RTC Top 25: Week 8

Posted by zhayes9 on December 29th, 2009

Here’s this week’s Top 25, and you might be surprised as a new #1 takes over even though the top six all won last week.  Analysis after the jump…

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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by jstevrtc on December 29th, 2009

Paul Jordan of Wildcat Blue Blog is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.

Standings:

EAST

  1. Kentucky 13-0
  2. Tennessee 9-2
  3. Florida 9-3
  4. South Carolina 8-3
  5. Vanderbilt 8-3
  6. Georgia 6-4

WEST

  1. Mississippi State 11-2
  2. Mississippi 10-2
  3. LSU 8-3
  4. Alabama 8-4
  5. Arkansas 7-5
  6. Auburn 6-6

Kentucky remains the highest rated SEC team as they held on to the 3rd spot in both the AP Top 25 poll and the ESPN/USA Today poll.  Tennessee has locked down the #14 spot in both polls while Mississippi comes in at the 16th spot in the AP Top 25, and the ESPN/USA Today voters have the Rebels at 21st.   Florida has fallen out of the Top 25 in both polls but has votes in both polls still.  Mississippi State is getting votes in the AP.

Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins was named SEC Freshman of the Week.  This was the first week he’s won the honor and he averaged 16.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in UK wins over Drexel and Long Beach State.  Alabama’s JaMychal Green was named the SEC Player of the Week.  He had 27 pts, 13 rebs, 3 block and 1 steal in a victory over Mercer last week.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR THIS WEEK:

Finally!   College basketball is back in the SEC after a couple of weeks of finals (and the holidays) and it is back with a vengeance with two bitter in-state rivalries for both Kentucky and Tennessee.  Aside from that, Baylor does a curious double dip in the SEC and most of the good action is actually televised this week:

  • 12/29 – LSU (8-3) @ Xavier (7-4) – 7 PM – ESPN-U
  • 12/30 – Baylor (9-1) @ Arkansas (7-5) – 9PM – ESPN2
  • 12/30 – South Carolina (8-3) @ Boston College (8-4) -9PM – ESPN-U
  • 12/31 – Tennessee (9-2) @ Memphis (8-2) – 4:00 PM – ESPN2
  • 1/2 – UAB (11-1) @ Arkansas (7-5) – 12:00 PM
  • 1/2 – Baylor (9-1) @ South Carolina (8-3) – 12:00 PM – ESPN 360
  • 1/2 – Southern Mississippi (8-3) @ Vanderbilt (8-3) – 3:00 PM- ESPN 360
  • 1/2 – Louisville (9-3) @ Kentucky (13-0) – 3:30PM – CBS
  • 1/2 – Georgia (6-4) @ Missouri (9-3) – 4:00 PM – ESPN 360
  • 1/3 – Florida (9-3) @ NC State (8-3) – 3:00 PM – FSN
  • 1/4 – Mississippi State (10-2) @ Western Kentucky (6-4) – 8 PM

TEAM UPDATES (ratings are AP, ESPN/USA Today)

EAST

Kentucky (#3, #3) – Not even a 1PM start time on the Wednesday before Christmas vacation could slow UK from a 13-0 start.  After a sluggish first half, UK pulled away from the Long Beach State 49ers for a 86-73 win at Rupp Arena on Wednesday.  John Wall led the Cats with 19 points and DeMarcus Cousins played just 13 minutes but had 15 points and 10 boards.

Tennessee (#14, #14) – On the 23rd, the Volunteers jumped out to a 22-0 lead over North Carolina A&T and never relented, winning 99-78.  Tyler Smith and Kenny Hall had 16 points to lead the Vols while freshman walk-on guard Skylar McBee scored 12 points in 17 minutes.

Florida – The Gators continued their freefall after an 8-0 start.  This time, it was the South Alabama Jaguars putting in a tipped shot with 1.8 seconds left to nip the Gators, 67-66.  The Gators hit just 3-22 three-point attempts and were led by Alex Tyus, who poured in 16 points.  Kenny Boynton added 14 as the Gators lost at home in the month of December for the first time in five years.  Tyus had 20 points and nine rebounds, Boynton added 19 points and Florida snapped a three-game losing streak in a 76-60 victory over American University back on Monday night.  Vernon Macklin added a career high 18 points in that one.

South Carolina – No game last week.

Vanderbilt – No game last week.

GeorgiaTrey Thompkins scored a career-high 35 points and claimed 15 rebounds, leading Georgia to a 77-60 victory over Florida Atlantic on Wednesday night.  Dustin Ware was the only other Bulldog in double digits with 12 points.

WEST

Mississippi StateRavern Johnson scored 20 points and Barry Stewart added 14 and Mississippi State beat Centenary 88-51 on Tuesday night.  The Bulldogs went 14-27 from beyond the three-point line and won their seventh straight game.  Johnson continued his torrid play with 22 points, including 5 3-pointers, as the Bulldogs crushed the Mississippi Valley State Delta Demons 73-45 last night.  Phil Turner added 12 for the Bulldogs.

Mississippi (#16, #21) – Ole Miss hung with the #6 West Virginia Mountaineers for a half, but then WVU got hot from 3-point range and dumped the Rebels, 76-66.  Zach Graham had 14 points off the bench in just 19 minutes to lead the Rebels and Murphy Holloway and Eniel Polynice each had 13.

Alabama – Sophomore forward JaMychal Green scored a career-high 27 points and pulled down 13 rebounds to lead the Alabama to a 90-71 win over Mercer on Wednesday night.  The Crimson Tide opened the game with a 22-2 run, holding the Bears (4-7) scoreless for the first 6:50.  Mikhail Torrance and Senario Hillman each had 14.

LSUBo Spencer missed a contested 3-pointer in the closing seconds, and Washington State held on to defeat LSU 72-70 in overtime in the Cougar Hardwood Classic.  Spencer scored 23 to lead LSU and Tasmin Mitchell added 18 points and 14 boards.

Auburn – The Tigers evened their record at 6-6 with a 94-78 victory over the Alabama State Hornets.   Brendon Knox scored 18 points on 7-9 shooting in just 25 minutes off the bench to lead the Tigers while DeWayne Reed had 15 points.

ArkansasRotnei Clarke drained a three-pointer with 18 seconds left in overtime and then hit two free throws to seal Arkansas’ 66-62 victory over previously undefeated Missouri State on Tuesday night.  The win was the Hogs’ fifth straight victory.  Clarke finished with 19 points and Marshawn Powell added 17.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on December 29th, 2009

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.

1. The most competitive conference in the land this season should spark the most competitive Player of the Year race come March. Top-seeded Kansas boasts three potential candidates once center Cole Aldrich starts to play with a more aggressive mentality on the offensive end. Senior point guard Sherron Collins has the skill set to explode come conference play and should provide the Jayhawks with more than one clutch play the season wears on. Freshman Xavier Henry has surpassed everyone’s expectations early in Lawrence as the Jayhawks early scoring leader. Nipping at the heels of #1 Kansas is #2 Texas and their all-time rebounder Damion James. James has exploded onto the scene the last week-plus with two masterful performances against North Carolina (25/15/4 stl on 8-22 FG) and Michigan State (23/13 on 10-18 FG). You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that argues James isn’t the current frontrunner for Big 12 POY and deserves definite consideration for first team All-America honors. Kansas State has been one of the bigger surprises in college basketball through the first month and a half behind sharp-shooting guard Jacob Pullen. The junior went on a tear recently scoring 28 in a big road win at UNLV then topping himself with 30 points at Alabama. In his last three games, Pullen has nailed an incredible 16 of his last 25 threes. Lurking in the shadows is Oklahoma State’s James Anderson (21.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG) and Iowa State forward Craig Brackins (17.5 PPG, 8.1 RPG) with Baylor’s Ekpe Ugoh and Oklahoma’s Willie Warren also making large impacts on their respective squads.

2. It’s fairly clear the top two teams in a weaker Pac-10 conference will be Washington behind Isaiah Thomas and Quincy Pondexter and California behind their big three of Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher. While both teams have encountered their early season struggles, Washington knocking off an emotionally scarred Texas A&M squad at home Tuesday and California hanging in with Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse should convince most critics that those two will compete for the Pac-10 title. Prior to the season, many believed UCLA would be that third team in the Pac-10 to cause some damage and sneak into the NCAA field. But with a week that included wins over Tennessee, St. Mary’s and UNLV, it’s becoming quite evident that USC might very well be that team. Even with early season home defeats at the hands of Loyola Marymount and Nebraska and blowout losses at Texas and Georgia Tech, the Trojans are coming together behind newly-entrenched point guard Mike Gerrity and coach Kevin O’Neill. The two-time transfer Gerrity is already the Trojans leading scorer and far and away their best assist man. He won’t blow anyone away with flash and speed, but he knows how to run an offense and play the position with efficiency. A starting five of Gerrity, Nikola Vucevic, Alex Stepheson, Dwight Lewis and Marcus Johnson all of a sudden doesn’t look too shabby, does it?

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Morning Five: 12.29.09 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 29th, 2009

  1. Horrible news for Tom Crean’s young Indiana Hoosier team, as leading scorer Maurice Creek broke his kneecap during last night’s game with Bryant and will miss the rest of the season.  Creek is one of the top freshman scorers in America at 17.6 PPG, ahead of other notables such as Kansas’ Xavier Henry (17.2) and Derrick Favors (12.9).  Huge blow to Indiana as it heads into the conference season.
  2. Northwestern landed at #25 in the AP poll for the first time in forty seasons this week.  How awesome is that, especially after all of their injury problems this season?  Nine of their next ten games are very tough matchups for the Wildcats, but we’ll be rooting for them.  This could be the best little-guy story we’ve had in some time in this game if they can stay in the hunt for an NCAA bid this year.
  3. Seth Davis’ annual Jigsaw Man article, and it has nothing to do with Saw VI either.
  4. Jeff Goodman explains why and when the six remaining unbeatens will lose rather soon.  No argument on that point, but specifically, we do think Syracuse and Texas will last longer than what he suggests.  Texas losing at Arkansas is a pretty big reach with as bad as the Hawgs have been this year.
  5. Yeah, conference play begins in earnest this week in the Pac-10, Big East and Big Ten, but it feels a little weird to have meaningful conference games before the New Year holiday.  We’ll be there watching, though.
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ATB: Nothing Could Be Finer Than to Drop a 49er…

Posted by rtmsf on December 29th, 2009

Jimmer Fredette Eviscerates ArizonaBYU 99, Arizona 69.  It was a Jimmer Fredette kind of night in the desert tonight, as he torched the home team Arizona Wildcats for 49 points from everywhere on the court, setting a new BYU player and McKale Center record in the process.  Fredette said afterward that he “had a good stroke,” and that’s the understatement of the decade, as he hit 16-23 shots (along with seven boards and nine assists), including 9-13 from three and 8-9 from the line to end up with the record in 36 minutes of play.  More importantly, BYU served notice to the national media (ahem…) that the Cougars deserve consideration for the top 25 as they now sit at 13-1 with the sole loss at rival Utah State nearly a month ago.  Arizona had been skating by with recent home wins thanks to Nic Wise’s heroics last week, but BYU left no doubt tonight as to who the superior team in this game was.  A fifteen-point lead only continued to grow after the half as Fredette’s jumpers rained from everywhere on the court.  What’s even more interesting is that BYU continues to play well and win games while getting almost nothing from their other “star” Jonathan Tavernari, who had two points and five rebounds tonight in 22 minutes of action.  His numbers this season (9/5) are way down versus last year (16/7), which might explain why Fredette is feeling the need to pick up the slack (82 pts the last two games).  If Dave Rose can get his other star player’s confidence back, BYU will absolutely be a team to watch coming out of the Mountain West this season.

32? Try 49!! (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

RTC LiveNorth Carolina 81, Rutgers 67. Would you believe that with 2:11 to go in this game in Chapel Hill tonight that the score was 71-67 with the home team barely hanging on?  Luckily for UNC fans, Dexter Strickland’s three from the corner with 2:01 remaining gave the Heels just enough breathing room to salt the game away, and Carolina hit FTs for the last ten points of the game and the final margin.  Still, Roy Williams was hopping mad afterward, unhappy with just about everything about this game, not least of which was what he felt was poor decision-making throughout… including the decision to shoot the game-clinching three by Strickland mentioned above: “I hated the shot, but it went in and talent took over above coaching and intelligence,” Williams said.  Sixteen turnovers (including seven by the PG duo of Strickland and Larry Drew II) undoubtedly contributed to Williams’ ire, as many times those TOs could have extended a lead in the first half but instead led to a fast-break bucket by Rutgers.  Mike Rosario led the Scarlet Knights with 22/3 assts on 10-21 shooting, but it was his 1-9 from deep that really hurt their comeback attempts (the whole team was miserable from outside, going 3-23 from three).  Despite Strickland’s career-high night in points and assists (18/4), our third on-site viewing of Carolina this year revealed many of the same problems that we saw a month ago.  Point guard play isn’t consistent and as such, the fortunes of this year’s Carolina team will largely depend on just how dominant the big men can be inside and on the boards.  Against most teams, they’re good enough to rely on that aspect of their team; but the ACC is a different animal, and early games against Clemson, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest will test their mettle.

Other Games of National Interest.

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Checking in on… the MVC

Posted by jstevrtc on December 28th, 2009

Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.

Current records and my standings (Last Week):

  1. Wichita State (11-1) (2)
  2. Missouri State (10-1) (1)
  3. Northern Iowa (9-1) (3)
  4. Southern Illinois (7-2) (4)
  5. Illinois State (9-2) (5)
  6. Indiana State (8-3) (6)
  7. Evansville (6-4) (7)
  8. Bradley (5-5) (8)
  9. Creighton (5-6) (10)
  10. Drake (5-7) (9)

STORIES OF THE WEEK

Valley wins the first MVC-MWC Challenge — Northern Iowa defeated Wyoming to take the Valley to win 5-4 the first ever MVC-MWC Challenge.   UNI, Illinois State, Missouri State, Indiana State, and Wichita State were the winners while Creighton, Southern Illinois, Bradley, and Drake lost.  But you look at who they lost to (New Mexico, BYU, San Diego State, and UNLV) and it still provides some questions on which conference is actually better.   But for this season, the Valley can claim they are better than the Mountain West Conference.

Surprises at the top — A year ago, you would not have seen Missouri State and Wichita State at the top of the conference with Creighton and Bradley towards the bottom.  But this is how the crazy Valley non-conference season has gone so far.  The Valley is an impressive 80-32 (.714) in non-conference play with some nice wins against top level conferences that have been missing over the past few seasons.

Conference Play starts this week — Missouri Valley Conference play starts with each team playing three games over the next week.  It will start out fast and furious and there will be some teams that will jump out of the pack early, but will be down to the wire this season as most teams feel that they can win the conference.

NON-CONFERENCE EVALUATION

  • Missouri State – 10-1 is a lot better than the 6-5 record I predicted before the season started.  The Bears have been the surprise of the Valley so far this season.  It has been behind the solid play of Kyle Weems and Eastern Kentucky transfer Adam Leonard.  They have wins over Auburn, Tulsa and Air Force with their only blemish being an overtime loss to close out the non-conference at Arkansas last week.  The conference slate starts fast for them with Evansville, Illinois State and Northern Iowa this week.
  • Wichita State — The Shockers are not much of a surprise to me because they have done exactly how I expected them to this season.  Fans in Wichita are excited about seeing what they were expecting when Gregg Marshall came in to run the program after Mark Turgeon left. Wins over Iowa, Texas Tech, and TCU are their big wins with a loss to Pitt in the CBE Classic their only faltering.  A trip to Illinois State awaits and then they host Drake and Bradley this week to open Valley play.
  • Northern Iowa — After losing against Depaul in the opening round of the Paradise Jam, many were skeptical that the Panthers could be as good or better as they turned out to be last season.  However, they turned things around rather quickly and have garnered wins over Boston College and Siena and swept the State of Iowa series against Iowa St. and Iowa.   They are on an eight game winning streak as they visit Creighton to open conference play before hosting Evansville and Missouri State.
  • Southern Illinois – At times, Southern Illinois look like they are back on track this season.   They haven’t gotten key wins against UNLV and St. Louis to make me feel like they are the Salukis of old.   They will be tested early as Indiana State comes to town, then they hit the road to Bradley and Illinois State.
  • Evansville — With all the rebuilding Evansville has had to do this season, they are actually playing like I expected with their 6-4 record.   They took Butler and Western Kentucky to the limit, but came up a little short in those upset bids.  The Purple Aces, however, could start off 0-3 in the conference with Missouri State, Northern Iowa and Creighton on the slate.
  • Indiana State — The Sycamores are an interesting team sitting at 8-3.  They won against Colorado State, Western Kentucky and Oral Roberts, but then lost winnable games against Coastal Carolina and Ball State.  With the on-again/off-again suspension of point guard Harry Marshall, the rollercoaster season could continue.  Three of the first four games are on the road in MVC play with Southern Illinois, Creighton and Drake on the slate this week.
  • Bradley — Expectations were high in Peoria to start the season, but while a season-opening road loss at BYU and another to Oklahoma State in Las Vegas were somewhat expected, their three game losing streak to close out the non-conference season was not.  Injuries have plagued the Braves but there are enough veterans on the team to pick up the slack.  A win against Illinois will look nice down the line and will help the Valley as a whole, but their non-conference record will hurt them in the long run.  Bradley will try to get back on track with a game at Drake, but then next up on the slate is Southern Illinois and Wichita State.  I still question whether a Bradley team can finish in the top four in the Valley.
  • Creighton — Creighton has probably been the most disappointing team in the Valley so far this season with the highest expectations.  Creighton scheduled up this season by playing in a solid Old Spice Classic field and going on the road against Dayton, George Mason and New Mexico.  Unfortunately all of those road games turned into losses.  What made it even worse is that all of those games were winable and Creighton had leads late in the game that they couldn’t close out.  Their five wins at home have been against patsies like Houston Baptist, Savannah St. and Florida A&M.  So unless Creighton end up winning the Valley decidedly, there is a chance they will not fulfill the annual expectation of a 20-win season.  They open up with Northern Iowa at home and then hit the New Year’s road trip to Evansville and Illinois St.
  • Illinois State — Many were skeptical about the Redbirds’ non-conference slate again this season to really know how tough this team might be.  Well, the gravy train stopped with a loss against the Bracketbuster return game with Niagara and then the next game at Ohio.  Illinois State learned from those losses with a nice road win at Utah as part of the MVC/MWC Challenge.  The Redbirds host Wichita State and Southern Illinois and then head over to Missouri State this week.  Will they start 3-0, 0-3 or somewhere in between?
  • Drake — Drake shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone how they have been this season.  Other than their dream season a couple of years ago, Drake has performed at its normal bottom-of-the-conference ways.  Losing to SIU-Edwardsville in Drake’s own tournament was the low point so far, and losing to Iowa who has struggled heavily this season really doesn’t make the Bulldogs look very good.  Bradley, Wichita State and Indiana State start the conference season for them.

WEEK AHEAD AND GAMES TO WATCH

Conference season goes into full swing this week and there are some intriguing matchups to kick things off.

  • 12/29, Northern Iowa @ Creighton (Local TV)—This is the first time the top two conference teams from the previous season have met to kick off the following conference season in about 20 years. Creighton needs to get off on an early start against the conference favorites and needs the win at this point in the season more than the Panthers.
  • 12/29, Wichita State @ Illinois State—This will be a key early matchup between two teams who want to be in the conversation at the end of the season. The Shockers have had problems on the road in conference play. They will need to turn that around to be in the race.
  • 1/1, Southern Illinois @ Bradley—Both teams are going in opposite directions and it will be interesting to see if Bradley can rebound from a disappointing non-conference season.
  • 1/1, Illinois St. @ Missouri State—The Bears are undefeated at home this season so far and the surprise team of the Valley gets its first big conference test.
  • 1/3, Missouri State @ Northern Iowa—Both teams are in the running for the MVC crown at this point. The Panthers want to prove that they are the cream of the Valley.
  • 1/3, Southern Illinois @ Illinois State—Already after one week, one of these teams could be in a lot of trouble after this game is over as both teams have a challenging first week of conference play.

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RTC Live: Rutgers @ North Carolina

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2009

Hello everyone, we’re back from the holiday break and heading into New Years week with a pretty good match-up in Chapel Hill, NC, tonight between Rutgers and UNC.  This game will be simulcast on ESPN2 tonight, but we hope that you’ll join us for an interactive experience like no other while you’re watching the game on television.  The Heels come into tonight’s game sitting at 9-3, a record that makes UNC seem worse than they are considering that the three losses were to #2 Texas, #3 Kentucky and #5 Syracuse (two of which were road games).  Roy Williams is working through a number of new faces in his lineup but there’s clearly a bevy of talent at his disposal and we fully expect his team to be at or near the top of the ACC standings by March.  As for the visiting Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Fred Hill’s team comes in at 9-2 but even he will admit that their schedule has been less than impressive thus far (#346 according to KenPom).   Things aren’t looking up with the recent news that sophomore forward Gregory Echinique (13/8) will miss the remainder of the season with an eye problem, but the one player Hill has at his disposal who is capable of dropping thirty on any defense in America is Mike Rosario.  The 6’3 sophomore guard had a great summer overseas, and he comes into this game averaging 18/5 while shooting 38% from deep.  Given UNC’s lackluster three-point defense this season (34%), Rosario is definitely someone to watch tonight.  We hope you join us for another exciting edition of RTC Live, this time from one of the great venues in all of college sports, the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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From the Student Section: Seton Hall Pirates

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2009

Contributing writer Kevin Chupka will periodically interview a rabid student fan about all things basketball on the court and in the stands… a view from the student section.

Pirate Fans Eric SoHayda and His Friend Marie

The Seton Hall Pirates turned a few heads this week in their Big East opener. While the final score had many Pirates hanging their heads in defeat at the hands of a frighteningly good West Virginia team, the team fought back valiantly in the last minute from ten points down to send the conference kick-off into overtime. It was there that West Virginia remembered they were the #6 team in the country and sent the Pirates packing.  But in the fight Seton Hall did not fail to impress. While the praise from the media generally stopped at “improved” at the start of the season, the student section at the Prudential Center knew better and could see then what many see now.

Among those basketball seers was Pirate faithful fan and Seton Hall senior Eric SoHayda. “Most students expect to go dancing this year and as it always does, depending on who we face, we can turn some heads and win some games. Just getting to the dance is good, but we want to be great and that starts with getting to the second weekend,” says Eric.

It’s been on the minds of students in South Orange, NJ since coach Bobby Gonzalez arrived in 2006. He was tasked with turning the team into a contender in a talent-heavy Big East; recruiting on the same turf as UConn, Syracuse, Villanova St. John’s and in-state rival Rutgers is no small task.  While Gonzalez and the Pirates have had their fair share of bumps in the road, a talented bevy of transfers, all ready to play from here on out may be something of a new beginning.

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Morning Five: 12.28.09 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2009

  1. Yep, Kentucky fans are like elephants.  Big, smelly, fat and with long trunks.  Oh, and the memory thing too.  As for this weekend’s tilt against Pitino’s Louisville, we expect the signs to be off the charts funny.  RTC will send $25 (hey, we’re cheap) to the most clever sign-holder we see this weekend (standard liability disclaimers apply).
  2. Mark Titus – if you didn’t already know him, you should now.
  3. Celebrating Helms Titles – apparently UNC and Kansas are the only two major programs who do so.  Where do you stand on this issue?
  4. Looks like K-State’s Frank Martin is proving all the naysayers wrong after all.
  5. Wichita State — a mid-major we should all be watching this season.
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ATB: Holiday Hoops (what little there was)

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2009

A Weekend So Quiet, Not Even a Mouse...  Yeah, it was a holiday weekend filled with high-calorie food, insane family members and yet another sweater that we don’t need, but college hoops was on the back burner with only a smattering of games throughout.  There were, however, a few games that we need to get you caught up on, so here goes…

Game of the Weekend/RTC Live#6 West Virginia 90, Seton Hall 84 (OT). A modern arena packed with hometown fans so hungry for a win you could hear it in their cheers and see as they stood and cheered for their heroes. The host Seton Hall Pirates, a team of stitched-together scrappers made of overlooked local high school ballers, transfers and JUCOs nipped at the heels of the West Virginia Mountaineers all game long, but never quite able, despite the high-energy encouragement from the partisan crowd to close the gap. Down by ten with 57 seconds left and the fans slowly trickling towards the exits, Seton Hall put on a 12-2 run that put the fans back into their seats (or better put, in front of their seats) cheering like banshees,  knotted the score at 77 apiece and sent the official Big East opener into overtime. This was a script CBS could only have prayed for (see the amazing comeback in the second half of this video).

Too bad Coach Gonzalez’s band of Pirates could not close out the shaken but still confident Mountaineers. Playing off of each other’s enthusiasm, the West Virginia squad mounted an 8-0 run to open the overtime. No more miracle threes left, the Pirates worked the ball into the paint for Herb Pope to put away on a layup. Too little too late however, as Coach Huggins’ squad responded with a pair of free throws from Devin Ebanks to push it back out to eight for the remainder. Jeremy Hazell’s last field goal was a two, and brought his point total on the afternoon to 41 on 14-33 (10-14 FT, 4-19 3FG) and 9-12 FG shooting. West Virginia’s Devin Ebanks logged a double-double with 22 points and 17 rebounds. “He was 3 turnovers away from a triple-double” joked Coach Huggins in the post game press conference.

What to Make of USC? USC 67, #20 UNLV 56. It can’t just be the addition of Mike Gerrity, right?  After a 40-minute, 13/3 asst performance, the MVP of the Diamond Head Classic could be the most important unheralded player of the season.  But what has changed since he’s taken over the reins of the Trojan team?  Many will point to his team-leading 15 PPG and 4 APG as the primary reason, and no doubt that helps on a team struggling with offense, but where he’s really been beneficial is making an already-good defensive team even better.  In the four games where Gerrity has played, USC’s defensive points per possession has been a stellar .795, which would rank in the top ten in America for the entire season (as it stands their .851 defensive PPP is still a staunch #18).  In this game against UNLV, the USC defense held the Rebels to their season-low in FG% (34%) and points (56), while getting their typical production from their seven-man lineup.  Marcus Johnson led the way with 19/9, while Dwight Lewis added 14, and Oscar Bellfield with 17 points was the only UNLV player to reach double figures.  This four-game winning streak over two ranked clubs (UNLV and Tennessee), in addition to a solid team outside the rankings (St. Mary’s) makes us wonder if USC isn’t the second-best team (behind Washington) in the weakened Pac-10 this year.  Stay tuned…

Other Games of National Interest.

  • #11 Connecticut 93, Iona 74. UConn got 29/5 from Stanley Robinson while his two young daughters watched him play, and the Huskies will enter conference play leading the nation in blocks/game (nearly ten per contest) after nine again tonight.
  • #19 Washington 86, San Francisco 71. Quincy Pondexter continues to make his case for all-american honors with 22/5/3 blks on 10-12 shooting, and why not?  Even though many people haven’t seen QP play much this year, he’s currently the fifth most efficient player in America, dropping 22/9 on 56% shooting for his team, currently 9-2 and trending positive.  UW managed to put this one away even without a good game from its other star Isaiah Thomas, who had four points on 1-9 FG tonight.
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Checking in on… the Big Sky

Posted by jstevrtc on December 27th, 2009

Glenn Junkert of GrizzlyJournal.com is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference.

BIG SKY CONFERENCE

(Records are ALL/CONF/STREAK)

  1. Northern Colorado (10-3/1-1/W1)  Bears are for real, and will head into conference play as odds-on favorites.
  2. Montana (10-4/1-1/W4)  Frosh guard Will Cherry giving Griz a quickness charge at both ends of court.
  3. Montana State (7-5/2-0/L1)   Balanced scoring from four starters gives senior point guard Will Bynum offensive options.
  4. Weber State (7-6/1-0/L1)  Super soph Damian Lillard (19.1 PPG) has led Wildcats in scoring in nine of 13 games.
  5. Sacramento State (6-7/1-1/W2)  Hornets equal ’09 conference win total in first conference match, a 64-63 victory over Idaho State.
  6. Portland State (5-7/1-0/L3)  High octane Vikings scoring at 79-point per game clip… but giving up 81.7 PPG.
  7. Northern Arizona (4-7/0-2/L1)  Forget the record.  Coach Mike Adras appears to have Jacks ready for January conference play.
  8. Eastern Washington (4-9/0-1/L4)  In search starting-quint chemistry, coach Earlywine distributes ample playing time to 10 players.
  9. Idaho State (2-10/0-1/L6)  JC newcomer 6’0 Broderick Gilchrest providing Bengals much-needed scoring boost heading into conference play (14.8 PPG).

RPI BOOSTERS

Northern Colorado and Montana remain the only Big Sky teams to earn Mid Major Poll recognition this season.  The Bears slipped one notch from last week to 23rd (87 points), while Montana nearly tripled its vote total (22), still not enough for an actual top 25 ranking.  Of more significance, perhaps, is the Big Sky Conference’s improved record against Division 1 opponents. Facing a tough composite pre-season schedule against D1 competition, the Big Sky has fared well, subsequently boosting its rating against comparable mid-major conferences, and recently stepping ahead of the Big West to 17th in the USA Today Sagarin conference ratings.

HOT & NOT

HOT — The Montana State Bobcats — a pre-season pick as one of the favorites in the Big Sky — turned a 2-3 November record topsy turvy with a workmanlike 5-2 December record that included two homecourt wins in early league play and a creditable last-second 58-56 loss to Boise State in Boise.  The Cats are getting remarkable balance from starters Bobby Howard (13.3 PPG), Marquis Navarre (11.6 PPG), Erik Rush (13 PPG), and Branden Johnson (10.3 PPG), while limiting opponents to 66 PPG.

NOT — The Eastern Washington Eagles (4-9) — losers of four-straight games heading into conference play — are showing signs as potential dubious owners of the Big Sky’s cellar door key.  Kirk Earlywine’s Eagles lost a last-shot nail-biter to a tough 8-5 Nevada Wolfpack squad (73-30) before absorbing a 91-34 lashing from BYU that apparently damaged morale, as the Eagles’ promptly lost games against two sub-.500 opponents, Chicago State (4-7) and previously winless Jackson State (1-10).  After the demoralizing loss to BYU, Earlywine said, “For the life of me, I can’t figure out what happened to our team.”

SETBACK

We’ve mentioned Idaho State’s brutal non-conference schedule earlier in this report, but it bears repeating in light of the Bengals’ 2-10 record with one non-conference game left before conference play resumes.  At what point does a challenging pre-season schedule become demoralizing for players? And how does the endless road schedule affect their fans?  The Bengals spent most of December on the road (10 games), eking out a lone road win against UMKC (68-65).  One of those losses was their only conference match, a 64-63 setback at Sacramento State, while their only home game against a major college foe resulted in a 79-67 loss to Boise State.  But the Bengals played tough through most of those losses.  It’ll be interesting to see if the schedule makes the Bengals improved enough to be the Big Sky contender several pre-season publications predicted.

STAT CHECK

  • Northern Colorado’s plus-3.23 TPG turnover margin is the best Big Sky mark by a significant margin, far better than second place Montana’s plus-1.29 margin.
  • Montana’s limiting all opponents to an impressive 57.6 PPG, an impressive 10 PPG better than second place Northern Colorado. The Grizzlies back up that mark with a league best defensive field goal percentage average of .401.
  • Weber State soph guard Damian Lilliard’s 19.1 PPG average is a Big Sky best, while ISU guard-forward Demetrius Moore’s 8.3 per game rebounding mark leads the league.  Portland State’s Dominic Waters’ 5.0 per game assist average is a full assist per game better than second place.
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Weekend Check-Ins…

Posted by rtmsf on December 27th, 2009

We hope everyone had a great holiday – over the weekend, we had a few check-ins, so here goes…

Atlantic 10 – Joe Dzuback  (READ MORE)

A10 coaches have no illusions that the conference’s reputation (however good among the non-BCS conferences) will carry a bubble team into the field of 65.  While few subscribe to former Temple head coach John Chaney’s “Anyone, Anywhere” philosophy, everyone recognizes the virtue of playing invitational tournaments and having a healthy dose of road games on the resume.  Most of their OOC resume-building games may come from traditional rivalries and invitational fields, but the road games, at worst, help their squads prepare for the hostile crowds they will face when playing conference opponents.  How did the conference members do this OOC season?  (…)

Mountain West - Andrew Murawa  (READ MORE)

For the most part, it was just a really ugly week for the MWC. Aside from BYU’s win in the Vegas Classic and UNLV’s success in the first couple rounds of the Diamond Head Classic (and really, despite their names, neither of the fields at those tournaments deserved the “Classic” label), there was carnage all around. New Mexico survived an upset bid by Creighton, only to slip up at Oral Roberts for their first loss of the year. Utah lost to Illinois State and Pepperdine (yes, Pepperdine, a team who improved their record to 4-10 with that win over Utah).  Air Force fell to Northern Arizona.  TCU got drilled by Houston.  San Diego State looked lost against Arizona State.  Colorodo State couldn’t take advantage of a weakened UCLA team. And, Wyoming fell apart in the second half at Northern Iowa, and in the process the MWC lost the inaugural MWC/MVC Challenge (although, given the results, perhaps they ought to switch the conference billings in the title) 5-4.  (…)

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