Lots of movement in this week’s poll, as nearly every team of consequence played in some kind of holiday tournament last week. Analysis follows the jump…
This week’s selection for RTC Team of the Week was not as easy as last week’s as you will see when you look at our honorable mentions, which we didn’t even bother to do last week when we selected Syracuse as our inaugural team of the week. We had several potential choices, but when it was time to pick a team there was one school that stood above the rest — the #1 team in the country and the defending national champions (in football), the Florida Gators.
Coming into the season, we were not that high on Billy Donovan‘s crew, who had failed to make the NCAA tournament in consecutive years after winning back-to-back titles. To further compound matters, they had lost heralded recruit Jai Lucas and their best player last year, Nick Calathes, decided to forgo his senior year to go play in Greece, which is a decision that still has us scratching our heads. After opening the season with three wins against Stetson, Georgia Southern, and Troy that could only be described as big in margin if not significance, the Gators had a significantly more difficult schedule with their annual rivalry game against Florida State and then headed to Atlantic City for the Legends Classic where they would open against #2 Michigan State.
The Gators traded baskets early with the Seminoles and were tied at 10 with 12:30 left in the 1st half before going on a 31-9 run that stretched into the 2nd half giving them a 41-19 lead. The Seminoles, who are still trying to find their identity without Toney Douglas, cut the lead to 5 at 43-38 with 12 minutes left. The Gators managed to stretch out the final margin to 16 behind a balanced scoring attack with 13 points apiece from Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, and Alex Tyus. That win certainly boosted our respect for the Gators, but it was against a FSU team that didn’t have Douglas and it certainly wasn’t Tom Izzo‘s Spartans that they would be facing in Atlantic City.
We’re a little short on time for this post, but we wanted to make sure that it’s up ahead of tonight’s Penn State @ Virginia game (7 pm ET, ESPN2) that tips off the 2009 ACC/Big Ten Challenge. If you’re reading this post, you’re undoubtedly well aware that the ACC holds a commanding 62-35 record in the ten-year history of this event, and that the ACC has won all ten challenges. The Big Ten has had four years where it lost by only one game (6-5 or 5-4), but the schools from the midwest have never been able to put it all together in a single season to overtake the mighty ACC.
Until this year.
We here at RTC believe that 2009 is when the tide will finally shift in favor of the Big Ten. The talent and coaching are there, the matchups are favorable, and nothing lasts forever (except Clemson losing in Chapel Hill, apparently). Here’s our quick analysis of how this year’s Challenge will go down…
Monday November 30
Tuesday December 1
Ed. Note: sorry for the delay on Sunday’s ATB, but the travel schedule got in the way…
Over the weekend, there was something in the neighborhood of 145 college basketball games. Many were several times more compelling than watching Tim Tebow praise God one more time in another blowout Florida win or seeing the Charlie Weis Bataan death march at Notre Dame (although the Iron Bowl was good). With that in mind, we’re here to sort through our Thanksgiving leftovers to award the teams that most and least deserve a scrumptious plate of tofurkey and leeks (ok, maybe that menu was at your house, not ours).
Turkey Sandwiches. Usually better the second time around. And the third time. And the fourth… Unless you’re Ben Howland and UCLA, and you’re starting to wonder if that mayo tastes a little spoiled after the fourth helping. After UCLA dropped its third game in a row at the 76 Classic (and fourth on the year), questions are swirling as to what is wrong with his Bruins. It’s not just that UCLA has four losses; it’s that these losses are to mid-majors like Cal State Fullerton, Portland, Butler and now Long Beach State. Butler and Portland are NCAA-worthy, but the others? Let’s examine what’s wrong, and see if anything can be done to fix it. For starters, the UCLA offense — often a challenge in Howland’s era — is on life support this season. Nobody on this team appears to be able to shoot the ball, and that includes from the field (44%), three (26%) and the line (56%). Guards Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson were hot-shot recruits in the backcourt, but neither of them can break 40% from the field; there was a big fuss about Nikola Dragovic’s return to the team after an accusation of assault, and he’s hitting a frigid 25% of his attempts. Good grief – when Michael Roll (23 pts in the LBSU game) is your “star” player, you have serious offensive issues. But it’s not just the offense this season, as bad as that has been. It’s also the defense, which is traditionally a Howland staple and has him contemplating changing his usual tough man-to-man for a zone. UCLA is giving up 45% shooting to teams (worst in the Pac-10) and when they’ve needed to get the stop — witness the CS Fullerton and Butler games — they came up empty. So the question is whether this team can turn it around, and we’re not sure that it can in time to stop the bleeding. #1 Kansas is on the agenda next weekend, and Mississippi State and Notre Dame soon thereafter. The Pac-10, as we all know by now, is incredibly weak, but if you can’t beat Long Beach and Fullerton, you’re not going to beat Arizona and Washington either. There is a ton of work to be done here, and if Howland can turn it around by March, we’ll be right there at the front of the line to give him accolades. Until then, though, UCLA basketball doesn’t take kindly to this stuff, so he’d better get moving quickly…
Pumpkin Pie. A meal unto itself, making yourself fat and happy with pasty goodness. Has anyone — and we mean anyone — looked better than West Virginia through the first three weeks of the season? Let’s look at the short list: Syracuse and Duke. That’s it – those are the only two teams who have looked as dominant as WVU in our estimation. Yesterday Bob Huggins and his Mountaineers left Anaheim with what they were expected to do: win the 76 Classic. Few expected them to do it by facing upstart WCC foe Portland in the championship game, as the Pilots crushed UCLA and outlasted Minnesota to get there, but there was Eric Reveno’s crew facing off against WVU in the finals. The Pilots ran into a buzzsaw on Sunday, though, as Tournament MVP Da’Sean Butler posted 26 points and Portland shot just 5-24 from behind the three-point arc, clearly bothered by West Virginia’s athleticism and close-out pressure defense. With the return of sophomore Devin Ebanks – after his mysterious stint in coach Huggins’ doghouse –- the Mountaineers look fine-tuned and ready to compete with anyone in the nation. Of course, it’s only November, and we’ve been down this road with Huggins before, so stay prepared for anything.
Mac n’ Cheese. Gooey deliciousness. That’s how Northwestern must be feeling after winning the Chicago Invitational over two tough teams, Notre Dame and Iowa State. Maybe that NCAA Tournament bid isn’t a pipe dream after all since losing Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan to injuries, because it’s clear that Northwestern has decided that it will not go quietly. John Shurna led the Wildcats with 23/7/4 assts while helping to harass ISU star Craig Brackins into a 6-16 FG, 18/9 night (he’s capable of much more). As it stands, Northwestern is now 5-1, with its sole loss to Butler and a good chance to enter Big Ten play at 11-1 (tomorrow night’s ACC/B10 game against NC State is winnable).
Green Bean Casserole. #2 Michigan State gets the green bean casserole leftovers because, like the dish, they held up fairly well after a disappointing start in the Legends Classic. The Spartans recovered from their shocking upset loss to Florida on Friday night in the semifinal round by taking it out on UMass in the consolation game 106-68 on Saturday. RTC Live was there if you want more details, but MSU used a 30-3 first half run to dominate the Minutemen, and ended up the game shooting a red-hot 58% and hitting fourteen threes. Tom Izzo set a new record for wins at Michigan State with his 341st win on this night, passing his mentor Jud Heathcote.
Warm Rolls. It’s comforting and makes you feel all fuzzy inside, just like family; the First Bro-in-Law had his warm fuzzies at Oregon State’s game in DC with GW on Saturday. Craig Robinson’s Oregon State team got its first decent win of the season 64-57 against the previously unbeaten Colonials as the First Family looked on. OSU’s Seth Tarver lit up the stat sheet with 18/7/3 assts/3 stls, but given how badly the Beavers have played to this point, President Obama may want to make plans for several visits to the west coast in January and February.
We’re back in sunny Orange County for the 76 Classic Consolation and Championship games tonight with RTC Live as well. In the first matchup at 7:30 pm, we’ll see two top 25 teams playing for third place in #19 Clemson taking on #10 Butler. Neither of these teams has looked very impressive so far this year, but we know that both teams have excellent players and will be heard from this year, so this might be a good chance for one of them to take the next step. In the Championship game, we’ll see a David-Goliath matchup between the powerful #8 West Virginia Mountaineers taking on the talented and plucky Pilots from Portland. Typically, in these three-day tournaments, when a Cinderella such as Portland makes a run to the final game, talent and tired legs finally catches up to them. Which is not to say at all that Portland isn’t talented enough to win this game — because they definitely are — but they’re going to have to build a strong gameplan to deal with the ultra-talented forward duo of Devin Ebanks and Da’Sean Butler, a pair the likes of which that neither UCLA nor Minnesota had at their disposal. Join us tonight for what should amount to another great night of hoops from the west coast.
Welcome to another edition of RTC Live, this time from sunny central Florida, as we bring you the Old Spice Classic championship game of the ACC’s Florida State Seminoles against the surprising Marquette Golden Eagles of the Big East. Thus far in the young season, FSU has looked a little shaky while Marquette has been one of the major surprises. FSU comes in at 5-1, with the one loss a blowout at Florida in Gainesville; while Marquette sits at 6-0 with impressive wins over Xavier and Michigan thus far. So what should we be watching for? FSU’s defense vs. Marquette’s offense, because something has to give tonight. Despite losing 67% of its offensive production, Marquette is still taking and making good shots, hitting 54% of its twos and 42% of its threes. Florida State, on the other hand, is using their long, athletic defense to block shots (5.8 per game) to shut teams down, holding opponents to a mere 50 points and forcing shooting in the mid-30 percent range. It should be an interesting contrast of styles tonight as we bring RTC Live to you from courtside in Orlando.
Laura Hathaway of the Clarion is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference.
Conference play has not started in the Sun Belt and most teams have played around five games. Heading into the second full weekend of match-ups, no teams in the conference are undefeated. Nine of the 13 teams in the conference, however, have a winning percentage of .500 or better.
Western Kentucky lost by one point (63-64) on Tuesday night to Indiana State in a close game. South Alabama is off to a great start in their season with the best record (5-2) among the Sun Belt’s members. Their two loses come from Tulsa and Rice University. Both Denver and North Texas had decisive wins earlier this week against Wyoming and Jackson State, respectively, advancing their win percentages to .750.
It is too soon to tell what teams will lead the conference since four western division teams are tied with 3-1 records. Things will obviously become clearer once conference play begins in the next two weeks.
This week’s conference player of the week is University of New Orleans senior guard Billy Humphrey. Humphrey averaged 24.5 points and shot 94% from the free throw line to help the Privateers pick up wins against Southern-New Orleans and Texas State last week.
Arkansas State. Arkansas State has started off well this season, winning both their exhibition games and the first three match-ups of the season. They defeated MacMurray College, Southeast Missouri State, and Texas-El Paso. None of the games had close scores as Arkansas scored at least 20 points more than each opponent. The early season is shaping up to be a good one for the Red Wolves. Last season, the team appeared to be on its way to the best season in three years but things fell apart midway through the season. They started off at 5-4 in the conference and 13-7 overall but then lost nine consecutive conference games and 10 overall. They finished the year second to last in the SBC. They will have some tough games ahead, but anything will be an improvement from how they wrapped up last season.
Arkansas-Little Rock. The Trojans currently have the worst record in the SBC, and have lost to Ole Miss, Tulsa, Creighton, and Louisiana Tech. Their only win this season comes from a game against St. Gregory’s where they outscored them 100-56. Their other losses have not been close; they have a losing margin of around 20 points. Despite the slow start to the season, last year UALR was the powerhouse of the SBC’s West Division. They had the best regular season record for two consecutive years, but have yet to win a conference title.
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the America East Conference and Patriot League.
2009-10 Patriot League (Conference, Overall)
Team of the week: Lafayette (4-1) – W 81-72 vs. Wagner, L 81-70 at Sacred Heart, W 88-77 at St. Francis (PA), W 69-52 at NJIT, W 86-82 vs. Hartford
Player of the week: Jared Mintz– Jr. Lafayette 18.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 68.8% FG, 1.0 spg
Thoughts on the AE.
Three teams are still looking for their first victory on the season, while one team has came out and surprised us all with their start by matching their non-conference win total from last year already. The top scorer in the league finally found his shooting touch last game and the preseason pick is looking like a mistake.
The surprise team so far this season is Lafayette. The Leopards have won four out of their first five, with their only blemish on the record an eleven-point loss at Sacred Heart. Offensively they look great. They are shooting over fifty percent from the field, and over forty percent from three-point range. When a team shoots as good as that it’s hard to beat them. The key to this team so far has been big man Jared Mintz. Mintz is averaging over 18 points on almost 69 percent shooting from the field. He has led the team in scoring and rebounding for four of the five games. This has opened up the floor for the shooters. Lafayette has three major contributors shooting over 44 percent from three-point range. Against Hartford, six players scored in double figures. Mintz led the way with 18 points, but it was the three-point shooting that helped Lafayette jump out to a big lead. Five different players hit a three-ball for the Leopards within the first ten minutes of the game. Lafayette was up by as many as 22 before allowing Hartford back into the game in the second half. If the Leopards keep it up they will be a hard out all year.
RTC Live will be back tonight from the shifty streets of Atlantic City to provide live coverage of #2 Michigan State vs. Massachusetts in the consolation game of the Legends Classic at 5:30 pm ET. As you know, MSU was upset last night by Florida 77-74 in the semifinals, and quasi-home team Rutgers took care of UMass in the other semi. We imagine that Tom Izzo was not happy with his team’s performance last evening — especially the 20+ turnovers — so it’ll be interesting to see how the Spartans respond tonight. Join us for another edition of RTC Live tonight.
Gators Chomp Spartans. Florida 77, #2 Michigan State 74. We’re still trying to figure out why this was a semifinal game at the Legends Classic instead of the title tilt tomorrow night, but we’re sure there was a method to the madness somewhere in that decision. So given that the game was only available on something called HDNet, we’re trying to figure out how this happened. First thought — had to be hot shooting by the Gators, right? Errr, nope. Florida shot 41% from the field compared to MSU’s 53% for the game. Ok, a bunch of threes then? Nope again. UF hit more than the Spartans, but a margin of five to two from deep isn’t exactly dominant. Second chance points? Wrong again. MSU dominated the boards to the tune of +15 overall and +5 on the offensive end of the court. No, the only two areas of the game where Florida outperformed the second-ranked Spartans were on turnovers (forcing 22 vs. their own 12) and getting to the foul line (25 attempts vs. MSU’s 14). Well, that, and Erving Walker’s three (his only one on a 12/7/3 stls night) from NBA range to put the Gators up 72-71, providing just enough cushion down the stretch with some additional FTs to hold off the Spartans’ last-ditch efforts by Durrell Summers to tie the game and send it into OT. We’re not about to say that the Gators are anywhere near back to where they are nationally relevant again, but this is their biggest win since 2007, and we will give some props to John Stevens for having ranked Florida in the three RTC Top 25 polls so far this season — maybe he knows something that the rest of us don’t? Florida will advance to play Rutgers in the championship game of the Legends Classic tomorrow night, while Michigan State gets UMass in the consolation game.
WCC Continues to Impress. The WCC continues to flex its mid-major deltoids this season. With wins over Wisconsin, Minnesota, UCLA, USC, Stanford, Oklahoma and now Houston, the top half of this league is not messing around. And why should it – there’s some good basketball being played in this league, and if the bottom-feeders like LMU and USF can manage just halfway-decent records in the OOC, the league could be looking at three solid NCAA bids again this year (as in 2008).
Other Upsets Tonight. We were all set to destroy the SEC for another terrible night before we saw the Florida-MSU score, which saves considerable face for the league. But we’re definitely watching you, SEC. The Big Ten didn’t have a great night either, but at least they lost at neutral sites to teams that are better than their ranking.