Sunday, April 08, 2012
2012-13 Preview: Mid Majors, Part III
St. Louis was one of the most underrated teams in the nation all season long. They were the team that the dinosaurs in the media used to attack the computer ratings because, of course, it was "preposterous" that they were in the Top 20. But the reality is that they were a Top 20 team. Rick Majerus always builds strong defensive teams, and St. Louis was excellent (Pomeroy rated their defense 10th in the nation). And what changed this year is that they could score both inside and out. The St. Louis resume was mediocre because they scheduled a very soft non-conference schedule (which was their fault), and because they finished the season only 2-5 in games decided by five points or less or in overtime (that's just bad luck). But they proved that their rating wasn't a joke by beating an outstanding Memphis team in the NCAA Tournament before falling in a really close, well-played game against 1-seed Michigan State.
St. Louis does lose two regulars to graduation: Brian Conklin (13.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and Kyle Cassity (3.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 1.9 apg), but everybody else will be back. St. Louis has plenty of good perimeter ball handlers with Jordair Jett, Kwamain Mitchell and Mike McCall, so the biggest concern is Conklin and his rebounds. 6'11" Rob Loe (5.2 points and 2.9 rebounds in only 16.3 minutes per game) should fill some of that with additional playing time. St. Louis also expects contributions from 2011 recruits Grandy Glaze and 7-footer John Manning, who both played very lightly as true freshmen. St. Louis retains their best defenders, their best shooters and their best ball handlers, and they've shown consistent improvement in every year since Rick Majerus showed up on campus. As good as they were this past season, there's every reason to think they'll be even better next season.
Temple won the Atlantic Ten regular season title, though their season ended on a sour note with a loss to UMass in the A-10 tournament followed by an upset loss to South Florida in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64. They have a key graduation in Juan Fernandez (11.1 ppg, 43.1 3P%, 3.8 apg), and they also lose Michael Eric, who missed 13 games with injuries. Even though Fernandez led the team in assists, the Owls should still be fine in the ball handling department. Khalif Wyatt and Ramone Moore both averaged more than 3 assists per game, while Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (9.3 ppg, 56.7 FG%, 6.6 rpg, 2.4 apg) can create offense as well. Their biggest concern this past season was rebounding, particularly with Michael Eric missing time. Anthony Lee (5.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 1.2 bpg in only 17.9 minutes per game as a freshman) should develop into a good inside presence, while Fran Dunphy added Daniel Dingle (Scout: 23 PF) and 6'10" DeVontae Watson to his 2012 recruiting class. Another addition is 6'5" Dalton Pepper, a transfer from West Virginia.
Xavier was the third at-large NCAA Tournament team out of the A-10, though they took a circuitous route. After spending time in the Top Ten early on, their season seemed to fall apart after that brawl with Cincinnati, but they recovered in time to get to 10-6 in conference play. A win over St. Louis in the A-10 tournament went a long way toward securing that at-large bid. They lose three starters though, including star Tu Holloway and 7-footer Kenny Frease. The other graduation is Andre Walker (5.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg). Mark Lyons (15.1 ppg, 39.2 3P%, 2.8 apg) is the top returner, while Dez Wells (9.8 ppg, 54.6 eFG% and 4.9 rpg as a true freshman) is their top prospect for the future. Their biggest need is a point guard and another perimeter creator, after years of having Holloway generate the offense. 2011 recruit Dee Davis is a potential point guard of the future, but next year's starter should be Semaj Christon (Scout: 2 PG, Rivals: 72). Chris Mack's other top 2012 recruits are Myles Davis (Scout: 21 SG, Rivals: 140) and Jalen Reynolds (Scout: 19 PF). They also add 6'8" Isaiah Philmore, who scored 15.3 points per game for Towson in 2010-11.
The team that won the A-10 tournament, of course, was St. Bonaventure. That run through the A-10 tournament was driven by Andrew Nicholson (18.5 ppg, 60.1 eFG%, 8.4 rpg, 2.0 bpg), who was spectacular. Nicholson graduates, as does Da'Quan Cook (7.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg). Demitrius Cooper (12.1 ppg, 55.7 eFG%, 6.2 rpg, 2.3 apg) is a really good player who was overshadowed by Nicholson, and the Bonnies also return a couple of good guards in Matthew Wright and Charlon Kloof. They do lack a point guard, though. The point guard of the future was supposed to be 2011 recruit Derrick Millinghaus, but he decided to to take a prep year instead and he has now verbally committed to Ole Miss. They don't yet have a point guard signed in their 2012 class. With Nicholson and Cook leaving, size is also a concern, though again there don't appear to have recruits in place to fill in. It's hard to not see a large drop-off in talent next season.
Dayton is a team that will have a large change-over in roster with three graduating starters, led by Chris Johnson (12.4 ppg, 58.7 eFG%, 6.4 rpg). Their top returners are Kevin Dillard (13.3 ppg, 6.0 apg, 1.4 spg) and Matt Kavanaugh (9.0 ppg, 54.6 FG%, 5.9 rpg). They had a nice freshman in 6'9" Alex Gavrilovic (4.0 points and 2.8 rebounds in 12.9 minutes per game). Archie Miller has a whole bunch of new players coming in, though. Matt Derenbecker scored 6.5 points per game for LSU in 2010-11, and 6'3" Vee Sanford comes in from Georgetown. Their recruiting class features Jevon Thomas (Scout: 22 PG, Rivals: 139) and a pair of 6'8" forwards: Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson.
St. Joe's is a team that should be improved. They played a seven man rotation this past season, zero of whom were seniors and only one of whom was a junior. Carl Jones led the team in scoring (17.0 per game), though the most efficient scorers were Langston Galloway and CJ Aiken (both had an effective field goal percentage over 59%). Halil Kanacevic anchors the defense in the paint and is also a capable passer. Their biggest need is front court depth. 6'8" Papa Ndao only played 8.7 minutes per game off the bench as a freshman, but could see more time next season. Javon Baumann and Isaiah Miles are two 2012 recruits who could provide front court depth as well.
The most underrated team in the A-10 other than St. Louis was La Salle. They only went 3-8 this past season in games decided by five points or less or in overtime, and are also in a good position to be better next season with the graduation of only one starter (Earl Pettis - 15.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.9 spg). Ramon Galloway was a transfer from South Carolina who was very effective after becoming eligible midseason, and who should shine in a full season. In the middle of next season they'll get the services of 6'1" Tyrone Garland, a transfer from Virginia Tech. They also add another big in 6'8" 2012 recruit Jermaine Davis. Look for expanded play for 6'6" DJ Peterson (48.1% behind the arc as a true freshman).
One last team to keep an eye on for next season is a UMass team that improved dramatically throughout last season. Their Pomeroy rating in late December was around 130th, then moved up to 90th after the A-10 tournament, and then up to 72nd after a run to the NIT Final Four. They lose only one graduation from their regular rotation: Sean Carter (8.1 ppg, 57.3 FG%, 6.7 rpg). Their top returner is Chaz Williams (16.9 ppg, 41.9 3P%, 6.2 apg, 2.2 spg), and their excellent defense (they finished second in the A-10 with 0.96 PPP allowed in conference play) should be even better with additional playing time for Cady Lalanne (1.5 blocks in 14.9 minutes per game as a freshman), who missed half the season with a foot injury. They also will get back top 2011 recruit Jordan Laguerre, who failed to qualify academically for the 2011-12 season, but who should be able to play next season.
1. St. Louis
5. La Salle
6. St. Joseph's
Coming off the conference's second Final Four appearance in less than a decade, the Colonial didn't earn an at-large bid. You can argue that it's a bit disrespectful since Drexel was clearly playing better basketball at the end of the season than a bunch of teams that earned at-large bids, and Drexel was the one team in the Field of 68 that I missed on, but I didn't believe that they earned a bid when I put them in my bracket projection. I was responding to a week of everybody in the media promoting Drexel as a team that deserved to get in, and I thought the Selection Committee would respond to the hype. In reality, Drexel earning an at-large bid would not have made sense based on the history of the Selection Committee. Drexel was only 56th in the Sagarin ELO_CHESS, and it's rare for teams outside the major conferences to get in with an ELO_CHESS that poor. The Selection Committee does not put much more weight on the final 10 or 12 games than the rest of the season, so we can't throw out Drexel's early season struggles. And more importantly, I believe Drexel would have had the softest non-conference strength of schedule for any mid-major team to ever earn an at-large bid. The Selection Committee wants to reward hard schedules so that we have better games in November and December. The sport doesn't want to be like college football, where teams are punished for putting together hard schedules, which leads to only a small handful of quality non-conference games each college football season. Drexel should have had a tougher schedule if they wanted more at-large consideration.
That said, this is supposed to be a preview for next season, and Drexel should be in good shape with only one graduating player: Samme Givens (11.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg). Star Frantz Massenat (13.7 ppg, 45.0 3P%, 4.8 apg) still has two years of eligibility, while Damion Lee (12.0 ppg, 55.4 eFG%, 4.4 rpg) was only a true freshman in 2011-12. Daryl McCoy (6.7 rebounds in only 24.3 minutes per game) is another important returner. Their two biggest concerns this past season were ball handling and interior scoring. Turnovers killed them in their CAA tournament loss to VCU, though Massenat should be much steadier with the ball after another year of seasoning. Interior scoring is a bigger question mark. It's possible that a player like Dartaye Ruffin will become a more aggressive and efficient scorer inside. Bruiser Flint also (I believe) still has a scholarship available to go after a big, though it's unlikely at this point that there are any 2012 bigs that are unsigned that will be skilled enough to score a lot in the Colonial as a true freshman.
VCU loses Bradford Burgess (13.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg), whose leadership was so key this past season. But every other player will be back. Shaka Smart looks like he's going to stay for at least one more season, and he's going to keep his aggressive pressing defense, with the athletes to make it work. This past season they led the entire nation in steals per game (10.5) and turnovers forced per game (17.5). They also led the nation in defensive steals rate (16.0%) and defensive turnover rate (27.3%), so their stats aren't functions of tempo. They were also second in the conference in 3PA/FGA ratio (28.4). It just made it extremely difficult to get consistent scoring against them. I don't think that's going to change next season. The craziest stat to me is that Briante Weber led the entire nation in individual steal percentage (he collected a steal on 7.0% of defensive possessions that he was on the floor) as a true freshman. What does VCU need? Rebounding. Extra playing time for 7-footer DJ Haley will help, while 6'5" Traveon Graham was pretty good on the boards as a true freshman. Shaka Smart has also focused his 2012 recruiting class on size, with players like 6'9" Justin Tuoyo and 6'5" Jordan Burgess. VCU should definitely be improved next season.
The team that finished third in the conference was a disappointing George Mason squad that badly underachieved its talent. I didn't like the Paul Hewitt hire, and he didn't do anything in year one to dissuade me of that view. They lose two starters to graduation, including star Ryan Pearson (17.0 ppg, 53.8 eFG%, 8.2 rp). With Mike Morrison graduating also, the top returning rebounder had 3.3 per game this past season. Obviously they'll look for additional production from Erik Copes, who was a big time 2011 recruit who was underwhelming in his freshman season. They also add Anali Okoloi, a 6'8" transfer from Seton Hall. Their key returners on the perimeter are Bryon Allen (7.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.7 apg) and Sherrod Wright (9.6 ppg, 57.9 eFG%, 3.3 rpg). With a need for outside shooting, additional playing time for Vaughn Gray (17-for-42 on threes in only 11.3 minutes per game as a true freshman) should help. But without any big recruits for next season, George Mason should be less talented than they were this past season, so I see no reason to think they'll win more games.
Old Dominion loses four starters, including Kent Bazemore (15.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 3.1 apg, 2.1 spg) and Chris Cooper (10.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg). Of their six top minute earners returning, though, five were freshmen or sophomores this past season. Redshirt freshman Dimitri Batten is already a quality CAA player, while true freshman Jason Pimental looks like he'll be good down the road as well. Blaine Taylor's 2012 recruiting class is deep, too, so he's clearly restocking the Old Dominion program with plenty of talent. Georgia State is another team that loses four starters. They had a tremendously successful season by their standards, earning a trip to the CIT where they fell to eventual-champion Mercer in the second round. But they don't have the depth on their bench or in their 2012 recruiting class to be set up for the future like Old Dominion is.
Delaware quietly worked their way to a 12-6 conference record, their best since joining the Colonial more than a decade ago. And it was no fluke - they outscored opponents by 0.05 PPP in conference play, the sixth best margin in the conference. And they should be even better next season, with all seven players that earned double-digit minutes per game returning. And they have a player who could eventually become one of the best players in the CAA in Jarvis Threatt (10.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg and 2.3 apg as a true freshman). They add 6'8" Carl Baptiste from St. Joseph's, and have a 6'8" high school recruit in Maurice Jeffers.
One other dark horse team is Northeastern, simply because they return their top six minute earners. But my concern with them is that they may be deep, but they lack the front of the rotation talent that teams like VCU and Drexel have. They turned the ball over on 23.1% of possessions in conference play, and were particularly eaten alive by those top teams (they turned the ball over on 35.8% of offensive possessions in the CAA tournament against VCU). They also lack an explosive scorer - the closest being Jonathan Lee (14.5 ppg, 55.0 eFG%, 3.5 apg). So they should be improved, but their ceiling is limited. One other team to keep an eye on is Hofstra, because of the transfers of Taran Buie from Penn State and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel from UConn, though the rest of their roster has a long way to go to compete in the top half of the Colonial.
4. George Mason
5. Old Dominion
I talked extensively throughout the season about how underrated this Memphis team was. Back in 2010-11 they were a tremendously lucky 14-2 in games decided by five points or less or in overtime. It got them ranked in the Top Ten in the human polls early in the season. Despite the extra experience of returning every player from their regular rotation but one they went 4-5 in games decided by five points or less this past season, and were rated the 306th luckiest team in the nation by Pomeroy. It just goes to show, as I often say, that performances in very close games are basically entirely luck. If players "just know how to win", how did the entire Memphis roster collectively forget how to win with an extra year of experience? They obviously didn't - they were just unlucky, and were very underrated. I was primed to make Memphis one of the dark horses in my Tournament bracket, along with St. Louis (another team that the computers said was very unlucky and underrated). That's when the Selection Committee made its most egregious decision: forcing those two teams to play in the Round of 64. I even joked (kind of) that this might have been the dinosaurs on the Selection Committee sticking it to the stat-heads, like baseball giving the Gold Glove to Derek Jeter long after even most casual fans recognized how bad he is defensively. So instead of a deep Tournament run, Memphis went out in the Round of 64.
Memphis was a young team again this past season, and they will lose only Wesley Witherspoon (7.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.5 spg) to graduation. Will Barton (18.0 ppg, 55.0 eFG%, 8.0 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.4 spg) is off to the NBA, though. Adonis Thomas considered leaving for the Draft, but it sound like he's going to stay for another season (he missed half this past season, but averaged 8.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game when he played). Memphis does basically play like an All-Star AAU team, and their offense relies on having tremendously athletic perimeter players attacking the rim. They will have Joe Jackson, Antonio Barton and Chris Crawford back to do that, as well as 2012 recruit Damien Wilson (Scout: 25 SF, Rivals: 90) and 6'4" Geron Johnson. If they can find a way to work more of the ball through the paint, Tarik Black (10.7 ppg, 68.9 FG%, 4.9 rpg, 1.5 bpg) could be their leading scorer next season, though there isn't a ton of other proven talent in the front court. Adonis Thomas is more of a swing forward, and 6'8" Farrokhan Hall has not played particularly well since transferring in from Seton Hall. They will be looking for major contributions from the gem of Josh Pastner's 2012 recruiting class: Shaq Goodwin (Scout: 4 PF, Rivals: 26).
Southern Miss split the season series with Memphis, was basically identical in the RPI and also got put by the Selection Committee into an 8/9 game, but the reality is that Memphis was the far better team. Where Memphis was unlucky, Southern Miss was lucky, going 12-5 in games decided by five points or less or in overtime. The team suffer major losses, though. They had eight players this past season that earned 15 minutes or more per game, and four of them will graduate, led by Maurice Bolden (9.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.0 bpg) and Torye Pelham (6.2 ppg, 65.6 eFG% and 2.9 offensive rebounds per game). They also lose Darnell Dodson, a scoring spark off the bench. That said, they do return three excellent players: LaShay Page (11.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg), Neil Watson (12.3 ppg, 4.4 apg) and Jonathan Mills (9.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg). With Bolden and Pelham gone, Mills is the only proven rebounder back, meaning that the development of some bigs should be the most important offseason objective for Larry Eustachy. The best prospect, 7-foot 2011 recruit Christian Robbins, missed last season with an injury. 6'8" Juco transfer Mike Myers is another possibility.
Early in the season, Central Florida looked like a contender to win Conference USA, starting the season 15-4 with wins over Memphis and UConn, and only one bad loss (Louisiana-Lafayette). They faded late, though, going 5-5 in their final ten regular season conference games, then got thumped by 31 points by Memphis in the C-USA tournament, and then by 25 points to Drexel in the first round of the NIT. They should be better next season, though, losing only one of their top six minute earners: AJ Rompza (7.1 ppg, 4.4 apg, 2.4 spg). They should be able to immediately replace most of Rompza's production at the point with transfer CJ Reed, who averaged 16.5 points and 4.3 assists per game over three full seasons at Bethune Cookman. Their strength is in the paint, where they are led by Keith Clanton (14.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.8 bpg) and Isaiah Sykes (12.3 ppg, 55.5 eFG%, 6.4 rpg). They have a nice up-and-comer in 6'7" Kasey Wilson (3.1 points and 2.2 rebounds in only 7.4 minutes per game as a true freshman, with a 55.9 eFG%). 6'6" Rod Days is another prospect. Their top 2012 recruit is 6'8" Staphon Blair. UCF's concern is on the perimeter. Michael Jordan's son Marcus was the team's second leading scorer (13.7 per game), but he was a volume scorer (a 44.4 eFG%). Matt Williams and Taylor Barnette are two shooting guard prospects in their 2012 class. They need somebody that can hit threes consistently (UCF was dead last in Conference USA with a 31.5 3P% in conference play) to open their offense up.
The other Conference USA team to make the NIT was Marshall, though they were also dumped in the first round (by Middle Tennessee). They lose two starters to graduation as well as their 6th man. The toughest loss is starting point guard Damier Pitts (14.7 ppg, 4.3 apg). The strength of this team was offensive rebounding, though - they led Conference USA with a 40.1 offensive rebounding percentage in conference play - and they will return their four leading rebounders... assuming Dennis Tinnon gets another year of eligibility. Tinnon has only played three years of college basketball, but he has a weird situation where he went to community college and then back to high school to get a high school diploma, and then back to more college, and so the NCAA claims his "five year clock" has run out. Marshall has appealed, and the NCAA has not ruled on the appeal yet. Tinnon (10.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg) was the best rebounder on last year's team. They do have some big man prospects to fill in if Tinnon doesn't return, including 6'10" Nigel Spikes (4.8 rebounds per game), 6'8" Jamir Hanner (2.4 rebounds in only 5.3 minutes per game) and 7'2" Yous Mbao. On the perimeter their star is obviously DeAndre Kane (16.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.5 apg), and they have a nice prospect in 2011 recruit DeVince Boykins, who took a redshirt last season. Their biggest need is a point guard, though. The starting job might fall to top 2012 recruit Kareem Canty (Scout: 21 PG, Rivals: 121).
Tulsa was another underrated team. They actually finished second in the conference in PPP margin (+0.09). A highlight was a seven game winning streak in C-USA play from January through early February. But it wasn't enough to save Doug Wojcik's job, and he has been replaced by Danny Manning (yes, that Danny Manning). Manning will go into next season losing three key front court players, led by Steven Idlet (10.6 ppg, 53.2 eFG%, 5.3 rpg). DJ Magley and Joe Richard are the other two front court losses. The only returning front court player with any experience is Kodi Maduka (8.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg). Lightly used 7'2" David Wishon is probably the best big man prospect left on the roster. They will be fine on the perimeter, though, returning every player from a roster that led Conference USA in 3P% (38.1% in conference play). Jordan Clarkson (16.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.5 apg) will be the man on next year's team, and Scottie Haralson (11.1 ppg, 40.7 3P%) is another key returner. But the team is going to be thin, particularly in the front court. They didn't have a big recruiting class in place even before Wojcik was dismissed. Let's see if Danny Manning can find some summer additions.
UAB is another team that has made a change at head coach. Mike Davis is out, replaced by Jerod Haase, who played for Roy Williams and then was a longtime assistant under him at both Kansas and North Carolina. They lose star Cameron Moore (16.1 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.4 bpg), but every other player from their regular rotation is back. Jordan Swing (11.2 ppg, 38.7 3P%, 3.9 rpg) is the top returning scorer and Ovie Soko (8.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is a quality interior player. They have two other quality perimeter scorers in Quincy Taylor and Preston Purifoy. They don't have any highly touted recruits, though they might even lose one or two of those with Mike Davis being relieved of his duties, but with so much production back I doubt UAB will drop off a cliff next season.
Tulane is a team that should be improved, though they don't have the type of talent at the top of their roster yet to compete near the top of Conference USA. UTEP is team that does have some up-and-coming talent like John Bohannon (11.5 ppg, 58.5 FG%, 7.3 rpg). They lose Gabriel McCulley (11.1 ppg, 56.5 eFG%, 5.5 rpg) to graduation, but they had some nice freshmen this past season that should excel with an extra year of experience. 6'7" Julian Washburn was the second leading scorer on the team (11.2 per game) while Cedric Lang and D'Von Campbell were two other good true freshmen. They have a quality recruiting class led by Twymond Howard (Scout: 24 SF, Rivals: 69) and Chris Washburn (Scout: 25 C, Rivals: 111).
Houston is an intriguing sleeper team, as all three of James Dickey's recruiting classes have been filthy good. Their 2012 class is rated in the Top 20 in the nation by Scout, Rivals & ESPN, with two true blue chippers in Danuel House (Scout: 7 SG, Rivals: 15) and Danrad Knowles (Scout: 16 PF, Rivals: 47). The star of their 2011 class, TaShawn Thomas, has already made a big impact (10.7 ppg, 57.7 FG%, 8.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg). Jherrod Stiggers, another big time 2011 recruit, missed this past season with injury and will be back for next season. They have two other good scorers in Jonathan Simmons and Alandise Harris. Dickey didn't win a lot of games in his first two seasons at Houston, but with this much talent you have to figure that they're going to win games eventually.
2. Central Florida
7. Southern Miss