Posted on: March 5, 2012 9:43 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 11:41 pm

Tiny Dancers: VCU

Shaka is back.

A year ago, Shaka Smart and the VCU Rams made the magical and improbable run from the First Four to the Final Four.

They could have another crack at it.

Smart and his more inexperienced Rams took care of George Mason in the semifinals and then held off top-seeded Drexel, which came in on a 19-game winning streak, to win the CAA tournament championship on Monday night.

This is obviously a different team from the one that shocked the nation a year ago.

Gone are Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez, Ed Nixon and Brandon Rozzell.

It's now senior Bradford Burgess and a bunch of youngsters who may not shoot it as well, but get after it on the defensive end - and are headed back to the NCAA tourney.

It's a different cast of characters, but Shaka Smart and VCU are back in the NCAA tournament. (US Presswire)

Player to know -- Bradford Burgess - He's not a big-time scorer (he averages a little more than 13 per game), but he finished with 20 points and knocked down a handful of 3's in the semifinal win over George Mason. Burgess struggled offensively against Drexel, but he's started an NCAA-record 144 consecutive games since he arrived at the school and can really get after it on the defensive end. He's also a guy who isn't afraid to take -- and make -- the big shot.

The Vitals:
Record: 28-6, 15-3 in the CAA
Most recent tournament appearance: 2011 (Final Four)
We’re thinking: 11 seed
KenPom ranking: 46
Sagarin ranking: 50
RPI: 49
Best wins: South Florida, Akron, Drexel
Worst losses: Georgia State, Georgia Tech
Notable stat: According to KenPom.com, VCU leads the nation in defensive turnover percentage at 27.3. I'm fairly certain that means that opponents turn the ball over 27.3 times per 100 possessions. That's pretty impressive.

-- Jeff Goodman

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 28, 2012 1:33 pm

It's our bulkiest Tuesday poll yet

By Matt Norlander

We're back again with our weekly Tuesday poll and we want you to click through and let us know who you're picking for this week's marquee games. This is by far and away the most we've ever included in a poll, which means it will take you 20 seconds instead of the normal 13 to decide.

As usual, all of these games will be discussed on Wednesday night's edition of "Courtside with Seth Davis" at 7 p.m. ET. Before or after you vote, I also implore you to like the Eye On College Basketball Facebook page. And if that's not enough, CBSSports.com has your roundball fix tended to thanks to our daily newsletter. That newsleter is fantastic -- send it along to a parent or relative who you think would want that in their mailbox this time of year, too.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 23, 2012 2:55 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 2:57 pm

Shaka, VCU in limbo for NCAA bid once again

Saturday's game against George Mason looms large for the Rams, who lost to GMU on Valentine's Day. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Matt Norlander

No matter what happens from now until Selection Sunday, know this: VCU of 2012 is very different from VCU of 2011.

That's a narrative not natural to embrace less than a year after one of the three most unlikely Final Four runs in tournament history. Still, this team is nothing like last year's. Most of the talent that got VCU to Houston and in that game against Butler is gone. The only remaining recognizable name: Brad Burgess, who's taken on the load and done it well. He leads the team in points at 12.9 per game.

It's a young team, though. The average experience on the 13-man roster is 1.4 years. Last season that number was 2.17, according to KenPom.com.

No matter: VCU's been able to put itself in a good position, relatively speaking. Last year the team was 3-5 in February and now they’re a 30-foot bomb from undefeated since Jan. 9. The lone loss came on the road at 23-7 George Mason. This is how it happened. (Brief NSFW language after the shot falls.)

"It's a bitter, bitter pill to swallow, that loss," coach Shaka Smart said.

VCU's rematch with GMU comes Saturday. It's also the season finale for both teams. Getting swept by the Patriots has potential to be very damaging to the Rams, despite the run since conference play began wherein VCU's beating league foes by more than nine points per game.

Smart's had to balance a new type of life this season. He became the father to a baby girl in September and has coached under the expectation and heat lamp that a Final Four appearance brings. Nobody's expecting VCU to get back to college basketball's ultimate big stage, but another dance appearance wasn't too much to ask as far as VCU fans were concerned. Take that, then toss in the fact that soon enough his name will be placed onto, and probably at the top of, the list of candidates to coach the University of Illinois, as Bruce Weber is expected to be bought out of his contract when this season ends.

I didn't address that with Smart when I spoke to him on the phone Thursday morning. (No coach who respects the profession is talking out of turn about another job during the season anyway.) Right now, Smart's realistic about his team, meaning he doesn't know if it's worthy this year like it was last year for an at-large. That's not doubt, that's pragmatism and avoidance of media speculation. Fair approach; this year, the pool of bubble teams is as different as his team. VCU's not the 3-point-happy club that it was last year. This one's defensive-minded. The Rams lead the nation in steal percentage (15.9) and create the most turnovers per possession as well, tying Ohio at a 27.1-percent clip.

"A lot of teams can score in a lot of ways, but we’re not one of them," Smart said. "We have to be able to create offense in other ways. The style of play is the same, but the way the team executes is a little bit different. We’re better defensively, not even close really if you look at the numbers and watch us play."

The 3-point shot is what got VCU to the Final Four last year. Remember that game against Kansas? Unexpectedly, the Rams bombed away on 25 3-pointers and sank 12 of them. It was the rocket fuel that got VCU to Houston. This season, this team isn't not adept to the deep shot; it's hitting 32.9 percent of its 3s, putting it in the bottom third of Division I.

"And we don’t have Jamie Skeen to throw the ball to inside and get you a basket or get fouled every time," Smart said.

He also tossed out this: Last year, in his opinion, the CAA was better. Makes sense, as the league got three teams into the tournament, whereas this season you can find a heavy horde that think this conference should only earn one bid. I think I disagree, but regardless, the notion is interesting, considering the separation and chase we've seen at the top of the league. Drexel (15-2), VCU (14-3), George Mason (14-3) and Old Dominion (13-4) have provided intrigue for the past three weeks. Although the odds have Drexel winning the league title, realistically, the CAA tournament is going to be a blast. It's wide open and those four teams stand nearly equal chances at earning the auto bid.

As the attention and speculation his team's chances will increase in the coming week, Smart said he and his staff do their best at avoiding the talk of their big-bracket chances. The team largely does, too. Last year, Joey Rodriguez practically tracked Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi's projections daily. This young group doesn't indulge in the prognosticating.

It doesn't do anyone much good to try and predict VCU's future anyway.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 21, 2012 12:35 pm
Edited on: February 21, 2012 1:07 pm

Slip into the poll booth once again

By Matt Norlander

We're back again with our weekly Tuesday poll and we want you to click through and let us know who you're picking for this week's marquee games. All of these games will be discussed on CBS Sports Network programming this week, airing on Wednesday night's edition of "Courtside with Seth Davis" at 7 p.m. ET, then against on Inside College Basketball (Wednesday night/Thursday morning at midnight)

Want more of us? Or more interaction with hoops fans? We suggest you like the Eye On College Basketball Facebook page. And if that's not enough, CBSSports.com has your roundball fix tended to thanks to our daily newsletter.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 20, 2012 9:51 am
Edited on: February 20, 2012 11:06 am

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 14


By Matt Norlander

Color me confused. I didn’t expect this much rotation and shift in the Power Pyramid during its penultimate posting. (The last edition is next Monday, and then it goes in the freezer throughout the conference tournaments, sure to return around Thanksgiving.) But here we are, with multiple top-level teams in the rankings suffering back-to-back losses and generally regressing since the calendar turned to February.

For most of this season we had a lot of talented teams winning a high rates and creating separation between themselves and most teams in their conferences. Now we’re seeing the mean creep in, and few teams are going to get to March with four losses or less. At the mock selection process last week in Indianapolis, a number of these squads weren't viewed in high favor by the committee. That doesn't necessarily have to be the case, so long as Middle Tennessee State, Drexel and Oral Roberts all reach their conference title games.

Top Tier

1. Wichita State (24-4). A Sentence: Go back and check the first Power Pyramid, you’ll see I’ve championed the Shockers from the get-go. A Statistic: At one point this season, Wichita State had 2.56 years of experience on this team, per KenPom. Now it’s at 2.51. The Shockers have actually figured out how to get younger, and I think we all know the answer lies somewhere in Gregg Marshall’s hair. The Schedule: at Illinois State, Wednesday; vs. Drake, Saturday.

2. Murray State (26-1). A Sentence: I’ll contradict my SDSU sentiment and say, despite the 59 KenPom ranking, I think Murray State has Sweet 16 potential in those bones. A Statistic:  All five Racers starters score more than 1.1 points per possession — that’s just sexy.  The Schedule: at Tennessee  State, Thursday; at Tennessee Tech, Saturday.

3. Temple (21-5). A Sentence: It’s actually reached a point where Temple’s being criminally underappreciated, so I’m doing what I can by putting them this high in the Pyramid. A Statistic: When he was snaring 34.6 of defensive-rebound opportunities in early December, Michael Eric was the best on that end of the floor in the country. Now it’s 28 percent and he’s no longer elite, despite the fact he’s still critical to this team’s big-picture legitimacy. The Schedule: at La Salle, Wednesday; at St. Joseph’s, Saturday.

Ron Swanson Approves

4. New Mexico (22-4). A Sentence: At this point, if you’re detracting from New Mexico then I’m going to go ahead and assume chocolately desserts aren't your bag either. A Statistic: Rankings-wise, UNM is a much better team from 3 (39.5 percent is 16th-best) than 2 (49.7 percent is No. 100 in D-I). The Schedule: at Colorado State, Tuesday; at TCU, Saturday.

5. UNLV (22-6). A Sentence: I’m actually loving the fact UNLV’s tripping a bit here, because now fewer people think this team is capable of reaching the second weekend (suckers!). A Statistic:  UNLV’s first three losses came in a span of 64 days. The next three losses took two weeks. The Schedule: vs. Boise State, Wednesday; vs. Air Force, Saturday.

6. Gonzaga (21-5). A Sentence: Just when you want to believe in Gonzaga, it goes out and reminds you that it’s still plenty fallible (loss at San Francisco, but still, this team's talented). A Statistic: At least the Bulldogs have remained aggressive. They’re 48-percent free-throw rate is top-five in the nation, where Gonzaga’s been sitting all season. The Schedule: vs. BYU, Thursday; at San Diego, Saturday.

7. Harvard (23-3). A Sentence: Don’t let the three losses trick you into thinking this team is better than five-loss 2010 Cornell. A Statistic: Harvard’s deep, and that’s great, but it’s also been healthy. Seven vital players on the team have played in every game so far. The Schedule: vs. Princeton, Friday; vs. Penn, Saturday.

Bruiser Flint's Dragons are closing in on 20 straght Ws. (AP)

8. Saint Mary’s (23-5). A Sentence: Like UNLV, SMC lost back-to-back games this week and has dropped three of four.  A Statistic: I’m looking at where a lot of teams have gotten better or worse in a stat as opposed to two or three months ago. Saint Mary’s used to be the third-best defensive rebounding team in the country. Now it’s 18th (73 percent). The Schedule: at Portland, Thursday; at San Francisco, Saturday.

9. Oral Roberts (25-5). A Sentence: If ORU’s anything worse than a 12, and if it wins the Summit title, then it’s a screw job by the committee. A Statistic: What remains most impressive about ORU is the fact it doesn’t have a player taller than 6-9, yet it’s most efficient at blocking. The Schedule: at Southern Utah, Saturday.

10. San Diego State (20-6). A Sentence: I should’ve sold on SDSU last week, because now it’s lost three straight and the frontcourt issues become more glaring as the games go by. A Statistic: The average KenPom rating for SDSU on the year. What do you think it is? I’ll give you a second here. … OK, it’s actually 57. Right now, the Aztecs are 61. Always been too low for my taste, but I wonder if this is a sign that SDSU will be hard-pressed to reach the second weekend. The Schedule: vs. Wyoming, Wednesday; vs. Colorado State, Saturday.

Base Blocks

11. Creighton (23-5). A Sentence: That win over Long Beach State, I think, was about as great of a way to stop the bleeding as the ’Jays could have asked for.  A Statistic: One of my favorite stats to track this season was Creighton’s shooting. They’ve remained, all year, long, the best eFG team in the country. At 58.7, they cling to the lead by .4 over Denver. The Schedule: vs. Evansville, Tuesday; at Indiana State, Saturday.

12. Virginia Commonwealth (23-6). A Sentence: It might be tough to believe, but I don’t see VCU with a chance at an at-large (I know, where have you heard this before?) unless it reaches the CAA title game. A Statistic: This is fodder for a post I’m doing later this week (so none of you bloggers reading this can take it), but VCU of 2011 is the opposite of VCU of 2012. Last year’s offense and defensive adjusted rankings: 32 and 86, respectively. This year: 91 and 28. The Schedule: at UNC Wilmington, Wednesday; vs. George Mason, Saturday.

13. Middle Tennessee State (24-4): A Sentence: All one-loss conference teams that are above .500 in non-con play deserve the courtesy of a look; MTSU will be 17-1 if it wins two more. A Statistic: The Blue Raiders are so good because they’re weak league allows eight player to shoot better than 50 percent in eFG%. The Schedule: at Louisiana Monroe, Thursday; at Western Kentucky, Saturday.

14. Drexel (23-5). A Sentence: New to the Pyramid, can the Dragons get in without a CAA title? A Statistic: The Dragons get in during the second-to-last go-around of the Pyramid because they’re the best Pyramid team at defending shots, allowing 42.9 percent effective field goal percentage from opponents. The Schedule: vs. James Madison, Wednesday; at Old Dominion, Saturday.

15. Southern Miss (22-5). A Sentence: I’m doing my best not to overreact to a two-point loss at Houston. A Statistic: And yet, I know if Southern Miss makes the tournament there’s now no chance I’m taking them to win a game. They’re 43.6 percent from the field from 2-point range. That’s putrid — and USM isn’t a top-100 defense as is. Smoke and mirrors, I’m afraid. The Schedule: at UTEP, Wednesday; vs. Rice, Saturday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦ Out: Long Beach State. In: Drexel.
♦ With one more week to go, chance for tossing teams in and out is slim-to-none. Would take some bad losses on Drexel, MTSU, VCU and Southern Miss’ behalf to get expelled.

Posted on: February 15, 2012 12:25 am
Edited on: February 15, 2012 12:29 am

Night Court: Sherrod Wright's 3 highlights V-Day

Sherrod Wright hits a 25-footer at the buzzer to give George Mason a two-point win over VCU. (US Presswire)

By Jeff Borzello

Here’s everything you need to know about Tuesday’s slate of college basketball games …

Game of the day: VCU and George Mason have battled for CAA supremacy several times over the past decade, but they might have had their most exciting game on Tuesday night. The two teams were back and forth throughout, but the final 82 seconds were electric. They combined for 21 points in that span, with George Mason knocking down three 3-pointers and VCU hitting seven free throws. It all ended when Mason’s Sherrod Wright hit a 25-footer at the buzzer to give George Mason a one-point win, 62-61. Mason is now tied with Drexel atop the standings.

Win to brag about: LSU is finally starting to put some things together lately. The Tigers have won three of their last four games, the latest coming against Mississippi State on Tuesday night. Freshman guard Anthony Hickey hit a runner in the final seconds of overtime to give the Tigers a 69-67 win. With wins over Arkansas, Alabama, Marquette and now Mississippi State, the Tigers are no longer an easy out heading down the stretch.

Loss to hide from: Clemson fell just short against Virginia the first time the two teams played, but the Tigers broke through this time. Clemson outscored the Cavaliers by 12 in the second half, en route to a 60-48 victory. Virginia’s Joe Harris was held to two points as he struggled with a broke left hand. Tony Bennett’s troops have now lost three in a row, dropping down to sixth in the ACC standings.

Player who deserves improper benefits: TCU guard Hank Thorns knocked down 8-of-12 from 3-point range en route to 32 points, leading the Horned Frogs to a 102-97 overtime victory over UNLV. They were down by 18 points with 15 minutes remaining, and 15 with 10 minutes left. Eight of Thorns’ points came in overtime, and the senior also dished out four assists and grabbed five rebounds in the upset win.

Player(s) who does not deserve improper benefits: Coming off a 28-point outing against LSU, Alabama’s Rodney Cooper was feeling his oats heading into Tuesday’s game against Florida. It didn’t really work out well, as he shot 2-for-9 from the field and turned it over four times in a 61-52 loss. Without Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green, someone needed to step up for the Crimson Tide – on Tuesday, it wasn’t Cooper. 

Numbers don’t lie:

  • 24-for-26: In the last two games, Southern Illinois has allowed teams to shoot 24-for-26 from behind the 3-point line.
  • 3: George Mason knocked down three 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds in its comeback victory.
  • 77.5, 85.7: Creighton shot 77.5 percent from the field and 85.7 percent from 3-point range in its 88-69 win over Southern Illinois.
  • November 27: Tennessee-Martin hadn’t defeated a Division-I team since late November, but the Skyhawks defeated Kennesaw State on Tuesday night. 

Three other notable results:

  1. Ohio State bounced back from its loss to Michigan State on Saturday with a 78-68 victory at Minnesota. William Buford had 24 points and Jared Sullinger went for 23.
  2. Texas won its fourth game in a row, outscoring Oklahoma by 16 in the second half en route to a 69-58 win. Myck Kabongo had 13 points and seven assists.
  3. Seton Hall won its third in a row after dropping six straight games, destroying St. John’s by 30. 


  • Cleveland State lost its third game in a row since looking comfortable at the top of the Horizon standings, falling to Milwaukee, 86-84.
  • Butler won its third in a row, beating Loyola Chicago. With the Horizon getting more unpredictable everyday, could the Bulldogs be the conference tournament favorite – again?
  • Kent State knocked off Buffalo, 76-71, putting both teams at 9-3 in the Mid-American. Each team is now 1.5 games back of Akron.
  • Manhattan took another hit in its quest to for a regular-season MAAC title, dropping one on the road to Siena, 70-64.
More College Basketball coverage
Posted on: February 3, 2012 12:28 pm
Edited on: February 3, 2012 12:29 pm

Future is brighter for Hofstra and Towson

By Jeff Borzello

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – It’s been a rough season for both Hofstra and Towson, with the two teams combining for three wins in the CAA and a record of 9-39 overall.

However, over the past seven days, each team has found reasons to be optimistic for the future. Towson snapped a 41-game losing streak with a win over UNC-Wilmington last weekend, while Hofstra beat the Tigers by 25 on Wednesday. Neither team is expected to do much damage in the final month of the season, but the future does look brighter for both programs in the coming seasons.

Clearly, neither team has thrown in the towel on the season. They’re playing hard, practicing hard, and building.

“We haven’t prepared any different,” Towson assistant coach Luke Murray said. “We practiced everyday before Wilmington, and since, with the intensity of a team that was competing for a league title.”

The Tigers still have confidence in themselves, despite the losing streak. With so many young pieces, that’s a good sign.

Hofstra is no different. The Pride had impressive wins over Cleveland State, Iona and Long Island in the non-conference, but have struggled to close out games in the CAA.

The win over Towson should give them a boost heading into the final eight games of the season, when the schedule eases up.

“We had two really good practices this week,” head coach Mo Cassara said. “That’s the sign of a team that hasn’t given up. Sometimes you work harder and coach harder when you’re losing.”

Next season should bring about a completely different season for each team.

Towson currently has Georgetown transfer Jerelle Benimon and South Florida transfer Mike Burwell sitting out; both are expected to start next season, and Benimon could be one of the best forwards in the conference. Incoming freshmen Jerome Hairston and Frank Mason will immediately provide speed and explosiveness at the guard positions, while classmates Barrington Alston and Timajh Parker can provide depth. Sophomores Marcus Damas and Erique Gumbs, and freshmen Kris Walden and Deon Jones, have also shown flashes.

There’s talk within the program that the Tigers could be headed for the biggest turnaround in the country next season.

Hofstra will lose three seniors next year – Mike Moore, Nat Lester and Dwan McMillan – but the Pride expect to improve drastically next season as well.

“Look at the guys at the end of the bench in blue warmup suits,” Cassara said.

He’s referring to transfers Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (Connecticut), Taran Buie (Penn State) and Daquan Brown (Fresno State). Coombs-McDaniel and Buie will immediately form one of the best perimeter duos in the league, and Brown gives Hofstra size it is severely lacking this season. Throw in freshmen Dallas Anglin and Jimmy Hall, and Hofstra has reason to be excited about the future.

It’s certainly not a vintage season for either Hofstra or Towson, but that should change in the near-future.  

More College Basketball coverage
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 28, 2012 4:04 pm

Towson's record streak of futility is history

By Jeff Goodman

THE STREAK is over.

Towson's 41-game losing skid, the longest losing streak in Division 1 history, came to an end on Saturday afternoon when Pat Skerry's team knocked off UNC Wilmington, 66-61.

It was the program's first win since Dec. 10, 2010.

Skerry took over a program in the offseason that dropped its final 19 games under Pat Kennedy a year ago and took a team with just one returnee and began this season 0-22.

That's 41 straight, but Skerry was undeterred and told CBSSports.com on Friday night that he had a feeling about Saturday's contest against Buzz Peterson's club.

Skerry had to sweat it out, though. UNC Wilmington had a chance to take the lead with 20 seconds left, but missed a pair of free throws. Then the team's one returning letterwinner, Erique Gumbs, put the team up 64-61 on a dunk with 9.3 seconds left. UNCW's 3-point attempt with a few seconds left was blocked.
Category: NCAAB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com