Before the season began, Iowa State was one of the Big 12’s most intriguing cases. After a losing season, coach Fred Hoiberg banked on four transfers to lead him to the promised land. It worked. The Cyclones are all but headed to the NCAA Tournament now, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still an underdog. Royce White, a major part of Team Transfer this year, say it’s a role the team enjoys playing. That’s a good thing, especially since ISU will visit Missouri on an emotional Senior Day tonight.
Hoiberg isn’t the only coach not afraid to take transfers. His opponent tonight, Frank Haith, has a Team Transfer of his own set to become eligible for the 2012-13 season. Of course, I wrote about this very topic a few months ago, and it’s interesting to revisit. In terms of “The Transfer Effect,” Iowa State has clearly reaped the benefits of Division I transfers. Maybe it will work for Haith, too. We’ll just have to find out.
In addition to several transfers, MU will also welcome back Laurence Bowers to its frontcourt next season. Unfortunately, that’s because he’s sitting out this season with a knee injury. The forward will now watch his fellow senior class compete at Mizzou Arena for the last time tonight, and it has to be difficult to watch his graduating class move on without him. He says the ride this year has been somewhat bittersweet, only because he cannot compete against Big 12 foes with seniors Kim English, Marcus Denmon, Steve Moore and the rest of the team.
Sick of Iowa State/Missouri talk? So are we. With a disappointing Big 12 season winding down, Oklahoma fans may be looking to next season— and Amath M’Baye in particular. His teammates and coaches love him, and they say he’ll make a major impact when he becomes eligible next season after transferring from Wyoming. M’Baye, who averaged double figures with the Cowboys, seems to be able to do just about everything on a basketball court. With the bulk of a young team returning next year, M’Baye may be the missing piece for Lon Kruger.
Here’s an interesting nugget: Apparently Kansas and Nebraska have been in very preliminary talks to start up a non-conference game in the near future. Scroll down to the bottom of this article to learn a little more. It sounds like the two sides had simply talked casually about the possibility, and it’s not going to happen as of right now. Still, considering KU’s refusal to play Missouri because it left the Big 12, it’s odd to read that the school still considered playing the Cornhuskers of the Big Ten.
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
As the calendar flips from February to March and the college basketball world rejoices at the prospect of another rapidly approaching NCAA Tournament, it’s time to take stock as to where the top teams around the country stand. When the long-awaited tournament does commence, the path to glory evolves into a narrative predicated on matchups rather than rankings, so allow this to serve as more of a final snapshot as the regular season winds to a conclusion. Who is peaking at the right time? Whose style of play translates best into the grind of March? What perceived flaws could derail a run deep into March? Let’s begin with the team most currently resembling a seemingly unflappable juggernaut:
The Spartans crack the top 5 in the latest rankings
1. Kentucky (28-1, 14-0)
Locating a potentially fatal weakness in a team one buzzer-beater away from an undefeated record isn’t an easy task. Freshman point guard Marquis Teague, much like his predecessors at the position under John Calipari, has improved substantially throughout the season, posting 52 assists compared to 21 turnovers in his last nine SEC games. Their athleticism will render even the best man-to-man defense ineffective and the combination of Doron Lamb and Darius Miller can make shots over any zone look. Kentucky also boasts arguably the best perimeter defender in the country in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – whom Calipari utilized to suffocate Dee Bost in the second half of their comeback win in Starkville – and the best post defender in National POY frontrunner Anthony Davis (4.8 blocks per game and countless other alterations and denials). If there’s one nitpick it’s the fact Kentucky rates #84 in the country in three-point defense and rarely forces turnovers defensively; if Teague reverts to his sloppy ways, Lamb/Miller have an off-shooting night against a zone and a team is able to make jump shots over their length, Kentucky could slip in a one-and-done scenario.
2. Syracuse (29-1, 16-1)
The Orange still only have one blemish on their resume – a blowout loss at Notre Dame without indispensable center Fab Melo – but they haven’t exactly been blowing away the opposition the last few weeks, edging West Virginia, Georgetown, Louisville and Connecticut by three points or less and barely getting by both USF and Rutgers with late runs. There’s room for improvement, especially on the offensive boards where opponents are snagging 38.3 percent of available misses, one of the drawbacks of playing every possession in a zone defense where no specific man is assigned to keep off the glass. They compensate for plenty of those second-chance points with the best zone defense Jim Boeheim has employed in recent memory and a capacity to convert a Dion Waiters steal (tenth in steal percentage) or a Melo swat (fifth in block percentage) into a transition opportunity where the Orange excel. Their enviable depth also allows Boeheim to shuffle in and out as many as ten different players depending on opposing personnel, foul trouble, the flow of the game and Scoop Jardine’s focus level.
3. Kansas (25-5, 15-2)
Thomas Robinson deservedly receives most of the accolades, but Tyshawn Taylor’s been the best at his position in the Big 12 since conference play began. He’s a matchup nightmare for opposing point guards because of his size, strong frame, quick first step and blazing end-to-end speed. Taylor is also efficient shooting the basketball from both inside (51 percent) and outside (44 percent) the arc while correcting his career-long battle with turnovers, committing just six or more in a game just twice during Big 12 play. With Elijah Johnson taking on more of a distributing role, Travis Releford as a glue guy defender and zero guard depth on the roster, the much-maligned Taylor has had to shoulder a heavy load and is a gigantic reason why Kansas continued their incredible streak of eight consecutive conference titles. Robinson and Taylor will pack a punch, but their prospects in March may come down to whether Jeff Withey can provide a third scoring option and Connor Teahan hits outside shots off the bench. Withey injured his ankle and played just nine minutes against Missouri, a loss that won’t be absorbed so easily in the NCAA Tournament against a bigger frontline.
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. The PL is among the first of this season’s conference tournaments to tip, with action set to start tonight.You can find him on Twitter@KLDoyle11.
The Favorite: Despite losing back-to-back games against Lehigh and Holy Cross down the stretch, and a less than stellar performance against bottom-dweller Navy, Bucknell remains the favorite to win the Patriot League. The Patriot League Tournament—like many of the smaller conference tournaments around the country—has its championship game located at the highest remaining seed. Playing in the friendly confines of Sojka Pavilion has treated the Bison quite well over the past two seasons as they are a combined 26-3 there. The last road team to win the PLT was, ironically enough, Bucknell back in the 2004-05 season in Worcester against Holy Cross. Home court does have its perks, and Bucknell can rest easy knowing that if they take care of business all three tournament games will be played in Lewisburg. Semantics and seeding aside though, it also doesn’t hurt that Bucknell has far and away the league’s best big man in Mike Muscala. Steady guard Cameron Ayers, sharpshooter Bryson Johnson, and a lunch pail kind of player in Joe Willman make the Bison a formidable group. More on the Muscala—or, as the Bison faithful like to call him, “Moose”—later.
Dark Horse: Back in early February, the Holy Cross Crusaders looked as if they had mailed it in. Poor efforts on the defensive end, not playing as a cohesive unit, and questionable game preparation all contributed, among other things, to a 3-5 start in league play. After being on the wrong end of a 75-51 drubbing at Lehigh, something clearly happened inside the Holy Cross locker room and during practice sessions; the Crusaders’ six game winning streak, their longest since the beginning of the 2007-08 season, did not happen by chance. While the offense is still inconsistent and stalls during inopportune times, the defense has spearheaded the late charge. During the first eight games of league play, Holy Cross gave up an average of 69 points per game. Since then, they are giving up a remarkable 54.7 points. All that being said, the Crusaders have greatly struggled on the road (4-11) and the road to the Patriot League Championship in all likelihood runs through either Bucknell or Lehigh. A tall task for the Crusaders no doubt, but they are peaking at the right time.
Who’s Hot: Hide the women and children, C.J. McCollum is playing his best basketball of the season and the vaunted Lehigh offense is clicking on all cylinders as the Mountain Hawks enter the tournament. Over the course of their last 10 games—nine of them wins—McCollum is averaging 23.4 points. His lowest output during this run was 15 points against Bucknell, but his final three points of this contest came just before the buzzer as he connected on a triple from the top of the key to propel Lehigh to a comeback victory.
Some may call McCollum cocky and arrogant—especially in the preceding clip as he stares down the Bucknell student section—but his play certainly backs it up.
Player to Watch: All eyes will be on C.J. McCollum, but it behooves you to overlook the Patriot League’s best forward in several year: Mike Muscala. The junior from Minnesota is one of the most efficient players on the offensive end you will see this year as he shoots better than 50% from the field and close to 90% from the charity stripe—not too shabby for a 6’11 guy. On the defensive end, Muscala is on the verge of cracking the Top 10 in the Patriot League for blocks all time. What goes unnoticed is how intelligent he is on the floor with his exceptional positioning and court awareness. Muscala has not fouled out of a game this season, and has only picked up four fouls once. Staying out of foul trouble has enabled him to earn 30 minutes a night and really increased his production. While much of the talk from the media and those outside of Patriot League circles will be of McCollum, don’t forget the “Moose” at Bucknell.
Game to Watch: Lafayette @ Holy Cross—After having their season ended by Lafayette the past two years, Holy Cross will look to return the favor this time around. In the regular season, the teams split the season series with each team winning on the opponent’s home floor. The last time the teams met in Worcester, Holy Cross jumped out to a 24-14 halftime lead only to be outscored by 21 points in the second half. Lafayette will be at a major disadvantage in the third meeting though as Second-Team All-League performer Tony Johnson is out for the rest of the year with an ankle injury.
How’d They Fare: Bucknell was trounced by eventual National Champions Connecticut 81-52. It may be hard to believe, but this score doesn’t reflect how lopsided the game actually was. Bucknell looked to push the tempo and played exclusively man-to-man throughout the game, but simply did not have the horses that Connecticut had. Sometimes, the brains can outplay the talent, but very rarely are they able to outrun them.
A Look Back
How’d I Do? – Prior to the season beginning, here is how I saw things shaking out (preseason on the left, final standings on the right):
Bucknell (11-3) 1. Bucknell (12-2)
Lehigh (9-5) 2. Lehigh (11-3)
Holy Cross (7-7) 3. American (10-4)
Colgate (7-7) 4. Holy Cross (9-5)
American (6-8) 5. Lafayette (7-7)
Navy (6-8) 6. Army (5-9)
Lafayette (6-8) 7. Colgate (2-12)
Army (4-10) 8. Navy (0-14)
I was right on the mark in predicting that Bucknell and Lehigh would finish one/two, and that Holy Cross would finish in the top four, but believed in Colgate and Navy more than I should have and undersold American. (Just as an aside, Jeff Jones has never finished in the bottom four of the Patriot League and American has advanced to the semifinals in every year they have been in the league. Clearly, I have learned to no longer bet against coach Jones.)
As for Colgate, the Raiders performed up to many expectations in the non-conference, but struggled in the Patriot League against all teams not named Navy. Given that the Raiders are a senior laden team who finished last season going 6-8 down the stretch, I believed Matt Langel would have that moderate success carry over—it did not. Although, it should be known that their star forward Yaw Gyawu has been hindered by injuries for much of the year—Gyawu was pegged as a member of my All-League Team in the preseason.
All-League Team(statistics from conference games only)
G Seth Hinrichs, Lafayette (7.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 50.0 3PT%)
G Maxwell Lenox, Army (7.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.4 SPG)
F Worth Smith, Navy (6.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.2 BPG)
F Dan Trist, Lafayette (6.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG)
Player of the Year: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh—This has been a two player race for much of the season, even though American fans would like to think that Charles Hinkle was in the discussion, but, in the end, the Player of the Year debate was going to come between C.J. McCollum and Mike Muscala. Arguments can easily be made for both players. Each is the focal point of their team and have experienced a good deal of success as individual players. However, it was McCollum’s dominance and ability to take over a game makes him the Player of the Year. Not a shot against Muscala at all, but it is easier for a 6’3 guard to take over a basketball game than a 6’11 forward. McCollum ranks sixth nationally in points per game at 21.7, but is more than just a scorer—the rest of his stat line reflects that. By many accounts, he has become more of a complete player, but certainly understands when he needs to carry Lehigh.
Coach of the Year: Jeff Jones, American—Losing virtually his entire frontcourt with Vlad Moldoveanu graduating and Stephen Lumpkins pursuing a career in baseball, Jeff Jones’ outlook for the year was bleak. Relying on transfers who had only been with the program for a year and two forwards who seldom saw the floor a year before, Jones had his work cut out for him. Fortunately for him, Charles Hinkle—one of the transfers from Vanderbilt—emerged early in the season as a reliable scorer, and sophomore Tony Wroblicky proved to be a serviceable big man. Even still, Jones turned a team that seemed destined for the middle-of-the-pack into a title contender.
Rookie of the Year: Seth Hinrichs, Lafayette—The 6’7 guard from Minnesota is a pure shooter in every sense of the word, and fits perfectly into Fran O’Hanlon’s jump shot friendly offense. Although Hinrichs has the height that would suggest he is a forward in the Patriot League, he lacks the bulk and size to work in the paint, and with a shot like his it would be foolish to put him down there. Hinrichs shot an impressive 50% from three, 54.8% from the field, and averaged 7.4 points all in Patriot League play. With Ryan Willen and Jim Mower graduating, Hinrichs will become a primary option next year for Lafayette.
Defensive Player of the Year: Bryan Cohen, Bucknell—Rather than bore you with analysis on Cohen’s ability to shut down an opponent’s top scoring threat, I’ll let the following numbers do the talking:
Lehigh, American, and Holy Cross were three of the top four teams in the Patriot League. Against these teams, Cohen has done a remarkable job limiting the scoring production of C.J. McCollum, Charles Hinkle, and Devin Brown.
Average points against all PL teams other than Bucknell
Average points scored against Bucknell
One can attribute the disparity in scoring to a poor shooting night, but such a pattern suggests that Cohen is a significant part of the lower scoring output. Dave Paulsen has a real luxury in matching him up with the opposition’s top scorer and knowing life will be made very difficult for him. Cohen was recently tabbed as the Patriot League’s Defensive Player of the Year; this is the third time he has received the honor. I’d like to see any other player garner such an award three times in their career—quite the feat.
6th Man of the Year: Mike Cavataio, Holy Cross—It has been quite the journey for Holy Cross senior swingman Mike Cavataio, just take a gander at his lengthy college basketball timeline:
2007-08: Played under Norm Roberts at St. John’s where he saw six minutes of action per game and made one start during Big East play against Marquette
2008-09: Transferred to Holy Cross to play under Ralph Willard, but had to sit out the entire season
2009-10: In his first season of eligibility, he played under first year coach Sean Kearney and averaged 11.3 points in 31 games
2010-11: After Sean Kearney was fired after one year, he played under Milan Brown and averaged 8.9 points in 29 games
2011-12: He was injured in the first game of the season against the College of Charleston and missed every game in the non-conference. He returned January 7th against Lehigh
Suffice it to say, this is not how Mike Cavataio drew up his college basketball career. Coming out of St. Francis Prep in New York, Cavataio had aspirations of lighting up Madison Square Garden playing for St. John’s. He soon realized that he could earn more minutes and play a significant role at a smaller school, and Holy Cross seemed like the perfect fit—a successful mid-major program under the tutelage of Ralph Willard. After sitting out a year, experiencing five different coaches between high school and college ball, and suffering through an injury—something he is accustomed to after breaking the same ankle twice during his sophomore year in high school—Cavataio has developed into the prototypical sixth man. He provides an instant spark off the bench with his defense—the Crusaders best on-ball defender—and mid-range and slashing ability on offense. Although he averages a mere 5.4 points, many of his contributions do not show up in the box score, something that his teammates and keen observes would tell you.
Most Improved Player: Charles Hinkle, American—Whatever Charles Hinkle did during the summer months and offseason, it worked. After averaging 11.6 points last year, many assumed that Troy Brewer would have to carry the load this season. And Brewer has been no slouch averaging 12 points a night, but the emergence of Hinkle as the go-to guy has alleviated the pressure Brewer and others may have felt. In his first three seasons, Hinkle rarely shot from behind the arc, and when he did he shot just 25%. This year, he is almost 20 percentage points better at 43.4%. His scoring average by year: 2.0, 1.4, 4.4, 18.8. A 14.4 point increase from his junior to senior season—unheard of. Jones told the Washington Post earlier this month: “We knew he was a good player, we knew he could help us. How much and in what role, that was up in the air. He was playing a role of working hard, good defense, as opposed to what he does best: shooting the ball in the basket.” I’d say that Hinkle has found is role just fine for Jeff Jones.
Game of the Year: Lehigh 56 Bucknell 53 (February 16th at Sojka Pavilion)—It was far from the prettiest game: more turnovers than assists, a combined 9-39 shooting from behind the arc, both teams shooting below 37%, and neither team cracking the 60 point mark, but the Lehigh-Bucknell tilt in Lewisburg was a dandy. In what may be a prelude to the championship game, a C.J. McCollum three pointer—this shot alone may have earned him the Patriot League Player of the Year award—won the game for Lehigh and ended Bucknell’s Patriot League winning streak at an impressive 20 games.
Like it or not, we’re going to keep doing these things, so here’s our fourth installment of the RTC Podcast. In this week’s episode, we jump right into the brutally competitive Big Ten race, discuss what might have been the game of the year between Missouri and Kansas, debate the value of great sixth men, and rant about some of the most trite phrases we’ll hear about the NCAA Tournament bracket over the next 12 days. Give us a listen!
Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference and Southern Conference and a contributor to the RTC SEC Microsite. You can find him on Twitter @EricDMoyer.
Belmont returns as the top seed for the third time in five years. As the top seed, the Bruins won the title in both 2008 and 2011.
Belmont’s two wins as the top seed account for the only two times in the last 10 A-Sun Tournaments that the top seed has emerged as the victor.
Belmont Can Break A Tie With UCF For The Most A-Sun Tournament Titles (AP)
Belmont can break a tie with UCF for the most A-Sun Tournament titles. The Bruins and Golden Knights each own four titles. The Golden Knights won their fourth title in 2005, their last year in the A-Sun. This year is Belmont’s last in the conference.
Belmont can join Louisiana-Monroe (1982), Georgia Southern (1992), College of Charleston (1998) and UCF (2005) as schools to win the A-Sun title in their last year in the league.
For the third year in a row, Mercer and the University Center will serve as the tournament host. The Bears will look to end an 11-year drought for the host winning on its home floor. Georgia State (2001) was the last host to win the title. From 1979 to 2001, 11 of the 22 A-Sun Championships went to the host school.
Mercer will hope the trend of #2 seeds winning the A-Sun Championship continues. Five of the last eight A-Sun Championships have been won by the #2 seed.
Mercer’s Langston Hall paces the Bears in scoring at 11.3 points per game. No A-Sun champion since 1997 has featured a leading scorer averaging fewer than 12.2 points per game.
In Belmont (24 wins), Mercer (21 wins) and USC Upstate (20 wins), this year’s A-Sun Championship is the first to feature three 20-win teams since 2003-04.
Langston Hall and Mercer Will Hope The Trend Of #2 Seeds Winning The A-Sun Championship Continues (Mercer Athletics)
USC Upstate’s breakthrough season resulted in Torrey Craig earning the league’s Player of the Year award. He will have to buck the trend of Players of the Year leading his team to the title. Only one A-Sun Player of the Year has led his team to A-Sun Tournament title since 2000 – Georgia State’s Shernard Long (2001).
Both USC Upstate and FGCU will be making their first appearance in the A-Sun Tournament. None of the current A-Sun school won the tournament in its first appearance and only three (Kennesaw State, Mercer and Stetson) even won a game in its first appearance.
ETSU owns the longest active streak of semifinal appearances (five). The Buccaneers last failed to make the A-Sun’s final four in 2006. Mercer (2010-2011) is the only other school with a streak greater than one.
Buoyed by his 46-point effort on Feb. 20, North Florida’s Parker Smith finished the conference’s top scorer in February. He averaged 21.3 points and 4.9 3’s in seven games.
Since the dismissal of Jordan Burgason in early February, new players have emerged for Lipscomb. Junior Deonte Alexander upped his scoring from 7.6 per game to 12.5 per game. Freshman Malcolm Smith increased his scoring from 9.3 points per game to 12.2 in his final six games.
After five straight years as a top-3 seed, Jacksonville was able to secure its sixth-straight appearance only after Stetson lost on the final day of the regular season. The Dolphins have never beaten a higher seed in 12 prior appearances.
Team Tournament Capsules
#1 Belmont: Championship Appearances: 11; Record 15-6; Best Finish: Champion – 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011; Last Season: Champion
#2 Mercer: Championship Appearances: 28; Record 23-25; Best Finish: Champion – 1981, 1985; Last Season: L, Semifinals
#3 USC Upstate: First Appearance
#4 ETSU: Championship Appearances: 7; Record 10-4; Best Finish: Champion – 2009, 2010; Last Season: L, Semifinals
#5 North Florida: Championship Appearances: 3; Record 2-2; Best Finish: Runner-up – 2011; Last Season: L, Final
#6 FGCU: First Appearance
#7 Lipscomb: Championship Appearances: 8; Record 4-7; Best Finish: Runner-up – 2006; Last Season: L, Quarterfinals
#8 Jacksonville: Championship Appearances: 13; Record 5-12; Best Finish: Runner-up – 2008, 2009; Last Season: L, Quarterfinals
What Is The Best Matchup Of The Opening Round? It Could Very Well Be Torrey Craig and USC Upstate Against FGCU
Tournament Schedule (All games played at University Center, Macon, GA)
Wednesday, February 29, 2:30 ET: #1 Belmont vs #8 Jacksonville (ESPN3); Season Results: Jan. 4 (Belmont 75, at Jacksonville 63), Jan. 28 (at Belmont 85, Jacksonville 71); Series Record: Belmont, 15-6; Tournament Series Belmont, 1-0; #1 vs #8: 20-5
Wednesday, February 29, 8:30 ET: #2 Mercer vs #7 Lipscomb (ESPN3); Season Results: Dec. 1 (Mercer 79, at Lipscomb 72), Feb. 23 (at Mercer 63, Lipscomb 54); Series Record: Lipscomb, 12-8; Tournament Series Lipscomb, 2-1; #2 vs #7: 24-4
Thursday, March 1, 2:30 ET: #4 ETSU vs #5 North Florida (ESPN3); Season Results: Jan. 16 (ETSU 64, at North Florida 63), Feb. 11(at ETSU 65, North Florida 50); Series Record: Lipscomb, 12-8; Tournament Series Lipscomb, 2-1; #5 vs #4: 16-14
Thursday, March 1, 8:30 ET: #3 USC Upstate vs #6 FGCU (ESPN3); Season Results: Dec. 19 (USC Upstate 80, at FGCU 75), Feb. 23 (at USC Upstate 87, FGCU 74); Series Record: ETSU, 13-1; Tournament Series: North Florida 1-0; #3 vs #6: 19-11
Friday, March 2, 6:00 ET: #1/#8 Winner vs #4/#5Winner (ESPN3)
Friday, March 2, 8:30 ET: #2/#7 Winner vs #3/#6 Winner (ESPN3)
Saturday, March 3, 7:00 ET: Semifinal Winners (ESPN2)
Regardless of how Indiana performs in the postseason, Tom Crean can assure the Hoosier faithful that their season tickets are worth something. Indiana continues to be a monster in Assembly Hall as they took down the third team ranked in the top five this season as they rocked Michigan State 70-55 last night. Crean finally got his former mentor, winning his first game against Tom Izzo’s Spartans after nearly four seasons in Bloomington. The win is a huge boost to his team’s confidence as they prepare for their season-ending matchup against in-state rival Purdue over the weekend.
William Buford, Thad Matta is looking for you to lead over the next two games. There are several theories about Ohio State’s recent slump (the Buckeyes have lost three out of their last five games) but these are the times when a veteran guard steps up for his team. Buford struggled in two of the losses as he scored in single digits — six points against Michigan and four points against Michigan State. Look for Buford to be aggressive when Matta’s team travels to Evanston to face a hungry Northwestern team who could lock up an NCAA bid with a win on Wednesday night.
Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith is showing signs of tiredness. He admits that team morale is down as a result of the Gophers’ recent losing skid and their loss to Wisconsin last night did not help make anything better. The Gophers had a strong first half as they led 23-16 but could not contain a hot shooting Badger squad in the second half. Senior center Ralph Sampson, III, crossed 1,000 points for his career and should receive a good sendoff against Nebraska in Minneapolis over the weekend.
Even though Iowa’s senior guard Matt Gatens has never made the NCAA Tournament, he is getting well-deserved recognition during his final few weeks of college. Gatens was named the player of the week in the Big Ten because he averaged 27.5 points over two games last week. Regardless of what happens over the next 10 days, Gatens ought to be happy for leaving Iowa on a high note as Fran McCaffery’s squad has shown great resilience throughout the season.
Bo Ryan knows when to loosen up around his players. He has a grin on his face during most of his press conferences after Big Ten games. But after Wisconsin’s upset victory over Ohio State on Sunday, Ryan decided to do his version of the electric slide in the locker room. The Badgers played an excellent game against the Buckeyes and the win should give them the credibility to make a case for a great seed in March.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari has become the face of coaches recruiting college players who stay for only one year. Recently, one of his star freshman, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, said he “wasn’t going anywhere” after this season. Despite that comment, Calipari defended his actions, “It’s not my rule. I don’t even like the rule one-and-done.” Calipari continued by saying, “Whether it’s Carolina, Duke, Florida, we’re all in the same boat. If a kid plays really well and that’s what he chooses to do, you can either try to talk him out of it or the (other) option is, don’t recruit good enough players that can be drafted.”
Auburn head coach Tony Barbeeset his deadline for when he would decide if Varez Ward and Chris Denson would return for Wednesday’s game with Alabama: “Before we get on the bus for Tuscaloosa.” Both were suspended for Saturday against Arkansas.
The AP wrote Tuesday that Alabama’s JaMychal Green was “expected to return to the starting lineup” for Wednesday’s contest against Auburn. In his absence, he saw the Crimson Tide improve their NCAA Tournament outlook, defeating Tennessee, Mississippi State and Arkansas. “It’d be pretty big,” said Green, who came off the bench against the Bulldogs. “I’ve never been there. It’d be a great experience for everybody on the team. It’s just the way I want to go out.”
For a team picked 11th in the preseason, Tennessee remains alive for finishing as high as the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament. For that scenario to play out, the Volunteers must win out and Florida must most lose to Kentucky on Saturday. They enter the final week of the regular season tied with Alabama for the fourth and final bye position. “We are fighting for our lives,” head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “You have to get better every day. There’s plenty of work to do. Our guys are hungry right now.We’re fighting. We don’t have any luxury or margin for any error to be happy or be successful or think we’ve done something special. But we have every right just like everyone else to win ball games.”
In winning six of their last seven games, players on Tennessee credit team chemistry as one of the reasons for the improved play. “We didn’t have a level of team togetherness, passion for one another,” head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Where you say, ‘I really wanna see my teammate be successful before I see myself have success. You start to play together, you don’t worry about if your shot is falling or not; you’re just playing basketball.”
The Classical: This is a terrific article on Skip Prosser and his legacy at Wake Forest. Media and fans alike reference the Demon Deacons’ recent history of success a lot. They also talk about Dino Gaudio with mixed opinions. But rarely do they really talk about Skip Prosser. Maybe it was just too soon to have an honest conversation, but his death became the story. Matt Gallagher’s piece looks at the hope Prosser brought with him to Winston-Salem, the pride, the success and eventually the huge hole he so tragically left behind. If you don’t read anything else today, read this.
ACC Sports Journal: Speaking of Wake Forest, Ron Wellman is in a tough spot. Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum is outdated and too large. Recently, reports surfaced that Wake Forest might buy the arena from Winston-Salem. It was originally built to compete with the Greensboro Coliseum, but falls in the awkward 14,000-seat range that’s much too big for small “college” bands, but far too small for the big-time acts. If there was more interest, a large capital campaign might allow for a new arena to be built, but it’s going to be hard to raise ~$100 million for basketball right now. Between the lack of success on the court and the economy, now is just not the right time.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: It may not be getting nearly as much publicity as Duke and North Carolina, but the Georgia Tech – Boston College battle tonight is for last place in the ACC. The bad news for the Yellow Jackets is they will be without their best player, as Glen Rice, Jr., will be suspended for the game. That said, they’re coming off their best win of the season against Maryland (without Rice), and beating the Eagles by four at home three weeks ago. Can they win their first road game since stunning NC State early in conference play? Is Brian Gregory’s system starting to take root? Tune into Raycom or ESPN3 at 7:00 PM to find out.
Orlando Sentinel: Florida State struggled mightily to defend the perimeter against Duke and Miami. Before they get too down on their effort, I want to point them to a series of articles that Ken Pomeroy has posted recently on defense’s effect (or lack thereof) on three-point percentage. Those should be comforting, but don’t ignore the problem. Miami played small-ball against FSU because of Reggie Johnson’s injury, which proved difficult for the Florida State bigs to guard — especially on the perimeter. Duke also played an extra-three-point-threat-heavy offense because of Plumlee foul trouble. Is playing small the best way to beat the Seminoles?
Duke Basketball Report: In honor of the date, Barry Jacobs took a look at all of the leap day games in ACC history. Duke is 3-1 in February 29 match-ups, with two wins coming against North Carolina. Meanwhile NC State has played seven times, losing four games on this date.
EXTRA: Jay Smith wrote an op-ed piece in the Raleigh News & Observeron the importance of the “student” half of student-athlete. The piece is directed specifically at North Carolina after there was backlash against a “statement of athletic principles” from a group of North Carolina professors. In the world of high-major athletics, my guess is that professors at most other ACC schools would agree. I personally think Smith undercuts the value of athletics, but I also understand his frustration.
It’s the last day of February, a glorious time to be a college hoops fan, right? But for UCLA fans, not only are they on the verge of being on the outside looking in during the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years, but Sports Illustrated today publishes an “extremely negative” article about the Bruin basketball program. Pulitzer Prize winner George Dohrmann – author of “Play Their Hearts Out”, among other things – will publish a piece today, which deals with the downfall of the program, from Final Four installation to Pac-12 also-ran. The bulk of the story deals with destructive behavior from a handful of players in UCLA’s 2008 and 2009 classes (most notably – surprise! – Reeves Nelson), but plenty of blame is laid at the feet of head coach Ben Howland for not dealing with that behavior promptly or fairly. The content of the article certainly didn’t live up to the fears that UCLA fans experienced on Tuesday, when they found out that Dohrmann, breaker of the Minnesota cheating scandal in 1999 and the Ohio State football scandal last season, was dropping a bombshell on the program, but certainly any negative article about the Bruins at this point is not a good thing for the long term prospects of Howland, already regarded as being potentially on the hot seat. Howland commented on Tuesday that he can’t talk specifically about former players, and that “everybody makes mistakes, I’m definitely not perfect” but that he thinks he has “for the most part” handled things correctly. We’ll have more on this story later today and in the future as events warrant.
Sort of annoying that we have to deal with that kind of story right at the start of what should be about a month-long holiday for fans of the sport, so let’s try to wipe away that story by focusing on some good stories. And there may be no better story in the Pac-12 this year thanArizona’s Kyle Fogg. Fogg came from being an afterthought in the 2008 recruiting class, only signed by Lute Olson because the Wildcats were losing Jerryd Bayless after just one year, as well as a couple graduating seniors, and needed some “fresh blood.” Now, four years later, Fogg is well on his way to becoming an All-Pac-12 performer and he already occupies spots in several Wildcat career top ten lists.
Another senior who has come from relative obscurity to claim a spot as one of the conference’s best players is Oregon senior guard Garrett Sim, who just got done torching in-state rival Oregon State, the alma mater of both of his parents, to the tune of 25 points on ten-of-14 shooting. And for one Duck fan, Sim is the perfect player for the home crowd to root for – not only effective, but eminently annoying to opposing teams and opposing fans. And yes, annoying is a good thing in this context.
Sim has certainly turned it on as a senior, but California’s Jorge Gutierrez has got the whole “thorn in the side to opposing teams” thing down pat after four years of experience. Even as a freshman, Gutierrez’s relentless energy, hustle and defensive pestiness drove opposing fanbases crazy, but over the years, as the Golden Bear combo guard developed his game, he has earned grudging respect from up and down the conference. While just about every coach – save one – in the conference will be glad to see Gutierrez’s eligibility expire, we’ll certainly be missing a little fire in our game next season.
Lastly, let’s jump up to Washington State for one last bit of finding that silver lining, because as Jeff Nusser at CougCenter points out, this year’s Cougar team actually improved offensively, despite the losses of Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto to the professional ranks a year early. Of course, what he fails to mention is that the WSU defense took a complete nose dive. They fell from 46th in the nation in defensive efficiency last year to 199th this year, propelled mainly by their inability to do anything particularly well on that end of the court; they’re in the bottom half of the nation in opponent’s effective field goal percentage and in forcing turnovers, while they’re not a whole lot better than that in hitting the defensive glass or keeping their opponents off of the free throw line.
The big news yesterday was in fact no news, but instead the upcoming piece by George Dohrmann on UCLA in this week’s Sports Illustrated. While most of the attention on the piece has been centered on reports of drug use at the school, which has been met by yawns by the non-media, but there are also supposedly reports of “abuse” that could paint a very bad picture of beleaguered coach Ben Howland. While Howland has what could be a phenomenal incoming class coming in, it will be interesting to see how bad this story makes Howland and the school look and if it brings more negative stories to the surface. [Ed. Note: The post is now available on SI’s iPad app and the Zip file for the article can be downloaded and viewed without an iPad or an SI subscription. Thanks to Jeff Eisenberg for pointing this out.]
In a bad relationship that one side wants to get out of? In many cases it will cost you some money to do so and for Texas A&M and Missouri that will be the case as the two schools will pay the Big 12 $12.4 million each to leave the conference and join the SEC in July. Fortunately, this settlement appears to have been much less contentious than for the Big East. While we have not found any articles explaining it, we would love to hear the rationale for the different departure fees especially for the two schools that left the Big 12 after last season.
ESPN GameDay will be at the Duke–North Carolina game, but one media “outlet” will not be there as Grantland, the pet project of Bill Simmons, was denied a media credential. Normally, this would not be a major issue as many non-mainstream media outlets get denied, but Simmons, who has over 1.6 million Twitter followers, tweeted out his displeasure with Duke and essentially declared a Twitter war with them, which will probably last until the next Blake Griffin dunk.
We still are not sure exactly what impermissible travel benefits the family of Reggie Johnson took that led to his suspension over the weekend, but the Miami center was reinstated yesterday. Johnson, who claimed to have no knowledge of these benefits, was only held out one game (a huge win over FSU) and will be allowed to return with the understanding that he will repay the value of the benefits to a charity. Johnson’s return gives the Hurricanes their best big man back in time for the North Carolina State game, but more importantly should serve as a significant booster for their NCAA Tournament chances.
Can rushing the court cost a team the game? Apparently it can as it cost Delaware State when their fans prematurely rushed the court and the team was charged with a technical foul for a delay of game giving Morgan State two free throws which they made to win by one point. We have not seen video of this, but as the article points out the officials may have erred here based on the NCAA’s rulebook and precedent from earlier this season where officials during the Creighton-Long Beach State situation handled a similar situation completely differently and in our opinion in a much better manner.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. 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 games.
Just when we thought the Big Ten pecking order was clearly established, Tuesday night’s action had to throw us all off a bit. Michigan State, already having clinched at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, was dominated from the start and dropped a road game at Indiana, 70-55, in front of another raucous Bloomington crowd. The win gave Tom Crean and the Hoosiers their third win over a top five opponent this season, just the fourth time a team has done that in the past decade. With wins over No. 1 Kentucky, then-No. 2 Ohio State, and now No. 5 Michigan State, the Hoosiers have proven that their balanced attack can lead to elite results. But Tuesday’s win reverberated all the way to Columbus and Ann Arbor as well in that the Big Ten race now gets very interesting.
Indiana Soared to a Big Victory on Tuesday Night (Getty Images/A. Lyons)
Before touching on what this win means for IU, it’s necessary to look at the impact Tuesday’s result could have for the Big Ten as a whole. A Michigan State win would have clinched the conference regular season title and enhanced their chance for a #1 seed, but the Spartans got thumped and dropped to 13-4 in conference. Now, Ohio State and Michigan both again sit just one game back of first place. Both teams play their remaining two games away from home, but if they do in fact handle business on the road then we will be looking at a three-way tie for the Big Ten title. If the Buckeyes can defeat Northwestern on Wednesday night, then Sunday afternoon’s game between OSU and MSU looms especially large. A win by Ohio State would give them a share of the Big Ten title, and it would be difficult for the Selection Committee to have Michigan State ranked higher on the NCAA Tournament S-Curve having lost two straight games and carrying a worse overall record. The game will be played in East Lansing, so Michigan State can end all such speculation by notching a win, a Big Ten title, and a great opportunity at a #1 seed. Of course, nothing has been going as planned this season, so you’ll just have to stay tuned in to see what happens the rest of the way.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.
The final week of the regular season is upon us. One of our teams, Murray State, even begins its postseason as the Ohio Valley Conference tournament begins later in the week. This is a crucial time for teams to build confidence and polish their resumes heading into the NCAA Tournament. Let’s take a look at how all of our teams are playing right now as they head into the home stretch.
UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Anthony Marshall and UNLV Are Locked In Again (Las Vegas Sun/S. Morris)
Trending UP Because… – After dropping two in a row, the Rebels recovered nicely with back-to-back double digit wins in the past seven days. More importantly, their top conference competitor lost both its games, setting up for a crazy finish to this season. UNLV (24-6, 8-4 MW) is tied with New Mexico and San Diego State atop the Mountain West with just two games to play. The Runnin’ Rebs have still lost three straight road games and will look to end that streak when they head to Colorado State on Wednesday.
This Week’s Key Cog – Chace Stanback. The swingman led the team in scoring in both wins last week, averaging 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game. The senior shot a fantastic 9-13 from three-point range in the victories.
Talking Point – Coach Dave Rice on getting the win over Air Force on Saturday: “It was very important to us to get our swagger back. Our swagger is our defensive intensity.”
Handicapping the Race – Who’s going to win the Mountain West? The Rebels have a tough draw down the stretch with bubble team Colorado State on the road, followed by Wyoming at home in the season finale, a team they lost to earlier this season. New Mexico, meanwhile, gets two home games against the bottom feeders of the conference.
Stats Central – UNLV’s average scoring margin of +19.4 points in home games this year ranks 11th in the country. But its road margin is just +2.0, hence the 6-6 record in true road games this season.
What’s Next? – As mentioned, the Rebels take a trip to Colorado State on Wednesday (10:00 PM ET, CBS Sports Network) before drawing Wyoming at home on Saturday (10:00 PM ET, The Mountain) to finish their regular season.