Green Bay Brings the Energy, Earns Big Win Over Valparaiso 

By Kevin Sweeney

19 days ago, Green Bay got thumped on the road at Valparaiso. With Oakland’s struggles, it appeared that Valpo would run away with the Horizon League once again. 

Today was a different story. 

The Phoenix gave Valparaiso a taste of their own medicine with an 86-69 win, and in the process reasserted themselves as the top challenger to the Crusaders in the Horizon League title race. 

After a slow start doomed Green Bay from the beginning in first meeting, the Phoenix made it clear that today would be different, getting out to an early 16-9 lead. While Green Bay came out of the gates filled with energy, Valpo seemed to just be going through the motions, lacking the intensity you would expect to see in a battle of conference leaders. That was perhaps no better represented by the rebounding margin. The Crusaders, who had outrebounded their opponent in all but 3 games so far this season, were outrebounded by 21 in the game. 

However, Valparaiso did hang around in the first half, staying within single digits for most of the half and even cutting the deficit to 4 at one point. Oakland did recover some of the momentum going into the half, closing on a 7-2 run to lead by 9 at the half. 

The second half began in similar fashion to the first, with Green Bay immediately imposing its will. A 13-4 run early in the half gave the Phoenix a commanding 21-point lead with 12 minutes to play. 

From there, the outcome was never really in doubt, though Valpo did try to make it interesting by cutting the margin to 10 with just over 2 minutes to go. But the Crusaders didn’t score again in the game, and Green Bay cruised to a 86-69 final tally. 

While Alec Peters, arguably the best player in Valparaiso history, wound up with 20 points and 8 rebounds in the game, Green Bay did a good job defending him, with senior Kenneth Lowe drawing the assignment for much of the night. 

Kareem Kanter led 5 Phoenix in double figures with 17 points and 9 rebounds, while Charles Cooper poured in 15 off the bench. 

The loss probably eliminates Valparaiso from the at-large bubble, should the Crusaders falter in the Horizon League Tournament. 

Is Gonzaga A Mid-Major?

By Kevin Sweeney

Is Gonzaga a mid-major?

This question comes up seemingly every year around this time, but this year it is even more of a hot-button topic than usual. The Bulldogs are out to their best start in school history, 23-0, and are currently ranked #1 in the nation, so naturally, discussion about the Zags is rampant.

Some make the argument that, since Gonzaga makes the NCAA Tournament almost every year, they can no longer be classified as a mid-major. However, unless you plan on classifying teams like Missouri, Rutgers, and other futile high-major programs as mid-majors due to their struggles on the court, that statement doesn’t hold much merit.

See, success isn’t the only factor in determining how a program should be classified. For one, facilities should certainly be considered.

Gonzaga plays its home games at McCarthey Athletic Center, a 6,000 seat venue known as “The Kennel” to those who follow the program. That may seem small on the surface, but consider that the school has only just over 5,000 undergraduate students. To compare, Villanova, a school of around 6,500 undergraduates, plays most of its home games at The Pavilion, a 6,500 seat facility. While they do play a few home games at the Palestra and at Wells Fargo Center, home of the 76ers, The Pavilion is their true home floor.

mccarthey_athletic_center

“The Kennel” is one of the toughest environments in college basketball (attribution: CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia Commons)

Let’s continue the comparison between the two programs. In recruiting, Gonzaga can stand toe-to-toe with almost any team in the country. Per verbalcommits.com, Gonzaga’s team has an average star rating of 3.1, while Villanova’s sits at 3.8. However, Gonzaga’s number is hurt by recruiting international players like Przemek Karnowski, as many international players are automatically given 2-star grades. On American players, Gonzaga consistently recruits 3, 4, and 5-star players such as freshman center Zach Collins, a McDonald’s All-American.

How about exposure? Gonzaga will have 14 games this season nationally televised on the ESPN family (not including ESPN3), with all others on ESPN3 or ROOT Sports, a rebranding of the Fox Sports regional channels. They, like Villanova, are used as a featured team in non-conference exempt events such as the AdvoCare Invitational, which they played in this season. Mid-majors are usually afterthoughts in these events, thrown in to ensure a win for a high-major program.

We wouldn’t question Villanova’s status as a high-major, so why do we question Gonzaga?Well, many would cite the conference that the teams play in. Villanova is a member of the Big East, and was part of the old Big East before it folded. Meanwhile, Gonzaga plays in the West Coast Conference, which beyond BYU, St. Mary’s, and Gonzaga truly doesn’t compare to the Big East.

To simply label a school a mid-major based on its conference is short-sighted to say the least. Much of the reason that Gonzaga is in the WCC is location. Gonzaga’s school profile would fit perfectly in the Big East. It’s a smaller, catholic school without a FBS football program that plays basketball at a very high level. However, it doesn’t seem to make sense to join a conference in which every road trip would be over 1,300 miles with 6 being over 2,000 miles. So unless Gonzaga plans on moving its campus several hundred miles east, the Big East isn’t a feasible option. The only conference that makes sense based on location that would be an improvement basketball-wise is the Mountain West, but it too is often classified a mid-major and focuses on schools with football, something Gonzaga doesn’t offer.

So are we really going to change how we classify a program based on its location? That seems narrow-minded. Gonzaga is a high-major school trapped in a mid-major conference, so the college basketball community should stop acting as though Gonzaga is somehow different then other top college basketball programs. The generation of high school recruits who are ready to make their college choice don’t see the Zags as anything but a blue-blood power, one that has reached the NCAA Tournament every year since they’ve been born. The talent will continue to flow in as it is already doing, and even if that elusive Final Four bid doesn’t come this season, it, and potentially a national title, seem to be in the Bulldogs’ near future.

Here’s the bottom line: if Villanova can win a national championship, the Bulldogs certainly can too.

Mount St. Mary’s In Control of NEC After Big Win Over Bryant

By Kevin Sweeney

The saying “a tale of two halves” is often overused, but for the 2016-17 Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball team, it truly fits. 

With tonight’s 77-70 win over Bryant, “The Mount” is now 11-1 in its last 12 games after starting the season 1-11, continuing the best start to NEC play in school history. The win, combined with other results around the league, gives the Mountaineers a 2 game lead in the NEC with 7 games to play. 

The first half was very much a back-and-forth affair. Sophomore star Nisre Zouzoua exploded from downtown in the early going, drawing 3 triples in the first 3 minutes to give Bryant a 9-6 lead. But “The Mount” responded with authority, using a 12-0 run to take a 9 point lead. That run was quickly answered by the Bulldogs, using a 13-2 run capped by a 3-point play by Sabastian Townes to reclaim the lead with 5:09 to go in the half. That lead was maintained by the Bulldogs for the rest of the half, and Bryant carried a 38-37 lead into halftime. 

The Mountaineers came out of the half with huge amounts of energy, and that started at the top with head coach Jamion Christian. The 44 year-old former VCU assistant who brought “Mount Mayhem” to Emittsburg exuded energy, sprinting down from the coaching box to the baseline after each made basket, encouraging the Mountaineers to press. That energy rubbed off on his entire team, as Mount St. Mary’s came out firing to start the half. An early 9-0 run by the Mountaineers quickly turned the halftime deficit into a lead, one they would never relinquish. 

While they would never lose the lead, the Mountaineers weren’t always in control. Bryant kept fighting back, drawing within three on multiple occasions. However, whenever the Mountaineers needed a play to be made, Elijah Long (21 points) or Junior Robinson (15 points) delivered. 17 of Mount St. Mary’s final 19 points in the game were scored by one of those two players, including buckets each time the deficit got cut to three. 

“The Mount” shot 60% from the field in the game, with Long’s 21 points, Miles Wilson’s 19 points, and Robinson’s 15 points leading the way. Chris Wray added 9 points and 11 rebounds for the Mountaineers. 

Bryant falls to 5-6 in NEC play with tonight’s defeat. Zouzoua led the way with a game-high 25 points, while freshman guard Adam Grant posted 15 points for the Bulldogs. 

Bracketology Update: One Month Until March

By Kevin Sweeney

As hard as it may be to believe, January has come to an end, placing us officially in the stretch run of the college basketball season. With most teams approaching, if not already having reached, the halfway point in their conference slates, we have a much better sense of who teams are. The bubble is noticeably weak, with teams that would not have had any shot of an at-large bid in years past still very much in the thick of contention at this time. That makes projecting the field of 68 as difficult as it has ever been, as one big win or tough loss seemingly adds or subtracts teams from the bubble each day.

That said, here’s a look at my take on where things stand with just one month until the month that all college hoops fans dream about arrives:

 

feb1bracket

East Regional

  • #1 Villanova vs #16 UC Davis/Mount St. Mary’s
  • #8 Minnesota vs #9 Iowa State
  • #5 Duke vs #12 Tennessee/Clemson
  • #4 Wisconsin vs #13 New Mexico State
  • #6 South Carolina vs #11 Nevada
  • #3 Virginia vs #14 East Tennessee State
  • #7 SMU vs #10 California
  • #2 West Virginia vs #15 Winthrop

West Regional

  • #1 Gonzaga vs #16 Weber State
  • #8 Dayton vs #9 Virginia Tech
  • #5 Creighton vs #12 Utah/Indiana
  • #4 Cincinnati vs #13 Monmouth
  • #6 Notre Dame vs #11 Middle Tennessee State
  • #3 Oregon vs #14 Florida Gulf Coast
  • #7 Xavier vs #10 TCU
  • #2 Louisville vs #15 Georgia State

South Regional

  • #1 Kansas vs #16 Sam Houston State/Texas Southern
  • #8 Marquette vs #9 Arkansas
  • #5 Maryland vs #12 UNC-Wilmington
  • #4 Florida State vs #13 Vermont
  • #6 St. Mary’s vs #11 Oklahoma State
  • #3 UCLA vs #14 Belmont
  • #7 USC vs #10 Michigan State
  • #2 North Carolina vs #15 Bucknell

Midwest Regional

  • #1 Baylor vs # 16 NC Central
  • #8 VCU vs #9 Illinois State
  • #5 Florida vs #12 Valparaiso
  • #4 Butler vs #13 Akron
  • #6 Northwestern vs #11 Georgia Tech
  • # 3 Kentucky vs #14 Princeton
  • #7 Purdue vs #10 Kansas State
  • #2 Arizona vs #15 North Dakota State

Last Four Byes

  • Michigan State
  • TCU
  • Oklahoma State
  • Georgia Tech

Last Four In

  • Indiana
  • Clemson
  • Utah
  • Tennessee

First Four Out

  • Miami
  • Wichita State
  • Michigan
  • Alabama

Next Four Out

  • Wake Forest
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas Tech
  • Providence

Also Seriously Considered (No Order): Houston, Memphis, Syracuse, NC State, Providence, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Auburn, Ole Miss.