To Foul Up Three or To Not Foul Up Three

Today on the show, Brad and Kevin dissect a wild week in college basketball. First, Brad rants about Providence electing not to foul up 3 and their loss to Georgetown. Then, plenty of analysis of Ole Miss’s great week, Duke’s comeback win, rough weeks for several top-25 clubs, and San Francisco’s tilt with Gonzaga. All that and so much more right here on the CBB Central Podcast.

Loyola Survives Illinois State, Moves to 3-1 in Valley Play

By Kevin Sweeney

There are a million ways to win a game.

A comment often made by Loyola head coach Porter Moser was turned around on him postgame by senior Marques Townes, who greeted him in the locker room with those nine words.

It’s not often you’ll win a college basketball game against a conference rival when you don’t make a field goal in the game’s final 6:16, but that’s exactly what Loyola did Saturday at Gentile Arena. The Ramblers held on for a 67-64 victory, sending a sellout crowd that fought the elements to make the trip home happy.

“You would have been looking at a quarantine game four or five years ago,” Moser said postgame, noting the snowstorm hitting Chicago and Loyola students not yet back on campus for the spring semester.

Unable to score down the stretch, the Ramblers turned to their defense to win them the game.

Moser said postgame that to win close games in such a competitive conference, you have to do three things down the stretch: take care of the ball, make your free throws, and get defensive stops.

That’s exactly what they did, getting several key stops late in the ballgame including one on the final possession of the game. They also made all four free throws in the final minute.

On that fateful possession, Loyola locked in, taking ISU out of their rhythm and forcing a deep, contested three by Zach Copeland that didn’t fall. Notably, Redbird star wing Milik Yarbrough wasn’t in the game for that final possession after he committed a turnover on a critical possession with under a minute to play.

Postgame, ISU head coach Dan Muller said that leaving Yarbrough on the bench for the final possession was strategic, attempting to put more shooters on the floor needing a three to tie.

After a putrid offensive showing Tuesday night against Evansville, the Ramblers came out firing on all cylinders in the first half. Loyola posted 40 first-half points after scoring just 48 the entire game against Evansville, shooting 59% from the field and not committing a single turnover.

“After the game [against Evansville] we were all pretty disappointed and the locker room was pretty intense,” sophomore big man Cameron Krutwig said. “We responded really well with some great days of practice.”

Despite the dynamic offensive half, Loyola couldn’t put away the Redbirds in the first, with a few costly mistakes complimented by a few big buckets by Yarbrough and senior guard Keyshawn Evans kept the Redbirds within six at the break.

The Loyola lead ballooned out to as many as 12 in the second half, as the Ramblers took a 50-38 lead on a 3-point play by Townes with 15:06 to go in the game. Townes finished with 21 points on 9-18 shooting to lead all scorers, continuing a strong senior campaign.

Asked postgame whether Townes is an underappreciated player in the conference, Moster said “He’s surely not underappreciated with us.” Townes ranks in the top ten in the conference in points produced, minutes, assists, and field goal percentage. He also leads the league in defensive win shares, per Sports Reference.

The Redbirds didn’t fold, immediately going on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to just 3. They also locked in defensively, holding Loyola to just 39% from the field in the second after the 59% performance in the first.

But when it came to winning time, Illinois State just couldn’t quite get over the hump, failing to execute on several key late-game offensive possessions that could have gave them the lead.

Beyond Townes’ 21, Loyola also got 13 points each from Krutwig and senior point guard Clayton Custer. However, Moser emphasized that he’s still looking for more bench production beyond freshman Cooper Kaifes, who gave the Ramblers eight points in 24 minutes.

The Redbirds fall to 9-8 and 2-2 in MVC play, a disappointing mark for a team that came into the season as one of the favorites in the conference. They were led by Milik Yarbrough’s 19 points and 10 rebounds along with Keyshawn Evans’ 16 points.

 

 

Dixie State to Move Up to D1, Join WAC

By Kevin Sweeney

The Division 1 basketball ranks continue to grow.

Dixie State University will be the latest program to make the jump to D1, as they announced in a joint release that the University will join the WAC beginning July 1, 2020. They will be the 355th Division 1 team, with Savannah State dropping down to Division 2 following the 2018-19 season, Merrimack joining the NEC in 2019, and UC San Diego joining the Big West in 2020.

For the WAC, it’s the latest program they’ve helped make the move up as the league attempts to remain viable. The addition of Grand Canyon has certainly earned the conference significant notoriety given the ‘Lopes’ early D1 success. More recently, the league added Cal Baptist, which sits at 9-7 in its first season of D1.

Like GCU and CBU, Dixie State has the potential to have immediate success in the WAC. DSU has an on-campus arena that seats over 4,700 and has been a consistently competitive D2 program. The Trailblazers haven’t won fewer than 18 games in a season since 2008, including a 23-7 mark last season. DSU also beat UNLV in an exhibition in 2013 and lost by 2 to Wyoming this season.

The men’s basketball program is coached by Jon Judkins, who has been their coach for their entire D2 era.

burns arena

Burns Arena, home of Dixie State basketball. Photo Credit: St. George Sports Commission

“Dixie State University is located in the fastest growing city in America and in a state that is supporting higher education at unprecedented levels,” Brian Mueller, Chairman of the WAC’s Board of Directors said per a release. “The university has a growing student body and is investing in excellence in their academic and athletic programs. They have some outstanding athletic facilities, including a Division I level basketball arena. Like Grand Canyon and California Baptist, Dixie State will be competitive immediately and will be a strong contributor to the continued growth of the Western Athletic Conference.”

Dixie State will have to go through a four-year Division 1 transition process where they will be ineligible for postseason play before becoming full members of Division 1 beginning in the 2024-25 academic year.

The WAC will now have nine programs as of 2020. As of now, Dixie State will be an FCS Football independent as the WAC does not offer football, though rumors have swirled of possible further WAC expansion that would eventually create a WAC FCS football conference.

First Year Coaches Getting Job Done Quicker than Expected

By Kevin Sweeney

Every year, it feels like a few first-year head coaches shock us with their ability to win big in their first year with their new program. Taking over for a fired coach at the mid-major level is difficult– the number of immediately-eligible impact players likely to commit to mid-majors in April is very low. That makes it that much more impressive what the six coaches below have done so far– uncover some underrecruited stars or make big systematic changes while developing inherited talent.

Justin Hutson (Fresno State)

Record: 12-3 (3-0 MWC)
Big Wins: Northwestern, Cal, @ Utah State

Hutson has made Bullldog fans forget about losing Rodney Terry pretty quickly and is off to a terrific start to his first career head-coaching gig. With a roster lacking size but loaded with guard talent, Hutson has implemented a spread offense that puts his playmakers in positions to succeed, and guards Deshon Taylor, Braxton, Huggins, and New Williams have all thrived. Hutson has also aided in the breakout junior season of 6-8 Nate Grimes, who has established himself a strong inside presence on both ends. With a NET of 63 and a KenPom of 59, it’s not out of the question that the Bulldogs could steal an at-large bid with a couple bigs in MWC play.

Darian DeVries (Drake)

Record (12-4, 1-2 MVC)
Big Wins: New Mexico State, San Diego

The fourth coach in the last 3 seasons for Drake, DeVries has done a magnificent job in year one. The former Creighton assistant brought in a pair of key grad transfers in Nick Norton (UAB) and Brady Ellingson (Iowa) along with JUCO and prep recruits to rebuild quickly after inheriting a roster that lost five of its top six scorers this offseason. The Bulldogs appeared in position to contend for a conference title, but those hopes were likely dashed when Norton tore his ACL in the team’s MVC opener. Still, you have to love the direction this program is headed in long-term, and a 20-win year for the first time since the Keno Davis 28-5 season in 2007-08 is more than attainable.

Dusty May (FAU)

Record: 10-5 (1-1 CUSA)
Big Wins: @ UCF, @ Illinois

Like DeVries, some of the luster of this year has been lost by recent injuries, as May has lost star 4-man Jailyn Ingram and talented freshman wing Jaylen Sebree to season-ending injuries, while grad transfer Xavian Stapleton has also missed time but is expected back soon. Those injuries haven’t stopped May’s group from pulling some big upsets in the non-conference season over UCF and Illinois, and the Owls are well on track for their best-ever finish in Conference USA.

Craig Smith (Utah State)

Record: 11-5 (1-2 MWC)
Big Wins: Saint Mary’s

My friends over at Three Man Weave did an awesome job breaking down the X’s and O’s of why Smith’s Utah State team has been so good this season, so I will keep it short in that area. Smith made a game-changing August addition in Portuguese big man Neemias Queta who has made a huge impact, especially on the defensive end. Combine Queta’s interior presence with Sam Merrill’s ability to get buckets, and you have something special on your hands. Smith made a living off uncovering hidden gems with great success at South Dakota, and it appears he’s already found one in Queta. If he finds a couple more, he’ll have this Utah State program rocking and rolling for a long time.

Griff Aldrich (Longwood)

Record: 10-6 (0-1 Big South)
Big Wins: @ Richmond

Longwood’s combined D1 record in the 14 seasons before Griff Aldrich arrived in Farmville? 130-312.

Griff Aldrich’s record so far at Longwood? 10-6.

That’s impressive no matter how you slice it, especially he wasn’t a college coach until 2016 when he joined Ryan Odom’s UMBC staff as Director of Basketball Operations. The Lancers rely heavily on the 3-point shot, taking move than half of their shots this season from downtown. With three excellent veteran guards in Isaiah Walton, Lorenzo Phillips, and JaShaun Smith, this team can compete with anyone in the Big South.

Walter McCarty (Evansville)

Record: 8-8 (2-1 MVC)
Big Wins: Ball State, Loyola-Chicago

Few doubted McCarty would get this Evansville program going when he landed Kansas transfer Sam Cunliffe during his first summer as head coach. I just didn’t expect it to happen this fast.

After returning just 3 players who averaged more than 2.8 points per game last season, McCarty has worked his magic to get this team to .500. The Aces have implemented a pro-style offense emphasizing spacing, with dynamic wing KJ Riley (14.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.2 apg) the primary beneficiary. Once McCarty gets his guys into his system, watch out.

New Year’s Reset: Conference Champion Picks

By Kevin Sweeney

It’s a busy time in college basketball.

As the calendar turns over to 2019, the college hoops season hits its stride: conference play. For the last seven or so weeks, teams have tried to build their resumes in the non-conference, and now we finally get the good stuff. Based on everything that has transpired so far, I’m ready to adjust some of my conference champion picks from my 32×32 preview series.

NOTE: These are regular season champion picks, not who I think will win the conference tournament.

America East: Stony Brook

Preseason Pick: Vermont

This adjustment has more to do with how the Seawolves are playing than Vermont not living up to preseason expectations. The Catamounts have gotten absurd production from junior star big Anthony Lamb and have accumulated a 9-4 record despite a tough non-conference slate. Still, it’s hard to ignore what Jeff Boals has done with this Stony Brook team, leading them to FOUR! buy game wins already this season. The Seawolves have taken the next step on the offensive end from last season and should be a dangerous 14/15 seed come March, if they can get past Vermont.

American: Houston

Preseason Pick: UCF

I came into the season down on pretty much every team in the AAC’s ability to score the basketball. Top choices to win the league UCF, Houston, and Cincinnati all profiled as elite defensive groups that could struggle on offense. The Cougars have come out better than expected on offense and still elite on D, and that’s a big reason they are still undefeated heading into conference play. The Cougars have several versatile players who can make shots, and Armoni Brooks has blossomed into a legit AAC POY candidate. This is a clear top-25 team.

ACC: Virginia

Preseason Pick: Virginia

Duke has exceeded my preseason expectations, but in terms of winning a regular season title I trust this Virginia team just a bit more than the Blue Devils. De’Andre Hunter has blossomed into the star most expected him to be, and the introduction of scrappy freshman Kihei Clark has allowed Ty Jerome to play more off the ball, where he has thrived. Another 30+ win season is in the cards for Tony Bennett’s club, one 65-47 win at a time.

Atlantic Ten: VCU

Preseason Pick: St. Louis

After a down 2017-18 season, most didn’t know what to expect from the Rams in Mike Rhoades’ second season as head coach. However, VCU has turned things around nicely, relying on a top-10 defense that’s forcing tons of turnovers to put itself back at the top of the A10. Wins over Texas and Temple in the non-conference were impressive, and the Rams were in every game they’ve played so far. In a wide-open A10, I trust this team more than the other contenders.

Atlantic Sun: Lipscomb

Preseason Pick: Lipscomb

No change here, despite Liberty’s strong start to the year. Lipscomb has been super impressive, beating TCU on the road before pushing Louisville to the brink. The Bisons have improved on defense from last season and still are dynamic on offense, with Garrison Matthews leading the charge. No one wants to see this team in March.

Big East: Marquette

Preseason Pick: Villanova

I nearly stuck with my preseason pick despite the Wildcats’ struggles this season, but Marquette is simply playing too well right now not to pick them. After an early-season drubbing at the hands of Indiana drove many off the bandwagon, the Golden Eagles have played tremendous basketball of late, grabbing quality wins over Louisville, Kansas State, Wisconsin, and Buffalo to build a strong resume come March. Plus, Markus Howard is still doing Markus Howard things:

Big Sky: Montana

Preseason Pick: Montana

While they didn’t pick off either of the “big fish” on their schedule in the non-conference, the Grizzlies remain the clear favorite in the Big Sky. An already-elite backcourt that featured stars in Ahmaad Rorie and Michael Oguine has gotten even better with the improvement of junior Sayeed Pridgett and the introduction of Oregon State transfer Kendal Manuel. With big man Jamar Akoh back after an early-season injury, Travis DeCuire’s group should have little trouble in conference play.

Big South: Radford

Preseason Pick: Radford

Gardner-Webb has made a late push for this one with eight consecutive wins, including a pair of wins over ACC foes Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Radford still feels like the team to beat though, as Mike Jones’ group navigated a brutal non-conference schedule and came away with a 7-6 record with wins at Texas and Notre Dame. Five losses in their last six is concerning, but given all of those losses were on the road and three were to top-100 KenPom teams, I’m not jumping off the bandwagon.

Big Ten: Michigan

Preseason Pick: Michigan

Preseason, I picked the Wolverines when most were on Michigan State, saying I thought Michigan was a fringe top-10 team and MSU should probably slot in around 15th nationally. I was too low on both groups, as MSU looks like an elite team while the Wolverines are one of four remaining unbeatens in the sport. John Beilein’s team still runs great offense, and the addition of Luke Yaklich to the staff continues to pay dividends with the Wolverines ranking among the best scoring defenses nationally. This is a legit national title contender.

Big West: UC Irvine

Preseason Pick: UCSB

This is no real criticism of UCSB, as they’ve gotten off to a strong 10-3 start and are starting to work Max Heidegger back into the mix. It’s just hard to bet against this Anteater defense, which concedes just 41% of two-point attempts (6th nationally). Their size and discipline on the defensive end makes it so difficult on opposing offenses, and they have tons of depth to keep throwing bodies at you as the game wears on. This Big West title race should be fun.

Big 12: Kansas

Preseason Pick: Kansas

The Jayhawks haven’t been super impressive this season, but it’s Kansas in the Big 12. The streak will continue.

CAA: College of Charleston

Preseason Pick: Northeastern

This is more about what Charleston and Hofstra did in the season’s first two months than a criticism of Northeastern, which has looked solid especially with the return of Vasa Pusica from a hand injury. Despite losing Joe Chealey, the Cougars haven’t missed a beat from last year’s CAA championship team, riding the star-studded duo of Grant Riller and Jarrell Brantley to a nine-game winning streak. The battles at the top of this conference are going to be all kinds of fun, with Hofstra also riding a 9-game winning streak.

Conference USA: Western Kentucky

Preseason Pick: Western Kentucky

I might get burned here, but I think the Hilltoppers have figured it out after an uneven non-conference. Wins over Wisconsin, West Virginia, Arkansas, and St. Mary’s have shown this team’s incredible promise, but the consistency is where this team has to improve. With Charles Bassey learning how to be a force down low and fellow freshman Dalano Banton helping this offense run smoother as a do-everything guard, combined with the midseason addition of Lamonte Bearden, I think this Hilltopper clubs runs the CUSA.

Horizon: Northern Kentucky

Preseason Pick: Wright State

With so much coming back from last year’s championship team, I thought Wright State was the clear team to beat. However, the Raiders have struggled to a 7-8 mark while John Brennan’s group has sprinted out of the gates. Drew McDonald continues to make his mark as the best player in program history, and the Norse have seen wings Jalen Tate and Dantez Walton take nice strides.

Ivy League: Penn

Preseason Pick: Harvard

If I knew I could count on Seth Towns and Bryce Aiken getting healthy, I’d probably roll the dice and stick with Harvard here. But the Crimson’s two stars continue to sit for an undetermined amount of time, while Penn looks incredibly impressive despite losing Ryan Betley to a season-ending knee injury in their season opener. Look out for freshman forward Michael Wang, who has been super impressive of late and can really shoot the ball, a perfect match next to AJ Brodeur up front.

MAAC: Rider

Preseason Pick: Rider

The MAAC has been a disaster this year, plummeting to 27th in KenPom’s conference rankings after consistently hovering in the high teens to low 20’s for most of the last decade. Despite Rider being up and down, they’re the favorite almost by default with the horrible play of expected contenders Iona and Canisius. Star wing Dimencio Vaughn could be out for a while with an undisclosed injury, but it was good to see Stevie Jordan return (albeit off the bench) against VCU after he was suspended during the Broncs’ Christmas-week tournament in Las Vegas. This team has by far the most talent in the conference, but things should be wild in Albany come conference tournament time.

MAC: Buffalo

Preseason Pick: Buffalo

For all the struggles the MAAC has had, the MAC has been awesome. Buffalo gets all the headlines as a legit top-25 team with wins at West Virginia and Syracuse, but Toledo has been terrific, Ball State is dangerous, and Ohio, Akron, and Kent State look like sleepers as well. The pick here still is Buffalo, with their experience, coaching, and athleticism, but I’m all in on the #2BidMAC bandwagon.

MEAC: Norfolk State

Preseason Pick: Bethune-Cookman

Robert Jones has consistently done a really solid job at Norfolk State, and this year should be no different. With solid scoring depth and good coaching, I think the Spartans will find a way to win a wide-open MEAC.

Missouri Valley: Drake

Preseason Pick: Loyola-Chicago

The Ramblers aren’t as far out of the Valley contending picture as some may think despite their brutal start, but they are going to have to figure things out on offense to knock off upstarts Drake and Indiana State. I’m all-in on the Bulldogs, who have ridden a pair of grad transfers in Nick Norton and Brady Ellingson along with returning big man Nick McGlynn to tremendous success in year one under Darian DeVries. They are super efficient on offense, and their only two losses are to Colorado and Iowa State.

Mountain West: Nevada

Preseason Pick: Nevada

No need for a change here. Nevada has lived up to the hype as a clear top-10 team, while expected contenders New Mexico and San Diego State have fallen off fast. Utah State and Fresno State are nice clubs, but this is all about the Pack and how far they can go in the Big Dance. Meanwhile, the only realistic hope for two bids is someone beating Nevada in the conference tournament.

Northeast: Wagner

Preseason Pick: St. Francis (PA)

With my preseason pick St. Francis ranking in the bottom 50 nationally in both offensive and defensive effective field goal percentage, I’m hedging on my preseason choice and rolling with Bashir Mason’s Wagner club. Romone Saunders has asserted himself as perhaps the best player in the conference, averaging 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists per game.

Ohio Valley: Murray State

Preseason Pick: Murray State

My big mistake preseason with this preview was taking Dylan Windler over Ja Morant for conference player of the year, but even I couldn’t have forseen Morant being this transcendent this season. The likely lottery pick has been absurd, dominating game after game with his combination of athleticism and floor vision. As Tevin Brown and Shaq Buchanan continue to improve their games to compliment Ja, this Murray State club should have enough to edge out an extremely strong Belmont club.

In the meantime, here’s a Rick Byrd back-cut appreciation video:

Pac-12: Arizona State (I guess?)

Preseason Pick: Oregon

I don’t want to pick anyone for this, but I am forced to roll with Arizona State, which at times has shown brillance and at other times has lost buy games to Princeton.

Patriot League: Bucknell

Preseason Pick: Lehigh

This Bucknell team is starting to find its stride after an uneven start to the year, with a successful 3rd-place finish at Diamond Head last week after pushing Ohio State in a buy game earlier in the month. Nate Sestina is a terrific big man, and the backcourt pairing of Jimmy Sotos and Kimbal McKenzie is as good as any in the Patriot.

SEC: Tennessee

Preseason Pick: Kentucky

Kentucky is surging after a slow start to the year, but the pick here is still Tennessee, whose only loss is a neutral court game against Kansas they could have easily won. This team has it all: experience, size, and high-level talent, plus a great coach in Rick Barnes. The Vols are a top 5 team and a national title contender.

SoCon: ETSU

Preseason Pick: UNCG

After Furman took the world by a storm with its wins over Loyola Chicago and Villanova (which we later learned had more to do with Loyola and Villanova than it did with Furman), the rest of the SoCon got forgotten about. There are some excellent teams in this league, with UNCG, ETSU, Wofford, and Furman all capable of winning an NCAA Tournament game with the right matchup. I’m rolling with Steve Forbes’ ETSU group, which despite its inexperience is off to a strong start to the season. This team has tons of depth, plus two really good bigs in Jeromy Rodriguez and Mladen Armus along with plenty of scoring depth. I love this group.

Southland: Stephen F. Austin

Preseason Pick: Stephen F. Austin

SFA has slightly underwhelmed this season with the exception of a nice road win at Baylor, but they are still the top dog in the Southland. The Lumberjacks have been banged up, with key injuries to Aaron Augustin, John Comeaux, and TJ Holyfield throughout the season. But Shannon Bogues is an elite isolation scorer, and Kevon Harris can really play. They’ll be fine in conference play.

SWAC: Texas Southern

Preseason Pick: Grambling State

Johnny Jones’ club couldn’t be harder to crack this season. They have three power five wins at Baylor, Oregon, and Texas A&M. They’ve also lost to Lamar, Tulane, and Evansville. Adding TCU grad transfer Shawn Olden at the semester break brings in yet another seasoned high-major vet to contribute in the rotation along with Jalyn Patterson, Jeremy Combs, and Trayvon Reed.

Summit League: South Dakota State

Preseason Pick: South Dakota State

As expected, SDSU is the clear top dog in the Summit League. Mike Daum and David Jenkins might be the league’s two best players, and TJ Otzelberger has a strong case for the conference’s best coach. When you have two stars and a high-level coach, plus plenty of depth, it’s no surprise that KenPom projects the Jackrabbits will win the Summit League by four games, and are given at least a 70% chance to win in every conference game.

Sun Belt: Georgia State

Preseason Pick: Georgia State

11-2 Texas State got a long look here, but I’m sticking with my gut and with this Georgia State team. The Panthers have been excellent in the non-conference, grabbing nice wins over ETSU, Georgia, and Alabama, and still have a legit NBA prospect in D’Marcus Simonds. While the defense is a gambling one that relies on forcing turnovers, I think they will get enough from that side of the ball to win given their dynamic offense.

West Coast: Gonzaga

Preseason Pick: Gonzaga

No surprises here. Gonzaga should win this one going away. The real question is what teams like San Francisco, Saint Mary’s, and San Diego can do to give themselves a chance at an at-large bid.

WAC: New Mexico State

Preseason Pick: New Mexico State

This league has played out almost exactly as I had expected: New Mexico State the top dog with three really good teams in Seattle, GCU, and UVU in hot pursuit. The Aggies are dangerous once again, nearly beating Kansas earlier this year and also beating several higher-conference foes from the Pac-12, Mountain West, and CUSA.