Pac-12 Senior Days: California’s Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoops) on February 28th, 2014

If you haven’t looked at your calendar, we’re ready to flip the page into March – which means, among other things, the Pac-12 Tournament, the NCAA Tournament, and mixed in there somewhere, the end of some great college basketball careers. Over the next week or so, we’ll dig into some of the best senior classes in the conference and reflect on what their careers have meant to their programs. To kick things off, here’s Adam Butler of Pachoops.com giving us the rundown on the waning careers of California’s Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon.

Richard Solomon and Justin Cobbs Are Great Examples of Guys Who Have Grown Up Over Their College Careers (Ezra Shaw, Getty Images)

Richard Solomon (35) and Justin Cobbs Are Great Examples of Guys Who Have Grown Up Over Their College Careers. (Ezra Shaw, Getty Images)

In an ideal world, or at least the world as it’s explained to us, you go to college to “discover yourself.” It’s the greatest time of your life and you’ll make mistakes and learn from them and grow and mature and leave ready to attack the real world. A grown-up. This, of course, is not always the case. But for Cal seniors Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon, perhaps it is. Maybe these two personify the college experience because look at them now. As they stand today they’re the leaders of a likely NCAA-bound team – the third Dance of their careers – and another top-half Pac-12 finish. Cobbs is a legitimate Player of the Year candidate and Solomon leads the conference in rebounding by nearly an entire board per game. To understand the magnitude of their senior years, we need to know where they started.

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Whats Trending: Tom Izzo Dancing, Baylor Getting Baptized, Marcus Paige, and More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on February 28th, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) is your weekly host.

Tom Izzo… Pony… Ride It

So Tom Izzo apparently appears in a new Werner Ladders TV commercial. That’s clever and funny and all, but SB Nation‘s Brian Floyd already made the remix for us because that is how he rolls… just laying beats over video and hitting the “UPLOAD TO YOUTUBE” button.

Yes, that would be the renowned R&B hit “Pony” by Ginuwine.

Baylor Bears Get Baptized

No for real. This is not a euphemism for getting shown up on defense while your opponent throws one down in your face. A handful of Baylor Bears were actually baptized last week. Isaiah Austin captured it all.

Scottie Wilbekin Celebrates Like A Soccer Player

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Who Won The Week? Louisville, Marcus Smart, Michigan and The Citadel…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 28th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

We’ve got more to get to here than usual, so we’ve got a special extended-yet-abbreviated edition of WWTW on tap today.

WINNER: Louisville

Russ Smith won Louisville's game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Russ Smith won Louisville’s game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Your defending national champions – remember them? – are rolling at just the right time in the season. They went into Cincinnati and handed the Bearcats their first home loss of the season Saturday, 58-57, with a Russ Smith dagger – remember him? – then followed that up by blowing out woebegone Temple 88-66 on Thursday.

Sophomore Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell thrived this past week, as he has since the dismissal of Chane Behanan, scoring 21 points in both games. Going forward, the Cardinals have games left at Memphis and SMU, followed by a home game against Connecticut. Though they’re tied with Cincinnati at the top of the American and on a seven-game winning streak, we’ll know much more about Louisville by the time the conference tournament rolls around.

(Related winners: Smith; Harrell. Related losers: Cincinnati, which squandered its chance at an outright AAC championship by losing at home; Temple, which had its first 20-loss season in school history thanks to Louisville.)

LOSER: Saint Louis

The Billikens, which had been one of America’s last four teams undefeated in conference, took one of the most befuddling losses of the whole season, falling 71-64 on Thursday to a Duquesne team that had won four Atlantic 10 games in Jim Ferry’s two seasons in Pittsburgh. What had been one of the nation’s top 10 shooting defenses gave up an effective field goal rate of 50.7 percent, including 14-0f-18 shooting and 7-of-9 three-pointers by Dukes guards Micah Mason and Jerry Jones. And against one of the nation’s 10 worst defenses vs. three-point shooting, Saint Louis only made 4-of-23 shots from beyond the arc. The Billikens have a top-five defense nationally according to KenPom.com, but their offense ranks 169th in efficiency. Then again, defense wins championships, right?

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Four Quick Thoughts on Indiana’s Win Over Iowa

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 28th, 2014

Iowa continued its late season freefall after dropping a shootout in Bloomington Thursday night, 93-86. The Hawkeyes have now tumbled to a 19-9 overall record and will lose what would have been a healthy seed in the NCAA Tournament if they don’t get things turned around rather quickly. Indiana once again proved that, despite their inconsistencies, they are dangerous at home. They’ve now knocked off Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa in their own gym this season.

Here are four observations from last night’s fast-paced affair.

Will Sheehey scored a career-high 30 points Thursday as Indiana knocked off Iowa. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Will Sheehey scored a career-high 30 points Thursday as Indiana knocked off Iowa. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

  1. Where has this Will Sheehey been all season? Sheehey was a legitimate force on offense for the Hoosiers all night long. He proved to be equally adept at knocking down shots from the perimeter and also getting by the Iowa defense to finisih on the fast break. He went 11-of 13 on twos, and put up 19 points in the first half alone. If Sheehey had played even half this well over the course of the entire season, the Hoosiers might have a considerably better record than 16-12. He’s been missing in action on numerous occasions and seemingly has been without the mojo that came from playing on a much more talented team last season. If he can ride the momentum from this outstanding performance into the last three games and the Big Ten Tournament, Indiana can clearly play the spoiler role in early March.
  2. Iowa needs Mike Gesell at his best: Gesell was uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball all night, which led to a statistical line that produced only six points and five turnovers. He had a team-high seven assists, but much of that was due to the uptempo nature of the game. Fran McCaffery doesn’t need 20 points per game from his sophomore point guard, but he needs to consistently knock down open looks and he can’t give the ball away so much if the Hawkeyes are going to look to push it. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Regular Season Crown at Stake: Previewing Syracuse vs. Virginia

Posted by Lathan Wells & Chris Kehoe on February 28th, 2014

Saturday’s game between Virginia and Syracuse will crown this season’s ACC champion, but it’s also a showcase of two teams coming in with very different levels of confidence. While Virginia is riding a hot 12-game winning streak, Syracuse is entering the contest having lost two of its last three games. Both of these teams play notoriously slow, but the likelihood of this one becoming a runaway in either team’s favor is also highly unlikely. While Syracuse is quite literally one of the slowest teams in the nation, Virginia is only one spot ahead of the Orange, ranking 344th in adjusted tempo out of 351 total teams.

A rejuvenated Tyler Ennis is paramount to Syracuse securing a regular-season title in its first ACC season (apsports.com)

A rejuvenated Tyler Ennis is paramount to Syracuse securing a regular season title in its first ACC season. (apsports.com)

Over the last few weeks, Syracuse has eked by in numerous close victories with controversial finishes before managing to drop its first two games of the season in both embarrassing (Boston College) and enraging (Duke) fashion. Tyler Ennis’ seeming invincibility has worn off somewhat as he has cooled off offensively, showing a human side to his unshakably calm demeanor. Part of Syracuse’s weakened state can be attributed to one of head coach Jim Boeheim’s major criticisms: an unbalanced and back-loaded schedule that has Syracuse finishing its inaugural ACC season with four of its last five games on the road. Syracuse’s play of late even has some ESPN analysts like John Gasaway indirectly stating that it may be the first #1 seed to ever fall to a #16, showing just how far the national perception of the Orange has fallen over the recent bumpy stretch.

On the flip side of the coin, Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad is riding an epic wave of momentum that is well on its way to carrying his team to its first sole claim on the ACC regular season title in over three decades. Virginia has won a school record 17 straight games at home and is sitting in sole possession of first place in the ACC at 15-1. Since a brutal 35-point road loss to Tennessee before the new year, Virginia appears the part of a conference champion, winning numerous low-scoring affairs with stifling defense (no ACC opponent has score more than 70 points). Unlike Syracuse’s schedule, the Cavaliers have the boon of three of their last four ACC contests occurring at home in John Paul Jones Arena. While Virginia may not have a single elite scoring option like the Orange’s C.J. Fair, leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon is more than capable of taking over a game and the Cavaliers boast three players who average between 7.9 and 11.5 PPG. So while Syracuse comes into Charlottesville with their pride wounded after a scorching start, Virginia’s confidence has never been higher in its attempt to prevent a newcomer from claiming the conference title in its first season.

ACC Microwriters Chris Kehoe and Lathan Wells will focus in on the key questions surrounding this marquee ACC match-up, tipping off at 4:00 PM ET on Saturday (ESPN).

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The ACC’s Unknown Superstars: TJ Warren & KJ McDaniels

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 28th, 2014

T.J. Warren and K.J. McDaniels are two of the best wings in college basketball and you’d never know it. Most of their lack of attention has to do with their respective teams’ success — N.C. State (17-11, 7-8 ACC) and Clemson (17-10, 8-7 ACC) — and the fact that the Wolfpack and the Tigers are on the outside of the bubble looking in. Both players have assumed huge responsibilities and increased roles this season, a necessary component for N.C. State after losing a huge contingent of talent and for a Clemson squad lacking star power.

Will he stay or will he go? Warren's season has Wolfpack fans hoping for more T.J.(Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Will he stay or will he go? Warren’s season has Wolfpack fans hoping for more T.J. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

T.J. Warren has risen to the occasion, solidifying himself as a legitimate all-ACC candidate in leading the league in scoring at 23.8 PPG, five points per game higher than Duke’s Jabari Parker. While it was unreasonable to expect Warren to continue his otherworldly efficiency of last season when he shot 62.2 percent from the field and 51.9 percent from behind the line, he still is shooting very well from the field (52.3 percent from the field, 29.5 percent from three). He clearly is a massive piece to the Wolfpack offense and quite possibly the only thing keeping them afloat. While he is known for his scoring credentials, he is no slouch in the rebounding department either, collecting 7.0 caroms per contest for the Pack. Warren’s superb play has helped the Wolfpack outdo preseason expectations and explains why N.C. State has a great shot at a top-half conference finish.

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Marching to Vegas: Picking a Dark Horse

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoops) on February 28th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.

‘Tis the time of year when we really dive into favorites. It makes sense as those usually come first. We pick our favorite candy, friend, player, etc., first whenever organizing. And with the NCAA Tournament fast approaching (you guys realize tomorrow is March, right?) our immediate dialogue turns to picking the favorites to win the thing. Well let’s take a step back from the NCAAs and away from favorites for a second and get ahead of ourselves and talk about who might be a dark horse winner of the Pac-12 Tournament. Semantics would suggest that I’m just citing the favorite rally through a few upsets in Vegas, but I’d disagree. The favorites to win the tournament are foregone. As Tad Boyle recently said, ““There are 11 other teams in the Pac-12 and then there’s Arizona.” There ya have it folks, the favorites debate is settled. Which isn’t to say that anyone not named “Wildcats” is a dark horse champion candidate. Quite the contrary. I like UCLA’s odds and think a senior-laden Stanford crew could most certainly make noise. Arizona State has one of the most dynamic players in the country in Jahii Carson with a red hot support staff in Jermaine Marshall and the conference’s all-time leading shot blocker in Jordan Bachynski making the Sun Devils another viable title option.

Yeah, Arizona Is The Favorite, We Know That Already. Give Us An Underdog (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Yeah, Arizona Is The Favorite, We Know That Already. Give Us An Underdog. (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

But whoopdie doo, Adam! These guys are all in the top half of the conference. That’s why it’s not too exciting, right now in this column, to discuss the favorites. We know them. So what about those dark horses, the un-favorites. I’d say that the criteria to fit this bill is slim. You have had to show the propensity to: A) beat top teams, B) do something elite, and/or C) get wildly hot with top talent. Let’s get something out of the way: USC and Washington State fit none of these bills. The Trojans have demonstrated that not only can they not beat elite teams, but they can’t beat anyone. They will not win the Pac-12 Tournament. Likewise, the Cougars won’t either. Did you know that they put up 0.46 points per possession in a game this season? They couldn’t even bust the 1.0 PPP mark against Oregon State. At this point we have covered the favorites and the least favorites. Leaving us right where we want to be, looking at my favorite dark horse candidates to win the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada (it’s two weeks away, by the way).

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Award Tour: The Battle for Runner-Up is Heating Up

Posted by Jameson Fleming (@jamesonfleming) on February 28th, 2014

AwardTour

Jameson Fleming is an RTC columnist who also works for CBSSports.com as the site’s social media editor. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesonFleming.

Marcus Smart is well on his way to getting back in the good graces of the Player of the Year rankings. In the two games since he returned from suspension, the Oklahoma State sophomore is averaging 16.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 8.5 APG. It’s too late to make any kind of run at Player of Year – both nationally and in the Big 12 – but Smart can salvage an otherwise disappointing season and ensure the Cowboys go dancing with a strong finish.

Player of the Year

10. Kyle Anderson – UCLA. Last Week: 10
2013-14 stats: 14.9 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 6.9 APG, 113.1 ORtg

Kyle Anderson is on thin ice after a poor performance in a loss against Stanford and a one-game suspension Thursday night for violating team rules. Other than Doug McDermott, Anderson might be the most unique player in the country. He’s one of just two players 6’7″ or taller in the country to rank in the top 100 in assist rate. The 6’9 Anderson is 20th in that metric, assisting on 35.4 percent of his team’s baskets. Saint Joseph’s Halil Kanacevic stands 6’8″ and assists on 29.2 percent of his team’s buckets.

9. Scottie Wilbekin – Florida. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 13.5 PPG, 3.9 APG, 113.2 ORtg

Wilbekin Has Been Outstanding for the Gators This Season

Wilbekin Has Been Outstanding for the Gators This Season

During the last month, it’s become more apparent that this Gators team is Scottie Wilbekin’s team. Casey Prather was the early star, but lately, Wilbekin has been the dominant force on an outstanding Florida squad. Wilbekin has improved in SEC play, toting an offensive rating of 121.0 and averaging 19.0 points per game in Florida’s five toughest conference games so far.

8. Andrew Wiggins – Kansas. Last Week: 9
2013-14 stats: 16.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 114.1 ORtg

Andrew Wiggins hasn’t quite been the star he was expected to be on the offensive end of the floor. There’s no doubt that he’s been a very good scorer, but his top contribution for the Jayhawks may be on defense. Read the rest of this entry »

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O26 Storylines: Saint Louis, Gonzaga, Vermont and More…

Posted by Adam Stillman on February 28th, 2014

Selection Sunday is right around the corner. Conference tournaments begin in just three days. Let’s take a look at the storylines surrounding the O26 conferences as we head into the stretch run of the regular season.

Was Saint Louis Exposed on Thursday night?

Is SLU really all that good? (Photo courtesy of foxpsports.com)

Is SLU really all that good? (Getty)

The Billikens have been playing with fire for far too long. They were finally burned on Thursday night, dropping a shocking home game against Atlantic 10 cellar-dweller Duquesne. Saint Louis won its previous six games by single digits, with two coming by one possession and two more coming in overtime to George Mason. Saint Louis is still in prime position to win the A-10, needing only a single win in its last three games — at VCU, vs. Dayton, at Massachusetts — to secure the top seed in the A-10 Tournament. But Thursday’s result is certainly worrisome. SLU’s best wins are against VCU, George Washington and Saint Joseph’s. Those three teams might be NCAA Tournament teams, but the rest of its resume is hardly impressive. The Bills still have the fourth-ranked defense, according to Ken Pomeroy, allowing just 89.5 points per 100 possessions. But their offense is a huge concern, coming in at 169th at 105 points per 100 possessions. Jim Crews’ team still has three tough games remaining, and it could see its #10 national ranking and possible #4/#5 seed turn into a date in the #8/#9 game if it’s not careful. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Weekend Preview #9

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 28th, 2014

It’s the next to last weekend of conference play in the ACC, so let’s take a look at the match-ups from an advanced statistics perspective. All statistics used are for results in ACC conference games only along with team rankings (#1-#15) in each category. For each game we will show how the two teams compare in efficiency ratings and the four factors, offense versus defense. We will also look at interesting areas of particular strength and weakness that could hold the key to the outcomes of these games. All numbers are from Ken Pomeroy’s site and are current through games of February 26, 2014. The games are presented in the order of best combined Pomeroy overall team rankings (all times EST). This weekend features a battle for first place, with the winner likely headed to the ACC Tournament in Greensboro as the top seed.

Saturday - Syracuse (26-2, 13-2 ACC) @ Virginia (24-5, 15-1 ACC) – ESPN (4:00 PM)

Joe Harris and Virginia Hope To Lock Up ACC Regular Season Title. (Photo: VirginiaSports.com)

Joe Harris and Virginia Hope To Lock Up ACC Regular Season Title.
(VirginiaSports.com)

Pomeroy Prediction: (#4) Virginia 58-53 (#10) Syracuse

Syr-Va

This match-up will probably decide the ACC regular season title. Virginia could be the least publicized 15-1 major conference team ever. With Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina getting most of the national attention, the Cavaliers have methodically taken care of business and rolled through conference play. They also seem to be on the upswing, winning their last two games by over 20 points after three straight single-digit victories. Malcolm Brogdon continues to be a model of consistency. It’s almost unreal to look at his game-by-game scoring totals. Not only has he scored in double figures in every ACC game, but he has scored in the 12- to 17-point range in 14 of the 16 games. And in the other two contests, he had 11 once and — you guessed it — 18 in the other. The good news for Syracuse is that Jerami Grant is expected to play in the game. The sophomore missed the entire second half of Monday’s contest at Maryland with a lower back issue. In that game, the Orange won another nail-biter, bringing their record in close games (decided by five points or less) to a rather fortunate 6-1. For Syracuse to get Virginia in a close one, it better shoot much better than the team has lately. In the last four games, the Orange have averaged an extremely low effective field goal percentage (39.0). That doesn’t match up well with Virginia’s league-best defense.

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The RTC Podblast: Scott Van Pelt Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 28th, 2014

As we count down the hours until the beginning of March, the RTC Podblast crew is excited to welcome ESPN Sportscenter anchor and all-around good guy Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) to this week’s edition. We recorded before several of last night’s upsets, but we did get some conversation in about Kentucky’s home loss to Arkansas, a discussion about the teams we think are truly most likely to win the national title, and a hard look at the best games in a fairly loaded weekend of action. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts the proceedings. Have a listen.

Scott Van Pelt Riffed on ACC Basketball and What He Loves About March Madness

Scott Van Pelt Riffed on ACC Basketball and What He Loves About March Madness

Also, as we head into March and the insane number of podcasts/podblasts that we plan on dropping throughout the month, remember to make sure to subscribe on iTunes so that you’ll get all of the episodes immediately downloaded to your listening device. The turnarounds are going to be quick!

  • 0:00-6:33 – Arkansas Completes Kentucky Sweep in Rupp
  • 6:33-9:51 – Arizona Dominant Once Again?
  • 9:51-15:37 – Reactions to March Prognostication Rankings
  • 15:37-25:28 – Rush the Take – Scott Van Pelt
  • 25:28-32:51 – Weekend Preview
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Challenging the Narrative: Marcus Paige Has “Unpredictable” North Carolina Rolling

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 28th, 2014

College basketball media coverage is predictable. Early in the season, teams become associated with certain narratives. As teams evolve over the course of the season, the narratives may seem less and less apt, but we do our best to hang on to them as long as possible. Some teams don’t change enough to warrant a reconsideration of the way they’re written and talked about. Others change so much, and so quickly, that by February we can’t possibly attempt to re-apply the labels we slapped on them in November and December. Let’s run through some examples.

Since falling to 1-4 in the ACC, North Carolina has rolled off 10 straight wins (Getty Images).

Since falling to 1-4 in the ACC, North Carolina has rolled off 10 straight wins. (Getty Images)

  • Iowa: “KenPom likes ‘em, but they can’t win the close games.”
  • Michigan State: ‘Boy, if this team ever gets healthy, it’s winning it all. Mark it down.”
  • Kentucky: “So much talent, but not enough leadership.”
  • Louisville: “Pitino’s guys can really play, but without Chane Behanan, that frontcourt is going to be an issue come March.”
  • And, my personal favorite, North Carolina: “I have no idea what to expect from this team on a nightly basis.”

The origin of the unpredictability the Heels have become known for this season is easy to pinpoint. Over its first nine games of the season, Carolina beat then-No. 1 Michigan State, then-No. 11 Kentucky, and then-No. 3 Louisville. It also lost at home to Belmont (ranked #73 in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings at the time) and on the road against UAB (#66). This mix of great wins and baffling losses didn’t sit well with us narrative architects. How does one go about describing a team that’s so unpredictable? It was maddening. That’s how Carolina earned its reputation as the most unpredictable team in the country. Trust Carolina at your own peril, was the thought. The only thing we thought we knew about the Heels was how much we didn’t know. Which is to say, a lot.

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