Conference Catchups: Mason best of shrinking CAA

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Conference play is right around the corner, so to help you get out of that post-holiday haze, we’ll be catching you up on all the happenings in the country’s top 12 conferences. Here’s our CAA Conference Catchup:

Favorite: George Mason

The more things change, the more they stay the same in the CAA. As the league’s power base of Virginia schools has been gradually eroded by realignment — most notably the absence of VCU in this year’s schedule — the time seemed ripe for a geographical shift. Drexel and Delaware were atop our preseason preview list, with Mason coming in third.

Well, here we are again, with the Patriots standing tall. They started the season with an upset win over Virginia, came within a point of knocking off New Mexico at the Pit, and drained a three to beat Richmond in the Spiders’ hometown. The Patriots have lost a few games they should have won, but that’s been an epidemic in the CAA this season, so they’re still the best of the bunch right now. Mason has one particular stat to hang their stocking caps on: their 91.6 Kenpom defensive efficiency number reflects a staunch inside presence led by Erik Copes that gives them a great chance night in and night out. If the Patriots can just get some offensive help for sharpshooting Sherrod Wright, they’ll be so much tougher to beat.

Contenders: Drexel is still the league’s most dangerous offensive team, even without senior Chris Fouch, who broke his ankle and will miss the rest of the season. Most bafflingly, the Dragons can’t stop anybody, so they’ve lost to good teams (St. Mary’s, Xavier, St. Joe’s) and mediocre teams (Rider, Tennessee State) alike.

William & Mary has played a pretty weak schedule, but they’ve won the games they should win, and that’s more than the rest of the league can say after non-conference season. Signs of life for the star-crossed Tribe include 1) excellent shooting (53.9%) inside the arc, 2) excellent defense on the perimeter and 3) unlike half of the league, they are eligible to win the auto-bid this season. Heartache is a familiar feeling for Tribe fans, who have never had an NCAA tourney team, but this could be their year.

Biggest Surprise: Jerelle Benimon, Towson

Benimon was a bench-riding afterthought at Georgetown. Granted, the Big East is a tough gig, but Benimon has been flat crushing it in his first post-transfer season as a Tiger. His 20 point, 21 rebound effort in last week’s upset of Oregon State put him on the national radar, but he put up 30 points in 40 minutes in an earlier loss to Temple, and 29 in a road win over Vermont. The Tigers as a team aren’t much of a threat just yet, but the 6’8″, 245-lb. Benimon is as scary as they come.

Biggest Disappointment: Drexel

Nobody in the CAA — possibly the nation — has been screwed over by the NCAA at-large process more than Bruiser Flint. His strongest teams have been thrown over in favor of dubious power-conference teams far too often. Flint knows as well as anyone that the only sure way to make the Dance is to get the league’s auto-bid, but a slew of uninspired non-conference losses has made certain that the committee’s folder on the Dragons is thin indeed.

Player of the Year: Sherrod Wright, George Mason

Other players score more points than Wright, but they’re making use of the volume-shooting method. Wright has a mighty fine 17.5 points per game average, but his shot selection and accuracy blow everyone else in the league away, easy. Wright is shooting 54% overall, and a stunning 45% from deep. Devon Saddler (Delaware) and Damion Lee (Drexel) might make up ground before it’s all said and done, but right now, I’ll take Sherrod.

Best Freshman: R.J. Hunter, Georgia State

The coach’s kid is no joke. The 6’5″ swingman is averaging 15.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He can stroke it from deep and leads the team in free-throw percentage. He’s one of the team’s better defensive players, as well, and you’d better believe that Ron Hunter wouldn’t play anybody, including his own son, who didn’t put in the effort on defense. It’s a shame this team is on its way out of the league, with such bright days ahead.

Three Predictions

  • The CAA is a one-bid league. With VCU gone, the lowering tide was taking all ships down with it anyway, but the league’s decision to hold Old Dominion and Georgia State out of the postseason to punish them for leaving, and APR problems dinging UNCW and Towson, the league’s auto-bid won’t even be worth the paper it’s printed on. To top that off, the league’s non-conference record this season is atrocious – there will be zero thought given to an at-large bid this year.
  • An ineligible team will embarrass a contender. Some of the league’s best individual players (Keith Rendleman, R.J. Hunter, Jerelle Benimon) are on teams that can’t play in March. One or more of them will make the rest of the league feel his pain.
  • Drexel will rally. This team’s slump is really difficult to explain. And I’d rather drink muddy water and sleep out in a hollow log than go to practice every day and disappoint Bruiser Flint. I suspect his players feel the same. The Dragons will find their rhythm, as they did with last season’s 19-game win streak. But timing is everything. A simple three-win streak in March is all anyone is looking for.

Power Rankings (* = ineligible for CAA tournament):

1. George Mason
2. Drexel
3. William & Mary
4. James Madison
5. Delaware
6. Towson*
7. Northeastern
8. Georgia State*
9. UNCW*
10. Old Dominion*
11. Hofstra

Eric Angevine is an Old Dominion grad, which no doubt led to his controversial decision to rank his alma mater 10th instead of dead last in the league.

Alabama loses Nick King, Brandon Austin to transfer

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Alabama is losing a pair to transfer as junior Nick King and sophomore Brandon Austin are planning to transfer, according to a release.

The 6-foot-7 King is expected to graduate and be eligible to play anywhere right away as a graduate transfer while the 6-foot-5 Austin will likely have to sit out a season before playing.

King started his career at Memphis but transferred to Alabama. A former starter at small forward, King played the first seven games of the season until a lung infection shut down his season. He averaged 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game before shutting it down.

A former top-50 recruit from the Class of 2013, King will look to jumpstart his career elsewhere during his final season of college basketball.

Austin only appeared in six games and played a total of 44 minutes this season as he also dealt with injuries like an early bone bruise.

The Crimson Tide are bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the country next season as their freshmen could see a lot of playing time. So it comes as no surprise that players like King and Austin would transfer to assure more playing time.

Candidates Georgetown could target for head coach

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Georgetown moved on from head coach John Thompson III after 13 years at the helm on Thursday as the move sent shockwaves throughout college basketball.

The Thompson family has been a major institution for Georgetown basketball, dating back to the ’70s when John Thompson Jr. was head coach. So this new hire for the Hoyas will be a fascinating process.

Here’s a list of some early names that could be involved with Georgetown.

Tommy Amaker, Harvard — With a successful tenure at Harvard that at one point included four NCAA tournament bids in a row, Amaker has won at his latest job while coaching at an elite academic institution.

Put together with previous stops at Seton Hall and Michigan and Amaker has run a big-time program while also winning at an Ivy League school. Leaving Harvard might be tough though when Amaker is beginning to recruit at a national level at the program.

Jamion Christian, Mount St. Mary’s — Five years at Mount St. Mary’s has produced two NCAA tournament appearances for Christian as the 34-year-old would represent a bold, young hire for Georgetown.

Also an assistant coach for a season at VCU under Shaka Smart, Christian has recruited in that area before and he’s regarded by many as one of the bright, young head coaches in a low-major league. Coming from Smart at VCU, it should come as no surprise that Christian plays an uptempo system and presses on defense.

It would be a bit risky for Georgetown to hire someone as young as Christian but he also has the kind of enthusiasm to lead the tough rebuild that the Hoyas potentially face.

Nathan Davis, Bucknell — After leading Bucknell to the NCAA tournament in only his second season as a Division I head coach, Davis is someone to keep an eye on for the future.

The Washington D.C. native has quickly established himself as a potential young star in the coaching ranks but he also might be too inexperienced to take one of the Big East’s prestige positions. As a Division I head coach for only two seasons, Davis hasn’t faced the pressure of the high-major level at any of his previous coaching stops. Davis certainly deserves credit for his Division III coaching success and Final Four appearance with Randolph-Macon (Bo Ryan was pretty good in DIII before moving to Division I) but that’s a long way from the Big East.

Davis would have to prove that he’s capable as a coach and recruiter at the Big East level and he would be a risk if hired by the Hoyas.

Patrick Ewing Sr., Charlotte Hornets assistant  — The Hall of Fame center and Georgetown alum would be an intriguing name. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported that the Hoyas are considering Ewing as a potential head coach.

This wouldn’t just be a Chris Mullin at St. John’s type of scenario where Mullin had no coaching experience before taking the job. Ewing has been grinding as an NBA assistant coach for the past 15 years in the hopes of getting an NBA head coaching job. Georgetown represents an unique opportunity for Ewing to rebuild his former program and his son, Patrick Ewing Jr., would potentially work for him.

Recruiting would obviously be a major question mark but Ewing has the playing and coaching pedigree to be a wild card in this.

Dan Hurley, Rhode Island — The Rams finally broke through and made the NCAA Tournament in Hurley’s fifth year as head coach this season as Rhode Island made the second round before falling to Oregon in a close game.

Of the coaches on this list, the Rams have recruited a lot of top-100 prospects and futures pros like E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin, so we know that Hurley knows how to navigate elite recruiting.

As the son of legendary high school coach Bob Hurley and younger brother of Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley, Dan Hurley comes from a long line of basketball coaches. He’s made Rhode Island one of the premier programs in the Atlantic 10. Although he’s only made one NCAA Tournament appearance in seven seasons as a head coach, Hurley has things trending in the right direction.

Shaka Smart, Texas — This isn’t likely going to happen but Georgetown is at least going to call. Since Smart was so successful at nearby VCU before taking the Texas job, the Hoyas are going to see if he’d be interested in returning to the area after this season’s disappointing last-place Big 12 finish.

If this Georgetown coaching position had been made available two years ago, before Smart had taken the Texas job, then it would have been intriguing to see where things might stand between the two. But now that Smart has at least four, four-star prospects entering Texas next season, while returning most of the current roster, he has a chance to build from this season’s last-place finish.

VIDEO: Why did the NCAA ban dunking in 1967?

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With UCLA playing in the Sweet 16 tonight, it’s a fitting time to bring up the story of the time that the association banned dunking.

It was in 1967, and it was because there was a kid named Lew Alcindor (who would change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) at UCLA who led the Bruins to a 30-0 record and a national title.

And just think, that rule change, which lasted until 1976, kept some of the game’s greatest dunkers from showing what they could really do in college. Imagine David Thompson rattling rims, rather than his assortment of finger-rolls and layups. Dr. J soared at UMass, but never like Dr. J really could. And so on.

So as you’re watching the rest of the NCAA tournament, thank the rule-makers who brought the dunk back. We’re better for it.

Cleveland State hires Dennis Felton as head coach

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Cleveland State has found its next head coach as the school announced the hiring of Dennis Felton.

A veteran head coach with previous stops at Western Kentucky and Georgia, Felton made three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with the Hilltoppers before taking the job with the Bulldogs before the 2003-04 season.

Felton takes over for previous head coach Gary Waters, who retired after 11 seasons at Cleveland State.

“I’m extremely excited to return to the head coaching ranks with this opportunity at Cleveland State University,” Felton said in the release. “I’m grateful to Dr. Berkman and Mike Thomas for the opportunity to lead this program. Cleveland State is an outstanding University that continues to grow in stature on the national landscape. I’m eager to start working with our players to build a championship program and getting out to share my vision of how we plan to partner with the entire community to do special things at Cleveland State.”

Felton made one NCAA Tournament appearance in six seasons with Georgia as he was fired in the middle of the 2008-09 season. Having a tough time overcoming NCAA sanctions lobbied after the Jim Harrick’s time with the school, Felton’s time with the Bulldogs never got rolling as he dealt with scholarship limitations and other obstacles.

After his time coaching in college, Felton spent time as a college scout with the Phoenix Suns before becoming director of pro player personnel for the San Antonio Spurs for a few seasons.

Cleveland State finished 18-45 over the last two seasons as they’ve struggled in the Horizon League. Felton will be tasked with turning the Vikings around as he hopes to find some of the magic that helped make Western Kentucky a consistent winner.

But with NBA connections and a lot of head coaching experience, Cleveland State made a solid hire here.

Frank Kaminsky trolls Arizona after high school teammate Sean O’Mara gets winning basket for Xavier

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No. 11 seed Xavier’s upset win over No. 2 seed Arizona left a lot of people stunned late Thursday night. Naturally, people took to Twitter to share their opinions of the Musketeers advancing to the Elite Eight to face No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

Some of those with comments on Arizona’s loss included members of Wisconsin’s back-to-back Final Four teams in 2014 and 2015. You might recall that the Badgers eliminated the Wildcats in both years in the Elite Eight to make the trips to the Final Four–so there is some history here between the two schools.

The Twitter comments started with former Wisconsin guard Ben Brust questioning Arizona head coach Sean Miller for going away from his big men. Brust’s “should have kept touching the big Serb” comment would indicate that getting touches for Arizona center Dusan Ristic was important–although others were pointing out freshman Lauri Markkanen’s minimal involvement in the Arizona offense during the last 10 minutes.

That’s when former Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky entered the discussion and promptly shut things down.

Wisconsin’s personal history with Arizona hit closer for Kaminsky than a normal game when Xavier junior big man Sean O’Mara scored the game-winning bucket for the Musketeers with just under a minute left.

There’s a major connection here. O’Mara hails from Benet Academy in the Western Suburbs of Chicago, the same high school program that produced Kaminsky.

So Kaminsky made sure to mention that after the loss.

When Kaminsky was a senior and Benet started its season 29-0 and was nationally ranked in the USA Today High School rankings, O’Mara was the freshman big man that Kaminsky was beating up in practice every day.

While Kaminsky has turned into a productive member of the Charlotte Hornets rotation this season, O’Mara is having himself a solid 2017 NCAA Tournament run as he’s averaging 12.3 points a game after putting up 6.1 per game during the regular season.

We definitely know who Kaminsky will be rooting for when it comes to the West Region.