Game #86. RTC Live heads to Assembly Hall in Bloomington as Indiana hosts the #2-ranked team in America.
Happy New Year, college hoops fans! Welcome to Big Ten basketball and to Assembly Hall, home of the Indiana Hoosiers. It has been a tale of two very different seasons for these clubs. Coach Thad Matta’s Ohio State Buckeyes are undefeated, ranked #2 in the nation, and coming off a 100-40 laugher over Tennessee-Martin. Leading the way for the frightening Buckeye starting five is All-American and Big Ten POY candidate Jared Sullinger, a 6-9 280-pound beast of a freshman. Sullinger is a load inside and leads Ohio St. in scoring and rebounding (17.5 PPG, 10.2 RPG). All signs point to Jared and his Buckeye mates having their way with the undersized Hoosier frontcourt, but Ws never come easy on the road in the Big Ten. Coach Tom Crean’s young Indiana Hoosiers are a desperate team in search of a marquee win. Entering this game with a record of 9-5 and losers of three straight to Northern Iowa, Colorado, and Penn State, the Hoosiers can turn their season and their tradition-packed program around if they can upset the talented Buckeyes. During their recent skid, the Hoosiers have struggled to play at a high energy level for a full 40 minutes. Indiana will be counting on their crimson clad home fans in this game to make Assembly Hall a hostile environment for the visitors from Columbus. Which Big Ten squad will have a happy new year and which one will start drafting their resolutions for better conference play?
***** – 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 tivo but 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.
A really good schedule awaits college basketball fans today on your New Year’s Eve. The Battle of the Bluegrass gets things going right away with an early noon tip, a game tailor made for Gus Johnson. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#12 Kentucky @ Louisville — 12 pm on CBS (*****)
Louisville will be shorthanded in this game but is favored according to the Vegas odds. The Cardinals, still without Jared Swopshire, will also be missing the services of Rakeem Buckles and Mike Marra this afternoon. Still, this is a game you must watch with Gus Johnson on the call. It is a unique rivalry that doesn’t get enough press and has only heated up with the addition of John Calipari and the switch of Rick Pitino from Kentucky blue to Louisville red. It started almost 100 years ago in 1913 but the teams have only met 41 times prior to today with Kentucky holding a 27-14 edge. These teams did not meet for 24 years from 1959 until an elite eight NCAA Tournament game on March 26, 1983. They have met every year since then with UK leading 18-11 in the modern era. One interesting fact is that Kentucky has never failed to win at least two games in a row after winning one throughout the entire history of this series. With the Wildcats on a one game winning streak entering the game today, that statistic, though ultimately meaningless, would suggest a UK win. Expect this game to feature a lot of threes, a big part of each team’s offense. Kentucky actually has five guys who can knock down a triple, much more than the average team. Doron Lamb and Preston Knowles are the big shooters for their respective teams with Lamb being the better of the two so far this year. The freshman has connected on 54% of his treys including a seven for eight performance against Winthrop, a large part of Kentucky’s #13 three point percentage. Knowles is Louisville’s leading scorer and a good defender who teams with Peyton Siva to really disrupt opponents on the defensive end. That will be a big factor against Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight, averaging almost four turnovers per game. Rick Pitino loves the zone press so expect a lot of trapping and aggressive on-ball defense from the Cardinals, trying to get Knight out of a rhythm and make him turnover-prone. As a whole, Kentucky takes remarkably good care of the ball with only 11 turnovers as a team. Calipari needs a good point guard to run his dribble drive offense and Knight is often the key to their success. He had an awful game in a loss to Connecticut and fouled out after committing six turnovers in UK’s loss to North Carolina. In the front court, Kentucky has the best player on the floor in Terrence Jones. The 6’8 freshman can score from almost anywhere on the floor and uses his superior athleticism effectively to create space. Another T.J., Terrence Jennings, has to have a good game defensively for Louisville. He’s a good shot blocker and must neutralize Jones inside. Despite their reliance on the three pointer, the Cardinals get a lot of points inside as well, the seventh best two point shooting team in the country. With Buckles out however, Louisville may turn even more towards the trey in order to win. Kentucky lacks a true scoring center as Josh Harrellson rebounds well but doesn’t look to score much, attempting just four field goals per game. Expect Kyle Kuric to step up in the absence of Marra and Buckles. He’s played more minutes lately and scored 25 points against Morgan State on Monday. Quite simply, this game is going to be a war. The fans hate each other, the coaches do too and even the players got into it right away last year. Most rivalry games are close and despite Louisville’s personnel issues, we expect this one to be as well. However, depth could rear its ugly head if the Cardinals get into foul trouble. Louisville fouls a lot and Pitino has to ensure that doesn’t become an issue. Even though they’re on the road, Kentucky is the better team and has to get the edge here. Take the Wildcats and the points today.
#13 Minnesota @ #18 Michigan State – 4 pm on Big Ten Network (****)
A critical game for both teams, the loser will face some tough questions going forward. With a loss today, Minnesota faces the real possibility of starting Big Ten play at 1-3 with a game at Ohio State next Sunday and Indiana in between. Michigan State would drop to 8-5 overall with a loss today, making Monday’s game at Northwestern a huge one for the Spartans. For Tom Izzo’s team, the three point line is critical in this matchup. Minnesota doesn’t defend it well at all (#260) and the Spartans shoot 40% behind a trio of capable long range bombers. Durrell Summers leads Michigan State in scoring and is arguably their best shooter from deep while Kalin Lucas and Korie Lucious can also knock down the trifecta. Tubby Smith likes to play a zone but that may hurt the Gophers in this matchup. Unless Minnesota extends their defense beyond the line, Michigan State can easily shoot right over it. Of course when you extend a zone there will be holes inside. Minnesota’s big men must lay down the law in the paint and force MSU to beat them from the outside. A strong defensive game will really limit the Spartans offensively and turn this into a rebounding battle, one Minnesota should feel confident in their ability to win. Michigan State has not been a vintage Izzo team in terms of defense and rebounding, a bad sign against a tall and talented Minnesota team. Trevor Mbakwe could be deadly against the Spartans today with his quickness and long arms around the tin. With Mbakwe inside and Blake Hoffarber outside, the Gophers will keep Michigan State on their toes all game long. Al Nolen must play better for Minnesota. Wisconsin shut him down on Tuesday night held the Minnesota offense in check en route to a victory. Turnovers will again be the story for the Spartans, averaging 16 per game. Extra possessions only enhance the Gophers chances. Michigan State looked awful against Syracuse and the Gopher bigs are even taller than Syracuse’s. Despite the KenPom prediction and the Vegas odds, we’re going against the grain and feel this game will come right down to the very end. This is anyone’s ballgame in East Lansing this afternoon.
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season. We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Week’s Topic: You have one New Year’s resolution to make and you can choose it on behalf of any figure in the world of college basketball. What is that resolution and who is it for?
John Stevens, RTC editor/contributor
I’m going to take the low road and use this space to tell everyone what I they think they should do, because I know people love hearing that, especially when it’s unsolicited. But as I visit various gyms and arenas in my travels around this part of the country doing RTC Lives or whatever, I will beg as many college basketball fans as I can to resolve to come up with a NEW AIR BALL chant, if there really has to be one, and to abolish the “overrated” chant. Everyone knows why “overrated” is ludicrous. But the air ball chant is about 30 years old, and it’s time to upgrade. I tweeted about this a few nights ago and got GREAT responses, so I’m confident that a better idea exists out there. There are a few student sections who tout themselves as the best in the nation — Duke, Xavier, Utah State, Kentucky, this means you — and I specifically challenge you to rise to your claims and come up with something new and humorous, but doesn’t involve insulting the shooter’s mother or use a “clap, clap, clap-clap-clap” at the end (liked those responses, but there are too many of those). Send your proposals (or insults) to me at JStevRTC@gmail.com, or just use them during games. I’ll be listening. Happy New Year.
Danny Spewak, RTC contributor
Here’s a New Year’s resolution for Randy Bennett: get over the hump in 2011 and knock Gonzaga from the West Coast Conference throne. The Bulldogs’ streak of 10 straight league titles is the second longest in the history of college basketball. In six of those seasons, Gonzaga finished either undefeated or 13-1 in the WCC, and it hasn’t lost more than three conference games since 1998. St. Mary’s has established itself as the Zags’ main rival, though, with three straight second-place finishes. If they can ignore the scary numbers mentioned above, the Gaels may have a shot to win this league. They’ve got great guards to lead their efficient, unselfish offense, and former San Diego forward Rob Jones is a valuable frontcourt contributor with NCAA Tournament experience. St. Mary’s may not have many quality wins, but its only losses came at San Diego State and in the final seconds to BYU. Despite an 8-5 record, Gonzaga’s probably still the favorite to capture an 11th straight regular season championship, especially now that Elias Harris appears healthy and more comfortable on the court. But it’s a brand new year in 2011. The gap in the West Coast Conference is quickly closing– and St. Mary’s will need to take advantage of the opportunity.
Tom Wolfmeyer, RTC contributor
This year’s New Year’s resolution is reserved for Kyrie Irving, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones, Harrison Barnes, Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones. Be smart about your future. There’s about a 99.9% chance that the NBA is headed for a long impasse beginning next summer, and if you decide to take your chances with the June draft, you’ll certainly be rewarded with a high selection. But you won’t play (nor will you get paid a dime) until well into 2011 in what would have been your sophomore years. Please don’t listen to the agents who will tell you that they’ll float you financially until the lockout ends or that two months of a season is better than no season at all. The last time things looked this ugly between ownership and labor, nobody played a professional game until February, and there’s no guarantee that this dispute will be shorter this time around. Do your due diligence, of course, but if it looks as if both sides are settled in for a long negotiation, head back to college and continue to develop your games in a college hoops season that would boast the most talent among its players in the last fifteen years.
Game #86. RTC heads back to UConn for the first time since Kemba Walker was a freshman, but this time we are headed to Hartford instead of Storrs.
Jim Calhoun will be looking for a strong response from his Huskies after they were exposed earlier this week at Pittsburgh. While Calhoun got his usual great offensive contribution from Kemba Walker the rest of the team was nowhere to be found. During and after the game Calhoun was particularly critical of his #2 offensive threat, Alex Oriakhi, who only had 8 points and 1 rebound after coming into the game averaging nearly a double-double. As for USF, it has been a rough season so far and they no longer have the threat of Dominique Jones going off to scare opposing coaches, but the Huskies should be careful in this one because the Bulls have given some very good teams all they could handle this season including a six-point loss at UCF and a two-point double overtime loss against BYU. So even though the Huskies will be heavily favored today, they should be careful to avoid a letdown here because things don’t get any easier for them as they have 8 more games against ranked opponents left on their schedule.
Before we embark on this final edition of the M5 for 2010, we’d like to wish all of you a happy, healthy and safe New Year’s and a fantastic 2011. Thanks for making us a part, no matter how large or small, of your regimen of college basketball enjoyment. And by all means, be careful out there tonight. Now, to the Five…
One of the best things about college basketball is the rivalries. Whether rational or not, rivalries usually manifest themselves through the players and fans of the involved schools in the form of true, unmitigated disdain for the other side. Because we love making trouble, and with apologies to Orwell, we give you the Two Minutes’ Hate, a series of posts in which we give fans/bloggers/writers of both sides of a given rivalry a chance to vent about the other side, with minimal but identical prompting from us. We encouraged them to cut loose and hold nothing back, and we’ll be doing this with various rivalries throughout the year as such games arise. If you want to nominate a rivalry or even offer a submission, email us at JStevRTC@gmail.com. And remember, the published opinions are those of the respondents and not necessarily those of RTC, heh heh.
Today’s Rivals: Louisville and Kentucky
First, speaking on behalf of the Cardinals, we have Mike from the excellent Louisville site Card Chronicle. You can follow him on Twitter here. And you should, if for no other reason than because his bio describes him as the “fourth-ranked Chaucer scholar in the Ohio Valley.”
1. In your opinion, what was the Ville’s greatest win over UK?
The 1983 “Dream Game” without a doubt.
Even after Louisville had established itself as a national power, Kentucky refused to play them. The game finally happened in ’83 when the teams were paired in the same region and met in the Mideast Regional championship on March 26 in Knoxville. Despite a buzzer-beating shot by Jim Master to send the game into overtime, the Cardinals ran off 14 straight points in the extra period and prevailed, 80-68.
The U of L community erupted and quickly the governor, legislators and even the boards of trustees at both universities began to talk about a series between the two. Shortly thereafter, the announcement was made that Louisville and Kentucky would begin playing each other annually.
The game played a huge role in making the rivalry what it is today. If Louisville loses that day, the two might still not be playing annually.
2. What was the most painful loss?
Probably the ’04 game where Louisville led by 15 at half and as many as 18 before the Cats came all the way back and won it on Patrick Sparks‘ free-throws with less than a second left. Sparks walked twice. Neither were called. Louisville won the game.
Still, we went to the Final Four a few months later and UK didn’t.
Game #84. RTC Live returns to the venerable Mac Court for one of Oregon’s final home games at the ancient arena.
Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats and Dana Altman’s Oregon Ducks will kick off their Pacific-10 Conference slates Thursday night at 10 p.m. EST in the penultimate game at 84-year-old McArthur Court in Eugene, Ore. The Wildcats (11-2) are led by star sophomore forward Derrick Williams, who is averaging 19.3 points per game this season, and scored 20 points in both of his team’s victories against the Ducks (7-5) last season. Williams is ranked as the 15th most efficient player by kenpom.com, primarily because of his effective field goal rating and free throw rate, which both rank in the top 15 nationally. Oregon is led by redshirt senior Joevan Catron, the last vestige of the school’s 2006-07 Elite Eight run. Catron, who missed most of last season after a back injury, has shouldered the load for a team decimated by departures during the offseason, averaging 17.5 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game. Arizona’s two losses have come against Kansas in Las Vegas and against BYU in Salt Lake City. However, the team lacks a signature victory, with its best victory a road win over North Carolina State. Arizona is one of the most efficient teams in the country, with the 13th-ranked offense and 35th-ranked defense nationally. Its greatest weaknesses are turning the ball over offensively and generating turnovers on defense. The Ducks have had flashes of brilliance, but have struggled throughout most of the season. The Ducks won at home against UC Santa Barbara and had a 20-point second half comeback come up just short against Missouri, but they also have taken questionable home losses from San Jose State and Idaho, and enter the game with a two-game losing streak. Collectively, Oregon does not turn the ball over often, ranking 34th nationally in turnover percentage, but it struggles to make shots and defend on the perimeter. The Wildcats have won their last four meetings against the Ducks and lead the all-time series 42-32.
During tomorrow’s matchup between Xavier and Florida at the Cintas Center, you might notice a unique smell wafting from the concession stands — that of fried alligator.
Get it? Fried alligator? Florida Gators? Of course you do. That’s not a typo, though. For the XU vs UF game — while supplies last — the folks from Xavier Dining will have fried alligator on offer.
Not that we’re anti-Florida around here, but you have to love this move. And going by the linked article, fried alligator isn’t exactly cheap, but I guess you’ve got to expect that, since they flew these babies in from Louisiana. We think that Florida should take this as a compliment, since this is the kind of thing you’d do only if you think it’s a big, important game. If you attend the game and you try this delicacy, we’d love to hear what you think of it, so don’t hesitate to e-mail or tweet us your Bourdain-like review.
[grateful h/t to the Lexington Herald-Leader’s John Clay, at @johnclayiv]
Game #83. RTC Live heads to the City of Brotherly Love for one of the best rivalries in all of college basketball.
The battle for Philadelphia bragging rights is on the line when Temple invades the Pavilion to take on Villanova tonight at 7 p.m. The two squads, which have combined to win or share every Big 5 title since Jameer Nelson and St. Joe’s won it in 2003-04, are far and away the cream of the city crop once again. The eighth-ranked Wildcats, led by high-scoring guards Corey Stokes (15.7 ppg) and Corey Fisher (15.5 ppg), can wrap up the Big 5 title tonight as they’ve already beaten Penn, La Salle, and St. Joe’s. This will be Temple’s first Big 5 game of the season but the No. 25 Owls are riding a six-game winning streak and are coming off a Big 5 crown of their own. Last year, Fran Dunphy’s Owls stunned then-No. 3 Villanova, 75-65, on their way to a perfect 4-0 city record. The winner of this year’s game will almost certainly win the quirky Philadelphia round-robin tournament — and also charge into the new year as perhaps the best team in their respective conference.