Archive for the ‘One-Bid Wonders’ Category

Shake off the March Malaise and get excited for the NIT — it could be worse

Monday, March 17th, 2014

By Jon Hart
Special to One-Bid Wonders

There’s March Madness – and then there’s the March Malaise.

Most NIT-bound teams are feeling somewhat down and, well, left out. But they, especially mid-majors like Boston University, Vermont and Iona, shouldn’t be too down because the NIT is a good thing.

Cheer up and embrace this opportunity. You’re in the post season!

Here are some reasons, in no particular order, why teams and fans should perk up about the NIT.

It could be much worse. You could be paying to play in the CBI or CIT tournaments. Unlike these newbie tourneys, the NIT has been around a while and has some prestige and it’s relatively glamorous compared to the CBI or CIT. Enjoy it!

It could be much worse – like paying to play in the CBI or CIT: You could be staying home and playing with, well, your brackets.

The NIT’s Final Four is played at Madison Square Garden, a wonderful, first rate stage, which is not a dome. At the Garden, the cheap seats aren’t too lame. Playing at The Garden is definitely something worth striving for.

Tickets are easily available for the NIT — fans don’t have to over pay on stub hub or deal with any shady characters.

In the NIT, it’s likely that you won’t have to deal with an over abundance of fake fans — characters who show up for one game a year and paint their body in hopes of getting on television.

The NIT has much less hype – and that can be a good thing. It’s not about the hype. It’s a return to basics. Simply, it’s all about the basketball.

No neutral sites at the NIT, at least for the first few rounds. Often, neutral sites can be flat out bland. Fans of at least one of the teams playing can just roll out of bed and show up for tip.

So snap out of it: there’s still good basketball ahead of you.

Chris Pelcher and Jameel Warney engage in America East battle of bigmen Goliaths

Sunday, February 9th, 2014
Nick Billings (left) and Taylor Coppenrath (right) waged a series of epic battles in the America East. Courtesy Photo / Binghamton Athletics

Nick Billings (left) and Taylor Coppenrath (right) waged a series of epic battles in the America East. Courtesy Photo / Binghamton Athletics

(Stony Brook, N.Y) — In the ever-evolving age of college basketball, the true low-post, back to the basket five man has rapidly gone the way of the dinosaur. Teams are moving more and more towards the athletic stretch-forwards who can step out and make some jumpers or face up and drive to the basket. But it wasn’t always this way.

But once upon a time, not terribly long ago, the America East was the land where true big men roamed – and ruled the low blocks. Only a decade ago, the tiny conference tucked away along the northeast corridor was hosting epic big-man battles. Among the most memorable heavyweight headline events of more recent years were Trevor Gaines versus Ajmal Basit; Nate Fox versus Mike Pegues; 7-foot-1 Nick Billings versus 7-foot-1 Justin Rowe; Gaines versus Chris Brown; the tag-team battle royal of Rigoberto Gittens and Norman Richardson versus Carvell Ammons and Julian Dunkley versus Joe Linderman and Mike Kouser; Taylor Coppenrath versus Rashad Bell; Billings versus Ryan Butt; and Cori Spencer versus, well, everyone in uniform for Hartford.

And of course, the epic pay-per-view prize fights of Tunji Awojobi versus Malik Rose and Taylor Coppenrath versus Nick Billings.

But in today’s America East, the true big man has become entirely extinct – well, almost. On Saturday afternoon in a tiny gymnasium on Long Island, two true bigmen took the floor for what could be one of the last gladiator matches between America East Goliaths.

New Hampshire senior Chris Pelcher battled with Stony Brook sophomore Jameel Warney in the paint like two titans fighting for territorial supremacy. In the end, the veteran Pelcher led his Wildcats (6-17, 4-6) to a 73-69 upset win over the Seawolves (17-8, 9-2).

Warney and Pelcher players battled it out in what seemed like a heavyweight title fight, both of them showcasing their low-post skills that seem to have become a lost art in today’s game. Pelcher was winning the battle early, bodying Warney off the block and landing more punches shots. He gave all the credit to his teammates.

“My teammates just got me the ball when I was open and made it really easy for me,” he said. “All the guards, really. Everyone just got me the ball in easy positions for me to score, so it really wasn’t me, it was them.”

But Warney did not go down without dishing out some blows of his own. In the second half he got free in the post for a layup and he put in a shot off his patented spin move. One of the best passing bigmen the league has ever seen, Warney threw a smooth alley-oop pass to Scott King for a reverse layup. He also played better defense on Pelcher down the stretch, forcing an airball in one instance and playing great defense in the post to eventually force a shot-clock violation.

Warney put in a layup in traffic to give Stony Brook a 62-60 lead with four minutes left. But it was Pelcher who threw the knockout punch in the end, putting in a hook shot on the right block to give New Hampshire a 68-67 lead with 41 seconds left.

Pelcher finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Warney was held to 11 points on five-of-nine shooting and 10 rebounds. (more…)

Soaring River Hawks ride second half surge past Binghamton, 62-55

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014
Mark Cornelius (left) and UMass Lowell were able to bottle up Jordan Reed and Binghamton in the second half for a 62-55 win. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Mark Cornelius (left) and UMass Lowell were able to bottle up Jordan Reed and Binghamton in the second half for a 62-55 win. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

(Lowell, Mass.) — On Saturday, Dec. 21, UMass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette sat in his chair in the spacious media room at the Tsongas Arena, physically and emotionally spent. For the 11th time on the season, Duquette had watched his River Hawks play their hearts out and leave everything they had on the court against a Division I opponent. And for the 11th time, the River Hawks left the court without a Division I win.

Lowell’s record against Division I opponents stood at 0-11.

“We’ve decided as a group that we are tired of moral victories and we’re going to come back second semester and get some real victories,” Duquette said at the time of what was said in the locker room directly after loss number 11.

In the six weeks since, the River Hawks have done just that, rattling off five Division I wins against America East opponents while running off to a 5-4 record in league play and a tie for third-place in the conference standings in their inaugural season of DI hoops.

“Get knocked down seven times, get back up eight”; it isn’t the official slogan of River Hawks’ basketball, but it sure should be. On Saturday afternoon in bandbox Costello Gymnasium, the River Hawks once again lived the saying. After getting thoroughly out-hustled and out-muscled over the first 20 minutes of action, digging themselves into a 13 deficit at the half against visiting Binghamton, the River Hawks stormed back onto the court, rattling off a 19-2 run out of the intermission en rout to a 62-55 win.

“Real happy, not just with the win, but with the way we won,” said Duquette. “We found ourselves down in a deep hole, but we stayed composed at halftime and we talked about what we needed to do to win and we did all those things.”

After getting bullied on the blocks and allowing Binghamton to shoot a robust 53.7 percent from the floor in the first half (15-of-28), Lowell’s defense starved the Bearcats in the second, holding the visitors to just 32 percent (8-of-25) after the break.

“The way we won the game was clearly by playing really good half court man-to-man defense. For a coach it’s more special, I think, to win a game that way, because guys have to do it together. They gotta’ play hard, they gotta’ play together, they gotta’ play tough.” (more…)

OBW America East Power Rankings, v7

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

There are only so many ways you can describe just how bad the America East has been this year before people start to tune you out, but, without dwelling on it, let’s just say that first-year DI UMass Lowell with an entire roster of Division II players — the same team that finished eighth in the Division II Northeaster-10 conference — outplayed Vermont for a half and took Stony Brook to the wire on the Seawolves’ home court. Yes, a glorified Division II team took the America East’s two best squads to the wire.

Ugh. Anyways, Stony Brook and Vermont are looking very respectable as of now. Albany has potential if they can get healthy and get their swag back. The rest of league should just go stand in the corner and think about what they’ve done.

1. Vermont Catamounts (10-8, 5-0 in AE)
Results:
W 83-46 at Maine; W 73-47 at UMBC; W 57-40 vs UNH
This week: Jan. 24 at Stony Brook; Jan. 26 vs Binghamton
So here we are – Vermont is back at the top spot in the OBW Power Rankings (at least for a few days), the Catamounts are defending the heck out of the ball and their offense is clicking – the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Vermont passed the first of its two biggest tests of the regular season by sweeping three games in six days in what was the worst road trip in the league, playing at Maine, then at UMBC two days later, then back up at home against UNH. The Catamounts kicked the tar out of the Black Bears in Orono, playing their starters less than half the game – but not before senior forward Clancy Rugg threw down the hammer of Thor over Maine center Christian Ejiga (seen here at the 37-second mark). Vermont followed that up by walloping UMBC, with Jekyll-and-Hyde senior Candon Rusin exploding for 22 points. In the final leg of the Odyssey, the Catamounts appeared road weary and trailed a UNH team that suited up only seven players (and only six of them scholarship) 30-20 at the half. Then freshman Kurt Steidl caught fire, scoring 13 of his 16 points after half, and Vermont outscored UNH 37-10 in the second half. With sophomore forward Ethan O’Day doing work in the paint, Steidl coming into his own as perhaps the best shooter in the league, and the Catamounts sharing the ball on offense and defending every inch of the court on D, Vermont is looking like the team we expected from Day 1.

Which brings us back to second massive test for the Catamounts: Friday night’s showdown on Long Island with Stony Brook – the 1A to Vermont’s 1 as it were. The Seawolves should be favored on their home court, but if Vermont pulls out the W they will have established themselves as the clear-cut favorite. (more…)

Lo, Rosenberg have career nights as Columbia downs Stony Brook, 68-63

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

It’s not Syracuse vs. St. John’s, but Columbia and Stony Brook may be in the midst of a New York-rivalry of the mid-major kind. This time, the Lions came out on top with a 68-63 win to improve to 10-6 on the year.

“This is a great win for our program,” Columbia coach Kyle Smith said. “We try to play like-minded schools academically and also some New York-area teams, and Stony Brook’s one of the best. We expected this to be a battle.”

Sophomore Maodo Lo had a big night, scoring a career-high 29 points on 7-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc. Junior Alex Rosenberg also had a career-best of 24 points to go along with eight rebounds, his third straight game scoring 20 points or more.

“I’ve been confident, just playing within the offense and getting a lot of open looks,” Rosenberg said. “Our offense is designed so anybody can score.”

The teams battled close in the first, with Columbia taking a 28-27 lead into halftime. The Lions came out of the break on fire, knocking down six three-pointers in the first eight minutes. Stony Brook played a 1-3-1 zone at times that allowed for some open shots.

“They surprised us a little bit [playing zone],” Smith said. “I thought they would try to pressure us more, but the packed it in and we were able to make some good shots.”

The Seawolves (9-6) got within one at 55-54 with 5:11 left, but Lo knocked down a three-pointer after an offensive rebound and the Lions never looked back. (more…)

Pug-fugly: BU destroys Navy, 55-32, in the ugliest of games

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
Navy guard Thurgood Wynn throws up a prayer after losing his footing amidst a sea of Terriers defenders. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Navy guard Thurgood Wynn throws up a prayer after losing his footing amidst a sea of Terriers defenders. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

There are ugly games, there are fugly games and there are pug-fugly games.

Then, there was Tuesday night’s matchup in an empty Agganis Arena between Boston University and Navy.

The Terriers’ high powered run-and-gun offense, which began the day averaging nearly 71 points per game while shooting 44 percent from the floor, was held to a season-low 55 points and shot just 38.5 percent from the floor (20-of-52). The Terriers top-four leading scorers, Maurice Watson Jr., Dom Morris, D.J. Irving and John Papale, were all held below their season averages.

The Terriers still coasted to a 23 point win, 55-32, over the Midshipmnen – Yeah, Navy was that bad.

“If you told me they were going to score 55 points tonight, I’d have said we’d have a chance to win the game,” said Navy head coach Ed DeChellis. “We were so god-awful, I’m not sure we could have beaten four nuns and a priest tonight.”

“They make you work for shots. They mixed up their defenses pretty good, zone and man. I thought, at times, we got a little frustrated because it wasn’t easy. They were going to make us work to score and I thought that got us out of rhythm at different parts in the game,” said Terriers’ head coach Joe Jones.

Navy shot just 20.8 percent from the floor for the game (11-of-53), including just 16.7 percent in the first half, while being held to their lowest scoring total since 1943.

“We couldn’t pass, couldn’t catch, couldn’t shoot, couldn’t dribble, couldn’t do anything,” said DeChellis. “We didn’t have anything tonight.”

“I thought we did a sound job defensively,” said Jones. “Obviously they didn’t play as well offensively as they are capable of playing. But we felt like if they were able to execute their sets they were going to get quality shots. We just did a good job of guarding their offense and then once we were able to do that we were able to get a decent contest on shots.”

The Midshipmen, who entered the game leading the Patriot League in rebounding at nearly 37 per game and a plus-2.5 rebounding margin, but were out-rebounded 41-39. (more…)

OBW (post-Christmas) America East Power Rankings, v5

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

Christmas time has come and gone once again (OBW’s own Sam Perkins spent the season lighting the menorah with fellow America East members of the tribe Dane DiLiegro, Mike Horn, Josh Elbaum, Al Walker and Dan Leibovitz, but we digress), and while much of the league is looking like Charlie Brown’s sad, droopy little evergreen, Stony Brook has emerged once again as a legitimate top dog, Albany is looking solid and Vermont also appears headed back on an upward trajectory.

1. Stony Brook Seawolves (8-4, 1-0 in AE)
Results: W 76-69 at Loyola (MD), W 76-54 vs Cornell
This week: Jan. 3 at VCU
The Seawolves continue to provide some baffling – and at times truly infuriating – moments (mainly, a propensity to stop feeding sophomore center Jameel Warney the ball once they get a bit of breathing room), but they are also looking stronger and stronger as the season grinds on. Stony Brook’s offense and defense revolves around their anchor in the middle and pillar in the post in Warney, who demands constant triple teams and has still managed to shoot an absolutely stupid 66.1 percent from the floor, all while scoring nearly 16 points per game. Warney has also been pulling down almost 10 boards a night while occupying two, three, even four bodies on the blocks, freeing up teammates to go after loose rebounds unabated. While the Seawolves offense and defense begin with Warney, they don’t end there, as starting point guard Anthony Jackson has been a very solid floor stretcher from behind the arc while reserve point guard Carson Puriefoy has given the Seawolves a change of speed off the bench, attacking the hoop off the dribble. Entering the season, one large question was who would replace point-forward Tommy Brenton. While the Seawolves have not fully offset his impact on defense or on the glass, Stony Brook has taken a true point guard by committee approach, with five players (Warney, Jackson, Puriefoy, Dave Coley and Ahmad Walker) all averaging at least 2.2 assists per game. Stony Brook shares the ball, scores and defends inside and out and once again is dominating the glass. We have our frontrunner, folks. (more…)

Patriot League Recap, 11/13/13

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Holy Cross 122, Sacred Heart 118
For those of you who were wondering which game would be the highest-scoring game to show up in OBW’s recaps this year… well, you can stop looking now. This would be a contender even without overtime. The Crusaders (1-1), fresh off a reasonably impressive 10-point defeat against Harvard at TD Garden in Boston, got right to work on offense, scoring 49 points before the intermission. As if that wasn’t enough, Holy Cross added on 49 more points in the second half, and as it turned out, all 98 points in regulation were necessary, because Sacred Heart (0-2) wasn’t messing around on offense either. Both teams shot fairly well – 50 percent for Sacred Heart, 47 percent for Holy Cross – but the real show was at the free throw line. The Pioneers and Crusaders combined for a borderline-insane 94 free throws, producing some gaudy stat lines. This is to say nothing of the 28 points Steve Glowiak (brother of former Hartford Hawk Brian Glowiak) poured in on 9-of-11 shooting. It’s hard to analyze a game this bizarre, other than to note that three discrete and overlapping forces were at play at the Hart Center. One, it’s the middle of November. Two, Sacred Heart may be a particularly foul-prone team – the Pioneers defensive FTRate was over 60 percent in their home opener. And three, the NCAA’s mandate to enforce rules that are already on the books, particularly rules governing contact initiated by defenders and freedom of movement, has noticeably skewed free throw rates higher this year compared to last year.
(more…)

OBW America East preseason predictions: #1 Vermont

Saturday, October 26th, 2013
Vermont point guard Sandro Carissimo . OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Vermont point guard Sandro Carissimo . OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Projected starting lineup:
G – Sandro Carissimo, Sr., 6’2” 170
G – Candon Rusin, R-Sr., 6’4” 190
F – Brian Voelkel, Sr., 6’6” 230
F – Clancy Rugg, Sr., 6’8” 195
F – Luke Apfeld, R-Sr., 6’7” 215

Overview:
So here we are: The top of the mountain, the cream of the crop, the team to beat, the Alpha dog – or in this case, Alpha Catamount. By process of elimination (or, perhaps, discrimination, depending on who you listen to), we’re left with Vermont as the One-Bid Wonders’ preseason favorite to win the America East.

If you only listen to certain media mouthpieces, or read certain publications, you may be shocked and chagrined – mortified and stupefied – to learn that Vermont has been entrenched as the premier basketball program in the America East for more than a decade – the league’s very best.

It’s not even remotely close.

For the past 11 years, Vermont has flat out dominated the America East. Over that time, the Catamounts have punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament five times — as many times as the other eight current members of the conference combined.

Vermont head coach John Becker and his staff of assistants Kyle Cieplicki, Chris Markwood and Matt O’Brien have established themselves as some of the league’s very best. Plain and simple, they recruit good kids, who excel on the court and in the classroom, leave everything they have on the hardwood and execute.

And all they do is win. And they do so with a pittance of a recruiting budget, a high-school gym and without the hype machine powering much of college basketball (they don’t even have a full-time men’s basketball media contact. International recruiting budget? Sure, if by international you mean beyond Brattleboro).

In his first season, Becker – who eschews the “look at me now” era of modern coaching and sideline antics, opting instead to quietly get the job done – led the Catamounts to the NCAA Tournament, bludgeoning a previously bullet-proof Stony Brook squad on the Seawolves own campus. In front of more than 4,000 partisan fans, Becker was unflappable and his roster and staff followed suit.

Despite losing their top two scorers from the 2012 NCAA team, in his second year at the helm, Becker led the Catamounts to a second place finish, second-straight 20-win season, and a second-straight championship game. Vermont’s offense – inconsistent for much of the year – fired blanks in the championship game and the Catamounts suffered a last second loss on their home court to Albany, but Vermont returns their entire roster from last season with the exception of one-year transfer Trey Blue and looks primed to emerge at the top of the America East.

Like his predecessor before him, Mike Lonergan, Becker loves the flex-offense, which relies on screens, ball movement and ball reversals. He emphasizes patience and puts a premium on taking good shots as opposed to volume shooting.

Roster:

The Catamounts are extremely deep, experienced and athletic. With six seniors – two of them fifth-year players – two fourth-year juniors, five players who know what it takes to run the America East gauntlet and make the NCAA’s and 12 players who know what it feels like to come up just short of their dreams, Vermont is battle tested, hungry and motivated to get back to the Big Dance.

Becker runs the flex-offense to perfection and seems to be one of the rare America East coaches who loves to run his offense inside-out, pounding the ball into the low-post and dominating the trenches around the hoop to open up the perimeter. And he has the roster to do it.

Brian Voelkel is the engine – along with the heart and soul, the lifeblood, the toughness and the sheer, stubborn, refusal to lose — that makes the Catamounts go.

Perhaps no player in the league looks more out of place – and outright awkward – on the court than Voelkel. Listed at 6’6” and 210 pounds (and likely closer to 6’5” 250), Voelkel is built like a Rhinoceros and runs like a penguin. He isn’t going to wow you with any run-and-jump athleticism. To say his jump shot isn’t pretty or textbook is a massive understatement (to even call his one-hand, chest-heave devoid of any upward lift a “jump” shot at all is questionable).

What Voelkel is, is 77 inches of hustle and muscle, with an motor constantly running on overdrive and an Albert Einstein-like basketball IQ and a preternatural ability to rip rebounds away from a swarm of opponents, drop no-look dimes to cutting teammates, defend the bejesus out of the ball, and generally frustrate and scare the daylights out of opponents.

Voelkel is a straight ‘baller, pure and simple; capable of literally dominating a game without scoring a basket (as evident by the 2012 Championship game).

The league’s premier enforcer, intimidator, rebounder, and glue-guy, Voelkel runs the Catamounts offense as a point-forward while anchoring Vermont’s defense and generally leading the league in floor-burn, hustle-plays and hurt feelings.

While Voelkel still looks to pass first, second and third on offense, he does have the ability to create his own shot and if left unguarded will knock down the occasional three. Defensively, Voelkel uses tremendous angles, physical strength and instincts to bottle up and smother both more athletic players on the perimeter and taller players on the blocks.

Voelkel is neck-and-neck with Jameel Warney as the preseason favorite for Player of the Year honors.

While Voelkel will run the offense and ensure his teammates get the ball in a position to score, he will need someone – or several someones – to finish off his dishes. (more…)

O’Brien touches down in the Ukraine

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

o'brien

(Zaporozhye, Ukraine) — As soon as Jake O’Brien disembarked from his plane, it was apparent to the former Boston University forward that he was worlds away from his native New England.

“Very few people here speak English, and the ones that do can barely speak it,” said O’Brien, sitting in his apartment in Zaporozhye, an industrial city on the banks of the Dnieper River. Taking a breather from training camp with Ferro-ZNTU Zaporozhye, a team in the Ukrainian Superleague with whom he will begin his professional career, O’Brien reflected on the drastically different landscape from life in Boston.

“It’s kind of weird… [They’re] definitely 20-plus years behind as far as buildings, cars – just the overall landscape,” said O’Brien.

The last year has been a whirlwind journey for O’Brien, who was supposed to spend his entire career in Boston – punctuated by leading his hometown Terriers to the bright lights of the Big Dance – only to have fate get in the way.

A near career-ending injury, two surgeries, four college coaches, a post season ban, a transfer, and a graduate degree later, O’Brien finally can bask in his memory of the grand stage of the NCAA Tournament.

“I definitely gotta’ remind myself how fortunate I am,” reflected O’Brien. (more…)