Kevin Ollie

UConn braces for more difficult non-conference scheduling

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Now that conference realignment is finally a reality, fans from all over the country are slowly learning new league opponents and the other subtle nuisances of being in a new league if their team made some sort of conference switch.

One of the more intriguing cases to watch in the newest conference realignment will be Connecticut moving from the Big East to the American. Since UConn has won national titles, produced numerous NBA Draft lottery picks and built themselves into a perennial power, not much should change, but now that the backing of the Big East and its tremendous conference scheduling opportunities are no longer in-place, the Huskies will have to seek out a tougher non-conference schedule according to an Associated Press story.

Men’s coach Kevin Ollie said his program understands there would be a drop-off in the quality of league opponents, and looked toward improving its RPI by putting together a very tough non-conference schedule for the upcoming season that includes Washington, Maryland, Florida, Stanford and possibly Indiana.
Will UConn and new coach Kevin Ollie remain a powerhouse program in the American? History says that given their track record that it’s likely they’ll be fine, but little wrinkles like this make for questions as we go towards college basketball’s new conferences. Non-conference games against a group such as Washington, Maryland, Florida and Stanford will certainly help as well.

UConn lost games with Syracuse, Georgetown, Pittsburgh and other Big East — and former Big East —  powers, but they’ll still have Memphis, Temple and Cincinnati in the American to compete with and the conference will likely have another upstart or two that eventually challenges that initial lead pack of American basketball powers.

The biggest difference might come in television revenue and as Connecticut athletic director Warde Manual mentions in the story, the program will need to raise money in other ways to make up for the difference, but that’s of little concern to the quality of the actual teams playing this season.

If Kevin Ollie can keep the product on the floor competitive, it’s tough to imagine Connecticut basketball falling from the nation’s elite, regardless of current conference affiliation but it will be fun to see their non-conference schedule in the coming years.

Scott also writes for NY2LA Sports and can be followed on Twitter @phillipshoops

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: