RTC Weekly Primer: A Calm Before the Storm

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 23rd, 2014

Every Monday (and sometimes Tuesday), Henry Bushnell will provide a look ahead at the week to come. He’ll discuss the week’s top storylines, preview the three most prominent and compelling games, put a giant or two on upset alert, and decide which teams are in desperate need of a big week. Let’s break down Christmas week.

Is it a false phenomenon? Or is it a commonly used idiom based on fact? If you’ve ever experienced the actual calm before the storm, you know it’s the latter. Suddenly, everything becomes still. The wind dies down. Leaves merely rustle, yielding to the multifarious sounds of life. It’s all very serene; eerie even. This is the calm. But then… BAM. In an instant, the storm hits. It comes out of nowhere. Rain pours. Thunder crackles. Wind swirls. It’s a complete departure from what you experienced moments before. The calm before the storm is a real thing. That’s also why it’s such a great metaphor. Right now, we are experiencing the calm before the storm. After a decent weekend of college basketball, everything has gone still. The flurry of games has died down. A few birds chirped on Monday night (hi, Temple!); leaves will rustle, a dog or two will bark on Tuesday; Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be silent. And then on Saturday – BANG – lightning will strike. Thunder – Kentucky and Louisville – will rumble. And just as suddenly, come next Tuesday, all hell will break loose. Conference play will be upon us.

Want some thunder and lightning? Tune in when these two coaches go at it. (AP)

Want some thunder and lightning? Tune in when these two coaches go at it. (AP)


Kentucky at Louisville | Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN2

Just as it’s pretty difficult to argue that Kentucky isn’t the best team in college basketball right now, it’s pretty difficult to argue that this isn’t the game of the season. The biggest story from here on out will be the Wildcats and their chase of perfection, and the team with the best chance to beat them from now until mid-March is the one they will face this Saturday. Louisville can nip the narrative right in the bud. Not only is this a must-watch game in terms of fan interest and magnitude, it’s also an intriguing proposition from an analytical point of view. Because it hasn’t yet been done and because this team is unlike any we’ve recently seen in college basketball, nobody really knows what the blueprint might be for beating Kentucky. But one of the potential strategies –full-court pressure — is something that Louisville is likely to employ. Rick Pitino has several pesky, quick guards at his disposal, and although speeding the game up could backfire, getting easy points from turnovers and keeping Kentucky from finding any kind of rhythm is one of the few ways to score against its defense. Louisville’s size disadvantage everywhere on the floor means that it will need to hit outside shots, something it hasn’t been able to do consistently yet this season (27.5% from three), and even that might not be enough. Still, never underestimate the power of teams playing at home in rivalry games.

Indiana vs. Georgetown | Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN2

The momentum that was built up over the last two seasons came crashing to a halt this season for Tom Crean's Indiana team. (Getty)

After a rough start to the season, Tom Crean has his guys back on track. (Getty)

Indiana might be one of the most underrated teams in college basketball. No, really. Everybody was quick to jump on Tom Crean after the Hoosiers lost at home to Eastern Washington back in November, but many have ignored the corresponding facts that: a) Eastern Washington is actually decent; b) Indiana’s only other loss was to Louisville, and at least on that night, the Hoosiers were impressive; and c) Crean’s squad has beaten SMU, Pittsburgh and Butler – not a bad trio of wins. Now, the Hoosiers get one more non-conference chance to prove themselves against a good-not-great Georgetown team on a neutral floor. The Hoyas’ three losses – vs. Wisconsin and Butler on a neutral court, Kansas at home – are all respectable, but outside of a one-point overtime win over a then-out-of-sync Florida team, quality wins are nonexistent. KenPom still likes the Hoyas (#30 nationally) and their size should bother Indiana, but the Hoosiers can flat-out score. We’ll see if Georgetown can slow them down.

Gonzaga at BYU | Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN2

It’s an exaggeration to say that this is a must-win for BYU, but it’s impossible to overestimate just how big a victory over the Bulldogs would be. The Cougars’ season seems to be following a familiar path. They’ve certainly passed the eye test, but in four games against top-75 teams they’ve only come away with a win over Stanford at home. The other three have all been close losses, which means that BYU is in desperate need of quality wins and the WCC only presents two such possibilities this year: both games against Gonzaga. This home game could therefore make or break the Cougars’ overall résumé. As for the match-up, this game represents a clash of styles. BYU is trigger-happy with the ball in its hands. The Cougars have the second-shortest average length of offensive possession in the nation, and have only played one game this season that featured fewer than 68 possessions. The Zags, on the other hand, rank 233rd nationally in adjusted tempo, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a methodical offensive team, they will likely want to slow BYU’s offense to a more reasonable pace. With a raucous home crowd supporting BYU at the Marriott Center, it becomes even more important to prevent the Cougars from fueling lightning-quick offensive runs that are tough to recover from.


Kentucky and Louisville are the two big names to watch, as one will take a loss and leave at most eight flawless records heading into next week. Elsewhere, Arizona goes on the road to play UNLV on Tuesday, but the Rebels have taken a step back this year and shouldn’t pose too much of a threat. Villanova plays newly-crowned giant-killer NJIT as well on Tuesday. Washington, TCU and Colorado State all cruised to easy wins to remain unbeaten last night; the Huskies will take on Stony Brook on Sunday while the Rams will travel to New Mexico State over the weekend as well. Duke and Virginia, meanwhile, both have the week off.


BYU’s Tyler Haws and Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos are two of the best senior guards in the nation. Pangos’ 138.4 offensive rating ranks 11th in the country, and Haws, with a 125.0 offensive rating himself, is putting up a nation-leading 23.8 points per game while shooting 44.6 percent from beyond the arc. Pangos is the better passer and defender, though, so he can affect the game most by simply slowing down his counterpart and keeping others involved.


Aside from BYU, which also plays a trap game against UMass on Tuesday, it’s a big week for two teams that were absolutely demolished over the weekend. UCLA needs to respond favorably to its shellacking by Kentucky, and it will get that chance on Sunday at Alabama. KenPom projects the Bruins to lose its final game before Pac-12 play, but this contest represents a gut-check for Steve Alford’s group. Harvard also needs to put its 76-27 beatdown to Virginia behind it in Tempe when it takes on Arizona State in a second consecutive true road game.

Henry Bushnell (39 Posts)

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