College Basketball’s “League Pass” Teams

By Kevin Sweeney

Named for the NBA’s TV package “NBA League Pass”, the discussion of the best “League Pass teams” in the NBA has been floated many times. The premise is simple: if you could only watch a certain number of teams in the entire NBA (5 is a common number to debate), which would they be? So, while us college basketball fans have the luxury of accessing tons of teams through ESPN3 and other online streams, it’s still an interesting hypothetical concept to be brought to a discussion about college basketball. After getting a massive amount of feedback yesterday to the tweet below, I’ve put together my list of 10 college basketball “League Pass teams”.

Oklahoma

There were only a couple teams that felt like locks for this list, but the Sooners were definitely one of them. Who doesn’t want to watch an incredibly efficient offense led by one of the best and most exciting players in college basketball? Norman native Trae Young has been a revelation for Lon Kruger, averaging nearly 29 points and 9 assists per game in an early push for the Wooden Award. The Sooners share the ball, get great looks, and play at an extremely fun tempo, and I can’t wait to watch them more as conference play gets going.

Nevada

If you like the new wave of positionless basketball, I invite you to turn on a Nevada game. You won’t be disappointed. The Wolf Pack can spread you out and attack the rim, or get cooking from 3 and start pouring on points in a hurry. Eric Musselman has assembled a roster nearly exclusively made up of transfers, and that influx of talent has given Nevada a roster that resembles that of any high-major team in the country.

UNLV

Staying in the Mountain West, we pivot to Nevada’s in-state rival at UNLV, which has been one of college basketball’s biggest surprises thus far. Senior point guard Jordan Johnson is all kinds of fun to watch create offense despite is generously-listed 5-9 frame, and the Rebels’ 2 stud recruits in center Brandon McCoy and power forward Shakur Juiston are each averaging double-doubles. They get up and down the floor, make plays, and are definitely one of the most fun-to-watch teams in college basketball.

Duke

If you watch college basketball, chances are you have a strong opinion one way or another about Duke basketball. They are always interesting, but they are especially interesting this year with a transcendent talent in Marvin Bagley and the most controversial player in college basketball in Grayson Allen. The Blue Devils are as explosive offensively as any team in the country, but more importantly, college basketball would be missing something without the Dukies.

Virginia

This is the team that will likely draw the most criticism for its inclusion, but I’m a huge fan of watching Virginia basketball. It may not bring the same excitement that a game featuring powerhouse offenses like Oklahoma or Duke would, but the Cavaliers are always extremely disciplined, well-coached, and play tremendous defense. Plus, it wouldn’t be fun to only watch offensive-minded clubs all the time, would it?

Arizona State

The biggest surprise of the college basketball season has been the scorching start the Sun Devils have been on, capped with an incredible win at Allen Fieldhouse yesterday against Kansas. ASU has perhaps the best backcourt in college basketball with Tra Holder and Shannon Evans leading the way, and freshman big man Romello White has been dominant to open his career in Tempe. At this stage in the game, the Sun Devils are a top 5 team in the country and certainly a team you wouldn’t want to miss.

Villanova

If I were building a basketball team, I’d want it to look like Villanova. The Wildcats are a machine, a model of consistency despite the up-and-down nature of college basketball. They cut well, run extremely efficient offense, and play unselfishly. Definitely a must-watch team in college basketball.

ncaa-villanova-north-carolina-final-basketball

Jay Wright is one of the elite coaches in college basketball and makes his team incredibly fun to watch. Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP

UT-Arlington

As a mid-major lover, I had to get some true one-bid flavor in this group. And who better to do that with than UT-Arlington, which features one of the best duos in all of college basketball in Erick Neal and Kevin Hervey. Neal is the fearless, undersized creator that most mid-major coaches could only dream about landing, and Hervey is a legit NBA prospect at 6-9 with his ability to space the floor. The Mavs have shown the ability to pull upsets in the past (last season’s road wins at St. Mary’s and Texas come to mind) and they should be a team to watch in March.

Arizona

Since before the season even began, there was plenty of reason to care about the Wildcats. After assistant Book Richardson was arrested as part of the FBI investigation that shook the college basketball world, there was a lot of talk about the Arizona program. Then, a promising season appeared to be on the brink after a disastrous 0-3 weekend at the Battle 4 Atlantis. However, the Wildcats have rebounded well from that trip and once again look like one of the most talented and complete teams in college basketball.

Florida

The Gators have struggled of late, but it’s hard to forget the display they put on at the PK80 late last month, where they went 2-1 that played an exciting brand of basketball and took Duke wire-to-wire. Jalen Hudson is incredible at making uber-tough shots, and Chris Chiozza is the engine that runs the Gators at both ends of the floor. Combine that with a great X & O coach in Mike White, and UF still makes my list despite their recent skid.

Three Key Takeaways from WVU – Virginia

By Brendan Crowley

A rivalry game with big national implications went down on Tuesday night in Morgantown, as West Virginia won its 8th straight with a 68-61 thrilling victory over #15 Virginia. Despite the Mountaineers not being able to impose their up-tempo style on the game, they were able to come away with a huge home victory behind a big game from star senior guard Jevon Carter. Here are 3 key takeaways from what was one of the best games of a packed Tuesday night slate:

  1. Virginia’s Bench – The Cavs will be near the top of the ACC by year’s end there’s no questioning that, but in order for them to make that next step and become a contender in the conference they’ll need more scoring outside of Devon Hall and Kyle Guy. Both were sensational last night, as they’ve been all year, the guards’ 37 combined points is what kept UVA in the game during the 2nd half. Other players will have to step up to create their own shot as the season goes along with Guy receiving more and more attention each night.
  2. Pressure. Pressure. Pressure.- The Mountaineers have had a stifling defense all season and their ability to keep the Cavs on their toes the entire second half is what ultimately led to a West Virginia win. The Cavaliers’ 14 turnovers turned into points on the other end for the entirety of the game.
  3. Jevon Carter is the REAL DEAL – Last year’s Big12 defensive player of the year is back and better than ever before. He’s leading the nation in steals at a staggering 4.5 steals per game (yes,you read that correctly). Carter filled the stat sheet against the Cavs with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists along with going 9/10 from the free throw line. West Virginia’s returning players will have a major impact moving forward and expect this team to continue its winning ways as the Mountaineers will next take a road trip to Pittsburgh.

See the source image

Loyola Romps UIC in All-Chicago Rivalry Game

By Kevin Sweeney

Coming off a blowout defeat to Boise State on Tuesday night for its first loss of the season, one had to wonder how Loyola would come out in a tough home test against UIC.

Let’s just say the Ramblers passed with flying colors.

Loyola used a 23-2 run in the middle of the first half to grab a 20+ point lead they would never come close to relinquishing to claim a 85-61 victory over crosstown and former Horizon League rival UIC Sunday afternoon at Gentile Arena. Senior Aundre Jackson led all scorers with 23 points on 10-11 shooting in just 21 minutes of action for the Ramblers, who move to 8-1 on the season.

UIC was without sophomore point guard Tarkus Ferguson after it was announced he had suffered a stress fracture in his foot, and the Flames never looked comfortable without their floor general. 13 first half turnovers led to 16 Rambler points. UIC head coach Steve McClain took 3 of his 4 available timeouts in the first half, as he did everything he could to try to get his team back on track. But the Ramblers were on a roll and could not be stopped.

It starts off with our defense,” freshman guard Lucas Williamson said. “When we are getting stops and then we go down and hit shots, then we feel unstoppable.”

It was promising sign after promising sign for the Ramblers throughout the contest, with the continued emergence of a pair of freshmen in center Cameron Krutwig and guard Lucas Williamson. Krutwig was a steadying force, stuffing the stat sheet with 9 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds. It was his passing ability that was most impressive, as he made several great passes to set up open looks for his teammates.

“He’s a phenomenal passer for any position, Loyola head coach Porter Moser said. “He has great anticipation, great vision.”

Moser and his team were visibly excited by the turnout for the game, as the Ramblers had a season-high 3,024 in attendance. That included a large student turnout that was lined up to get in an hour before tip-off.

“I can’t tell the students and everybody how grateful I am that they’ve come and I want them to come back,” Moser said. “It’s a different energy when it’s full in there [Gentile Arena].”

For UIC, it’s the fourth straight loss, as the Flames fall to 2-5 on the season. Marcus Ottey led the way with 16 points on 6-9 from the field.

Loyola also got 14 points from Williamson and 10 points from Clayton Custer. Highly-touted JUCO product Adarius Avery made his season debut with an impressive 7 points and 3 rebounds in 12 minutes. The Ramblers travel to Gainesville to take on #6 Florida on Wednesday night.

REPORT: CSUB To Join Big West

By Kevin Sweeney

Conference realignment is back at it again. 1 day after it was reported that UC-San Diego would be moving up from Division 2 to join the Big West, Stephen Hicks of ABC Channel 23 in Bakersfield is reporting that Cal State Bakersfield will be leaving the WAC to join the Big West. CSUB will begin its affiliation with the Big West effective July 1, 2018 but will not be eligible to compete for championships until July of 2020, per a press release from the University. CSUB will remain in the WAC until 2020, but presidents and AD’s will attend meetings beginning in 2018.

The move is a surprising one. CSUB had been rumored in the past to have interest in moving to the Big West, but nothing had ever materialized for a variety of reasons. Now, after the most successful run in program history that included a trip to the NCAA Tournament and a run to MSG in the NIT last season, the Roadrunners depart the unstable WAC and head to the more geographically-friendly Big West.

However, this leaves the future of the WAC in serious doubt. UMKC has been rumored to likely be in their final year of WAC play, while both Grand Canyon and New Mexico State have partaken in discussions about moving out of the WAC in recent years. While the league does have Cal Baptist joining beginning next year, this could wind up being a crushing blow to the future of the conference, as it leaves the WAC even more unstable should one of the league’s 2 premier programs decide to depart. The one saving grace is that the WAC does have a bit of time to get its affairs in order if you will, but there will remain very serious questions about the future of this conference going forward.

From a basketball perspective, the move is a no-brainer for the Big West, which has struggled of late. The move could boost recruiting efforts in California for future classes for CSUB, helping them continue their rise as a mid-major power and boost the Big West’s level for years to come.

Is the A10 Headed Towards Being a 1-Bid League?

By Kevin Sweeney

One of the biggest stories in college basketball so far this season has been the Atlantic 10’s early struggles, and yesterday saw those early-season woes come to a crescendo. The league went 0-5 yesterday, losing a pair of games to somewhat comparable foes, a buy game, and a pair of high-major losses.

  • Miami (FL) 57, La Salle 46
  • Louisiana-Lafayette 82, Richmond 76
  • Fresno State 79, George Mason 73
  • Detroit Mercy 72, St. Louis 70
  • Michigan 68, VCU 60

Individually, none of those results were too stunning. However, all of them together combined with how the league had performed leading up to yesterday’s action create major concerns that we could see only the conference tournament champion make the Big Dance this season.

We came into the season believing the A10 might be down a bit this season given coaching changes this offseason at the league’s two premiere programs: Dayton and VCU. However, early bad losses by St. Bonaventure (Niagara), St. Joseph’s (Toledo), Dayton (Hofstra), St. Louis (Detroit) and Richmond (Delaware, Jacksonville State, Louisiana-Lafayette) have given several at-large hopefuls early setbacks, while VCU, Rhode Island, and the surprising Davidson have all whiffed in their chances for quality wins. Meanwhile, the league has also been hit with some key injuries, with Rhode Island losing EC Matthews for 4-6 weeks with a wrist injury, St. Joe’s losing Lamarr Kimble for the season with a foot injury, and Khwan Fore still returning to 100% after missing Richmond’s first 3 games with a leg injury.

The league also just doesn’t feel as deep as I thought it would. Richmond has been as disappointing as any in college basketball so far, as they sit at 1-4. George Mason sits at 3-3 after a tough weekend in Cancun and struggled with Lafayette (PA) and CSUN earlier this season before pulling out wins. Dayton went 1-2 in the Charleston Classic with the aforementioned loss to Hofstra as well as a comfortable defeat to Old Dominion.

Meanwhile, the opportunities aren’t plentiful for some of these teams to turn things around and grab some big wins. St. Bonaventure was without Jaylen Adams in their loss to Niagara, but won’t get too many chances for great wins to overcome that defeat. The big opportunities lie this weekend, when they take on Maryland and then either TCU or New Mexico in the Emerald Coast Classic. However, the margin for error is now very thin for the Bonnies. Despite going 1-2, VCU impressed me in Maui this week but will need to pick up some good wins. Rhode Island lost their only major test so far (Nevada) and will now have to find some good wins in the OOC without Matthews. And while Davidson’s explosive offense drew lots of headlines in their first two games, they were clearly mismatched athletically when they traveled to Reno to take on Nevada earlier this week and fell 81-68.

My final concern for the A10 is that I see the league “cannabalizing” itself in conference play. Simply put, I don’t see a team that will run away with things and dominate the conference, nor do I see a clear top 2 or 3 teams head and shoulders above the rest. I see a lot of teams in that 9-13 conference win range, and while that will create a tremendous race in February, it will be an uphill battle to earn at-large bids that way.

In a few weeks, we may look back at this piece and laugh if the A10 can recover quickly. However, it’s very possible we are talking in March about the A10 earning just one bid for the first time since the 2004-05 season.

Sharp Shooting Gives the Golden Eagles a 2nd Half Boost vs. VCU

 By Brendan Crowley

The opening game of the always captivating Maui Invitational didn’t disappoint, this fast paced matchup between Marquette and VCU had everyone on the edge of their seats from tip-off to the final buzzer. Entering the game it was assumed that the up-tempo play of the Rams would make this a high scoring game, however no one could have expected a 94-83 marathon.

The Eagles struggled to shoot from outside in the first half but point guard Andrew Rowsey’s 15 points kept them in the lead, 45-44, entering the break. Their quick passing and ability to be patient on offense was what gave them that edge and it reflected on the scoreboard despite poor shooting from the perimeter. It was only a matter of time before the Eagles began their three-point barrage at the beginning of the 2nd half.

 

Guard Andrew Rowsey huddles the Golden Eagles together following a 1st half lay-in from Howard.

 

Sophomore guard Markus Howard, the nation’s top 3-point shooter just a season ago, got things clicking for the Eagles in the 2nd and his 3-point shooting was the catalyst that gave Marquette the lead early on. Between Howard’s four 2nd half three-pointers and contributions from Sam Hauser (20 points) not only in the paint but beyond the arc as well, Marquette was able to build an 8 point lead with 15 minutes remaining and never looked back. VCU’s inability to communicate on defense and rotate with the ball led to their demise as second chance looks for Marquette allowed them to take this game over.

The Rams’ ‘havoc’ defense worked well in forcing 17 turnovers, but it left them out of place on defense and led to a number of transition hoops and mismatches in favor of Marquette. Markus Howard’s 18 2nd half points along with great shooting from Hauser and Rowsey led to this huge team win for Marquette. Steve Wojciechowski’s squad advances to play the nation’s #6 team Wichita State for the first semifinal matchup of the Maui Invitational this afternoon. VCU will head to the loser’s bracket and match up with a scrappy Cal squad that was leading Wichita by 18 at one point in their quarterfinal matchup.

 

Custer’s Flawless Night Leads Loyola Past Samford

By Kevin Sweeney

A 22-point lead for Loyola was quickly vanishing, and the Ramblers were without starting guard Ben Richardson.

“Adversity. You could feel it, you could cut it in the arena,” Loyola head coach Porter Moser said. “I loved how we answered it coming out of that.”

Moser had good reason to be pleased with his club’s performance, as Loyola held off a hard-charging Samford rally and pulled away late to claim an 86-67 victory Sunday afternoon at Gentile Arena in Chicago. Clayton Custer led the way with 18 points and a career-high 9 assists without a turnover for the Ramblers.

“For Clayton Custer to play that many minutes against that style, against quick guards, and have 9 assists and no turnovers, that’s really, really difficult to do,” Moser said.

Loyola was in control early on, leading for nearly 17 of the 20 first-half minutes and using a 23-8 half-closing run to turn a 19-18 deficit into a 41-27 lead at the break.

Early in the second, it appeared the game was headed towards a blowout, as the Ramblers exploded out of the gates with a 13-5 spurt capped by a triple by Custer to claim a 22-point lead less than 5 minutes into the second half. However, Samford wouldn’t go away easily, amping up the pressure all 94 feet and getting Loyola out of rhythm. It was at that point when you could really feel the absense of Richardson, who is out 4-6 weeks with a broken hand. That 22 point edge slipped down to just 8 with under 10 minutes to play in the ballgame, but the Ramblers kept their composure and held off the hard-charging Bulldogs.

“It just showed our togetherness and our poise to finish games,” redshirt junior guard Marques Townes said. “It was good to see that we finally finished out a game strong.”

Samford kept fighting behind 13 second half points from Christen Cunningham, but the Ramblers were able to pull away late. A monster slam by sophomore guard Cameron Satterwhite seemed to put a close to any comeback hopes the Bulldogs had.

Townes had 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists for the Ramblers, who move to 4-0 on the season. Donte Ingram added 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks.

Samford falls to 1-3. Cunningham finished with 17 points and 5 assists on 7-10 shooting, while leading scorer Demetrius Denzel-Dyson had a quiet 14 points.

The game was a campus site game played as part of the Savannah Invitational.