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…
Paul Jordan of Wildcat Blue Blog is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.
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:
TEAM UPDATES (ratings are AP, ESPN/USA Today)
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.
Georgia – Trey 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.
Mississippi State – Ravern 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.
LSU – Bo 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.
Arkansas – Rotnei 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.
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?
Jimmer Fredette Eviscerates Arizona. BYU 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.
RTC Live. North 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.
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
Current records and my standings (Last Week):
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.
WEEK AHEAD AND GAMES TO WATCH
Conference season goes into full swing this week and there are some intriguing matchups to kick things off.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Glenn Junkert of GrizzlyJournal.com is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference.
BIG SKY CONFERENCE
(Records are ALL/CONF/STREAK)
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.”
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.
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. (…)