Perry Jones is back and he returned in style from a suspension last night, scoring 29 points in a rout of Prairie View A&M. Jones’ suspension for improper benefits dates back to last season (it included the Baylor‘s lone game in the Big 12 Tournament), but with the suspension behind him, Jones appears ready to live up to his billing as the league’s pre-season Player of the Year. Playing a cupcake schedule, the Bears did just fine without Jones during a 5-0 start, but the competition stiffens this weekend with a road contest at Northwestern. Baylor needs a sharp performance out of Jones to win that one.
Jones may have returned, but Baylor’s other star forward, Quincy Miller, did not play against Prairie View A&M due to a sprained ankle although the team reports that he will be ready for the Northwestern game. Hopefully, the Bears won’t have to deal with too much rust from Miller or Jones, or else they could be in for a long night against what appears to be a solid Northwestern team.
Northern Iowa and Iowa State play each other every year these days, but newcomer Chris Allen has a different relationship with the Panthers. The former Michigan State guard called Northern Iowa “that purple team,” in reference to the 2010 NCAA Tournament squad that lost to the Spartans in the Sweet 16. Allen will play an important role for the Cyclones as they attempt to defend their home court. In their one previous game against Missouri Valley competition, they fell on the road to Drake. There are only a few leftovers remaining from the 2010 team that defeated Kansas in the second round, but Allen said he knows “that they can beat anyone on any given night. I saw it happen.” Coach Fred Hoiberg has to like that attitude.
With so many newcomers it is not surprising that Texas Tech is struggling to take care of the ball. The statistics are staggering, though as the Red Raiders are close to dead last in Division I basketball in turnovers per game. The exact average is 18.7, and that’s “good” for 320th in college basketball. It is not just one guy either. Point guard Ty Nurse averages two turnovers per game (against only one assist per game). The rest of the team varies from about 1.5 to 3.0 turnovers per game. That has to improve for Billy Gillispie, but that goes without saying.
Nobody will question LeBryan Nash’s talent, but people are starting to question his attitude. Coach Travis Ford says not to worry about Nash’s negative body language, however. He defended his young star, telling reporters that Nash’s natural demeanor often gives fans a misperception of his actual work ethic and attitude. According to Ford, Nash hasn’t had any sort of chemistry issues, and he is fitting in with the team just fine. By all accounts, it sounds like Nash’s game will eventually come around.
There are many extremely talented freshmen in the nation this season, several of which are in the SEC. Mike Miller of Beyond the Arc says that Florida guard Bradley Bealmight just be the best of them all. Miller cites Beal’s consistency, his shooting efficiency (58.8 eFG%), and his significance in the Gator offense despite the glut of talented guards in the Florida backcourt. Beal is averaging 17.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1 block per game. He was named SEC Freshman of the Week for this past week for his performances against Jacksonville and Wright State. The Freshman of the Week award has become a difficult honor to win within the SEC. A different freshman has won the award in each of the three weeks of the season thus far with Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Mississippi State’s Rodney Hood as the other two winners. Davis might be Beal’s biggest competition for the title of the top freshman in the country. While Davis is still developing a consistent offensive game, he has been an absolute beast on defense. He is averaging 12.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals and is fourth in the country in blocked shots with 4.3 blocks per game.
Vanderbilt suffered a heartbreaking loss to Xavier on Monday night, but the Commodores had to be satisfied with at least a couple aspects of their game. CBS Sports RapidReports points out one positive from the loss was the continued improvement from the charity stripe. The Commodores rank 216th in the nation in free throw percentage (68.5%) yet they shot 75% from the free throw line on Monday making nine of 12 attempts. Jeffery Taylor was 5-6 for 83% despite averaging 60.5% from the line thus far this year. Although 75% is an improvement Vanderbilt has to get to the line more often than the 12 shots they attempted on Monday. For comparisons sake, Xavier went to the line 27 times. Vanderbilt must attack the rim off the dribble rather than settle for jump shots in order to improve this number, and this has not been an aspect of Vanderbilt’s game that they have displayed thus far this season.
The guys at Anchor of Gold are not exactly sure why Vanderbilt lost, but they offer up a couple of suggestions. The stat I found most interesting is that Xavier walked away with a 51% offensive rebounding percentage against the Commodores’ depleted frontline. The Musketeers grabbed 25 offensive rebounds explaining how they were able to shoot just 37.2% from two-point field goal range and come away with the win on the road. Festus Ezeli‘s return has to significantly affect this deficiency. Ezeli won’t erase all of Vanderbilt’s struggles, but he will be a difference maker on both ends of the court. I’m not hopping off the Vanderbilt bandwagon just yet as I think it is important to see how this team plays with the big man in the middle before casting judgement on the quality of this team. Vanderbilt has another huge test on Friday as they face Louisville in the KFC Yum Center.
CoachCal.com editor Eric Lindsey gave us a full report from John Calipari‘s Tuesday practice with the Wildcats as they prepare for St. John’s on Thursday and UNC on Saturday. Similar to two recent posts about UK on the SEC microsite, Calipari spent some time focusing on their low post game. Cal has worked with big man Anthony Davis to stay lower to the ground to avoid getting pushed around by stronger defenders. By bending his knees, Davis can create a lower center of gravity. Calipari also worked on having low post players seal off their defender and make quick, one bounce moves to the basket. By establishing a low post presence, Kentucky opens up a number of options within their offense, which was covered in our most recent Breaking Down the Play post. Expect to see the Cats go down low early and often this week.
Rupp Arena will be on display on Saturday afternoon via CBS for the Wildcat’s showdown with North Carolina. The Lexington Herald Leader reports that the University of Kentucky could renovate Rupp rather than build a new arena as previously discussed and better meet the needs of the school. Kentucky is looking to upgrade spaces for the media room, interview room, and training room; add premium seating for the University president and others; and add a new center-hung scoreboard that displays the score, player stats, instant replays, and close-ups of players and coaches. Kentucky has led the nation in average attendance for 15 of the last 16 years, but seemed to be motivated by a brand new arena 85 miles to the west in Louisville. Now the plan appears to be to renovate Rupp Arena to make the improvements needed without building a new arena. In the long run, it would be a mistake to neglect the history that Rupp Arena brings to Kentucky and to college basketball as a whole.
Cleveland Plain-Dealer and CBSSports.com: In case you missed it, Duke was absolutely throttled by Ohio State last night. Duke suffering blowouts on the road isn’t super shocking (see: St. John’s last year and Georgetown the year before), but every time it happens most people are caught off-guard. I think Rob Dauster said it best during the game: “Ohio State is not as good as they’ve played tonight and Duke is not as bad.” He’s right [Ed. Note: We allow our staff the freedom to express their own opinions, but this is pushing it], but the beatdown definitely highlighted a lot of places for improvement for the Blue Devils. Expect a recap later today breaking down the positives (yes, there were some) and negatives from the game.
ESPN and Charlotte Observer: Despite both powers on Tobacco Road reeling after tough losses, both programs managed to bring in a touted 2013 prospect. Duke received a commitment from Matt Jones, a consensus top-25 shooting guard with ridiculous range. North Carolina received a commitment from Nate Britt, one of the top point guards in the class and the likely successor to Kendall Marshall.
USA Today: Virginia legend Ralph Sampson was elected into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame a little over a week ago. Sampson’s mother keeps all of his honors in the basement. Like many retired athletes, Sampson focuses on teaching kids life lessons through the game he dominated three decades ago. He still leads the Cavaliers in scoring and rebounds. Sampson was elected with fellow ACC legend James Worthy.
ESPN: Roy Williams isn’t happy that there was a UNLV fan behind North Carolina’s bench in the Tar Heels’ loss to the Rebels. The seats are supposed to be reserved for boosters, and Williams is tired of them selling their tickets: “I do not like that, will not like that, don’t ever forget it. I’m trying to find out who it was.” This isn’t the first time Williams has had run-ins with fans behind his bench. He had a Presbyterian fan thrown out of a game two years ago in a similar situation (although Williams claims he just asked to see if the fan had a ticket for the section).
Charlotte Observer: When he first met Jordan Taylor, Kendall Marshall wanted to dislike the Wisconsin point guard. But after a couple of summers together at the Chris Paul basketball camp, the two get along fine. Marshall even praised Taylor before the two square off in one of the more anticipated point guard battles this season. This may be the only regular season game Marshall will be outmatched at his own position. The question is, “Which of the talented guards will be able to dictate the tempo?” Taylor has experience; Marshall has home court.
It almost went unnoticed given how much news is being made off the court at Syracuse, but the Orange actually played a game Tuesday night, their first since longtime assistant Bernie Fine was fired amidst allegations of sexual molestation. Jim Boeheim‘s crew walloped Eastern Michigan 84-48 behind a balanced offensive attack and a smothering defense. James Southerland (19 points and five rebounds) led the way offensively, and the Orange forced the Eagles to make 17 turnovers and held them to just 34.7% from the field. But let’s be honest, the game was a mere footnote to the circumstances surrounding the program and Boeheim’s first press conference comments since the firing. ESPN obviously gave the game and the hubbub surrounding it the full-court press last night. Not only did Dana O’Neill, Andy Katz, and Tim Keown all pen opinion columns on the story, the network also sent O’Neill all over campus to interview students about the mood in the community and the student body. It was quite an impressive breadth of coverage, but I am not sure we learned anything new other than Syracuse students don’t want to be associated with Penn State and its sex abuse scandal, and that most people still don’t know what to make of the most recent evidence (i.e. tape recording and third accuser). Yahoo! also was on hand to cover the press coverage and Pat Forde justifiably ripped into Boeheim for trying to make jokes while very serious allegations are being bandied about. Boeheim may not have known anything about the alleged abuse but cracking jokes in a press conference isn’t exactly the best way to apologize for the nasty remarks you made about the alleged victims.
After beginning the season inside most people’s list of the Top-10 teams in college basketball, Pittsburgh has failed to engender any confidence in their lofty ranking, losing at home to Long Beach State and struggling to put away teams like Rider, Robert Morris, and LaSalle. There has been a bright spot though and his name is Travon Woodall. Woodall was little more than a role player in his first two seasons, but as HoopSpeak points out, he has emerged as a full-fledged star and perhaps the team’s most important player. The article notes that his statistics have been inflated due to inferior competition, but 15 PPG and 8.5 APG is still worth taking note of. But, the article also points out that if there is still one piece missing from his game, its his decision-making. He is still too careless with the ball and for a guy that coach Jamie Dixon is going to lean on to play heavy minutes, that is not good. The season is long and Dixon will have plenty of time to right the ship, but how far the ship sails will depend mightily on how far Woodall continues to progress.
In addition to poor foul shooting and silly fouls by freshman JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova appears to have been bitten by some egregious score-keeping in their painful loss to Santa Clara in the 76 Classic Sunday. Apparently, up by three points with less than ten seconds to play, Villanova wanted to foul Santa Clara after letting some time run-off, so they asked the scorer how many fouls the team had, and they were told five. That information was wrong, they had six, Santa Clara made two free throws and then made two more after Pinkston missed the front end of the one-and-one and committed a stupid foul going after the rebound. To his credit, coach Jay Wright didn’t blame the scorer for the loss, which was the right move because although the official scorer clearly screwed that one up badly, the Wildcats didn’t deserve to win that game. Sure they are young, but they are also very talented and should be able to make the NCAA Tournament. First they will need to work on closing out games, something last year’s team did especially poorly down the stretch.
We usually try to avoid linking to box scores in our Morning Five, but we present the Providence-Holy Cross box score from last night only to illustrate how bright Providence‘s future might be. Holy Cross is not an especially strong opponent, so the numbers can be taken with a grain of salt, but 59 points from sophomores Bryce Cotton and Gerard Coleman and freshman LaDontae Henton is pretty impressive. Throw in the fact that freshman Brice Kofane grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds and it is safe to say we are looking at the future of Providence basketball, and that doesn’t even include the pair of five-star guards (Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn) slated to arrive on campus next season. Unfortunately for Friar fans, the box score also shows that coach Ed Cooley really only played five guys last night, showing just how thin the team is this year. But if those aforementioned players continue to develop, and the freshmen play as advertised when they arrive, the Friars may be contenders sooner than anyone thinks.
Beset by injuries, Louisville continues to take moral victories when it comes to their players’ health and this news should be considered just that. Junior forward Rakeem Buckles was cleared to return to practice last week and should be making his return to the court soon for the injury-riddled yet undefeated Cardinals. Buckles will likely be eased back in considering the last thing Rick Pitino wants is for him to re-injure himself, but Pitino desperately needs depth in the frontcourt and Buckles should provide just that. The junior averaged 6.8 PPG and 6.1 RPG in 16 games last season and if he can replicated even half of those numbers while spelling star freshman Chane Behanan, I bet Pitino will be happy. Forward Stephan Van Treese is out indefinitely after he re-injured his knee so getting Buckles back in time for conference play will be a huge boon for an inexperienced and thin frontcourt.
The biggest news Tuesday wasn’t Ohio State’s methodical dismantling of Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge; rather, it was Jim Boeheim‘s press conference after his Orange destroyed an overmatched Eastern Michigan team, 84-48. The discussion afterward was, as you might imagine, almost exclusively focused on the termination of assistant coach Bernie Fine for allegations involving sexual abuse of boys during his long tenure at the school. To his credit, Boeheim took the initiative to face direct questions about his relationship with Fine and previous statements he had made supporting his longtime friend. If you stumbled into the Syracuse coach’s diatribe at a certain point, you may have thought the venerable coach was channeling Allen Iverson with the number of times he said the phrase “on my watch.” Of course, Boeheim set himself up for such criticism with his staunch previous statements of support of Fine, but we refuse to fault the guy completely for publicly expressing loyalty to someone he knew for nearly 50 years, even if he clearly should have softened his language. Let’s be clear — the previous statement is true only to the extent that Boeheim had no actual or potential knowledge of Fine’s alleged proclivities involving young boys, but we ultimately believe that he did not, and he will survive this imbroglio at SU with his reputation intact. [note: a couple of minutes from the presser is at the bottom of the post, but because ESPN never ceases to be annoying and has yet to join the 21st century in allowing embeddable links from YouTube, this is all that is currently available. For the entire thing, click here.]
Moving on to basketball, North Carolina’s Harrison Barnesis expected to be in uniform and at full strength for tonight’s game against Wisconsin in the second night of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in Chapel Hill. Coming off a loss at UNLV where Barnes rolled his right ankle and left the arena on crutches, there was considerable concern that the preseason All-American would not be available for two of Carolina’s most important games of the year — vs. the Badgers tonight, and at Kentucky on Saturday. It will be worth watching tonight to see how he looks in the opening few minutes — sometimes the mental hurdle of anticipating pain can be a worse outcome than the actual pain.
Speaking of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, remember when the ACC used to dominate this event to the point where it was a complete joke? From 1999 to 2008, the ACC won ten annual events in a row before the Big Ten finally broke through in 2009 and notched a 6-5 victory. Another 6-5 win last season brought us to the first night of this year’s Challenge, where the Big Ten used road victories by Northwestern (@ Georgia Tech) and Illinois (@ Maryland) to join Ohio State’s romp over Duke and Purdue’s win over Miami to get to a quick 4-2 lead. Heading into tonight, even if NC State, BC, and UNC all protect home court (not likely), the league will still have to grab two road wins at Michigan State, Minnesota or Nebraska to win the event, 7-5. The best-case scenario is that those three win at home and either Virginia Tech or Florida State earn an unlikely road win to tie things up at 6-6 this year. It says here that the Big Ten repeats last night’s path to a 4-2 victory and takes the Challenge, 8-4.
Some unfortunate injury news to report today. USC center DeWayne Dedmon, a promising seven-foot sophomore who has already dealt with one injury this season to his hand, will miss the next four to six weeks with a stress injury in his right foot. Even though Dedmon was only contributing 8/6 per game in the first few weeks of the season, the Trojans at 3-4 have proven that they can use all the help they can get. The athletic big man expects to be back in time for the Pac-12 conference season.
Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanJacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.
The major focus on day one of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge was the thrashing suffered by No. 5 Duke in Columbus at the hands of No. 2 Ohio State. But before the Buckeyes finished off their 85-63 beatdown of the Devils, fellow Big Ten schools Northwestern, Illinois, and Purdue had already completed at least nine-point victories of their own. The Big Ten now holds a 4-2 advantage over the ACC at the halfway point of the competition, and its teams are favored in five of the six remaining games on Wednesday. The Big Ten has only won this inter-conference challenge twice in its 12-year history, and never by more than a single win. We could be looking at the first-ever convincing Big Ten victory in the event, and it’s fitting given the strength and depth of the league this year.
While Beating Duke, OSU's Jared Sullinger Proves He's the Best Player in the Best Conference (Credit: Jay LaPrete, AP)
With Ohio State’s domination of Duke, the Big Ten clearly outclassed the ACC in a battle of two of its top teams. The Buckeyes improved to 7-0 on the season, one of five undefeated teams in the conference, and that includes Illinois and Northwestern, both of whom won convincing road games on Tuesday over Maryland and Georgia Tech, respectively. Neither team has looked spectacular as of yet, but both the Illini and Wildcats are building solid non-conference resumes to boost the Big Ten’s early RPI ratings. Purdue’s win over Miami improved the Boilermakers to 7-1 on the year, with a loss only to a very good Alabama team, and Robbie Hummel is leading the push for Matt Painter’s team to return again to the NCAA Tournament.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences and a microsite staffer for the Pac-12.
A Look Back
While a couple Mountain West teams took their lumps early in the week, the weekend was an unabashed success for the teams at the top of the conference, clearly highlighted by UNLV knocking off the nation’s #1 team, North Carolina, at the Las Vegas Invitational Saturday night. In the process, and with preseason co-favorite New Mexico struggling to find its stride early, the Runnin’ Rebels have grasped the mantle of sole favorite in the conference. The Lobos lost their second game of the season on Thanksgiving night, dropping an overtime game to Santa Clara at the 76 Classic, but they rebounded to sweep through an unimpressive consolation bracket in that tournament. And San Diego State confirmed the fact that they are, in fact, a contender not only for an NCAA Tournament bid, but a league title, despite losing the bulk of last year’s Sweet Sixteen team. While there are some other solid teams among the rest of the conference, these three have risen to the top as the cream of the conference, but the strength and depth of the conference can be seen in the MW’s collective 39-10 record (second in the nation behind only the Big Ten’s 63-10 record) including a 3-0 record against the ACC and a 6-2 record against the Pac-12.
Team of the Week
UNLV – Last week the Rebels probably should have been the pick here, but in the interest of mixing things up, I went with Boise State. This week Dave Rice’s team leaves no other option. Not only did the Rebels beat the #1 team in the country, they handled them pretty well, winning 90-80, outrebounding the vaunted Tar Heel front line (31.7 OR%, 78.6 DR%) and knocking down 13 threes (spread out over five players) to seal the deal. Last year at this time, the Rebels were coming off of an impressive championship performance at the 76 Classic, but were never really able to capture the energy they showed that weekend the rest of the season. It remains to be seen if this vintage of the Rebels has a staying power that last year’s team did not.
Player of the Week
Mike Moser, Sophomore, UNLV – Much like the TOTW award, Moser could have and probably should have taken down this award last week. This week, no such slight as he averaged 13.3 points and 13 rebounds per game, and stepped up his game even another notch in the UNC upset when he had 16 points, 18 boards, added six assists and even dropped in his first two three-pointers of the season (although, his shot selection may be one area he could still stand to work on). With his long arms, freaky athletic ability and feel for the game, you can expect to see his name here again this year.
Game of the Past Week
San Diego State 76 UC Santa Barbara 75 (OT) – The Aztecs traveled north to Santa Barbara to face a formidable foe Saturday night and needed a late 11-0 run in regulation to eventually force overtime, then an improbable ending to seal the victory in overtime. SDSU head coach Steve Fisher was the Michigan coach when Chris Webber infamously called a timeout that his team didn’t have in the waning moments of a national championship game. On Saturday night, Fisher’s Aztecs were on the receiving end of a similar play. With SDSU up three and the clock under ten seconds, UCSB’s Orlando Johnson lost control of the ball near midcourt. After Johnson recovered the ball in a scramble, an unidentified Gaucho called for timeout; unfortunately for them, they had just used their final timeout minutes before. Jamaal Franklin sank one of two technical free throws, effectively sealing what had been a great back and forth game. Point guard Xavier Thames had his best game as an Aztec, going for 20 points, ten rebounds and six assuists, while UCSB’s Johnson had 26 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Games of the Upcoming Week
Creighton @ San Diego State, 11/30, California @ San Diego State, 12/4 – The Aztecs stretch of incredibly tough non-conference opponents wraps up this week with visits from the favorites of the Missouri Valley and the Pac-12 conferences. By the end of the week, SDSU will have played six top-75 teams (according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings), and if they can continue the success they’ve had in the opening weeks of the season, they could earn serious consideration for a national ranking. Creighton’s sophomore wing Doug McDermott leads a Blue Jay team that is #1 in the country in effective field goal percentage, and the Aztecs defense will have to take a big step forward to slow down that offensive attack on Wednesday. Then on Saturday, the Golden Bears backcourt duo of Allen Crabbe and Jorge Gutierrez will be pitted against SDSU’s backcourt in a battle of the two team’s strengths.
Fun Stat of the Week
In honor not only of UNLV’s 13 three-pointers in their win over UNC on Saturday, but also of the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the three-point shot to the college game, it is worth noting that the Rebels hold the NCAA record for consecutive games with at least one made three-pointer, with 812 games. The Rebels are joined by Vanderbilt and Princeton as the only three teams in the country who have made at least one three-point field goal in every game since the rule was implemented, but since the Rebels have played more games than the other two schools, they currently hold the record.
Runnin' Rebels Fans Participated In An RTC-Approved Court Storm Saturday Night After UNLV Toppled #1 North Carolina.
1. UNLV (7-0): Okay, I’ve made it this far without bragging about the fact that I had UNLV hanging tough with UNC in the LVI final, several days before the matchup was even official and then again after the win over USC was final. Well, enough fake humility. Now that’s out of the way; more details from the upset over UNC. First, senior forward Chace Stanback set a career-high with 28 points and added ten revounds, a breakout performance for the team’s leading returning scorer who had been almost invisible the previous night (four points, two rebounds in 17 minutes against USC). Second, Oscar Bellfield was brilliant, scoring 16 points, knocking down four threes and handing out nine assists in what may have been the best game of his UNLV career; if he can continue that type of play, this Rebel team has got a bright future. Third, the three-headed center of Brice Massamba, Quintrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez was solid if unspectacular against the future pros along the Tar Heel front line – the three combined for 14 points, nine rebounds and a couple blocks, while deftly using 11 of their 15 fouls in 44 minutes of action. And finally:
A Look Ahead: Tough week for the Rebels, especially in the penumbra of the North Carolina victory; the team travels to UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday night (and RTC Live will be courtside there) and heads to Wichita State on Sunday.
2.San Diego State (7-1): It’s important to remember what the Aztecs are missing from last year’s Sweet 16 team. First, NBA lottery pick and freak-of-nature Kawhi Leonard’s double-double and lock down defense are gone. Senior forwards Billy White and Malcolm Thomas (21.7 highly efficient points and 12.5 rebounds between them) are also gone. And floor general-supreme and master of the clutch hoop, D.J. Gay, also gone. The only two returnees who played significant roles for last year’s club – Chase Tapley and James Rahon – were merely low-usage role players. This year, however, Tapley has stepped up and taken over not only a leadership position on this team, but also the role as go-to scorer. He has attempted double-digit field goals in six of the Aztecs first eight games, scored in double figures in the same number of games and done so while knocking down exactly half of his 46 three-point attempts to this point. Rahon hasn’t been quite so lucky yet, as an ankle injury kept him out of SDSU’s first three games and he has yet to really hit his stride yet. The three-point specialist did post a career-high 20 in the win over Long Beach State, but he’s struggled with his stroke from deep, hitting just three of his 20 attempts thus far.
A look ahead: We detailed the Aztecs’ tough stretch at home above in our Game of the Week section, but after this week, SDSU takes a significant step down in the remainder of its non-conference schedule, with games against Division III and NAIA teams mixed in with ho-hummers against Big West and WCC also-rans.
3. New Mexico (4-2): It hasn’t really been the start that New Mexico fans expected. The loss to in-state rival New Mexico State? Okay, it’s a hard-fought rivalry game; anything can happen. You can write off a loss there with any number of excuses or explanations. But the 76 Classic opening round loss to Santa Clara? That one was inexcusable. Defensive problems were exposed in that game (notably the fact that as athletic as Kendall Williams is, he had no chance chasing SCU’s Kevin Foster off multiple screens every possession), but give the Lobos credit – their defense looked better in the final two games of that competition, albeit against lesser competition. Further, the New Mexico offense showed signs of coming into its own, with freshman Hugh Greenwood clamping down the point guard position that he’ll likely hold for the next four years with a three-game, zero-turnover performance over the weekend. Moreover sophomore wing Tony Snell continued his vastly improved play, hitting 18 of 32 field goals (and 12/24 threes) on his way to a stellar weekend. Williams and Drew Gordon, the established stars on this club, still have yet to really get comfortable out there, but with Greenwood running the offense smoothly and Snell giving opposing defenses a third scoring option to worry about, expect the Lobo big guns to have a bit more room to operate.
A look ahead: A visit from Idaho State on Wednesday precedes a tough matchup in the MW/MVC challenge on Saturday when Missouri State visits Albuquerque.
4. Boise State (4-1): The Broncos got brought back down to earth a bit on Tuesday with a ten-point road loss at Long Beach State, but given that the 49ers are a high-caliber opponent, there is no shame in that loss for BSU. The Broncos bounced back Saturday with a 14-point win over Northern Illinois, and the trend of new players stepping up every night for head coach Leon Rice continued as sophomore guard Jeff Elorriaga went for 14 points on the night. Offensively, Elorriaga is nothing but a bomber. On the year he has attempted 20 field goals; 18 of those (and all six of his makes on the year) were from behind the arc. Kenny Buckner, a bruising jucotransfer, also picked things up this week, posting a season-high 14 points in the loss to LBSU. Buckner provides a good presence in the middle for the perimeter-oriented Broncos, averaging 5.4 rebounds in 18.8 minutes on the season.
A look ahead: The Broncos host a couple of MVC opponents this week, with Drake coming in on Wednesday night before Indiana State visits on Saturday. The latter game is the only official part of the MW/MVC Challenge.
5. Air Force (3-1): The Falcons only played one game this past week – a 76-73 overtime loss to Colorado – but they’ll hold on to the #5 spot this week, if only because, you know the Pac-12 is so strong that a loss to one of its member institutions is no big deal, right? Anyway, Michael Lyons continued his sparkling start to the season by going for 31 points, seven rebounds and three steals in the losing effort. Junior Todd Fletcher continued his solid play at the point by handing out six assists in the game; he’s had at least six assists in every game this season against Division I competition. And junior center Taylor Broekhuis has shown that as long as he can stay out of foul trouble (which he did not do in the Falcons’ season opener against Army) he can provide a strong interior presence for the Academy.
A look ahead: It’s another slow week for the Falcons, with only a trip to Des Moines on Saturday for a matchup with Drake ahead.
6. Wyoming (6-1): The Cowboys have lost the toughest game they’ve played this year – a road trip to face Green Bay, a team that is just 2-4 on the year – and have beaten no one of consequence (they’re best win is over Northern Colorado, another 2-4 team). But the mere fact that the Cowboys are beating these teams is an accomplishment. Last year, Wyoming lost to Northern Colorado by 14, to North Florida by 16 and to South Dakota by ten. While this team may not have the talent to measure up with the big boys at the top of the league, at the very least they are competing under new head coach Larry Shyatt. This week it was redshirt junior guard Luke Martinez, who misses all of last season with a broken elbow, who led the way, averaging 17 points per night and knocking down 16 out of 26 three-pointers in the Jim Thorpe Classic round-robin tournament in Laramie. Fellow guard Francisco Cruz pitched in with three consecutive double-figure games, while freshman forward Larry Nance, Jr. (does that name ring a bell?) had his best game of his young career on Saturday with nine rebounds and four steals, although his offensive game is still not quite ready for primetime. Also worth noting is that JayDee Luster, who struggled to take care of the ball under previous head coach Heath Schroyer, has handed out 26 assists this season while only turning it over three times.
A look ahead: Utah Valley on Wednesday won’t raise the bar much, and a visit from a poor Bradley team in the MW/MVC Challenge on Saturday means the Cowboys have a good chance to get to 8-1 before they face Colorado on 12/9.
7. Colorado State (4-2): The Rams won both of their games this week, but the fact remains that the team’s best win was in the opener over an average Montana team. With no real producers on this team over 6’6”, this team is going to go as far as its backcourt triumvirate of Wes Eikmeier, Jesse Carr and Dorian Green will take it. This week, in close wins over Texas-San Antonio and Manhattan in the NIT Season Tip-Off consolation bracket, Eikmeier and Green were strong, each scoring in double figures in both games (Eikmeier 20.5 PPG this week, Green 16 PPG). None of the three guards are true lead guards, but all share the duties at point; the problem is that none of the three are great at creating opportunities for teammates. Up front, Greg Smith and Will Bell are hard workers (the two combined to average 18.8 PPG and 10.5 RPG), but they could get overpowered even by a relatively small frontcourt like SDSU’s.
A look ahead: The Rams will get a couple of good tests this week, with Colorado visiting on Wednesday, followed by a trip to Northern Iowa on Saturday.
8. TCU (4-2): After a strong opening win in the Paradise Jam, the Horned Frogs dropped their final two games, with Ole Miss sending the team back home with an 11-point loss. But they bounced back on Saturday with an exciting one-point win at Houston. After Houston took a one-point lead with six seconds left, senior wing J.R. Cadot rebounded his own miss and scored with under a second left to give TCU their fourth win on the year. The 6’5” Cadot has taken it upon himself to hit the glass with abandon this season, leading the team in rebounds and generating offense for an team without a lot of offensive options by crashing the offensive boards. Juco transfer Adrick McKinney has also been helping out on the glass and while this is still a relatively undertalented team, head coach Jim Christian is getting the most out of the players he does have.
A look ahead: Lamar visits Fort Worth on Wednesday, with a trip to Evansville lined up on Saturday.
Breaking Down the Play is a regular feature during the season to provide in-depth analysis on the Xs and Os of an SEC team. Today’s Breaking Down the Play goes in depth on Kentucky’s ability to feed the post for a variety of options.
Kentucky’s ability to feed the post provides the Wildcats with a variety of options out of the Dribble Drive Motion Offense. The Cats were not establishing a post presence in their first several games of the year, but in the last two games they have made the inside out game a bigger part of their offensive strategy. In fact, Kentucky has run a designed play to give Terrence Jones the ball in the low post on the first play of the game in both of their last two contests. Kentucky has been extremely effective when making a pass to the post because of at least three different offensive options that open up for the Wildcats.
Below are the three plays from the game against Portland that showcase Kentucky’s options out of the post in the Dribble Drive offense:
Early Season Tournaments – The Conference Crossroads: Though the invitational tournaments come in three different formats, they provide A-10 members with the opportunity to face-off against competition from other conferences. If the tournament is a “destination”, all the better, as those often offer one or two games versus power conference opponents on a neutral court. Mixed format tournaments can provide the A-10 member with the chance to play a power conference opponent and then host a sub-regional mini-tournament afterward, as George Washington did for the Preseason NIT last season and Rhode Island did for the Legends Classic this season. Despite the road game incentive built into the RPI, the NCAA does little to discourage the power conference practice of guarantee games beyond officially “frowning” on it. Unless you are Xavier or Temple, your best chance to see a power conference team in a venue besides their home court (on the front end of a home-and-home agreement) is to join one of the early-season invitational tournaments. Though Xavier will spend Christmas in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic, virtually all early-season invitational tournaments concluded on or before Thanksgiving Weekend. How did the Atlantic-10 do?
The 21-13 record reveals both hope (Dayton, Richmond and Saint Louis) and fear (La Salle, Massachusetts and Rhode Island) as the season progresses, but overall, the 61.8% winning percentage will help the conference come Selection Sunday. Flyer fans can look to a surprise first-place finish in the Old Spice Classic that included wins over Wake Forest out of the ACC and Minnesota from the Big Ten, as signs that the Dayton program revival is ahead of schedule under rookie coach Archie Miller. Saint Louis rolled through the 76 Classic field, cutting through three power conference opponents in four days like a hot knife through butter. No one, not Boston College (ACC), Villanova (Big East) nor Oklahoma (Big 12) could get closer than 11 points to the Billikens in their final scores.
Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can also find him on Twitter @botskey.
The Week That Was
A Rough Week for the Big East: Conference teams lost 13 times this past week to the likes of UCF, Illinois State, Northeastern, and Richmond among others. Only three undefeated teams (Syracuse, Louisville, and Marquette) remain and of the 13 teams with at least one loss, only three (DePaul, Seton Hall and Georgetown) have not yet recorded a bad loss. As we enter December, the middle of the conference doesn’t appear to be as strong as in years past. The Big East has a handful of great teams and a host of teams that appear to be very average at this point. It’s a long season, but the chances of seeing nine or ten NCAA bids from this league are certainly not promising.
Syracuse and Marquette Take Home Titles: The Orange defeated Virginia Tech and Stanford at their second home, Madison Square Garden, to win the NIT Season Tip-Off while Marquette took home the Paradise Jam championship, albeit against a so-so field. Both teams struggled in their respective championship games, but managed to pull it out down the stretch, the sign of a good team. Each team’s schedule ramps up this week against a pair of top ten teams as Syracuse hosts Florida on Friday and Marquette visits in-state rival Wisconsin on Saturday.
Tim Abromaitis Tears ACL: There was awful news out of South Bend late last week when it was announced that Notre Dame fifth year senior forward Tim Abromaitis tore the ACL in his right knee during practice on Friday. The loss of Abromaitis is a huge blow to a Notre Dame team already with two neutral court losses on its resume and a pair of road games coming up this week. The Fighting Irish rotation is pretty much only seven deep now with only three or four reliable scorers. Point guard EricAtkins has played very well, but Scott Martin and Pat Connaughton will have to step up in a big way for Notre Dame to have any chance of making the NCAA Tournament.
With A Big Game Against Florida Looming Friday, How Will Jim Boeheim Keep His Team Focused Amid The Bernie Fine Scandal?
Syracuse (6-0) – After feasting on four cupcakes to begin the season, the Orange were impressive late in victories over Virginia Tech and Stanford in the NIT Season Tip-Off. They struggled for the better part of both games, but the ability of this team to flip the switch and play like the top five team it is is something that will suit them well outside of conference play. However, Syracuse had better play well for 40 minutes once the Big East season arrives or else they’ll lose more games than you think. Jim Boeheim’s team ranks in the top ten nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, one of only four teams at the moment. Syracuse has done a great job forcing turnovers leading to easy points in transition. Dion Waiters appears to have taken his game to the next level as a sophomore with transition play being a big part of that. How this team is affected by the Bernie Fine investigation, if at all, is something to watch over the next few weeks. This week: 11/29 vs. Eastern Michigan, 12/2 vs. #6 Florida.
Louisville (6-0) –Rick Pitino was successful last year by molding a team of role players into a cohesive unit with no superstars through an incredible focus on defense. Louisville looks to be following that same formula again in 2011-12. The Cardinals rank third nationally in defensive efficiency and only one opponent has scored more than 54 points. Of course, offense is Louisville’s biggest challenge. Peyton Siva is back, but Pitino’s rotation has been scaled back due to injuries to Wayne Blackshear and Mike Marra. Blackshear may be back but Marra is lost for the season with a torn ACL. Louisville struggled against Ohio and has another tricky game with Long Beach State on Monday. Freshman Chane Behanan (9/9) is stepping up in the absence of Blackshear while Gorgui Dieng has been a shot-blocking machine in the paint at three rejections per game. This is a big week for the Cardinals as their competition gets stronger. This week: 11/28 vs. Long Beach State, 12/2 vs. #20 Vanderbilt. Read the rest of this entry »