Celebrating The Oregon Seniors

Posted by Connor Pelton on February 28th, 2013

On a night when the biggest story will be the return of an injured freshman, arguably the best group of seniors in the league will play their final home game at Matthew Knight Arena tonight. From a four year, in-state star to a trio of junior or senior transfers, all four graduating Ducks have had major impacts at separate points throughout the season. We break them down below.

Arsalan Kazemi and Tony Woods Have Dominated The Inside In 2012-13 (credit: Tess Freeman)

Arsalan Kazemi and Tony Woods Have Dominated The Inside In 2012-13 (credit: Tess Freeman)

Arsalan Kazemi has been Oregon’s difference-maker this year, bringing the Ducks from what most thought would be a bubble team at the beginning of the season to a team vying for the conference crown. The native Iranian spent his first three years at Rice, and if he had stayed put in Houston, he most likely would be named the C-USA Player of the Year. Kazemi is the definition of a hustle player, a constant ball-diving type who leads the team in rebounds and steals. He will be sorely missed by Oregon fans, but his story is far from over, as Kazemi is the type of player that can lead a team through the first week of the NCAA Tournament and beyond.

Tony Woods and Carlos Emory transferred to Eugene two years ago, and have been providing highlight-reel blocks and dunks since their arrival. Woods’ length in the post makes him a viable threat against opposing defenses, but it’s on his defensive end of the court where he makes a difference for the Ducks. Woods is the team co-leader in blocks per game, and his 6’11″ frame clogs up the paint with great efficiency. Emory is by far the more athletic of the interior duo, and his versatility allows him to play at the three, four, or five, depending on where he is most needed.

Finally we come to the dean of the Oregon seniors, E.J. Singler. Singler has been a crucial part of Oregon’s six- or seven-man rotation in all four of his seasons with the Ducks, and he has averaged double figures in the scoring column in all but his freshman year. The small forward was Oregon’s Kazemi before Arsalan arrived at Oregon, so he has taken a bit of a back seat in terms of production this season. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been crucial to Oregon’s success at times; his 25 points in Oregon’s 79-77 win at Washington State led the Ducks to a grind-it-out, overtime win on the Palouse; and earlier in the season he poured in 22 as the Ducks demolished Vanderbilt. Singler has played through injuries his entire career and will go down as one of the best four-year players in Oregon history.

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CIO… the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2013

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Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or follow him on Twitter @vtbnblog.

(ed. note – this week’s column does not factor in Wednesday night’s action, which saw Saint Louis beat Saint Joseph’s, Richmond defeat George Washington and Dayton top Charlotte.)

Looking Back

  • Saint Louis Breaks Out – The Billikens evicted Butler and Virginia Commonwealth and decisively took sole possession of the conference penthouse last week. On Tuesday Saint Louis hosted Virginia Commonwealth, the team that paced the conference from virtually the opening week and ranked #24 by the AP the previous Monday. The Bills pummeled the Rams by 14, 76-62, handing coach Shaka Smart’s squad the worst defeat of their season. With barely 48 hours to celebrate, the Billikens packed their bags and traveled to Hinkle Fieldhouse to play #15 ranked Butler on Friday night. Saint Louis held on to defeat the Bulldogs by 4, 65-61, and hand Butler only their second defeat at home this season. At 10-2, SLU sits atop the conference with a half-game lead (one fewer loss) over second place Virginia Commonwealth.
  • Conference Difference Margins, Week 8 – The difference margin continues to divide the conference roughly in half; nine teams have positive margins, seven teams have negative margins. The paradox is that the Atlantic 10, much like many conferences in parity, the number of teams with a 0.500 record or better numbers 11 (or 69% of the conference membership). For a power conference this parity (if the top of the conference was strong enough) could, in effect, “pull” a middling team or two into the NCAA tournament. Is the A-10 strength of schedule enough to yield a fifth or sixth bid?

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Reviewing the numbers (from Ken Pomeroy’s kenpom.com site – the conference results through Monday February 25) gives us a few things to consider:

  1. The difference margin adds greater definition to Saint Louis’ breakout last week. At +0.156, the margin is half again larger than that of their nearest rival (Virginia Commonwealth). To this point Saint Louis is in a class by itself. A rocky out of conference run will most likely keep the Bills’ NCAA seed in the #4 to #6 range, probably deceptively low.
  2. The teams are forming a series of well-defined tiers, many of which are consistent with the conference records earned so far. Note the Virginia Commonwealth/Butler grouping, distinct from the Massachusetts/Xavier/Temple tier.
  3. Duquesne and (yet again, unfortunately) Fordham have “lost touch” with the rest of the conference. The difference margins for the two lowest ranked teams suggest they are no longer competitive with their 14 conference mates. Temple’s loss to Duquesne on February 14 becomes all the more puzzling and damaging to the Owls’ post season prospects.
  4. Charlotte’s record says “even”, but the difference margin suggests the 49ers have been susceptible to blowouts. A look at the schedule reveals a tendency to lose big on the road Miami, Richmond, Saint Louis). Not the kind of credential one wants to present to the Selection Committee.
  5. Dayton maintains a positive difference margin (+0.013) widely at variance with their losing record (4-8). A Pythagorean Winning Percentage calculation suggest the Flyers should be closer to a 0.500 record (or 6-6, since they have played 12 games). They are, however, so far underwater that it is likely the Flyers will “run out of games” before they can get to a 0.500 record (8-8 given their 16 game conference schedule).

Reader’s Take

Read the rest of this entry »

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CIO… the Summit League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2013

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Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.

Top Storylines

  • Realignment Strikes Again: The Summit League isn’t the first conference one typically thinks of when they hear about conference realignment, but the conference isn’t immune either. UMKC will join the WAC next year, ending a 20-year relationship with the Summit League (formerly the Mid-Continent Conference) that could put the entire conference in jeopardy. According to The Kansas City Star, UMKC will not be the last team to pull the trigger on realignment. Oakland has been gunning for the Horizon League for years, and now not only do they have a spot available for them, but they could take IUPUI along as well. In fact, there is a good chance that pretty much everyone in the conference could be on the move sooner rather than later.
  • To The Nth Power: Nate Wolters is just about the only other piece of news getting national attention this year in the Summit League. He’s been incredible, averaging 22.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, leaving plenty of room to become the first player in NCAA history to average 20/5/5 in a season since the NCAA started tracking assists in 1983. Wolters is also third in the nation in scoring, and holds the NCAA season-high scoring mark with 53 points against IPFW. If you haven’t seen him yet, you absolutely have to catch him before his run ends.
In over 20 years as a Division-I team, UMKC has yet to hang a conference championship banner. The 'Roos hope that will change as they join the WAC.

In over 20 years as a Division-I team, UMKC has yet to hang a conference championship banner. The ‘Roos hope that will change as they join the WAC.

Power Rankings

  1. South Dakota State (21-9, 12-3): They are poised to repeat as champions of the Summit League, and Nate Wolters is trying to make history. Wolters is once again carrying the Jacks in chapter two of their cinderella story. His season reminds me a lot of Ben Woodside’s senior season at North Dakota State. That team had a real chance at immortality, but couldn’t climb over Kansas. The Jacks feel like that kind of team. They are not invincible, and have showed some weaknesses in the last two weeks, but we know that it would take a major upset to prevent this team from reaching their second straight NCAA Tournament and their first regular season title. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Bubble Watch: February 28 Edition

Posted by Daniel Evans on February 28th, 2013

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Daniel Evans (@bracketexpert) is RTC’s new resident bracketologist. According to Bracket Matrix, he ranks as one of the top several bracketologists among those who have produced brackets for more than three years, including two seasons with perfect bracket projections. He updates the field daily on his site, Bracketology Expert, and will be producing a weekly bracket update here at RTC on Fridays. RTC Bubble Watch will publish on Sunday nights and Thursday afternoons for the rest of the season.

Bracket Math: Below there are 26 locks along the right column. Basically, that number means that if none of my “locks” clinches an automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament, there are only 11 at-large spots available. In most years, an average of around six “locks” win automatic bids, meaning there are 17 unclinched spots for the NCAA Tournament. I also have nine teams in the “should be in” category, meaning I project their odds of getting an at-large bid at 70% or higher. If those teams ultimately get in, there are 8 total spots available for the teams you see below in my bubble watch.

Remember that bid stealers will shrink that number when conference tournament teams.

LOCKS: 26
“SHOULD BE INS”: 9
TOTAL: 35 (minus six for projected auto bid winners = 29)
PROJECTED AT-LARGE SPOTS AVAILABLE: 8

  • Odds Improving: Tennessee
  • Odds Decreasing: Mississippi, Cincinnati, Baylor
  • Locks That Are Trying My Patience: None

UPDATED THROUGH ALL GAMES OF FEBRUARY 28, 2013

ACC: Three Locks, Three Bubble Teams LOCKS:duke50x50ncstate50x50miami50x50
North Carolina (19-8, 9-5; RPI: 20): The Tar Heels have a second victory over the RPI top 25 after a win at home against N. C. State on Saturday. Although North Carolina still lacks for great wins, it still has a game against Duke to end the season. Plus, it would be crazy to imagine UNC missing the NCAA Tournament with a top 20 RPI. AT-LARGE ODDS: 65%

Maryland (19-9, 7-8; RPI: 73): Every time Maryland seems to take a step forward, the Terps quickly take a step back. Remember the upset win against Duke? Maryland followed that by losing to Boston College and added a loss to Georgia Tech Wednesday. Maryland needs to win out. Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and Virginia are left on the schedule. AT-LARGE ODDS: 45%

Virginia (19-8, 9-5; RPI: 73): Virginia has six wins against the RPI top 100, but has three losses to the miserable CAA. When you consider both, it makes for one of the more confusing resumes to figure out in the country. Virginia’s RPI has finally risen to a mediocre level, but it needs to keep rising. A game against Duke on Thursday will probably decide the Cavaliers’ at-large fate. AT-LARGE ODDS: 45%

Other ACC teams with an at-large chance: None currently

Atlantic 10: Two Lock, Five Bubble Teams LOCKS:butler50x50stlouis50x50

Virginia Commonwealth (22-6, 10-3; RPI: 34): The Rams’ best victories are over Belmont and Memphis, and neither of those teams are locks to get at-large bids. VCU has five losses, all against the nation’s top 100. Butler plays at VCU on March 2, a huge game for the Rams. A win there will lock them up. AT-LARGE ODDS: 70%

La Salle (19-7, 9-4; RPI: 35): La Salle has five wins over the RPI top 100 including victories against Butler and VCU, two of the Atlantic 10′s best teams. The Explorers only have one bad loss, which came in mid-November against Central Connecticut State. A loss to Temple on Thursday hurts but at least La Salle rebounded by winning at Rhode Island on Sunday. Duquesne and George Washington are next on the schedule before a monster game at red-hot Saint Louis. AT-LARGE ODDS: 55%

Temple (19-8, 8-5; RPI: 41): The Owls are the kind of team that makes a bracketologist’s job very difficult. A win over Syracuse looks fantastic, but losses to Canisius, St. Bonaventure, Saint Joseph’s, and Xavier cannot be ignored. Wins over Massachusetts, La Salle, and Charlotte have Temple on the good side of the NCAA Tournament bubble for now. Losing any of the next three would be devastating. A finale against VCU may end up deciding the Owls’ fate heading into the Atlantic 10 Tournament. AT-LARGE ODDS: 55%

Charlotte (18-9, 6-7; RPI: 63): Five losses in six games have pushed the 49ers to the brink of at-large elimination. Wins over La Salle and Butler keep them here, but losses to George Washington and Dayton have shown that this team can lose to anyone. AT-LARGE ODDS: 45%

Massachusetts (17-9, 7-6; RPI: 57): Three straight losses to VCU, Temple, and St. Bonaventure have left Massachusetts on the bad side of the bubble. The Minutemen have to beat Butler at home March 7 to have a good shot at an at-large. AT-LARGE ODDS: 30%

Other Atlantic 10 teams with an at-large chance: Richmond (5%), Xavier (5%)

Big 12: Three Locks, Three Bubble Teams LOCKS:kansas50x50
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Oklahoma (18-8, 9-5; RPI: 29): Oklahoma caught Kansas at the right time, becoming the third straight Big 12 team to knock off the Jayhawks a couple of weeks back. That victory, coupled with wins over Oklahoma State and Baylor, leave the Sooners in good shape for an at-large bid. A win against Baylor on Saturday gave Oklahoma a sweep of the Bears. Wednesday night, the Sooners blew a 22 point lead to Texas. The Longhorns are not a Big 12 contender, so that is a bad loss. Oklahoma doesn’t want to make things interesting down the stretch, because if they do they’ll be sweating Selection Sunday. AT-LARGE ODDS: 60%

Iowa State (19-9, 9-6; RPI: 53): It’s really too bad that the Cyclones could not finish off what would have been a huge upset over Kansas on Tuesday. This profile would be much more complete with that kind of win. Despite the heartbreaking loss, Iowa State is still on pace for an at-large with wins over Kansas State, Oklahoma, BYU, and a sweep of Baylor. The next now are at Oklahoma and versus Oklahoma State. AT-LARGE ODDS: 60%

Baylor (16-11, 7-7; RPI: 63): Oh boy, the Bears are in trouble now. Baylor has one win against a sure NCAA Tournament team (Oklahoma State) and seven losses against the RPI top 30. This looks like a season of lost opportunities. The good news is games against Kansas State and Kansas still remain on the schedule. AT-LARGE ODDS: 50%

Other Big 12 teams with an at-large chance: None currently

Big East: Five Locks, Four Bubble Teams LOCKS:louisville50x50syracuse100x100

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Notre Dame (22-6, 10-5; RPI: 43): It is hard to see Notre Dame missing the NCAA Tournament at this point. This team has five wins against the RPI top 50, including a 21-point victory over Cincinnati on Sunday. Marquette, St. John’s, and Louisville are the remaining games on the schedule. If they win against Marquette on Thursday, you can lock them up. AT-LARGE ODDS: 75%

Cincinnati (19-9, 7-8; RPI: 49): Typically, I do not take teams out of lock status, but Cincinnati is making things interesting. The Bearcats have lost four out of five games and still have games against Connecticut, Louisville, and Notre Dame remaining. Cincinnati only has three wins against top 50 teams and seven losses against the RPI top 50. In other words, this profile (like Baylor) is a resume of missing opportunities. AT-LARGE ODDS: 70%

Villanova (18-11, 9-7; RPI: 55): The Wildcats now have four top 50 wins because recent victories over Connecticut and Marquette have strengthened a resume that already has wins against Syracuse and Louisville. Blowing the game at Seton Hall earlier this week was a tough setback, considering Pittsburgh and Georgetown are the two teams remaining on the schedule. The ‘Cats better get at least a split of those and avoid an early exit in the Big East Tournament. AT-LARGE ODDS: 50%

St. John’s (16-11, 8-7; RPI: 61): St. John’s has three wins over the RPI top 50 but lost to UNC-Asheville, San Francisco, and Murray State in non-conference play. On Sunday, Syracuse blew St. John’s out. This team does not look like a NCAA Tournament team. AT-LARGE ODDS: 30%

Other Big East teams with an at-large chance: None currently

Big Ten: Five Locks, Three Bubble Teams LOCKS:michigan50x50indiana50x50ohiostate100x100michiganstate50x50wisconsinbadgers50x50
Minnesota (19-9, 7-8; RPI: 13): Before Tuesday night’s big win over Indiana, Minnesota had been blown out by Ohio State and Iowa. Those losses do not matter much now. The Gophers should be safe, considering they have 13 wins against the RPI top 100. Let’s keep them out of the locks just to make sure they don’t go 0-3 against Penn State, Nebrasks, and Purdue but this team should be dancing. AT-LARGE ODDS: 80%

Illinois (20-9, 7-8; RPI: 32): Illinois has its bubble supporters and bubble doubters. The Illini have five top 50 wins, and there is not another non-lock with the wins that the Fighting Illini have. The doubters will point out that the Illini are under .500 in conference and still play road games against Iowa and Ohio State. AT-LARGE ODDS: 70%

Iowa (18-10, 7-8, RPI: 90): After a loss to Nebraska on Saturday, Iowa is probably done without winning out. The Hawkeyes have to find a way to win at Indiana on March 2 in order for that to happen. Good luck with that. AT-LARGE ODDS: 20%

Other Big Ten teams with an at-large chance: None currently

Conference USA: Zero Locks, Two Bubble Teams LOCKS:
Memphis (24-4, 13-0; RPI: 19): Nobody knows how good Memphis is. This team has two RPI top 50 wins (both against RPI-inflated Southern Miss) but 12 total RPI top 100 wins. A loss to Xavier on Tuesday did not help the Tigers’ national perception, but I think they are still in good shape.. AT-LARGE ODDS: 75%

Southern Miss (21-7, 10-3; RPI: 37): Southern Miss mainly makes this list due to the Eagles’ high RPI. The Eagles lost both games to Memphis and do not have a single win against the RPI top 75. Things are looking bleak. AT-LARGE ODDS: 20%

Other Conference USA Teams with an at-large chance: None currently

Missouri Valley: Zero Locks, Three Bubble Teams LOCKS:
Wichita State (24-6, 12-5; RPI: 39): Wichita State’s resume is better than Creighton’s. The Shockers have wins over VCU, Southern Miss, and the Bluejays and eight total victories against the RPI top 100. Before a loss to Evansville on Wednesday, the Shockers had won five straight. AT-LARGE ODDS: 70%

Creighton (23-7, 12-5, RPI: 44): Creighton is scaring me a little bit. The Bluejays have gone 6-6 in their last twelve games, including a loss against Saint Mary’s in their Bracketbuster game Saturday night. Only two games remain, a road game at Bradley (Creighton is 6-5 on the road) and a home game against Wichita State. The Shockers already own a win over Creighton. This team also has great wins over Wisconsin, California, and Akron. AT-LARGE ODDS: 60%

Indiana State (17-12 9-8; RPI: 72): Indiana State might be the most up and down team in the country. This team has wins over Ole Miss, Miami (FL), Wichita State, and Creighton. It also has losses to Morehead State, Southern Illinois, Drake (twice), Missouri State, Bradley and Illinois State — all teams outside the RPI top 100. The Sycamores at-large hopes are probably over. AT-LARGE ODDS: 20%

Other Missouri Valley teams with an at-large chance: None

Mountain West: Three Locks, Two Bubble Teams LOCKS:newmexico50x50unlv50x50coloradostate50x50(1)
San Diego State (20-8, 8-6; RPI: 33): The Aztecs appeared to be second in the Mountain West pecking order three weeks ago, but losses to New Mexico, UNLV, and Colorado State have changed that.  This team still has wins over Colorado State, UCLA, New Mexico, and Boise State, meaning it is hard to see it missing the NCAA Tournament. AT-LARGE ODDS: 70%

Boise State (18-8, 6-6; RPI: 45): The Broncos have only top 50 wins against Creighton and UNLV. Seven of the eight losses Boise State has have been on the road. The good news is that only one of the final four games on Boise State’s schedule is on the road. Big chances against Colorado State and San Diego State at home remain on the schedule. AT-LARGE ODDS: 50%

Other Mountain West teams with an at-large chance: Air Force (5%)

Pac-12: Three Locks, Four Bubble Teams LOCKS:oregonducks50x50ucla50x50
Colorado (19-8, 9-6; RPI: 22): The Buffaloes have four wins in the RPI top 50. The wins are against Colorado State, California, Oregon, and Arizona — three impressive Pac-12 wins and a victory against a Mountain West lock. Colorado is 5-6 on the road this year and 10-7 against the RPI top 100. None of the remaining four games are easy:at California, Oregon, and Oregon State. AT-LARGE ODDS: 65%

California (18-9, 10-5; RPI: 46): Despite doing relatively nothing outside of conference play, California has made the most of its Pac-12 opportunities. The Bears have wins against Arizona, UCLA, and a sweep of Oregon. California has won seven of eight and plays its remaining three games at home. AT-LARGE ODDS: 55%

Arizona State (20-9, 9-7; RPI: 88): The Sun Devils are trending the wrong way. Back to back losses to Washington and Arizona (in overtime), have left Arizona State with a lot of work to do. Next up is USC, who is playing arguably the best basketball in the Pac 12 right now, and then Arizona. Both are on the road. This team needs to win both and make noise in the Pac 12 tournament.  AT-LARGE ODDS: 45%

Stanford (16-13, 7-9; RPI: 68): Things are not looking great for the Cardinal. A close loss to Colorado on Wednesday night pushed them two games below .500 in conference play. Winning the next two is very necessary for an at-large to even be a possibility going into the Pac 12 tournament. AT-LARGE ODDS: 15%

Other Pac 12 teams with an at-large chance: Stanford (15%)

SEC: One Lock, Six Bubble Teams LOCKS:
Missouri (19-8, 8-6; RPI: 42): Missouri knocked off Florida in a tremendous comeback on Tuesday night, but then fell on Saturday at Kentucky in overtime. This is a team with bad losses to LSU, Texas A&M, and Arkansas so it cannot afford to lose any of the final four games on its schedule, but the Tigers should end up being okay. AT-LARGE ODDS: 70%

Kentucky (20-8, 11-4; RPI: 50): Finally Kentucky showed some life with a huge victory against Missouri. The Wildcats still only have one victory against the RPI top 50 and six wins against the RPI top 100, so they are far from a lock. In a win against Mississippi State (who is terrible), Kentucky at least showed it is continuing to play better without Nerlens Noel in the lineup. AT-LARGE ODDS: 55%

Tennessee (17-10, 9-6; RPI: 51): This profile changed immensely following the Volunteers win over shorthanded Florida on Wednesday night. Tennessee has three top 50 wins, with victories over Wichita State and Kentucky to go with their big upset over the Gators. Tennessee was swept by Ole Miss, but that is probably the only argument to put the Rebels ahead of the Vols right now. AT-LARGE ODDS: 50%

Ole Miss (21-7, 10-5; RPI: 56): Mississippi has one top 50 win and that win was against a Missouri team that was not at full strength. There are no other chances for top 50 wins on the schedule either, although a game against Alabama March 5 may serve as an elimination game for the loser. AT-LARGE ODDS: 50%

Alabama (19-9, 1014; RPI: 62): The Crimson Tide put up a big fight against LSU before falling to the Tigers in triple overtime on Saturday. Unfortunately, the Selection Committee is not measuring close games or overtime losses. Alabama has one win against the RPI top 50, against a Kentucky team that still featured Nerlens Noel. Losses to Dayton, Tulane, and Mercer in Tuscaloosa have made this profile scream NIT. The Crimson Tide get their shot at the SEC’s big boys in March. They play at Florida March 2 and at Mississippi March 5. They’ll likely need to win one of them to have a real shot at the tournament. AT-LARGE ODDS: 45%

Arkansas (17-10, 8-6, RPI: 77): Arkansas is on the Bubble Watch because it has wins against Missouri, Florida, and Oklahoma. However, the Razorbacks are also 1-8 on the road after a loss at LSU on Wednesday. Making the SEC final is now their only chance at an at-large. AT-LARGE ODDS: 15%

Other SEC teams with an at-large chance: Tennessee (10%)

Others: One Lock, Six Bubble Teams LOCKS:
Saint Mary’s (25-5, 13-2; RPI: 45): Saint Mary’s finally has a victory against the RPI top 50 thanks to a Bracketbuster win against Creighton. The Gaels have won 11 of 12 games. Unfortunately, Saint Mary’s lost both of its games to Gonzaga, but nobody in the WCC has beaten the Zags this year. How much can the eye test help a team like Saint Mary’s that has no resume? It’s hard to tell, but I think most observers would say this team looks like one of the best 37 at-large teams. AT-LARGE ODDS: 55%

Belmont (23-6, 13-2; RPI: 26): The only RPI top 50 win for Belmont is against Middle Tennessee, another team hoping to get an at-large bid from a mid-major conference. Winning the last two regular season games and a trip to the Ohio Valley final is a must to be in consideration. AT-LARGE ODDS: 45%

Middle Tennessee (25-4, 17-1; RPI: 23): The Blue Raiders have clinched the Sun Belt crown, meaning they are at least going to the NIT. Middle Tennessee has a fantastic RPI but zero wins against the RPI top 50. What happens if the Blue Raiders win their last two and then make it to the Sun Belt final? Are 28 wins enough for a team with only one bad loss (Arkansas State)? AT-LARGE ODDS: 45%

Akron (23-4, 13-0, RPI: 36): After a gigantic comeback against Ohio on Wednedsay night, it is time to seriously consider Akron for an at-large bid. The Zips swept the Bobcats and have a win against fellow mid-major at-large contender Middle Tennessee.. AT-LARGE ODDS: 40%

Louisiana Tech (24-3, 14-0; RPI: 52): A victory over Southern Miss is the only top 50 win on the Bulldogs’ resume. Teams that lose to Northwestern State and McNeese State usually do not get at-large bids, but you never know. Would an undefeated finish down the stretch and a trip to the WAC Tournament finals be enough for an at-large bid? I’d suggest the Bulldogs make it easy by earning the auto bid, especially considering at least four other mid majors are ahead of them for at-large bids. AT-LARGE ODDS: 35%

BYU (20-9, 9-5; RPI: 59): The Cougars have one final shot at an at-large: A game against Gonzaga on February 28. BYU was swept by Saint Mary’s and has also lost games to San Diego and San Francisco in the WCC. AT-LARGE ODDS: 25%

Bucknell (24-5, 11-2; RPI: 54):  The Bison have a win over La Salle that looks great after the Explorers dropped Butler and VCU. Bucknell is probably done after losing at Lafayette on February 16. Winning out would at least make things interesting though. AT-LARGE ODDS: 10%

 

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Big East M5: 02.28.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 28th, 2013

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  1. Everyone remembers the last two days when I was saying that UConn was going to come to play Wednesday right? Okay so maybe I wasn’t going out on a very big limb with that prediction, but the Huskies sure made me look good last night when they took highly ranked Georgetown to double overtime before losing a game they probably should have won in agonizing fashion. Yes, Otto Porter deserves some big-time credit for his late-game heroics and his general excellence at the game of basketball, but the Huskies’ perimeter defense for most of the second half was atrocious and their offensive possessions down the stretch were not great either. UConn deserves credit for continuing to play inspired basketball without a postseason to look forward to, and Georgetown has the look of a No. 1 seed after taking a tough conference opponent’s best shot on the road and still coming out with a win. The Hoyas are hardly a finished product and if some team can figure out how to stop or even slow down Porter, John Thompson III‘s bunch will be in big trouble. But, in case you didn’t notice, Porter is pretty difficult to stop and when the backcourt duo of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks get going, opposing teams don’t have a lot of success. It is way too early to say Georgetown has the inside shot at a No. 1 seed because an early exit in the Big East Tournament can dash those hopes quickly, but they are definitely in the conversation as of right now.
  2. Notre Dame is still clinging to hope at winning the Big East regular season crown and one of the ways to improve their chances would be to get the services of senior forward Scott Martin back sometime soon. Martin has returned to practice after battling knee issues for much of the season but the Fighting Irish still have no idea when he will return to the court or if he will be able to return at all. Coach Mike Brey gave Martin’s comeback a 50-50 shot and it seems like the best the team and Martin can hope for is that the pain won’t be a major issue and Martin can play limited minutes. Even in limited minutes, Martin’s basketball IQ, floor-spacing ability, and improved long-range shooting would be a boon for a Fighting Irish team trying to find some consistency. And on a more personal note, it would be just awful for Martin if his sixth-year of eligibility and his last shot at the NCAA Tournament were wasted because of recurring knee problems. The quotes Martin gave to Jeff Goodman are, unfortunately, rather sad, and positive thinking alone won’t resurrect Martin’s career. My guess is that Brey and the team will find a way to get Martin on the court, even for a minute, on Senior Night next Tuesday but I wouldn’t expect him to make a large impact on the rest of team’s season.
  3. Until I got a chance to read this article, I had forgotten that Miami‘s star point guard Shane Larkin was at one point supposed to be playing for DePaul and coach Oliver Purnell. Even Purnell was willing to wonder what life might have been with a budding star like Larkin running the show, but alas, the Blue Demons don’t have Larkin, who has gone on to bigger and better things, while the Blue Demons have continued to slump. The story is a good one, especially because it is penned by a Virginian-Pilot reporter who was familiar with Purnell from the coach’s time at Old Dominion. The jist is that Purnell came to Chicago with the reputation of a program fixer, something DePaul was in desperate need of, and things have not gone according to plan. Aside from Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young, the team is devoid of true Big East-caliber talent and the Blue Demons’ offense is so putrid at times that watching them play can be difficult. We have used this space before to wonder whether Purnell will get the axe at the end of this season, but I think at this point, the school is willing to let him have one more year to show some serious improvement before they kick him to the curb. Of course that extra season might have just as much to do with the fact that DePaul still owes Purnell a lot of money and they would like to try and recoup something of value from that investment. It’s hard to root against Purnell, who seems like such a nice guy, but Purnell’s coaching track record is not spotless, and unless he can turn things around out of the gate next season, the school may not even wait a full season to dump him.
  4. Hard to disagree with Cincinnati head honcho Mick Cronin‘s decision to make practice after the team’s blowout loss to Notre Dame light and fun. Nothing has been fun about the last few weeks for Cincinnati as they have watched themselves go from conference title contenders to bubble watchers in just six games and so Cronin’s decision to give the guys an “emotional break” seems like exactly what the doctor ordered for the team as they get ready to play UConn on Saturday. Of course that emotional break won’t help the Bearcats learn how to score, something they have not done a lot of in recent weeks. The game against the Huskies will be at home, and UConn is coming off their emotionally draining loss last night to Georgetown, so maybe the stars have aligned for Cincinnati to get back on track, or maybe the gritty Huskies will find a way to get up for this game as well and they will sink Cincinnati even lower. Maybe now, after their break, the team can relax, take some of the pressure off of themselves, and just play hard-nosed basketball. They better, because although they are safely in the tournament for now, the way they have played in the last six games, anything can happen before Selection Sunday.
  5. It is somewhat hard to follow Bud Poliquin‘s meandering, comma-filled article about Jim Boeheim‘s testy press conference after the team’s loss to Marquette but I think what the veteran columnist is trying to say is that people shouldn’t make a big deal of the fact that Boeheim got a bit snippy in a press conference because it happens all the time. Poliquin has a point. There are plenty of us who haven’t even been on Earth long enough to remember Boeheim’s first years at Syracuse and even we know that the legend likes to get combative and short when he doesn’t like the questions being asked. All of that said, Boeheim has been making plenty of news with his off-the-court remarks this season, and scolding a student reporter, or any reporter for that much, for asking pertinent questions about X’s and O’s and coaching decisions is a bit ridiculous. The questions that Boeheim didn’t like weren’t meant to question his coaching ability, they were questions that were being asked so they could get answers from the guy in the room with all of the coaching experience and ability. A question about why Boeheim didn’t use DaJuan Coleman against the Golden Eagles isn’t meant to criticize Boeheim’s decision-making, it is to learn more about his decision-making process. So yeah, let’s not make a big deal of the fact that Jim Boeheim got snarky in front of a microphone again, but only if Boeheim will agree to stop making innocent questions about a game such a big deal as well.
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An Outsider’s Trip to the Heart of Big Blue Nation

Posted by dnspewak on February 28th, 2013

Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is an RTC Correspondent. He covered College Gameday and Missouri/Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Saturday.

Kentucky’s intro video is long. It’s not even the only intro video — there’s a hipper version that plays right before the public address announcer introduces the Wildcats’ starters. The first one isn’t as hip, though. It’s nostalgic. It’s a full two minutes (possibly an NCAA record for intro videos) of grainy, black-and-white video from the Dark Ages set to the tune of Bittersweet Symphony.

It is awesome. As the shots move at lightning speed from frame to frame to frame to frame, you see Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Pat Riley, Jamal Mashburn, Patrick Sparks, Tayshaun Prince, Frank Ramsey, Tony Delk, Sean Woods, Kenny Walker, Dan Issel and all the other Kentucky legends this state has embraced for almost a century. Tubby Smith makes a few appearances. Rick Pitino does not. For 120 seconds, Big Blue Nation stands and claps in unison to the beat of Bittersweet Symphony, and you realize whatever’s about to start in a few minutes isn’t just a basketball game. It’s some sort of religious experience, something that’s bonded the 24,000 people in the building together for decades.

Kentucky Enjoyed The College Gameday Festivities

Kentucky Enjoyed The College Gameday Festivities

I met a man on Saturday morning who told me he’d been driving 75 miles from Northern Kentucky to watch games at Rupp Arena since 1980. I met another woman from Bowling Green, Kentucky, who said she’d had season tickets since her teenage children were toddlers. These people exist at every level of college basketball and in every single arena across the country, but here, there are thousands of them. It’s just a little different in Kentucky, and you can feel that the second you walk into Rupp and see the eight hundred million banners in the rafters. There are so many retired jerseys, it’s a wonder they haven’t run out yet.

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Pac-12 M5: 02.28.13 Edition

Posted by PBaruh on February 28th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Jordan Adams has been great offensively this season for UCLA, but he’s also unexpectedly taken on the role of defensive stopper for the Bruins. Adams has guarded top Pac-12 players Allen Crabbe, Mark Lyons, and C.J. Wilcox so far this year and has been relatively successful. Crabbe shot 16-of-37 with Adams guarding him for two games while Wilcox had 14 points on 15 shots and Lyons had 17 points on 16 shots. The freshman also leads the Bruins with 53 steals and has done a great job not letting his tough defensive assignments affect his offensive performance. Adams is the second leading scorer for the Bruins at 15.1 points per game and although he wasn’t the most notable player from UCLA’s highly regarded recruiting class, he’s certainly making his presence known in Westwood.
  2. With the postseason nearing, Sean Miller wanted Arizona to put forth a more consistent defensive effort after Saturday’s win over Washington State. The Wildcats let the Cougars cut a 22-point lead in half and were fouling too much rather than playing great defense. Miller noted the team’s positioning on the court was a major reason for the excessive fouling. His message wasn’t received, though, against USC last night. Arizona gave up 89 points in its loss to the Trojans, allowing them to shoot 61 percent from the field and 60 percent from beyond the arc. Miller said he wants his team to strive for more than just a Pac-12 regular season championship and will need better defensive efforts from his team to accomplish something greater, but as of right now, it doesn’t look as promising for Arizona.
  3. Dominic Artis plans to return tonight for Oregon’s game against Oregon State. The freshman won’t play a lot according to head coach Dana Altman, but he did say his playing time could increase during the game depending on how Artis feels. Artis has missed the past nine games and the Ducks certainly haven’t played their best during that period, going 5-4 in his absence. Prior to Artis’ injury, the Ducks hadn’t lost in the Pac-12 and were 18-2 overall with him in the starting lineup. Johnathan Loyd will still start tonight despite Artis’ return, but by the Pac-12 Tournament, he should be back in the starting lineup.
  4. Colorado is finally gaining some momentum on the road. After a 1-4 start away from home this year, the Buffs’ were riding a two-game winning streak away from the Coors Event Center heading into their match-up last night at Stanford. The Buffaloes extended that streak to three with their 65-63 win over the Cardinal. It’s been better defense and the play of Andre Roberson and Spencer Dinwiddie that has propelled the Buffaloes to their newfound successes on the road. Last year, Colorado limped into the Pac-12 Tournament by losing three out of its last four games. This year, however, seems different as the Buffs are winning on the road late in the season and have a very good chance to do the opposite of last year and win three out of their last four.
  5. Although nothing has seemed to go right for the Beavers this season, Roberto Nelson has provided some great play for Oregon State this season. In Pac-12 contests, Nelson is the team’s leading scorer with 18.6 points per game and he is the only Beaver to start every game this year. He’s also second in the conference with 134 free throws made. Nelson knows that his job is to score, but he also knows he needs to be a leader on this team. With the Civil War taking place tonight, Nelson will have a chance to become the 38th player to score 1,000 points in Oregon State history, and with the Beavers at 3-12 right now in the Pac-12, at least there’s something OSU fans can get excited about.
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Big 12 M5: 02.28.13 Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on February 28th, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. Not only is the Kansas State senior class working on one of the school’s best seasons in over three decades, but they just became the school’s all-time winningest group of seniors with 97 victories and counting. The trio of Jordan Henriquez, Rodney McGruder and Martavious Irving are three wins away from K-State’s first conference regular season title since 1977, and if that happens, it will break the school’s all-time conference win record of 14. The Wildcats are currently 12-3 in the Big 12 and are tied with Kansas in first place. If they can take care of Baylor and TCU, the season finale against Oklahoma State in Stillwater would be one of the biggest regular season games in Kansas State history.
  2. Every team in the country is working for something right now. For schools like Texas Tech and West Virginia, it’s probably getting the players ready for next season. For Baylor or Iowa State, assuring a spot in the NCAA Tournament is the primary goal. But for teams like Oklahoma State, seeding in the Big Dance is the focus as the regular season draws to a close. The Cowboys still have a slender shot at the Big 12 championship, but the most likely scenario is a third place finish. They end the season against Texas, at Iowa State and play host to Kansas State on March 9. The latest Bracket Matrix outlook has them as a #5 seed, but they could probably jump to as high as a #3 seed if they win those three games and win the Big 12 Tournament, which would likely mean three wins against Kansas and Kansas State.
  3. The story of Bill Self’s 500th career victory was quickly lost in the shuffle of overtime, questionable officiating and rowdy Iowa State fans Monday night. Self is the ninth fastest Division I coach to reach 500 wins and the third Kansas coach — joined by Phog Allen and Roy Williams — to reach the milestone. Self has said a few times this season that he has no intentions of coaching long enough to break any wins records, but he is certainly on pace to get in the neighborhood of the all-time greats if he decides to stay in the game long enough. He has an 83.7% winning percentage at Kansas and has averaged 29.9 wins per season while there. As pointed out here, he could reach 1,000 wins in 15 years if he averages just three more wins per season through the age of 65.
  4. Baylor freshman center Isaiah Austin could easily end up being an All-American during his career in Waco, but he probably won’t be around long enough to see that happen. Austin is saying all the right things right now, like how he’s focused on getting the Bears into the NCAA Tournament and having success there, not the looming decision to stay or leave. The team seemed like a lock to earn an NCAA bid a month ago, but they have now lost six out of nine and are in danger of landing on the wrong side of the bubble on Selection Sunday just a bit over two weeks away. Whether the Bears make the NCAA Tournament or not, don’t expect to see Austin in yellow and green next season unless the Kings finally become the Sonics and select him in this summer’s NBA Draft.
  5. Sam Grooms hasn’t had the best sendoff in his final season at Oklahoma, averaging 4.3 PPG as a senior. It’s a small dip from last season as the Sooners guard has struggled with his confidence at times this year. “I would second-guess myself all the time before I shot and it didn’t turn out well,” Grooms recently told John Shinn of the Tahlequah Daily Press. Grooms averaged 17.6 PPG in a recent three-game stretch against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor, two Sooner wins. Grooms isn’t the best or most important player on the Oklahoma roster, but a productive final month of his college career could assure his team a spot in the NCAA Tournament and perhaps a couple of wins if they get there.
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Big Ten Morning Five: 02.28.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on February 28th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan gets right to the point: What’s the matter with Michigan? It’s been a strange few weeks for the Wolverines, who were ranked No. 1 in the country at one point this season but have now been blown out by Michigan State and upset by the only team in the conference who didn’t have a Big Ten win entering play Wednesday. Penn State gave the Wolverines a run for their money in Ann Arbor on February 17 and the Nittany Lions finally finished the deal on Wednesday in State College. Before that, Michigan snuck by Ohio State in overtime and was beaten by Wisconsin in overtime prior to the MSU loss. The problem, Brennan writes, has been their defense, which is giving up 1.11 points per possession over its last seven games. Michigan’s offense is and always has been there. But the defense is fading fast. Can they figure it out in time to play like a Final Four team when it matters most?
  2. All of Tubby Smith‘s naysayers have probably grown pretty quiet for the time being. The Minnesota head coach has had doubters ever since his time at Kentucky, and they were chattering pretty loudly when the Gophers experienced their fall from grace after beginning the season 15-1 and rising as high as No. 8 in the country. But Smith says he doesn’t really listen to what people are saying — good or bad — so whether the team is on a slide or they’ve just upset the No. 1 team in the national polls, it’s not something that gets to him.
  3. Almost every team has one player who sets the tone for the rest of the team. For Michigan State, that guy is Keith Appling. As Appling goes, so go the Spartans, and Appling hasn’t been going much of anywhere lately. He’s been a non-factor in both Indiana losses this season, and he hurt more than he helped against Ohio State this week by allowing Aaron Craft to dismantle the Spartans’ backcourt. If the Spartans have any fighting chance at working their way back into the Big Ten title chase, they’ve got to beat Michigan on Sunday in Ann Arbor. And to do that, they need Appling to play like an all-Big Ten-caliber player again. Tom Izzo is confident Appling will do just that, saying that Appling has done a good job of carrying this team all year long, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t find that in him again this weekend.
  4. As Ben Axelrod writes, Thad Matta had not made a midseason starting lineup change for anything other than an injury since the 2008-09 season — that is, until he moved Evan Ravenel to the bench in December. But that move has allowed Matta to bring an experienced senior off the bench and is working well for the Buckeyes. Ravenel had a career game against Michigan State, and he’s proven to be a guy who Ohio State wants on the floor at the end of games, despite losing his starting spot to Amir Williams. “That was kind of what we were looking for, a little bit more of what Evan had brought to the table last year when he would come in,” Matta said. “I thought he was pretty effective, especially down the stretch of the Big Ten season.”
  5. Last week, ESPN broadcasters spent some time during the Michigan State-Indiana game dissecting a play that officials were reviewing in which it appeared Derrick Nix hit Cody Zeller with a cheap shot. As further review took place on the web after the game, it appeared that Zeller may have staged the incident by grabbing Nix’s arm. Either way, it was hard to draw any real conclusions. Then there was another strangely similar incident in Tuesday’s Indiana-Minnesota game in which Indiana’s Will Sheehey fell to the ground clutching his face while defending Minnesota’s Andre Hollins in a trap on the baseline. Officials again went to the monitor to review it, and many on the Internet speculated again — is there something fishy going on at Indiana, with players trying to draw attention with these “dirty” plays? We’re used to flops on charges and blocks, but is this something else, something more?
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ACC M10: 02.27-28.13 Edition

Posted by mpatton on February 28th, 2013

morning5_ACC

  1. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Ken Sugiura spent a day with Brian Gregory, taking in the coach’s in-season routine. These stories are always worth a read just because all coaches are so different in their approaches (though at the highest level, nearly all are tireless in their pursuit of winning). The things that stick out at first glance are the emphasis Gregory places on religion and family. Hardly two paragraphs go by without a mention of his faith, and the one thing part of his schedule unrelated to basketball is his family. 
  2. South Florida Sun-Sentinel: After Miami’s loss to Wake Forest, Jim Larranaga took measures to fix the team’s focus issue. That meant trading interviews for film and getting back to basketball. One thing it’s easy to overlook is the amount of time off the court players spend promoting their or their schools’ brands. Not promoting in the usual way, but through media interviews or events on campus. Nearly every article you read that’s published a day removed from game day included an interview. That time adds up–especially if your team is successful. The attention can also be distracting if it alters how you prepare or execute (look at Jeff Bzdelik’s road record if you want to see the reverse situation).
  3. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: John Castillo looks at the alternate universe where Virginia Tech isn’t added to the ACC over Syracuse (with some help from WhatIfSports.com). But the game simulations aren’t the most interesting thing by a mile. Virginia Tech turned out to be a slam-dunk grab by the ACC because of its success in football (Miami on the other hand…). If the ACC chooses another basketball-first school over Virginia Tech, Clemson and Florida State would rightfully be upset about the conference’s football brand. Also, Virginia’s statehouse would be upset too. Now bring in conference realignment and suddenly the ACC is much less stable than currently.
  4. Baltimore Sun: Seth Allen suffered a pretty grisly bicycle accident when he was 12. He shattered his elbow and was told he might never play basketball again. Luckily, after a long rehab he is able to play and is one of the more exciting players in the league. Allen still lacks control, but Maryland doesn’t have anyone who’s comfortable running the point and in control. Mark Turgeon likens Allen to a less polished Shane Larkin, but that comparison doesn’t do Larkin justice. Both are exciting point guards with the ability to score, but Larkin’s speed is on another level. Allen’s scoring is probably better than Larkin’s though.
  5. CBSSports.com: After Florida‘s loss to Tennessee, the conversation about one-seeds is getting a little tighter. What does the Gators’ loss mean for the ACC? Most importantly, it means that Miami and Duke could both get one seeds. A few things need to happen: Duke needs to take care of Miami at home, both teams need to win their remaining games and at least make the semifinals of the ACC Tournament (finals would be better), and Duke needs to look more like its early season self once Ryan Kelly returns. Even then, they’ll probably need some help from the Big Ten and the Big East. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 02.28.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 28th, 2013

morning5

  1. It seems that Maryland athletics has had more than its share of controversy regarding how to recognize some of its legends. We discussed the case of Lefty Driesell last week and this week the media focus is on former Terrapin great Len Bias. In this case, the controversy is not around the University of Maryland’s decision on whether or not to recognize him, but instead his old high school where a state senator (also a graduate of the school) wanted to spend $50,000 to erect a status honoring Bias. Despite Bias’ on-court accomplishments the idea has been withdrawn to a combination of controversy honoring a person who died of a cocaine overdose and spending $50,000 of public funds to do so.
  2. We will likely never be able to read the full notice of allegations the NCAA sent to Miami, but some details are leaking out including the fact that the NCAA is accusing Nevin Shapiro of “only” providing $170,000 in impermissible benefits between 2002 and 2010. While nearly $20,000 per year is certainly a decent amount of money it falls well short of the “millions of dollars” that Shapiro claimed to have given Miami players over the years (of course, this is coming from someone who perpetrated a $930 million Ponzi scheme). Interestingly more than half of that was spent on trying to get two football players to sign with a sports agency that Shapiro was affiliated with so most of the reported violations involved relatively small sums of money on an individual basis.
  3. With Indiana falling at Minnesota on Monday there is a new #1 in Luke Winn’s Power Rankings. As usual Luke has a smörgåsbord of interesting facts and trends, but the two that stuck out the most to us are (1) how much more efficient Victor Oladipo is this year from the perimeter and (2) why Michigan State might be better off getting the ball more to their star freshman guard. However, the most interesting part of the column might actually be the link to TeamRankings’ simulated Bracketology that simulates/predicts the NCAA Tournament seedings based on what it predicts will happen the rest of the season. We are not sure how well this simulator has done in the past, but it might be something worth checking up on over the next weeks if for no other reason to kill some time during the middle of the day.
  4. Over the past few years posters of celebrities and the occasional random person have become fairly common at college basketball games, but we were not aware of the origins of the trend before George Dohrmann’s article on the birth of the “big heads”. We never quite understood the use of celebrities to distract shooters unless they are unusual such as the original big head of Michael Jackson. The use of coaches, players, and even the occasional poster of yourself all seem like they would be much more effective. Of course, this is probably some college kid that is trying to figure out which faces have the biggest effect on free throw shooting.
  5. We have seen a lot of interesting uniform designs in college sports recently most notably in college football, but it looks like adidas, the company that brought you the atrocious alternate uniforms from Louisville, Cincinnati, and others is planning on bring short-sleeve jerseys to the NCAA Tournament. We still don’t know which schools will wear whatever monstrosity adidas can dream up, but to their credit both Michigan and North Carolina State have come out and said they will not wear the short-sleeve jerseys.
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ATB: Another Big Upset in the Big Ten, the Still-Undefeated Zips and Some Pac-12 Drama…

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 28th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

Tonight’s Lede. Because Big Ten Upsets Come In Pairs. Right when the Big Ten churns out one massive upset, number one Indiana’s four-point loss at Minnesota Tuesday night, the league got bored, went back to the drawing board, and said – in the most demonic voice possible – hey, Michigan, your time has come. The Wolverines went down on the road, at the house of a traditional basketball doormat, and on most nights, that story in itself would block out the rest of the night’s schedule. Not so – the Michigan loss was merely an icebreaker for a long and thorough evening of big-time matchups. Your humble nightly ATB writer compiled a sampling of the biggest headlines. Alas:

Your Watercooler Moment. A Very Happy Valley. 

The conciliatory retort to any mildly surprising loss in the Big Ten season has gone a little something like this: it’s ok to lose on the road in the Big Ten, because you know how hard those Big Ten road games are, right? Wednesday night’s shocking result in Happy Valley, where Penn State won its first conference game in 18 tries after a blistering 15-point second-half comeback, was a huge exception. Most road games are difficult to win in this league, no question; from Mackey Arena to the Crisler Center to the Barn, the Big Ten lays claim to some of the nation’s most raucous campus environments. Teams lose, like Indiana at Minnesota, and it’s tough to get too caught up in the result. Any team in this uber-deep league can rip off a big upset win on any given night, it is widely and frequently said. We would have been rolling out the same logic had Michigan lost at, say, Illinois or Minnesota. Instead, the Wolverines elected – willfully or not – to suffer their worst loss of the season against the worst team in their league. And the weird part is, the final score really isn’t that crazy at all. To the passive onlooker, yes, Michigan had no business losing this game. But for anyone who paid mind to Penn State’s eight-point loss (ahem, moral victory) at the Crisler Center just 10 days ago, seeing Michigan bite the dust at State College was insane, but it wasn’t some Kansas-TCU-level revolution. The point in all of this is not to disparage Penn State by way of condemning the unlikelihood of Michigan’s loss. The Wolverines have some real issues to sort out in the final weeks, particularly on the defensive end. With two of their final three games coming against Michigan State and Indiana, Michigan needs to shake this off, address whatever issues ailed them at PSU and rally for an important concluding schedule in advance of what’s shaping up to be an utterly chaotic Big Ten Tournament.

Also worth Chatting About. Pac-12 Competitiveness. 

A league bereft of depth and quality last season is on the rise (AP).

A league bereft of depth and quality last season is on the improving (AP).

Unlike the 2012 version, this year’s Pac 12 is sort of ok. In fact, it’s more more than that. The league could, believe it or not, birth as many as six NCAA Tournament squads this season. Four of those Tournament hopefuls took the court Wednesday night, and the most significant result (Arizona’s loss at USC) is probably something we should have suspected all along. USC has won five of its past seven without fired coach Kevin O’Neill and are quietly playing their best basketball of the season; meanwhile, Arizona’s last three road games, including tonight’s loss, read as follows: a blowout loss at Colorado, a four-point win at Utah and a loss at USC. In other words, the Wildcats’ squeaky road ways were a dangerous way to life live in the Pac 12. In the other two marquee P12 games of the night, UCLA held serve against Arizona State and Colorado hung tough and gutted out a road win at Stanford. Most of these teams, with a few exceptions at the bottom, are competitively intriguing, and Wednesday night was the latest example. Not even the possibly one-seed bound Wildcats are safe against the likes of a middling if inspired USC. The league may not be great at the top — much like every power league this season, there truly is no “dominant team” — but the considerable growth in the middle regions has added substantial girth to a conference that sent just one at-large team to the NCAA Tournament last season and saw its regular season crownholder, Washington, miss the field altogether. Change is undeniable. The preeminent western conference is back on its feet, and the on-court product it doles out keeps getting better and better as the season closes in on the most crucial stretch.

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