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.

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.

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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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.