Team of the 2000s: #1 – North Carolina

Posted by rtmsf on August 21st, 2009

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Ed. Note: check the category team of the 2000s for our other entries in this feature.

And so we reach the pinnacle.  Ladies and gentlemen, prep yourselves, as this will come as a complete shocker… but your #1 program of the last decade is the North Carolina Tar Heels.  We know that you were probably thinking it was Gonzaga or Pittsburgh, but alas, the fine programs from Washington and Pennsylvania will have to wait another decade for the RTC Good Hoopskeeping seal of approval.

Be sure to check back Monday as we’ll do some clean-up on the series, including a look at some of the programs who just missed the top ten.

#1 – North Carolina

team2000sunc2

Overview.  Maybe we should just call it the Decade of Roy Williams.  After all, most of Carolina’s success in the 2000s is directly attributable to Ol’ Roy.  If you consider his 111 more wins at Kansas, three more trips to the NCAA’s second weekend and two additional F4s in the decade, you’re looking at a coaching juggernaut.  But Roy isn’t North Carolina and UNC isn’t Roy – it only feels that way.  This is about UNC, and despite a one-season blip in 2001-02 that time has forgotten, mostly accounting for their relatively poor overall winning percentage, the Heels have the goods in almost every other way.  Were they as consistent as Duke or Michigan State?  Nope.  Were they as much of a conference titan as KU or their hated rival in Durham?  Nope again.  But their numbers stack up very well in all categories across the board, and they’ve utterly dominated the second half of the 2000s in much the same way that Duke/Kentucky lorded over their respective halves of the 90s.  From 2005-09, the Heels have won two national championships with completely different casts, went to another F4, lost in OT in an Elite Eight and lost in the second round against the biggest Cinderella of the last quarter-century.  Not.  Too.  Shab.  The Heels didn’t have as much success during the first half of the decade, but they still managed to tack on another F4 as an absurd #8 seed in 2000, as well as two other second round appearances and an NIT appearance.  All the while continuing to produce a slew of  all-americans and NBA draft picks.  What separates Carolina in our eyes is the second championship that Roy hung next to the others in 2009.  Florida’s 06/07 back-to-back was extremely impressive, because everyone knows just how difficult it is to repeat in college basketball.  But in our view, it’s even more impressive to endure massive defections of NBA talent the likes of which UNC had from 2005-07 and still be able to climb the mountaintop a mere four years later.  A reasonable argument could be made that UNC was the best team in the country in four of the last five seasons (2005, 2007, 2008, 2009), and it wouldn’t necessarily render you a nutjob to contemplate it.  So North Carolina is our choice for the top program of the 2000s, and with the second championship currently shimmering in the Chapel Hill sunlight, we’re not convinced that any other school should be higher.

unc title 2005

Pinnacle.  The 2005 national championship.  Just three short years removed from the worst Carolina season in modernity (more on this later), UNC was once again the king of the college basketball world.  What seemed a million and one miles away under Matt Doherty’s tenure felt like a natural outcome under the coolest of cats, Roy Williams.  One of the very proudest fanbases in America could once again claim basketball supremacy, and after what they had been through, it must have felt like raining gold coins from heaven.   Carolina’s fourth national championship team was led by Sean May, Rashad McCants and Ray Felton, but it was a long, lean freshman by the name of Marvin Williams who saved the Heels from a trademarked (at the time) Roy collapse when he rebounded a wild reverse layup from the sometimes-erratic McCants and punched it back in for a 72-70 lead.  A Felton steal later and several desperation three attempts by the Illini, and the monkey was most definitely off of Roy’s back.  His back is so light right now that he turned around and did it again in 2009 and looks primed to have several more shots at it before he retires a Carolina hero.

Tailspin.   Without question, the 2001-02 UNC team represents the worst season for a traditional powerhouse school in two decades.  But just as Duke was Team of the 1990s despite the Pete Gaudet Incident; UNC made up for its one bad year with plenty of success the rest of the decade.  In ACC circles, UNC’s record of 8-20 is still brought up as a euphemism for terrible.  And that team was terrible – eight of their twenty losses were of the 20+ point variety as teams who had long been pushed around by UNC wasted no time in returning the favor, if only for a year.  It began with three straight opening losses to the likes of Hampton, Davidson and Indiana, continued with a series of whippings by Kentucky, Maryland, Wake Forest, Duke and Ohio (at home), but the most embarrassing part of the entire season had to be the Heels’ last game of the year in the ACC Tournament.  Deciding that UNC simply couldn’t stack up talent-wise with the defending national champion Blue Devils (who had defeated them by a total of 54 pts in their regular season meetings), Matt Doherty decided to slow the game down to a veritable crawl, holding the ball until under-ten on the shot clock before running a play.  The typically entertaining and high-scoring Duke-Carolina showdown was bastardized into a 28-22 at the half Big Ten game.  Doherty got one more year to turn the ship around, but a near-mutiny at the end of the 2002-03 season led to the Roy Williams era.

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Outlook for 2010s:  Grade: A+.   Roy Williams is 59 years old and is showing no signs of slowing down.  Unlike other coaches his age, he seems to embrace recruiting and it pays off year after year with NBA caliber talent coming through his program.  By our count, Williams has recruited an absurd THIRTY McDonald’s All-Americans in his twenty-one years of coaching (average: 1.4 per year) at Kansas and UNC, and there are no signs of this receding (14 at Carolina already, including four incoming freshman for 2009-10).  Duke is the only other program with thirty or more.  Furthermore, there’s absolutely no chance of Williams taking any other job, NBA or college – he’ll be at UNC until retirement.  We fully expect UNC to continue to make F4s and compete for championships throughout the next decade, and the Heels may be right here on top of this list again ten years from now.

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RTC 09-10 Class Schedule: Michigan State Spartans

Posted by zhayes9 on August 20th, 2009

seasonpreview 09-10

Ed. Note: for all of the posts in the RTC 09-10 Class Schedule series, click here.

As we continue our ongoing feature RTC’s Class Schedule for the upcoming 2009-10 season, let’s delve into the slate for the national runner-up of a season ago out of the Big 10: Michigan State. The Spartans entered last season with expectations to win their first regular season conference title since 2000-01 and accomplished said feat with a 15-3 Big 10 record, overcoming two stunning losses at home to Penn State and Northwestern along the way. The Spartans entered the tournament with high hopes as a #2 seed and, after dodging two bullets from USC and Kansas, smoked #1 seed Louisville and edged past Connecticut in the national semifinals before running into the buzzsaw known as North Carolina. With 2008-09’s successful season in the past, Tom Izzo is moving on with his point guard (Kalin Lucas), sharpshooter (Durrell Summers), enigma (Raymar Morgan), sophomore stud (Delvon Roe) and emerging big man (Draymond Green) all in the fray. Michigan State fans will accept nothing less than Tom Izzo’s sixth Final Four appearance this season in East Lansing.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the game-by-game journey Michigan State will have to endure if they wish to meet such lofty expectations. The official schedule can be found here:

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Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 9.5. Tom Izzo never backs down from a challenge. Last season, Izzo traveled to the loaded Old Spice Classic, a trip halted by a stunning defeat at the hands of Maryland. He also faced Texas in Houston and North Carolina at Ford Field for the ACC/Big Ten challenge. Both the latter contests will also be featured in the 2009-10 edition of Michigan State’s non-conference slate, but this time as true road games rather than semi-neutral floors. That’s right, on December 1 the Spartans will play UNC in Chapel Hill and, on December 22, Texas in Austin. Rarely do you see a team with the status of Michigan State play such challenging road contests in non-conference play. Victories in either venue will provide Izzo with a significant quality win to tout during arguments for top seeds in March. Izzo also signed up his Spartans for the Legends Classic in November in Atlantic City where he’ll face Florida and either Rutgers or Massachusetts in the final (you’d think it would be Florida-Michigan State in the final, but I digress). Another program with a perennially loaded non-conference slate is Gonzaga. Mark Few’s team will travel to East Lansing for one of the top November contests, even with Austin Daye, Jeremy Pargo and Josh Heytvelt departed.

Cupcake City: In between the two road games in North Carolina and Texas, Michigan State packed in some much-deserved cupcakes. The challengers will be Wofford, The Citadel (that game being played in Charleston, oddly enough), Oakland and IPFW. While The Citadel had a surprising 20-win campaign last year, the only team that may be able to stay on the floor with Michigan State is Oakland, a 23-13 squad from a year ago that nearly toppled North Dakota State in the Summit final. Michigan State will also face Florida Gulf Coast and Texas-Arlington at home.

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Memphis: Vacate-ion’s All I Ever Wanted…

Posted by rtmsf on August 20th, 2009

It seems as if the Derrick Rose saga is about to come to end, as multiple reports are suggesting that the NCAA will vacate all 38 of Memphis’ wins from the 2007-08 season as a result of using an ineligible player (Rose) and allowing Rose’s brother to fly around the country for free on the team charter.  The report, which will be published Thursday, reportedly will not provide for additional sanctions against the Memphis program, leaving Josh Pastner and his gutted program a fighting chance to emerge from the Calipari era with some dignity intact.

calipari and rose

Speaking of Coach Cal (and UK fans will remind us that correlation isn’t causation), he now becomes the first head coach in the history of college basketball to have had NCAA-mandated removals of Final Four appearances at different schools.  You should recall that Calipari’s only other F4 appearance in 1996 was later vacated because of Marcus Camby’s prodigious affinity for cashmoney and bling.  This latest Derrick Rose situation makes Calipari programs two-for-two, and, interestingly, the Memphis Tiger program two-for-three on removed Final Four appearances.  Keep polishing that 1973 runner-up trophy, Tigers, it’ll be a while until the next one.

Here’s the list of F4 teams whose appearance was later vacated by the NCAA that 2007-08 Memphis joins.

  • Ohio St. (1999) – Jim O’Brien
  • Minnesota (1997) – Clem Haskins
  • UMass (1996) – John Calipari
  • Michigan (1992 & 1993) – Steve Fisher
  • Memphis (1985) – Dana Kirk
  • UCLA (1980) – Larry Brown
  • Villanova (1971) – Jack Kraft
  • St. Joseph’s (1961) – Jack Ramsay

Do you guys believe in karma?  This list is populated by four national runners-up and five other semifinalists, but the NCAA has to date still managed to avoid vacating a national championship team.  And without question, the Rose/Calipari Memphis team was the closest finalist on this list to actually cutting down the nets.  Maybe there was a little more magic to the Mario Miracle dagger than we understood at the time?

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Team of the 2000s: #2- Kansas

Posted by zhayes9 on August 19th, 2009

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Ed. Note: Check the category team of the 2000s for our other entries in this feature.

Stepping away from this decade’s rankings for a moment, one could make the argument that the runner-up recipient on our list would top a list of the greatest college basketball programs of all-time. Sure, UCLA and Kentucky fans may quibble, but the combination of legendary players (Lovelette, Chamberlain, Manning, Pierce), pantheon coaches (Naismith, Allen, Brown, Williams) and an arena that every true college basketball fan should visit (Allen Fieldhouse) could surely provide enough ammunition to make an argument to head an all-time list. The successes of this program’s basketball has extended into the current decade, complete with Final Fours, national championship heartbreaks and a comeback for the ages. Let’s take a closer look:

#2 – Kansas

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Overview. As one can tell from the chart above, Kansas has been the model of consistency over the course of the decade. Not even a Hall-of-Fame coach departing for his alma mater could deter the Jayhawks program in the 2000s. In fact, Kansas is the only school to reach the top-five in every single category considered, including a runner-up rank in Sweet 16s and Final Fours reached with seven and three, respectively. Other teams on the list have gone without a losing campaign and reached the NCAA Tournament each season, but none of those schools lost a coach midway through the decade. After Roy Williams departed, Kansas made a tremendous hire, luring Illinois coach Bill Self to Lawrence. He’s responded by capturing a Big 12 regular season title each season with the exception of 2003-04, a year in which he finished second and reached the Elite Eight (ho hum). The peak for Kansas may have come in the early part of the decade under Williams, though. The Jayhawk squads from 2001-03 were truly memorable. The 2001-02 club is still the only team in Big 12 history to finish conference play undefeated, a Drew Gooden-led group that finished first in the nation in field goal and winning percentage. A year later, Kansas led the nation in scoring margin and reached the national title game.

Pinnacle. KU’s only national championship in the decade would not have occurred if Derrick Rose or Chris Douglas-Roberts had sunk one more measly free throw during the thrilling 2008 National Championship Game in San Antonio. You know the story: Memphis leads Kansas 60-51 with two minutes left, the national title within their grasp…only to experience heartbreak of the highest order. Give the Jayhawks credit, though, for going perfect from the field and line during those waning minutes. Mario Chalmers’ game-tying three-point shot with 2.1 seconds left will forever be etched in the mind of college basketball fans and may be the single greatest moment in Kansas basketball history (from the wayback machine: RTC’s “morning after” analysis of the game). And that’s saying something. Long known for NCAA Tournament chokes, (we’ll delve into that in a bit) Bill Self finally reached the pinnacle, a pinnacle that is still going strong today. That national title squad was stripped of nearly every contributing player besides sixth man Sherron Collins and little-used big man Cole Aldrich, yet Self’s superb coaching led Kansas to another Big 12 title and Sweet 16 appearance in 2008-09. As the preseason #1 team in the land entering the next decade, the pinnacle has yet to conclude.

Tailspin. Many fans would immediately point to the heartbreaking loss to Syracuse in the 2003 National Championship game (you remember the infamous Hakim Warrick block), a last hurrah for Kirk Hinrich, Nick Collison and Roy Williams gone awry. But I’d be shocked if diehard Kansas fans didn’t select the consecutive first round losses in 2005 and 2006 to Bucknell (as a #3 seed) and Bradley (as a #4 seed) as the lowest points of the decade. The 2004-05 Kansas team completely collapsed after starting the season 20-1 and reaching the top spot in the polls, a squad led by Wayne Simien, Keith Langford and Aaron Miles during Self’s second season. They would go on to lose six of their last nine games before the shocking Bucknell last-second upset. The following season was different yet finished eerily similar. After a rough start, KU rebounded to win 15 of their last 17 games and the Big 12 tournament before falling to Bradley in the opening round. After the loss, Bill Self was labeled a perennial March choke artist and many questioned whether the Kansas program could ever return to prominence.

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Outlook for 2010s: Grade: A+. Kansas has returned to prominence. The Jayhawks enter the 2009-10 season as the near-unanimous favorite to raise another rafter in Allen Fieldhouse, a feat that would complete the quickest rebuilding job in the sport’s history. Aldrich appears to be one of the early favorites to win the Naismith Award and Self lured another McDonald’s All-American into the fray for next season in talented wing Xavier Henry, coupled with two more top-ten players at their respective positions in Elijah Johnson and Thomas Robinson to go with Tyshawn Taylor, Marcus Morris and Collins. Self is a recruiting machine and appears to be the frontrunner for Harrison Barnes, the top player in next year’s class. Kansas is the height of the coaching chain and, barring an unforeseen flameout, Self should be the KU coach for years and years to come (especially after rejecting a monster package from his alma mater, Oklahoma State). The March monkey is off his back and the future is extremely bright for one of the most storied programs in college basketball.

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RTC’s 09-10 Class Schedule: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by zhayes9 on August 19th, 2009

seasonpreview 09-10

Ed. Note: for all of the posts in the RTC 09-10 Class Schedule series, click here.

I’m extremely proud to introduce a new feature here at Rush the Court, one you’ll be seeing every few days or so up until the much-anticipated opening tip in November, called RTC’s 09-10 Class Schedule. The premise is simple: dissect and analyze the schedules of the most notable teams in the nation this season, from the easiest to the hardest stretch, the most intense rivalry to the early season tune-ups, upset watch to RTC potential. If your team is lingering around the expected preseason top-25, their schedule will be scrutinized in the next couple of months. There’s no rhyme or reason to the madness (we won’t be going conference-by-conference or ranking each team), just a prominent school every few days as the releases begin to trickle out from the respective schools.

We figured it would be appropriate to begin the feature with the team expected to represent the class of college basketball in the 2009-10 campaign: Kansas. Here’s the official team schedule:

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 8. Bill Self realizes he must challenge his Jayhawks if they wish to reach the promised land in April this season, and while the Big 12 certainly provides distinct challenges, Self has loaded the non-conference slate with three games against potential top-15 competition and two more storied programs on the fringe of being ranked. Kansas will take on Michigan and California at home in back-to-back contests in December, two teams returning plenty of talent from a season ago and featuring playmakers like Manny Harris and Jerome Randle. Self also scheduled a home-and-home with Tennessee (last season’s barn burner) and the Jayhawks will make their return trip on January 10 in one of the more anticipated non-conference games this season. Other than Tennessee and a trip to Philly to take on Temple, Kansas’ only true road game during non-conference play is a meeting with UCLA as part of the Big 12/Pac 10 Hardwood Series. They also travel a short ways to St. Louis for a matchup with Memphis. While Kansas playing such big name schools sounds sexy, neither should pose an enormous conundrum for a loaded KU squad. Overall, give Self credit for challenging his team rather than padding the record. The RPI will notice when they’re battling for a #1 seed in February and March.

Cupcake City: The Jayhawks may have scheduled their fair share of below-average competition, but Self did a fairly decent job of bringing teams to Lawrence with a recent history of success. Even the typical November and December schools are somewhat formidable in the big picture (they may not be against KU, of course): Radford, Belmont and Cornell have recent tournament experience, Oakland is the favorite in the Summit and La Salle is one of the sleepers in the Atlantic 10. The portion of the schedule covered with frosting, though, has to be November 19- December 2 with Central Arkansas, Tennessee Tech and Alcorn State coming to Lawrence. I’m not going out on a limb when I say some lopsided scores could be in order.

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Team of the 2000s: #3 – Florida

Posted by jstevrtc on August 18th, 2009

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Ed. Note: Check the category team of the 2000s for our other entries in this feature.

As we move into the top three teams of the 2000s, we reach rarefied air.  The team we review today at the third spot was one of the absolute toughest to place, for reasons that will be described below.

#3 — Florida

team2000sflorida

Overview.  When Billy Donovan arrived at Florida in 1996 he brought with him all of two years of head coaching experience, a mere 35-20 record as the head bull at Marshall.  In its previous 81 seasons, the Florida program had gone through 18 different head coaches and known the joys of only a single Final Four, coming in 1994 under Lon Kruger.  Nevertheless, much was expected of Donovan.  Because of his leadership skills displayed as a point guard at Providence and an assistant at Kentucky (serving head coach Rick Pitino in both capacities), Donovan was quickly anointed as the Next Big Thing in terms of young, up-and-coming college coaches.  He delivered quickly, getting the Gators to the championship game in 2000 (falling to Tom Izzo and the Flintstones) and establishing himself as an unbelievable recruiter.  But, despite the Blue Devil-like stable of stars, Florida in the early 2000s couldn’t manage past the second round at best in the NCAA Tournament; true, they had made themselves into a formidable power in the SEC, culminating in their first-ever (?!?) SEC Tournament title in 2005 – the first of three straight – but because of their troubles in the Big Dance people began to wonder if Donovan really had what it took to “win the big one.”  The best evidence to this was the fact that in each of their appearances from 2001 to 2005, Florida lost to a lower-ranked opponent, and usually quite handily.  The only non-double-digit loss during that span was a double-overtime defeat to Creighton in a 12-vs-5 game in the first round in 2002.  Those Florida teams may have had top-flight recruits but seemed to lack a physical toughness (with the possible exception of David Lee) required of a true NCAA title contender, and this resulted in the Gators frequently getting pushed around in early tournament games.

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Just as soon as people began to truly doubt Donovan, though, the coaching “potential” and the talent on the floor seemed to meld perfectly in the 2005-2006 season.  While fellows like Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Taurean Green, and Corey Brewer were all prized recruits during their high school careers, they weren’t quite as highly regarded as some of the players Donovan had on his comparatively disappointing squads mentioned above.  What those fellows did indeed possess was the physical toughness, killer instinct, and coachability that Donovan’s system requires, and this perfect fit resulted in Florida’s first national basketball championship in 2006.  Donovan and his Florida program still had their detractors who claimed that they merely lucked into an easy draw — four of their six victories in that tournament came against teams seeded 7th or worse — and that their 2006 title was just a fluke.  Surprisingly, the “Oh-Fours” (the collective nickname that Brewer, Horford, Noah, and Green had given themselves for obvious reasons) all decided to return to campus the following year despite the certain looming promise of NBA riches.  Flipping a gigantic middle finger to the aforementioned detractors, they proved that the previous season’s title was certainly no fluke by becoming the first repeat champions in 15 years.  When considering the two straight titles, Billy Donovan’s recruiting prowess, and his intact image as a young coach with an increasingly bright future, everyone from ESPN anchors to sports-talk radio hosts began tossing around that dangerous word — “dynasty.”

Then, just like Keyser Soze, poof — they were gone.  Proving that Florida is a program so bipolar that it should be on Lithium, after repeating as champs, the Gators missed the last two tournaments of the 00s.  So, let’s recap the decade in order:  a final, five early exits to lower-ranked teams, two national championships, two missed tournaments.  Florida basketball…your prescription is ready.

Pinnacle.  This has to be the night of the repeat championship in 2007.  The second title officially took care of any idiots who felt the 2005-06 championship was a fluke.  Also, we know how hard it is to repeat in this sport.  A case could be made that the true pinnacle was that pep rally after the first championship when the Oh-Fours all announced that they were coming back to college the next year, and of course after the second title everyone pretty much knew that those guys were gone.  But in this era of college basketball I don’t see how there can be any higher pinnacle than the very moments right after repeating as national champions — a peak brought into even greater relief by the decline that followed.

Tailspin.  It started on Selection Sunday in 2008.  Yes, Florida lost a lot of talent after the second championship, to say the least; they were left with a 2007-08 team consisting of two juniors, three sophomores, and seven incoming freshmen.  But with Walter Hodge, Marreese Speights and arguably the nation’s best recruiting class headed to Gainesville for the 2007-08 season, you’d think they could at least have made it back to the NCAA Tournament (to their credit, they did post a 24-12 record, 8-8 SEC).  The 2008-09 squad was also a young one, with 11 of the 14 players in either their freshman or sophomore years, but there was enough talent there to make the Dance.  To be honest, Florida basketball is still in its tailspin.

Will Billy the Kid Find Another Group Like the Oh-Fours?

Will Billy the Kid Find Another Group Like the Oh-Fours?

Outlook for 2010s: Grade: A-.  I wouldn’t go shedding any tears for Donovan or his Gator program.  Donovan will always get big-time talent, and, above all, it’s big-time talent that wins championships.  Most likely, Florida fans can rely on this continued steady diet of…unsteadiness, meaning a cycle of deep tournament runs followed by NIT births.  But if Donovan can find a way to keep the player defections (for whatever reason) to a minimum and get to the point where he can develop teams with some upperclassman leadership, you’ll see a longer string of consecutive years where Florida doesn’t just have great incoming freshman classes but a solid foundation of a few juniors and seniors — and it’s in this manner that legendary runs are built for a program.  It could very well begin with the upcoming season as Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy come to town to lend their assistance, comprising a smaller yet still highly skilled recruiting class.  Most likely they’ll all have people forgetting how to pronounce “Calathes” by Christmas.

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2010 ESPN College Gameday Sites Announced

Posted by zhayes9 on August 18th, 2009

Saturday mornings in the winter have become a schedule of habit for yours truly- stumble out of bed, put the coffee in the pot and settle down on the couch for another edition of College Gameday: Hoops Edition. The likely candidates will return for another run in 2010 including Rece Davis as the host and Hubert Davis, Digger Phelps, Bob Knight and Jay Bilas (assuming Erin Andrews will once again be involved) providing analysis and heated bracket discussion. While I’d love to see Hubert tied up behind the Bristol studios with his mouth taped shut and replaced by someone smart like Doug Gottlieb or Steve Lavin (or anyone who doesn’t think the eye test is the best way to determine NCAA Tournament teams), the Gameday crew has grown on me. Bilas has always been the most informative and intelligent analyst on the network covering college basketball, and once you can look past how big of a buzzkill Bob Knight is, he provides tremendous insight. Much like Chris Fowler on the football counterpart, Davis does a formidable job moderating and challenging his partners.

Here’s the schedule for this season:

January 16th: Storrs, CT- Notre Dame at Connecticut (women’s)
January 23rd: Clemson, SC – Duke at Clemson
January 30th: Manhattan, KS – Kansas at Kansas State (7 p.m.)
February 6th: Champaign, IL – Michigan State at Illinois
February 13th: Lexington, KY- Tennessee at Kentucky
February 20th: Seattle, WA – UCLA at Washington
February 27th: Syracuse, NY- Villanova at Syracuse
March 6th: Durham, NC – North Carolina at Duke

The women’s game doesn’t surprise me; in fact, I viewed it as inevitable for Gameday to make a trip to Storrs this season to commemorate the perfect season for UConn. And why not? I’ve never watched a full women’s college game in my life, and don’t plan on tuning in to that particular edition because Geno Auriemma will be prominently involved, but it’s well deserved. As for the other men’s contests, I think ESPN did a nice job considering they can only work with Saturday games and make the schedule in August rather than on a weekly basis, i.e., college football. You have potential top-ten teams in Duke, Kansas, Michigan State and Villanova entering raucous environments in Clemson, Manhattan, Champaign and Syracuse, respectively. Expect some memorable RTC moments on Saturday nights this season.

Some quick thoughts:

Best Game- UNC-Duke always gets us tingly inside, but the best game takes place in SEC country this season- Tennessee-Kentucky. The Big Blue will be rocking in appreciation of their highly-anticipated top-five team under new coach John Calipari and will surely bring the heat for their most hated sweaty headman, Bruce Pearl. These two bitter rivals will be the top two teams in the SEC this season. Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism battling down low with DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson will be tremendous to watch.

Likely Stinker- Most would vote for a possible 57-56 final in Champaign as the likely stinker, but I’ll go with Villanova-Syracuse. Some believe the Orange could surprise with the addition of Wesley Johnson, but Villanova is loaded and took care of Syracuse late last season at the Dome even with Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris around. This one has the potential for blowout city rather than upset city.

Who Knows Game- Kansas State isn’t likely anything more than a bubble team this season, yet Gameday is making the trip to Manhattan to see preseason #1 Kansas battle the Wildcats in what should be an insane environment. You’d think the Jayhawks’ immense talent would be able to wipe the floor with Kansas State, but don’t underestimate Denis Clemente, Jacob Pullen and stud frosh Wally Judge. Feels like this could either be an 18-2 KU run to start the game or the most memorable upset of the conference season.

Missing Powers- A little bit surprised to see Texas without an appearance on Gameday. I love their makeup this year under Rick Barnes and coupled with a strong Big 12 + Austin providing a worthy destination = surprised at their absence. Purdue was snubbed. Butler was also a candidate to get some national TV love.

Cult of Personalities- As I mentioned before, the battle between Bruce Pearl and John Calipari, especially coming off the Josh Selby rumors/saga, will be eaten up by ESPN. It’s not exactly Rick Pitino-Calipari, but the storylines will develop.

Plus, we get more halfcourt shots. And those are always fun.

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Greg Paulus Named Starting QB at Syracuse

Posted by nvr1983 on August 18th, 2009

Most Syracuse fans seemed to think it was a no-brainer, but it wasn’t official until Syracuse football coach Doug Marrone made the announcement last night that Greg Paulus, everybody’s favorite whipping boy at Duke, will begin the season as the Orange starting QB. Given the fact that he hasn’t played competitive organized football in 4 years the announcement may be surprising to some, but when you remember that Paulus was the Gatorade National Football Player of the Year and that today’s Syracuse program is not the program it was when Donovan McNabb was under center it isn’t that shocking. We wish Paulus the best in his 2nd college career and want to remind him that flopping doesn’t work in football.

gregpaulus

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Team of the 2000s: #4 – Duke

Posted by nvr1983 on August 17th, 2009

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Ed. Note: Check the category team of the 2000s for our other entries in this feature.

As we mentioned in our earlier “Team of the 2000s” posts, we felt that the top-tier programs fell into a few clear clusters. There was some debate amongst the RTC braintrust about where certain teams fell within those clusters so we can understand if you disagree with where a team is ranked (that’s what the comment section is for). Teams in the top five either have made it to every NCAA tournament this decade (a sign of at least being respectable every season) or have a 2nd championship to bolster their case.

#4 – Duke

team2000sduke

Overview. This will be the most controversial selection on the list because it is Duke. Love them or hate them (and I’m pretty sure that most college basketball fans hate them), the Blue Devils remain the standard that other programs are judged against. That is not to say that they are the best program of the decade (there are still three teams ahead of them), but much like the New York Yankees, who are experiencing a similar title “drought,” every fanbase judges their success against what the guys in Durham are doing. To be completely honest, I ranked Duke lower than any of the other voters, but in the end their consistency (particularly during the regular season) won out and put them ahead of some of the other elite programs. The case for Duke being ranked above the teams below it in our countdown: 82.6% (regular season winning percentage–Gonzaga is the only other team to crack 80% and they don’t play in the ACC); 7 post-season and 4 regular season ACC titles (just an absurd number when you are competing against UNC although UNC’s inconsistency helped inflate this); 10 NCAA tournament trips (look at the above summary to see how often many excellent programs have missed the NCAA tournament this decade); 8 Sweet 16 appearances (maybe Duke hasn’t been that successful during the 2nd weekend, but they have gotten there more than anybody else); and 1 national title (more on this in a bit). The case against the Blue Devils? I alluded to it earlier, as Coach K’s teams have struggled mightily in the NCAA second weekend making it to the Final 4 “just” two out of the eight times they made it to the Sweet 16. In addition, Duke’s absence of a 2nd title prevents it from claiming a spot in the top 3. Out of the team’s below it, Tom Izzo‘s Michigan State Spartans have the best argument, but Duke’s vastly superior winning percentage (82.6% vs. 72.1%) and huge edge in conference titles combined with playing in a better conference (the ACC may be down, but you never see an abomination like this come out of the ACC) and NCAA-best 8 trips to the Sweet 16 (versus 6 for the Spartans) are just enough to make up for Michigan State’s edge in Final 4 appearances (4-2 although both teams were only able to seal the deal once).

battier j-will duhon

Pinnacle. As it is with any team that won a single title this decade, the choice here is simple: the 2001 title. After coming up just short with one of the most talented teams in recent history in 1999, Coach K reloaded with a class featuring Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy Jr., and Carlos Boozer. Although not quite as dominant as the group that left just before they came in (Elton Brand, William Avery, and Corey Maggette – I know he was a year after the other two, but I wasn’t going to include Chris Burgess in there), the former was able to do something the latter failed to do – win a title.  Together with Shane Battier, who led the Blue Devils emotionally and in taking flops, this group made it to the Sweet 16 in 2000 before being upset by Florida. The following year the Blue Devils were able to give Coach K his 3rd title, but not before surviving three marginally tough games (vs. USC in the Elite 8, vs. Maryland in the national semifinals, and vs. Arizona in the championship game) to claim the title. The defining moment of that title game was Dunleavy Jr.’s 3-point barrage (three 3-pointers during an 11-2 run) that re-established Duke’s control of the game. One thing that will stick with Blue Devil fans forever though is their four games against Maryland, which were some of the best college basketball games you will ever see, the most memorable being the 10-point comeback in the last minute at College Park (although we are willing to debate with someone who argues that the 22-point comeback in the national semifinals might be better).

[Warning: Maryland fans may want to avoid this video.]

Tailspin. Other than the two UNC titles? The 2006-07 season. A rather mediocre Duke team went 22-11 in a season that included two separate four-game losing streaks. The latter of those losing streaks came to finish the season with the final insult coming courtesy of Eric Maynor and VCU. Much has been made on this site and others about the lack of elite talent in Durham lately, but fielding a team whose four best players were DeMarcus Nelson (junior),  Josh McRoberts (sophomore), Greg Paulus (sophomore), and Jon Scheyer (freshman)… you are in big trouble. The primary explanation for this was that outside of Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick, the Blue Devils had a long string of McDonald’s All-American busts from 2002 on, with Shavlik Randolph, who left prior to that, being the most famous example.

Outlook for the 2010s: Grade: B+. Duke is still Duke and can land 5-star recruits, but it’s not like it was at the end of the last decade when Duke had its choice of McDonald’s All-Americans. Back then, one of the big controversies was if Coach K made the right choice taking Mike Dunleavy Jr. instead of Casey Jacobsen (for the younger generation of readers trust us when we say they were both actually very good college basketball players). Now it is a big deal when Duke lands the #3 shooting guard in next year’s class instead of John Wall. Duke will still be able to get a couple of top-notch recruits every year because of their tradition (it goes back to before Coach K, youngsters), Notre Dame-like TV deal with ESPN, Coach K’s stature, and the fact that it’s one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country (mothers like to brag about the Duke degree even if it is for the infamous Sociology major). However, the Blue Devils have fallen a notch below UNC in the hearts and minds of elite recruits and that will only get worse when Coach K retires (gasp!) as their is no clear successor in line for his throne.

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Renardo Sidney Academically Cleared; Hurdle Still Remains

Posted by zhayes9 on August 17th, 2009

One step towards Renardo Sidney joining Mississippi State in their quest for an SEC title was completed today with the McDonald’s All-American receiving academic clearance to enroll at the university and begin classes on the first day, Sidney’s attorney told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz earlier today.

One giant hurdle still remains until Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury can pencil in Sidney for their November 13 opener. The NCAA is still investigating the circumstances surrounding the Sidney family paying for two million dollar homes in the Los Angeles area during Sidney’s transfer to a high school there. The investigation caused both UCLA and USC to back off in their recruitment of Sidney for fear of eligibilty issues. Until the NCAA feels it has compiled strong enough reason to believe Sidney’s family paid for the homes legally, Sidney will not be cleared to play basketball.

Renardo Sidney/ESPN
Renardo Sidney/ESPN

Reports say Sidney and his family are currently on the move to Starkville, MS. If Stansbury does get Sidney eligible at some point this season, he’ll join guards Ravern Johnson, Barry Stewart and shot-blocking sensation Jarvis Varnado in the middle for a Bulldog team that will contend for the Top 25.

My best guess during this entire process remains that Sidney will eventually suit up for Mississippi State at some point during the 2009-10 campaign. The NCAA elongates these investigations tremendously, so pinning for Sidney to play for Stansbury and the Bulldogs during their season opener could be wishful thinking. To avoid an endless lawsuit from Jackson and the Sidney family, however, expect the NCAA to slap Sidney on the wrist with around a 9-10 game suspension and move on while he plays in the bulk of Mississippi State’s schedule.

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Rick Pitino Wants to Know If You Think He Should Be Fired

Posted by nvr1983 on August 15th, 2009

Not exactly, but his site sure makes it seem that way. Thanks to the beauty of Google’s omnipresent advertising network and artificial “intelligence” it appears like he’s actually asking for your opinion on the matter. While I was checking out his website tonight I noticed this rather interesting ad (highlighted in the yellow box).

So what do you think? (Courtesy: http://www.rickpitino.com)
So what do you think? (Courtesy: http://www.rickpitino.com)

If you want to see the ad before the site’s webmaster realizes that Rick can survive without the extra few dollars a month those ads generate [Ed. Note: We’re guessing it will take around 30-40 years to generate the cost of “health insurance” for a pregnant 43 year-old], go to “Questions you want answered” (no, he doesn’t answer the questions you really want answered) at RickPitino.com or follow this direct link.

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Team of the 2000s: #5- Michigan State

Posted by zhayes9 on August 15th, 2009

teamof2000(2)
Ed. Note: Check the category
team of the 2000s for our other entries in this feature.

With the first five teams of our Team of the 2000s countdown here at Rush the Court out of the way, we can truly delve into the class of the decade. These are teams that didn’t just experience a couple years of peak success, but sustained prominence and positive standing throughout the ten seasons that are being considered. These are programs that first pop into the head of basketball fans when considering the cream of the crop not only in recent years, but throughout the annals of the sport’s illustrious history. The midpoint takes us to the Midwest. In fact, they’re the lone team from their conference on the list- the Michigan State Spartans.

#5 – Michigan State

team2000smsu

Overview. While the Spartans did experience certain success during the Jud Heathcote era extending nearly 20 years in East Lansing, Michigan State battled through nine seasons of .500 or worse basketball in conference play during his tenure. Enter longtime assistant Tom Izzo, a passionate and in-your-face personality that immediately made marked improvement for the program, sending the Spartans to the NCAA second round in 1996 and 1997, followed by a Sweet 16 in 1998, a Final Four in 1999 and culminating in the program’s second national championship to kick off the decade of the 2000s. From there, Izzo has continued to deliver, sending the Spartans to the Final Four yet again in 2001 and winning 20 games every season in the decade with the exception of 19 and 18 wins in 2001-02 and 2003-04, respectively. Unlike some teams preceding the Spartans that have faded out of contention, Izzo has sent Michigan State to the tournament every single season in the 2000s (they didn’t have one losing season, either) and only two programs – Kansas and North Carolina – have averaged more NCAA wins than Michigan State (2.5 per tournament).

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Pinnacle. Only two programs have sent their basketball teams to the Final Four on four separate occasions in the decade – North Carolina and Michigan State. The 2001 run is slightly tainted because the Spartans had to defeat a 16, 9, 12 and 11 seed to reach Minneapolis only to get throttled by Arizona, but give that team credit for collecting a #1 seed. The 2005 run is famous for the thrilling double-OT win over Kentucky involving Patrick Sparksfoot-on-the-line game-tying three. That Spartans team led at halftime against eventual champion UNC in the national semis before faltering. The 2009 run was also memorable with a gut-check win over Kansas and the dismantling of #1 seeds Louisville and Connecticut (gives me an excuse to show this). But the pinnacle is fairly easy to determine – the 2000 national title run behind Mateen Cleaves, Jason Richardson, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell takes the cake. That juggernaut won every single NCAA Tournament game by double digits. Hey, even if it took place three months into the decade, it still counts.

Tailspin. Michigan State has been so consistent as a program over the course of the decade, it’s hard to pinpoint a specific tailspin similar to, say, Syracuse missing the tournament two years in a row. The one knock on Izzo has been his inability to win Big 10 conference regular season and tournament titles. This might stun you, but the Spartans did not win a single regular season title for six consecutive seasons in the middle of the decade and hasn’t won a Big 10 conference tournament since the 2000 national title season. My vote goes to 2005-06 and 2006-07: 16-16 in Big 10 play including a first round loss to George Mason in 2006 (that team faded away right after said upset).

Outlook for 2010s: Grade: A. Seriously, the Spartans are in TREMENDOUS shape as long as Tom Izzo is leading the charge, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Unlike Gary Williams’ struggles to recruit within the D.C./Baltimore region, Izzo perennially raids Michigan of its elite talent. Five and four star recruits Durrell Summers, Kalin Lucas, Draymond Green and incoming center Derrick Nix are all from Michigan and Izzo has extended his boundaries throughout the Midwest. Izzo not only collects lauded recruits, but they immediately buy into his hard-nosed system that has proven so effective. Izzo has run a notoriously clean program that graduates players at a high rate. The Breslin Center is one of the loudest arenas in college basketball. What’s not to like here? With another potential top-five team gracing the hardwood again this season, the future for Michigan State in the next decade is very bright.

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