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March 28, 2012

Prior to Sunday’s CIT semifinal game, the Utah State Aggies were averaging 67 points per game. Facing a run and gun Grizzlies team, Utah State rang up a season high in defeating Oakland 105-81. Look for tonight’s CIT championship game against Mercer to be in the 60’s or 70’s as both teams led their respective leagues in scoring defense this season.

“The CIT has been an extremely positive event for us,” said Utah State Head Coach Stew Morrill.

Morrill has guided the Aggies to 13 straight postseason appearances, including eight NCAA tourneys. He has also led Utah State to the fourth best winning percentage in the nation over those thirteen years.

“It has been interesting to see that our kids really wanted to continue playing after a tough loss in the conference tournament. It lets our senior go out on a positive note and it is a great experience for our young guys to build on, as we try to make the NCAAA Tournament next season. It’s been a great experience for everyone, and it’s been nice to go from 17 to 21 wins,” said Morrill.

Mercer comes into the game at 26-11, following a 64-59 semifinal win over Fairfield.

“They are a good team, finishing right behind Belmont in the Atlantic Sun and winning 26 games. They are big, skilled, balanced, and well coached,” observed Morrill.

“They have lots of weapons, shooters, bigs, and good point guard play. Their balance concerns me. That makes them harder to prepare for,” continued Morrill.

When asked about the pace of their game against Oakland, Morrill said, “We often times end up in the 60’s and 70’s, but we always pride ourselves in being able to play at different paces.”

Sophomore All-WAC selection Preston Medlin has scored 26 points in back to back CIT games to lead the Aggies. Medlin also grabbed 10 rebounds and was one of two Aggies with a double-double on the night, as forward Morgan Grim recorded 18 points and 10 rebounds. Medlin shoots .435 from behind the arc, good for 12th in the nation.

This game has all the makings of a tight defensive battle that will go down to the last possession.


One of the more unique All-America teams is the Riley Wallace All-America team, which rewards the four-year player who has made great contributions to his team's success. Some really good players on this list.

And if you check out Wednesday night's CIT finale you will notice the Tournament MVP will be holding the Riley Wallace Most Valuable Player Award. With Coach Wallace's heavy involvement, beyond just being the chair of the selection committee, named the CIT MVP Award in his honor.

Great touch!

27, 2012

This week, Inside the Mayhem will speak to coaches around the country to get insight into the matchups in New Orleans. Who better to start with than Long Beach State Head Coach Dan Monson. The 49ers played the toughest non-conference schedule in the country this year, facing the likes of Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina, and Xavier. Long Beach State won the Big West and advanced to the NCAA tourney, losing to New Mexico in the first round. Last night, Monson shared his thoughts on the Final Four.

“I think Kentucky has the best players, and a lot of times, that will bear out, but I’ve been on the Ohio State bandwagon all week, and I’m not going to get off now. Kentucky and Louisville will have a very emotional game on Saturday and that could take a toll,” said Monson.

Monson of course mentioned the familiar names Sullenger, Buford, Thomas, and Smith, but he thinks Ohio State’s point guard play is the key.

“Craft is very aptly named. He may not be the best point guard in the country, but I think he runs his team as well as any point guard,” Monson said.

“Louisville and Kansas are the best two defensive teams we’ve played this year, with Dieng and Withey. Nobody seems to play their best against them--it’s hard to beat good defensive teams, but I’m going to stick with Ohio State. I’m very impressed with the balance they have on both ends of the court,” continued Monson.

Monson noted that all four teams have a significant post presence. Asked about the matchup between Thomas Robinson and Jared Sullenger, Monson said, “Robinson is more active athletically, and Sullenger is more of a load. It could be a matter of which point guard does a better job of getting them the ball.”

Monson will be in New Orleans with senior point guard and All-American candidate Casper Ware, who will be no doubt be making the rounds at all-star games and awards receptions.


Utah State beat Oakland at its own Sunday night in Logan, Utah to advance to the CIT championship game on Wednesday night against Mercer. The Aggies shot lights out, shooting 64% from the field, including 12-16 from the beyond the arc in the 105-81 victory. Oakland shot a dismal 36% from the field. Reggie Hamilton, the nation’s leading scorer tallied 23 points for the Grizzlies on 6-21 shooting. Oakland led the Summit League in scoring for the third straight year, while Utah State led the WAC in scoring defense. The game marked the first time Utah State has scored 100 points against a Division I opponent in Coach Stew Morrill’s 14 years. First Team All-WAC selection Preston Medlin led the Aggies with 26 points. Wednesday’s championship game figures to be a lower scoring affair, as Mercer is also a defensive minded team, leading the Atlantic Sun in scoring defense.

23, 2012

We spoke to Akron coach Keith Dambrot to get his perspective on the Ohio Bobcats’ run from the MAC championship to the Sweet Sixteen. Dambrot’s Akron Zips played in their sixth straight MAC title game, losing to Ohio 64-63, before losing to Northwestern in the first round of the NIT.

Asked if it is difficult to see Ohio advance, considering the Zips split with them during the regular season before the heartbreaking loss in the MAC championship, Dambrot, said, “I’m happy for Ohio. John (Groce) has worked hard to make that a good program. Our league is really good—they finished third.”

The Zips finished the season 22-12.

In addition to placing four teams in the Sweet 16, Dambrot noted there were eight Division I schools in Ohio with at least 20 wins. As he spoke, Dambrot was busy recruiting some of those Ohio kids at the state tournament. Dambrot is very excited about the direction of the MAC.

“Kent has been good for 13 years or so, we have had a good eight years, and John has done a great job at Ohio. The league is finally starting to put some money back into basketball,” said Dambrot.

As they set to tip it off against UNC tonight, the Ohio Bobcats look to exploit Kendall Marshall’s expected absence.

Asked about tonight’s matchup for the Bobcats, Dambrot said, “Marshall being hurt changes things a lot. With that injury, D.J. Cooper will be the best point guard on the floor. They’ve played against a lot of bigger teams. They neutralized our size. I’m not comparing us to UNC, but Ohio is used to playing against bigger teams.”

Dambrot had some other observations about the NCAA Tournament.

“I felt bad for VCU because of Shaka,” said Dambrot. Shaka Smart is a former Akron assistant.

“It’s also obvious that the mid-major/high major gap has shrunk. One of these years a mid-major is going to win it. Teams are flexible and adaptable and are learning how to beat the big guys. People are getting better at it,” said Dambrot.


It was quite a contract in games last night.

On the one hand, the Michigan State-Louisville game included sub-30% shooting from MSU and sub-40% from Louisville and only 44 points for the Spartans. Uncharacteristically, the Spartans were out-rebounded and lost the turnover battle, giving it away 15 times to 11 for the Cardinals.

The Wisconsin-Syracuse game, on the other hand, was played at a high level by both teams. Each team turned the ball over only six times, and grabbed 23 rebounds. Both shot over 50% from three point range. In the end, Jordan Taylor did not get quite the look that Wisconsin would have hoped for.

In the end, teams don’t get wins for style. It’s all about surviving and advancing, however ugly or pretty the game may be.

22, 2012

Following their fight marred game against Cincinnati on December 10, the Xavier Musketeers lost five of six and were on the verge of falling completely off the radar screen. Obviously, XU has righted the ship and plays Baylor tomorrow night for a berth in the Elite Eight.

Inside the Mayhem caught up to LaSalle Coach John Giannini to talk A-10 basketball. Following their first round NIT loss to Minnesota, Giannini was on the road recruiting when he shared his thoughts with CollegeInsider.

“They have two guards, Holloway and Lyons who are as good as any two in the country. They have toughness and size. They are really physically tough and they defend and rebound,” said Giannini.

Clearly the Musketeers have recovered and are a legitimate threat to defeat Baylor and advance.

Giannini also shared his perspective of the A-10.

“There have been years in the past when the top two teams in the league may have been better when Coach Calipari and Chaney were here, but rarely is there a year when a league has 14 teams and they all have legitimate talent and legitimate wins,” Said Giannini.

The fourteen-team Atlantic-10 boasted eight teams with 20 or more wins this year, with all eight advancing to postseason play.

“The difference in our league is not usually about talent, but more about experience, chemistry, and health. The talent level and coaching in our league is at a very high level,” observed Giannini.

Of his LaSalle Explorers, Giannini said, “This year was a step in the right direction. We were pleased to be in the top half of a great league, and we have a lot of respect for the NIT. It would have been great to get a home win against Minnesota n the NIT.”

Giannini had another interesting observation about postseason play.

“It’s fascinating that we all think that recruiting is a science and that services and rankings have merit. That’s completely false, and you see that when you look at kids like C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) and Andrew Nicholson from St. Bonaventure. Those kids were lightly recruited and both have a great chance to play in the NBA,” noted Giannini.


With the semifinals of the CIT set, three teams possessing strong defensive resumes have advanced in Utah State, Mercer, and Fairfield. Oakland, on the other hand, has the nation’s leading scorer in Reggie Hamilton and led the Summit League in scoring for the third straight season. It will be interesting to see if any team can slow down Reggie Hamilton and the Oakland Grizzlies. Hamilton has scored 30 or more in nine of his last ten games.

Notes from last night’s CIT games:

• Mercer shot a blistering 57% from the field in the second half, including 6-13 from behind the arc, against a normally stingy defense in an impressive comeback win at Old Dominion. Equally as impressive, the Bears won the battle of the boards, out-rebounding the Monarchs 35-32.

• Neither team shot the ball well in Logan Utah, but Preston Medlin converted 13 of 14 from the line, tallying 26 points, as Utah State defeated Loyola Marymount. The Utes also out-rebounded LMU 43-35.

• Fairfield out-shot Robert Morris 51%-35% to defeat the Colonials 67-61. Rakim Sanders led the way for the Stags, tallying 14 and 10 for a double-double. Robert Morris finishes another successful campaign with a record of 26-11.

21, 2012

Good things come to those who wait.

When Mercer faces Old Dominion in CIT quarterfinal action tonight in Norfolk, sophomore Jake Gollon will start for the Bears, and will probably play every possession as if it could be his last. Gollon’s approach to the game comes with a story. A 22 year old redshirt sophomore, Gollon played 2 games in 2008-09 and 9 games in 2009-10, and received NCAA medical redshirt years each season.

Gollon broke his foot playing football during his senior year of high school and has endured on again-off again efforts to be cleared to play ever since, before finally completing a full season last year.

In Gollon’s words, “I broke it playing football [in high school] and missed the rest of the season. The basketball team started 0-8, before I came out. I came back and then we went on a 15-1 run, but I came back too early. There is nobody to blame—it’s just one of those things that happened. I then re-injured it in the summer before my freshman year. I rehabbed and got hurt again.”

Through it all, Gollon has endured three surgeries on his left foot and microfracture surgery on his right knee. Gollon attributes his knee issues to compensating for his foot injuries.

Gollon described some of the challenges of being unable to play for so long.

“Robert Murphy, now the Head Athletic Trainer at NC State spent a lot of time with me. You feel pretty isolated, and I became very familiar with crutches. Coach Hoffman believed in me and saw something in me that I didn’t know I had.”

Mercer Head Coach Bob Hoffman certainly does see something in Gollon, as he described, “Jake is one of those special players who can make all those around him better and excited about their collective opportunities. What an amazing leader he has been for us this year.”

Gollon has not slacked off in the classroom, as he graduated in December and is preparing to pursue his master’s degree.

Gollon found motivation from his teammates during his tough times.

“Some of those years—the guys who were here when I got hurt worked so hard. Seeing that motivated me. Being by myself made me want it more. I constantly play with the feeling that it could always be my last game,” explained Gollon.

Gollon is averaging 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds for the Bears.

20, 2012

As the two-time Patriot League Player of the Year, Lehigh’s C.J McCollum is certainly well known in college basketball circles. Scoring 30 points in an NCAA Tournament upset of Duke, however, brought things to a new level. McCollum may have approached “household name” status, at least for a few days anyway, after his masterful performance against the Blue Devils.

Inside the Mayhem caught up to Holy Cross coach Milan Brown to get some further perspective on the Lehigh star.

Asked about the impact of Lehigh’s victory over Duke and McCollum’s performance, Brown said, “It gives our league a tremendous boost to show how good our league is and the kind of players we have. I believe it may be the first year we have had three 20-win teams in Lehigh, Bucknell, and American.”

Asked specifically about McCollum, Brown said, “He is one of the best. He is a really good player for any level. He’s got a great skill set and attack mentality. He can dribble, shoot threes, get to the rack, make free throws, and he’ll rebound and steal the ball as well.”

“He has a legitimate chance to be wearing a Jerry West logo on his uniform next year,” said Brown about McCollum’s chances to play in the NBA.

Are there any holes in McCollum’s game?

“The only thing that people will say is that he has to get stronger,” explained Brown.

Asked how to slow down McCollum, Brown said, “You have to make him into a volume shooter. He is going to get his points, but you just want to force him to take a lot of shots to get those points. It’s great to play against guys like that, though. It really gets your juices flowing.”

With McCollum and Bucknell’s Mike Muscala both juniors, the Patriot League looks to be just as strong next season. As for Brown’s Holy Cross Crusaders, following a 15-14 overall season, including a 9-5 league mark, Brown is pleased with the direction in which his team is headed. Among their wins were victories over both Lehigh and Bucknell.

“We are making steady progress. We like the guys coming back and those that we are bringing in. I believe we have guys who are ready to step up and make plays for us,” Brown said.

19, 2012

With Lehigh and Norfolk State eliminated, the Ohio Bobcats are now the darlings of the NCAA tournament. The Mid-America Conference (MAC) turned out to be very strong this year, with Ohio, Akron, Kent State, and Buffalo all with 20 wins in the East Division.

Prior to the conference tourney, Akron coach Keith Dambrot noted, “The league, especially the East is really good. It’s better than it’s been. Nothing is a lock. Any of five teams could win it--nothing would surprise me.”

Dambrot may not be surprised that Ohio won the MAC tournament, but they certainly have surprised on a national level with their run to the Sweet Sixteen. Now come the comparisons to Butler, VCU, and George Mason.

Prior to their game against South Florida, Oho Coach John Groce made an observation about Butler.
“...obviously I'm biased because Brad and I are close and Brad and I worked together, Brad Stevens, but he did such a great job getting those guys to play together as a team and to execute -- we have a saying, "Individuals play the game, teams win championships." That's the point I was trying to make to our guys.

It's not track, a track event, it's not golf, it's not a wrestling match. There's some connection there on dependent relationships between five players that are out there playing simultaneously, and I thought Butler really exemplified that over last couple of years.

I really enjoyed watching them play and I did allude to them on several occasions about -- to our guys about watching them, how well they play together and as a team and it was about team. I meant that certainly with all due respect to Butler.”


Old Dominion is making a push to become the first two-time CIT champion. The Monarchs finished yesterday’s game on a 20-11 run to defeat USC Upstate 65-56 and advance in the 2012 CIT. Blaine Taylor’s teams are always known for defense and rebounding, and yesterday was no exception.

The Monarchs harassed A-Sun Player of the Year Torrey Craig into 1-11 shooting and out-rebounded the Spartans 49-33 in the victory. ODU shot only 38.5% from the field, but limited USC Upstate to 33% in a typical “grind it out” victory.

With 11 of 13 players returning, including A-Sun Rookie of the Year in addition to Craig, the Spartans may now be known as “USC-Upstart,” as they look to build on their remarkable turnaround and make a drive for the NCAA Tournament in 2012-13.


• Florida slammed the door on the Norfolk State storybook season with a 25-0 run in the first half. Nevertheless, doors opened for Spartans’ star, Kyle O’Quinn. He became the overnight star of the tourney with his performance in the Spartans first round upset of Missouri, combined with his charisma with the media.

• The NCAA tourney is starting to look like the NFL with replay reviews. This weekend, I counted at least three video reviews of possible flagrant fouls. I’m not sure whether grazing an opponent’s chin should be called a flagrant foul or not, but I am sure the game does not need lengthy replay reviews to make the determination.

16, 2012

40, 31, 30, 34, 31, 31, 31, 39…

No, those are not the latest Powerball numbers. Those are Reggie Hamilton’s scoring totals in his last eight games. Oakland University’s All-America candidate is not doing this under the bright lights of the NCAA tourney, but he has been doing it all year long. The nation’s leading scorer, Hamilton led the Grizzlies to an 86-69 first round CIT win over Bowling Green on Wednesday night.

“Offensively, there is not anyone one on one that he can’t score against,” said Oakland coach Greg Kampe.

“He is so good with the basketball. He shoots a ton of free throws and shoots 88% from the line. He shoots step back threes, gets to the basket, splits double teams. He can really, really score. He works extremely hard—he is in the gym every day at 6 am,” elaborated Kampe.

In the eight game scoring tear, Hamilton is shooting 42-72 from three point range, a 58% clip. In that same stretch, Hamilton has gotten to the free throw line over 11 times per game, including 22 times against UMKC.

Hamilton is playing with a high level of confidence as his college career comes to an end.

“I say he is like Brett Favre,” said Kampe. “He’s a guy who thinks he can throw a football through the eye of a needle from 30 yards away. Occasionally it gets you in trouble because he is so confident, but the benefits of that confidence are so great.”

Kampe said the Grizzlies have recovered from their Summit League Tournament loss to Southern Utah.

“We have a statement: ‘If we get knocked down, we get back up.’ We are excited to be playing in the CIT. We have really challenged our kids to try to win this tournament,” explained Kampe.

Oakland hosts Buffalo in the 2nd round of the CIT on Saturday.


Will a #16 seed ever defeat a #1 in the NCAA tourney? Probably so. Though it is highly unlikely to happen tonight, there are two intriguing matchups on slate.

LIU returns to the tournament to face Michigan State. The Blackbirds secured their second straight NEC title, and have won 20 of 22, entering the tourney. LIU is third in the country in scoring (81.9), and brings an experienced, though still young roster to their first round game. Additionally, they have one component all teams need to make a postseason run--a guard who can control the ball. Sophomore Jason Brickman is 5th in the country in assists per game (7.3) and has two First Team All-NEC selections to dish to in juniors Julian Boyd (17.4/9.5) and Jamal Olasewere (16.8/7.5). LIU will have their hands full tonight, but they will not be intimidated. With that trio returning next year, look for the Blackbirds to make their third straight trip to the tourney in 2012-13.

In a classic battle of tempo, Vermont tips off against North Carolina tonight. The Catamounts have won 15 of 16 and figure to be outmatched. The “game within the game” tonight will be pace. The likely scenario has Vermont having success controlling tempo early with the Tar Heels eventually wearing them down.

Two intriguing 16 vs. 1 games to keep an eye on tonight.

15, 2012

Prior to last night’s Buffalo-American CIT matchup in Washington, D.C., American assistant Eddie Jackson, commented, “It’s a little bit of a contrast in styles. Some of our strengths are their weaknesses and vice versa.”

American was second in the Patriot League in scoring defense at 61.7 points per game, and Buffalo led the MAC in scoring at 72.7 and in field goal percentage defense at .393.

The field goal percentages told the difference, as the Bulls shot 51.6% from the field, including 43% from behind the arc, while the Eagles struggled to put the ball n the basket, shooting 33.8%, as Buffalo prevailed 78-61.

The Bulls had a potent inside-outside game going, as MAC Player of the Year Mitchell Watt and All-League choice Javon McCrea combined for 33 points mostly around the basket, and marksman Zach Filzen hit six threes, to finish with 18.

Of the victory, Bulls coach Reggie Witherspoon said, “It means the world. First of all, it gave us the chance to have back to back 20-win seasons--first time ever in the history of the school. You’re coming in and playing a team that’s won 20 games, they only lost one game at home, so it’s a big time challenge, and I think our guys responded to it very well.”

The Bulls also enjoyed the chance to visit the nation’s capital.

“We had a chance to come to a part of the country that we hadn’t been to in awhile, and we had pretty good support. It was a great education for us. Most of our team had never seen the White House and had never been to DC, so it was a good trip for us,” said Witherspoon.


The last first round CIT game tips off tonight as USC Upstate hosts Kent State. Fresh off his recent 400th win, USC Upstate Coach Eddie Payne said the Spartans are ready.

“We are real excited. It’s our first time in postseason play in Division 1, so we’re very excited. There’s no down side. We are a young team and a young fan base, so this helps too, as far as building our fan base” said Payne.

Payne has done his homework on Kent State.

“They’ve been to postseason play 13 of 14 years. They are the tenth most experienced team in the country, and they start four seniors, so they are a really good, solid team.”

While the Kent Golden Flashes have achieved a long period of success, the Spartans have shown a dramatic 15-game improvement over last year. The future looks bright, as they boast the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year in sophomore Torrey Craig and the conference Freshman of the Year in Ty Greene.

14, 2012

First his house caught fire and then his team did, he explained.

Speaking from Dayton, Ohio last night, Vermont’s first year coach John Becker did not even realize what he had said in describing his roller coaster first season leading the Catamounts.

The Becker family had a reality check at 6:30 am on Tuesday, December 27 when a passing construction worker knocked on the door to alert them that their house was on fire. As it turns out, smoldering ashes left on the porch ignited a blaze, which may well have ended in tragedy, were it not for the passerby waking the family up in the nick of time.

The Catamounts had just emerged from a five game losing streak, with wins over Fairleigh Dickinson and Towson, but would go on to lose their next two, dropping to 6-9. At this point, perspective was not a problem, as Becker had a recent reminder that there are many things in life more important than basketball.

Since that time, Vermont is 17-2 and poised for their First Four matchup with Lamar tonight.

“We were playing alright, but we had a really tough non-conference schedule,” said Becker, speaking of Vermont’s start. Their first seven losses and eight of eleven were to postseason teams.

“After our Stony Brook loss (January 2), we really buckled down. We started to develop some things defensively and the guys bought in. We also have such a young group, and we allowed them to play through some mistakes. We stuck with ten guys and developed some depth, and now we are able to wear some teams down,” said Becker.

Of tonight’s matchup, Becker said, “It’s a little bit a contrast of styles. They like to run and play fast and do a lot off the bounce. They are probably a little more offensive oriented, while we are a little more defensive oriented.”

If tonight’s First Four matchups are anything like last night’s we are in for quite a show.


A couple of notes from last night’s first round CIT games:

• One of the benefits of the CIT is the opportunity for young players to gain some more valuable practice and game time. Old Dominion freshman Richard Ross is now Exhibit A, as he shot 8-9 from the field and scored a career high 19 points, helping the Monarchs to grind out a 68-66 victory over Coastal Carolina.

• Georgia State showed why they led the CAA in field goal percentage defense, limiting Tennessee Tech to 28% shooting from the field, including 9% from three point range, as the Panthers ran away from the Golden Eagles 74-43. Georgia State held OVC leading scorer Kevin Murphy to seven points on 3-11 shooting.

• IN a tightly contested battle, All-America candidate Damian Lillard led Weber State past Utah Valley 72-69. Lillard had 21 points and 5 assists, while UVU’s Isiah All-League choice Isiah Williams scored 26 for the Wolverines. Turnovers were the difference as Utah Valley turned it over 17 times, compared to nine for Weber State. The resulting extra possessions for the Wildcats carried them, as all other stats were about even.

13, 2012

It’s been a whirlwind at Norfolk State since Saturday, but Spartans Coach Anthony Evans is not complaining.

“It’s been crazy, but it’s a good crazy. I haven’t slept much,” said Evans, describing his last couple of days.

Norfolk State defeated Bethune-Cookman 73-70 Saturday to earn their first ever MEAC title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I tournament. Prior to moving to Division I in 1997-98, the Spartans played in fifteen NCAA Division II tournaments.

Sunday evening, the Spartans learned they would face Missouri on Friday in Omaha. Evans and his staff quickly started gathering information on the Tigers.

“We started putting stuff together,” explained Evans. “They’re pretty good. They’re 30-4,” said Evans.

Evans said he has reached out to some of his friends in the profession to get their thoughts about preparing his team for their first-ever tourney appearance.

“I’m a little concerned about their reaction when we get out there, but we are going to try to keep it as normal as possible,” said Evans.

With the help of MEAC Player of the Year Kyle O’Quinn, Evans has led the Spartans to their best four year stretch since entering Division I.


Despite a loss to Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun semifinals, the Mercer Bears (22-11) still have a lot to play for. Mercer faces Tennessee State tonight in the first round of the Postseason Tournament (CIT). This marks the first postseason appearance for the Bears in 27 years, and just the third time in program history.

“We have the chance to tie for the most wins in the 106 years of basketball at Mercer, on top of playing in the postseason for the first time since 1985” said Coach Bob Hoffman.

Asked about the after effects of last week’s A-Sun tourney loss, Hoffman said, “Last week was spring break, so it was a good time for our kids to have a few days off. Since then we have had the opportunity for our young guys to work on some deficiencies.”

Mercer’s opponent, Tennessee State, dealt Murray State (30-1) their only loss of the season, beating the Racer 72-68 in February, before losing to them on the OVC championship game.

Of Tennessee State, Hoffman said, “Everybody I’ve talked to says we got a tough draw. They are athletic, they are skilled, and they are disciplined. They have had a good plan in every game that I’ve seen them play.”

9, 2012

We hear all the time about the highly valued “double bye” in the Big East Tournament. How about the “triple bye?” That is what Akron and Buffalo earned by gaining the top two seeds in the MAC Tournament in Cleveland.

The Zips (21-10/13-3) open tourney play tonight in the MAC Semifinals against #4 seed Kent State. Akron is on quite a run, with seven consecutive 20-win seasons.

“We are a very young team, trying to get better,” said Coach Keith Dambrot.

“We try to do it in a way that we can sustain peaks and valleys. That’s why we take a lot of four-year guys. It’s hard to make this kind of a run. You need stability and we’ve been able to keep our staff together and get high character guys,” continued Dambrot, in his eighth season at the helm.

Due to the bye, the Zips have not played in a week.

“I’m a little nervous with the bye, but we just have to relax and play our game,” said Dambrot.


Stony Brook faces Vermont in their second consecutive America East championship game on Saturday.

“There is such a buzz on campus. There are lines outside right now for tickets. It’s been crazy. It’s great for our community, especially since we’ve only been in Division I for twelve years,” said Stony Brook Coach Steve Pikiell.

“We came up two points short last year, so I’m really happy for my guys to get back there. Every guy who will check into the game for us on Saturday has been there before, so I’m hopeful that they will benefit from that experience,” said Pikiell.

Pikiell, who was named America East Coach of the Year, has a lot of respect for Vermont.

“They’ve been good for ten years. We’re going to have to play very well to win. Sometimes it comes down to making shots. We were 0-15 from three point range up there. We also have to slow down Four McGlynn this time. He’s the Rookie of the Year in our league and had 25 against us up there,” said Pikiell, also citing Vermont All-League selection Matt Glass, saying, “He has had his best year.”

The Seawolves and Catamounts split during the regular season, each winning on their home floor.

Stony Brook also earned their share of regular season honors. In addition to Pikiell’s accolades, Tommy Brenton and Bryan Dougher each earned First Team All-America East honors, while Brenton was also selected America East Defensive Player of the Year.


It’s “sit and wait time” for Drexel and Bruiser Flint.

“It is what it is,” said Flint. “I told our kids not to get all wrapped up in it. We’ll be playing somewhere next week.”

The Dragons 19 game winning streak came to an end on Monday night in the CAA final in Richmond, as VCU defeated Drexel 59-56.

Flint points to defense and rebounding as keys to the Dragons’ success this year.

“We defend and rebound every night. We’ve been very consistent, and our focus all year has been unbelievable,” noted Flint.

For now, the Dragons will get together for practice today, after taking a few days off. Flint and his players plan to spend Sunday by themselves, watching the selection show, hoping to hear their name.

8, 2012

When reached by phone late Wednesday afternoon, South Dakota State Coach Scott Nagy sounded physically and emotionally drained. He admitted to surviving on very little sleep over the last several days, as the Jackrabbits advanced to the NCAA tournament by winning the Summit League championship. SDSU defeated Western Illinois 52-50 in overtime on Tuesday night, advancing to the dance for the first time since transitioning from Division II to Division I.

The championship was the culmination of years of hard work and persistence during the transition to Division I. Prior to their entry into Division I in 2004-05, the Jackrabbits qualified for the NCAA tournament 24 times. Their first bid to the Division I tourney means a lot.

“On a personal level, the transition has been hard. We won so much at the D-II level, and then we lost some players, but the tough years were good for me as a coach. I learned to persevere and I appreciate winning more,” said Nagy.

Of the immediate benefits, Nagy said, “It should help with recruiting, and it’s a great day for our university and our state. Our women’s team has made it for the 4th time, and now we’ve made it too, so it’s really big.”

Last week, Nagy told Inside the Mayhem, “If we defend and rebound, we’ll have a chance.”

Defend and rebound they did, as SDSU held Western Illinois to 16 points in the 2nd half of regulation time, while outrebounding the Leathernecks 38-32.

It’s a good thing they did defend and rebound, as Nagy observed, “We were at our worst offensively. Western Illinois had a lot to do with that, but we were not real good offensively.”

Nagy and his team are trying to enjoy the moment.

“It’s so emotional because of where we’ve been. We are trying not to look ahead. We are taking a couple of days off and then we’ll get back to work, and we’ll have a big event on Sunday,” explained Nagy.


The stars came out in the Patriot League last night. Lou Henson Award nominees did not disappoint in the Patriot League championship, as Lehigh defeated Bucknell 82-77. Patriot League Player of the Year C.J. McCollum led the way for Lehigh with 29 points and 5 assists, while Bucknell’s All-Patriot League player, Mike Muscala also had a monster game with 30 points and 14 rebounds.

“Offense Wins Championships?”

Montana and LIU players showed why they are starters. In LIU’s 90-73 NEC Championship win over Robert Morris, all five starters scored, combining for 80 points, led by C.J. Garner’s 21. The Blackbirds won their second consecutive NEC Championship.

Likewise, in the Big Sky title game, Montana’s starters scored all 85 points and played all but nine minutes as they Grizzlies ran away from Weber State 85-66. Weber State’s Henson nominee and Big Sky Player of the Year, Damian Lillard went out in style, with 29 points, 10 boards, and 7 assists.

7, 2012

Texas Arlington (23-7/15-1) opens the Southland Conference tournament tonight against Nicholls State in Katy, Texas, but the Mavericks success started far to the north.

“It all started in Vancouver,” said Southland Conference Coach of the Year Scott Cross, speaking of the Mavericks’ August trip to Canada.

“It was an unbelievable experience of team bonding, where we really grew closer as a team. We won five games by 30-40 points. Last year, we were the 2nd youngest team in the country, so we really benefitted from the trip,” explained Cross.

The Mavs took early non-conference losses to Baylor, Texas, Tulsa, and Utah State, but rebounded to defeat Kent State before winning 15 consecutive Southland games. The Mavs have won 19 of 21, with the losses being by two to Weber State and by 9 to Texas San Antonio, spoiling UTA’s bid for a perfect conference mark.

Cross points to field goal percentage defense as a key stat for the Mavericks.

“That’s been our strength all year. In our last five games, we slipped a little, but we had an unbelievable practice today (Monday). If we win the war on the boards and hold teams under 40% field goal percentage, we are in good shape,” said Cross.

Senior guard LaMarcus Reed, an All-Southland selection, leads the Mavs.

“He’s a fifth year senior and really does an outstanding job. He steps up with the game on the line” said Cross.

Among other Mavs, Cross mentioned 6’10 junior Jordan Reves.

“He has improved as much as any post player I’ve ever coached,” said Cross.


• Wichita State, Middle Tennessee, Oral Roberts, and Iona, are the four most surprising early exits of the last week, with more to come. Of the four, Wichita State is the only NCAA lock, with the others hanging on by a thread. Their fate can change by the hour in what has to be the longest week of their lives. They all seem assured of postseason play, but they will have to wait until Sunday to learn which invite comes their way.

• The other side of the coin: The list of surprise winners has to start with Western Kentucky, as the Hilltoppers won their final six games to get to 15-18, winning the Sun Belt Championship, earning an automatic bid. Add South Dakota State (27-7) and Harvard (26-4) to the list of feel good stories, as the Jackrabbits make their first ever NCAA appearance and the Crimson dance for the first time since 1946.

• Look for a great matchup in the Patriot League championship tonight as top seed Bucknell hosts second seeded Lehigh. The teams split in the regular season and boast two of the top mid-major players in the country in Lehigh’s two-time Patriot League Player of the Year C.J. McCollum and Bucknell’s Mike Muscala. Both players are candidates for’s Lou Henson Mid-Major Player of the Year Award.

6, 2012

In the end, Drexel gets to sit and wait much like VCU did last year, after losing last night’s CAA title game. Before a raucous crowd on a “neutral” court, VCU’s defensive pressure was relentless in the first half and the Rams withstood a Dragons second half comeback to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tourney.

It was a tale of two halves in Richmond. VCU put up 35 points in the first half and had their pressure defense in full throttle. The Dragons were able to get stops and slow down the Rams’ press in the second half, outscoring VCU 37-24, but it was too little, too late, as VCU prevailed 59-56.

Remembering the anxious days leading up to Selection Sunday last year, VCU Coach Shaka Smart told the crowd, “You can relax for six days, because we are in the tournament!”

The environment was electric in Richmond as the tourney had three consecutive sellouts and set an attendance record. When asked about the neutral court after the game, Drexel Coach Bruiser Flint commented, “It is what it is. Of course the coaches would like to move it around. I would like to play it at Drexel (laughter). It is what it is. It’s always been down here. The thing that makes it tough is that they’re really good...It looks good, because if they make the championship game, you’re gonna to get this kind of atmosphere. You look at a lot of championship games, and they don’t have this kind of atmosphere. But it is what it is, and you’ve gotta deal with it.”

Now it’s Drexel’s turn to sit and wait for six days to learn their postseason fate. If it works out the same way it did for VCU last year, the wait will be worth it.


Two time Big Sky MVP, Damian Lillard leads Weber State into the tourney semifinals tonight against Portland State.

The Wildcats lost to conference leader Montana in their final regular season game, but Weber State Coach Randy Rahe is confident that his team is ready.

“That last game was not what we wanted it to be. We kind of got out of character and out of whack, but the last few days of practice have been very good. We’ve gotten back to moving the ball and trusting each other. This is a great group, and they are very resilient,” said Rahe.

Of his matchup with Portland State, Rahe said, “They’ve got two First Team All-Conference players (Charles Odom and Chehales Tapscott) and they can really score the ball. We had two really different games with them. We really have to try to slow them down. To try to beat them three times is tough.”

Rahe’s MVP Lillard, however, gives him some confidence. Lillard comes into tonight’s game averaging 24.5 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

“He’s had a great year. He’s really elevated himself. After last year was cut short by injury, he got in the weight room and changed his body. He is the hardest working kid I’ve had in 22 years. He is a great player and an even better kid” said Rahe.

Rahe admitted the NBA may come calling, so Lillard’s junior season could be his last.

He realizes, however, that the Wildcats cannot be one dimensional.

“When we are at our best, we have two or three others in double figures.

5, 2012

March certainly provides much drama and many powerful memories for basketball families.

Let’s take a look at two such stories.

In St. Louis yesterday, Creighton Head Coach Greg McDermott had the privilege of watching his son Doug score 33 points in leading the BlueJays to the Missouri Valley Conference title with an 83-79 overtime victory over Illinois State. The younger McDermott was crowned the MVC Player of the Year last week, and has emerged this year as an All-America candidate and one of the top players in the country. In the postgame presser, the younger McDermott said, “ I remember like yesterday as a 4th grade kid up there on the stage with my dad’s team (Northern Iowa)...This is what we all dream of--to play on national television for a championship.”

Indeed a proud moment for father and son.

Meanwhile, the other part of March was playing out for the Baron family in Kingston, Rhode Island. Following a 7-24 season, Coach Jim Baron was released from his contract at the University of Rhode Island, after 11 seasons. Baron finishes with a 186-124 (.526) overall record and three A-10 Coach of the Year honors (2003, 2007, 2009). In a press release issued by the university, Baron said, “I would like to thank the University of Rhode Island and the people of the state of Rhode Island for the opportunity to have served as head coach for 11 years. My entire family has received support, friendship, and love from so many people. We will rely on those friends, and also our faith, in this period of transition."

"I am comfortable with everything I was able to give to the program and to coach some fine young men. I wish nothing but the best for the program and the University of Rhode Island," Baron added.

One of those fine young men whom Baron coached on this year’s team was none other than his son, Billy Baron, a sophomore transfer from Virginia. Coach Baron’s older son, Jimmy, also played for his father at Rhode Island from 2005-2009.

Two powerful, yet starkly different March memories for two great basketball families...


With their 77-56 victory over IUPUI on Saturday, South Dakota State advanced to tonight’s Summit League semifinal against Southern Utah, an upset winner over Oakland. The Jackrabbits (25-7) have won six in a row and nine of ten, and dodged a rematch with Oakland, a team that beat them at the end of January. In avoiding Oakland, South Dakota State does not have to face Grizzlies guard Reggie Hamilton, who averages 26 points per game and tallied 31 in their semifinals loss.

South Dakota State is led by junior All-Summit guard, Nate Wolters. Of Wolters, Jackrabbits Head Coach Scott Nagy said, “He is a great guard, and we kind of get used to his performances. He averages over 20 points, six assists, and five rebounds per game. People have tried everything on him. It’s a pretty good season to average 20 points and to lead the league in assists.”

Of the prolific individual scorers in the Summit this year, Nagy said, “It’s unbelievable to have five guys averaging over 20 points per game.”

In addition to Wolters and Hamilton, Player of the Year Dominique Morrison (Oral Roberts), Frank Gaines (IPFW), and Alex Young (IUPUI) also dropped more than 20 per night this year.

Nagy understands the only sure way to win an NCAA tourney bid is to win the Summit tournament. In a league of high scorers, defense might play a big role.

“We have to defend and rebound. If we defend and rebound, we will have a chance,” said Nagy.


Tonight’s CAA Championship matchup between VCU and Drexel will be a great battle of tempo, with VCU wanting to get up and down, and Drexel being more comfortable in the half court. It will be interesting to see how VCU responds after such a crazy game last night. After building a first half lead of 32-4, the Rams hung on as George Mason mounted a furious comeback, eventually defeating the Patriots 74-64. VCU will have their hands full with a Drexel team that has won 19 straight and 25 of 26, after starting the season 2-4. A big question remains. Is the CAA a one or two bid league this year? Most likely, if VCU wins tonight, Drexel will secure an at-large bid. The big question is what happens if Drexel wins. VCU is in familiar territory, feeling as if they need a win tonight to cement an invite to the dance. Last year, they felt the same way, and we all know how that turned out. Inside the Mayhem will be at the game tonight in Richmond to see it unfold.

2, 2012

With the Sun Belt Tournament set to start on Saturday, Arkansas-Little Rock Coach Steve Shields has to be happy with the way his Trojans have performed in the second half of the season. After beginning the year 3-10, UALR has gone 12-5, to even up their record at 15-15. The 3-10 start was not as bad as it might have looked to outsiders.

“We lost our top three scorers and five seniors from a team that made a run to the conference championship. We had a new team,” said Shields.

“Our non-conference strength of schedule was 50th in the country this year and including freshmen, redshirts and walk-ons, we had nine new guys total. Between our tough non-conference schedule and having a different team, those factors contributed to our start. You have to dissect those thirteen games, though. In a lot of those games, we led late, but didn’t know how to finish,” explained Shields.

“We were up late against both Oral Roberts and SMU, but we were shooting ourselves in the foot. We were playing much better than our record indicated. The big positive is that we continued to have good practices, full of energy, enthusiasm, and attention to detail,” noted Shields.

Leading the way for the Trojans have been senior captains Courtney Jackson and D’Andre Williams.

Shields can’t say enough about his captains.

“We vote for captains at the beginning of the year, and those guys were on all 15 ballots. There is a reason. Courtney did not finish last year due to a torn meniscus, but he is playing with the utmost confidence. D’Andre really values the basketball. We only average 11 turnovers a game--he’s been our point guard for two years. Neither guy is a big talker, but they lead by example and do it in a quiet way. I love those guys. They are really special,” said Shields.

Of the Sun Belt tourney, Shields said, “It is wide open. Middle Tennessee has established themselves as the best team in the league, but any number of teams are capable of making a run.”

Shields pointed to rebounding as one of the keys for the Trojans to make a run.

Asked to identify mid-major teams capable of making a postseason run, in addition to naming Middle Tennessee, Shields identified Oral Roberts from the Summit League.


In the best month of the year, let’s take a look around the college basketball landscape at some other story lines:

• How about Virginia and Virginia Tech? Unlike past years, the Hokies are not on the bubble, but they certainly have encountered some tough luck recently. Tech has lost four of five. Those four losses are by 1 to Florida State, by 2 to Virginia, by 5 to Duke in overtime, and by 2 to Clemson. Their lone victory is by 1 over Georgia Tech in overtime. Virginia, despite a tough loss to Florida State last night, still has a strong resume in my mind. Aside from two double digit losses in February to Carolina and Clemson, the other blemishes on the Cavaliers record are two point losses to Virginia Tech and TCU and three point defeats to Duke, Florida State, Carolina, and again Florida State. I still look for the Cavaliers to make some noise.

• You’ve got to love the Patriot league format of tourney games being hosted by the higher seed. If you want to see a great tourney environment, look no further than the Patriot League. The regular season brings on even greater meaning, when teams are battling to host playoff games.

• If the Atlantic Sun Tournament holds true to form, look for a great championship game battle between Belmont and Mercer.

• A playoff is still possible in the Ivy League, with Harvard at 10-2 and Penn at 9-2. The Crimson still play Columbia and Cornell. Penn plays Brown tonight, followed by games with Yale and Princeton.

1, 2012

The milestones and honors are already piling up for the South Carolina Upstate Spartans. Last Saturday’s 90-72 victory over Stetson was not only Coach Eddie Payne’s 400th career win, but it was also win number 20 for a team that totaled 20 wins in the three previous seasons combined.

Payne was much more excited about the 20 wins than the 400.

“My milestone was going to happen sooner or later. It’s significant for these kids to get 20 wins in their first season of eligibility,” commented Payne.

USC Upstate is postseason eligible in Division I this year, after transitioning from Division II.

Monday afternoon, the accolades continued, as Payne was named Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year, Torrey Craig, Player of the Year, and Ty Greene, Freshman of the Year.

With a roster of almost all freshmen and sophomores, the future looks bright for the Spartans, but Payne is focused on the Atlantic Sun tourney.

“I am proud of our kids and team, but in one-bid leagues, the tourneys are always tense and tough,” noted Payne, in his 10th year at Upstate.

Payne is pleased with the performance of the Atlantic Sun this year. Belmont is well respected nationally, and Mercer has had an outstanding season.

“In the latest Sagarin ratings, we are 15th, 8 spots higher than the Southern Conference and 9 spots higher than the Big South. This is the best the league has been since I’ve been here,” observed Payne.

While the individual honors are nice, Payne is much more focused on his team’s accomplishments.

“The honors are the ultimate validation of our team,” said Payne. “It’s the ability of those guys to integrate their talents and perform within what the team is trying to do that is special.”

Of his sophomore Craig, Payne noted, “He is 6’6 with range. He can rebound and block shots. He does a lot of different things for us. Last year, his numbers were similar, but we only won five games. It’s very gratifying.”

Payne sees two keys to continuing into March. “Our half court defense has been more consistent. We played more full court trapping earlier, but teams in our league know us better, so we don’t do as much of that now. Our half court defense has been good. We have also been more efficient offensively. Those two things are big.”

Asked if he has had time to enjoy all of the recent accomplishments, Payne remained focused on the future, saying, “We will purposely wait to enjoy the honors, because we know they would pale in comparison to winning the tournament.”

. 27, 2012

Notre Dame’s 4-27 three-point shooting did them in on Saturday, ending their nine game winning streak, but they still appear to be playing their best basketball heading into March.

“Everybody wants a secret formula for why we are playing well, but from mid-December on, we knew who we would have available, and we had a good month to practice together,” explained Mike Brey.

The Irish lost fifth year senior Tim Abromaitis to a torn ACL in late November.

“Beating Pitt in late December and then Louisville gave us confidence, and then beating Syracuse (January 21) was the ultimate. Our guys have handled it maturely. They’ve gotten hungrier,” continued Brey.

Defense and rebounding has been a staple for the Irish.

“There is no question that we allow fewer possessions because of our tempo, but our defense on those possessions has been good. We have been really good defending the arc with Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant,” said Brey.

Of this year’s Big East, Brey said, “You have to keep your seatbelts on, because it is as unpredictable as ever both on and off the court. Collectively, we understand that we can get better. Last year, we were a finished product by around Christmas, which was okay, because we were a pretty good product. This year, we feel like we can still get better by New York City.”

Regarding the future, Brey expressed his thoughts on conference realignment.

“It’s disappointing. I love our identity and what we’ve had. Syracuse and Pitt are great and sexy basketball programs. The addition of Memphis will be good and so would Temple,” said Brey.

. 20, 2012

Following two consecutive National Championship game appearances, the Butler Bulldogs embarked on a different journey this year. With three freshmen and six sophomores on the roster, Butler is 17-12 overall and 10-6 in the competitive Horizon League.

I recently had an opportunity to catch up with Butler mentor Brad Stevens to get his perspective on coaching a younger team this year, after back to back NCAA final appearances.

INSIDE THE MAYHEM: What is this year like, coaching a less experienced team after playing in two consecutive championship games? How do you and your staff approach coaching this team, compared to a team contending for a national championship?

Brad Stevens: Every team that you coach has its own unique set of challenges. As a coach, you keep teaching, you keep working, and you give that group everything you have, regardless of where you stand in relation to the opposition.

INSIDE THE MAYHEM: With six freshmen and three sophomores, can you comment on the development of your young players? Does anyone in particular stand out as making great progress this year?

Brad Stevens: I think that all 9 have made strides. If we’re going to make a run in our conference tournament, a few of those guys will have to play at a very high level.

INSIDE THE MAYHEM: How has the leadership been this year from your experienced players who have played in national championship games? What kind of impact have they had on your younger players?

Brad Stevens: Ronald Nored and Garrett butcher have done a great job leading this group—most importantly stressing the right things and maintaining a positive attitude and approach.

INSIDE THE MAYHEM: What do you see down the stretch and in the future for your program?

Brad Stevens: Our program for the long-term is in a very “healthy” position. Next year, we’ll have great depth n a lot of areas and a better mix of old and young. This year, we need to go after and value every opportunity and see if we can be playing our best basketball at the end of this month.

INSIDE THE MAYHEM: How about your league this year?

Brad Stevens: It’s a very good league. Has been for all 12 years that I’ve been here. The problem has never been the reality; the problem has been the perception.

INSIDE THE MAYHEM: On the national level, who has made an impression on you?

Brad Stevens: I was very impressed with Gonzaga when we played them in December. I think that they have all the tools to make a run.

. 12, 2012

In their inaugural season in the MEAC, the Savannah State Tigers were picked eleventh in the thirteen-team league.

“I didn’t have a problem with it,” said Tigers’ coach Horace Broadnax. “It’s hard to predict the future. If you had told me that I would be a head basketball coach in Division I and have a law degree, I am not sure I would have believed it, either.”

The Tigers have made believers out of the prognosticators, as they are 8-2 in league play and 15-10 overall, good for second in the MEAC. They are in the midst of a six game winning streak and have won nine of ten.

Broadnax points to a January 3 loss at Arkansas as a turning point. After a 1-5 start, SSU was 5-8 going into the Arkansas game. It should be noted that the Tigers were not playing a soft schedule, having faced Georgetown, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Georgia Tech.

“We had a lot of time to prepare for Arkansas,” recalled Broadnax. “We pressed for about twelve minutes in that game to get back into it, and we cut their lead to six. We held them scoreless for a long stretch. Since then we’ve been playing with a lot of energy on both ends of the court. We’re really getting after it and trying to wear teams down. That game was a springboard, in that we began playing with a lot of energy and passion, so I said, ‘let’s rock and roll with it.’”

Of their recent success, Broadnax cautions, “We need to guard against being content and happy. We need to maintain our enthusiasm and energy level.”

The top three finishers in the MEAC earn first round byes. Those coveted byes will be up for grabs down the stretch. In Broadnax’s words, “The followers could be leaders and the leaders could be followers.”

If the Tigers expect to contend, they will lean on junior forwards Rashad Hassan and Arnold Louis. After sitting out last year, those two were supposed to lead the Tigers in their first MEAC season in hopes of making a push next year. Hassan and Louis, however, were not willing to wait until next year, instead leading SSU into contention this year. JUCO transfer Deric Rudolph has stretched defenses, hitting over 70 threes, and point guard Preston Blackman has been an effective quarterback. The rest of the Tigers are in Broadnax’s words, a “committee of energy, excitement, and passion.”

While the MEAC winner remains to be crowned, SSU has certainly exceeded preseason expectations, and is well positioned to make a push for postseason play this year and contend again next year.

. 6, 2012

Pat Skerry and his staff come into Towson with their eyes wide open, knowing the rebuilding process that lay ahead of them. Despite this year’s well documented 22-game slide to start the season, Skerry and the Tigers remain resolute in their efforts to build a winning program in one of the premier mid-major leagues in the country.

“We knew there would be challenges, but I have a great staff, and we are getting better every day,” said Skerry. “We try to deal in reality,” continued Skerry. “We try to emphasize getting tougher physically and mentally. Winning programs do what they do every day. We really try to focus on now.”

Skerry knows a bit about winning programs, having spent time in the Big East at both Pitt and Providence, but he is realistic about his current team’s limitations.

“We really want to build this on defensive rebounding, but we have some deficiencies offensively. Dribbling, passing, and catching is sometimes an adventure for us,” explained Skerry.

Reinforcements are on the way, with Big East transfers Jerelle Benimon and Mike Burwell becoming eligible next season and a strong recruiting class coming in. A new on-campus arena will open in 2013-14, which Skerry said will be the “crown jewel of our league.”

Skerry is impressed with the CAA and is looking forward to continuing the building process.

“It’s a great league. Right now, there are four teams and then everyone else. The top four of Mason, VCU, ODU, and Drexel are all postseason teams, and I’m really impressed with what Northeastern has done this year, too. We knew the league was good, and we are looking forward to climbing. Our university is in a great area, and we have everything in place to build a contender,” said Skerry.

. 30, 2012

Three guesses: Who is tied with Kentucky for the third longest win streak in the country behind Murray State and Nevada? In America’s Heartland, you’ll find the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles with an overall record of 20-4 and a 12-0 league record to go with their thirteen game winning streak.

Asked the key to his team’s success this season, ORU Coach Scott Sutton immediately laughed and answered, “Good players.”

“We have experience. We have all been here through rough games, we’ve been on the road, and we’ve had success with this group,” explained Sutton.

One of those good players Sutton referred to might actually be called a great player.

Dominique Morrison is a 6’6 senior, averaging 20 points and 4 rebounds, while shooting 51% from the field, including 48% from three point range.

Of Morrison, Sutton said, “In the last ten games, he has played as well as anyone in the country. He is shooting great.”

Morrison is coming off a 28-point effort in Saturday night’s win over UMKC, but his effort in the previous game against South Dakota spoke volumes as well. South Dakota played a triangle and two against Morrison and teammate Warren Niles, and those two willingly sacrificed their shots for teammate Mikey Manghum, who benefitted, with a career high 18 points on six three pointers.

Such unselfish play is not going unnoticed by Sutton.

“This is the most unselfish group I’ve had. We really talked a lot in the preseason about being selfless. We are talented, too. We had five guys picked preseason all-league, either first or second team,” explained Sutton.

Like most coaches, Sutton sees plenty of room for improvement.

“We need to improve defensively,” said Sutton. “We have a lot of big scorers in our league. To win in March, we have to get better defensively.”

. 24, 2012

In a league often dominated by Rick Byrd’s Belmont Bruins, the Mercer Bears are making some noise. After Monday’s night’s win over Jacksonville, Mercer has won seven of eight and is tied for first place in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Mercer Coach Bob Hoffman quickly identified the keys to Mercer’s success.

“We are playing really good defensively,” said Hoffman. “We are really playing team defense. We are really connected and communicating at a high level. We understand why defense is important,” explained Hoffman.

With a team that has eleven freshmen and sophomores, Hoffman observed, “We have really grown up after last year. I think we have high character guys who work hard.”

While Belmont gets much of the attention in the league, Hoffman sees good things throughout the Atlantic Sun.

“It is a really underrated league. We have good players and great coaches. The new coaches in our league have brought great energy. I’ve had the opportunity to coach at a lot of different levels in my career, and I’m really impressed with what I see in this league,” noted Hoffman.

With six players averaging at least eight points per game, the Bears have shown great balance.

“The last few years, we have had a dominant scorer. This year, we have different guys each night. We are really diversified, and that has grown our confidence. [Leading scorer] Justin Cecil has had big time games for us this season. He has hit shot after shot, but he has really improved defensively. He’s grown into our program defensively.”

Going forward, Hoffman mentions East Tennessee State’s Adam Sollazo as a player to watch in the league.

“He is almost unguardable as a 6’6 point guard. He makes plays all over the place. I’m not sure there is another player like him in the country,” said Hoffman.

Mercer looks to continue their winning ways with a two game set in Florida visiting Stetson on Saturday and Florida Gulf Coast on Monday.

. 19, 2012

Over the past couple of season, Inside the Mayhem has had the opportunity to veer off the beaten path of Division I basketball looking at both Division III and JUCO hoops. Recently, we had the chance to take a look at one of the most storied programs in the Division II ranks.

James Wilhelmi is in his first year as Associate Head Coach at Winston-Salem, assisting Head Coach Bobby Collins. Wilhelmi has vast experience, having coached at both the Division III and Division I levels, prior to joining the d-II ranks last year at North Alabama and this year at Winston-Salem.

The Rams are off to a great start at 13-2, especially considering that they lost their best player, senior guard Lamar Monger to a torn ACL in the Rams’ January 7 game against Virginia Union. Wilhelmi describes Monger as “the toughest guy I’ve coached.”

In Monger’s place, freshman WyKevin Bazemore has picked up the slack. The younger brother of Old Dominion star Kent Bazemore, WyKevin Bazemore came off the bench the night of Monger’s injury and exploded for 24 points and 17 rebounds. On the season, Bazemore is averaging 11 points and 8 boards.

As a coaching veteran of all levels, Wilhelmi has an interesting perspective on Division II basketball, especially in the always competitive CIAA.

“This level is as good as a lot of low level and mid-major D-I programs,” said Wilhelmi. “We get a lot of Division I transfers and JUCO players and guys who are just hard workers and really develop,” continued Wilhelmi.

Of his experience at Winston-Salem, Wilhelmi said, “There are two states that people always say are passionate about basketball, and they are Indiana and North Carolina. They love their Ram basketball here.”

The CIAA celebrates its 100th birthday this year, and it figures to be a good one. Shaw University is on the heels of Winston-Salem, with an identical 13-2 mark.

Of the league, Wilhelmi said, “It’s a dogfight. We swept the Northern Division, but all of the games were close. This is one of the premier leagues in Division II.”

The CIAA Tournament is one of the most highly attended tournaments at any level in the country and the atmosphere of CIAA basketball has made a strong impression on Wilhelmi.

“It’s a special environment,” described Wilhelmi. “I have a friend who is a video coordinator on the Division I level. He came to watch one of our games and he went back and showed clips of the game to his staff so they could see the atmosphere at the game. It’s really a special atmosphere.”

. 16, 2012

A tough non-conference schedule is paying dividends for Norfolk State of the MEAC. The non-conference battles included two losses against Marquette including a 59-57 loss in the Paradise Jam. The Spartans also lost to Virginia Tech and Illinois State, while defeating Drexel, TCU, Eastern Kentucky, and Long Island, among others. The Spartans are battle-tested and show it with a 4-0 MEAC mark. Of the non-conference schedule, Spartans coach Anthony Evans said, “It’s always something we’ve tried to do. This year we tried to get some home games, and we were also tested in the Paradise Jam.”

Of their strong start, Evans observed, “We have been consistent on the defensive end and that showed in our play at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands against Drexel, TCU, and Marquette.” NSU gave up 56, 53, and 59 points in the three game Paradise Jam, culminating with the two point loss to Marquette. A week prior to the Paradise Jam, Marquette had defeated Norfolk State 99-68 in Milwaukee.

Evans is a native of Brooklyn, NY, and his roots show, as the Spartans roster includes eight New York products. “My assistant Rob Jones and I are both from New York. New York has been good to us and is known for producing good players,” said Evans.

The Spartans are led by 6’10 senior Kyle O’Quinn. The preseason mid-major All-American is averaging 14 and 10, as he rounds out a stellar career in Norfolk.

“He had some struggles early,” observed Evans, “but he has started to find his rhythm. He can step out and hit the three, rebound, block shots. He has done everything we have asked.”

Looking ahead, Evans said, “The league is as tough as it’s been. There are no pushovers.”

Evans’ team continues to grab votes each week in the Mid-Major Top 25. At 13-5 the Spartans are currently among ‘other’s receiving votes’ and with 31 points they sit at No. 28.

. 9, 2012

With no seniors on the roster, the St. Joe’s Hawks are not as inexperienced as one would think.

“We are young, but not as inexperienced as you would think,” said St. Joe’s Coach Phil Martelli, now in his 17th year at the helm.

“Ronald Roberts played meaningful minutes and started at the end of last year, and C.J. Aiken and Carl Jones both started, while (Halil) Kanacevic played a lot at Hofstra before transferring,” noted Martelli.

Martelli is hoping last year’s meaningful minutes will pay off for this year’s Hawk squad. “They had a taste of what last year was like, and they don’t want to repeat that,” Martelli said, referring to the 11-22 record of a year ago.

At 11-5, it appears the Hawks did not like how last season tasted, as they have already equaled their win total from a year ago.

Youth is not an excuse in Martelli’s mind. After the Hawks’ close loss to Harvard on New Year’s Eve, Martelli explained, “If we lose a game this year, it’s not because we are young, it’s because we are not good enough.”

St. Joe’s led at both Harvard and Iona for 35 minutes. “We have proved we can play at home,” said Martelli. “What we do have to do is to improve our road methodology.”

The Hawks followed up the loss to Harvard with an overtime victory over Duquesne and a five point loss to Charlotte. Close games will be the rule in the A-10 this year, as nine teams already boast double figure victory totals.

Martelli is impressed with the level of play in the league this year.

“I’m delighted for our league. Our administrators have allowed us to schedule properly and have prepared teams to help themselves in February and March,” noted Martelli.

Martelli has the Hawks positioned to be in the mix for postseason play.

“These guys have the intangibles,” said Martelli. “They allow us to coach them, and they have a real ability to look at yesterday and say ‘it was yesterday, and today is today.’ We have to take the next 70 days and value each one.”

. 5, 2012

In a league long dominated by mid-major powers George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, and Old Dominion, Georgia State is making a move under first year Head Coach Ron Hunter. The Panthers have won 11 straight after Wednesday night’s 55-53 victory at VCU. GSU visits George Mason on Saturday night, with an opportunity to get an early hold on the top spot in the CAA.

Ron Hunter is still adjusting to his new surroundings after being at IUPUI for seventeen years.

“We completely stripped the program down,” said Hunter. “We did not inherit a bad team, but rather one that had been losing. I give all the credit to our players. They have bought in and have a swagger, but are not cocky. All I care about is that these seniors can hold their heads high.”

Of the current road trip into Virginia, Hunter said, “We only worry about Georgia State and what we do. We have all the respect in the world for VCU and George Mason, but we try to be the best Georgia State that we can be today. We will press and defend, and we will play how we play. If we are good at what we do, the wins will take care of themselves. We really want to play in meaningful games, though.”

Hunter singled out James Fields as one of the keys to the Panthers win. Fields missed the first nine games with injury.

“I call him our Tim Tebow. All he does is help us win. He’s not pretty, but he does all the things that help us win and he calls our defenses,” said Hunter.

. 2, 2012

The year ended with a couple of noteworthy matchups on the mid-major level as Creighton defeated Wichita State in Wichita and Harvard defeated St. Joe’s, coming back from an 11 point deficit in Boston. As conference play is set to heat up with the New Year, Inside the Mayhem has a few “out-on-a limb” predictions for the New Year. We will revisit in March to see how our predictions turn out.

• In the Missouri Valley, four teams will earn bids to the NCAA tournament, with Creighton, Wichita State, Northern Iowa, and Indiana State the favorites.

• With their Big Three of Scott Machado, Michael Glover, and Momo Jones leading the way, Iona will not only win the MAAC, but will also win a first round NCAA tourney game.

• Off to a great start, The Atlantic 10 will earn more bids to the NCAA tourney than the ACC.

• After buying into Coach Tony Bennett’s defense-first philosophy, and also getting off to a great start, Virginia will split with North Carolina and play in the ACC Tournament championship game, advancing to the NCAA tourney.

• Once again players from Mid-Major programs will make some of the various All-America teams: Michael Glover (Iona), Orlando Johnson (UCSB), Scott Machado (Iona), C.J. McCollum (Lehigh), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Kyle O'Quinn (Norfolk State), Nate Wolters (South Dakota State)

• The Northeast Conference and the Summit League will put 4 teams into postseason. Remember it's not just the NCAA and the NIT.

Northwestern will go to the NCAA for the first time ever.

Maine, Norfolk State and Youngstown State will play postseason basketball for the first time in school history.

• Just when you thought the run may be over, Gonzaga will once again win the West Coast Conference regular season championship.

Of course, one of the great attractions of college basketball is its unpredictability, so I realize there is a reasonable chance I could drop the ball on all these predictions, but we’ll see how it turns out.

We’ll catch up to some more coaches in the days to come, as we have plans to take a look at St. Joe’s, with one of the best young teams in the country, CAA upstart Georgia State, led by former IUPUI coach Ron Hunter, and MEAC contender Norfolk State.

Happy New Year!

Dec. 21, 2011

As the Long Beach State 49ers spend Christmas in Hawaii, they do so as perhaps the most intriguing .500 team in the country. The 49ers rank 1st nationally in strength of schedule, having faced Pitt, Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina, heading into Thursday night’s matchup with 15th ranked Xavier. A tough schedule is nothing new to Long Beach and Head Coach Dan Monson.

“This is not the first year we’ve done this. It’s the 3rd year in a row, that on January 1, we are ranked first in strength of schedule,” said Monson. “This year, however, we really expect to compete with that schedule,” continued Monson, continuing, “By and large, we’ve done that. We had slow starts against both Louisville and Kansas, but we’ve competed against all of these teams. One of our goals was to get in the conversation about an at large bid. We lost in our league championship game the last two years, so if we want to compete for an at large bid, we want to play those teams, and it certainly helps with recruiting as well.”

The 49ers have followed a solid blueprint for mid-major success. They have an outstanding point guard and a highly experienced group to go along with their tough schedule.

“You don’t compete with Carolina and Kansas and the others without the experience that we have,” noted Monson.

Of his senior point guard Casper Ware, Monson said, “With a kid like Casper, you are going into those games with a kid who’s been through the wars. He is the first kid in our league to be both the Player of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year. He is the prototypical mid-major kid, who can now play anywhere. He has gotten better every year. When he got here, we had won six games the previous year. He started the first game of his college career. He is a classic gym rat and has shot it better and made better decisions every year. I would not trade him for any point guard in the country,” said Monson.

Of their trip to Hawaii, Monson said, “Our kids are excited to play some of these teams on a neutral floor. It is more of a level playing field. We have a chance to put a nice stamp on our season.”

Dec. 16, 2011

When you talk Ivy League basketball, Princeton and Penn come to mind for their long tradition of hoops excellence. Harvard is in the national conversation coming off their success of last year, as they are on the verge of entering the Top 25. The Crimson currently rank third in the latest Mid-Major Top 25. One team not getting too much attention, however, is Yale. The Bulldogs, in the midst of their eleven day exam break, are off to a 7-2 start. The Bulldogs will learn a lot when they return to game action, as they travel to Rhode Island, Wake Forest, and Florida, to wind up December.

Of the imposing schedule, Yale Coach James Jones, said, “It will be a great barometer for us, and our guys look forward to the challenge.”

Common sense says the Bulldogs will have a tough time at Wake and Florida, while Rhode Island is off to a rough start. The emphasis may be on how the Bulldogs play on the road, as opposed to whether they win. If they can be battle tested when they start league play, they hope to contend for an Ivy League title.

Jones is not ready to concede the league title to Harvard.

“Harvard is off to a great start, but there are a lot of people fighting for a championship in this league. Penn has had a tough schedule, Princeton has a new coach; the league is very competitive,” said Jones.

6’10 senior Greg Mangano is leading Yale, with 17 points and 9 boards a night, but Jones continues to push.

“He has done a really great job, but he had 21 and 9 against Bryant, and I was mad at him,” laughed Jones.

Junior guard Austin Morgan shoots it and does the dirty work for the Bulldogs, and Jones mentioned senior Reggie Willhite as a key contributor as well.

Dec. 11, 2011

Iona appears poised to make the jump to the nation’s mid-major elite teams. Just a one point loss to Purdue stand between the Gaels and an 8-0 start. Iona is in the midst of a six week road trip. If they weather that storm, they will be ready to push for a MAAC title. Iona finished 25-12 last year, losing to Santa Clara in the finals of the third annual Postseason Tournament. Second year coach Tim Cluess and his squad have picked up right where they left off.

“Our tournament experience last year was very helpful, making it to the championship game of the Tournament.”

Top billing for the Gaels usually goes to All-MAAC selection Michael Glover and Arizona transfer Lamont “Momo” Jones. The key cog to the engine, however, might be fellow All-MAAC choice, 6’1 senior guard, Scott Machado. Machado is averaging 16 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 11 assists. In a 104-99 double overtime victory over St. Joe’s, Machado had 33 points and 10 assists to go along with Glover’s 34 points and 10 rebounds. Machado is emerging as one of the top point guards in the nation.

Cluess agreed, “He is playing great right now--he’s on top of his game.”

Glover is receiving plenty of attention after his monster season last year, including a spot on the preseason Lute Olson All-America team.

“Teams are paying more attention to him now, and double teaming him,” said Cluess, “He’s got to adjust to that.”

Cluess and the Gaels received a nice pre-season gift from the NCAA in October, when Jones was cleared to play immediately. Adding a player of his stature to a team already picked to win the MAAC heightened expectations for the 2011-12 season.

“He brings big-game experience, and he can handle it and score. It’s also great to have a local kid come home,” said Cluess.

Dec. 6, 2011

After taking a look at the Vermont Catamounts last week, we had a chance to speak to former Vermont coach Mike Lonergan, now the head coach at George Washington University. The Colonials are off to a 4-3 start, with a challenging early season schedule. Their three losses are at California, at Kansas State, and to Virginia Commonwealth in the BB&T Classic in Washington. The schedule does not get any easier, as GW faces off against Loyola on Wednesday. The Greyhounds have reeled off six consecutive wins, following an opening loss to Wake Forest.

Of his move to GW, Lonergan said, “It’s been smooth. It’s all of the off-court things that take a lot of time -- selling and buying a house, moving your family, recruiting, meeting alumni, raising money.”

On the court, senior guard Tony Taylor leads GW at 15 points per game. “We knew he was a good player, but he’s been even better than we thought,” said Lonergan. “He is really shooting the ball well.”

Taylor is off to a sizzling start, shooting 56% from three point range.

Lonergan and the Colonials square off against his long time friend Jimmy Patsos and Loyola on Wednesday night. The career record between the two coaches is 2-2, so this game will be the tie-breaker.

Loyola is off to a great start and Patsos and his kids are looking forward to the matchup against the Colonials.

“It’s a little more like postseason for us. It’s an A-10 school on their court with their officials, and it’s on TV. We also have a bunch of DC area kids on our team, so they are looking forward to it,” said Patsos.

Patsos is pleased with his team chemistry this year. “The kids don’t really care about scoring—they just want to win.”

Patsos singled out junior Erik Etherly in particular. “He has been our best player through the first seven games,” said Patsos. The 6’7 Etherly, who spent a season at Northeastern, is scoring 15 and grabbing 8 boards a game for the Greyhounds. 6’2 sophomore guard Dylon Cormier leads Loyola with 17 points per game.

Dec. 2, 2011

With December here and conference play approaching, we launch our third year of Inside the Mayhem. We will once again try to jump around the country and take a look behind the scenes of college basketball as we build towards March.

Vermont is off to a 4-3 start after Thursday’s night’s home 55-48 loss to highly regarded Harvard. The Catamounts have a strong non-conference win over Old Dominion to go along with victories over Siena, Dartmouth, and Marist. The road gets tougher in the coming weeks, as Vermont squares off against St. Louis and Iona, among others.

First year mentor John Becker is getting his feet wet.

When asked about the transition to the first seat, Becker said, “So far, so good. Having been in the program for five years and having recruited these kids has made the transition smooth. The off the court stuff is the biggest adjustment—being pulled in so many different directions. The on-court part, once practice starts, it feels natural.”

Becker has noted a difference in games as well. “The game moves a lot faster as a head coach, but I have a great staff, so that has made it easier.”

Of the upcoming stretch, Becker said, “We have a tough stretch here. We are playing four or five of the hottest mid-majors in the country, but we wanted to play a tough non-conference schedule to prepare us for our league schedule.”

Vermont has shown great balance. “We knew coming in that we did not have a marquee guy, so we have gone to a more balanced attack. We have maybe eight guys who have scored in double figures already, and we are shooting a high percentage.”

Despite a subpar game against Harvard, 6’6 sophomore Brian Voelkel is one to watch. “He led the league in rebounds and assists last year,” said Becker. “He is a monster. He is old school in that he just out works people. He is one of the most entertaining players in the country. He’s very unique.”