Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #16 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 26th, 2008

Shamelessly cribbing from last spring’s very clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present to you the Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we gear up toward the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube. 

#16 – Where Don’t Forget This Guy Happens

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2008-09 Season Primers: #17 – MAAC

Posted by rtmsf on October 26th, 2008

Ray Floriani from College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the Northeast (NEC) and Metro Atlantic Athletic (MAAC) conferences.

Predited Order of Finish:

  1. Siena    (15-3,  20-8)
  2. Niagara   (14-4,  21-10)
  3. Fairfield   (13-5,  19-10)
  4. Rider    (12-6,  19-10)
  5. Loyola (MD)   (11-7,  16-13)
  6. Manhattan   (9-9,  16-13)
  7. Iona   (7-11,  11-17)
  8. Canisius   (6-12,  10-19)
  9. St. Peter’s   (5-13,  11-18)
  10. Marist    (4-14,  10-20)

WYN2K. The MAAC was formed in the 80s and tipped off the 1981-82 season.  Yours truly covered the first MAAC contest ever, an Iona romp over Army at the Gaels’ Mulcahy Center. The MAAC began with six charter members – Army, Fairfield, Fordham,  Iona, Manhattan  and  St.Peter’s. Four schools – Fairfield, Iona, Manhattan  and St.Peter’s – remain from that original group as change has altered the league over the years. The conference tournament previously alternated between Buffalo and Albany, but two years ago it was in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Last year Albany, NY, hosted it and will once again showcase it come this March.  Some brief notes…

  • Siena, the defending champion, returns a strong cast with three players who could be considered for player of the year honors: 6-3 senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck, 6-6  forward Edwin Ubilies and 6-5 forward Alex Franklin, both  juniors.
  • Niagara’s fine junior guard Tyrone Lewis was MVP of the MAAC tournament as a freshman. Niagara captured the title in 2006-07.
  • Niagara and Canisius (the ‘dreaded’ western New York swing) are a few miles apart, but six of the league members – Rider, St.Peter’s, Iona, Manhattan, Fairfield and Rider – are within a 120 mile radius, which makes for a not too distant road trip.  

Predicted Champion.  Siena (#13 NCAA).  The Saints captured last season’s MAAC tournament championship, then gave a great showing in the NCAAs, as Siena defeated Vanderbilt 83-62 (see below) before falling to Villanova in the second round. That momentum of March should carry over into this year as coach Fran McCaffery has virtually everyone back.  Siena, in theory, could make this a two bid league.  If the Saints earn 15 or 16 conference wins, have a respectable non-conference showing against a murderous slate and get knocked out of the MAAC tournament, they could go as an at-large based on last year’s strong NCAA showing. That idea, however, is not one the competitive McCaffery is looking at as a realistic option, nor is it likely to happen.


Others Considered.  Niagara and Fairfield are the prime candidates. The Purple Eagles return an outstanding guard in junior Tyrone Lewis. Big East transfers Bilal Benn (Villanova), a 6-5 guard and 6-2 guard Rob Garrison (UConn) will contribute to a strong cast. Fairfield has a defensive reputation anchored by 6-8 junior Anthony Johnson (7.3 RPG and 43 blocks). Senior lead guard Jonathan Han is vital on offense. Han averaged 11.7 ppg while handing out 6 assists per outing. Rider is a dark horse. The Broncs have a sharpshooter in senior guard Harris Mansell (13.7 ppg) and return another Thompson. Ryan Thompson, Jason’s brother, is a 6-6 junior forward who is a strong player (15 ppg) in his own right. 

Key Games/RPI Boosters.

  • Rider @ St.Joseph’s  (11/14/08)
  • Fairfield @ Memphis  (11/15/08)
  • Niagara @ Villanova (Hoop Group Classic – Philadelphia)  (11/19/08)
  • Siena v. Tennessee  (Old Spice Classic) (11/27/08)
  • Marist @ Memphis  (12/2/08)
  • Rider v. Rutgers (Trenton)  (12/3/08)
  • Niagara @ Loyola (MD)  (12/7/08)
  • Seton Hall v. St.Peter’s (Jersey City)  (12/13/08)
  • Siena @ Pitt  (12/17/08)
  • Iona @ Ohio State  (12/20/08)
  • Marist @ St. John’s  (Holiday Festival)  (12/20-21/08)
  • Fairfield @ UConn  (12/26/08)
  • Loyola (MD) @ Duke  (12/31/08)
  • Siena @ Kansas  (1/6/09)
  • Manhattan v. Iona (MSG)  (1/24/09)
  • Siena @ Niagara  (2/27/09)
  • Loyola (MD) @ Iona  (3/1/09)


  • Jimmy Patsos has been on the job four years at Loyola (MD) and he has the second LONGEST tenure in the conference. The ‘grey beard’ among the group is Joe Mihalich who has been at Niagara for a decade.  Mihalich has only had one season below .500 during his tenure.
  • Siena committed only 11.1 turnovers per game last season. Their turnover rating (TO divided by possessions) was 15.4 (anything under 20.0 is excellent).
  • Niagara has won at least a dozen MAAC contests in 8 of the past 10 seasons. 

65 Team Era.  MAAC schools have been a traditionally tough out and in several cases, got a win under their belt before a competitive second round exit. The conference is 6-25 (.194) over the era, but two of those wins are from the PiG (2002 and 2007).  But in four of the last seven NCAA Tournaments, the MAAC has won a game in the Big Dance.  Last year Siena thoroughly dominated #4 Vanderbilt in the first round, which should help the Saints cause several ways this winter.  Besides Siena, LaSalle (1990) and Manhattan (1995 and 2004) were the other conference schools to post a first round NCAA win.   

Final Thoughts.  

  • It was ironic that NBA scouts monitored the progress of Rider big man Jason Thompson last winter because the MAAC, for years, has been known as a guard oriented league. Thompson was the twelfth player to go in last June’s NBA draft. 
  • The MAAC runs a unique postseason tournament (others conferences do it but there aren’t many) in that  both the men and women play their tournaments at the same site. This gives the true hoop junkie a chance to see each school’s program showcased on the men’s and women’s side. It also makes for a real ‘good feeling’ atmosphere that reaffirms what college athletics is all about.  It’s not uncommon to see a men’s team take a break from preparations to sit in the stands and cheer the women’s team on and vice versa.
  • Under the watch of veteran Commissioner Rich Ensor, the MAAC has been a pleasant media experience and the same for its fan base.
  • Cold winter nights at Manhattan’s Draddy Gym are classic.  Where else can you sit press row with the ‘ubiquitous’ Ronnie (the ultra Jasper supporter) on one side and the school’s president, Brother Thomas Scanlon, on the other?   
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2008-09 Season Primers: #18 – Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on October 24th, 2008


Rick Henderson of The Owl’s Nest is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt conference.

Predicted Order of Finish:


  1. Middle Tennessee  (19-11, 13-5)
  2. Western Kentucky  (18-11, 12-6)
  3. South Alabama  (18-11, 11-7)
  4. Florida Atlantic  (17-14, 10-8)
  5. Florida International  (15 -16, 8-10)
  6. Troy  (12-20, 5-13)


  1. Arkansas-Little Rock  (17-9, 12-6)
  2. North Texas  (16-13, 10-8)
  3. Louisiana-Lafayette  (15-14, 10-8)
  4. Arkansas State  (14-15, 8-10)
  5. Denver  (12-17, 7-11)
  6. Louisiana-Monroe  (15-14, 7-11)
  7. New Orleans  (11-19, 4-14)

WYN2K.  The Belt took a step forward last season with the NCAA Tourney appearance of South Alabama, and the deep run of Western Kentucky into the Sweet 16, jumping from 17 to 14 in the RPI rankings.  Accordingly, recruiting is on the way up all around.  However, this year the final league standings should look different as both teams lose key contributors from last year’s roster (we’ll get to that later).  You can expect a couple games difference in parity within the final standings at season’s end.  Here are our preseason SBC All First Teamers and Player of the Year picks:

  • Desmond Yates – MTSU
  • Carlos Monroe – FAU  (Player of the Year)
  • Josh White – NT
  • Russell Hicks – FIU
  • Brandon Davis – USA

Trio of new Head Coaches a big plus for the League.  The SBC welcomes the return of Mike Jarvis to the coaching ranks as the new Head Coach for the Fighting Owls of Florida Atlantic.  Jarvis boasts a conference best resume with 350 career wins and a myriad of post season tournament appearances – 9 NCAA and 5 NIT.  He is confident the Owls are a stock on the rise, having all but promised that they will make a return trip to The Big Dance in the very near future.  Jarvis is known for the development of NBA Hall of Fame player Patrick Ewing, and also coached a talented Ron Artest while at St John’s University. He has added a pair of nationally recognized prep guards to the already solid nucleus he inherits at FAU. PF Carlos Monroe (15.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg) will get some much needed double team help from this duo.  A little further north and west, John Brady joins The Sun Belt assuming the reins of the recently rebranded Arkansas State Redwolves program.  Brady enjoyed very successful tutelages with Samford (89 wins), and LSU (192 wins), where he led the Tigers all the way to The Final Four in 2006.  A heralded recruiter, Brady has coached an impressive 25 All TAAC (now The Atlantic Sun) and Southeastern Conference selections.  He hit the JUCO recruiting trail hard in the off-season, with four transfer signees heading to Jonesboro for the upcoming season.  Rounding out the trio of newcomers, Ken McDonald returns to Bowling Green to take over for the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky.  McDonald previously served as an Assistant Coach at WKU and most recently as the top assistant under Rick Barnes at the University of Texas.  He is a talented recruiter and was instrumental in the Longhorns signing of NBA draftees Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin.  McDonald will have his hands full though, as this year’s team will be without the services of Courtney Lee, who was drafted by the Orlando Magic in the first round of the NBA draft (22nd).
Predicted Champion
Arkansas-Little Rock (#13 Seed NCAA).  Bold pick?  Absolutely.  Realistic?  Definitely. Destiny?  Perhaps.  Here’s why:  The Trojans have finished atop the West Division in three of the last five years, but have never won the crown.  Unlike all other West Division teams (and even the East minus MTSU), all five starters return for UALR.  Couple this with a weaker East Division, and a potential homecourt advantage for the SBC Tournament and you have the makings of a championship.  Rest assured that someone will knock out one of the higher eastern seeds given its parity this season – paving the way for UALR.  The Sun Belt has gained much needed size all around this year, but UALR will display the truest balanced attack.  They will feature the league’s lone true big man down low in Ole Miss transfer Mike Smith 6-7, 295Lbs (52.9 FG%).  And that will be a big advantage (pun intended) along the way.  Joining him will be SG Steven Moore who should emerge even more this season after shooting a staggering 42-97 (43.3%) from downtown last season.  The clincher:  come March they can both click their heels like Dorothy, and say “there’s no place like home.”  Despite the fact that the SBC front office claims the tournament site is neutral this season, the championship will be played in Hot Springs, AR, which is 52 miles from UALR.  This virtually ensures them home court advantage during the SBC Tournament.
Others Considered.  They will be formidable opponents on a number of nights this season, but Western Kentucky has flat out lost too much: a whopping 60.3% of total offense, 59.2% of total assists, 50.3%  of total steals, and 39.6% of total rebounds.  A lot of this can be attributed to the departure of both SG Courtney Lee (20.4 ppg), and PG Tyrone Brazelton (14.4 ppg).  The same goes for South Alabama who must find backcourt answers for the losses of 1st Team All SBC guard Demetric Bennett (19.7 ppg), and 2nd Team All SBC guard Daon Merritt (11.5 ppg, 5.5 apg).  North Texas could be in the race for the West Division with the return of PG Josh White (13.9 ppg), but like the others considered, they face key losses with only two starters returning.  MTSU should be atop the East Division as season’s end, and does have talented returnees in both Desmond Yates (16.0 ppg) and Demetrius Green (12.5 ppg), but it’s a long drive to Hot Springs come tournament time. 
Games to Watch.  Traditional powers South Alabama and Western Kentucky will face off in a nationally televised contest that is sure to be entertaining.  The Deuce will also air the SBC Championship live:

  • South Alabama @ Western Kentucky (02.07.09) 1:00PM ESPN2
  • Sun Belt Conference Championship Game (03.10.09) 9:00PM ESPN2

RPI Booster Games.  Quite a few non-conference games could help elevate the SBC in the RPI standings this season.  SEC opponents are strewn throughout league schedules, as well as a few quality west coast opponents.  Winning these contests would certainly offer nudges here and there.  And some are winnable.  But upsetting the bad boys below would do some serious damage.  Are they winnable?  Probably not.  Cliché alert: That is why they play the game. Well, that and some guarantee money.  Without any further ado, please cue: “Facing the Giants.” 

  • Florida Atlantic @ Arizona (11.17.08) 10:00PM
  • Tennessee @ Middle Tennessee (11.21.08) 7:00PM
  • Western Kentucky @ Louisville (11.30.08) 2:00PM

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids.  Last year was a pleasant surprise, with both WKU and USA making the tourney.  If the West Division represents the SBC in The Big Dance, there is a long shot that an East Division top finisher could get in.  But it is highly unlikely and would take some serious non-conference results to convince the committee.

65 Team Era.  During the era, the Sun Belt is 13-34 (.277), but with WKU’s two additional wins last year, the Hilltoppers are responsible for seven of those wins and both of the conferences trips to the Sweet 16.  In fact, WKU is the only Sun Belt team to win an NCAA game in the past sixteen seasons (Louisiana-Lafayette won a game in 1992).  Seven times during this era has the Sun Belt gotten more than one team into the Dance, including last year’s duo of S. Alabama and W. Kentucky.  Speaking of which, who can forget what was arguably the (second) most exciting moment of the 2008 Tournament?

Final thought.  The SBC is one to two years away from making the climb back to where it was prior to adding football as a sponsored collegiate sport.  Serious recruiting classes have come in during the off-season.  It will be fun to watch some of the young talent begin to develop and blossom on the hardwood this upcoming season.

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Lute Olson Retirement Wrapup

Posted by rtmsf on October 24th, 2008

People have had over 24 hrs now to think about the ramifications of Lute Olson’s sudden retirement yesterday.  Reading through the various reports and testimonials on Lute’s career, we were struck by how many Arizona fans are absolutely livid with Olson’s handling of the past year or so.  While we’ve been the first around here to scold Olson publicly for his certifiable insanity of the past year, we sorta figured that UA fans would be a little more gracious for you know, creating something out of nothing, as a whole.  Guess not. 

Here’s what some folks, both MSM and blogosphere, are saying…

Pat Forde, ESPN Why can’t anyone else do that these days? What has happened to the graceful exit?  Lute Olson is the latest college coaching legend to thoroughly bollix his closing act. The Arizona basketball coach’s retirement was announced Thursday, ending a 12-month saga that did considerable damage to his remarkable rep. […] For the second straight season, Olson pulled the rug out from under his program at the worst possible time. For the second straight season, the school was left squirming to explain the erratic actions of a legend — at times seemingly compelled to fib on Olson’s behalf. For the second straight season, Arizona basketball has been thrown into turmoil by the very man who breathed life into it.  Sadly, a guy who projected an aura of control and composure has turned his exit from basketball into an absolute mess. Even sadder is the fact that Olson is merely the latest in a line of college coaching legends who don’t seem to know when or how to walk away.

Nowahoo, Thirty-Five Seconds – While it’s tempting to say that you or I would have handled our health or personal problems better, I think we know that’s wishful thinking.  The standards we (or at least Pat Forde) set for others in their final acts is kind of a joke.  Almost all of us will retire someday, but almost none of us will do so in a satisfying way.  Most of us will retire when we can’t make the commute anymore because of a slipped disc that never healed right, or when the people we work with stop giving us worthwhile work, or when the thought of one more condescending continuing ed seminar gives us the howling fantods to the point where we just fire off a retirement memo and hope we’ve enough in the kitty (or at least educated the shit out of our kids, so we can flip the script get our mooch on).

Paola Boivin, Arizona Republic A coach’s final ride into the sunset should be a leisurely gait, not a series of angry bucks and sudden halts.  Lute Olson’s brilliant coaching career, which came to a sudden end when he announced his retirement Thursday, will not be remembered without an unflattering footnote. When he had the opportunity to bow out gracefully from the basketball dynasty he built at the University of Arizona, he chose instead to let his final months be defined by conjecture, defiance, silence. It shouldn’t diminish his accomplishments, but the ending does reflect Mark Twain’s perfect description of golf: a good walk spoiled.

Gary Parrish, CBS SportsTruth be told, I never spoke with a person close to Olson during the past year who believed it was a good idea for him to return to the sideline. Most who know him well recognized a noticeable change in recent months, and now seems like as good a time as any to revisit a scene from what turned out to be Olson’s last game as a coach.

Dashiell Bennett, DeadspinPerhaps that’s because he decided to inform more important people first. The order of ranking goes something like this—insane color commentator, then the assistant coaches, then the families of the high school kids you are recruiting, your ex-wife, the mailman, the guy who runs the wax dispenser down at the car wash … then if there’s time, you tell your team and maybe your employers. It’s important that you respect the process.

Andy Katz, ESPN – On Monday, Chase Budinger gave maybe the most detailed description of Olson’s demeanor last year: “It was tough because in the beginning he really never gave the team an explanation of why he left. He felt very fatigued all the time. He looked tired.”   Budinger said there were times prior to when Olson took his leave of absence that he would make mistakes on the practice court. He said the coach simply wasn’t right.  “He kind of seemed like he was depressed all the time, it was kind of hard for him to coach out on the court,” Budinger said.

Dick Vitale, ESPN No one has been a bigger supporter of what he has done in Tucson. He is the ultimate Frank Lloyd Wright and has built the program into something very special over the years. Arizona had been in the depths of despair, and he took the school to greatness. There was an excitement in the desert that was so special.

Zach, Northwestern WinsThis entire operation has been botched. How do two fathers of Arizona recruits know the news, ESPN gets a gift-wrapped scoop on the news….yet prominent players like Jordan Hill and some administration have no idea where this story is coming from. It would have been wise to hold a team meeting this morning to alert the Wildcats and let the entire staff know before this leaked out (I know, easier said than done) rather than have members of the team “not knowing a damn thing” and spending the entire day thinking Lute Olson was their coach when I heard the news around 11:30 AM central time.

Scott Bordow, East Valley (AZ) TribuneOlson is not leaving Arizona gracefully. Players, recruits and, most certainly, Kevin O’Neill, have every reason to be upset about how he’s handled himself the past year. UA is in disarray, and he’s responsible.  But once those emotions subside, he’ll be remembered for his accomplishments rather than his departure. He came to a basketball Siberia 25 years ago and turned it into a winter wonderland.

Grant Wahl, CNNSII did interviews with his assistant and did speak with Olson last Wednesday for half an hour. It was clear at that point that he wasn’t as energized as he had been in April when he announced that he was coming back. I left that meeting thinking something might be up, and so I’m not entirely surprised by this news.

Achilles, (UCLA) Bruins Nation While I’ve rooted hard against Lute Olson’s teams over the years, I’ve great respect for what he accomplished. Arizona was not a basketball powerhouse when he went there, but he turned them into one. At their peak, Arizona teams played exciting, uptempo basketball. Olson also deserves respect as a top recruiter with an eye for talent.  More than anything else, it is sort of sad to see him go out the way he is now. Try and find his most recent press appearances on an Arizona site or YouTube. He’s become practically incoherent and appears to be in poor health.  I’ll personally prefer to remember him as a fiery, rival coach, prowling the sidelines for some really great UCLA-Arizona match-ups.

Vince Marotta, Arizona Sports Hub According to various sources, the fathers of two members of the 2009 Arizona recruiting class, Solomon Crawford (father of recruit Solomon Hill) and Abdul Gaddy’s father, Abdul Sr. both received information that Olson was retiring. Further judging from the reports, nobody from the University, nor the current players or their families were notified about anything. How do recruits know this information before the guys who already suit up for the Wildcats?

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Midight Madness Fatigue

Posted by rtmsf on October 24th, 2008

For the third consecutive weekend we have Midnight Madness celebrations going on around the nation, and frankly, we’re tired of it.  Will the NCAA please dictate that all MMs need to occur on the same weekend, or better yet, the same night?!!?  This is getting ridiculous. 

Anyway, here are the remaining laggards.  As always, we’ll try to have some photos/video up later on this post…

Here’s some pics from Florida’s Dancing with the Stars knockoff, featuring some next-gen Erin Andrews knockoffs and Nick Calathes in some kind of ridonkulous afro wig…  (photo credits:  GatorCountry.com)

The Vanillanova kids looked like they were having a good time last night (btw, it’s sad that we’re scooping not 1, not 2, but 3 VU sports blogs and their student newspaper on coverage of this event…)  (photo credit: Villanova Athletics) ed note: the photo we took directly from the VU Athletics site was from 2007 – we guess everyone at Nova was a little slow after the festivities of Fri. night

Last but not least, Late Night With Roy…  (photo credits:  NewsObserver.com)

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Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #17 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2008

Shamelessly cribbing from last spring’s very clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present to you the Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we gear up toward the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube. 

#17 – Where Offensive Rebound Happens

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2008-09 Season Primers: #19 – Summit

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2008

Ryan Pravato of collegefastbreak.com is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League. 

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. North Dakota State Bison   (19-10, 13-5)
  2. Oral Roberts Golden Eagles  (20-10, 13-5)
  3. Oakland Golden Grizzlies  (18-13, 12-6)
  4. IPFW Mastodons  (16-13, 11-7)
  5. IUPUI Jaguars  (16-15, 9-9)
  6. UMKC Kangaroos  (14-17, 8-10)
  7. Centenary College Gentlemen  (11-19, 8-10)
  8. South Dakota State Jackrabbits  (13-18, 7-11)
  9. Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks  (9-20, 6-12)
  10. Southern Utah Thunderbirds  (6-23, 3-15)


  • 22 out of 31. Conference RPI ranking for the Summit League in each of the last two seasons.
  • Oregon, Marquette, Oklahoma St., Kansas, Texas Tech, Utah.  Casualties at the hands of Summit league teams throughout the past 2 seasons. Does beating Seton Hall count? What about Louisiana Tech, twice?  Not bad, not bad. The Summit is not quite knocking on the door of the Missouri Valley in stature as of yet, but at least they’re in the neighborhood. Some will never be in the continent.
  • Guardplay.  Guards rule this conference in more than one way. They not only light up the scoreboard from downtown, but they also grab more than their share of rebounds. Lots. Last season 6’5 Derick Nelson led the Oakland Grizzlies with 7.4, 6’6 Brett Winkelman led the North Dakota State Bison with 8.3, and 6’2 George Hill led IUPUI with 6.8.  The big men you will find, and there are some actually, are your rudimentary mid-level giants who usually possess the muscle tone of Kevin Durant and the post-up game of Muggsy Bogues. Besides that, Summit league big men are studs 

Predicted Champion. North Dakota State (#14 NCAA).  Coincidentally this happens to be the very first season in which the Bison are postseason-eligible. But the Bison seem to be the consensus these days. And for good reason. The three-headed monster returning for the Bison all redshirted their freshman year so that they would be able to have an opportunity like this. The littlest of the fifth year senior trio, Ben Woodside, scored over 20 ppg last season while also dishing out over 5 feeds.  At 5’10, Woodside is a very creative attacker and gauging from the few times I have seen him play in person, he will hoist from anywhere, anytime.  The giant of the group is Brett Winkelman, all 6’6 of him. While you already know he’s a terror on the glass, he’s also quite the assassin on the perimeter, hitting 43.8% of his threes last year. Winkleman is an efficient player and one not to shy away from the dirty work. He’d be in any team’s rotation.  6’4 Mike Nelson is the third head of this Bison monster. Often overlooked because of the other two, Nelson just goes about his business, you know, the usual 46.1% from downtown, 13.8 ppg, and 32 mpg. Not a shabby third option.  All numbers aside, this Bison squad is downright hungry. They’re ready for the limelight, ready for the Summit league tourney.

Others considered.  Oral Roberts, the Summit League representative in the tourney the previous three years, will always be in the discussion for the title.  Oral Roberts consistently plays defense year in and year out the way it should be played: stay between your man and the basket.  Alright, that may not be their textbook philosophy on defense, but a casual fan watching this team would probably not argue against it actually being THE PHILOSOPHY. Offensively speaking, combo guard Robert Jarvis and forward Marcus Lewis are the only returning players that averaged north of 5 ppg last season. Jarvis is a star though. He’s without a doubt the most streaky player in the conference (16.1 ppg in 29 mpg…off the bench). I’m not real sure Oral Roberts can survive the shoot first mentality of Jarvis as their point guard, but it sure looks like that will be their only chance to make it 4 straight tourney appearances.  Oakland finished third in the conference in 2008. They have one heck of an opening stretch of road games to begin the year. If they can come out of it with an upset or three, it might just be all the confidence this team needs to make a run. Scoring the ball is not a concern for head coach Greg Kampe. Guards Johnathon Jones, Erik Kangas and Derick Nelson all averaged over 14 ppg last season. Nelson has a tendency to try to do too much, but when he plays within himself, he can hurt you in a variety of ways, whether it’s on the offensive glass, in transition, or with an occasional trey. Defense and rebounding seem to be the problem for this team, especially up front. They can usually get away with lackluster defensive lapses against the weaker teams, but losing four out of five to last year’s strongholds IUPUI and Oral Roberts should be an indication of what Oakland must drastically improve on to legitimately be considered a threat . A pair of highly touted freshman (as opposed to lowly touted), 6’9 Jay Thames and 7’0 Ilija Milutinovic, hope to give this lacking front line a boost. Ilija, says coach Kampe, might be just what the doctor ordered: “There is a lot of hype with him and we have never had this much hype about a recruit before. He turned down six figures to play professionally in Serbia because he wants to go to the NBA.”  Kampe later referred to Ilija as “very comparable” to Darko Milicic.  I’m still not sure what to make of that.

RPI Boosters/Games to Watch. You won’t see many of the Summit League teams on tv, but if you live in a midwestern state, chances are you’ll be able to take in a game at a very reasonable price.

  • For the state of Michigan at least, Oakland vs. Michigan State (12.27.08 @ The Palace) will be a fun affair.  Last season Oakland lost @ MSU by only 4.
  • NDSU @ Minnesota (11.29.08).  Intriguing early season test for the Bison against an up-and-coming Minnesota team.
  • Oral Roberts @ North Carolina (12.13.08). This game will be on ESPN2.
  • NDSU @ Oakland (1.2.09) & Oakland @ NDSU (1.29.09).
  • NDSU @ Oral Roberts (2.28.09).  Last game of the regular season for both of these schools, a #1 seed could be on the line.
  • And of course the Summit League Tournament, where mascots take themselves seriously (see below).  This is a one bid league fellas.

Did You Know.

  • Oral Roberts freshman Beloved Rogers led all Maryland high schoolers in scoring last season with 27.8 ppg.
  • UMKC senior Dane Brumagin, had games of 40, 35, 29, and 27 points last season while improving his 3pt% by almost 10% from the previous season.  Unfortunately for Dane there’s not much else besides a possible conference scoring title to look forward to this year.  UMKC players 6’8 or taller equal the number of playoff series Tracy McGrady has won. 
  • Valparaiso is the last school to win a non-PiG NCAA tournament game as a member of this conference (known as the Mid-Continent Conference until 2007). Valpo won 2 games back in the 1998 NCAA tourney.
  • Waste Management Court at Western Hall is home to the Western Illinois basketball team. I know, I know, ‘Coach K Court’ and ‘Jim Boeheim Court’ are so much more original.

65 Team Era.  The MCC/Summit has had a fair amount of success throughout this era, going 8-24 (.250), but most of those wins were performed by teams no longer affiliated with the conference ten or twenty years ago (Valpo, UW-Green Bay, Northern Iowa, Cleveland St.).  In the past ten years, only Oakland has won a game, and that was the dreaded #16 v. #16 play-in game.  In the ten first-round games of the last decade, the MCC/Summit representative has lost by an average of 21.4 points.  The only close game was #14 Southern Utah’s three-point loss to #3 Boston College in 2001. 

Final Thoughts.  In the end I feel like there are five to six quality teams in this conference, but only three of them have any realistic shot at knocking off somebody come NCAA Tourney time. Oral Roberts has the defensive discipline and experience factor going for them. Oakland can put points up in a hurry and is the deepest team in the conference. North Dakota State has the firepower and sense of urgency. They have not had the chance to taste March Madness. Those talented seniors get one crack at it, and they’re ready to battle.  Heck, give which ever team wins the tourney a shot at Duke. We all saw the trouble perimeter savvy Belmont gave them.  Bring ’em on!

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Lute Olson’s Legacy

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2008

Now that we’ve had a little bit of time to digest the news of Lute Olson’s retirement from Arizona after 24 seasons, it’s time to take a look at his legacy.  Lute wore his humanity on his sleeve for the past year or so as he’s piloted the usually steady Arizona ship into some rough waters through a minefield of health issues, marital problems, leadership changes and various other snafus.  But for the previous 34 years of coaching, Olson has consistently fielded talented teams that were a threat to win it all.  Consider the following accomplishments of a first-ballot HOF career:

  • 781-280 (.736) in 34 seasons as a head coach
  • 3 losing seasons in 34 years
  • 1 National Championship (1997)
  • 5 Final Fours (1980 – Iowa; 1988, 1994, 1997, 2001 – Arizona)
  • 15 Sweet Sixteens
  • 45-27 (.625) NCAA Tournament record 
  • 23 consecutive NCAA appearances (1985-2007)
  • 11 Pac-10 titles
  • 2 National COY Awards (1988, 1990)

Photo Credit (Tucson Citizen)

Olson’s numbers place him in an elite group of one-title coaches, including contemporaries Jim Boeheim, Tubby Smith, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, and Gary Williams.  The one thing, however, that separates him from those other names is that each of those coaches entered programs as new coaches where basketball was already an established way of life.  In Tucson, Lute Olson IS Arizona basketball. 

When Lute Olson stepped off the plane from the icy midwest in 1983, he encountered sunshine, babes and bikinis, but also an Arizona program that was so far off the map in terms of basketball success, you needed a magnifying glass to find it.  In the 78 previous years of its existence, the program had managed to make it to three NCAA Tournaments (1951, 1976, 1977) and three NITs (1946, 1950, 1951).  The combined NCAA record of those teams was 2-3, with both wins coming in the 1976 tournament (two upsets over Georgetown and UNLV to reach the Elite Eight).  The combined NIT record was 0-3, which meant that, upon Lute Olson’s arrival, the Wildcats had enjoyed only a single year (1976) in its basketball history with postseason wins of any kind.  To make matters worse, the team that Olson inherited was coming off the absolute worst year in the history of the program (4-24, 1-17 in the Pac-10). 

To say that Olson built the Arizona program up from the ashes insults the concept of fire.  After one mediocre year in 1983-84 (11-17), Olson found the mojo that he had utilized during previous stints at Long Beach St. (24-2) and Iowa ( 168-90), and set off onto the triumphant career in the desert that we’re talking about today.  The key, of course, was recruiting, and Lute mined the west coast hoops hotbeds (especially SoCal) on an annual basis, and it showed on the court.  Prior to Lute’s arrival in Tucson, Arizona had produced one first-round draft pick (Larry Demic in 1979).  Beginning in 1989 with the transcendental Sean Elliott, Olson put 13 first-rounders and 17 second-rounders into the NBA Draft, including such fantastic pros like Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, and Andre Iguodala.  By the time Lute got it really going in the mid-90s, Arizona had become a chic destination school for America’s blue chippers, and he was able to recruit nationally – Jason Gardner (Indianapolis) and Loren Woods (St. Louis via Wake Forest) from the 2001 runner-up team come to mind, but there were many others.  Let there be no question – Arizona basketball wouldn’t exist on the national stage were it not for Lute Olson.  Here’s his crowning moment. 


There’s no doubt that Lute was a tremendous program-builder, teacher and recruiter, but if we had to pick one criticism of his illustrious career, it would be that his teams sometimes appeared to lose focus and/or lack motivation.  Maybe it was the laid-back lifestyle of Tucson or simply something about the kids Olson tended to recruit, but in our view, it is somewhat telling that he won his sole national championship in 1997 with a #4 seed.  Don’t take that the wrong way – that was a SICK team that just hadn’t come together until very late in the season (and we had the privilege of watch cut down the nets).  But they were an underdog in each of their three games against #1 seeds Kentucky, UNC and Kansas, and we always felt that Lute relished and managed the underdog role a little more than he was able to do so as the favorite.  Let’s make the case statistically.

As stated above, Lute Olson has gone to five Final Fours.  Here are the NCAA Tournament seeds for those years – #5, #1, #2, #4, #2 (avg. = 2.8).  Arizona also received five #1 seeds during Olson’s tenure.  Here’s the result for those five Tourneys – F4, S16, E8, R32, E8 (avg. = 2.6 games won).  When Lute was expected to go to the F4, he went once; when he was not expected to go, he went four other times.  This quick examination of the numbers confirms what we wrote last year when we surveyed the top overachieving and underachieving programs of the 64/65-team era of the NCAA Tournament.  From 1985-2007, Arizona averaged a #4.1 seed in the NCAAs.  The historical model (above) suggests that Arizona should have won 44.1 NCAA contests over this period – the Cats won 39, which means they ‘underachieved’ by nearly five Ws, and therefore puts UA in terms of performance in the bottom third of schools with greater than eight appearances over the era.  The most obvious examples of this phenomenon were first-round upsets in 1992 (#3 UA loses to #14 ETSU), 1993 (#2 UA loses to #15 Santa Clara), and 1999 (#4 UA loses to #13 Oklahoma).  Even Olson’s most talented and decorated team, the 1998 #1 Wildcats led by Mike Bibby and Jason Terry, had a major letdown in the E8 against #3 Utah, getting run out of the gym by 25 points.  What were we saying about focus and motivation?

(Photo Credit: Tucson Citizen)

It’ll be sad to see Lute Olson go.  Even last year, when Kevin O’Neill was busily turning Arizona into Tennessee ca. 1998 (ugh), we still thought the Silver Fox would make his way back to the sidelines again.  You could always count on Olson teams to have athletes who made the game fun to watch.  If his medical problems are serious enough to warrant missing another season, then he probably is making the right decision in riding off into the desert sunset.  Best of luck to him and his family. 

Now, about that Bob Knight looking to get back into coaching thing…  what odds did we lay?  10:1?  Associate coach Mike Dunlap is expected to take over the reins on an interim basis. 

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Sources: Lute Olson to Retire?

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2008

A mere two days after making comments to the media that he was “fired up” to be back for a new season, the Lute Olson Soap Opera continued in earnest today.  ESPN (through Rays megafan Dick Vitale) is reporting that Olson is retiring from Arizona after 24 seasons at the school.  (h/t The Big Lead)

Arizona’s Lute Olson is stepping down as the school’s men’s basketball coach, a source has told ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale.  Associate coach Mike Dunlap will take over the head coaching duties on an interim basis, the source told Vitale.

As of mid-morning Pacific time, Arizona officials are vehemently denying these reports.  From the Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA sports information director Tom Duddleston said the news is not true.  “Dick Vitale is wrong right now,” Duddleston said in a phone interview with the Daily Wildcat.  When asked if there is any indication that any of the reports may be true, Duddleston said no.

(photo credit: Flickr)

This comes on the heels of a report that Olson missed practice and his annual Rotary Club Luncheon yesterday because he was sick.  Sick as in, a cold sick, not something more serious, according to Arizona sources. 

The reports further claim that Mike Dunlap, a current assistant coach for Olson, will take over the reins as the head man.  Dunlap’s previous head coaching experience was at D2 Metro State in Denver, where he was an astonishing 248-50 (.832) with two national titles at that level (2000 and 2002).

We’ll see how this shakes down as the day matures, but it has all the earmarks of a solid scoop.  Olson’s recent history of mania notwithstanding, we do hope that his medical condition is treatable and something that will allow him to continue to enjoy a happy, fulfilling life. 

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10.23.08 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on October 22nd, 2008

Only two weeks left (no, not the election… the first games!)…

  • Remember Nate Miles?  He’ll be playing for the College of Southern Idaho next year. 
  • Gary Parrish all-americans:  Curry, Collison, Hansbrough, Harongody & Griffin.  We only disagree on one (wanna guess which?).  While we’re at it, here’s his top 40 guards
  • Big East media picks – UConn, Louisville, Pitt, Notre Dame in that order.  POY – Harongody.  ROY – S. Samuels, G. Monroe.
  • The Stephen Curry show at Davidson’s Midnight Madness. 
  • Georgia Tech’s D’Andre Bell will miss the season after getting diagnosed with spinal stenosis (the same injury TJ Ford had a while back) – he averaged 7 ppg last year and is considered one of the Jackets’ top defenders. 
  • This will be a fantastic story if Santa Clara forward John Bryant has a great year after being stabbed in an altercation last month. 
  • Don’t know how we missed this one, but UCLA great John Wooden turned 98 last week, and subsequently had his car taken away from him by his family.  Ouch.
  • Must… Resist… Urge… 
  • Basketball Interview Challenge does a great job interviewing hoops personalities.  For example, we had no idea that former Michigan great Cazzie Russell was coaching for an art school in Savannah, GA.   Keep it coming, JZ. 
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