Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

  • Culpepper Ends Starting Streak: Once named the Conference USA Sixth Man of the Year, senior UTEP guard Randy Culpepper returned to the bench last weekend, snapping a streak of 40 games started in a row. The Preseason Player of the Year dropped 24 points coming off the bench and ultimately lead the Miners to a 65-56 win over Michigan.
  • ECU’s Young Reaches 500-assist Plateau: Senior guard Brock Young became the seventh player in conference history to reach 500 career assists during the Pirates’ 81-53 win over UNC Greensboro. Despite a slow start and limited playing time, Young was able to reach the milestone only seven games into the Pirates schedule.
  • UAB Tops Arkansas in OT: Senior guard Jamarr Sanders led the way with 19 points, while all five starters scored in double digits for UAB as they ousted Arkansas 70-65 in overtime. Sophomore Ovie Soko finished with 17 points, but the most impressive performance came from sophomore Cameron Moore, who ended up with his third double-double. Moore scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
  • Rice keeps it close with #20 Texas: Texas guard Cory Joseph’s layup with 37 seconds left lifted the Longhorns over the Owls. Despite beginning the second half trailing 23-20, Texas walked away with a 62-59 win after making nine three-pointers in the second half. The Owls (3-3) were led by Arsalan Kazemi, who finished with 13 points and has scored in double digits every game this season.
  • UTEP Splits in Atlantic City: After a win over New Mexico State on Tuesday, UTEP split a pair of games in the Legends Classic this past weekend. On Friday, the Miners were beaten by Georgia Tech 71-61, but rebounded with a 65-56 win over Michigan. The Miners finished third in the tournament.
  • Clarkson Remains hot, Tulsa Rolls Past Stanford: After being named C-USA Freshman of the Week, Tulsa guard Jordan Clarkson scored a career-high 20 points to lead Tulsa to a 66-53 win over Stanford. The day before, the Golden Hurricanes were dropped by UNLV, 80-71. Against the Rebels, Clarkson was limited to just nine points.
  • Houston Loses In-State Battle With TCU: Houston couldn’t win its first road game against in-state foe TCU. Ronnie Moss and Garlon Green led the Horned Frogs (4-2) with 17 and 16 points, respectively.  After winning their previous two games at home, the Cougars couldn’t overcome 19 turnovers and ended up losing 79-63.

Caught On Film

Marcus Jordan Dunking like Dad: Despite being in only his second season at Central FloridaMarcus Jordan has begun to compile a highlight reel. On Tuesday night, the guard intercepted an inbound pass from Stetson sophomore Ridge Graham and dunked over the dazed Graham. The result was Jordan ending up at #7 on SportsCenter next day as seen in the highlight below.

The Knights went on to win the contest 85-48, then obliterated Alabama State 84-48 on Saturday. Jordan scored 18 points in that contest and has scored in double figures in all five games this season. He leads the 5-0 Knights, averaging 16.8 points per game. Older brother Jeff sits on the bench this season after transferring from Illinois last year.

Power Rankings

  1. Memphis (5-0): The conference’s only ranked team also is in the top ten among scoring offenses in the nation. Everything seems to be running smoothly for the Tigers following the departure of Jelan Kendrick. Freshmen Will Barton and Joe Jackson are combining for 23 points a game, while junior Will Witherspoon is having a big season, scoring 15.4 points and 5.6 rebounds a contest. The team is a week away from taking on #4 Kansas in Madison Square Garden.
  2. Central Florida (5-0): The Knights have been absolutely dominant thus far, earning small wins over Stetson and Alabama State this past week. Currently, UCF is #12 in the nation in points per game and is shooting over 55% from the field. Limiting their last four opponents to fewer than 60 points has helped the quick start.
  3. Southern Mississippi (4-0): Winless Alcorn State looms for the Golden Eagles as the number three rebounding team in the nation looks to get to 5-0 before next weekend’s matchup vs. Ole Miss. Freshman guard D.J. Newbill has come on strong, recording two double-doubles so far this season. Meanwhile, seniors Josimar Ayarza and Gary Flowers have provided stability.
  4. UAB (4-1): The Blazers make a strong case to be inside the conference’s top four teams. Apart from a three-point loss to Arizona State, the Blazers are perfect and utilizing all team members. In their win over Arkansas, all five starters scored in double digits. Also, Aaron Johnson continues to shine, averaging 9.6 assists per contest.
  5. UTEP (4-2): The move of benching Culpepper paid dividends last weekend, but it is unseen whether or not head coach Tim Floyd is going to keep his superstar from the starting lineup. Senior Jeremy Williams grabbed ten rebounds against the Wolverines. He is currently second on the team, averaging 6.3 boards a game.
  6. Houston (4-2): Big performances off the bench helped the Cougars stay in their last game against TCU, but the starting lineup will need to play better if Houston plans on having the same success as they did last year. Tuesday night they will travel to LSU to continue their tough out of conference schedule. Senior guard Adam Brown is shooting over 50 percent from the three-point line and is averaging 15.5 points per game.
  7. Marshall (3-2): Tough loss to Louisville (4-0), but it is important to note that the Thundering Herd led 34-33 at halftime only to be outscored by 15 in the second half. DeAndre Kane finished with a career-high 25 points, averaging a little less than 14 per game. The biggest problem for Marshall right now: turnovers. Six giveaways in the first couple of minutes in the second half allowed Louisville to take over and never look back.
  8. Tulsa (4-2): With a trio of scorers in Justin Hurtt, Steven Idlet and Jordan Clarkson, the Golden Hurricane looks to be a spoiler team come conference play. Wins over Oral Roberts and Stanford have helped.
  9. East Carolina (5-2): Five weak wins for the Pirates, which means they still remain in the bottom tier of the conference. Senior guard Jontae Sherrod scored 17 off the bench. He currently leads the team in scoring and has scored in double-digits in three consecutive games.
  10. SMU (4-3): The Mustangs are one of the worst rebounding teams in the nation, despite the inside presence of Papa Dia who is averaging 15.3 points a game and 8.3 rebounds per contest. Dia’s double-double against Central Arkansas helped the Mustangs hold on for their fourth victory. With a three-game winning streak, SMU travels to Louisiana Tech, then return home to host Grambling.
  11. Rice (3-3): Despite never trailing by more than five points in the second half against Texas, this is a team that can comfortably set up shop in the bottom tier of the standings. It only gets tougher for the Owls as they travel to take on Arizona on Wednesday.
  12. Tulane (3-2): Getting dropped by Nicholls State (2-2) for the first time in 19 meetings didn’t help the Green Wave get out of the conference’s cellar.  On the bright side, the scoring duo of Kris Richard and Kendall Timmons is averaging over 30 points per game and gives Tulane reason to be confident as the season progresses.

A Look Ahead

  • Central Florida Gets a Shot Against The Gators: The Knights have an early season test this week when they host on in-state foe Florida. So far, UCF is 5-0 with small victories. The Gators (5-1) are a ranked #18 currently and are coming off a big road win against Florida State. Besides an early win over South Florida, this is the first quality game UCF will play this season.
  • UAB Hits the Road: On Friday, UAB will travel to Athens., to take on Georgia, which will be the second SEC team the Blazers have faced in as many weeks. Last Saturday, the Blazers took on Arkansas in a neutral location and walked away with the upset victory. After the game against the Bulldogs, UAB’s schedule gets a little easier until they have to travel to take on top-ranked Duke on January 5.
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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

  • Thanksgiving week tends to signal the unofficial start of basketball season as the non-conference competition ticks up a notch and holiday tournaments tip off in force.  For the Big 12, that meant trips to Hawaii, Kansas City, Cancun and Las Vegas, among other destinations.  For some, it was a positive experience, for others it was a bit of a negative, but for nearly all, the week provided a test and some answers as to where the early season concerns might lie.
  • Perhaps the biggest pair of games for the week in the Big 12 occurred in a city experiencing a resurgence in basketball relevance, Kansas City.  The Wildcats of Kansas State took to the court against two top-15 foes in successive nights.  The first resulted in a victory for Frank Martin’s team over a tough Gonzaga opponent in convincing fashion.  Kansas State’s hard-nosed, physical style wore down the Bulldogs and set the stage for a huge early-season matchup and a big time measuring stick with a game against top-ranked Duke.  Unfortunately for Kansas State, the Blue Devils played every bit the part of the #1 team in the nation.  Their defense came out and punched Jacob Pullen and the Wildcats in the mouth.  Duke experienced a comfortable lead throughout the game and while Kansas State stepped up the defensive effort after a slow start, missed free throws and turnovers kept a stalling offense on the ropes.
  • Elsewhere in the conference, the Kansas Jayhawks took on a surging Arizona Wildcats squad in Las Vegas.  The contest looked like a runaway early, but Kansas struggled for the first time all season before eventually putting away a pesky Arizona squad that appears to be well on its way to a return to the top of the Pac-10.  The win secured the Vegas Tourney Title for Kansas.
  • Another tournament winner from the Big 12 emerged in Cancun, as the Missouri Tigers ran through the competition with relative ease and took the Cancun Challenge with wins over Wyoming and La Salle.
  • Not all the holiday tournaments proved kind to the Big 12, however, as Oklahoma lost in every appearance during the annual Maui Invitational, including an embarrassing losing effort against perennial host and Division II school, Chaminade.
  • A few other notable wins in the conference as Nebraska kicked off the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series with a win over USC.  Texas A&M dropped a game to ACC opponent Boston College while Colorado and Texas Tech continue to struggle with early season competition, the pair losing to Harvard and St. Mary’s, respectively.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas Jayhawks (6-0) – Kansas looked vulnerable for the first time against the Arizona Wildcats during tournament play in Las Vegas.  With Marcus Morris on the bench in foul trouble, the Kansas offense wasn’t its normal self and Bill Self finally has a little bit to work on as he prepares for UCLA this coming week.
  2. Kansas State Wildcats (5-1) – It’s hard to fault a team for losing to Duke.  Watching the Wildcats take on the Blue Devils, it probably proved more about how good Duke is than what can be expected from Kansas State.  The Wildcats still played a high caliber of defense during stretches, and if they can learn to value the basketball a little more and knock down free throws, they’ll be in the conference hunt.
  3. Texas Longhorns (5-1) – Texas struggled against a pesky Rice Owl squad but managed to get a win as their schedule softened after a tough early stretch.  The Longhorns continue to show strength on the interior, an area that will be critical in any hopes at a conference title run.
  4. Baylor Bears (4-0) – Baylor continues to coast through sub-par competition, but did receive 24 points from LaceDarius Dunn in his first game back from suspension.
  5. Missouri Tigers (5-0) – The Tigers are still a tough read.  They are winning, but not necessarily in the convincing fashion one might expect.  Ricardo Ratliffe is looking the part of the big man they’ve needed, but the Tigers still look like a team trying to find itself.  That hasn’t been all that uncommon for a Mike Anderson-led team as they typically improve throughout the season.
  6. Texas A&M (5-1) – The Aggies dropped a game against ACC’s Boston College, but recovered with a win over nationally-ranked Temple at the Old Spice Classic in Florida.  Right now, they look to be the best of the Big 12’s middle tier, but Oklahoma State is in the rearview.
  7. Oklahoma State (5-1) – Oklahoma State is beating the teams they should, but dropped a close one to a tough Virginia Tech team that was ranked to start the season.   The early play of Marshall Moses has been cause for optimism in Stillwater, however, and the Cowboys could be better than originally thought.
  8. Iowa State (6-0) – Iowa State and Fred Hoiberg keep winning basketball games.  The competition hasn’t been particularly impressive, but they’ll get a chance to show what they can do against a real opponent in the very near future.
  9. Nebraska (4-2) – A win on the road (Hofstra) and a 20-point comeback over a Pac-10 opponent (USC) show that Nebraska might not be the worst in the conference.  This still isn’t a team with any tournament aspirations as of yet, but they might be able to outclass a few in their final season in the Big 12.
  10. Texas Tech (4-3) – Tech has lost two in a row, but against decent competition.  The same can’t be said for the two teams below and that might be the saving grace for Tech in the power rankings.
  11. Colorado (2-3) – Two potential lottery picks and the Buffaloes lose to Harvard?  Colorado was picked much higher headed into the year, but they just don’t look like a team that is going to live up to those expectations.
  12. Oklahoma (3-3) –  Three straight losses in Maui including one to Chaminade.  Not a good loss by any stretch and the Sooners look to be in trouble if Jeff Capel can’t get his team to recover.

A Look Ahead

  • The game of the week in the Big 12 once again tips in Kansas City.  The Sprint Center plays host to Georgetown and the Missouri Tigers in yet another early season marquee matchup in Big 12 country.  The Tigers have started the season 5-0, but will face their toughest test in the Big East power.  Georgetown brings a 6-0 record and a very efficient offensive game to Kansas City in hopes of pulling the upset.
  • Elsewhere in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series, tradition-rich UCLA is headed to Lawrence for a game against the Kansas Jayhawks Thursday in a matchup of two blueblood programs.  Unfortunately, this is a game that, in name, has a little more excitement than the reality.  UCLA is down, Kansas is not and the Jayhawks will be heavily favored in this one.
  • Missouri will play in their second notable game of the week when they head to Eugene to take on the Oregon Ducks, a team that courted head coach Mike Anderson unsuccessfully in the offseason.
  • Other notable Big 12/Pac-10 games include Iowa State vs. Cal on Saturday as the Cyclones try to put a little more substance to the fast start this season.  Baylor takes on Arizona State, Texas Tech takes on Washington and the Colorado Buffaloes go head-to-head against Oregon State as they get a little preview of what’s to come in the future.

Stats, Quotes and Other Notables

  • #1. That’s where the Kansas Jayhawk rank overall, according to Ken Pomeroy’s basketball rankings in offensive efficiency and in defensive efficiency.  Interestingly, last year’s #1 team headed into the tournament was Duke.
  • “They knocked the living piss out of us.” Frank Martin describes the loss to Duke in a way that only he can.  Again, last week’s game probably spoke more to how good Duke really is and Kansas State and Martin will be better off having played them.
  • 24 points on 7 of 11 from the three point line. LaceDarius Dunn returns for Baylor in impressive fashion.
  • 4 points on 1 of 12 shooting. Jacob Pullen struggles against Duke.  Is it a sign of what Denis Clemente’s complementary play meant to Pullen as a scorer?

Player of the Year Watch

  • Jacob Pullen – (14.3 PPG, 4 APG, 39% FG) Trending down
  • Marcus Morris – (19.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 68% FG) Even
  • Quincy Acy – (17.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 60% FG)Trending up
  • Alec Burks – (23.0 PPG, 48% FG) Trending up
  • Jordan Hamilton – (22.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG) Even
  • LaceDarius Dunn – (24.0 PPG, 5 RPG, 61% FG) NEW
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Around The Blogosphere: 11.29.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 29th, 2010

If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com.

Top 25 Games

  • #12 Syracuse 80, Georgia Tech 76: “Syracuse is your Legends Classic champion and they won the championship game exactly how they’ve come to win most of their games this season. The Orange stalled early, took the lead around the half and held on for the close 80-76 victory over Georgia Tech. That said, the Orange also got something they haven’t gotten all year long…balance.” (Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician)
  • #12 Missouri 91, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 63: “I’m doing a lot of nit-picking for a 28-point win, but it is what it is.  Mizzou has only been sporadically great this year.  If it’s true that they’re suffering from “Play To The Level Of Competition”-itis, then we should see them play pretty well tomorrow … as Georgetown is a damn fine team.” (Rock M Nation)
  • #20 UF 55, FSU 51: “Despite the clear problems the Gators have, the play of the young bigs and a very good road win against a tough opponent will mean something. As the Gators roll towards Christmas and a tough non-conference schedule that includes several road games, Sunday’s win will hopefully be a sign of things to come.” (Alligator Army)
  • #21 UNLV 71, Virginia Tech 59: “The Malcolm Delaney Show was not enough to pull out a 76 Classic title and the Hokies lost to UNLV 71-59 in the Championship Game in Anaheim, CA.” (Tech Hoops)
  • Texas A&M 54, #24 Temple 51: “Oversized when one of our bigs were out of the game with foul trouble. Outrebounded as a result of that. Outhustled and outworked when the game was on the line. Texas A&M’s hard work through all 40 minutes of play allowed them to hand Temple it’s second loss of the year. I cannot take anything away from the Aggies. They wanted the win more than we did, and earned the 54-51 victory.” (Owlified)

Other Games of Interest

  • Northwestern 65, Creighton 52: “Excuses aside, there is not any time to dwell on it as a few more tests await this week for the Bluejays.    On Wednesday, an undefeated and likely ranked BYU Cougars come into the Qwest Center for a matchup in the MWC/MVC Challenge.  With prolific scorer Jimmer Fredette coming in and Creighton’s difficulty in keeping control of certain players, there is a lot to be worried about.  Then on Sunday, Creighton takes another road trip.  This time it is down to Lincoln to take on in-state rival Nebraska which is always a challenge in the Devaney Center the last few times as the Bluejays haven’t won in Lincoln since the 2004-05 season.  There is not any time for confusion–this stretch will be big if the Bluejays are anywhere near postseason NCAA contention come March.” (White and Blue Review)
  • UNC 74, College of Charleston 69: “First things first; it’s a better outcome than last year. It may not feel all that better, as UNC trailed often in the second half, but 74-69 is infinitely more comforting than 79-82. Of course, last year’s shocker and this year’s squeaker were both the result of one man, Andrew Goudelock. Last season he went 10 of 20 from the field and hit four threes to finish with 24 points. This year in Chapel Hill he was 11 of 28 with five threes to finish with 28. The early spurt in the second half to take the lead was almost entirely his doing, as he was draining some incredible threes from absolutely insane places. He’s a pretty impressive player. The difference is, this year he was alone.” (Carolina March)

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten conference.

A Look Back

  • Ken’s Favorites: The Big Ten boasts five schools checking into Ken Pomeroy’s top 20, more than any other conference in the nation. The upcoming ACC/Big Ten challenge should heighten the non-conference strength of schedule.
  • Player of the Week: Kalin Lucas, G, Michigan State: Lucas struggled in the Spartans’ loss to Connecticut, shooting 4-12 from the field, committing five turnovers and scoring ten points, but he rebounded to drop a career-high 29 points on just 13 shots in the victory over Washington. That was followed up with a 15-point effort against Tennessee Tech. Lucas will have to be on for Michigan State to take down Duke in its challenge game.  An honorable mention here goes to John Shurna. Northwestern only played one game, but he scored 23 points, grabbed six boards and dished out four assists in the Wildcats’ 65-52 victory over Creighton.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Jereme Richmond, F, Illinois: You could give this award to Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger every week, but to avoid that, let’s recognize the efforts of Richmond. He’s starting to work his way into Bruce Weber’s regular rotation and is playing well. He scored 12 points and grabbed five boards at Western Michigan in a 78-63 victory.

Power Rankings – subject to a lot of early season fluctuation

  1. Ohio State (5-0) – The Buckeyes’ ranking is purely based on their victory over Florida earlier in the season because Morehead State and Miami (OH) proved to be nuisances, but also 19- and 21-point victories. Ohio State’s defense appears to be in midseason form.
  2. Minnesota (6-0) – The Golden Gophers are still undefeated after an easy victory over North Dakota State. Minnesota won’t get much of a test playing at home against Virginia to start the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. In fact, no real big non-conference games exist before Tubby Smith’s team opens Big Ten play against Wisconsin on December 28.
  3. Illinois (6-1) – The Illini are about to start a tough stretch of non-conference games with home games against North Carolina and Oakland plus a road trip to Spokane to play Gonzaga for their next three. Demetri McCamey is still the leader, but four other players averaging double figures in scoring have emerged to give him help early.
  4. Michigan State (5-1) – The Spartans still might be the best team in the Big Ten, but slide them down a bit after their upset against Connecticut at the Maui Invitational. Still, rebounding to take out Washington is always a good start towards redemption. In the periphery, Derrick Nix returned to the team after staying in East Lansing while his team went to Maui.
  5. Northwestern (4-0) – A victory over Creighton gave Northwestern its best start in 17 years. That probably says more about the Wildcats’ basketball history than their record. Northwestern hasn’t lost in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge since 2008 and the Wildcats desperately need a victory over Georgia Tech, especially since it’s at home, as part of their NCAA Tournament profile.
  6. Purdue (5-1) – The Boilermakers dropped this far because of their loss to Richmond in the finals of the Chicago Invitational Challenge. The game against the Spiders showed some cracks in the offense. Whether it is something systemic or just an off night is what will determine Purdue’s future spots in this ranking.
  7. Wisconsin (4-2) – The Badgers played very good defense at the Old Spice Classic, but they also didn’t play much offense. The offense was effective in spurts against Notre Dame, but it wasn’t enough for Wisconsin to pull out the victory. Still, the win over Boston College might prove useful later in the season.
  8. Indiana (6-0) – The Hoosiers’ game against Boston College on Wednesday will be their first real test of the season. Indiana doesn’t need to win, but Tom Crean needs something to build on before his young team plays Kentucky on December 11.
  9. Penn State (5-1) – The Nittany Lions played at Ole Miss and lost a shootout 84-71 in 60 possessions. They rebounded for a victory over Furman, but the game against Maryland is a really big one if Penn State wants to be taken seriously as an NCAA Tournament at-large candidate.
  10. Michigan (3-2) – Two losses might not look pretty, but considering they were against Syracuse and UTEP, it’s not the end of the world. The defense is playing well and keeping the Wolverines in games, but the offense is going to have to fix itself in order to beat Clemson or maybe even Harvard when former coach Tommy Amaker’s returns to Ann Arbor on Saturday.
  11. Iowa (3-3) – The Hawkeyes can score a lot of points against bad teams – like the 111 they put up on SIU-Edwardsville on Friday, but it’s been a real struggle against even mediocre competition.

A Look Ahead

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge starts this week and the predictions are rolling in that the Big Ten will take the title for the second straight season. While it could happen, it’s likely going to be very close and come down to an upset or two. The Big Ten isn’t coming off the best of weeks either, as Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State are all looking to recover from losses. What’s Coming Up? (all times EST)

  • 11/30 – Ohio State at Florida State – 7:30 p.m., ESPN
  • 11/30 – Illinois vs. North Carolina – 9:30 p.m., ESPN
  • 11/30 – Northwestern vs. Georgia Tech – 7:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • 12/1 – Michigan State vs. Duke – 9:30 p.m., ESPN
  • 12/1 – Wisconsin vs. North Carolina State – 7:15 p.m., ESPN2
  • 12/1 – Purdue at Virginia Tech – 7:30 p.m., ESPN
  • 12/1 – Penn State at Maryland – 9:15 p.m., ESPN2
  • 12/1 – Indiana at Boston College – 7:15 p.m., ESPNU
  • 12/4 – Illinois at Gonzaga – 5:15 p.m., ESPN
  • 12/4 – Purdue at Alabama – 3:30 p.m., ESPN2
  • 12/4 – Penn State vs. Duquesne
  • 12/4 – Michigan vs. Harvard

Fun With Efficiency Margin

At the moment, Ohio State appears to be the class of the Big Ten and one of the top teams in the nation along with Kansas and Duke. I’m sure a lot of college basketball fans are ruing the day that the ACC/Big Ten Challenge was scheduled and pitted Michigan State against the Blue Devils instead of the Buckeyes.

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RTC Live: FIU @ Marshall

Posted by jstevrtc on November 29th, 2010

Game #49: RTC is again happy to make the acquaintance of a gym in which we’ve never been before – this time, the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington, West Virginia at Marshall University.

We have a Sun Belt vs Conference USA tilt tonight as Isiah Thomas’ Florida International Golden Panthers (4-1) attempt to corral the Thundering Herd of Marshall (3-2). The Herd have a new coach in Tom Herrion and are still attempting to recover from the loss of one-and-done Hassan Whiteside, but sophomore guard DeAndre Kane is doing what he can to soothe that pain (16.0 PPG and 5.0 RPG) and take up some of the work left behind by Hassan, now a Sacramento King. The Panthers, led by junior guard DeJuan Wright’s 14.8 PPG and 8.6 RPG, have already achieved more than half of their total number of wins from last season (7-25) . Both teams feature deep benches, each having nine players who average at least 15 minutes a contest. We expect a sea of green in the Henderson Center for this one and we’ll open the live blog window about 15 minutes before the 7:00 PM ET tipoff. Hope to see you there.

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RTC Top 25: Week 3

Posted by rtmsf on November 29th, 2010

It was a very active Thanksgiving week with a lot of teams in the Top 25 playing good opponents.  Here’s Week 3 of the RTC Top 25.  The usual quick n’ dirty analysis follows the jump.

QnD Analysis.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.29.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 29th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivobut we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Some folks may be going through college basketball withdrawal today as the Thanksgiving tournaments have ended and the action is extremely light tonight. Fear not however, great games make a comeback tomorrow. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Virginia @ #16 Minnesota – 7 pm on ESPN2 (**)

Blake Hoffarber Has Been Up/Down This Season

Minnesota is still riding high after their tournament win in Puerto Rico as they open the ACC-Big Ten Challenge against the Virginia Cavaliers this evening. The Golden Gophers are dealing with some injuries tonight as starting point guard Al Nolen (foot) and Rodney Williams (ankle) are unlikely to play. Coach Tubby Smith still has plenty of weapons to turn to and may get Devoe Joseph back from suspension tonight. Smith has said he’s undecided but there’s a chance that Joseph could make his first appearance of the season against Virginia. The Cavaliers went 1-2 in Maui, defeating Oklahoma while losing to Washington and Wichita State. They’re 3-3 overall and are expected to finish near the bottom of the ACC this season. Tony Bennett’s team has been, well, unlike a typical Tony Bennett team so far. Virginia has struggled on the defensive end, ranking #135 in efficiency. They’ve given up an average of 70 PPG and are #330 in defensive effective FG%. UVA doesn’t force turnovers due to Bennett’s deliberate, slow pace and have been terrible at defending the three. Virginia is almost dead last in defensive three point percentage, allowing opponents to shoot 47% from behind the arc. As you might expect, Virginia’s opponents get the largest percentage of their points from the three point line, #1 in the nation. To put this in perspective, Bennett’s last team at Washington State (2008-09) finished #6 in the country in defensive efficiency. Minnesota will look to take advantage of this weakness with Blake Hoffarber, who broke out of his early slump with 24 points on 10-16 shooting against North Dakota State on Wednesday. With Nolen out and the status of Joseph still up in the air, Hoffarber is more than capable of running the offense (2.82 assist/turnover ratio). The Gophers should dominate this game in the low post with plenty of scoring and good rebounding behind Trevor Mbakwe (14/9, 69% FG) and Ralph Sampson III (13/7, 3 blocks), but Virginia has a star of its own in 6’8 Mike Scott. The senior forward is averaging 17/9, Virginia’s only player in double figures so far this season. He’ll have his hands full with Minnesota’s stellar frontcourt but the Cavaliers are counting on him to keep them competitive tonight. 6’9 Will Sherrill can stretch the defense and he’ll need to do a lot of that by pulling Mbakwe and Colton Iverson away from the basket where they can’t get into a comfort zone. Minnesota may struggle a bit to start the game with the uncertainty of their rotation but expect a steady diet of Hoffarber from deep along with dishes to Mbakwe and Sampson III. That will allow Minnesota to pull away and win this one comfortably.

USC @ TCU – 8 pm on The Mtn. (**)

This clash between Pac-10 and Mountain West schools features a USC team coming off a bad loss at Nebraska on Saturday and a TCU club playing second fiddle to the school’s football team in the hunt for a BCS national championship. Expect this to be a low scoring game as both teams struggle offensively, each ranking outside the top 100 in offensive efficiency. The Trojans are a much better defensive club, though you wouldn’t know it based on their performance against Nebraska (50% FG for the Cornhuskers). USC still ranks #29 in defensive efficiency and #7 in opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage, essentially controlling the defensive glass. Kevin O’Neill has two totally different players leading the team with his 5’7 point guard Maurice Jones (13/4/4) and 6’10 F/C Nikola Vucevic (16/11), each having a great start to the season. As you might imagine, Jones struggles shooting the trey due to his height. He still finds a way to score and get others involved making the freshman a nice piece to build around in the coming years. Vucevic is an experienced junior who teams with Alex Stepheson to create a better than average frontcourt. Stepheson, a transfer from North Carolina, had 14/9 against Nebraska and is shooting 56% from the floor this year. The Horned Frogs of TCU are led by another small point guard, 5’9 Hank Thorns. He’s averaging seven assists per game while grabbing four rebounds, pretty good for a guard of his height. TCU’s leading scorer is Ronnie Moss (16 PPG), a threat from behind the arc against a Trojan defense that ranks #237 against the trey. It’s been a struggle for TCU when it comes to rebounding the basketball as they’re really undersized. They’ve been outrebounded in all but two of their games, averaging only 31 RPG. TCU is #300 in offensive rebound percentage and #293 in two point percentage defense. Put those two stats together and you have a recipe ripe for putbacks for scores off missed shots. USC will look to take advantage of that behind Stepheson and Vucevic. The Trojans should get the ball inside early and often to utilize their size and rebounding strength in this matchup. The Trojans must get to the free throw line more often as they rank poorly in that area and only attempted two free throws against Nebraska. A more aggressive style would cure this problem but with a very slow tempo (#262), don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Well played games from Moss, Thorns or J.R. Cadot will keep TCU in this game to the end. USC is the better team but the Horned Frogs are at home so we see this as a toss-up game that may come down to the last few possessions.

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Floriani: Tempo-Free at the Preseason NIT

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

Ray Floriani of College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC, and makes additional contributions based on his analysis from action around the country.

There has been a lot of news coming out of Knoxville, Tennessee, as of late. Until last week, all of it centered on activity off the court – from Bruce Pearl’s recent troubles with the NCAA to last year’s player suspensions. Presently, the conversation is shifting to what is transpiring on the floor as Tennessee captured the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden. They did it in resounding defensive fashion.

Let’s take look at a tempo-free analyses of each of the games contested at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

First Semifinal

eFG FT RATE OREB PCT TO RATE
VCU 39 28 29 18
Tennessee 42 26 38 19

Neither team was a walk-it-up-the floor type as they both came to New York averaging over 70 possessions per game. In an 80-possession contest, Tennessee had the offensive efficiency edge, 96-90. The talk at halftime was the Rams’ shooting, or lack of it. Their eFG percentage the first half was a horrid 28%. Only a rebounding edge and the Tennessee’s careless ball-handling style (23% TO rate) kept them within one at intermission.  In the second half, VCU found the range thanks to 6’2 guard Brandon Rozzell (23 points, 19 in the final half). The big story was rebounding. Bruce Pearl’s club cleaned the glass the second half. Scotty Hopson, a 6’7 wing who was a matchup problem all night for VCU, had 11 boards to complement his 18 points and 6’10 Brian Williams enjoying a New York homecoming, adding 13 rebounds. In the end, the Vols edged the Rams, 77-72.

Jamie Skeen made these fans proud of his tenacity on the boards.

Second Semifinal

eFG FT RATE OREB PCT TO RATE
UCLA 44 31 26 18
Villanova 44 45 33 10

At the half, Villanova enjoyed a 15-point lead and a huge 122-78 edge in offensive efficiency. In a low 70s possession game (UCLA 73, Villanova 71), the final numbers were a bit more respectful but Villanova still enjoyed a 116-96 OE edge. Credit a better second half by UCLA largely due to an improved defensive effort after halftime. Throughout the contest, the Bruins could not keep the Villanova guards in front of them defensively as Ben Howland planned. Corey Fisher shot 6-9 en route to a game high 26 points. Fisher constantly drew fouls from beaten Bruin defenders and was 14-15 from the line. Villanova cleaned the glass, largely due to sophomore Mouphtaou Yarou who pitched in a big 13-point 16-board night.  UCLA did have four in double figures, but not Tyler Honeycutt. The 6’8 forward came in averaging 15 PPG but struggled scoring just eight points on 3-8 shooting. Villanova was able to prevail, 82-70, also on the basis of their low turnover rate.

Consolation

eFG FT RATE OREB PCT TO RATE
VCU 56 26 33 17
UCLA 54 15 52 26

VCU was devastated on the glass, but extremely efficient overall. The pace was to the Rams’ liking (UCLA 80 possessions, VCU 76) with Shaka Smart’s club owning an impressive 117-106 edge in offensive efficiency. Even with a quick pace, VCU did not get into transition similar to the semis and actually trailed UCLA 16-6 in fast break points.  As noted in the table, UCLA owned the backboards largely due to Tyler Honeycutt (13 rebounds) and Reeves Nelson (10). The turnover rate was a killer for the Bruins with Honeycutt and Reeves in the mix again, combining for 8 of the 21 Bruin miscues.  Another encouraging sign for VCU was inside play. The Rams scored 34% of their points from three (actually right on the team average coming to New York) but displayed a nice presence in the paint in Jamie Skeen. The 6’9 senior scored a game high 23 points while grabbing a team high 9 boards. In the end, VCU topped UCLA, 89-85. The level to which the Bruins’ defense improves is a major storyline in Westwood.

Final

Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 11.29.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 29th, 2010

  1. Here’s hoping everyone out there in college basketball land had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  The next five weeks will be a blur between now and the new year, but by the time the calendar moves into 2011 we should have a pretty good idea as to who the half-dozen legitimate contenders for the crown are (and the multitudes of pretenders vying to be taken seriously).  Even though exams loom and the interminable bowl season kicks off in earnest soon (featuring 2-6 SEC teams!), we’ll happily plod along with our college hoops addiction and of course, invite you all to join us along for the ride.
  2. The scariest news of the weekend was at the 76 Classic on Sunday where Stanford star Jeremy Green collapsed as a result of dizziness and stomach pain after the Cardinal’s 81-74 overtime win over DePaul.  RTC’s Andrew Murawa was on the scene there in Anaheim and reported as to what he saw and heard there.  The great news is that after Green was hospitalized and received IV fluids, it appears that he will be fine.  Always great to see that word “fine” associated with something like this.
  3. Mike DeCourcy breaks down the upcoming ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which tips off on Monday night with an oddly placed Virginia at Minnesota game.  You probably recall that the Big Ten won its first-ever challenge last season, 6-5, and comes into this year’s tilt with a decided claim as the top conference in America.  DeCourcy decides to get a little crazy with his prediction that the ACC will actually re-take the crown this year.  As for the first game tonight, Minnesota will be without Al Nolen, who is nursing a foot injury, and Rodney Williams, who has an ankle injury.  It seems as if Tubby Smith’s team there can never get everybody on the floor at the same time (Devoe Joseph has been held out for a rules violation).
  4. President Obama, recovering well from twelve stitches he took to the mug during a Friday pickup game, showed up with family in tow to watch the First Bro-in-Law, Craig Robinson, lead his Oregon State team to a victory over DC-based Howard on Sunday.  While there’s nothing particularly novel about Obama’s love for hoops, especially the collegiate variety, we feel compelled to mention this in the unlikely scenario that he’s a closeted RTC reader and wants to offer us a chance to interview him prior to next year’s Tournament.
  5. You may have missed this among all the weekend’s action, but nothing gets past the crack crew around here.  It was just a few short days ago that California was getting some love as a possible Pac-10 contender this season after beating Temple on Thursday (after all, who isn’t a contender in the Pac-10?).  But that talk died down after the five-point stinker of a half that Mike Montgomery’s team threw up against Notre Dame in a  57-44 loss on Saturday.  Yeah, you read that correctly : five points.  The Bears went the final 10:44 of the first half without a single point, but amazingly, that’s still not the record for fewest points in a half of a D1 game — Savannah State produced only four points in a game two years ago against Kansas State.  Still, Cal is a long way from SSU in terms of resources and expectations; but those may need to be tempered somewhat after a weekend filled with struggling offense in Orlando (Cal also lost to Boston College on Sunday, scoring only 46 points).
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Weekend Check-Ins…

Posted by rtmsf on November 29th, 2010

Remember, every Friday is mid-major day here at RTC.  Half of the mid-major leagues are covered one week, with the other half the next.  Here are last week’s Check-Ins in case you missed them while dealing with the holiday weekend…

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Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference.

A Look Back: News and Notes

  • Ray Taylor is the speedy point guard and primary playmaker for Florida Atlantic, but he’s dealing with disciplinary issues here in November. Coach Mike Jarvis suspended him for the team’s two exhibition games—one of which FAU lost—and he missed his team’s season opener against UC-Davis. The Owls better hope the suspension keeps Taylor in line, because their high-powered offense can’t survive without him.
  • Travis Bureau sat out Louisiana-Lafayette’s 60-55 loss to Cleveland State last week due to illness. The senior guard, who rotated in and out of the starting lineup last year, opened the season with a promising 21-point performance against New Mexico State. Bureau seems to have recovered from his sickness—he scored 10 points in 22 minutes against Houston four days after the CSU game.
  • In his first game at Louisiana-Monroe, former Kansas State guard Fred Brown torched old conference foe Texas Tech for 25 points. But against Iowa the next week, coach Keith Richard kept his star guard in Louisiana because of academic problems. Predictably, the game got out of hand. That’s the only game Brown missed, and his team can’t afford to lose him again.
  • The rumors have circulated for months, but now it’s official: Denver will leave the Sun Belt for the Western Athletic Conference in 2012. As Andy Katz wrote back in September, Denver isn’t a very logical fit for the SBC anyway from a geographical standpoint.

Power Rankings

East

1. Western Kentucky (3-2): It’s clear already that there is no limit on the potential of this Western Kentucky team. That’s an odd statement to make after the team’s performance in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, considering WKU finished 1-2 in the tournament and needed a frantic comeback in the final four minutes against Hofstra to avoid returning home without a victory. Just keep in mind that coach Ken McDonald is playing a combination of sophomores and newcomers at guard. Also, the Hilltoppers weren’t helped by star Sergio Kerusch’s subpar play in Puerto Rico; he looked nothing like the forward that lit up St. Joseph’s for 31 points in the season opener. McDonald is still trying to set his rotation and find a consistent point guard, and he’s not lacking for options at the point. Ken Brown looked a bit overwhelmed against Minnesota and lost his starting spot to sophomore Jamal Crook, but it was newcomer Khalil McDonald who helped orchestrate that rally against Hofstra at the point guard position. Even Snap Peters played a little lead guard—point is, McDonald was trying everything this weekend and everything should eventually work itself out. Kerusch, Steffhon Pettigrew and Juan Patillo will be fine up front, and once the guards gets on the same page, there’s no telling how good this team could eventually become. The success of this team may also depend on the defense, which has been one of the team’s downfalls the past few years. The Hilltoppers’ active, athletic guards show a ton of potential defensively and were able to force turnovers this weekend, but Minnesota shot a blistering 62.5 percent from the field.

Next Four: 11/27 vs. South Carolina, 12/1 at Vanderbilt, 12/4 at Memphis, 12/8 at Bowling Green

2. Florida Atlantic (3-3): After losing an exhibition game to an NAIA school, FAU has looked just fine through its first six games. Plagued by poor defense last season, the Owls didn’t defend well enough in losses to American or Portland, but they clamped down in a solid road victory at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Florida Atlantic even stayed close with Florida and trailed by just two points at halftime. We know FAU will score, especially when point guard Ray Taylor re-enters the starting lineup after undisclosed disciplinary problems. But can Mike Jarvis get his team to defend and rebound consistently? Depth is another issue, as only six players scored against the Gators—five of whom reached double-figures.

Next Four: 11/27 at George Mason, 11/30 at Mississippi State, 12/4 vs. South Florida, 12/11 at Hofstra

3. South Alabama (2-2): When South Alabama has lost this season, it hasn’t been pretty. At all. USA fell 93-58 to Southern Mississippi and 82-58 to UAB, and in those two games, the Jaguars averaged six assists. Stud scorer Tim Williams is doing his job and scored 33 points to lead USA to a win over Central Michigan at home, but a lack of size is killing the Jaguars so far. Against Southern Miss, the rebounding margin was atrocious, and there’s only one player on the roster taller than 6’6.

Next Four: 11/28 vs. LSU, 12/1 at Alabama, 12/4 at Louisville, 12/12 vs. Houston Baptist

4. Middle Tennessee (3-3): The Blue Raiders blew a 17-point lead at Auburn last week, but they handled a young and fairly talented Evansville team Wednesday night, blowing the game open in the second half. There will be growing pains for Kermit Davis’ rebuilding team, which lost three starters. Point guard James Washington has to be the leader this year, and he’s looked the part during the first six games. UTEP transfer Jason Jones also appears to be making an impact already.

Next Four: 11/30 at Tennessee, 12/4 at SIU-Edwardsville, 12/7 at. Belmont, 12/12 vs. Furman

5. Troy (1-4): After losing all five starters from a championship squad, we knew it wouldn’t be pretty for Troy. And it hasn’t been—the team’s only win is against Huntingdon. In losses to Alabama, Georgia State and Texas-San Antonio, the Trojans haven’t even come within single-digits. There are encouraging signs from senior Vernon Jones, who played 33 games off the bench last year. He scorched UTSA for 25 points and isn’t having much trouble adjusting to his new role.

Next Four: 11/26 at Mississippi State, 11/29 vs. UAB, 12/4 at Arkansas, 12/11 at Miami OH

6. Florida International (3-1): Maybe it’s unfair to rank a team tied for the best record in the league last in its division. Let’s take a look at Florida International’s three wins, though: Florida Memorial, Barry and Utah Valley. And FIU lost to Florida State by 23 points. Had Troy played the Golden Panthers’ schedule, it would be 3-1 as well. For now, all we can say is that Florida International has handled inferior competition as well as it can. Let’s wait to evaluate this squad in a couple of weeks.

Next Four: 11/27 vs. Chattanooga, 11/29 at Marshall, 12/1 at Louisville, 12/4 at Jackson State

West

1. North Texas (3-1): the Mean Green trailed Kansas by nine at halftime Nov. 19 and had aspirations of ending the Jayhawks’ 61-game home winning streak. But things got away from Johnny Jones’ team in the second half, losing by 33 points. At least the Mean Green have one Big 12 win under their belt—they knocked off Texas Tech in overtime three days earlier. The most impressive win during UNT’s 3-1 start, though, might be a gutty home win over Rice this weekend. North Texas trailed for much of the game but found another gear late in the second half, as senior Tristan Thompson scored 26 points to help his team seal the victory. The second half against Kansas wasn’t pretty, but the SBC favorites haven’t disappointed early on.

Next Four: 12/27 at Texas State, 12/30 vs. UT-Arlington, 12/2 vs. Grambling, 12/4 at Texas Southern

2. Arkansas State (0-5): That’s not a mistake: Arkansas State is 0-5 and still sits at number two in the West power rankings. The season couldn’t have started more disastrous. John Brady’s team has played good competition, but it’s 0-5 with an especially embarrassing loss to Belmont by a score of 93-60. Yes, Belmont is an Atlantic Sun contender and consistent program, but no team picked to finish second in its division should lose like that on a neutral floor. That loss is even more surprising considering the Red Wolves actually led Ole Miss for a good portion of the second half and hung tough with MVC contender Missouri State and Pacific, which won 23 games last year. Let’s not give up on Arkansas State just yet though. Senior guard Donald Boone, who led the team in scoring two years ago but missed 2009-10 with a knee injury, hasn’t found his stroke yet. This team is also still figuring out how to play without Brandon Reed, the SBC Freshman of the Year who transferred to Georgia Tech. Brady has more than enough to work with on this roster to turn this season around—so for now, ASU stays in the second spot in the West power rankings.

Next Four: 11/27 at SEMO, 12/1 at Memphis, 12/6 vs. Lyon, 12/11 vs. Alabama State

3. Arkansas-Little Rock (3-2): after failing to win a road game all of last season, the Trojans’ season-opening victory at SMU came out of nowhere. UALR was since been blown out in its last two road contests against St. Bonaventure and Oral Roberts, but things could be worse for Steve Shields. The Trojans also earned a home win against Illinois State, which is rebuilding in the Missouri Valley but still reached the post-season last year. Keep an eye on the point guard situation down in Little Rock. Slashing guard Solomon Bozeman can score from anywhere on the court, but he’ll need someone to get him the ball. Right now, Shields is splitting time evenly between freshman Daylon Guy and juco transfer D’Andre Williams. Williams is getting more of the minutes lately, but he turned the ball over four times Wednesday night and tallied only one assist.

12/26 vs. Louisiana Tech, 12/1 at Missouri State, 12/5 vs. Tulsa, 12/7 vs. Philander Smith

4. Louisiana-Lafayette (1-4): Don’t let the 1-4 start deceive you. Not surprisingly, coach Bob Marlin has his team playing good basketball in his first season at Louisana-Lafayette. All four losses have been to strong teams, and besides a 16-point loss to New Mexico State to open the season, the Rajun’ Cajuns have played Creighton, Cleveland State and Houston very competitively. Guard Randell Daigle looked like an All-American with seven three-pointers to keep ULL close in Omaha, and Houston needed a second-half rally just to win on its home court. Marlin has a few pieces to find success this year with his variation of the Princeton offense. Once Centenary transfer David Perez finds his groove after an inconsistent start, Marlin’s guard play with point guard Josh Brown and Daigle will be enough to stay competitive in the West.

12/1 at McNeese State, 12/4 at Tulane, 12/12 vs. Texas College, 12/15 at Central Florida

5. Denver (1-4): Without departed star Nate Rohnert, the Pioneers’ season got off to a frustrating start at a three-game tournament in the Pacific Northwest, losing games to UCSB, Oregon and North Dakota State. Denver then lost a fourth straight game– at home against Colorado State– before knocking off Alcorn State this week. It’s not panic time yet for Denver though. The rest of the squad besides Rohnert is back, and frankly NDSU is the only loss Denver should feel even the least bit embarrassed about. The other three are simply better teams.

Up Next: 11/27 at Boise State, 12/1 vs. Utah State, 12/4 vs. CSU-Northridge, 12/8 at St. Mary’s

6. Louisana-Monroe (1-3): New coach Keith Richard almost had his first D-I victory this week, but his team fell to Stephen F. Austin on a three-pointer in the final seconds Tuesday night. At least Richard did beat Southeast Oklahoma State after losing ugly at Texas Tech and Iowa. This team is riding Fred Brown, which was our pick as SBC Newcomer of the Year. He’s averaging 20 points per game and played all 40 minutes Tuesday.

11/26 vs. Jacksonville State, 11/27 vs. Illinois State, 11/28 vs. South Dakota, 12/2 at Kent State

Shoutout Section

  • Dixon’s Time: It’s time for Cliff Dixon to come alive for Western Kentucky. He’s got the 6 foot 10 frame, the soft touch and the sneaky athleticism for a big man. And he’s the half-brother of a guy named Kevin Durant. But he didn’t adjust that well in 2009-10 after transferring from junior college. The skills were there, but coach Ken McDonald couldn’t get consistent effort out of the talented big man. Dixon looks like a different player as a senior. The coaching staff has fallen in love with him, and he’d be in the starting lineup if WKU didn’t have the deepest frontcourt in the Sun Belt. He grabbed eight rebounds in just 17 minutes against Davidson and scored eight points, and in the opener against St. Joseph’s he scored 11 points off the bench. Dixon is a difficult match-up for opposing centers because of his quickness and provides a nice change of pace to the bruising Juan Pattillo.
  • Stafford steps up: Denver’s Brian Stafford has taken the reigns from Nate Rohnert. The Pioneers need the 6’4 guard to develop into a reliable scorer, and he exploded for 26 points in a loss to Colorado State. He’s always been a strong outside shooter, but he’s become a more complete offensive player this year. There’s a lot more to Stafford’s game besides shooting—so remember his name once conference play rolls around.
  • Daigle on fire: There was no reason for Louisiana-Lafayette to even stay within single-digits of Creighton earlier this month, but Randell Daigle single-handedly kept an undersized Rajun Cajuns’ team within striking distance. No matter what the Bluejays did, Daigle kept gunning from three-point land and finished with 25 points on 7-13 from three. If ULL had any answer for Doug McDermott and Kenny Lawson Jr. in the paint, Daigle would have led his team to a win at the Qwest Center.

Quote of the Week

“We had 12 minutes tonight where we don’t win and don’t score and that’s a deadly combination. To give this team 43 points in the second half is ridiculous and makes no sense to me.”

–ASU coach John Brady after a loss to Pepperdine

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Checking in on… the Big Sky

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

Jason Spencer is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky. In addition to his tireless contributions for RTC, Jason is a screenwriter whose pursuits can be followed at the home of Blindly Driven Entertainment.  [ed. note: this post was written prior to the Nov. 26-28 games]

A Look Back

  • This just in, Damian Lillard is a “BEAST!”  Of course, if you follow the conference, you knew that already.  Lillard has shown thus far in this young season that the MVP award is his to lose.  In the first four games he is averaging 23 points per game.  We will just let that sink in for all upcoming Weber State opponents.
  • Are they for real?  Montana State has rattled off five straight wins, but the question remains, is it a fluke?  Well, they will get their chance to prove it right away.  They have upcoming games against Iowa State, Illinois State, UCLA, and they kick off the conference season vs. Weber State.  By Christmas we will know whether Bobcat fans are getting something nice or coal in their stockings.
  • Defense wins championships.  If that saying holds true, then Montana should feel good about their team.  On 11/22 the Grizzlies held Idaho to 12% shooting.  Yes that’s right; the Vandals shot 6-50 from the field.  Somewhere, coach Wayne Tinkle is smiling.

Power Rankings

1. Weber State: (2-2)

Recent Games:  77-65 Loss at Utah State 11/13, 97-72 Win vs. Colorado Christian 11/16, 90-75 Loss at Utah 11/20, 86-54 Win at Alaska Anchorage 11/25

Upcoming Games:  Great Alaska Shootout second and third rounds 11/26 and 11/27, vs. Seattle 12/4

The Wildcats debut at the top spot despite going 2-2 in their first four games.  It’s hard to argue with having the two-time defending regular season champs and a team returning the reigning league MVP as the top team here.  Last week they kept it respectable on the road against Utah and really should have beaten Utah State on the road.  But down the stretch the crazy Aggie fans got the best of their in-state rival.  Damian Lillard picked up where he left off last year averaging 23 points per game through the first four games.  NBA scouts have already started to salivate at the thought of Lillard in an NBA uniform.  NBADraft.net has him as a late first round pick in the 2012 Draft.  Look for Lillard and the Wildcats to make some noise in the Great Alaska Shootout on Thanksgiving weekend.

2. Northern Arizona: (3-2)

Recent Games:  78-64 Loss at Iowa State 11/12, 74-70 Loss at Creighton 11/14, 74-46 Win vs. Alabama State 11/16, 97-47 vs. Southwestern Arizona 11/19, 74-66 Win at Kennesaw State 11/22

Upcoming Games:  at Pepperdine 11/28, at Cal State Bakersfield 11/30, vs. Bethany 12/4, vs. Texas-Pan American 12/8

If there was a 1a and a 1b in the Power Rankings then the Lumberjacks would be that 1b.  This team is loaded with experience.  Head coach Mike Adras brings back four starters from last year’s 14-14 squad.  They nearly took down Creighton on the road, which is no easy feat by the way.  Then they took care of business their last three, topped off with a big road win at Kennesaw State.  With all the returning experience and the past coaching success of coach Adras, the Lumberjacks will be nipping at Weber State’s heels all year long.

3. Northern Colorado: (2-2)

Recent Games:  93-52 Wins vs. Tabor 11/12, 67-53 Win vs. Wyoming 11/16, 93-70 Loss at Arizona 11/21, 87-84 Loss at Santa Clara 11/23

Upcoming Games:  Las Vegas Invitational 11/26 and 11/27, vs. Black Hills State 12/4

With the best season in school history in the rearview mirror, the Bears are looking to capitalize on their program’s momentum.  First-year coach B.J. Hill takes over for the departed Tad Boyle who left for Colorado.  Don’t look for this team to miss a beat since Hill served for four years under Boyle before taking over this year.  However this team lives and dies by Devin Beitzel.  He had a solid 20 points in a close loss at Santa Clara but overall is shooting 20.8% from three point range.  For the Bears to challenge for a conference title, Beitzel has got to find his stroke.

4. Montana State: (5-1)

Recent Games:  77-59 Loss at Hawaii 11/13, 65-58 Win vs. Central Michigan 11/14, 80-76 Win vs. Cal State Fullerton 11/15, 92-67 Win vs. Minot State 11/19, 73-57 Win vs. Cal Poly 11/21, 76-59 Win vs. San Francisco 11/24

Upcoming Games:  at Iowa State 11/27, at Seattle 11/29, at Illinois State 12/4, vs. Johnson and Wales 12/10

If coach Brad Huse is reading these Power Rankings, feel free to use it as bulletin board material.  The “no respect” card should be played after the Bobcats rattled off five wins in a row.  Yet this team is still ranked fourth.  For them to climb up the rankings they must show they are for real.  Beating Big 12 member Iowa State on 11/27 would be a start.  The one-two punch of Bobby Howard and Erik Rush is going to be something the rest of the league better take notice of come conference play.

5. Montana: (2-2)

Recent Games:  81-66 Loss at Nevada 11/13, 80-71 Loss at Utah 11/17, 78-51 Win vs. Montana Tech 11/19, 75-33 Win vs. Idaho 11/22

Upcoming Games:  vs. Cal State Fullerton 11/30, vs. Portland 12/3, at UCLA 12/5, vs. Great Falls 12/9

The Grizzlies are trying to capitalize on their amazing run through the Big Sky Conference Tournament last year.  They of course are also trying to replace Anthony Johnson, the catalyst of their past success.  So far, center Brian Qvale has been everything they thought he would be as a senior.  With Will Cherry showing his freshman campaign was no fluke, this team will once again have something to say come conference tournament time.

6. Portland State: (3-1)

Recent Games:  83-81 Win vs. Pepperdine 11/12, 69-53 Loss at SMU 11/19, 102-98 Win vs. Lamar 11/20, 69-58 Win vs. UC Riverside 11/21

Upcoming Games:  vs. Seattle 12/1, at Oregon 12/5, vs. George Fox 12/9

Don’t tell these guys that they got nothing to play for.  Head coach Tyler Geving has his team playing with a chip on their shoulder this year.  The Vikings are not eligible for the postseason, including the Big Sky Conference Tournament.  This year they will have to play the role as spoiler, and it’s beginning to look like that might happen more often than others want.  The Vikings have a balanced attack with four players averaging in double figures with a fifth close to ten points per game.  The trouble for upcoming opponents will be who do they guard?

7. Eastern Washington: (1-3)

Recent Games:  67-60 Loss vs. San Jose State 11/12, 98-72 Loss at Washington 11/16, 96-87 Win vs. Northwest Washington 11/18, 83-54 Loss at Boise State 11/24

Upcoming Games:  vs. Idaho 11/27, at Gonzaga 11/30, vs. New Hope Christian 12/4

Head coach Kirk Earlywine has the youngest team in the conference this year.  Not one senior is on this year’s roster.  This has not stopped the young Eagles from showing lots of promise.  The question is will this be the year that the youngsters grow up?  Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year Glen Dean has been sidelined thus far with a stress fracture and remains day-to-day.  Having Dean back in the lineup is most certainly the key to the Eagles season.

8. Idaho State: (1-3)

Recent Games:  88-80 Loss at Colorado 11/12, 90-42 Loss at Arizona 11/14, 78-68 Win vs. Great Falls 11/19, 79-47 Loss at South Dakota State 11/23

Upcoming Games:  vs. Montana Tech 11/29, at Iowa 12/4, at Cal State Bakersfield 12/7

The first question that comes to mind if you are an opposing coach of Idaho State would be where is Broderick Gilchrest?  The man went unconscious at Colorado for a career high 39 points.  The following game he was held to four points on one-of-nine shooting from the field at Arizona.  As the conference season gets underway, coach Joe O’Brien will have to find a way to get Gilchrest open looks.  As for the schedule, it doesn’t get any easier.  Six of their next eight games are on the road.

9. Sacramento State: (1-3)

Recent Games:  80-78 Loss vs. Cal State Bakersfield 11/14, 84-55 Win vs. Bethany 11/16, 64-60 Loss at North Dakota 11/19, 61-54 Loss vs. UC Davis 11/23

Upcoming Games:  vs. Cal Poly 11/27, at Washington State 11/30, at Utah Valley 12/4, at Loyola Marymount 12/7, vs. William Jessup 12/10

This has to be the most encouraging last place conference team in the nation.  Brian Katz knew what he was getting into when he took over the Hornets coaching job.  In the last three seasons this team has won a total of fifteen games, with last year contributing nine of those.  Katz has only three players returning from last year that contributed.  But as with any rebuilding project, to get over the hump, you’ve got to learn how to win close games.  In their three losses, they have lost by a total of thirteen points.  Once this team learns how to win the close ones, they could surprise some people.

A Look Ahead

  • Northern Colorado is going to Vegas, baby!  The Las Vegas Invitational to be exact.  The Bears will take on Valparaiso on 11/26 and either Bethune-Cookman or Texas A&M Corpus Christi on 11/27.  This tournament includes such national powers such as Kansas and Arizona.  It should be a great experience and atmosphere for B.J. Hill’s club.
  • Expansion talk!  The Big Sky is not waiting on the big boys to make a move.  Being proactive, earlier this month the league added North Dakota and Southern Utah as full members.  The move puts the league at eleven teams in basketball.  Who will be the twelfth?  Rumor has it South Dakota is interested.
  • BracketBusters will feature all nine members of the Big Sky Conference.  Fans can watch their favorite Big Sky team on one of the ESPN family of networks 2/18-2/20.  This is the first time that all members of the conference will participate in a given year.

The “Human Highlight Film” Award

Weber State’s Damian Lillard, (1) drives through the defense of Alaska Anchorage’s Casey Robinson (44) and Brandon Walker (22) during their Great Alaska Shootout NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov 25, 2010, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Michael Dinneen)

Is there anyone else in the league that we should give this to?  We didn’t think so either.  Damian Lillard, let the love fest begin!  A man among boys, this 6’2 junior guard from Oakland, California has started off the season with a flurry.  The reigning Big Sky Conference MVP is up to his old tricks again averaging 23 points per game through four.  If it pleases the court, I would like to enter into evidence “Exhibit A” (below). After a heavy helping of threes to the face, Damian decides to take it to the hoop “nasty style” at the 1:28 mark.  Is there any doubt why he wears number 1?

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