Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.30.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 30th, 2011

  1. Opening night in conference play was an exciting one, so let’s jump right into it with the game of the night, where Stanford held off UCLA, needing a Josh Huestis block of an attempt by Lazeric Jones to preserve a 60-59 victory. After giving up the first four points of the game, Stanford bounced back with a 15-2 run and never again trailed, although UCLA had multiple attempts to regain the lead in the second half. Jones led the charge for the Bruins, reeling off a career-high 26 points, but it was a couple of threes by Stanford freshman Chasson Randle wrapped around another three by sophomore Anthony Brown that broke a late tie and gave Stanford a five-point lead with five minutes to play. Randle had struggled on the night, hitting just one of his ten other attempts from the field and getting exposed on the UCLA pick and roll throughout the evening, but came up big down the stretch. Prior to the game, Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins announced that junior guard Gabe Harris would miss the rest of the season after having surgery on his injured right knee. Harris had been averaging over 13 minutes per game off the bench.
  2. Up the road a stretch, California had to withstand a late charge from Maurice Jones and USC to pull out a four-point win. Jones hit three 3-pointers in the final four and a half minutes to bring the Trojans back from a 16-point deficit, and were right there, just a point back with the clock running down when Trojan sophomore center Dewayne Dedmon swatted Jorge Gutierrez’s layup attempt. However, the ball wound up in the hands of Allen Crabbe who, in his own words, “just threw it up” from behind the three-point line and was fouled by little-used Eric Stangis. Crabbe hit all three free throws and the Bears escaped. If there was ever a game for Gutierrez to shine in, it was this gritty, hard-fought game, and he certainly stood out, leading his team with 13 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and four steals. However, his uncharacteristic two-of-seven night from the line was crucial in keeping USC in the game. Even more concerning for Mike Montgomery was his team getting absolutely crushed on the glass, allowing USC to grab 50% of the available offensive rebounds and 74.1% of the defensive rebounds. As expected, sophomore forward Richard Solomon did not play for Cal due to a stress fracture in his foot.
  3. Things were significantly less dramatic in the state of Washington last night, although for a brief moment it looked like Oregon State was on its way back from a 20-point deficit to make the Huskies sweat a bit down the stretch. After a wild Ahmad Starks three-pointer brought back to within 83-80, U-Dub closed the game on a 12-0 run to finish off the Beavers. The big story in the game was the played of Husky freshman guard Tony Wroten, who had 26 efficient points on 10-16 shooting, nine rebounds, four assists, just two turnovers, and hit five of his seven free throw attempts. While Wroten has now scored 20 or more in four of his last five games, this was far and away his best game in a young career. Lorenzo Romar also got significant production from the rest of his roster, with five other players – including sophomore wing C.J. Wilcox, who came off the bench for the first time this season – scoring in double figures.
  4. Perhaps the biggest surprise on the night in the conference was Oregon going into Spokane and taking apart Washington State, ending the Cougars six-game winning streak in spectacular fashion. While senior forward Olu Ashaolu gets the honorifics after scoring 23 points and grabbing ten rebounds, it was a total team effort for the Ducks, as they shot a ridiculous 78.6 eFG% and controlled the glass. As Craig Powers at CougCenter points out, Oregon scored about 1.31 points per possession on the night, a number that is a bit out of whack since the Ducks spent the last several minutes trying to run out the clock. In the first half, OU scored almost 1.8 points per possession. There’s a long way to go in the season, but this had to be a concerning outing for Washington State head coach Ken Bone.
  5. When Utah tips off its first conference game in the Pac-12 on Saturday at Colorado, it will do so without senior guard Chris Hines. Hines broke his left thumb three weeks ago against BYU, and has been playing through the injury for the Utes last three games (including its only two wins of the season), but head coach Larry Krystkowiak says he can barely even catch the ball, so Hines will sit for the time being. Unfortunately for the under-talented Utes, Hines’ backups are banged up as well, as walk-on Alex Mortenson is out after suffering a concussion in practice this week and junior Cedric Martin has been struggling with plantar fasciitis this week and will be a game-time decision on Saturday.
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Big 12 Morning Five: 12.30.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 30th, 2011

  1. As a walk-on for more than two years, Bubu Palo has been a bargain for Iowa State. Palo emerged as a reliable backup point guard, and it’s not a stretch to say he may be the most underrated role player in the league. Thanks to those contributors, the Cyclones have placed Palo on scholarship, and we can’t think of a more rewarding late holiday present. Palo, who grew up in Ames, learned after the end of the fall semester that he won’t have to pay for school this spring. So far, he’s averaging more than two assists per game in 2011-12, and he’s also a tenacious defender with a knack for doing the little things on the court. That sounds like a scholarship player to us.
  2. Jeff Goodman at CBS wrote this recap of the Big 12 season so far to prepare us for conference play next week. Interestingly, he chose Baylor above Missouri, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that the Tigers have been the trendy pick in the media to win this conference. Right now, it does at least look like a three-team race between BU, MU and Kansas, though it’s impossible to tell how the year will shake out. Texas A&M has struggled even since Khris Middleton returned, but Billy Kennedy should eventually get things rolling in College Station.
  3. Frank Martin is always great for a sound bite. This time, he made some interesting comments about his team’s offensive play, and he’s actually quite pleased with the way this team has scored. “I get a kick when I read people saying we play bad offense and we’re averaging almost 80 points a game. If we play good offense, how much would we score?” You heard the man: Kansas State can score this year. It’s not just a defensive stalwart. Rodney McGruder is a full-fledged star scorer, and Will Spradling has been the answer at the point. The Wildcats have a ton of different offensive options both in the starting lineup and on the bench, so it’d be a mistake to label this team as a gritty, offensively-challenged group.
  4. With Indiana and Louisville both losing this week, Missouri is now one of just four unbeaten teams in Division I basketball. How much does that mean exactly? Well, it means almost nothing at this point. The Tigers will play their first true road game of the season tonight at Old Dominion, and we’ll find out if MU has improved in this area after finishing 1-7 on the road in Big 12 play last year. If MU can turn into road warriors, who knows how long this little run could last? To stay undefeated entering a College Gameday showdown with Kansas on February 4, the Tigers would have to win at ODU, Kansas State and Baylor, among others. It’s possible, sure, but the Tigers will probably falter at some point before that game.
  5. Texas Tech isn’t a good basketball team right now, and people don’t like to watch bad teams lose. That’s why the TTU athletic department is offering one-dollar tickets for an upcoming game against Southeastern Louisiana. That’s not a bad deal, especially if the Red Raiders can score a win against an overmatched opponent. Apparently, this promotion was also in play during a recent win over Cal State Bakersfield, and it’ll be interesting to see how long it lasts. Our guess is the ticket prices will probably rise just a tad once Billy Gillispie turns this program around.
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SEC Morning Five: 12.30.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 30th, 2011

  1. The plan going into Vanderbilt’s win over Marquette on Thursday night was to ease Festus Ezeli into action. Ezeli played limited minutes (17), but looked good scoring eight points and grabbing seven rebounds. Despite his positive play, head coach Kevin Stallings says that Ezeli isn’t yet at 100%. “[Festus] has looked better the last few days,” Stallings said. “I would probably say he’s at about 75% and may be starting to inch above that. We’ll just keep trying to give Festus some time and see how it goes.” The play of both Ezeli and the entire Commodores team last night has again brought up the question of who this Vandy team really is. Vanderbilt hasn’t looked the part of a Top 25 team for most of the year, but lived up to its preseason hype in the win over the Golden Eagles. The Commodores’ inconsistent play and the return of Ezeli to full health remains the most intriguing storyline going into conference play in the SEC.
  2. Louisville plans to put Kentucky’s freshman point guard Marquis Teague to the test on Saturday. Although Teague had begun to play better of late, he reverted to his old ways in committing six turnovers in UK’s win over Lamar on Wednesday. Before he started talking about turkeys during the Marquette and Vanderbilt game, ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes said, “Louisville will extend pressure and try to wear down Marquis Teague. They’ll try to get into Teague.” Teague, of course, thinks he knows how to handle the pressure. “The easiest thing with the press is if you pass through it, you don’t have to waste energy,” he said. “It’s when you try to dribble through it that you get tired.” Which version of Teague will show up? We will find out on Saturday if the young point guard is up to the test against what is likely the best defensive pressure the Cats will face all season long.
  3. The guys at A Sea of Blue make the case that the Kentucky and Louisville rivalry is the best in the nation. While conventional wisdom says North Carolina and Duke create the premier matchup of the college basketball season, they also meet two to three times per season. In a typical year, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils split the season series, and go forward without real bragging rights over the other fan base. But with Kentucky and Louisville, “you have 365 days, more or less, to suffer at the hands of your rivals. If this all sounds extreme, it is, and insanely exciting. And that’s why this rivalry is the best. There are no half-measures, no splits, no draws — only victory, and defeat.” And as ASoB points out, “being the loser is P-A-I-N-F-U-L, especially when you live behind enemy lines.” A lot is on the line on Saturday, and we will all benefit by witnessing a great game filled with the emotion and passion of a true rivalry.
  4. Auburn coach Tony Barbee has been pleased with the Tigers’ defensive effort , but acknowledges a lot of work needs to be done on the offensive end. “Offensively, we were anemic tonight,” Barbee said. “Hopefully, we can chalk it up to being an off night. More of a concern was we didn’t have guys make plays when they had an opportunity to make plays.” Unfortunately for Auburn, the offensive struggles are more of a season long trend than simply an off night. The Tigers are currently shooting 44.8% from the field, and just 33.8% from beyond the arc on the season. Barbee’s squad ranks #233 in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is the worst in the SEC. I hate to be the bearer of bad news for Auburn fans, but the Tigers’ defense isn’t that good either, ranking 11th out of 12 teams in the SEC in adjusted defensive efficiency. Not a good sign heading into SEC play.
  5. Jarnell Stokes has reached celebrity status in Knoxville, and he hasn’t even played his first game yet. After spending the day signing autographs and talking with Volunteer fans, Stokes said, “I’m no savior, I’m a basketball player. But I’ve always been a winner, and I plan on being a piece of what Coach [Cuonzo] Martin is putting together here. The fans here, man, they’re great. Today was awesome.” The Vols could use a little extra boost to push them over the edge. All six of Tennessee’s losses this season have been by 10 points or less. Four of the losses were decided by less than five points. One little addition (or one major addition in the case of Stokes) could be the difference between a win or another close loss for Tennessee.
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Big East Morning Five: Rutgers v. Florida Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 30th, 2011

  1.  There were just three games involving Big East teams played last night but, with apologies to Vanderbilt‘s surprising shellacking of Marquette, there was one game that stood out and that was the stunning upset Rutgers pulled off last night when they beat #9 Florida in double overtime. The victory was monumental enough that we figured we should devote a full post to what we learned about Mike Rice’s young team last night and what it means. So enjoy our Morning Five…er, Six.
  2. In the case of Rutgers and former guard Mike Rosario, the Scarlet Knights got the last laugh. As we noted yesterday, Rosario left Rutgers because he wanted to put himself in a position to win games quickly, and yesterday was supposed to be his vindication. Well, he only played 14 minutes, scoring five points on six shots, and he left with some crow to eat on the trip back to Gainesville. Sure, the game seems more like an aberration than a burgeoning trend and Florida is probably still a better bet to win more games while Rosario is still in school, but it must be nice for Rutgers’ fans who called Rosario a “bum” during pre-game warmups and serenaded the local product with chants of “Jersey hates you”. Rosario was supposed to be the savior of the Scarlet Knights’ program, but it looks like the program will be just fine without him.
  3. Rutgers freshman Eli Carter might not be Bernard King, but he is going to be really good. Classmate and teammate Jerome Seagears said Carter reminded him of the Knicks’ great and despite the obvious size differences and small sample size, Carter certainly did his best impression last night, finishing with 31 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds. It did take him 24 shots to score his points, but he played a whopping 46 minutes and the 6-foot-2 combo guard could not be stopped by anyone Billy Donovan tried to put on him. Carter wasn’t the most heralded guard in Rice’s ballyhooed recruiting class, but he has now scored double-digit points in all but two games this season and he is chipping in nearly three rebounds per game to boot. He also seems to be more assertive when it comes to taking shots, and while this could backfire if the freshman gets too confident, he has the ability to take over games when he is hot — like he was last night. He is still learning, and his assist-to-turnover ratio leaves a lot to be desired, but he still doesn’t have 15 collegiate games under his belt and he just carried his team to its biggest win its years on national television against a Top-10 opponent. Not that it really needs to be said anymore, but keep an eye on this kid.
  4. On this night, the Scarlet Knights were the embodiment of their coach’s spirit. Much has been made of Mike Rice’s decision to come to Piscataway and try to rebuild a program with barely any notable basketball history. But Rice has attacked the job with seemingly limitless energy and determination and there is now reason to believe his vision is beginning to take shape on the court. His team showed a similar work ethic and never-say-die attitude last night, coming back from not one but two deficits in regulation and the first overtime, including a seven-point gap in the final 2:48 of regulation. Every coach in any sport tries to give his team an identity but Rice has molded his team in his own identity. The Scarlet Knights are still very young and still don’t look like a tournament team quite yet, but I seriously doubt anyone will overlook the team full of overachievers and scrappers again this season. Rice has practically made a past time of playing up his team’s underdog role and his team has embraced it. The Gators are a legitimate contender this season and every time it looked like they would use their superior talent to pull away, Rutgers kept the game within reach, and a lot of that has to do with the mentality their coach has instilled in them since the start of his tenure.
  5. Speaking of Rice’s rebuilding efforts, his plan appears to be ahead of schedule. Don’t look now but the Scarlet Knights have won their last four games after last night’s thriller and their young players are starting to gel together just in time for conference play. There aren’t many teams in the conference with an exciting trio of freshman guards like Carter, Seagears, and Myles Mack, all of whom played more than 30 minutes in the win. And redshirt freshman Kadeem Jack might be the most talented of all of Rice’s young players, and he is just now getting back onto the court after injury sidelined him for all of last year. If he can pick things up quickly and play at 100 percent, the Scarlet Knights have a really nice nucleus to build around, and you better bet Rice plans to keep building as fast as possible. The team doesn’t have any committed recruits for the Class of 2012 yet, but Rice doesn’t have many scholarships to hand out and he does get the services of Kansas State transfer Wally Judge next season as well. A quick look at the box score from Rutgers’ games show that the team will return every meaningful contributor from this year’s team and Rice is too good a coach to let the team rest on its laurels now. The victory over Villanova last season was nice but this win over a team as talented as Florida is a real statement victory that Rice can now hang his hat on and point to when he tells recruits that Rutgers is ready to compete on a national level.
  6. But let’s also remember not to get ahead of ourselves. If you looked when I told you not to, you will see that while Rutgers has indeed strung together four consecutive wins, opponents like Stony Brook and New Jersey Institute of Technology aren’t exactly worthwhile competition. If you kept looking, you will also see that Rutgers has losses to perennial powerhouses like Illinois State and Princeton on their resume. The win over Florida shows that the inexperienced team has plenty of potential, but this season has proven that potential isn’t always realized every game of the season. The Scarlet Knights played a rather mediocre non-conference schedule, and now they have the luxury of playing three ranked teams and West Virginia twice before the calendar even hits February, and it won’t get easier after that either. Freshmen, especially ones called upon to play as many minutes as Seagears, Mack, and Carter play, are prone to mercurial moments. One game Carter is going off for 31 points, but two games before against Stony Brook, he scored just 11 points and had five turnovers to one assist. Rutgers can play with anyone in the country because they work hard and they fight for the entire game, but they still aren’t deep enough or experienced enough to make the NCAA Tournament, no matter how watered down the Big East is this season.
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Morning Five: 12.30.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 30th, 2011

  1. For a freshman who had minimal impact in his one semester on the court Khem Birch is making quite a bit of news. Birch, who decided to transfer from Pittsburgh at the end of the fall semester, has released the list of the schools that he is consideringFlorida, UNLV, Gonzaga, Washington, Xavier, and New Mexico State. Birch also attempted to clear the air on his departure saying that he “didn’t think it was the best place” for him and that his departure was not due to disagreements with Jamie Dixon or what people around him were telling him to do. One school that is noticeably absent from Birch’s list is Missouri after there were rumors circulating that the school had “tampered with” Birch before obtaining a release based on tweets from Jeff Goodman (#1 and #2) earlier in the day. Frank Haith denied these allegations, but it is interesting that Missouri was mentioned as a leader for Birch on December 19 and now they are not even on his list.
  2. Pat Forde published an excellent column yesterday on St. Louis coach Rick Majerus discussing the program he inherited and how he helped build it up into the borderline top 25 team that it is today as well as his difficulties dealing with the declining health of his mother. Surprisingly one thing that Forde did not touch upon was Majerus’ health including the cardiac surgery he had over the summer in Salt Lake City. Outside of that missing element this is a good review on Majerus and the St. Louis program in case you have not been paying close attention to Majerus after his stint at ESPN. If the Billikens continue to perform at the level they have so far this season, this will be the first of many pieces on Majerus that you will be seeing in the coming months.
  3. Those of you who remember the 1994-95 Duke season will remember the name Pete Gaudet. A long-time assistant to Mike Krzyzewski, Gaudet took over midway through the regular season when Krzyzewski took a temporary leave of absence to deal with back issues. Gaudet guided the Blue Devils to a 4-15 record, which included the memorable double overtime loss to North Carolina, during his temporary stint as head coach. Duke eventually had the NCAA assign these wins and losses (mostly the latter) to Gaudet. St. John’s appears to be taking the opposite approach with Mike Dunlap, who is acting as an interim coach while Steve Lavin, as the NCAA and Big East have advised the school to continue adding the victories and losses under Lavin’s name even if Dunlap is coaching. We are not sure how the NCAA will handle this at the end of the season, but we imagine that there are large groups of people in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Lexington, Kentucky, who will not view this favorably even if it is only temporary.
  4. It is a little late for Christmas, but we think that Connecticut will be happy with a belated $4.5 million gift from Peter and Paula Werth towards the construction of a new basketball practice facility. The donation puts the school halfway to its goal of raising $30 million for the new facility. This isn’t the first major donation that the school has received as you may remember the Burton family donating several million dollars to the school then sending a scathing letter to the school demanding their money back before eventually agreeing to let the school keep the previously donated money. The Werths made their family fortune through Chemwerth, which manufactures active pharmaceutical ingredients that are sold to pharmaceutical companies worldwide. Interestingly, neither Peter nor Paula attended UConn, but all three of their children did and the Werths have been season ticket holders for football and both men’s and women’s basketball. We are assuming that they will get their season tickets comped by the school from now on.
  5. Since this is the last Morning Five of 2011 it is a good time to look back at the past calendar year and look forward to the coming year. Luke Winn recaps the past year by ranking the top 10 stories of 2011 and as usual is right on the money. We are sure several people will argue that “Jimmertime!” should be higher on the list, but when we believe that when we look back on this year in 20 years at least three of the four stories above it will definitely be more memorable (perhaps not #3). While Winn is looking back, Seth Davis is looking forward to the new year and offers up 10 bold predictions for 2012. As you would expect these are not as detailed as Winn’s recap stories since they are basically just educated guesses, but Davis does make some predictions that will certainly get a few fan bases worked up.
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Night Line: Rutgers Showing Flashes of a Promising Future

Posted by EJacoby on December 30th, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. 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.

For most of the last decade, Rutgers has been an afterthought of the Big East conference, synonymous with the bottom of the standings. The Scarlet Knights haven’t finished better than 5-13 in Big East play since 2006. But since Mike Rice was hired as head coach last season, the team has shown improvements and the losing culture of the program could be making its way out. On Thursday night, the Knights took down the ninth-ranked Florida Gators at home, providing flashes of great basketball and sending students to rush the court. With a young core of players who will all be back next season, Rutgers may finally be building a successful team that fans can look forward to watching.

Eli Carter Led Rutgers' Upset of Florida and the Ensuing RTC (AP/M. Evans)

This Rutgers team features a talented group of freshmen that already has made its mark on the program, as rookie guards Eli Carter, Myles Mack, and Jerome Seagears are three of the four leading scorers on the team. Carter scores a team-leading 12.8 PPG after going off for 31 points in the double-overtime win over Florida, while Mack (10.8 PPG) hit several clutch three-point shots as part of his 14 points in the win. Seagears leads the team with 2.4 assists and adds 8.2 points per contest. In addition to the frosh guards, the Scarlet Knights’ other leading scorers are sophomores Gilvydas Biruta (10.9 PPG) and Mike Poole (7.2 PPG), and junior Dane Miller (7.2 PPG). Strong forward Biruta is the team’s leading rebounder (6.0 RPG), while Miller contributes across the board to the tune of 5.6 boards, 2.2 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.9 blocks per game while shooting 56% from the field. Everyone will be back next season and should improve, giving the Knights and their fans plenty to look forward to.

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Big 12 Alley-Oops and Airballs: Week Seven

Posted by cwilliams on December 29th, 2011

Big 12 Alley-Oops and Airballs is a weekly article examining what’s hot and what’s not in Big 12 basketball.

I like to think of the holidays as the eye of the storm that is the college basketball season. We have blown past the pre-season tournaments and early marquee match-ups. During the holidays, we have fewer games and fewer prestigious opponents. But now that the holiday season is coming to an end, we are thrown back into the storm. Gear up folks, conference play is almost here.

Alley-Oops

  • Pierre Jackson: On December 23, Pierre Jackson returned to his hometown of Las Vegas as Baylor battled West Virginia. Jackson made the most of his homecoming, dropping 23 on the Mountaineers and leading his team to an exciting overtime victory. That alone is enough to earn you an “alley-oop”. But Jackson wasn’t done. Last night, against Mississippi State, Jackson scored the game-winning bucket with 28 seconds left, securing Baylor’s 13-0 record, the best start in school history. While the preseason projections focused mostly on Perry Jones and Quincy Acy, Jackson is making his name known on a talented Baylor squad.
  • Oklahoma Sooners: Lon Kruger faced a daunting task this preseason, having the job of turning a depleted and underachieving Sooner squad into winners. Kruger has not blinked, however, and neither have the Sooners, as they are off to an impressive 9-1 record. The Sooners have beat Washington State, Arkansas, and Houston. Their lone loss came against a talented Saint Louis team. The key? Rebounding. The Sooners rank 4th in the nation in rebounds per game, with 42.2 per game, while gathering 44.3% of possible offensive rebounds (#3 in the nation) and holding opponents to only 29.7% of offensive rebounds. The Sooners will be tested in their game against Cincinnati tonight, and when they open conference play at Missouri.
  • Perfection: Four teams remain undefeated in the world of college basketball world. Two of them are in the Big 12, Baylor and Missouri. According to my calculations, that’s half of the teams. Not too shabby, Big 12.

Airballs

  • Texas A&M: The holiday season has not been kind to the Aggies. The Aggies fell hard against Florida losing by 20. Five days later, the Aggies hosted Rice, and were shocked by the Owls in a 65-58 loss, snapping A&M’s 67-game home nonconference win streak.
  • Le’Bryan Nash’s Homecoming: When Oklahoma State traveled to Dallas last night, Nash’s hometown, to take on Southern Methodist, expectations were high for Nash’s return home. Nash, however, was quiet all night, going 2-10, dropping only 4 points, and playing sparingly when the game got close. Yes, this is a bit unfair, as sometimes homecomings can be ruined by higher expectations. It didn’t help that SMU was triple-teaming Nash at one point, either.
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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume VI

Posted by jbaumgartner on December 29th, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish on Mondays throughout the season. This week’s was delayed due to the lack of college basketball over the weekend. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….defenders who are willing to risk being the #1 highlight on SportsCenter. Two brave Texas Longhorns bit the bullet last week against North Carolina, and they paid a hefty price. First Dexter Strickland went up and over his Texas defender for the poster slam. Then, P.J. Hairston put on a hit that would make NFL safeties smile before throwing down a one-hander.

I LOVED….the strong early showing from the Big Ten. I’m the first to admit that I don’t love the style of play from this conference, but it’s nice to see so many teams with quality wins early in the year. On the top of that list is Indiana, which finally dropped its first game on the road against Michigan State (more than excusable). If Tom Crean’s revitalized Hoosiers can put together a decent conference season and Michigan State continues its strong recovery, you could be looking at a lot of high seeds from the Big Ten come March.

Crean Has Turned Indiana Around

I LOVED….a name like Fab Melo of Syracuse. First off, you can’t go wrong when you are a seven-foot Brazilian named Fab. Combine that with an identical last name to the program’s national championship hero/NBA star, and it’s almost too much. And if Fab puts up more games like the 12-point, 10-block, and 7-rebound performance against Seton Hall, Cuse fans will be chanting his name plenty by the end of the season.

I LOVED….the Georgetown Hoyas setting me up again. After Wednesday’s big win against Louisville on the road, they’re 11-1 and rolling. So just like the last few years, I will get too excited, expect big things, think this year is different, and end up frustrated with them all season and still picking them too far in my bracket. Oh well, at least I’m prepared early this time around.

I LOVED….this feel-good moment around the holidays, with UConn’s Andre Drummond giving back his scholarship to teammate Michael Bradley, who initially sacrificed it so that UConn could have room for the star recruit.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Who Is The Favorite?

Posted by AMurawa on December 29th, 2011

Each week through conference play, we’ll offer up a couple of different takes on the biggest question of the week in the Pac-12. This week’s topic: After non-conference play, who is the favorite to win the Pac-12 regular season title?

 

Connor Pelton:

In a conference full of mediocre teams (at best), Oregon State is as good a pick as any to win the Pac-12. Led by the conference’s leading scorer in Jared Cunningham, the Beavers are off to a 10-2 start. Their only losses have come against Vanderbilt and Idaho, which is a major improvement from last season’s missteps against teams like Texas Southern, Utah Valley, and George Washington. But even though the Pac-12 is in a major down year, Oregon State will be competing against teams much more athletic than their past few opponents (Chicago State, Portland State, Howard, etc.). So the question is, can the Beavers match up physically with the Pac-12’s biggest and best teams?

Against the previous terrible opponents that we have already mentioned, the Beavers were able to use their three main big men (Joe Burton, Angus Brandt, and Devon Collier) as facilitators around the perimeter. Burton would play the role of “point-center”, dishing the ball around and occasionally driving down the lane when it was open. Brandt would hang out in the corner and drain threes until the defense realized he could shoot, and Collier would just roam around and rebound whenever a shot went up. Unfortunately for the trio, they are going to need to do a lot more work in the paint when they face big and strong Pac-12 teams.

That is why the Beaver bigs will be the key to a conference championship. Cunningham will knock down his jumpers and get the crowd going with a couple highlight-reel dunks while Ahmad Starks and Roberto Nelson will hit their shots and play solid defense. But the games are going to come down to rebounding and points in the paint. So far this season they have been terrible in those categories, but have gotten away with it because of the caliber of the opponent. If they improve, a possible NCAA bid and conference crown is in the picture. If they do not, the Beavers will be headed to another disappointing season in Corvallis.

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Pac-12 Reset As Conference Play Tips Off Tonight

Posted by AMurawa on December 29th, 2011

Yesterday we looked back at non-conference play and picked out some of the highlights of the first couple months of the season. Today, as conference play gets ready to tip-off, we look forward to what we expect to happen from here until Selection Sunday. Prior to the start of the season, we took a guess at things like conference standings and All-Pac-12 teams based on limited information. Now, we’ve got twelve or thirteen games upon which to base our next set of guesses, but given the state of affairs in the conference so far, may be no closer to having a good idea what is going to happen from here on out than we were back in November. Nevertheless, here goes:

Projected Standings

  1. California 13-5 – While every team in the conference is flawed, the Golden Bears are slightly less flawed than the rest, provided Richard Solomon can return from his injury, Harper Kamp can remain relatively healthy and freshman David Kravish continues to improve. Their quartet of guards (Jorge Gutierrez, Allen Crabbe, Justin Cobbs and Brandon Smith) is the best in the league and head coach Mike Montgomery has a way of squeezing every bit of production out of his players.

    Mike Montgomery, California

    With Mike Montgomery At The Helm And A Talented Backcourt, The Golden Bears Are The Slight Favorite In The Pac-12 (photo credit: Christine Cotter)

  2. Stanford 12-6Johnny Dawkins’ team will prove it is for real, but it may not have the experience or the single elite player capable of scoring with confidence in clutch situations to actually win the title. Chasson Randle or even Dwight Powell could grow into that type of player, but it may be a year or more away from happening. The Cardinal travel to Berkeley on the final day of the regular season in what could be a game rife with title implications.
  3. Arizona 12-6 – It seems like everybody is just waiting for Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson to turn it on, take over this team and turn the Wildcats into an explosive offensive force. They’re talented enough to make that happen, but 13 games into the season, it is looking like Solomon Hill, Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry are going to have to continue as the go-to guys for Sean Miller. And while those guys are nice players, they are all more suited to the role of contributors rather than stars, at least on teams who hope to win a conference title. However, the fact that the Wildcats only have to play Cal, Stanford, Oregon State and Oregon once each is definitely a bonus.
  4. Oregon State 11-7Craig Robinson’s has an exciting and young squad that may have only scratched the surface of its talent so far. However, given their history of losing games that they have no business losing, they’ve got to be in the same “prove-it” category that Stanford occupies. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if the quintet of Ahmad Starks, Jared Cunningham, Devon Collier, Joe Burton and Angus Brandt turns itself to be the most talented starting five in the conference. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pierre Jackson: Baylor’s Unlikely Answer in the Clutch

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 29th, 2011

On a team with pre-season All American Perry Jones III, senior Quincy Acy, and heralded freshman Quincy Miller (one of the nation’s most talked about frontlines), Baylor relied on 5’10″ junior college transfer Pierre Jackson to beat Mississippi State on Wednesday night. Beating the Bulldogs did not come easily as the Bears struggled to find their shooting stroke in the midst of a defensive slugfest. The #5 team in the country shot 21.4% from the field in the last 20 minutes, but somehow, Baylor found a way to win. The Bears found Jackson.

Pierre Jackson goes up for two to win the game for Baylor (Credit: AP photo/Matt Strasen)

Jackson started out the game with 10 points on four of six shooting, but would miss his first six shots of the second half including a layup that would have tied the game with 2:25 on the clock. Even after his poor start in the last twenty minutes of the game, he wasn’t afraid to have the ball in his hands with under a minute to play and a tie ball game. Neither was his coach.

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Checking In On… the Summit League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 29th, 2011

Charlie Parks is the RTC correspondent for The Summit League. You can also find his musings online on Twitter @CharlieParksRTC.

Ed. Note – This post was written in advance of Wednesday’s action.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was

  • Oakland’s Reggie Hamilton was named as the Lou Henson Award national player of the week (the Award presented to the top Mid-Major Player in Division I college basketball) by CollegeInsider.com.  This is very good publicity for the Summit League and Oakland. The Golden Grizzlies are trying to show once again that they are the best team in the conference, and Reggie Hamilton just might will them to another championship with the way he is performing.
  • Alex Young is on the verge of 2,000 career points, and as the current active points leader in the NCAA, it is worth noting. This is a huge accomplishment for Young, who will join just 10 other players in conference history to reach 2,000 points. Young will likely finish in the top five all-time in Summit League history.
  • John Hollinger of ESPN Insider debates who is the better point guard, Nate Wolters or Reggie Hamilton. We have a chance to find out very soon (see “Looking Ahead”).

Reggie Hamilton Of Oakland Is Off To An Outstanding Start (AP)

Power Rankings

Records reflect only games against Division I opponents.

  1. Oakland (8-6, 2-0) — The only reason I still have Oakland at the top is because nothing has changed as far as conference standings go in the past two weeks. Because of the Holidays there have been very few games played by anyone, but the next two weeks could decide the conference altogether. Back-to-back blowout losses to Arizona and then Western Michigan had me worried. There are other teams like ORU and South Dakota State playing much better. But I could not move them down when Reggie Hamilton continues to dominate the NCAA (23.0 PPG, .423 FG%, .893 FT%), placing him third in the nation in scoring, right behind Creighton’s Doug McDermott, who may just be the next Jimmer, and is making his own case for Player of the Year. If Hamilton was in the Missouri Valley, he may be getting the same attention as well. Hamilton has Oakland ranked no. 24 in the country in overall offense and the Golden Grizzlies continue to prove they have lost little from the past two dominant seasons.
  2. Oral Roberts (9-4, 1-0) — The Golden Eagles enjoyed one of their best two weeks of success in team history—a half court heave that won the game against UALR, followed by a slim loss to a very good Gonzaga team, and capped off with blowout wins against No.15 Xavier and Texas Tech. The Golden Eagles looked shaky at times during their tough non-conference schedule, but the bottom line is they’re now at 10 wins, all against quality opponents, and very high confidence going into the conference. I expect the Golden Eagles to chew up the Summit. Although they have a brutal upcoming two weeks against the Dakotas and Oakland. They need these next few games badly. The conference will in fact be locked up by somebody in late January, and the Golden Eagles have hit their stride at the right time. Read the rest of this entry »
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