If you're looking for college basketball's most improved player this season, then East Tennessee State's Tommy Hubbard might just be your guy.
Despite a distinguished career at the St. Mark's School just outside of Boston, the 6-4, 210-pound guard (which might be a generous height listing) didn't receive a lot of attention from Big East or ACC schools. After weighing multiple mid-major offers he decided to take his game down south to Johnson City in 2007.
Hubbard took some time to warm up to the college game, and multiple injuries didn't help his cause, either. But during his first two seasons as a Buccaneer he did develop a reputation as a relentless worker and a defensive specialist.
It was that capacity to defend that prompted ETSU coach Murry Bartow to convince Hubbard to sacrifice a redshirt season last year. With nine games to go, he suited back up for the Bucs.
That unselfishness turned out to be a godsend for the program, as Hubbard's defense in the Atlantic Sun Tournament helped propel ETSU to three wins and an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.
While the other 16 seeds lost their first round games by an average of 41 points in the Big Dance, ETSU only lost by 10 to top seeded Pittsburgh. Hubbard helped keep the Bucs in it by pulling down seven rebounds in 22 minutes of work.
His tenaciousness and desire to do whatever it takes hasn't gone unnoticed. "He's got that will to win," said one NBA scout of Hubbard. "He has the mentality of an NFL special teams player. He does whatever it takes to help the team."
Hubbard was expected to be an important contributor for Bartow coming into this campaign. But nobody realized just how important a player he would actually become for ETSU.
This past summer he headed back to Boston and participated in workouts with NBA players. It's during that time that the offensive light came on for him.
Coming into this campaign Hubbard had only scored a grand total of 75 points in his first two seasons. He eclipsed that total by ETSU's sixth game this season. Prior to this year he had one double digit scoring effort to his credit. This season he's exceeded double digits in 22 contests, with eight of those efforts being of of the 20+ point variety.
He's leading ETSU in scoring (13.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.4 rpg) as well as steals (49). Once a liability at the charity stripe, Hubbard is now making an extremely respectable 73% of his free throw attempts.
Earlier this season, the Bucs took Tennessee to the limit before fading in the second half and dropping a 12-point decision. The game made Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl a believer in Hubbard's ability.
"He's a terrific player and championship teams need a player like Tommy Hubbard on the roster," said Pearl . "His stat lines are impressive, but what he brings to the floor goes well beyond the box score."
Atlantic Sun Tournament appears to be a wide open affair
Speaking of the Bucs, they'll be in Macon, GA this week to defend their Atlanta Sun Tournament title. This year's edition of the tournament seems to have all the makings of a wide open affair.
Belmont appeared to be ready to lock down the league's top seed a week and a half ago. That was before a head scratching loss to a Florida Gulf Coast team that was 7-20 at the time.
At that point Jacksonville assumed the driver's seat, but they were victimized in their regular season finale by ETSU.
Once the dust had settled there were Lipscomb, Jacksonville, Belmont and Campbell all tied atop the league standings with a record of 14-6. In league procedures, Lipscomb gained the top seed, Jacksonville the second berth, Belmont the third spot and the Camels were tabbed fourth.
Siena looks to make it a threepeat in the MAAC Tournament
Since the MAAC Tournament returned to Albany in 2008 it's been all Siena. This season, the venue is
the same, and once again Siena's the team to beat.
The Saints nearly ran the table in MAAC play, their lone league loss coming back on February 12 to a Niagara team that's seeded fifth in this tournament.
No team in the league sports a frontcourt duo as proficient as Siena's Alex Franklin and Ryan Rossiter. The forwards have combined for 30.1 ppg and 17.8 rpg on the season.
But it's senior point guard Ronald Moore who is Siena's best player. He leads the nation in assists per game at 7.7 a contest and ranks 11th nationally in assist to turnover ratio (2.7).
As he goes, so go the Saints. In that loss to Niagara last month, the Purple Eagles forced him into an uncharacteristic five turnovers. The rest of the MAAC can definitely use that as a blueprint in trying to prevent a third straight title for Siena.
Butler a prohibitive favorite to win the Horizon League Tournament
No tournament rewards regular season excellence more than the Horizon League. The top two seeds actually get two byes and the higher seeded teams in the first round get home games. That's a pretty sweet deal right there.
With that in mind, regular season champion Butler's path to the tourney title is even easier. The Bulldogs ran the table in conference play and haven't really been tested in over a month.
A possible semifinal game pitting #2 seed Wright State and #3 seed Wisconsin-Green Bay would be the most intriguing matchup of the tournament. With Wright State sitting on 19 wins and Green Bay sitting on 20, both teams could use some resume building to enhance their postseason chances.
Bubble teams from the major conferences will be paying attention to the Horizon tourney because in the unlikely event of a Butler loss, this conference would get two bids to NCAAs. Therefore, coaches like Rick Stansbury and Steve Fisher will be big Bulldog fans this week.
Big South Tournament a shot at redemption for Cliff Ellis
Lefty Driesell, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and Eddie Sutton. Those are the four coaches in the history of college basketball who have led four different schools into the NCAA Tournament.
If regular season champ Coastal Carolina wins the Big South Tournament, Cliff Ellis would join that elite group. That's not bad company to keep.
His last coaching stop at Auburn was an up and down tenure that ended with him being fired in the midst of an NCAA investigation (in which he was not implicated of wrong doing). While the program at his former school flounders, he's made Coastal Carolina competitive again. The school hasn't been to the Big Dance in nearly two decades.
Seniors Mario Edwards, Joe Harris and Logan Johnson lead a Chanticleer team that's only allowed 59 points a game to the opposition. Nationally, the team ranks seventh in field goal percentage defense at 37.7%.
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