All in the Family: Episode 1

Posted by rtmsf on January 11th, 2011

We’re not sure who coined the phrase, but we here at RTC like to talk about conference play as a “family” ordeal, and it’s an apt analogy.  For the power league schools who have spent the first half of the college basketball season traveling around to take part in various tournaments and other non-conference games against teams they’re generally going to beat, the new year brings with it better competition and recognition of those old familiar faces.  Not only is there an upshot in the talent level of the opposition on a nightly basis as well as a team’s oft-first exposure to a hostile road environment, but familiarity through wars of years past usually means that teams are no longer intimidated by the names on the front of the jersey.  Witness how Georgia beat Kentucky, Colorado knocked off Missouri and West Virginia downed Georgetown over the weekend — these teams see each other every year (often multiple times), so they’re familiar with all the beauty marks and warts, angels and skeletons, patterns and pretenses, associated with each.  Like we said, it’s akin to sitting down at the dinner table with your own family — there’s only so much BS you can throw before your big brother or mom will stare at you with an eye-roll and call your bluff.   

The Family Sits Together, Stays Together

With so much action every weekend the rest of the season, what we’d like to do with this column is briefly examine the major conferences post-mortem (probably Mondays) to see what important or interesting things happened that weekend.  This is not meant to supplant our After the Buzzer: Weekend Edition series nor encroach too heavily on our Checking In On… series for each of these leagues, but we feel that it’ll be an interesting way to track each conference race for those of us who might have a favorite league but want to lightly keep tabs on the others each week as well.   

Power Conference Rankings

1.  Big East.

  • The nation’s best conference now has ten teams rated in the top 32 of KenPom, eight in the AP Top 25, seven in the Coaches Poll, and six in the RTC poll.  Talk has already developed about all of those teams (plus St. John’s as an eleventh) making the NCAA Tournament’s expanded field, and if the Tourney were seeded today, that would be reasonable.  But what’s not being said is that one, two or possibly three of these teams will tank and tank hard.  We saw it with Georgetown a couple of seasons ago and UConn last year — the brutal scheduling that the Big East requires simply is too much for some teams to handle.
  • Georgetown is starting to look like one of those teams.  The Hoyas are at 1-3 with Saturday’s home loss to WVU with a home date against Pittsburgh looming on Wednesday night.  1-4 is nowhere you want to be in this league, especially with four games still to come against top ten teams Syracuse (twice), UConn and Villanova.  When the guards aren’t scoring, the Hoyas sputter.  Where’s Greg Monroe when you need him?
  • Perhaps no team has been more disappointing than Providence in the early going.  Keno Davis’ team got off to a nice 11-2 nonconference start with a close loss to BC and a stinker to LaSalle as the only blemishes.  Marshon Brooks has played great, upping his scoring average by nearly 10 PPG and doubling his rebounding numbers from a year ago.  But after a weekend loss to Rutgers on Saturday, the Friars are now 0-4, effectively a death sentence in this league.
  • To win this league, you need away wins to supplement a superb home record.  The top five teams — Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Villanova, Louisville, Marquette — all have one, but oddly, a pair of mid-pack teams — St. John’s and West Virginia — already have two.  It’s worth mentioning to be wary of teams that only win at home — we’re looking at you, Notre Dame (3-2) and Cincinnati (2-1). 

2.  Big Ten.

  • Minnesota is the team in this league that the schedulers did no favors for this year.  After three road games to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State, the Gophers are rather predictably 1-3.  They were competitive in each game, even missing a game-tying shot at the buzzer against OSU, but close only gets you so far.  Now they’ve learned that Trevor Mbakwe has gotten himself into hot water again and could potentially miss games just in time for a home game (and must-win) against 4-0 Purdue. 
  • Northwestern saved itself from a sure-fire road to nowhere by beating Indiana on Sunday to stave off an 0-4 league start.  Having done themselves few favors in the non-conference slate (Georgia Tech is their best win), you’d have to figure that a 10-8 conference record would be good enough, a 9-9 record would be borderline, and an 8-10 record would be suspect.  To get to 10-8 requires a 9-5 finish, a doable prospect considering that the schedule lightens up from here on out — the Wildcats are going to have to win some road games over bottom-half teams, though, starting tomorrow night at Iowa.
  • Penn State and Michigan this year appear to be the two teams that will cause numerous headaches for the elites as they claw over each other to try to win the Big Ten and earn a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.  Both teams proved capable last weekend with PSU defeating Michigan State and Michigan taking Kansas to overtime, so it behooves the Buckeyes, Illini and Boilermakers of the world to take these teams seriously, home or away.
  • Careful with Purdue.  Matt Painter is an exceptional coach and his team has handled the loss of Robbie Hummel (again) very well on the way to a 15-1 (4-0) start.  But the Big Ten schedule lays out nicely for the Boilers through the first seven games; if they can beat Minnesota without Mbakwe tomorrow night, they’ll have a great shot at going 7-0 prior to a late January trip to Columbus.  Then February is brutal. 

3.  Big 12.

  • The Big 12 had its first conference games last weekend, so everyone except Kansas and Texas, both of whom played big non-conference games, sits at 1-0 or 0-1.  Still, there were two road “upsets” in that Missouri lost at Colorado and Kansas State dropped one at Oklahoma State.
  • Colorado, like Georgia in the SEC, is a known commodity that maybe, just maybe, is starting to put something together.  Ok, probably not — the Buffs are likely one of those teams that nobody will enjoy playing in Boulder this season, but will be excited to see them visit their arena.  Perhaps that tale will be told on Wednesday night when Colorado visits another struggling team, Kansas State.
  • Speaking of the Jacob Pullens, K-State needs to get itself moving in the right direction over the next week with wins over Colorado and Texas Tech.  Why?  Because then they travel to Missouri, Texas A&M and Kansas with a home game versus Baylor thrown in the next two weeks.  For the team chosen as Big 12 preseason favorite, they’ll need to come through that phalanx with no more than two more losses, and they’ve already got one.
  • Is Oklahoma State a team we should pay attention to?  It’s hard to say.  They have some solid wins, but nearly all of them were at home, including the K-State win over the weekend.  The one thing that scares us about the Cowboys is that they’re a poor shooting team from behind the arc (32.4%) and that’s been such a key component of Travis Ford’s offensive attack in years past.  We’re just not sure how that’s going to work for this team this season.

4.  ACC.

  • UNC quietly got a nice comeback road win at Virginia Saturday, which is noteworthy because the Heels’ only other true road win this year was at Evansville.  If UNC can beat Virginia Tech in a home game this week, they’ll have some nice early momentum this year (as opposed to last year’s 1-3 start).  Harrison Barnes’ production (or lack thereof) is still troubling, though (9/3).
  • Boston College beat Georgia Tech at home to go 2-0, and Steve Donahue’s team may not be able to beat Harvard or Yale, but it has a reasonable shot at starting ACC play 5-0 with upcoming home games against NC State and Virginia and a trip to Miami (FL) wedged in between.
  • NC State won its first ACC opener in five years under Sidney Lowe, but, well, it was against Wake Forest, quite possibly the worst ACC team in a decade or more.  The good news for Lowe is that Tracy Smith (23/11) appears to be all the way back from his injury just in time for conference play.
  • Duke moved to 2-0 in the conference with another home win over Maryland, and if it seems like Duke always plays in Cameron Indoor to start the ACC, it’s sorta because they do.  The Devils have opened ACC play in Durham every year since 2004, and both this year and last, the Devils will start off playing three of its first four at home.  Is this coincidence or by design from league brass to get Duke off to a good start and garner bigger ratings in February (with tough road games).

5.  Pac-10

  • Washington has dominated this conference through four games, but how will the Huskies stand up now that Abdul Gaddy is on the shelf and one other player could be in trouble with the law?  One way is with the emergence of freshman Terrence Ross.  The wing is averaging 16/4 with ten made threes in the four Pac-10 games thus far, and the Huskies will need him to continue to pick up the offensive slack with Gaddy sidelined.  You really never know in this league, but with a Bay Area trip next weekend followed by home games against the Arizonas, UW could be standing at 8-0 heading into the war in Pullman later this month.
  • Right now, Arizona and USC have staked claims as the next best team in this league, each with only one loss.  The Trojans continue to look like a different team since Jio Fontan entered the lineup three weeks ago.  Kevin O’Neill’s teams always defend, but Fontan’s ability to run a semblence of an offense makes USC a dangerous team in close contests (which we be almost all of them).  Sean Miller’s Wildcats didn’t look good against Stanford and Cal this weekend, bu they won both games to move to 3-1.
  • USC is in better position to challenge Washington in the early going.  The Trojans travel to take on the Oregons this weekend, and both, although on the road, are winnable.  If USC can start off 4-1, they’d have a great chance to get to the halfway point at around 7-2.  With wins over Texas and Tennessee, but several bad losses and the confounding factor of Fontan’s midseason eligibility, we still think it’ll take a 14-4 or thereabouts campaign for USC to be a serious contender for an at-large bid.
  • UCLA is 1-2 but they’ve already arguably gotten two of the three toughest games in conference play out of the way (@ USC, vs. Washington).  We’ve waited the better part of two seasons for something to click with this group of players, but it’s not happening.  Everything about this team right now screams mediocrity from top to bottom.  Even Josh Smith, the nation’s best offensive rebounder, appears to be only scratching the surface of his talent because of his excessive weight.  It’s like that with everyone on the Bruin roster… there’s always a “but.” 

6.  SEC.

  • Kentucky’s loss to Georgia catapulted the Bulldogs into the national polls for the first time in eight years, but we fear that’ll be short lived with trips to Vanderbilt and Ole Miss later this week.  Georgia appears to be quite a bit better defensively this season, but their offense has sputtered.  With no consistent deep threat on the team, defenses can crowd Trey Thompkins and cut off driving lanes for the uber-athletic due of Travis Leslie and Gerald Robinson.
  • The most surprising score of the weekend was Alabama’s thumping of Mississippi State in Starkville on Saturday.  The preseason West favorite Bulldogs have every earmark of a broken team that doesn’t trust each other right now.  Everyone is out to get theirs, with Renardo Sidney shooting a dismal 1-8 from the field for two points and the MSU backcourt firing a 10-36 stinker.  We can understand the loss — everyone in the SEC West is mediocre — but to get bombed by nearly twenty points at home is a major red flag for Rick Stansbury.
  • Holy Sam Muldrow!  The South Carolina center put up a triple-double against Vanderbilt in overtime on Saturday with 16 pts, 14 rebs and 10 blks.  Nobody is expecting much from Darrin Horn’s Gamecocks this year, but a key opening win over a division rival at home tells the rest of the SEC East that there will be no easy wins in Columbia this year (for that, look west).
  • Bruce Pearl said it was torturous for him to not be available to help his team through its hard-luck loss on Saturday at Arkansas.  What’s also torturous is getting eleven more opportunities from offensive rebounds and still failing to beat a team the Vols probably should have beaten.  Say what you want about playing on the road and Tony Jones taking over the coaching reins, but Tennessee shouldn’t lose to teams as bad as Arkansas.  And trust us when we say that the Hawgs are bad.
rtmsf (3954 Posts)

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