the Marathon begins with an ESPN2 women's doubleheader (Stanford-UConn; then Tennessee-North Carolina) and an ESPNU men's doubleheader (Kent State-Temple; then Colorado State-Gonzaga). At 7:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 12, the Marathon ends with a Champions Classic doubleheader that very well might match up four of the nation's top five teams (Kentucky-Michigan State; Kansas-Duke).

In between, starting at 11 p.m. ET on the 11th, there's a run of men's games that will keep the hardcore fans up all night and morning and begging for caffeine by lunchtime. Who will be participating in those games? Well, stick with us here in the Nation blog. We'll be revealing each of the Marathon matchups at the corresponding time they'll be taking place three months from now. Keep this page open and refresh every two hours and you'll get a new game, along with an early analysis of the matchup. Starting with ...

BYU at Stanford, 11 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Cougars and Cardinal will not only get the Marathon party started late on Nov. 11, they also provide a handy reminder that the earliest parts of the season mean just as much as what happens in February and March. In recent years, the NCAA tournament selection committee has de-emphasized recent results in its selection, instead emphasizing performance in the nonconference as much (or more) than any other single selection criterion. What happens on Nov. 11 matters, in other words, and that's especially true for both BYU and Stanford. The Cougars have quality players in Matt Carlino and Tyler Haws; Stanford is a quality defensive team with solid guard play from Chasson Randle. Neither team looks like a top-25 group, but they do look like they could be in the mix on Selection Sunday. So both will need as many quality nonconference wins as they can get to avoid languishing on the tournament bubble for months at a time. That process will begin immediately.

[+] EnlargeGregg Marshall
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsComing off a Final Four appearance in April, coach Gregg Marshall and the Wichita State Shockers are riding high entering this season.
Western Kentucky at Wichita State, 1 a.m. ET, ESPN2: Just two years ago, Western Kentucky, a proud, historically successful program, appeared to be in deep decline. In January 2012, a 5-10 team lost to six players (true, and long, story), then fired its coach. Since then, Ray Harper has managed to get WKU into the tournament twice, which is as much a testament to his coaching as it is to the wacky power of automatic bids and mid-major conference tournaments. But really, this fixture is about the Wichita State Shockers and their fans, who, in the wake of a surprise Final Four visit, are no doubt eager to showcase the strength of their program and their fan base to a national audience. Charles Koch Arena is always bumping. Imagine what they'll have cooking for a midnight local tip. Oh my.

Akron at Saint Mary’s, 3 a.m. ET, ESPN2: This midnight local tip -- you know, were it not for time zones, this whole Marathon thing would be a lot harder to pull off -- features two of the best mid-major programs of the past decade. You're likely already familiar with Saint Mary's, which has crept up on (and even briefly unseated) Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference in recent years. But Akron coach Keith Dambrot has taken the Zips to the tournament in three of the past five seasons, including as a 12-seed in 2012-13. Recovering from the loss of super-efficient center Zeke Marshall won't be easy (to say nothing of the Alex Abreu ordeal), but Akron has almost everyone else back and is ready to push toward another postseason berth, and then some.

New Mexico State at Hawaii, 5 a.m. ET, ESPN2: There are many, many benefits to being in Hawaii and its time zone is typically not high on that list. But the Warriors' unique geography also makes them a yearly inclusion in the Marathon. At this point, 5 a.m. ET might as well be called the "Hawaii Slot." This year's edition of the Hawaii Slot features one of the more consistently successful and frequently slept-on mid-majors in New Mexico State, where Marvin Menzies has won 50 games over the past two seasons (and has been to back-to-back NCAA tournaments). Expect to hear a lot about Sim Bhullar, who is not your average NMSU player: He's a 7-foot-5 Canadian-born son of Indian parents whose unique background (and sheer size) won him cross-cultural hype from the New York Times before he played a minute of college ball. The good news? Bhullar was good as a freshman, when he shot 62.1 percent from the field and grabbed 12.8 percent of available offensive rebounds. The dude can play, and you can see him do so live -- as long as you can get up early (or stay up that late).

Hartford at Florida Gulf Coast, 7 a.m. ET, ESPN2: There's something immensely fun about the early-morning Marathon entries. The schools involved are typically small enough that the very idea of being included in the event (and on ESPN) is enough to draw a raucous A.M. crowd, especially in the student section. Expect things to go up a notch or two in 2013. The folks at Florida Gulf Coast are riding as high as the sport allows these days. March's "Dunk City"-defined run to the Sweet 16 put the tiny 22-year-old school and its pristine beach dorms in front of every sports fan in the country. Merchandise flew off the shelves; enrollment (almost certainly, given precedent) spiked. It's safe to assume the party will be still be raging come November.

[+] EnlargeTyrone Garland
John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT/Getty ImagesThe Explorers lost only one contributor from a team that won three NCAA tourney games in March.
Quinnipiac at La Salle, 9 a.m. ET, ESPN2: Are you sensing a theme? La Salle, like Florida Gulf Coast and Wichita State above, are likewise coming off one of the best seasons in program history. The 1954 NCAA champs saw the last vestiges of ongoing relevance dry up by the mid-1990s, but their return to the tournament in 2013 -- which required a stopover at the "first round" in Dayton -- took them all the way to the Sweet 16 before they fell to Wichita State. The Explorers lose senior leader Ramon Galloway, but everyone else is back, including a great group of guards led by Tyrone "Southwest Philly Floater" Garland, who is entertaining and frustrating in equally perfect measure.

LSU at Massachusetts, 11 a.m. ET, ESPN2: Typically, LSU fans devote more time to the mechanics of Les Miles' grass-chew habit than they do basketball, and in recent seasons it's been hard to argue with that order of priorities. The Tigers simply have not been very good. That may be changing. Johnny Jones' team returns four starters from a better-than-you-remember 19-12, 2012-13 group. But the biggest piece of news is the arrival of Jarrell Martin, the No. 11-ranked overall player in a stacked incoming recruiting class. The Baton Rouge native took to basketball later than most, but he's already developed into an imposing (if somewhat raw) presence. If his development curve continues to do its best hockey stick impression throughout the rest of the summer, look out for the Tigers. Oh, and don't sleep on UMass -- one of the most stylistically entertaining teams in the country, with a solid returning core -- either. This could be one of those games that looks huge once bubble talk ramps up.

West Virginia at Virginia Tech, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN: Virginia Tech got off to a great start last season, its first under new coach James Johnson. But by the end of the year, about the only thing the Hokies had going for them was senior guard Erick Green, who managed to post a 120.0 offensive rating on 31.7 percent usage, which ranked him behind only Nate Wolters, Kelly Olynyk, Doug McDermott and Trey Burke on the list of players who managed to be efficient despite using so many of their team's possessions. Green was great, but now he's gone, which leaves Johnson facing a classic, long-haul rebuilding scenario. West Virginia isn't quite there, but Bob Huggins' team had a decidedly un-Huggins season in 2012-13, when they played some of the ugliest, most disjointed offense the college game had to offer (which, last season, was saying something). After essentially sending talented, but troubled, forward Aaric Murray away, Huggins will have to cull some semblance of a rotation from a smattering of pieces that never congealed last year. Incoming four-star power forwards Devin Williams and Elijah Mason should help.

South Carolina at Baylor, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN: Despite taking a massive L.J. Peak-induced recruiting gut-punch this summer, Frank Martin's Gamecocks have already made more progress in his one year at the school than in the 10 before it. Martin has a six-player class arriving this fall, led by No. 7-ranked shooting guard Sindarius Thornwell. A few years down the road, the talent level in Columbia is going to be unrecognizably high. Baylor fans could lend some experience on this front. Now entering his 11th season, Scott Drew has taken the Bears from the untouchable site of shocking scandal into one of the most consistently talented programs in the country. This season, the Bears are adding two top-100 talents (Ishmail Wainright, Allerik Freeman) to a group that already includes 7-footer Isaiah Austin and a score of rising youngsters and/or reliable veterans, including forwards Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers and guards Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin -- the list goes on and on. After an NIT title in March, Baylor should be after much more this season.

[+] EnlargeMick Cronin
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesSean Kilpatrick and Mick Cronin are looking to for a fourth straight NCAA tournament bid.
NC State at Cincinnati, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN: When everything was clicking, there were few sights in the college game as thrilling as NC State's offense last season -- Lorenzo Brown leading the break, T.J. Warren running to the block, Scott Wood spotting up on the wing. The problem, of course, was defense, or more precisely a lack of defense. Some of that had to do with personnel, but much of it was related to attitude. With Wood, Brown, guard Rodney Purvis (transfer to UConn) and forwards C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell all gone, coach Mark Gottfried won't have as much tantalizing talent on the court this time around. But he will have a pared-down group that actually wants to be in Raleigh, and he can build the additions of top-100 recruits Anthony Barber, BeeJay Anya and Kyle Washington around Warren, the Pack's most dynamic and promising player a season ago. A trip to Cincinnati will be a crucial early test of Gottfried's mini-rebuild, as a Sean Kilpatrick-led Bearcats group hopes the addition of power forward Jermaine Lawrence will push the program past the "solid NCAA tournament inclusion" hump into ever more rarefied air.

"College GameDay" from Chicago, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: I don't need to preview College Gameday for you, do I? You already know how awesome College Gameday is. Let's move on.

VCU at Virginia, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: It's almost unfair to pit the ESPN2 primetime games against the Champions Classic. They're bound to look pale by comparison. But on any other night of the season, VCU-Virginia (and its 9 p.m. ET follow-up, about which more below) would be must-see stuff. The basketball is good in and of itself. Under Shaka Smart, Virginia Commonwealth has morphed 2011's shock Final Four run into a burgeoning outfit that plays one of the most recognizable systems -- a constantly turnover-hawking pressing style -- in the country. UVa, meanwhile, has steadily improved under fifth-year coach Tony Bennett, who has adopted many of the pack-line defensive principles that his father Dick Bennett developed long ago at Wisconsin-Green Bay. The contrast of speed and style couldn't be more pronounced here, and if a hearty quasi-cultural, in-state rivalry doesn't exist between these two very different schools already, it shouldn't take long.

Michigan State vs. Kentucky in Chicago, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: And so we arrive at the jewel of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon: The Champions Classic. In its first two years, the Champions Classic has done exactly what it set out to do -- provide mutually beneficial marquee college hoops scheduling at the start of the season -- and then some. It even offered an early national title preview (Kentucky vs. Kansas) in 2011-12.

This year's edition might be the best yet, and that starts with Michigan State-Kentucky. The Spartans are the prohibitive Big Ten favorite (or co-favorite with Michigan, your mileage may vary), and bring back about as solid and imposing a core -- senior guard Keith Appling, still-improving senior forward Adreian Payne, Big Ten freshman of the year Gary Harris -- and will begin the season in the top 5 because of it.

After the 2012 national title, Kentucky coach John Calipari probably didn't expect to be on the losing side of a first-round NIT game a year later (and in his hometown, no less), but even as Robert Morris fans stormed the court in March, Calipari could take solace knowing he assembled what is by all accounts the best recruiting class since the Fab Five, and maybe ever. With Julius Randle, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson, James Young and Marcus Lee, Calipari landed five of the top nine players in the class and six of the top 25. Oh, and he'll have Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein -- clearly talented players who struggled as freshmen, but should be more effective with more experience and more minimized roles -- back, too. The whole prospect is terrifying: For as good as UK was in 2011-12, this team might be better. What better early test than a veteran, Tom Izzo-coached Michigan State?

Florida at Wisconsin, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2: See? This is another really good college basketball game that most people probably won't watch live, because you're not going to miss the beginning of what I have already imagined will be a Bird-Magic-esque Wiggins-Parker rivalry in Duke-Kansas. But the doubleheader on ESPN2 isn't too far behind. No coach in the country is as consistent as Bo Ryan, and this year very little should change. The only exception is the star power offered by sophomore forward Sam Dekker, a rare top-20 recruit for the Badgers who shined in an introductory role as a freshman, and will be asked to do loads more as a sophomore. Speaking of consistency, Florida has participated in the last three Elite Eights, and the Gators appear to be as capable of that feat as ever in 2013-14. No. 2-ranked freshman point guard Kasey Hill should start and star immediately alongside forward Patric Young, and if the Gators can get equally touted freshman power forward Chris Walker academically eligible, they'll have plenty of firepower to bring to the Kohl Center.

Kansas vs. Duke, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN: Yes, UK-MSU is awfully good, and the teams are probably better overall. But for sheer intrigue, it's hard to top Duke versus Kansas. On one side is the No. 1 player in the class, Andrew Wiggins, who is not merely your average top-ranked recruit but considered by pretty much every scout you talk to as the best prospect since Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, if not LeBron James. Which is funny, considering that's the same thing Sports Illustrated once plastered on its cover next to a photo of four-time Illinois state champion, No. 2-ranked Jabari Parker. There is already a bit of a LeBron James-Carmelo Anthony thing going on here. Wiggins is the world-destroying athletic freak with the intuitive all-court game; Parker is the smooth, natural scorer. In 2003, Anthony and James entered their rookie seasons having only ever met on the AAU circuit. In 2013, Parker and Wiggins will meet each other on one of the first nights of the season, following Kentucky's Julius Randle, who is good enough to steal the eventual No. 1 overall pick out from under both.

In other words, the three reasons why you'll hear so much about NBA teams tanking in the next 12 months are all playing on the same United Center night in mid-November, and two of them are playing each other. Man, the Champions Classic is awesome. Did I mention that already? We covered that part, right?

So get your remote control handy; get your DVR game tight. That's good advice for the primetime doubleheader, but it works for the whole Marathon, too. By the time it's over, you won't even remember the offseason existed. I can't wait.

Remembering MAC legend Charlie Coles

June, 7, 2013
Former Miami (Ohio) coach Charlie Coles had everything: The Xs and Os, the brains, the personality. In a perfect world, Coles would have been a millionaire with six-figure speaking fees, famous friends and a big shoe contract.

Instead he had a closet full of mock turtlenecks, the lowest salary in the Mid-American Conference -- despite a Sweet 16 appearance -- and more love and respect than any coach could dream about.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Coles
Al Behrman/AP PhotoMiami (Ohio) coach Charlie Coles, who had a 355-308 career record as a basketball coach, died Friday.
“He never asked [for more money],” said Jason Grunkemeyer, a former player and assistant under Coles. “He’d joke that he just wants to tiptoe around and ‘hope they don’t fire me.’”

Coles, who retired in 2012, passed away at his home Friday at the age of 71. No cause of death was listed, but Grunkemeyer said Coles had been suffering from a variety of health ailments, unrelated to a history of heart problems.

Coles retired as the MAC leader in league wins with 218, including a 167-109 conference record in 16 seasons at his alma mater, highlighted by that 1999 trip to the Sweet 16 behind future NBA player Wally Szczerbiak.

Coles won 355 games between Miami and Central Michigan, producing NBA players like Dan Majerle, Ira Newble and Szczerbiak.

But numbers didn’t define Coles, who was one of the great personalities in college basketball. What defined him was his love of teaching -- he taught an undergraduate course on basketball theory -- and his unique personality.

“With Charlie, people like to talk about his sense of humor, but I always talk about his intelligence,” said ESPN broadcaster and radio host Dan Dakich, who coached against Coles in the MAC from 1997-2007 while at Bowling Green. “That dude was brilliant.”

To his players, he was a father figure.

“I think the thing with him was he developed the whole person,” Grunkemeyer said in a phone conversation Friday from Muncie, Ind., where he is a basketball assistant coach at Ball State. “I think that’s the thing for all of us who played for him or coached for him would be able to say. He didn’t just care what you could do as a basketball player, he really cared about what you were as an individual. If things needed to corrected, he wasn’t afraid to go there.”

Dakich felt Coles was a kindred spirit in a league rife with animosity between coaches. When Dakich would tee off on the commissioner in meetings about the state of the league, Coles would be next to him, Dakich said, going, "'Keep going Dan, keep going.’ Because he knew what was going to happen to MAC basketball.”

One year, Dakich famously wore his sports coat backward during a winning streak, which included a win at Miami. After the streak ended, Miami traveled to Bowling Green.

“He came out with his coat backward, and I was dying laughing,” Dakich said in a phone conversation. “He said, 'You’re not stealing the mojo from me!' He was the only coach who got what this was about, me doing something stupid for my team.”

After he lost Szczerbiak to the NBA following Miami’s wild Sweet 16 ride, I remember Coles moaning about his fate at the 1999 MAC media day. Of course, that team, which had little talent, went to the MAC finals as a 9-seed. In 2001, he got to the conference finals again as an 8-seed.

I remember Coles fondly from my days as a student reporter from 1999-2001 at Ohio University. I looked forward to the Bobcats playing Miami for the chance to hear his thoughts at the postgame news conference. How many reporters look forward to a news conference? That's Charlie. And it was worth every minute. When he said he would trade for a little-known Ohio guard named Corey Reed, a few of us wanted to yell, “We’ll trade him for you!”

These conferences were more like a Bill Cosby stand-up special, full of jokes and life lessons. (Who will ever forget his memorable rant after Miami's narrow loss at Kentucky in 2009?) He would rip a question from a student reporter in a way that wasn’t nasty. He would tell long stories. He was also one of the few coaches who would compliment a team that just beat him and rave about the Corey Reeds of the world.

“When they beat his team, he always praised the other team,” Dakich said. “Some guys in the MAC were so paranoid they wouldn’t do that.”

In a 2001 column I wrote about Coles, I mentioned him teasing a former recruit, Ohio forward Jon Sanderson, if he “were on my team, he could shoot all the 3-pointers he wanted, not just in the second half. Remember ‘Wally World’ baby.”

This was during a game.

“Only he could get away with that,” Grunkemeyer said.

In recent years, Coles asked an Ohio student reporter, Will Frasure, how old he was during a news conference. When Frasure said he was 22, Coles replied, “I would smile every day if I were 22.”

Frasure said it's the best advice he's ever gotten.

Grunkemeyer played under Coles for three years, including that Sweet 16 season, and coached under him from 2007-12. He was an athletic director at the local high school in Oxford last year, so he got to spend more time with Coles. Because of this familiarity, he’s often asked for Coles stories and impressions.

“Some are appropriate, some not so appropriate,” he said with a laugh.

After some cajoling, Grunkemeyer thought of a recent story that wasn’t about basketball.

“He was telling me a couple months back that he went to the doctor, because he’s having issues, and Coach, he was probably taking one too many Vicodin. The doctor came in and,” Grunkemeyer said, going into Coles’ voice. “‘Yeah this guy is gonna tell me I got to watch my pills, watch that Vicodin and I looked at him say, sir, you know who you’re talking to. I’m 70 years old. I’ve had three open heart surgeries. I’ve got 15 specialists as my doctors and now you’re worried about me trying to feel good. I got like three weeks to live if i’m lucky!’ He was prophetic there. He’s telling the story and he’s laughing, I’m laughing. That kind of stuff. He wasn’t afraid to talk about it.”

Grunkemeyer had spent much of Friday talking to ex-teammates. The funeral hadn’t been planned yet, but he was looking forward to it as a “real celebration of his life.”

“I know I’m looking forward to crying, laughing and swapping stories,” he said. “I think that’s what he would want. That’s how he lived his life. You should send someone there. There will be a lot of great stories.”

Sounds like a dream assignment.

Seven things to know from Thursday

March, 22, 2013
1. Harvard won an NCAA tournament game for the first time in program history. The Crimson defeated No. 3-seed New Mexico. Harvard is the first 14-seed or lower from the Ivy League to win an NCAA tournament game.

2. Since seeding began in 1979, the 46-point victory by 5-seed Virginia Commonwealth over No. 12 Akron was the largest margin of victory ever by any team seeded lower than 2. That record lasted for about an hour. Syracuse, a 4-seed, broke it with a 47-point win over Montana.

3. Southern's six-point loss against Gonzaga was the closest by a No. 16 seed against a No. 1 seed since 1996, when Western Carolina lost by two against Purdue. Southern is only the fifth No. 16 seed in the past 20 years to come within single digits of a 1-seed.

4. Vander Blue's go-ahead layup with one second remaining against Davidson was the first game-tying or go-ahead shot made in the final 10 seconds of a game in the past two NCAA tournaments. Prior to Blue's shot, players missed the previous 22 attempts in those situations, dating back to the 2011 NCAA tournament.

5. With Butler's win over Bucknell, Brad Stevens is now 12-4 in the NCAA tournament. Stevens is the seventh coach to win at least 12 of his first 16 NCAA tournament games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The only coaches with a better record in their first 16 NCAA tournament games are Tom Izzo and Steve Fisher.

6. Russ Smith had eight steals for Louisville in its win over North Carolina A&T, matching the most in any NCAA tournament game (steals became official in 1986). The last player with eight steals in a game was North Carolina's Ty Lawson in the 2009 national championship game.

7. With its loss to No. 12-seed California, UNLV, a No. 5 seed, became the third team ever to lose four consecutive games in the round of 64 as the higher seed, joining Clemson (1998-2010) and BYU (1995-2009).

Video: Akron 65, Ohio 46

March, 16, 2013

Demetrius Treadwell finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds as Akron defeated Ohio in the MAC tournament final and earned an automatic NCAA tournament berth.
1. Butler coach Brad Stevens said Thursday night he has heard nothing (as in nada, zilch) about the Bulldogs moving to the new Big East for next season. Of course, that's because multiple sources within the seven schools departing to the new Big East say they were focused solely on exiting the old Big East before looking at expansion and new members. So, it's not surprising that Butler is in the dark -- for now. Stevens said he has to operate as if the Bulldogs are in the A-10 in 2013-14. He said the team is scheduling as if it's in the A-10 because that's all he has been told. If Stevens is told the Bulldogs are on the move to the new Big East then he will adjust. Butler and Xavier are the most coveted of the possible expansion teams. And the Bulldogs are likely to bolt as soon as the offer is official. Just think about this: In two seasons, Butler would go from getting Youngstown State at home to Georgetown. There is no decision once the offer is extended.

2. The NCAA tournament selection committee may have a tough choice with Akron if the Zips don't win the MAC tournament now that point guard Alex Abreu is suspended due to possession and marijuana trafficking. If Abreu is done, then the Zips aren't the same team that dominated the MAC. The committee can evaluate Akron with a home game against Kent State on Friday night and then in the MAC tournament. Losing Abreu shouldn't be the reason Akron is kept out of the tournament if it doesn't win the conference tournament. If it were a major injury -- as in the case of Kentucky's Nerlens Noel -- then the committee has to evaluate the team as it is constituted going into the NCAA tournament. The hope is that the committee gets a chance to see the team prior to Selection Sunday. The pressure is on Akron now to prove it is still worthy.

3. The turnaround at Colorado under Tad Boyle has been quite remarkable. Colorado basketball had been overshadowed in the region for years by the WAC/MWC schools. But the timing of its revival at the same time as it joined the Pac-12 has been perfect. The atmosphere in Boulder is becoming something special. Colorado went through some second-year bumps early after last season's Pac-12 tournament title run. But the enthusiasm showed and the overall effort at home lately -- with wins over Arizona and Thursday over Oregon, sans Andre Roberson -- proves this is a program now, not just a few good teams in back-to-back seasons. Expect Colorado under Boyle to be in the Pac-12 mix for the foreseeable future.
In addition to plenty of just-plain-great games -- Louisville's win at Syracuse, Marquette's big home win over Notre Dame, that amazing Duke-Miami thriller at Cameron Indoor Stadium -- Saturday was also filled with bubble action, from the start of the day to its finish.

That's typical, of course; this is the time of year when NCAA tournament at-large selection very rapidly shifts from the theoretical to the concrete. What isn't so typical is the level of carnage wrought on this Saturday, the sheer number of teams with bubble hopes that suffered losses -- some of them devastating.

How do I know Saturday was a bubble massacre? Your Tennessee Volunteers -- a new bubble entity this week after their victory over Florida -- managed to lose at Georgia (RPI: 142), 78-68, and, according to our own Joe Lunardi, moved into the bracket. Yeah. That happened.

That is one of the things worth remembering about the bubble, of course: It's all relative. We need to get to 68 teams somehow. And if everyone falls apart, maybe, in the end, no one does.

Here is your Saturday Bubble Watch update:


Creighton: For months, Creighton had no place in the bubble conversation. It was assumed, and not unfairly so, that the Bluejays and star forward Doug McDermott would rather effortlessly coast through Missouri Valley Conference play, maybe suffer an upset or two, and not have to worry much or at all about locking up an at-large bid in case Arch Madness proves to be exactly that.

And then things came apart. Creighton dropped a game at Drake. McDermott's scoring dried up in a hard fall at Indiana State, which was followed by a close home loss to Illinois State and a 61-54 upset at Northern Iowa. The Bluejays barely got past Evansville -- a fourth straight loss would have started a major panic -- and last Saturday's trip to Moraga, Calif., for a BracketBusters matchup with Saint Mary's didn't go so well, either. All of a sudden, Creighton, a lock in our Bubble Watch since the month-old first edition, was at semi-serious risk of missing the NCAA tournament.

Its fans can breathe easier now. McDermott's 15-of-18 shooting, 41-point masterpiece led the Bluejays to a 91-79 win over Wichita State -- another surefire tournament team in its own right -- Saturday afternoon. If there was any doubt in the selection committee's mind, having your All-American reclaim his status with a Bill Walton-esque shooting performance over the best competition your league has to offer should just about shore everything up. Finally.

Boise State: Boise State will be just as thrilled about the aforementioned Bluejays' big win -- all season, Boise State's best bubble credential has been its surprising late-November win at Creighton. That win looks much better now.

But Boise State should mostly thank itself, and by "itself," I mean Derrick Marks. Marks had a McDermott-like day: 38 points on 13 of 18 from the field with 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Most important is he did it in a 78-65 win over Colorado State, a top-20 RPI team and a very good one to boot. (It's worth making a distinction, as teams ranked in the top 20 in the RPI aren't always actually good, but CSU definitely is.) Marks put his team on his back, to steal a phrase from that awesome Marshawn Lynch YouTube video, and the combination of a win over Colorado State and Creighton's big win will put Boise back into the serious at-large conversation -- the fifth team from the nine-team Mountain West to deserve such talk.

Oklahoma: The Sooners snuck up on us this season. It's OK to admit it: No one really expected much in Lon Kruger's second year in Norman, and if there was any expectation at all, it was to keep getting better and maybe surprise a few people in an otherwise-down Big 12. But Kruger's group of unheralded, workmanlike guys has done much more than that. By now, the Sooners have all but locked up an NCAA tournament bid. Sure, sure: There was that loss at Texas earlier in the week, but Oklahoma's convincing win over bubble-stuck Iowa State on Saturday was huge, and the Sooners' computer numbers -- a No. 29 RPI, a No. 9-ranked SOS, a No. 28 nonconference schedule figure -- and big wins over Kansas and Oklahoma State make them impossible to ignore. They have West Virginia and TCU left. If they handle business, they're in.

Massachusetts: It is worth noting, of course, that even after beating Memphis at home this week, Xavier's RPI is still just No. 87. It is also worth noting that the Minutemen's only top-50 win came at La Salle, which, while a decent team, is nobody's idea of a season-defining power. But even after noting all that, we should also note that UMass won at Xavier on Saturday, something the touted Memphis Tigers were unable to do just a few days prior. That definitely counts for something. With a home game against Butler next on the docket, Derek Kellogg's team still has time to make some noise — or at least reverse the damage of last week's loss at St. Bonaventure.

Arkansas: So, what's a home win over Kentucky worth these days, anyway? It's a good question: The Wildcats beat Missouri in their own building just seven days ago, but that's their only top-50 win of the season, and it's safe to say the selection committee won't hold John Calipari's team in vaunted regard with injured forward Nerlens Noel out. So it's hard to know how much this victory can aid Arkansas' late push toward the bubble finish line. But I do know this: It can't hurt. On a day when so much of the rest of the bubble, particularly the SEC versions, seemed intent on imploding, a win over a fellow bubble team counts as a totally positive development. (A win at Missouri on Tuesday would be even better.)

California: Hey, remember when Cal was kind of bad? It happened this season, I swear it did -- it was just Dec. 29 when a depleted Harvard toppled the Bears in Berkeley, after all. You can be forgiven if you don't quite remember, because it hasn't been the case for weeks. On Saturday, Cal rattled off its seventh consecutive win, a 62-46 destruction of visiting Colorado. This stretch began with a win at Arizona and included a home victory over UCLA and a win at Oregon. With no bad losses weighing them down, I'm not sure how the Bears could miss out on the tournament now.

UCLA: The Bruins completed their season sweep of Arizona Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA wasn't really on the bubble -- not like some of these other poor, desperate souls -- but even so, it's safe to say sweeping the Wildcats makes you a lock. This file is officially closed.


Kentucky, Tennessee, and — gulp — Ole Miss: Does anyone from the SEC actually want to go to the NCAA tournament? Is everybody already thinking about spring football? What on Earth is going on?

We talked about Kentucky in the Arkansas blurb; the Wildcats remain one of the more intriguing at-large cases for the committee to handle, but I'm not sure their status as a just-above-the-bubble squad was totally damaged by a loss at Arkansas. And Tennessee, as we mentioned in the intro, managed to lose at Georgia and still move into the bracket. Wait, what? Huh? How does that happen?

[+] EnlargeAndy Kennedy
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsAndy Kennedy has seen Ole Miss turn a 17-2 start into a 21-8 mark after Saturday's ugly loss.
The answer brings us to Ole Miss.

On Saturday, Ole Miss lost to Mississippi State. It's a little bit difficult to explain how bad this loss is without sounding a little bit mean to the Bulldogs, but I don't live in the South, so I don't have to couch my insults with the written equivalent of "Bless your heart": Mississippi State is horrible. Awful. The Bulldogs were riding a 13-game losing streak, to no real fault of theirs or their coach's, as -- thanks to injuries and being at the start of a rebuilding process -- Rick Ray has just seven scholarship players at his command this season. Mississippi State's RPI is No. 236. It began Saturday ranked No. 277 in the efficiency rankings, just one spot below mighty Samford. Many fans believe this to be not only the worst Mississippi State team, but the worst Southeastern Conference team of all time.

That team beat Ole Miss on March 2.

Not only is it a disaster for the Rebels, who have lost in recent weeks at Texas A&M and South Carolina and have turned a 17-2 start into a 21-8 mess, it's also a disaster for coach Andy Kennedy, who began the season on the proverbial hot seat and needed this Ole Miss team to be the redeemed group that got back to the NCAA tournament. It looks less likely than ever that is going to happen. And why? Mississippi State. It doesn't get much worse than that.

Arizona State: Speaking of stalled redemption songs, it's been hard to not root this season for the Sun Devils, who soaked up freshman point guard Jahii Carson's dynamic skill like a sponge en route to a very legitimate spot in the at-large conversation, a far cry from the depths of the let's-just-pretend-it-never-happened 2012 campaign. But Herb Sendek's team appears to be fading a bit late: It fell at home to Washington last Saturday, missed a close one at UCLA on Thursday, and suffered an absolutely brutal 57-56 loss at USC on Saturday. The Washington loss was easily the worst, but because USC began the season so poorly (before it fired coach Kevin O'Neill), a one-point loss looks worse for bubble purposes than it actually is (as USC has been playing really good basketball for about a month). Just tough breaks here.

St. John's: This week, the Red Storm suspended D'Angelo Harrison, one of its most gifted and frustrating players. Whether that departure can be blamed for Saturday's loss is questionable; what I do know is a loss at Providence for a team with an already very shaky bubble case is not a good thing. You probably know that, too. Failing two wins in its final two regular-season games -- at Notre Dame, versus Marquette, good luck -- Steve Lavin's team may well miss the tournament.

Iowa State: Poor Cyclones. Really. Sure, Saturday's 86-69 loss at Oklahoma was ugly on the score line, but a) Oklahoma's good, and b) can you really blame Iowa State? After what happened in Hilton Coliseum this week? Being on the receiving end of one of the worst calls of the season -- in a sport that feels ever more infected by awful officiating -- hurts. Not beating Kansas when you should following an emotionally intense performance. Seeing Fred Hoiberg's young child crying on the sideline hurts. Of course, no one in that locker room will be throwing a pity party, nor should they: Iowa State still has a very good chance of getting into the Dance. But the Wednesday home game against Oklahoma State looms large.

Indiana State: Ah, Sycamores. You thrilled us with your win over Miami at the Diamond Head Classic; you dazzled us with victories at Wichita State and against Creighton. Unfortunately, you've now lost five of your past six, including Saturday's loss at Evansville (RPI: 100) and defeats to Missouri State (RPI: 212), Bradley (RPI: 171) and Drake (RPI: 131). Failing a deep run in Arch Madness, the dream appears to be over.

Akron: Before Saturday's shocking loss at Buffalo, a 12-17 team with an RPI of 241, Akron's last loss came on Dec. 15. Hopefully the committee takes that into account, because this really is a good team. But the margin for error for mid-majors like Akron is always razor-thin. You can't lose random league games to bad opponents, and when you do, you should probably pick a team that isn't Buffalo. It'll be really interesting to see how this résumé will be viewed going forward.


Temple: Temple had just regained its footing. The Owls had a rough, wild February, wherein they played five consecutive one-point games in conference play, a stretch that included a home loss to Duquesne. But things were looking up: A win at UMass, a home non-one-point-win over La Salle, a double-digit win at Charlotte, and Thursday's solid home victory over Detroit all injected a little life into an at-large profile that included a big win over Syracuse, a nice win over Saint Louis, and not much else. And surely the Owls would take care of things at home against Rhode Island on Saturday, right? Wait … right?

Right. Phew. Temple held on for a 76-70 victory over a Rhode Island team that has played a lot of its Atlantic 10 foes really tight in the past two months; shaking the Rams off is no easy feat. (Just ask Saint Louis, which last lost when Rhody upset the Billikens in Saint Louis. True story.) That Temple was able to do so must have elicited a major sigh of relief from fans, and coach Fran Dunphy, and not necessarily in that order.

Cincinnati: It's hard to say Cincinnati would have been in bubble trouble with a home loss to Connecticut on Saturday, but our eyebrows would have been ever so slightly raised. It would have been Cincinnati's fourth straight loss, after all, albeit to three solid-to-great (UConn, Notre Dame, Georgetown) Big East teams. The Bearcats held on for a five-point win over Kevin Ollie's scrappy guys, and there's little reason to raise eyebrows now.


Alabama: When you're a bubble team in the SEC -- oh god, here we go again -- you don't get many opportunities for marquee wins. Missouri is decent but not great, whether in the RPI or otherwise. Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Ole Miss don't come anywhere close. (Obviously.) Really, your only opportunity to drastically change the perception of your team or the trajectory of your season -- or both -- is to beat Florida. Florida's really good. If you can knock the Gators off, you deserve to be viewed differently. If you can do it at Florida? You should probably get into the NCAA tournament on sheer principle, which is why Alabama's 12-point loss in Gainesville on Saturday, while expected, is still a missed opportunity: Shockingly enough, the Crimson Tide had Florida well within striking distance as late as the final two minutes of regulation. That final score is a mirage; this game was close, and Alabama just couldn't quite get there when it counted.

Baylor: It's been easy to poke fun at Baylor this season. The Bears play a wacky zone defense. They've probably underachieved. Those uniforms. Etc. But I refuse to make fun of Baylor after Saturday's absolutely brutal last-second loss. It would be easier than ever. The Bears did inbound the ball out of bounds over the the full length of the court without touching it with one second left, and then allowed Rodney McGruder to get free and fire a game-winning 3-pointer within that one second on the ensuing baseline out-of-bounds play. That's a borderline-comical way to lose. But it's also incredibly brutal.

That is, of course, in part because Baylor desperately needed a big win to buttress its bubble case; the Bears are directly atop the bubble right now, and the biggest flaw in their résumé is their lack of marquee wins. The visit from Kansas State was a plum opportunity to knock off a really good team with a really good résumé, and Baylor was just that close.

"Ouch" doesn't even begin to describe it.

Saturday's conference-clinching scenarios

March, 2, 2013
Here are the scenarios today for teams that have a chance to clinch their regular-season conference title outright. For conferences with two divisions, we use the terminology “will clinch best record” instead of “will clinch conference outright.”

Akron: Will clinch best record in MAC with win at Buffalo and Ohio loss at Bowling Green
Belmont: Will clinch best record in Ohio Valley with win vs. Jacksonville State or Eastern Kentucky loss at Tennessee State
Charleston Southern: Will clinch best record in Big South South Division with win vs. Coastal Carolina
High Point: Will clinch best record in Big South North division with win vs. Campbell
Long Beach State: Will clinch Big West outright with win at UC Irvine or Pacific loss at UC Riverside
Louisiana Tech: Will clinch WAC outright with win vs. San Jose State and Denver loss vs. New Mexico State
Memphis: Will clinch Conference USA outright with win at UCF or Southern Miss loss vs. East Carolina
Mercer: Will clinch Atlantic Sun outright with win at Stetson or Florida Gulf Coast loss vs. Kennesaw State
Miami: Will clinch ACC outright with win at Duke
New Mexico: Will clinch Mountain West outright with win vs. Wyoming and Colorado State loss at Boise State
Niagara: Will clinch MAAC outright with win vs. St. Peter's
South Dakota State: Will clinch Summit League outright with Western Illinois loss vs. South Dakota
Texas Southern: Will clinch SWAC outright with win vs. Alcorn State
Valparaiso: Will clinch Horizon League outright with win at Green Bay or Detroit loss at Illinois-Chicago
Wichita State at Creighton: Winner clinches Missouri Valley outright

Numbers to Know: February in review

March, 1, 2013
Player of the month -- Otto Porter, Georgetown
(November: Mason Plumlee; December: Doug McDermott; January: Kelly Olynyk)

Porter catapulted into the Wooden Award race in February, as he led Georgetown to a 7-0 month. That included a career-best 33 points at Syracuse and a clutch performance at Connecticut. He averaged 19.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.4 APG and a 145.3 offensive rating during the month. But numbers don’t do Porter’s defense justice. Opponents shot just 37 percent against Georgetown in February with Porter a constant presence.

Defensive player of the month -- Zeke Marshall, Akron
(November: Jeff Withey; December: Nerlens Noel; January: Nerlens Noel)

Opponents shoot just 40.8 percent against Akron, fourth lowest in the nation. The Zips are 10th in the nation with 10.3 block percentage. Oh, and they’ve won 19 straight. The 7-footer in the middle was a big reason behind those results, and February showed why. Marshall averaged 7.7 RPG, 3.3 BPG and 1.0 SPG during the month.

Freshman of the month -- Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
(November: Marcus Smart; December: Anthony Bennett; January: Jahii Carson)

Smart led the Cowboys to a 7-1 record in February. His month included 25 points in a win at Kansas and career-high 28 in a win over Oklahoma. His 17.4 PPG ranked fifth among Division I freshmen during the month, while he led all freshmen with 3.1 steals per game. Smart’s game seems to rise to the level of his competition; all seven of his 20-point performances this season have come against likely NCAA tournament teams.

Scorer of the Month – Nate Wolters, South Dakota State
(November: C.J. McCollum; December: Doug McDermott; January: Erick Green)

Wolters led all scorers with 27.6 PPG in February, while shooting 57.7 percent from the field. That included a school-record 53-point performance on February 7 at IPFW. That was the most points in game since Jodie Meeks had 54 in 2009. Wolters also averaged six assists per game during February. He’s the first player to average 27 PPG and 6 APG in February since Earl Boykins and Charles Jones did it in 1998.

Free throw shooter of the month -- Russ Smith, Louisville
(November: Jordan Adams; December: Tyler Haws; January: Lamont Jones)

Once a potential Wooden Award candidate, Smith shot just 35.2 percent from the field in February. It’s a good thing he made up for it at the line. Smith had a 90.8 free throw percentage during the month, while averaging 8.4 makes per game (tied for most in the nation).

3-point shooter of the month -- Marland Smith, Southeast Missouri State
(November: Ryan Sypkens; December: Jordan Price; January: Ian Clark)

Seemingly out of nowhere, Smith emerged as one of the nation’s top long-distance shooters. Entering the month he averaged 7.8 PPG with a 33.3 3-point field goal percentage. But in February, he averaged 17.4 PPG and shot 62.0 percent from beyond the arc. That included nine 3s against Eastern Illinois, tying a school record.

Rebounder of the month -- Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
(November: Jamelle Hagins; December: Andre Roberson; January: Richard Howell)

Tennessee emerged as a tournament contender in February, and Stokes’ rebounding played a key role. He averaged 11.4 RPG during the month, fourth in the nation. The Volunteers have outrebounded opponents in 11 of their past 12 games. Stokes is on track for Tennessee’s highest single-season rebounding average since Steve Hamer in 1995-96.

Distributor of the month -- Vincent Council, Providence
(November: Michael Carter-Williams; December: Trey Burke; January: D.J. Cooper)

Council finished fifth in the nation with 7.7 APG in February, and his 3.8 assist-to-turnover ratio separated him from the point guard pack. Over the last five games, he’s handed out 37 assists compared to just six turnovers. Providence started 2-7 in Big East play, but has won five of six in February. Council also made Big East history in February, passing Sherman Douglas for the most assists in conference games.

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

February, 28, 2013
Here are the latest mid-major power rankings for as voted upon by our national panel. I also vote in this poll, which does not include teams from the Atlantic 10, Conference USA or Mountain West.

A quick look at the panel:

Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) covers Horizon League basketball for the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Richard Kilwien (@smcgaels) is the associate athletic director for external affairs at Saint Mary's College.

Leslie Wilhite (@Leslie_Wilhite, @MT_MBB) is in her second season as an assistant director of athletic communications at Middle Tennessee.

Dusty Luthy Shull (@DustyLuthyShull) covers Murray State athletics for The Paducah (Ky.) Sun.

John Templon (@nybuckets) writes about New York City and East Coast mid-major college basketball for his website,

Thomas Chen (@thomasmchen) is in his third year as director of athletic communications at Stony Brook University.

Terry Vandrovec (@terryvandrovec) covers South Dakota State basketball for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Mid-Major Power Rankings: Week 10
  1. Gonzaga (27-2, 14-0 WCC). Future NBA big man Kelly Olynyk has led the Zags to the top of the WCC.
  2. Middle Tennessee (25-4, 17-1 Sun Belt). The Blue Raiders have defeated their past two opponents by 35 points and 41 points, respectively.
  3. Akron (23-4, 13-0 MAC). The Zips cracked the latest coaches’ poll. They haven’t lost since Dec. 15.
  4. Saint Mary’s (25-5, 13-2 WCC). Saturday’s win over Creighton enhanced the Gaels’ at-large profile.
  5. Belmont (23-6, 13-2 Ohio Valley). The Bruins’ three-game winning streak includes a lopsided win over Ohio last weekend.
  6. Bucknell (24-5, 11-2 Patriot League). The Bison sealed the Patriot League regular-season crown with their three-game winning streak.
  7. Creighton (23-7, 12-5 MVC). Wednesday night's victory over Bradley sets up a huge showdown with Wichita State on Saturday.
  8. Wichita State (24-6, 12-5 MVC). Shockers can secure a No. 1 seed in the MVC tourney with a win over Creighton.
  9. Louisiana Tech (24-3, 14-0 WAC). The Bulldogs, who haven’t lost since Dec. 12, earned the No. 25 slot in the latest AP poll.
  10. Stephen F. Austin (23-3, 13-2 Southland). The Lumberjacks control the Southland but they’ll need a league tourney title to get an NCAA bid.
  11. Valparaiso (23-7, 12-3 Horizon). The Crusaders are a game ahead of Detroit with one regular-season contest to play.
  12. Davidson (22-7, 16-1 Southern). The Wildcats have won 13 in a row and they defeated Montana in overtime on Saturday.
  13. Stony Brook (21-6, 12-2 America East). The Seawolves have four players who are averaging at least 8.8 points per game.
  14. BYU (20-9, 9-5 WCC). The Cougars have lost three of their past five games.
  15. Ohio (20-8, 11-2 MAC). The Bobcats have lost two in a row, including a heartbreaker in overtime against Akron Wednesday night.
Team of the Week: Prior to its recent success, Evansville had lost four of its past five games. But the Aces have finished strong. They won their third consecutive game 59-56 Wednesday night at Wichita State. The victory also ensures they’ll end the regular season with a .500 record (or better) in conference play. That’s a solid turnaround for this program.

Player of the Week: Delaware’s Devon Saddler, a 6-foot-2 junior guard, has led the Fightin’ Blue Hens to a top-three finish in the CAA with his efforts in their past three games, all close contests. Last week, he scored 31 points in a 73-71 double-overtime win against Drexel. He followed that performance with 24 points (10-for-20 from the field) in a 79-78 win at UNC-Wilmington on Saturday. And Wednesday night, he scored 19 points in a 57-56 victory at Hofstra.

  • Montana’s Big Sky tourney plans may have changed with recent injuries to top contributors Mathias Ward and Will Cherry. Cherry re-injured the foot he broke prior to the start of the season in last weekend’s BracketBusters loss to Davidson. And Ward suffered a sprained arch in his left foot in a win over Idaho State during the previous weekend. Both could be unavailable or limited in the postseason.
  • North Dakota State’s Taylor Braun, the program’s top scorer, was rusty Tuesday night, going 0-for-4 in 18 minutes of a 63-56 win over Utah Valley State. It was his first game back after missing 10 games with a foot injury. The Bison are a game behind South Dakota State for first place in the Summit League. If the Jackrabbits get past Omaha-Nebraska on Thursday night, they’ll win the league title. But North Dakota State, with the conference’s best defensive unit (34th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy) could be the favorite to win the conference tourney now that Braun has returned.
  • Dan Monson has done it again. Long Beach State (13-2 in conference play) is in command of the Big West with three games to play (Pacific is 3.5 games behind the 49ers). This team is not as fluid as last season's veteran crew. But with transfers Keala King (Arizona State) and James Ennis (17.1 ppg), the 49ers are certainly skilled as they prepare for another run at the Big West tournament title and the league’s automatic bid.

3-point shot: Jim Calhoun in a good place

February, 28, 2013
1. The seven non-FBS Big East schools have always wanted to exit for the 2013-14 season if they could get out in time and the TV deal -- with Fox -- was done. The problem is they can’t and don’t want to leave, according to a high-level source within the seven, until they have secured the other three schools to be a 10-team league. The seven are confident, though, that they can extract three schools (likely Butler, Xavier and one other) on short notice. The Atlantic 10 confirmed that it would cost each school $2 million to get out early, money that won’t be an issue for the seven and Fox to offset. The logistics of setting up a league, including soccer in August, are what could keep the seven in the Big East until the fall of 2014.

2. I sat next to Jim Calhoun for Wednesday night’s Connecticut-Georgetown game at Gampel Pavilion and it was like taking a class in basketball. Calhoun was informative, analytical and calm in describing the action in front of us. He only got excited when Omar Calhoun hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at the end of regulation. I cannot get over how much at peace Calhoun is in his “retirement.” I wasn’t sure he would be after making the decision in the fall. But he really is in such a good space. He seems as healthy, physically and emotionally, as he has been in years.

3. Akron might not have the profile to be a lock as an at-large NCAA team, but it would be a shame if the Zips don't get a bid if they can’t win the Mid-American Conference tournament. Akron won in overtime at rival Ohio on Wednesday to go to 13-0, 23-4 overall with three games remaining. The Zips haven’t lost since Dec. 15 at Detroit, winning 19 in a row. This is a team I want to see in the Dance -- and probably one many coaches don’t. Akron can win games in mid-March. The committee doesn’t need to change its prescription to see that this team passes the eye test quite well.