By Rowan Shiell
One of the greatest things about college basketball is if you have a poor regular season you can write it off and go into the conference tournament with a clean slate. There is the matter of seeding, where a team may play up to five games to get to the championship game as a lower seed, as opposed to the teams with the most wins getting a bye until the later rounds of the tournament.
The chances of a lower seed winning are next to none, but it has been done before and not just on a game console. The highest profile conference “loser” to win a conference tournament that immediately comes to mind is the 2005-2006 Syracuse Orange. Three years after Carmelo Anthony lead them to their first national championship; they finished with a losing record and were in danger of missing out on the tournament.
Lead by Sharp shooting guard Gerry McNamara, the Orange were able to make a magical run, winning four games in four days, to win the Big East tournament and secure an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, aptly called the Big Dance.
That was the Big East, where they regularly send five plus teams to the tournament. Smaller conferences that normally receive one bid face the danger of having their conference regular season champion upstaged and ultimately left out of the Big Dance.
Imagine if Manchester United won the premiership but had to play a round robin style tournament, only to lose to West Ham and be left out of the Champions League!
That happened to Drexel last year, when they went on a 19 game winning streak to become the top team in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) only to lose in the championship game of the CAA tournament to VCU (London’s Teddy Okereafor was a freshman guard on that team) who received the conference bid.
Obviously everyone wants to go to the NCAA tournament, but winning the conference tournament is a feat in itself and the deeper a team goes could determine if a coach still has a job and it will be something a young team can build on next season.
This week we wrap up the regular season and then give an update on the conference tournaments that have already started. For some guys this was the end of their season.
Player of the Week
Ashley Hamilton | Loyola Marymount| Senior | Forward | @TheKingAsh
Loyola Marymount finished the season with a tough 14-game losing streak. Good for bottom of the conference. The first game in the conference tournament was meant to be merely a formality, however, Ashley Hamilton and LMU had other ideas.
Hamilton erupted for 21 points and eight rebounds to lead his team in a closely fought first round victory over Portland, in Las Vegas. Hamilton made eight of his twelve shots, stole the ball twice, blocked a shot and handed out two assists to prolong his senior year in college by at least one more game.
The next day, Loyola Marymount fought and clawed their way to a one point victory over San Francisco. Hamilton scored only 11 points and was 4-15 on his field goal attempts but in a game where rebounding was the difference, the Londoner grabbed 14 boards helping the Lions to out-rebound the Dons 40-32.
Next up is Santa Clara, 21-10 overall and 9-7 in conference. Santa Clara hasn’t played since last Saturday as they earned a bye in the first two rounds as a top seed.
However if Loyola Marymount can hold their nerve and bring as much effort as they did in the last two games, they will be a powerful underdog Santa Clara should be wary of.
Best of the Rest
Keith Rendleman | North Carolina-Wilmington | Senior | Forward
Playing in the last game of his college career, Rendleman delivered his signature double double, his twentieth of the year, making him the current joint leader in that statistic in division one basketball.
He scored 24 points, snagged 10 rebounds, stole the ball twice and blocked three shots in a losing effort to Drexel. UNCW finished ninth in conference with a record of 10-20 overall and 5-13 in the CAA conference.
Rendleman is currently eleventh in rebounds per game in NCAA D1 basketball. His final averages are, 17 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.8 steals. He made 53% of his field goal attempts, 38% of his three point attempts and 59% of his free throws.
Alasdair Fraser | Maine | Junior | Forward | @bigali15
Alasdair Fraser scored 22 points in the final game of his conference regular season but came up short as they lost to New Hampshire. Fraser also had six rebounds and three steals.
Maine (11-18, 6-10 Am. East) drew Albany (21-10, 9-7 Am. East) in the America East tournament and will play on Saturday.
Andrew Lawrence | College of Charleston | Senior | Guard | @andrewcofc04
College of Charleston wrapped up their regular season with a win over Furman. Andrew Lawrence, who was earlier named to the Southern Conference All-Conference team, scored 10 points and dished out three assists.
Charleston finished second in the South division of the Southern Conference. As a result, Charleston has been awarded and No.3 seed and will miss the first round of the tournament, which starts tonight, and will play the winner of No.6 Western Carolina vs No.11 Citadel on Saturday.
Fahro Alihodzic | UAB | Junior | Center
Conference USA started their conference games later than other conferences so are still wrapping up their season hence UAB had two games over the week and their last game is on Saturday. The tournament starts next Wednesday.
Alihodzic had 18 points and six rebounds to help UAB defeat SMU on Saturday. He followed that up with 15 points and five rebounds in a close loss to USF on Wednesday.
Ben Mockford | St Francis (NY)| Junior | Guard | @BenMockford
The Northeastern conference has twelve teams. The problem is they only allow eight teams in the conference tournament. The two teams that were vying for that spot played on Saturday.
Ben Mockford scored 22 points, grabbed four rebounds to go with two assists in a win over Sacred Heart to earn that eighth spot.
The downside is they drew the top team in the conference, Robert Morris and were blown out on Wednesday in the quarterfinals. Mockford would go scoreless in that game.
Mockford finished the season as the second leading scorer of his team with 11.1 points per game.
Allie Fullah | Charleston Southern | Junior | Forward
Allie Fullah scored only two points grabbed four rebounds and blocked a shot as Charleston Southern advanced in the Big South conference tournament with a victory over Winthrop.
Will Neighbour | Arkansas-Little-Rock | Junior | Forward
Despite Neighbour scoring only six points, UALR won their last game of the regular season, over Arkansas State.
Neighbour was recently named Third Team All Sun Belt after leading UALR in scoring and rebounding. He also placed fifth in conference in rebounding.
UALR drew Florida International in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt conference on Saturday.
Alex Marcotullio | Northwestern| Senior | Guard
On senior night Alex Marcotullio got an opportunity to start and rewarded his coach with a career high 22 points. Sadly it was a loss to the worst team in the conference, Penn State, who won only their second game in conference this season.
That was Northwestern’s seventh loss in a row but Marcotullio played a great game, at one point sinking a three point shot to give Northwestern the lead before Penn State went on a run to seal the game.
Marcotullio has one more regular season game against Michigan State, on Saturday, before the Big Ten conference tournament.
- Abodunrin Gabriel Olaseni has seen more minutes over Iowa’s last three games, playing, 19, 17 and 19 respectively as the team went 2-1. In a win over Illinois on Tuesday night, Olaseni had a career high 7 blocked shots.
- In a 20 point loss to North Carolina on Sunday, Robert Gilchrist had one of his better games of the season, finishing with 6 points on 3/4 shooting in just 8 minutes. Playing time remains hard to come by for the junior in his first year of Division 1 basketball.
- Jack Crook has seen double digit minutes in Seattle’s last two games, finishing with 4 points and 7 rebounds in a win over UTSA on Saturday.
- Teddy Okereafor tied a season high with 6 points (in just five minutes) on Saturday night, as VCU knocked off #20 Butler with a 32 point win.
Thoughts? Anyone missing?