VCU v Michigan

Turning Cinderella runs into recruiting success is key for mid-majors

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Any coach can put together the right game-plan, taking enough advantage of mismatches and getting his team to execute well enough that his group of guys can pull off an upset.

Get that team’s confidence going, and that team can reel off a couple of upsets in a row.

That’s how Cinderella runs in the NCAA tournament happen. Since our sport’s postseason playoff is a single-elimination tournament and not a five or seven-game series, we see these runs quite often. It’s part of what makes March Madness unique and beloved.

But, generally speaking, it’s not sustainable. Coaching wins games. Talent wins titles. There’s a reason that coaches known for their x’s-and-o’s hire ‘recruiters’ to their staff, while coaches that are capable of bringing in talent on their own will go out and hire tacticians as assistant coaches.

And that’s why, to build a program, it’s so important to capitalize on the exposure of a postseason run.

On Tuesday, Jeff Borzello of took a look at how VCU, Butler and George Mason have recruited since their respective Final Four runs, and it’s quite clear that the Rams have made the biggest jump of the three. Since their 2011 Final Four run, VCU has signed two top 100 recruits — Melvin Johnson and Jordan Burgess — while earning a commitment from a third — Terry Larrier — on Monday. The other six recruits they’ve signed or currently have committed are three-star players.

During that time, VCU has remained in or around the top 25 while making the jump from the CAA to the Atlantic 10. Perhaps most impressive is that Smart has yet to reap the benefits of his most talented recruits, as Burgess was ineligible last year, Johnson was a role player and Larrier is 15 months from actually playing a game. When you consider how Smart has coached up the two- and three-star recruits he’s landed, it’s easy to see why the best is yet to come for the Rams.

The same cannot be said for George Mason. Not only did their recruiting remain on the same level, four of the six best players they brought in in the next three years transferred — Jay Threatt (Delaware State), Vlad Moldoveanu (American), Luke Hancock (Louisville) and Kevin Foster (Fresno State). Jim Larrañaga left as well, and Mason has been more-or-less irrelevant since then.

Butler is the most interesting case. Not only did they have arguably the best young coach in the game — better than Smart, in my opinion — but they were also able to turn their success on the floor into success on the recruiting trail. Stevens brought in Rotnei Clark in 2011, who became eligible last season. He landed four-star recruit Kellen Dunham in the Class of 2012 and four three-star recruits — two of whom, Nolan Berry and Elijah Brown, were ranked in Rivals top 150 — in 2013. It should also be mentioned that the Bulldogs were in the mix with a couple of high-profile local players in the Class of 2014 before Stevens headed off to the NBA.

Butler also managed to climb their way from the Horizon to the Atlantic 10 all the way into the Big East this season. If Stevens had stuck around and Roosevelt Jones hadn’t broken his wrist, I don’t think it’s crazy to say that the Bulldogs would have, once again, but in and around the top 25 all year long.

So take note, Florida-Gulf Coast.

If you want to take a program from being good at the mid-major to being nationally relevant on an annual basis, the key is to capitalize on the recruiting trail when you have the limelight.

Iona’s A.J. English, Davidson’s Jack Gibbs both go for 40-plus in wins

Jack Gibbs
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Two of the best guards in the country went absolutely bananas on Tuesday night as Iona senior A.J. English and Davidson junior Jack Gibbs had huge nights.

English dropped 46 points and went 13-for-19 from the 3-point line as the Gaels raced past Fairfield. The Iona star went 15-for-25 from the field and also had eight assists in the win.

Not to be outdone, Gibbs started Davidson’s game against Charlotte by going 14-for-14 from the field. Finishing 14-for-17 for the game, Gibbs had 25 points by halftime and 39 points at the under-12-minute timeout in the second half before deferring to teammates in a blowout win.

Steph Curry and his parents were at the game watching Davidson play as Gibbs became the first Wildcat to go for 40 since the former NBA MVP in 2009.

The 40-point efforts for both English and Gibbs were the first of their college basketball careers, and given the way both have scored the past two seasons, it’s not out of the question that this could happen again.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: Michigan gets nice road win; multiple 40-point games

Caris LeVert
AP Photo
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Michigan 66, N.C. State 59: Playing without starting point guard Derrick Walton Jr. in the second half, the Wolverines still played well enough to win on the road in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Caris LeVert played a tremendous overall floor game to finish with 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists while Duncan Robinson came off the bench to hit five 3-pointers and finish with 17 points.


A.J. English, Iona: Iona was able to run past Fairfield as the senior guard had 46 points and made 13 3-pointers in the win. English also tallied eight assists as he went 15-for-25 from the field and 13-for-19 from 3-point range.

Jack Gibbs, Davidson: The junior guard had 25 points by halftime and he went 14-for-14 before finally missing a field goal in the second half. Gibbs finished with 41 points in total in the win over Charlotte as he was 14-for-17 from the field.

Robert Hatter, Cornell: The junior guard helped the Big Red to a win over Siena as Hatter had 32 points and six assists to go along with three rebounds and three steals.

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: The Hoyas earned an easy home win over Maryland-Eastern Shore as the senior guard went for 30 points on 10-for-16 shooting.


  • Another big game for Wayne Selden Jr. as he had 18 points, six rebounds and four assists to lead No. 4 Kansas to a big win over Loyola (MD). In his debut, Cheick Diallo went 6-for-8 from the field for 13 points, six rebounds and three blocks.
  • Abdel Nader had 21 points and Jameel McKay had 15 points and 19 rebounds to lead No. 5 Iowa State past North Dakota State.
  • No. 8 Villanova won a road game in Philly as they defeated Saint Joseph’s, 86-72. Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart each finished with 18 points while Ryan Arcidiacono had 17 points.
  • Virginia was able to win on the road at Ohio State without London Perrantes as Malcolm Brogdon had 22 points and six rebounds. The Buckeyes have lost four consecutive games.


  • Quality blowout win for Florida as they easily dispatched Richmond. John Egbunu finished with 17 to pace the Gators while Dorian Finney-Smith had nine points, 13 rebounds, six assists and three blocks.
  • Northwestern outlasted Virginia Tech in overtime as Bryant McIntosh had 19 points and Tre Demps finished with 17.
  • Georgia Tech defeated Wofford at home as Adam Smith led with 16 points for the Yellow Jackets.
  • Georgia needed 23 points from J.J. Frazier and 21 points from Yante Maten to outscore Oakland in a close win.
  • Moses Kingsley had 21 points and 10 rebounds as Arkansas ran past Northwestern State.
  • B.J. Tyson had 15 points and nine rebounds to help lead East Carolina past Florida Atlantic.
  • Nice win for William & Mary over Old Dominion as Omar Prewitt had 18 points and seven rebounds.
  • Ohio got past Marshall as guard Jaaron Simmons had 25 points, six assists and five rebounds.
  • Shane Rector had the game-winning free throws to lead Utah State over Missouri State.
  • Arkansas-Little Rock got a win over Central Arkansas as Marcus Johnson Jr. had 28 points.
  • Aaron Cosby had 26 points and went 8-for-15 from the field to lead Western Kentucky to a win over Eastern Kentucky.
  • D.J. Balentine had 26 points and eight assists as Evansville ran by Alabama State.
  • UMKC had a home win over Tennessee-Martin as Martez Harrison had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists.