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.

7 Thoughts From Opening Weekend

By Kevin Sweeney

We are officially through opening weekend, and what a weekend it was. While it didn’t see the big upsets or huge matchups we have hoped for, there is plenty to digest as we go into the Champions Classic tonight. So, I decided to break down all that has gone down in the season’s first four days and use it to look ahead for the rest of the season. And, no, this post would not be being written right now if it weren’t for ESPN taking away my beloved 8:30am Manhattan vs Hartford matchup.

The A10 Might Be In Trouble

Many thought going into the season that the Atlantic 10 was looking at a bit of a down year, and it certainly didn’t do anything to dispel those notions during opening weekend. Title contenders Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, and St. Joe’s all dropped games, with the Bonnies and the Hawks taking what appear to be bad losses to Niagara and Toledo, respectively. Richmond got dismantled by Delaware and Jacksonville State. This league has to grab some quality wins in the non-conference or it risks being a 1-bid league come March.

Pitt and Cal Are As Bad As We Thought

On paper, these were two of the worst high-major rosters in college basketball, and it showed throughout each team’s first two games. Pitt dropped their first 2 contests to a pair of solid mid-majors in Navy and Montana, while Cal fell to UC-Riverside (picked 8th in the Big West) and knocked off Cal Poly (picked 9th in the Big West) by just 3. The worst part was that both teams looked to be at about the same level as the teams that they were playing. Simply put, the talent just isn’t there on these rosters, and it could be a very long year for those two clubs.

It’s Time to Buy Stock in Geno Crandall

After two years as the Robin to Quinton Hooker’s Batman, it’s Crandall’s turn to be the star. Let’s just say he hasn’t disappointed. After a ridiculous 41 point outburst on opening night that included 37 in the second half, Crandall followed up with a pair of 20+ point performances on each of the past 2 nights. However, what’s really impressed me has been his patience and his willingness to get his teammates involved. Crandall has done an excellent job of not forcing things but rather taking what the defense gives him, and that has allowed him to score efficiently.

The Sky is The Limit for Texas A&M

Perhaps the most impressive opener came from Texas A&M, who dominated #11 West Virginia despite being without future lottery pick Robert Williams and highly-touted point guard JJ Caldwell due to suspensions. The Aggies did a terrific job moving the ball against WVU’s patented press, registering 22 assists on their 31 made field goals while shooting nearly 50% from the field. Once Caldwell and Williams return, this team will look like a legit SEC title contender.

Davidson Is Going to Be Ridiculously Fun to Watch

It may only have been one game against an inferior opponent, but Davidson’s offense was beyond insane on Friday in their season-opening route of Charleston Southern. Embracing “pace and space”, the Wildcats hit 26 of their 53 3-point attempts and registered a ridiculous 29 assists to just 1 turnover in the ballgame. Obviously, that type of production is unsustainable, but regardless, Bob McKillop’s team will be one of the more exciting offenses to watch in college basketball.

Arkansas Impressive Against Talented Mid-Majors

The fact that the Razorbacks beat Samford and Bucknell shouldn’t be too newsworthy. An SEC team with NCAA Tournament aspirations needs to win those games at home. It was HOW Arkansas did it that was so impressive. They started the season with a 39-point beatdown of a Samford squad pegged by most in the top tier of the SoCon before cruising past Patriot League favorites Bucknell. Their offense has been incredibly efficient thus far, and if they can continue that trend, they should exceed expectations in the SEC.

Belmont Train Still Running Smoothly

Rick Byrd has turned this Belmont program into a machine, and another strong start to the season indicates that even without Evan Bradds, this program will remain at the top of the OVC. After a tight defeat at the hands of Washington on opening night, the Bruins led most of the way against a good Vanderbilt team and claimed a 69-60 victory over the Commodores last night. Dylan Windler seems to adjusting well to his increased role in the offense, posting lines of 18 points & 11 rebounds against UW and 24 points and 11 rebounds last night while shooting over 64% from the field in those 2 contests.

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Minnesota Gets Key Non-Conference With Impressive Win over Providence

By Brendan Crowley

On Monday night, the 14th ranked Golden Gophers traveled to Providence to take on the Friars in a grudge match between two teams that will certainly be in the mix for this year’s NCAA Tournament. In their first road game of the season, Minnesota’s veteran squad was able to pull out an 86-74 victory but the game was much closer than the final score reads.

(http://www.thedickinsonpress.com/sports/4358967-no-14-minnesota-pulls-away-providence

After starting the game hot with a 12-2 run behind dominating play in the post by Reggie Lynch, the Gophers slowed down and allowed Providence to go on a run of their own behind senior leaders Kyron Cartwright, Rodney Bullock and Jalen Lindsey. The scoring in the first half was very balanced for Providence with a couple of late threes by Lindsey rocking the Dunkin Donuts Center and putting the crowd on their feet as the Friars took a late first half lead.
The biggest surprise in this game was seeing how seeing how much freshman guard Isaiah Washington has already progressed for Minnesota. The shifty newcomer out of Harlem was the 6th man for the Gophers and controlled the tempo of the game all night. Six points in the final 6 minutes of the first half along with a no-look assist to Jordan Murphy pulled them within 3 with just under 2 minutes left. Providence failed to convert open opportunities in their last few possessions but still hung on to a 39-36 lead going in to the break after an Isaiah Washington “buzzer-beating” jumper was waved off.

The second half began just how the first had ended, the Friars were slowly but surely gaining momentum and Minnesota was making costly mistakes on the offensive end, taking contested shots early in the possession and failing to move the ball around like they had in the opening 10 minutes. Inside buckets by junior Jordan Murphy were able to keep the Gophers afloat and hold off Bullock and Co. from taking the game over as the game approached the midway point in the 2nd half.

With 9 minutes remaining the score was at 63-60 with Providence trailing. Up to this point in the 2nd, the Friars defense had improved tremendously and they were able to control the tempo, speeding up the game but playing under control. It was at that moment however, with 9 minutes left, that Minnesota turned the tables and began hitting shot after shot. The Gophers went on to make their next 12 field goals, with sharpshooting by Amir Coffey and Murphy’s dominating presence on the inside, Minnesota stretched their lead out to 72-63 following another Coffey made 3. Providence’s inability to grab defensive rebounds and lock down or Jordan Murphy in the paint was what led to their demise all night. The junior finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds on 10-15 shooting. That along with 15 points from Amir Coffey and another 17 out of senior guard Nate Mason was more than enough to push the Big Ten contenders over the edge as they out hustled and out ran Providence to win 86-74.

The biggest takeaway for both teams at the end of this one was evident. Providence needs to slow down and show more discipline. They had a number of unforced turnovers and down the stretch continued to play 1-on-1 basketball instead of coming together as a team. In due time Ed Cooley will certainly have that under control and the Friars, with their size and depth, will be sitting near the top of the Big East come conference play. For the Gophers, if they’re able to continue their dominant inside then they can, without a doubt, run the table in the Big Ten and compete with Purdue, Northwestern, and Michigan State for that title. This veteran team, under an excellent coach in Pitino, will be one to keep an eye on as the season goes along.

7 Upsets to Watch During Opening Weekend

By Kevin Sweeney

Congrats everyone. We’ve made it.

After seven months of waiting, college basketball is finally back. In 48 hours, we’ll all be watching games that actually count. Of course, one of the best parts of college basketball is upsets, and you can expect plenty of twists and turns during the season’s opening weekend. Here are 7 potential upsets to watch out for at the beginning of the season. We’ll define “opening weekend” as Friday through Monday.

Campbell over Penn State

Last season, the Nittany Lions got off to a rough start with an upset defeat at the hands of Albany in their opener. They will once again be tested by a mid-major this season, facing off with a talented Campbell team that many believe is a dark horse contender in the Big South. Chris Clemons is certainly capable of exploding offensively at any time, and I’m excited for this Friday matinee showdown.

 

Navy and/or Montana over Pittsburgh

Pitt is a virtual unknown commodity, with a vast group of newcomers being looked to as replacements of the incredible amount of production departing from last year’s roster. They’ll be tested by a pair of teams that should be near the top of their conferences in Navy on Friday night in Annapolis and Montana back home in Oakland. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Panthers are stunned early in the season by one of these two talented mid-majors.

Mercer over UCF

Experience always helps when trying to pull off an upset, and that is exactly what Mercer has. The Bears will trot out 5 senior starters Friday night against a UCF team that I believe should be in NCAA Tournament contention. This one should be a defensive battle, but Mercer has the guards in Ria’n Holland and Jordan Strawberry to make plays late in ballgames and pull out a win in what should be a terrific opening night matchup.

Yale at Creighton and/or Wisconsin

My pick to win the Ivy League has a pair of stiff tests from high-major foes during opening weekend, traveling to Nebraska to take on Creighton on Friday before heading north to Madison to take on Wisconsin Sunday. If Makai Mason is 100% after missing all of last season due to a foot injury, the Bulldogs have an excellent chance to earn a quality win for their resume come March.

Bucknell over Arkansas

Bucknell is just an excellent basketball team. They have a dominant big in Nana Foulland, a stretch 4 in Zach Thomas that is one of the more versatile players in college basketball, and a senior point guard in Stephen Brown that makes plays when you need them most. They’ll be a tough matchup for anyone in the country this season, and I believe they will stun the Razorbacks on Sunday night and leave Fayetteville with a win.

Vermont over Kentucky

No, I don’t expect this to happen. That said, I certainly won’t rule it out. Vermont is a veteran unit with a star in Anthony Lamb who can take over games. Kentucky will still be feeling things out with plans to start 5 freshmen, and the Catamounts may just be able to steal a win at Rupp Arena.

College of Charleston over Wichita State

College of Charleston should be one of the best mid-majors in the country this season, and they’ll take on a short-handed Wichita State team on Monday night. Markis McDuffie is out for the game, and star point guard Landry Shamet will likely be limited as he continues his recovery from offseason foot surgery. Meanwhile, this Cougar team is experienced and talented, making them a tough test for the Shockers. This should be an excellent game, with the possibility certainly there for the Cougars to grab a signature win for their resume in opening weekend.