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)

WYN2K. 

  • 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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2008-09 Season Primers: #20 – Southland

Posted by rtmsf on October 22nd, 2008

There is no RTC correspondent for the Southland Conference, but we’re still taking applications.

 

Predicted Order of Finish:

 

East

  1. Stephen F. Austin  (18-9, 12-4)
  2. Northwestern St.   (18-13, 10-6)
  3. SE Louisiana    (14-15, 9-7)
  4. McNeese St.    (12-17, 8-8)
  5. Central Arkansas  (10-19, 4-12)
  6. Nicholls St.   (8-21, 4-12)

West

  1. UT-Arlington  (19-10, 11-5)
  2. Lamar   (16-13, 11-5)
  3. UT-San Antonio   (15-13, 10-6)
  4. Sam Houston St.  (13-16, 7-9)
  5. Texas A&M-CC  (9-21, 5-11)
  6. Texas St.  (9-20, 4-12)

 

What You Need to Know (WYN2K).  The Southland Conference is an overlooked conference in an area of the country that doesn’t exactly embrace college basketball.  While the league has traditionally been cannon fodder for first-round high seeds in the NCAA Tournament, there are indications that may be changing.  Last year’s champion, Northwestern St., was a Cinderella entrant who got bombed by #1 Memphis, but in the period from 2005-07, the Southland champion was competitive with #2 seeds Oklahoma and Wisconsin, and of course everyone remembers the #14 NW St. upset victory over #3 Iowa in 2006.  In the early 2000s, the league was consistently rated among the bottom half-dozen conferences on an annual basis, but in the current environment with a solid few programs leading the way, the conference is now regularly in the 20-25 range.  It’s moving on up!

 

Predicted Champion.   Stephen F. Austin (#16 NCAA).   The ‘Jacks are jacked.  Coming off a 26-6 (13-3) 2007-08 campaign that led to an NIT appearance (SFA lost 80-60 to UMass), Danny Kasper’s squad returns four starters, including arguably the best two players in the league (Josh Alexander and Matt Kingsley), from a withering defensive-minded unit that only allowed 56 ppg last year (on 39% FG shooting).  Last year’s team had NCAA written all over it, having won road contests at NCAA entrants Oklahoma and San Diego, until Northwestern St. upset SFA in the semis of the conference tournament – the ‘Jacks are loaded and will probably not be denied this time around.   

 

Others Considered. 

  • UT-Arlington.  As a #7 seed in last year’s conference tourney, UT-Arlington got hot at the right time and defeated three higher seeds en route to its first conference championship and NCAA appearance.  The Mavericks return two key starters, Rog’er Guignard and Brandon Long, but all eyes will be on BC transfer Marquez Haynes, a 6’3 guard who played starter’s minutes for the Eagles in 2006-07.  This team won’t be overlooked again.
  • Lamar.  Lamar should provide the biggest challenge for UT-Arlington in the West, as the Cardinals return significant experience in the form of nine returnees.  The key to Lamar’s success lies with PG Kenny Dawkins, last year’s Newcomer of the Year, who averaged 15/5 apg leading his team to a league-best 13-3 record.
  • Northwestern St.  We threw Mike McConathy’s team on here as a challenger simply because, no matter what personnel they lose from year to year, they always seem to find a way to remain competitive, having been to the last four conference title games (winning one).   The Demons’ style of play doesn’t depend on one or two players, so this year should be no different.   

RPI Boosters. 

  • Northwestern St. @ Indiana (11/15/08)
  • Stephen F. Austin @ Texas A&M  (11/18/08)
  • Northwestern St. @ LSU  (11/23/08)
  • Lamar @ Kentucky  (12/03/08)
  • Lamar @ Louisville  (12/08/08)
  • Texas Tech @ Lamar  (12/13/08)
  • Stephen F. Austin @ Arkansas (12/20/08)
  • UT-Arlington @ Baylor  (12/20/08)
  • Northwestern St. @ Oklahoma St.  (1/03/09)

Neat-O Stat.   The Southland, like many conferences is a twelve-team league with two divisions of six each (East and West).  Ok, no big deal, right?  Well, what’s strange about this setup is that the current alignment allows for Stephen F. Austin (East) and Lamar (West) to switch divisions every two seasons.  Since the current alignment began in 2006-07, this means this will be the first year of SFA in the East and Lamar in the West for a while.   The league made this arrangement for travel purposes, with seven Texas teams (v. five Louisiana/Arkansas teams), but can you imagine if the SEC did this – Florida and LSU switch sides every couple years?

65 Team Era.  The Southland is 4-24 (.143) in the era, but one of those wins was from the PiG in 2001, and two others are from Karl Malone’s #5 Louisiana Tech team back in 1985 (La Tech is no longer in the conference).  In other words, the league has had only one legit NCAA win since 1985, but oh, what a great one it was (see video below). 

Final Thoughts.  As mentioned above, the Southland appears to be a conference on the rise.  The big-conference team that gets pitted against SFA in the NCAAs this year (assuming they make it through the conference tourney unscathed) should really pay attention or they will get burned.  The conference has proven it can play with teams at the BCS level in a one-game scenario.  This was not always the case – from 1997-2004, the average margin of loss for a Southland team in the NCAA Tournament was 29 points.  Since then, it has been 12 (including a 1-pt win).  Who will be the next Iowa?

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Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #18 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 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. 

#18 – Where Australian Import Happens

Patty Mills – St. Mary’s

AJ Ogilvy – Vanderbilt

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Who’s Up For Some Old Man Ball?

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2008

We stumbled across this blurb today and hadn’t seen it anywhere else.  Ken Mink is a sweet-shooting guard from Tennessee who hopes to see a few minutes a game this season for his new school, Roane State (TN) Community College.  He transferred in from Lees (KY) Junior College, but his route between the two schools was more than a little unorthodox.  You see, Mink, a self-described adventurer and athlete, last played college ball when it was whiter than snow in 1956, and he is now 73 years old.  From the Knoxville News-Sentinel:

Ken Mink was shooting baskets in his driveway about this time last year when he had a sports epiphany.  “I had been knocking down shot after shot, so when I came in the house I told my wife, ‘I’ve still got it,’ ” said Mink, a 73-year-old semi-retired journalist. “She said, ‘You’ve got what?’ I said, ‘I can still play.’ ”  Roane State coach Randy Nesbit took Mink up on his offer.  “I’m not very good at saying no,” said Nesbit, who just turned 50. “It’s a gesture of good will to help a fine man find closure. Why not?”

(photo credit:  Saul Young)

Hey, we just think that’s great.  We’re sure that the Raider players will love the daily routine of ridiculous touch fouls, razor-sharp elbows, 60-lb metal knee braces and standstill corner jumpers, but the important thing is that everyone gets to live their dream, right?

Seriously though, if we’re puttering around half as well as this old codger at his age, we’d be thrilled.  Although from the looks of it in the video here, Mink needs to step it up on D… 

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #21 – Big West

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2008

Ryan ZumMallen, LBPOSTSports columnist, is the RTC correspondent for the Big West conference. 

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Cal St. Northridge
  2. UC Santa Barbara
  3. Long Beach State
  4. Pacific
  5. UC Irvine
  6. UC Davis
  7. Cal St. Fullerton
  8. Cal Poly
  9. UC Riverside

What You Need To Know (WYN2K).  I know what you’re thinking: no good teams ever come out of the Big West.  Oh yeah?  What about 2006-07’s Long Beach State 49ers who ran roughshod over their schedule to a 24-8 record and an NCAA berth… losing to Tennessee by 35.  Or last year’s three-way tie for first?  UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Northridge and Cal State Fullerton each won 12 conference games and two earned postseason berths… one bowing out in the NCAA opener and one in the NIT.

Ok, there hasn’t been much success outside of the conference lately – and last year produced some colossal stinkers – but that doesn’t mean that intense basketball isn’t being played within the Big West’s confines.  After a conference flooded with seniors last season, nearly every team is starting anew, making for one of the most wide-open conferences in the country.  All you need is one stud to will your team to victory, and if 2007 Fullerton product and recent Sacramento Kings signee Bobby Brown is any indication, it is definitely possible for raw talent to be developed in the Big West.  Don’t expect the top teams to feast on the bottom-feeders again – all it takes is one hot hand for any team to have a shot on any night.  So let’s get into it!

Bottom Feeders.  UC Riverside, Cal Poly SLO and Cal State Fullerton.  I mention them now because I shan’t be mentioning them again.  All three lost a vast majority of their scoring to graduation, and senior leadership is vital in the Big West.  Expect painful rebuilding from these three, although Fullerton’s Josh Akognon (video footage below) will win a few games for the Titans all by himself.  The 5’11 guard averaged 20 ppg last year and won Big West Tournament MVP honors, but with only 2 returners and Akognon the only returning starter, it’ll be a long year in the cellar for CSF.

Middle of the Pack.

  • One team that you can (surprisingly) expect to emerge from that very cellar this year is UC Davis.  Yes, the UC Davis that went 2-14 in the Big West last season.  Stop laughing.  Last year’s Aggies fielded zero seniors and this year’s edition has five.  They return a trio of senior starters that scored 28.4% of the team’s points, boast two key transfers in Joe Harden and Todd Lowenthal and look to Big West Freshman of the Year Mark Payne to step us as a sophomore.  With all of that, I’ve still got them pegged in 6th because, c’mon, it’s UC Davis.
  • UC Irvine gets the nod for 5th in the Big West, even after losing their top two scorers who brought in a combined 29.5ppg.  They do return their other three starters, though, and while the team is not particularly heavy on seniors or explosive guardplay, last year’s squad won 9 of 12 down the stretch so these guys know how to win.  Adding three recruits sized 6’8” or taller does not hurt, either.  But the Anteaters could well fall prey to the experience of UC Davis, and certainly neither is worthy of a Top 4 spot. 
  • The Pacific Tigers come in 4th, based yet again almost entirely on the genius of the Big West Conference’s greatest basketball mind, head coach Bob Thomason.  Thomason consistently squeezes more productivity out of less talent than any other BW coach, and I’ve learned the hard way not to bet against the Tigers.  They don’t have the talent to dominate this year, but the high-flying Anthony Brown enters his senior season, and I am intrigued to see what magic Thomason has worked with the 6’9” forward who wowed us with his potential and now will have to show us what’s been done with it.  What wins games in the Big West? Guards.  Anyone who gives senior sharpshooter Chad Troyer more than an inch of room deserves to be cut and sent to UC Riverside.

Top Tier. 

  • As we saw last season, the cream of the Big West crop can be extremely competitive.  So these next three teams could end up in any of the top spots, or even in a three-way tie for first like the Trio of ’08.  They’re clearly the most talent-laden squads and have the best shot at the hardware.  At the rear of the triumvirate is – pains me to say it – Long Beach StateDisclosure: I’m a graduate, and last season’s 6-25 campaign was one of my life’s more painful experiences.  But we relied heavily on first-year coach Dan Monson’s genius and junior guard Donovan Morris’ magic.  This year, we’ll again need plenty of both, but have added more ammunition than a Howitzer tank to back them up.  The 6’3” Morris is the only returning All-Big West honoree in the conference, led the Big West in scoring and is the likely preseason Player of the Year.  But the 49ers also add three transfers and a four-member freshman class that is oozing with raw talent in one-guard Casper Ware and freakish swingman Larry Anderson.  The experience and talent are there after recording barren levels of both last year.  My pick is 3rd place and possibly higher – it’s just tough to get past the oddness of picking a 6-win team to win the conference, even if it’s my own.
  • Here then, we arrive at #2.  This team could definitely end the season in a lower position than this, and probably doesn’t have much chance at the top spot due to a lack of real scoring power or explosive guards.  But a notoriously stingy defense and hard-nosed hustle, coupled with eight returners (including three starters) earns the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos the second spot.  Well-rounded forward Chris Devine begins collecting Social Security this year enters his sixth season with UCSB after being granted another year of eligibility due to injuries.  His leadership will be invaluable as the Gauchos look to recapture the magic after being one of the three teams tied for the conference title in ’08.  They’ll rely heavily on a suffocating half-court defense that allows few second chances, and will look for junior James Powell on the perimeter after shooting 46.7% from three-point land and averaging 12.3 ppg last season.  Experience and guard-play win out, and the Gauchos legendary grit put them in a class above (most of) the rest.
  • Experience experience experience.  The Cal State Northridge Matadors (#16 NCAA) field five seniors and eight juniors on their roster, including last year’s conference leaders in rebounds, assists and blocked shots.  They too shared the Big West title and have a great shot to repeat with Tremaine Townsend returning to terrorize Big West post players for yet another season.  Townsend led the conference in rebounds with 9.8 rpg, and blocked shots with 1.3 bpg.  The Matadors led the conference in team rebounding, and senior guard Josh Jenkins will look to improve upon his conference leading 6.4apg as well.  CSUN head coach Bobby Braswell has never won an outright Big West title in 13 years at the helm, but this is his best chance ever to break the streak.

RPI Boosters. 

  • California @ Pacific  (11/15/08)
  • Long Beach St. @ Wisconsin  (11/16/08)
  • Cal St Northridge @ Stanford  (11/18/08)
  • UNC @ UCSB  (11/21/08)
  • Wake Forest v. Cal St Fullerton  (11/27/08)
  • Cal St Northridge @ UCLA  (12/7/08)
  • Long Beach St. @ Syracuse  (12/13/08)

65 Team Era.   Due to UNLV’s former association with the conference in the late 80s and early 90s, the Big West has a solid overall record for the era (28-30, .483).  But if you take out the Rebels, you’re left with a true mid-major level performance (7-24, .226) with only three wins in the last sixteen years.  Pacific’s nice run in the 2003-05 seasons accounts for two of those; the other belongs to another former member of the conference, Utah St. in 2001.

Final Thought.  Just for fun, let’s throw in the final seconds of Cal St Fullerton’s Big West championship game…

 

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10.21.08 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on October 20th, 2008

Let’s see if we can get through some of the news piling up…

  • CHN averages the rankings from the three preview magazines that are already out (Athlon, Lindy’s and TSN/S&S).  UNC still #1.  CHN gives us the mid-majors to keep an eye on this season as possible NCAA Cinderellas.  And here’s your EA Sports NCAA Basketball 09 Top 25 (now partnered with Blue Ribbon).  We know you were waiting for it.
  • Hahahahaha, so it appears the ACC is cooking the books Wachovia-style in an attempt to act like it has more televised games this year than it actually has. 
  • North Dakota Fighting Maize?  According to the North Dakota state legislature, the Fighting Sioux are out
  • Syracuse had best hope that Jonny Flynn doesn’t get hurt this season, as the Orange’s backup PG Scoop Jardine is redshirting.
  • Nevada starting guard Brandon Fields and two freshmen were charged with petty larceny last week, and suspended indefinitely.  Brilliance.  Oh, and Fields was all-academic WAC, proving that good grades doesn’t necessarily mean you have a brain. 
  • Seth Davis asks twenty questions as we get started with the 2008-09 season.  Gary Parrish has 24 things that he can’t wait to see this season, and his Top 26 teams.  Mike DeCourcy offers five things he hopes to see this year.
  • Katz hints on our issue with UConn as a F4 threat (zero postseason wins since 2006) in this story about Stanley Robinson.   He also provides us with a nice update of open questions as we head into the first week of practices. 
  • Yep, this is going to get old real, real fast.  Tyler Hansbrough, the symbol of all things good and merciful.   
  • Dan Hanner over at YABB throws us some love (thanks, Dan!), and does a breakdown of the preseason tournaments by school participation – cool concept. 
  • Truly, the most Epic Post of all-time.  Maybe the author wants to be an RTC correspondent???  Our fave blurbs were Florida and Colgate, fyi.
  • Being Cinderella (Davidson) can pay dividends.
  • This is pretty awesome over at STF – Drake U’u and Da’Veen Dildy are our favorites.  Honorable mention to An’Juan Wildnerness (isn’t that in Alaska?).
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2008-09 Season Primers: #22 – Big South

Posted by rtmsf on October 20th, 2008

 

Mark Bryant, the Coordinator of New Media for the Big South conference and writer for Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.

 

Predicted Order of Finish:

 

  1. Winthrop               (19-10, 13-5)
  2. Radford                  (17-12, 12-6)
  3. Gardner-Webb        (16-13, 11-7)
  4. Liberty                   (16-15, 11-7)
  5. High Point              (15-14, 9- 9)
  6. Charleston So.     (13-16, 9- 9)
  7. VMI                         (13-16, 8-10)
  8. Coastal Carolina      (14-16, 7-11)
  9. UNC Asheville         (11-18, 6-12)
  10. Presbyterian            (6-23, 4-14)

  

 

What You Need to Know (WYN2K).  When the preseason balloting of the media and coaches produces seven teams with first-place votes (out of ten teams overall), it’s a pretty good clue that the race is wide open and/or that nobody really knows how it’s going to shake out.  Why the mystery?  Well, player losses may be cyclical for everyone, but the hits were hard across the board for Big South teams: a high number of star seniors, career record-holders, and all-conference representatives have departed (see: Arizona Reid, Reggie Williams, Chris Gaynor, and Jack Leasure, among many others).  That turnover has left several coaches wondering what they have to work with this season—for example, Winthrop draws its somewhat traditional slot at the top, but as Head Coach Randy Peele pointed out, that’s without any Eagles on the preseason All-Conference team and with only 18 ppg returning this year!  If Media Day interviews are to be taken at face value, the majority of Big South coaches believe the greatest talent pool likely belongs to Radford, so the Highlanders may make some noise.  New member Gardner-Webb won’t be able to sneak up on anyone, a by-product of last year’s epic upset of UK at Rupp Arena.  Liberty’s Anthony Smith has the skills to play anywhere, and he has earned preseason Player of the Year honors as he begins his senior campaign.  The middle of the pack could finish in any order, with High Point, Charleston Southern, VMI and Coastal Carolina all working on their identities for 2008-09—only VMI and its trademark up-tempo offense offer a good sense of what may come this season.  Between senior departures and the loss of 7-7 center Kenny George to injury, UNC Asheville will not be expected to duplicate last year’s surprising run to the top.  Presbyterian is working through its transition to D1 and will have its work cut out for it just to stay off the bottom this year.

 

Predicted Champion.   Winthrop Eagles (#14 NCAA).  Last year’s top three scorers may be gone, but enough pieces are still there—including tournament experience and skilled coaching.  WU has won the last four conference tournaments and the Eagles grabbed a first round NCAA win for the Big South in 2007 by toppling Notre Dame, so there are still plenty of guys in Rock Hill who know all about winning when it counts.  If players like Charles Corbin and Mantoris Robinson step into the leadership void with some authority, the team will be fine—but they will be challenged by others who think there may be room at the top this year.  Look for Winthrop to be touch-and-go for 20 wins, maybe coming up just short and finding a #14 seed in the works when the brackets are announced.  Below are some highlights of Winthrop’s most recent Big South championship game. 

 

 

Others Considered. 

  • Radford Highlanders.  Forward/center Joey Lynch-Flohr gives RU a strong presence in the middle and the Highlanders certainly have their share of talent, but Coach Brad Greenberg will have to catch some breaks to pass Winthrop and break Radford’s poor postseason history (only Big South Tournament Championship: 1998).
  • Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs.  All-Conference junior guard Grayson Flittner is a complete player, and GWU returns most of the team that pulled off the upset heard ‘round the nation (over UK), but the Bulldogs fell flat after that early win and there’s nothing to indicate that they will be better off this time out.
  • Liberty FlamesAnthony Smith is sensational, and you have to keep your eyes on a team that has an asset like that, but there are still too many unknowns for Coach Ritchie McKay in his second season at LU—look for the Flames to keep improving and to produce for McKay after this building year with its wave of freshmen.

Important/Key Games & RPI Boosters.  A year ago, teams in the current Big South knocked off multiple teams in the ACC and the SEC, so where could that come from this year?  There are games on the slate against the ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big East, Big 12 and other significant out-of-conference foes—plus the opponents still to be announced for the ESPN Bracketbusters games with Gardner-Webb, Liberty, and Winthrop. Here are a dozen to watch:

  • VMI @ Kentucky  (11/14/08)
  • Radford @ Virginia  (11/21/08)
  • Winthrop @ Davidson  (11/21/08)
  • Gardner-Webb @ Oklahoma  (11/22/08)
  • High Point @ NC State  (11/22/08)
  • Liberty @ Virginia  (11/25/08)
  • Gardner-Webb @ South Carolina  (11/25/08)
  • Liberty @ Clemson  (12/7/08)
  • UNC Asheville @ Ohio State  (12/22/08)
  • Winthrop v. Florida  (12/28/08)
  • Virginia Tech @ Charleston Southern  (12/29/08)
  • Radford @ Wake Forest  (12/30/08)

Honorary Big South members among majors this year?  Try Virginia (3 games), South Carolina (3), Florida State (2), Clemson (2), Cincinnati (2), NC State (2), and Virginia Tech (2).  Additional opponents in the RPI hunt for the Big South: Duke, UNC, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Kansas St., West Virginia, and USF, among others.

 

Here are a half-dozen games to watch in Conference play:

  • UNC Asheville @ Liberty  (11/18/08 – part of ESPN’s 24 hours of basketball special)
  • Radford @ Gardner-Webb  (12/4/08 – December showdown for the challenger and the newcomer)
  • Winthrop @ Radford  (12/6/08 – a very early barometer of the potential duel for first)
  • Liberty @ Winthrop  (1/3/09 – gauge to see if Liberty will make a 2009 charge)
  • Radford @ Winthrop  (2/2/09 – will it be a fight for first or a battle to stay in the race?)
  • VMI @ Liberty  (2/24/09 – old rivalry may determine if either will be contender)

Did You Know?

  • the Big South Conference is marking its 25th Anniversary this season
  • star recruit Seth Curry (bother of Stephen) will play for Liberty this year…the son of former NBA player Dell Curry is not the only Big South newcomer with a pro pedigree—GWU adds junior transfer Roy Hinson III, son of the NBA’s Roy Hinson
  • VMI has led the nation in scoring for two consecutive years, only the 11th team to ever accomplish that feat (and a 3-year run has only been done twice before)
  • as alluded to above, the 2004-05 All-Freshman Team has departed, but its members have left their marks on the Conference record book:  Reggie Williams (all-time leading scorer), Arizona Reid (all-time leading rebounder), Jack Leasure (the Big South 3-point record-holder), and Chris Gaynor (Conference career marks for assists and steals).
  • games against Presbyterian will count in the regular season standings, and the Blue Hose can compete for the regular season title, but PC is ineligible for any postseason play (as part of its transition to D1)
  • two coaches in the Big South have major conference head coaching experience: Coastal Carolina’s Cliff Ellis (Clemson, Auburn) and Liberty’s Ritchie McKay (Colorado State, Oregon State, New Mexico)…plus Radford’s Brad Greenberg has been an assistant in the NBA (Knicks, Clippers)

65 Team Era.  UNC Asheville was the first to win an NCAA Tournament game, with its PiG win over Texas Southern in 2003.  Winthrop has been the Big South representative for four consecutive seasons, and was the first to advance past the first round with its win over Notre Dame in 2007.  In two other years (2005 and 2006), the Eagles gave #2 Tennessee (63-61) and #3 Gonzaga (74-64) all they wanted in first round matchups.    

 

Final Thoughts.  There are those outside the region who will overlook the Big South as a one-bid league without a history of deep tournament runs, but that would be short-sighted.  The conference has now been around for a quarter-century; its caliber of coaching has improved and its competition for recruits has stepped up; its teams have demonstrated the ability to take down foes like Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Miami (FL) and other teams from the major conferences.  With this year’s conference race believed to be an open playing field, any team could get hot at the end of the year if it finds the right chemistry among its young players and then perhaps enjoy an extra turn (or two?) at the Dance.  It should definitely be fun to watch unfold over the course of the season.

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