It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume VII

Posted by jbaumgartner on January 31st, 2013

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…. Kansas guard Ben McLemore. I’ve been captivated this guy since the first time I turned on a KU game this year – the only comparison for pure smoothness as a freshman might be Melo at ‘Cuse. I can usually judge a guy’s talent by how willing I am to prioritize his Thursday snoozer at 8:30 PM on ESPN2. Do I delay dinner? Do I push work off till tomorrow? Do I accidentally forget about Date Night just to marvel at a net-snapping three when the Jayhawks are already up 20? If the answer to any of those is yes, I’m hooked. And for me, McLemore is that year’s player. Watch out for this KU team – they might just have all the pieces.

Mancrushing on Ben McLemore

I LOVED…. trying to figure out Duke.  27 points. TWENTY-SEVEN POINTS. The Miami Hurricanes looked like a pro team taking on the high school JV squad – running, slamming, jamming… even Barry Larkin was lovin’ it. So is Ryan Kelly that important to the Blue Devils? Is he the difference between cutting down the nets and a Hurricane doormat? Is he worth all 27 of those points? I guess we’ll find out.

I LOVED…. in a way that only a true John Calipari hater could love, the following headline: “Wiltjer, Noel Help Kentucky Upset Mississippi.” How a team full of Top 10 recruits can “upset” anyone is beyond me. They must realllllly be underachievers to pull off that one…..

I LOVED…. how the real point of this season seems to be how many teams can claim and then quickly relinquish the coveted (or maybe at this point, despised) Number One ranking. Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Duke, and now Michigan. It’s a tribute both to the difficulty of winning on the road with today’s insane fans, but also to the parity of this year’s college crop. I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting money (sorry NCAA, I mean “friendly non-financially based wager”) behind any of these teams. But it should all add up to one crazy March.

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume VI

Posted by jbaumgartner on December 18th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…. the magic of an intrastate rivalry in a basketball crazy state with Butler/Indiana. There are some games that seem like they’re just meant to take place in March, with all of those final consequences, and this sure seemed like one of those contests. What a treat of a game this early in the year, with all the back-and-forth and late dramatics that you could ask for. It makes sense that the Cinderella-prone Bulldogs and the upstart Hoosiers would be primed to start up a testy rivalry, but this barnburner might have just sped up that process by a couple of years. And you have to love the recruiting implications, too.

I LOVED… Sean Miller’s Wildcats taking out Florida in an early-season battle of potential March heavyweights. This one made me smile for two reasons – one, I feel like Miller is still on track with molding UA back into the perennial power that it was just a few years ago (and with that campus to recruit to, as it always should be…). But the other reason is that we need a couple of schools in the West to step up after a rough couple of years, just to restore some geographic balance to the college landscape. This Wildcats team looks like they could do their part this season.

I LOVED…. how content Tubby Smith is. He’s got another sneaky good team at Minnesota this season, as the Golden Gophers have only lost to #1 Duke and taken down Memphis and San Diego State, among others. You have to think that a guy with Tubby’s resume (read: national title) has turned down some offers at more marquee programs the past few seasons, but he’s remained committed to what most people would consider a rather moderate-profile university in a quality conference. It’s not flashy, and neither is Tubby, but it’s refreshing to see a good coach stay the course and keep building.

Tubby Smith Appears to Have His Best Minnesota Team

I LOVED…. Indiana losing a game at this point in the year. Though I’ve questioned their No. 1 ranking from the start, I really do like this team and think they very well could cut down the nets at the end of the year. But they needed some adversity, and getting it now rather than in late January or February will be a positive development, in my opinion. And getting it from a team that isn’t at their talent level should give Tom Crean even more material to work with in practice.

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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume V

Posted by jbaumgartner on December 11th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED… another strong week from Michigan. I’ve always gotten a kick out of subtly rooting for the Wolverines, but have never quite been able to put my finger on why. I guess that while most people enjoy stirring up images of tradition and excellence when programs like Indiana get back on track, with Michigan it’s more about stirring up those memories of just how stinking COOL the program was in the early 90s with the Fab Five. This is a fun team to watch, and it doesn’t hurt that they have two sons of former NBA stars leading the way, either.

Tim Hardaway Jr. and Friends Have Been Outstanding This Season

I LOVED… Illinois putting up one of the true statement wins of the young season and perhaps emptying out the Gonzaga bandwagon already. What an incredible start for John Groce, and what a performance from Brandon Paul. That’s probably as encouraging as anything for the Illini, that they had a closer to ride down the stretch of a tight game. That’ll bode well for a Big Ten that is sure to have plenty of nailbiters all year long.

I LOVED…. laughing at this show of solidarity from the ACC presidents about no more schools leaving the conference. I’d say it’s safe to say at this point that potentially 80 percent of all major conference schools are at least entertaining hypothetical scenarios or potential TV deals at the moment. With switches happening almost every other week, it’s fairly comical to deny it.

I LOVED… and by loved, I mean lovvvvvvvvvved App State center Brian Okam’s hysterical blooper-reel free throw, as his charity toss slipped off his hands and literally went 10 feet vertically and maybe three feet horizontally (and that’s generous). But I also loved that Okam could see the humor and took the time to give a statement about the shot. Just remember big man – the next one is always going in.

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume IV

Posted by jbaumgartner on December 3rd, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

  • I LOVED… the challenge that John Calipari has on his hands. He proved that he could win a title last year, but the question in coming years is whether his one-year-and-out philosophy can continue to bring home the hardware that UK fans believe should be the norm. Several bad losses in a row, however, are showing that this group is not at the talent level of last year’s champs. In many ways, this should be a great test – if UK is not the most talented team in the country, does Calipari have the coaching chops to keep them in the conversation? Stay tuned.
  • I LOVED… thinking about upcoming Louisville battles with Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse after the Cardinals were selected to replace Maryland in the ACC. While I’ve had about enough of this whole conference realignment fad in the last couple years, the addition of these two Big East powerhouses to such a basketball-crazy conference is definitely reason to smile (and the folks over at ESPN just might feel the same way).
  • I LOVED Larry Brown. There are only a few coaches out there who can walk into an under-the-radar (nice-speak for “not relevant”) program like SMU and declare that they’re going to be “pretty good pretty quickly.” Fortunately LB has the resume and personality to do just that. Do I think they will be? No way. But just hearing his enthusiasm made me smile and think – now wouldn’t that be something….

Larry Brown Is Off to a Good Start at SMU

  • I LOVEDRasheed Sulaimon’s assertiveness as a freshman. This kid is going to be good, but more importantly he’s exactly the type of wing playmaker that the Blue Devils have been missing all the way back to Kyrie Irving’s injury, if we’re being honest. Sure, he probably takes a few more heat checks than Coach K might like, but he puts constant pressure on the D with his quickness and aggressiveness, has a promising stroke from deep, and should allow Duke’s other guards (read: Seth Curry) to spot up and reap the benefits of inevitable double teams from penetration. Duke is very good this early in the season, and if they’re still around in April, Sulaimon will be a big reason. Read the rest of this entry »
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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume III

Posted by jbaumgartner on November 26th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

  • I LOVED… Ohio State. Maybe I’m jumping on the bandwagon too early, but I grew to really enjoy this team by the end of last year and feel strongly that they have two unique pieces in Aaron Craft and DeShaun Thomas. An elite (albeit annoying, in my view) point guard and a versatile wing scorer are two of the more important components in the college game, and any team that possesses them has a chance to be a tough out.
  • I LOVED… as I do every year, trying to figure out how deep this Gonzaga team can go. Each season I really get a kick out of trying to imagine the Zags playing against good competition all year, eventually accepting the reality that they don’t, and then trying to piece together a mental image of what team will show up in March when they inevitably get hit in the mouth by a legit squad with good guards. Still, it’s hard not to like Mark Few’s lineup this season. Not many teams will shoot it better than Gary Bell, Jr. and Kevin Pangos, and even though Elias Harris is turning 32 or so next week, he’s an active presence on the glass to complement a VERY underrated Sam Dower. I guess the Zags can’t be a sleeper in the traditional sense, but this might be their best (and most well-balanced) team in a while.
  • I LOVED Tom Crean showing no shame with his stick of Wrigley’s finest. How can you not love this? If strict adherence to the five-second rule and the world’s weirdest/creepiest Tweet ever doesn’t appeal to this generation’s high-schoolers, I don’t know what does.

  • I LOVED… reading this Sports Illustrated article on Michigan’s Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. It seems like we get plenty of stories every year about father-son relationships gone bad, but this was a rather refreshing example of two kids that have really gone about things the right way and made it through the tougher parts of living in the shadows of their NBA All-Star dads. Read the rest of this entry »
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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume II

Posted by jbaumgartner on November 14th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED… a lottery pick play. They’re some of my favorite moments every year – the two seconds that make you go, “Ohh, OhhhhhhWOWWW!” as a talented underclassman goes to a level you weren’t sure he had – and one that definitely translates to the next level. I ventured down to Chapel Hill for Sunday’s UNC-Florida Atlantic game, and soph sensation James Michael McAdoo provided that moment in the second half when he drove baseline, took off from under the hoop and floated all the way to the other side before stretching back and stuffing it home. The season is young, but he definitely looks like a player ready for the next level after blooming during the final weeks of last season. And I can barely wait to see him go head-to-head with Indiana’s Cody Zeller on November 27.

I LOVED… Duke doing what they do in the early season – using superior coaching and discipline to beat a much more talented Kentucky squad. It seems like Coach K specializes in this – he uses the early-season schedule to prey on the highly-skilled but less highly-disciplined youth that comes into college basketball every November. They might not beat those Wildcats in March, but they certainly outplayed them on Tuesday night.

I LOVED… John Calipari saying what we all were thinking on a nationally-televised halftime interview: “They’re (Duke) floppin’ all over the place.” Preach the truth, Cal.

I LOVED… feeling like college basketball was back on November 13. Sometimes it seems like it takes a few weeks to get going, but as soon as Duke-UK heated up in the second half, the energy was there. We had a high level of play early in the year, Dickie V simultaneously trying (successfully) to jump on both bandwagons in the span of one telecast, Blue Devils flying through the air horizontally despite no contact…. ah yes. It’s back.

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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume I

Posted by jbaumgartner on November 5th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….Tom Crean getting his due. After stepping into a situation that fits right into a Halloween house of horrors, Crean should rightfully take a full, oh, 20 minutes and bask in the satisfaction of planting Hoosierville right back on top of the college basketball world. Seriously, this is pretty remarkable. It’s not like Indiana had just been down for a few years before he stepped onto the scene – other than the freak run to the NCAA finals in 2002, this program hadn’t made the Sweet Sixteen since 1994. And to deal with sanctions and penalties on top of everything else…. soak it up Tommy, because they’re coming for you now.

Tom Crean Has the Nation’s #1 Team in the Preseason Polls (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images).

I LOVED…. finding about this awesome tradition at John Brown University, as the fans pelt the court with toilet paper following the team’s first home basket of the year. For all hype that fan bases at the big schools get, this might top them all in the originality column.

I LOVED…. how John Calipari continues to make us learn at least five new names every year. His latest freshmen class looked fine in its debut, and I’m excited for another season to see how sustainable his one-and-done championship model really is. Maybe he’s figured it out and will see more vindication this season. Or maybe we’ll be left wondering again how realistic it is to build chemistry and tourney success in six months. Chalk me up as one guy hoping for the latter.

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume XIII

Posted by jbaumgartner on March 7th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….pureness. Some would argue that there’s nothing better than a last-second buzzer-beater. FALSE. There’s nothing better than a last-second buzzer beater that also touches zero iron on the way down. Ohio State’s William Buford gave us one of those on Sunday against Michigan State for a huge win, and for me the swish adds even a little bit more to the drama. I’m thinking back to Isaiah Thomas’ Pac-10 conference tourney walk-off last year, and some others, too – maybe I’m just an absurdly picky fan, but nothing beats the twine tickler with the clock ticking down.

I LOVED…..Buford. The senior has had some subpar games during this conference season, and he’s the main reason why I’ve started to sour a bit on the Buckeyes. But if he plays like he can, he can take this OSU team to a different level on both ends of the floor. They need his long-range shooting to diversify their O, and his freakish athleticism on the defensive side, too. If he’s that guy in March, the Buckeyes could be there at the end.

If William Buford Can Play Like He Can, Ohio State Becomes That Much Better (USA Today)

I LOVED….the tables being turned. My UNC loyalty has been mentioned before, and I’ve truly never been as heartbroken as when Austin Rivers’ three dropped into the Dean Dome net back in February as time expired. I wondered if anything could make up for that painful disappointment, and I have to say, this might have done it. Absolutely demolishing, obliterating, dominating, embarrassing, and – oh yeah – BEATING Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Senior Night was heavenly (and I can’t say that watching Mason Plumlee cry didn’t give me some sick sort of pleasure). You make the pick though – comparing the two outcomes, which would you prefer?

I LOVED….Florida State following through. The 33-point win over Carolina, the buzzer-beater at Duke, it would been easy for these overachieving Seminoles to be happy with what they did and settle for another ho-hum conference season. But Leonard Hamilton kept FSU focused, and they’re fully deserving of their impressive 12-4 conference record and a guaranteed NCAA tourney berth. Well done down in Tallahassee.

I LOVED….Murray State both keeping pace and getting some cred in the rankings, even after that one loss. With their clutch tourney title finish, the Racers head into March Madness at 30-1 and have to start drawing some comparisons to last year’s San Diego State squad.

Five Things I Hated This Week

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume XII

Posted by jbaumgartner on February 28th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….Kansas and Missouri making a play for Game of the Year. I still think you can’t top the North Carolina/Duke game, but for momentum swings and quality, Saturday’s game in Lawrence was right up there. I don’t know if I’m more impressed with how well Missouri played in a ridiculously hostile environment, or that Kansas found a way to win after getting down big. Either way, I think I like both teams’ Final Four prospects better after that one.

I LOVED….Pat Knight’s rant. No, it probably wasn’t the best choice of words or the most thought-out statement. But you have to love when coaches just say what’s on their mind and don’t give the usual coach-speak BS. Fans love getting an unfiltered view, and Pat did his dad proud with that sound-off.

I LOVED….trying to figure out what UConn can even do to make the NCAA Tournament. They’re 17-11 and 7-9 in the Big East, with games against Providence and Pittsburgh left. They’ve beaten Florida State, Harvard, St. John’s and Notre Dame as far as OK wins go. Outside of winning the Big East Tourney, obviously (which started last season’s title run), I’d say Jim Calhoun’s underachieving group has to win out and win two games in MSG – maybe three. Any guesses?

I LOVED….wondering if Georgetown has found its happy place. I seriously haven’t thought about the Hoyas for more than five seconds all year, and it usually consists of – “Is it February yet? OK, they’re finished.” But here they are with just six losses and in the Top 10 as we get set to enter into March. Perhaps GU has lowered our late-season expectations so much that they’ve finally stopped pressing?

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume XI

Posted by jbaumgartner on February 15th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….objectively realizing that you just saw one of the more dramatic shots in college basketball over the last 10 years. Factor in everything – a freshman, playing on the road, time expiring, a three-point shot when you’re down two, UNC/Duke – and I’ll put Austin Rivers’ three up against anything I’ve seen. Cold-blooded doesn’t do it justice – that rainbow was sub-Arctic. The only mark against the buzzer-beater is that it came in the regular season, but for the silent (and I mean drop-a-pin silent) Carolina fans on Wednesday, that was little consolation as they watched Duke pile on their Baby Blue home floor in celebration.

As A College Basketball Fan, Austin Rivers' Three Was As Dramatic As They Come. As a UNC Grad...Well, You Get The Picture (AP)

I LOVED….Michigan State stoning Ohio State on the road. For me, it both validates this Spartans team as a contender and cements the Big Ten as one of the most balanced and competitive conferences this season (five teams currently in the Top 25). Last season might have been a big disappointment, but you can’t say enough about the coaching job that Tom Izzo has done this year.

I LOVED….Michigan State’s Draymond Green getting some love and validation this season. Not to make this a Spartan-happy column, but Green has really stepped up as a senior after maybe getting overshadowed a bit by the talent around him in previous years. He’s one of the most well-rounded players in the nation (15 PPG/10.5 RPG/3.5 APG/1.0 BPG/36% 3FG), and he kept this group focused after a bit of a rough start. Now MSU is looking more legit with each passing week.

I LOVED….Gonzaga reminding Saint Mary’s exactly which program has dominated the West Coast Conference for the last decade-plus. It’s easy to take the Zags for granted or root for more parity in the conference (I often do both), but don’t forget that Mark Few’s Bulldogs thrashed Notre Dame, Butler and Arizona, lost a close game to Michigan State and beat Xavier on the road. Don’t sleep on ‘em.

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume X

Posted by jbaumgartner on February 7th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….that moment where everyone watching a game knows exactly who is getting the ball, and that there’s no way the guy is missing. For me it was Terrence Ross of Washington against UCLA on ESPN this past Thursday. The talented swingman had 10 of the Huskies’ last 12 to complete a frantic comeback, and you just knew a splash was coming every time he lifted up for his absurdly high jumper. UW head coach Lorenzo Romar might not love that NBA scouts were undoubtedly watching, as well, but talents like Ross are tough to hide.

I LOVED….the Missouri/Baylor/Kansas trifecta in the Top 10. Not that having three teams from the same conference in those spots is unheard of – especially with the Big East – but man does it make for a flurry of big-time matchups during conference play. We had the Mizzou/KU thriller on Saturday, then Kansas/Baylor this Wednesday, and the Tigers/Bears rematch next Saturday. Boy do I love my couch.

Denmon Played Like an AA Saturday Night (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

I LOVED….remembering how hard it is to play on the road. I was fortunate enough to swing through College Park, Maryland, this weekend and snag a rather excellent seat in the very last row of the Comcast Center for UNC/UM. There isn’t much about that Terps team that should keep them in a game with Carolina’s talent, but a sellout crowd kept the place rocking and nearly carried Maryland to the upset. It just reminds me how impressive decisive road wins are in today’s game.

I LOVED….a big-time matchup being everything we wanted on Saturday – collapse, comeback, mistakes, heroics, a last-minute takeover by a star… what theater. Missouri and Kansas put on quite a show in Columbia, and Marcus Denmon has to take a big leap in POY consideration. He absolutely willed his Tigers to the finish line with cold-blooded three after cold-blooded three, and Missouri is all alone in first place after taking out Oklahoma on Monday.

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume IX

Posted by jbaumgartner on January 31st, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….big men getting down the floor. There is no seven-footer who runs the court better than UNC’s Tyler Zeller, and given the lack of fast break basketball in the NBA, that claim could probably even go a little further. It’s so funny to me – we’re literally talking about a 94-foot sprint that takes just a few seconds. Zeller isn’t the most graceful runner so it’s just pure effort. Why don’t more big guys take after him? Yes, it helps to have a faster pace and a quality point guard so that you get more consistent rewards/dunks, but there are plenty of cookies and easy stat padders for any big man who chooses to bust it up and down the floor.

I LOVED….trying to figure out exactly what I like most about this Kentucky team. I mean, just take a look at this stat sheet. Five players in double figures and no one over 13.5 PPG, three of those players at 6.5 or more boards a game, shooters, big men, ball control – while I like to hate on John Calipari, he’s taken a lot of talent and molded them into a winning machine thus far. More importantly, they seem to have really grown since some of those early games.  Heck, they’re even making 70.5% of their free throws. When that happens with a Calipari squad, you know things are rolling.

Calipari Has Another Great Team This Year

I LOVED….debating whether Saint Mary’s can run the table in the WCC. Mainly I loved typing that sentence and not talking about Gonzaga for once. This league has really worked hard to get some non-Zag recognition, and Saint Mary’s has spearheaded that charge. With the thumping that the Gaels put on the Zags already this year, they certainly have a shot to pull out a rare victory in Spokane. If they get past that one, we could see the first undefeated WCC season since the Zags in 2008-09, and the first non-GU team since who knows when.

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