RTC Back to School: 2008-2009 Preview

Posted by nvr1983 on November 10th, 2008

rtc-08-09-preview

For those of your who haven’t been spending as much time on Rush the Court the past few months as you should (looking at myself in the mirror), we thought we would offer you a quick guide to what we have been working on over the past few months.

General Overview: Some top quality writing/prognosticating to get you in the spirit for the run from today until the early morning hours of April 7th, 2009.
Finally, It’s Here: New RTC feature columnist John Stevens offers his thoughts about the upcoming season.
A Little Preseason Bracketology: RTC co-editor (Do we even have titles?) rtmsf does his best Joe Lunardi impression and makes a surprising pick for his national champion. I’m smelling an attempt to make the RTC preseason bracketology championship the new Madden cover.
Vegas Odds – Preseason Check-In: For the degenerate gamblers out there, RTC co-founder rtmsf offers an analysis of the Las Vegas odds for the 2009 NCAA champions for pure academic purposes. . .
Preseason Polls Released: The surprisingly employed (I’m running out of titles here) rtmsf analyzes the AP and Coaches polls going into the season with a deeper look at unanimous #1 UNC’s early schedule.
ESPN Full Court: 562 Games of Gooey, Delicious Goodness*: Once again, rtmsf comes through with the entire ESPN Full Court schedule with a Steve Nash-style assist from Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball.

Big Early Season News: While there are several big stories going into this season, there were 2 major stories that have come out recently that you should know about before you start watching games.
Tyler Hansbrough Out Indefinitely: Who? Oh yeah, that guy. Everybody’s favorite for national POY and NBA Draft Day snub (get ready for the annual Dick Vitale rant) Psycho T will be out for a while, but we think the Tar Heels will be ok by March.
Jai Lucas Leaving Florida: In a story that isn’t getting nearly the attention that the Psycho T story has (for good reason), Billy Donovan has lost last season’s starting point guard on the eve of the new season. While it appears that Lucas was probably heading towards a role as a backup point guard on the Gators, the timing of this announcement is surprising. It will be interesting to see what the Gators will do if freshman guard Erving Walker struggles in adjusting to SEC basketball.

Conference Primers: As part of our attempt to make a new-and-improved RTC, we hired the finest journalists in America to make our site more all-inclusive of the little people in the college basketball landscape. To that end we put together 31 conference previews (31 automatic bids to the Big Dance means 31 previews from RTC) with the help of the aforementioned correspondents.
ACC
America East
Atlantic 10
Atlantic Sun
Big 12
Big East
Big Sky
Big South
Big Ten
Big West
Colonial
Conference USA
Horizon
Ivy League
MAAC
MAC
MEAC
Missouri Valley
Mountain West
Northeast
Ohio Valley Conference
Pac-10
Patriot League
SEC
Southern
Southland
Summit
Sun Belt
SWAC
WAC
West Coast Conference

As the season progresses, we will have more features and content including updates from all 31 conferences. We hope all of you are looking forward to the new season as much as we are and even if your team looks like it will struggle to make it to the NIT, remember the words of Kevin Garnett, who incidentally didn’t play a minute of college basketball (that’s another post), “Anything is possible!”

Share this story

Finally, It’s Here.

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2008

rtc-08-09-preview

John Stevens is a featured columnist for RTC.  His columns will appear on Tuesdays throughout the season.

We can stop now.

No need to continue going to YouTube to relive highlights of last season.

We can stop reading (and re-reading) those strange single-issue pre-season magazines.

We don’t have to keep checking the listings at ESPN Classic or the Big Ten Network for a stray college basketball replay.

Somewhere in Florida, Dick Vitale has been taken out of a moth-ball-filled crate (or out of his tasty Tampa Bay Rays box seats) and has had his big bald pumpkin dusted off.  He is drinking hot tea to prepare his voice.  He knows that the weekly Mike-and-Mike appearances are not enough, now.  He knows it’s time to go to work.

Somewhere in New England, the always delightful and informative Tom Brennan is shopping for blazers.  Hopefully with his wife’s help.

At this moment, Digger Phelps is in a Staples, eyeballing the highliter section with genuine concern, holding up ties next to them to insure proper color-coordination.  Jay Bilas and the Davises (Rece and Hubert) are watching replays of the Tim Tebow pep talk and laughing like Charley Steiner

They’re polishing the floors at Pauley and Cameron Indoor.  Oh yes, they’re setting up chairs at Rupp and O’Connell.  If you listen hard enough, you can hear that blessed sound, that sweet, echoing collision between basketball leather and hardwood, coming from Louisville and Lawrence, Spokane and Storrs.

And we know why.  It’s back.

opening_night

God, it’s always been this way for me.  Ever since I can remember, the middle of October has meant – political rhetoric aside — well, a feeling of new hope.  Not just for the prospect of a great season for my favorite team(s), but for the fact that there WAS a season; that for the next five months, my favorite sport was going to take over everything – the TV, the radio, the conversations between me and my friends – and man, how sweet it was going to be. 

“Take over” is the correct term, there.  Seriously, some of my earliest memories of childhood were sitting with my basketball-coach father in front of a TV as he taught me why you have to “overload” a zone, or the best way to break a 2-2-1 full court press, or how, by looking at your defender’s feet, to tell the exact moment to go on a dribble-drive.  On random weekdays in grade school and junior high, my friends and I would be bleary-eyed having stayed up to catch the end of, say, Seton Hall at UC-Santa Barbara, or Loyola Marymount at Gonzaga, because if you were in our crowd you had better be able to discuss it.  Especially during the season, we’d be fired up to play HORSE, 21, or 5-on-5 on any playground we could find.  Rain or snow?  Didn’t matter, makes it more interesting.  3am and the cops showed up?  Who cares, we’ll find another court.  Yeah, we were geeks, at least about college basketball.  We didn’t care.  We still are.

I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading a college basketball blog, you probably share my excitement, and you probably have similar memories to the ones I’ve recounted above.  Maybe you have a specific moment in college hoops’ glorious history that made you an immediate lifelong fan.  Perhaps you can recall the exact details of where you were for the Bryce Drew Miracle.  Or Tyus Edney coast-to-coast.  Or Gabe Lewullis in 1996.  Well take heart, friends.  November has arrived.  It ain’t March, but it’s still pretty damn good.

And the upcoming season is already intriguing in so many ways.  So many questions are waiting to be answered.  For the first time in a while, we have a true Goliath to start a season, this time in the form of the 2008-09 edition of the North Carolina Tarheels.  Can they live up to the already-churning hype machine and take their place as one of the greatest squads ever assembled?  Can Ol’ Roy live up to the challenge and complete this task?  What absolute sickness does Stephen Curry have in store for us this year?  Will this new three-point line redefine the position of the 2-guard?  Will the traditional center re-emerge as the premier position on the floor because of it?  Will it bring back the lost of art of the mid-range jumper?  Is Duke over- or undervalued this year?  Is Davidson the new Gonzaga?  Speaking of the Zags, is Austin Daye as special a player as he seems?  Will Billy Gillispie’s second season in Lexington be as impressive as his second seasons at UTEP and Texas A&M (therefore catapulting him to deity status)?  And what is it going to be like to look over at the Arizona sideline and NOT see Lute Olson?  Jeez, you might as well make the baskets 26 feet high and make the court triangular, because it will seem like a different game.

I can’t wait to have them all answered.  So serve it up, let’s light this candle.  With everything that’s gone on in this country (sports and otherwise) in the last seven months, it seems like a million years ago that we crowned Bill Self and his Jayhawks as champions.  So give me Big Monday.  Love him or loathe him, give me Dickie V having one of his on-air seizures of hoops happiness.  Give me Gus Johnson on the mic with a last-second shot in the air.  Bring on Bracketology and let’s have some mid-majors.  It’s time for Rick Pitino’s white suit and the Fox Sunday night game. 

Because finally…it’s here.  Rejoice, college hoops fans.  Our game is back.

Share this story

A Little Preseason Bracketology…

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2008

rtc-08-09-preview

As you know, over the course of the last month and with the invaluable assistance of our correspondent brigade, we’ve rolled out 31 conference primers.  For each conference primer, we made a conscious attempt to provide a postseason seed for each and every NCAA team.  Now that we’ve finished, we thought it would be interesting to slot each team into a bracket taking into consideration the standard rules of seeding that the NCAA uses, and taking it one step further, play out the games as we would currently pick them.  Our results are below, so here is the first annual RTC Preseason Bracket(sorry for the small size, but if you click the image, you can see our predictions)

rtc-2008-09-preseason-bracket

Just some brief additional information on conference affiliation (avg. seed):

  • Big East – 9 teams  (4.8)
  • Big 12 – 7 teams  (6.3)
  • SEC – 6 teams  (7.2)
  • ACC – 5 teams  (5.4)
  • Big 10 – 4 teams  (6.3) 
  • Pac-10 – 4 teams (5.8)
  • A10, CUSA, Mtn West, Missouri Valley, WCC – 2 teams each  (7.9)
  • All Other Conferences (20) – 1 team each  (13.8)

Tell us how stupid we are below in the comments.  (trust us, we know this bracket isn’t perfect)

Share this story

Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #1 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2008

rtc-08-09-preview

Shamelessly cribbing from last spring’s very clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present to you the Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we gear up toward the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube. 

#1 – Where Pure, Unadulterated Bedlam Happens

(yeah, it’s good enough to see twice)

Share this story

2008-09 Conference Primers: #1 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2008

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference. 

Predicted Order of Finish (from the coach’s pre-season poll, released at Big East media day):

  1. Connecticut (9)
  2. Louisville (3)
  3. Pitt (3)
  4. Notre Dame (1)
  5. Villanova
  6. Marquette
  7. Georgetown
  8. Syracuse
  9. West Virginia
  10. Providence
  11. Cincinnati
  12. Rutgers
  13. Seton Hall
  14. St john’s
  15. DePaul
  16. South Florida

big-east-logo

WYN2K. You hear that? You know what that is? That’s the sound of RTC stealing my thunder.  I’m not much of a statistician myself, but just by looking at that pre-season poll I can tell you this – the Big East is loaded.  If you live outside of Big East country, then you are probably sick of hearing about how good the conference is, year in and year out. But facts are facts. Four teams are legitimate Final Four threats. Another six teams are, depending on who you ask, expected to be a part of the 65 team field. Three more teams have an outside shot at punching a ticket to the dance if they can catch a few breaks (transfers getting cleared, freshman getting eligible, etc.).  So in this day and age of college basketball, where “early entry,” “parity,” and “mid-major” have become household terms, how did one conference manage to stockpile so many good teams? Well, as you can see, the Big East is HUGE. There are sixteen teams spanning from Rhode Island to Wisconsin to Florida and everywhere in between. When you have that many teams in one conference, there are bound to be years where there are a lot of good teams, especially when so many of the schools have a rich basketball tradition.  This just happens to be one of those years where the Big East got lucky. Last season, 32 players were named to an All-Big East team (1st, 2nd, honorable mention, all-rookie), and only two of those players (WVU’s Joe Alexander and Syracuse’s Donte Greene) declared for the draft with eligibility remaining. Would Pittsburgh be as good as expected if Sam Young left? What about UConn without Hasheem Thabeet? Those two, and a number of other players, probably would be on NBA rosters right now if they left, but for whatever reason (a loaded draft class last year, smarts enough to know they weren’t ready, boosters offered them more than what they would get paid on a rookie’s salary) they decided to head back to campus.

So without further ado, here is your conference breakdown:

Cellar Dwellars.  DePaul, St. John’s, South Florida, Rutgers

  • There are some talented players on these teams. Sophomore Dar Tucker of DePaul is a poster waiting to happen. South Florida’s Dominique Jones scored 17.1 ppg as a freshman. St. John’s has senior Anthony Mason Jr. and sophomore Justin Burrell to carry the load. But with the depth of the Big East this year combined with the loss of some talented seniors, none of these three teams really look like they have a shot at doing much. Rutgers might have the best shot of the group to make some noise, as Fred Hill has landed back-to-back talented freshman classes. Don’t be surprised if you hear the names Gregory Echenique and Mike Rosario (RU’s first Mickey D’s all-american) quite often during the season.

We Should Have Bribed The NCAA.  Cincinnati (NIT), Seton Hall (NIT)

  • Both the Pirates and the Bearcats are awaiting the NCAA’s word on whether or not they will have some key players in their rotation. After struggling with the remnants of the Cincy program in the wake of Bob Huggins, Mick Cronin finally has the program heading in the right direction. He brings back Deonta Vaughn, who is one of the most explosive scorers in the country, and gets former Texas forward Mike Williams back from an Achilles injury. Adding two talented freshman in Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright only helped matters. But Wright tore up his knee in the first week of practice, meaning that Vaughn is, once again, their only real backcourt threat and that they must rely heavily on their front line, which could be bolstered by the addition of 7’2” center John Riek. The Sudanese refugee, who was considered one of the best prospects in the country two years ago but has battled knee problems, is dealing with eligibility issues but could be in uniform by December. 
  • Seton Hall’s situation is a little different. The Pirates lose leading scorer Brian Laing (18.6 ppg) but return a solid nucleus of Eugene Harvey, Jeremy Hazell and John Garcia. Bobby Gonzalez had also hoped to add transfers Herb Pope (New Mexico St.) and Keon Lawrence (Missouri) without having to wait the mandatory one year for a transfer by having each kid apply for the NCAA’s hardship waiver. Pope’s been denied, Lawrence’s application will wait until after the first semester, and freshman Melvyn Oliver is still waiting to be cleared academically, meaning the Pirates currently have only eight scholarship players.

Pretenders or Contenders?  Providence (NIT), West Virginia (NCAA #7)

  • I know what you’re thinking. Providence? Really, Rob? They haven’t been good since the days of Ryan Gomes and Donnie MacGrath (and even then, good might have been pushing it). But the Friars have the horses to sneak up on some people this year. They were as balanced as any team in the Big East last year, with six guys (five returners) that averaged at least 8.7 ppg.  PG Sharaud Curry, arguably their best player, is back from a stress fracture in his foot and they have added Keno Davis, last year’s national COY at Drake, as the head coach. Davis should have some success in his first year with the Friars if they follow the same spread floor style that was so successful at Drake. One key reason for that is big man Geoff McDermott, who is adept at playing on the perimeter and is a stat stuffer (10 ppg, 8 rpg, 5 apg, 1 spg, and 1.5 bpg). Remember, this Providence team, who battled the injury bug all year, swept UConn and beat Temple and Arkansas last seaso. The talent’s there, but consistency and healthy players will be the key to their season.
  • The Mountaineers are a different story. They really came on towards the end of the season, thanks in (very) large part to the emergence of Joe Alexander, who was probably the best player in the conference (maybe the country) for the last month-plus of the season and is now a forward with the Bucks. Left are a bunch of very good role players that fit into Huggy Bear’s system and play hard. Guys like Joe Mazzula, Alex Ruoff and Da’Sean Butler. There are two major questions for the Mountaineers – who is going to play in the post and who is going to fill to void of “go-to guy” with Alexander gone. Freshman Devin Ebanks may be able to fill Alexander’s shoes with time, but the rest of the Mountaineers front line will be small (especially for the Big East) and inexperienced.

Worst of the Rest.  Syracuse (NCAA #7), Georgetown (NCAA #7), Marquette (NCAA #6), Villanova (NCAA #5)

  • I’ll be completely honest with you. I’m a UConn fan. I hate Syracuse. Despise them. I even hate the color orange. I didn’t even rank them in my top 25. Call it being biased, call it homerism, call it what you like. But I’ve had an epiphany – this team is really talented. Jonny Flynn is one of the best point guards in the country. Eric Devendorf is a very talented combo guard. Andy Rautins can flat out stroke the three. Paul Harris is a linebacker playing basketball. Arinze Onuake is a beast on the block. And this year, they actually have a deep bench filled with role players and hustle guys. They’re not quite in the top four, but Boeheim has himself his most talented team since Melo.
  • Georgetown lost a lot of very important players to graduation (Roy Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace, Patrick Ewing Jr) and transfers (Jeremiah Rivers, Vernon Macklin). They are left with just four guys who were in their rotation last year – guards Chris Wright, Jessie Sapp, Austin Freeman and forward DaJuan Summers. They do add a great recruiting class, headlined by big men Greg Monroe and Henry Sims, but it will still be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Hoyas. Part of the reason is that John Thompson III may have to change up his style of play from the Princeton Offense. Hibbert, Wallace, and Ewing were perfectly suited to a slowed down game, where as Sapp and Wright are quick guards that can make plays in the open floor.
  • Marquette has a new coach, but they will be the same team. By now, you must know about their three great guards – Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews – who, when combined with Maurice Acker and David Cubillan, make up one of the deepest, most explosive backcourts in the country. But, much like Villanova and West Virginia, Marquette needs someone to step up inside. It’s great when you have a bunch of guards that can score and make plays, but will Dominic James 40” vert help him against the likes of Luke Harangody or DeJuan Blair? Dwight Burke is going to have to make some big strides as a senior, or else the Golden Eagles will have to rely on a freshman and two JuCo transfers inside.
  • Remember that Villanova team from a few years back? The one with Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye, Allan Ray and Mike Nardi? Well this ‘Nova team is going to be similar to that squad. Led by scoring machine Scottie Reynolds, ‘Nova has one of the best backcourts in the conference. But the key to their success this year will be the front court. Dante Cunningham, an athletic, 6’9 PF, has proven himself as a capable frontcourt player in the Big East, but the rest of the Wildcats frontline will need to step up if Jay Wright’s club wants to crack the top four.

Crème de la Crème.  Notre Dame (NCAA #5), Pittsburgh (NCAA #3), Louisville (NCAA #2), UConn (NCAA #1)

  • Notre Dame returns basically the entire team that finished tied for second in the Big East, including reigning Big East player of the year Luke Harangody. While I can’t help but comment on his resemblance to a pot-bellied pig, you can’t argue with his production last year (23 ppg and 11 rpg in conference). While he is built like one of Charlie Weis’ lineman, he is actually incredibly nimble and has great feet and balance, which is one of the reasons he is able to scorer against bigger, more athletic defenders. Surrounding him will be shooters Ryan Ayers and Kyle McAlarney (who was a 1st team all-conference performer), as well as Tory Jackson, who is one of the more underrated PGs in the league. Notre Dame is going to be a fun team to watch if you like games with a lot of scoring and a lot of threes.
  • Pitt is going to be a typical Pitt team, with a lot of big, strong, tough kids that are going to play rugged, in your face defense. Sam Young, who developed a deadly jumper out to around the three point line, and DeJuan Blair, a 6’7 270-lb mammoth inside, provide one of the toughest frontcourts to match up with in the country. The biggest questions for Pitt surround their backcourt. When will Levance Fields return from foot surgery, and will he be healthy? Can anyone on this team replace the three point shooting of Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin?
  • Louisville, along with Pitt, is probably going to be the toughest defensive team in the conference. It starts with their backcourt, where they have five guys (Edgar Sosa, Andre McGee, Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles, Reginald Delk) that will really get after you on the perimeter. Earl Clark and Terrence Williams (who is coming off a torn meniscus and should be out another month or so) are both athletic, versatile players. T-Wills is more of a perimeter player and is the Cardinals best creator offensively, averaging more than 4.5 apg last year. Clark is more of a combo forward that will get his points off of fast breaks and cutting to the basket. Louisville loses their entire front line from last year, but they bring in a solid recruiting class, the star of which is Samardo Samuels, probably the best post recruit in America this year.
  • Last, but certainly not least, is UConn. The Huskies probably won’t be at full strength until December, as AJ Price is coming off of a torn ACL and freshman Ater Majok and junior Stanley Robinson (who was last seen on a poster) are both going to be made eligible (hopefully) after the first semester ends. Regardless, UConn is loaded with talent. 7’3” junior and shot blocking machine Hasheem Thabeet returns, as does Jeff Adrien, the Huskies leading scorer and rebounder. Price will be joined in the backcourt by talented but troubled junior Jerome Dyson and Mickey D’s all-american Kemba Walker. UConn’s biggest question mark right now – can they win a big game? They were 8-8 on the road or on a neutral court last year, and are 0-3 in the Big East and NCAA tournaments the last two years.

RPI Boosters.  The Big East RPI is going to be high enough, but here are some of the must-see non-conference match-ups (ignoring the possible match-ups in pre-season tournaments):

  • Wisconsin @ Marquette  (12.06.08)
  • Villanova vs. Texas and Davidson vs. West Virginia in NYC at Jimmy V  (12.09.08)
  • Cincinnati vs. Xavier  (12.13.08)
  • Memphis @ Georgetown  (12.13.08)
  • Marquette @ Tennessee  (12.16.08)
  • Gonzaga vs. UConn in Seattle  (12.20.08)
  • Syracuse @ Memphis  (12.20.08)
  • Kentucky @ Louisville  (01.04.09)
  • Georgetown @ Duke  (01.17.09)
  • Notre Dame @ UCLA  (02.07.09)

65 Team Era.  The Big East earned its chops as a basketball conference in the 80s, and that tradition persists to this very day despite the expansion of the league to it’s current sixteen-team iteration.  Last year the league earned eight bids to the NCAAs, and it’s difficult to envision a future scenario where the conference would ever get less than six bids again.  This obviously will skew their future numbers on a whole scale, but their stats to date are nothing to sneeze at (206-126, .620, 11 F4s, 4 titles).  With the power at the top of this year’s league, we could potentially see another 1985 F4 on the horizon (3/4 of the F4 were Big East teams – Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s). 

Final Thought.  The Big East is wide open this year. Every night is going to be a dog fight. One thing you can be sure of, however, is that any team from this league that makes it to the postseason is going to be battle-tested.

Share this story

Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #2 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 9th, 2008

Shamelessly cribbing from last spring’s very clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present to you the Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we gear up toward the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube. 

#2 – Where Psycho-T Happens

 

Share this story

2008-09 Conference Primers: #2 – Big 12

Posted by rtmsf on November 9th, 2008

Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley and Big 12 Conferences.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Texas   (27-3, 14-2)
  2. Kansas  (24-7, 14-2)
  3. Oklahoma  (27-5, 13-3)
  4. Baylor  (25-5, 12-4)
  5. Oklahoma St.  (19-11, 8-8)
  6. Texas A&M  (19-12, 7-9)
  7. Nebraska  (18-11, 7-9)
  8. Missouri  (18-13, 6-10)
  9. Kansas St.  (18-13, 6-10)
  10. Iowa St.  (16-16, 3-13)
  11. Texas Tech  (15-16, 3-13)
  12. Colorado  (14-16, 3-13)

big-12-logo

What You Need to Know.  Although Kansas won the National Championship last season in dramatic fashion, most of the team won’t be around to try to do the repeat shuffle like Florida did the previous two seasons.  However, that doesn’t mean the Big 12 Conference won’t have an exciting season in the wings.  The buzz around the Big 12 is that sophomore Blake Griffin from Oklahoma (who passed on the NBA, unlike is KU peers) decided to stay another year at Oklahoma to try to lead his team to a championship.  Griffin has already been mentioned for several preseason All-American teams and awards.  Texas returns a great nucleus of talent on a team that tied for the conference championship last year with Kansas.  Baylor is the biggest surprise coming into the season.  Head Coach  Scott Drew has brought this disgraced program back from the ashes a few years ago when Patrick Dennehy was murdered by teammate Carlton Dotson and information was later covered up by then head coach Dave Bliss. Baylor made the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in twenty years.   Iowa State and Texas A&M are led by former Missouri Valley Conference coaches, Greg McDermott and Mark Turgeon, respectively.  Although Kansas State made a splash back into the national spotlight showcasing Michael Beasley and Bill Walker, they’ll now take a step back into the pack, but with the salaries of their coaches including their assistants, they should be held to high expectations.  Nebraska will be playing small ball this year as they do not have a player over 6’8, but it isn’t like they haven’t triedMissouri is still trying to find its identity and coach Mike Anderson hopes to finally play his type of up-tempo, high pressure defense.  Although only in his third year at the helm, Anderson is on the hot seat.  Colorado has a lot to build on with mostly freshman and sophomores.  Texas Tech got a little head start when legendary coach Bobby Knight passed the keys to his son Pat Knight at the end of last season, while first year coach Travis Ford restarts the Oklahoma State program after the Sutton family was ousted. 

Predicted Champion.  Texas (NCAA #1).  Although Texas  hoped DJ Augustin wouldn’t leave Austin for the NBA, he did.  The Horns return four of five starters, though, (AJ Abrams, Conner Atchley, Damion James and Justin Mason) and most of the team that made it last season to the Elite Eight.  AJ Abrams can hit a shot quickly and from anywhere.  He is the top returning scorer in the Big 12 (16.5 ppg).  Without Augustin, Texas will be relying on Dogus Balbay to run the point.  Unfortunately, Balbay is returning from an injury and played on a Turkish club team with players who received money.  However, Abrams is also an option at point guard and feels confident that he can run the team.  The frontcourt is solid with veterans James (12/10 last season) and Atchley.  Height doesn’t always equal playing ability, but when you have four players on the roster that are over 6’10”  (Atchley, Clint Chapman, Dexter Pittman and Matt Hill) they have the ability to be physical underneath.  The thing that sets Texas apart from the other Big 12 teams is their NCAA Tournament and coaching experience compared to the other contenders.  I expect Texas to take it a step further this year and make a Final Four appearance. 

NCAA Tournament Teams.

  • Kansas (NCAA #4). Some might think that I am crazy for predicting Kansas to finish second in the Big 12 this season with only 2 players coming back with significant playing time (Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich).  Kansas will have seven newcomers to the program and some will be expected to be big players right away including juco All-American Mario Little, freshman twins Markieff and Marcus Morris and freshman guard Tyshawn Taylor.  Expect that there will be some growing pains.  However, Kansas is a beneficiary in scheduling, not only during the non-conference season, but in the Big 12 schedule as well.  The Jayhawks are participating in the CBE Classic that has them playing preliminary games at home and the semis/finals in Kansas City which is also basically at home.  Then in Big 12 play, they play the North schedule which means that they’ll play at Baylor and at Oklahoma only once, play Texas in Lawrence, while those three South teams have to play each other twice.  Playing at Allen Fieldhouse is not an easy task which makes their schedule amenable to success.  The Jayhawks will lose some early non-conference games and probably games they should not, but will be solid come conference and post-season time. The main cogs of the team that won the National Championship last year played together as freshmen and struggled early, but turned out to be one of the big stories as the season went along.  Similarly to that group, this season I see KU only getting past the first round of the NCAAs. 
  • Oklahoma (NCAA #5).  The media has picked Oklahoma to win the conference, Blake Griffin to be POY and Willie Warren to be the ROY. Warren was the leading scorer in the McDonalds All-American game and can seriously dunk.  If you want to see some of the talent Warren has to offer, check out this dunk.   Along with Griffin and talented freshman Warren, the rest of the team will be full of role players.  With so much of the focus on Griffin and Warren, that means that several other players need to step up their play to give Oklahoma additional options along with those two gifted players.  One of those players that might make an impact is 6’9” UCLA transfer Ryan WrightJeff Capel is a capable coach, but his 3rd year in the conference will keep them from winning the conference.  However, expectations are high and I expect Oklahoma to reach the Sweet 16. 
  • Baylor (NCAA #6).  Baylor is a team that returns its top eight scorers from last season led by Curtis Jerrells (15.3 ppg).  They were the Big 12’s highest scoring team and who could forget the epic non-televised 5 OT game with Texas A&M last season.  Kevin Rogers, LaceDarius Dunn and Henry Dugat are scoring machines that provide a depth of experience.  A senior-laden team, Scott Drew has built this team from scratch and is creating dividends by making he NCAA Tournament for the first time in two decades. But Baylor will not win the conference because their defense is suspect and their frontcourt will need to improve.  However, they tasted the feeling of the NCAA Tournament and got knocked out right away, but it will be different this year and I expect that they will make the Tourney again and at least win one game. 
  • Oklahoma St. (NCAA #7).  The Cowboys still have enough in the cupboard to make it to the NCAA Tournament even though they will break in first-year coach Travis Ford.  They are a little thin on the inside but return their leading scorer, James Anderson, and 80% of their scoring.  Having an up-tempo style that Ford likes to run will help minimize the frontcourt deficiencies.  They should do well enough to make it to the NCAAs, but will probably be bounced in the first round.
  • Texas A&M (NCAA #9).  Mark Turgeon in his 2nd year will be able to make one more run with the players that Billy Gillispie left behind before heading to Kentucky.  It remains to be seen if Turgeon will be able to recruit the right players to fit into playing in the Big 12.  Coming from the Valley, it is a big transition to try recruiting the right players for the large conference schools (note:  Bruce Weber (Illinois), Matt Painter (Purdue), Greg McDermott (Iowa St.)).  Though I see A&M sneaking into the NCAAs, this team could very well find itself in the NIT next March. 
  • Nebraska (NCAA #12).  Nebraska will be playing small ball this year and more in the up-tempo style that Doc Sadler would like to play, but the lack of an inside presence and a weak non-conference schedule will put them squarely on the bubble of the NCAA tournament.  This team could realistically have only one loss coming into conference play.  It has everyone coming back except for Aleks Maric who was their productive center, but even the newcomers were around the team and know the system as four players redshirted last season.  Having the confidence-building games will bring Nebraska into conference play on a high and they’ll benefit by playing in the North division, but they will struggle when they have a stretch of four games against South teams and Kansas. However, the Huskers will surprise some people this year, finish 7th in the conference and sneak into the NCAAs as one of the last at-large bids.

NIT Teams. 

  • Missouri (NIT).  The pieces appear to be in place in Columbia for the Missouri Tigers to start making some strides to return to the spotlight again but the depth is not there to run a full court, high pressure defense for Mike Anderson’s system to be completely successful.  They will have some success early in the season, but they will be tired by the time they get to conference play and will fall off from the picture.  They will be the last team into the NIT. 
  • Kansas St. (NIT/CBI).  Michael Beasley and Bill Walker are not there anymore so this team will have some significant challenges to replace those players.  They have a somewhat soft non-conference schedule except for the Las Vegas Invitational which will build up their win total, but will fall short in the Big 12 race to be considered for the NCAAs.  If they do not do well enough for the NIT, they will be in the CBI for the postseason.

Others.

  • Iowa St.  Greg McDermott is still getting his feet wet in his 3rd year as the roster has had a total turnover in the past two seasons (seven new players last year and another six this year).  Like Turgeon, it is hard to tell if he’s getting the right recruits to compete in the Big 12.
  • Texas Tech.  Although Pat Knight received the keys to the team mid-season last year, this team will struggle as they try to find their identity and whether they decide to implement a whole new scheme or keep with what Bobby Knight established and the players that were recruited for his scheme. 
  • Colorado.  Jeff Bzdelik is in year two of a total rebuild of this team, as eight players have left the team since Bzdelik arrived in Boulder in 2007.  They will probably start several freshman who will be overwhelmed.  Their offense is yet to be established as they try to run clock to keep the score in the 50s.  There are too many things going against the Buffs from being a factor this year.

Important Games.  The Big 12 has a great advantage in that they are key players in several major exempt tournaments this year that they can make a splash in:

  • Texas—Maui Invitiational
  • Oklahoma—Preseason NIT
  • Baylor—Anaheim 76 Classic
  • Kansas—CBE Classic
  • Oklahoma St—Old Spice Classic
  • Kansas St.—Las Vegas Invitational
  • Colorado (Rainbow Classic)
  • Missouri (Puerto Rico Tipoff)
  • Texas Tech (Legends Classic)
  • Texas A&M (South Padre)

Also some great non-conference matchups as a part of the PAC-10/Big 12 Challenge:

  • Oklahoma vs. USC  (12.04.08)
  • Texas vs. UCLA  (12.04.08)
  • Kansas @ Arizona  (12.23.08)

It is always a chore to get a large conference school to go on the road to play on a smaller team’s home court, but here are the road tests the Big 12 is taking on this year (not neutral site):

  • Nebraska @ TCU  (11.19.08)
  • Kansas St. @ Cleveland St.  (11.22.08)
  • Iowa St. @ Northern Iowa  (12.03.08)
  • Texas Tech @ Lamar  (12.13.08)
  • Oklahoma St. @ Texas A&M-CC  (12.14.08)
  • Texas Tech @ UTEP  (12.17.08)
  • Iowa St.  @ Houston  (12.18.08)
  • Oklahoma @ Rice  (12.22.08)
  • Texas A&M @ Rice  (12.31.08)
  • Colorado @ SMU  (01.05.09)

Conference Key Games.  These games will decide the conference champ:

  • Texas @ Oklahoma  (01.12.09)
  • Baylor @ Oklahoma  (01.24.09)
  • Texas @ Baylor  (01.27.09)
  • Kansas @ Baylor  (02.02.09)
  • Oklahoma @ Baylor  (02.11.09)
  • Oklahoma @ Texas  (02.21.09)
  • Kansas @ Oklahoma  (02.23.09)
  • Baylor @ Texas  (03.02.09)
  • Texas @ Kansas  (03.07.09)

Neat-O Stats.

  • 4-The number of 20-win seasons in Baylor’s 102-year history.
  • 5-Texas is one of just one of five schools to advance to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament in four of the last six years (Duke, UConn, Kansas, Pitt)
  • 51-4—This is Kansas’ record in the last 55 games dating back to 2006-07 when Kansas lost to UCLA in the Elite Eight.  Their only losses since then leading up to their NCAA Championship last year were to Texas, Kansas St. and Oklahoma St. last season. 

65 Team Era.  The teams in this conference are a combined 268-222 in the NCAA Tournament with 35 Final Four appearances and five National Championships.  As the Big 12 conference, their first National Championship was with Kansas last season (the others were as the Big 8, which merged into the Big 12 in 1996-97).  The conference’s record in this era is 161-112 (.590), which puts it roughly on par with the SEC as a major conference.  Where the league has struggled (until last year, of course) was winning national titles.  Only KU in 1998 and 2008 have won championships during this era. 

Final Thoughts.  The Big 12 will be a top heavy league this year and in some minds might be down compared to years past.  It will have four strong teams that will easily make the NCAA tournament and then there is a log jam between 5-9 on who will step up to either make the NCAA or settle for the NIT for the post season.  It will be interesting to see if Texas will finally outlive the hype that is given to them each year to make it to the Final Four and be in line to play for the National Championship.  Oklahoma is poised to make a run, but if Griffin gets hurt, will they still be able to win games?   It will be interesting to see how Kansas does after winning the championship the year before but losing so much to not be considered able to repeat.  With 10 of the 12 teams in the conference participating in high profile early season tournaments, the Big 12’s season will be defined on how those teams do in those tournaments.  If they are successful, then they will be the talk of this basketball season.  If they fail miserably, expect them to get fewer teams into the Big Dance than they have the last few years.

Share this story

A Few More Exhibitions of NCAA Basketball Action

Posted by rtmsf on November 9th, 2008

Share this story

Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #3 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 9th, 2008

Shamelessly cribbing from last spring’s very clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present to you the Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we gear up toward the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube. 

#3 – Where Not Good Enough For The ACC Happens

Share this story

2008-09 Conference Primers: #3 – ACC

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2008

Zach Smith of Old Gold & Blog and DeaconsIllustrated is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). 

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. North Carolina (28-2, 14-2)
  2. Duke (27-5, 13-3)
  3. Wake Forest (21-8, 11-5)
  4. Miami (20-9, 10-6)
  5. Clemson (20-10, 8-8)
  6. Virginia Tech (18-12, 8-8)
  7. Georgia Tech (17-12, 7-9)
  8. Maryland (17-13, 7-9)
  9. NC State (15-14, 5-11)
  10. Boston College (15-15, 4-12)
  11. Florida State (13-16, 4-12)
  12. Virginia (11-16, 4-12)

acc-logo1

WYN2K. The ACC is still the ACC. I know many still long for the return of the days of nine teams (or even eight), but for better or worse a 12-team ACC is here to say, and it’s still plenty enjoyable. It may not be the absolute best conference in 2008-2009, but it’s dang good, and I have a feeling the majority of college basketball fans would still rather watch Duke play North Carolina play than Louisville play UConn. Everyone agrees UNC is the best team in the country (assuming they’ll have Tyler Hansbrough back sooner rather than later) and Duke is right there in the top five with them. With high expectations and lots of potential, Wake Forest is also making appearances in preseason top 25 rankings, and Miami also came in at #17 in the preseason AP poll. Clemson doesn’t appear to be far behind. I expect all five of those teams to make the NCAA Tournament this season, and I will not be surprised if Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Maryland compete for berths as well. If he comes back healthy, Hansbrough (22.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg) is likely to once again be the national player of the year, while Boston College’s Tyrese Rice (21 ppg, 4.9 apg), Miami’s Jack McClinton (17.7 pgg), North Carolina’s Ty Lawson (12.7 ppg, 5.16 apg), and Duke’s Gerald Henderson (12.7 ppg, 31 blocks) are all players to keep an eye on this season. Wake Forest boasts this year’s best recruiting class, led by forward Al-Farouq Aminu, and people will definitely want to keep an eye on Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert as well.

Predicted Champion. This isn’t a difficult choice to make this season. There’s little doubt the North Carolina Tar Heels (NCAA #1) are the best team in the ACC this season, and I think just about everyone will be surprised if they don’t win both the regular season and the tournament. Roy Williams has done an excellent job in his time at Carolina, and with both Tyler Hansborough and Ty Lawson deciding to return for another season, the Tar Heels have all five starters from last season back on the floor. No team in the ACC can match the talent, depth, and experience on this Carolina roster. They play fast and score quickly (88.6 ppg, .488 from the field last season) beat teams by the widest margins in the ACC (+16.1), and have an absurdly high rebounding margin (+11 – the closest team was +5). They also led the ACC in assists per game (16.8) and assist/turnover ratio (1.17). They don’t always play the best defense in the conference, but with their offense they don’t need to. It’s going to take an excellent performance for anyone in the ACC to beat them this season.

Others Considered.  I’d be lying if I said I seriously considered anyone else. North Carolina is just that good. I’m not saying Duke (NCAA #3) isn’t a great team—they are—but I don’t think they’re quite there with Carolina this season. Duke is a pretty clear favorite to be runner-up this season, and for good reason. They return a talented base, including point guard Greg Paulus (11.4 ppg, 3.2 apg), shooting guard Jon Scheyer (11.7 ppg), forward Gerald Henderson, and center Kyle Singler (13.3 pgg, 5.8 rpg). They will also count on strong performances from new starter Lance Thomas, as well as bench contributions from Nolan Smith and freshman Miles Plumlee. They score almost as much as UNC (83.2 ppg), play even better defense (allowing only 69.4 ppg) and lead the conference in turnover margin (+4.8). The Wake Forest (NCAA #5) Demon Deacons get in this discussion based primarily on potential. They didn’t graduate a single impact player, return two of last season’s most talented freshmen in forward James Johnson (14.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and guard Jeff Teague (13.9 ppg, 1.83 steals), and bring in the ACC’s best recruiting class of forward Al-Farouq Aminu and centers Tony Woods and Ty Walker. If Coach Dino Gaudio can maximize the potential in this team then they could really make some noise this season.

Other Likely NCAA Bids.  Miami (NCAA #6) and Clemson (NCAA #12) should both be good enough to make the tournament this year. Jack McClinton (17.7 ppg) is the clear leader of the Miami team – a great shooter who has improved his entire game. Miami relies on a strong defense (second in scoring defense last season at 67.9 ppg) and will do so again this season, hoping to ride that into the NCAA Tournament. Clemson hopes to join them, led by Trevor Brooker who is both a great scorer and rebounder. In the past the Tigers have relied on a speedy trapping defense that creates lots of turnovers, but much of the talent that made that style of play work in the past is gone this season. They’ll need Brooker and KC Rivers to step up and put points on the board this season. Virginia Tech (NIT) and Georgia Tech (NIT) are likely bubble teams this season. VT only lost one starter from last year’s squad and returns lots of young talent, including AD Vasallo and Jeff Allen. Georgia Tech lost a lot from last year’s team but brings back some young talent in a good recruiting class. Maryland (NIT) lost a great frontcourt and will rely on Greivis Vasquez to lead them to a potential NIT birth.

The Rest.  NC State, Boston College, Florida State and Virginia are all likely to be staying home in March, although it is certainly possible for one or two to surprise and make some kind of noise this season and maybe grab an NIT birth. NC State lost its top three players from a season ago and will need lots of guys to step up this year. Boston College boasts a great player in Tyrese Rice, but lacks anyone to support him and I don’t see who could step up and really fill that role. Florida State loses as much as NC State did, if not more, and probably has even less talent that could step up. Virginia, like these other teams, lost its top three players from last season and another to injury. For now, everything is on Mamadi Diane’s shoulders and the prospects for this season are grim.

RPI Boosters.

  • Kentucky @ North Carolina – ESPN 9:00  (11.18.09)
  • Ohio State @ Miami – ESPN 7:00 ACC/B10 Challenge  (12.02.08)
  • Duke @ Purdue – ESPN 9:15  ACC/B10 Challenge  (12.02.08)
  • Indiana @ Wake Forest – ESPN 7:00  ACC/B10 Challenge  (12.03.08)
  • North Carolina @ Michigan State – ESPN 9:15  ACC/B10 Challenge  (12.03.08)
  • NC State @ Davidson – FSN 12:00  (12.06.08)
  • Miami @ Kentucky – ESPN 5:30  (12.06.08)
  • Duke @ Xavier – CBS 2:00  (12.20.08)
  • Davidson @ Duke – ESPN 7:00  (01.07.09)
  • Georgetown @ Duke – CBS 1:30  (01.16.09)

Preseason Tourneys.

  • North Carolina – Maui Invitational
  • Duke – Coaches Versus Cancer
  • Boston College – Preseason NIT
  • Virginia Tech – Puerto Rico Tip Off
  • Miami – Paradise Jam
  • Wake Forest – 76 Classic
  • Maryland – Old Spice Classic
  • Florida State – Las Vegas Invitational

The preseason/Thanksgiving tournaments should provide some good early challenges for these ACC teams, and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge usually provides some entertainment as well. Just about everyone has a couple of significant OOC games, and for some of the bubble teams these could be the RPI boosters they need to make a push into the NCAA Tournament.

Key Games.  I’ve heard it said that every game is a big game in the ACC, and in many ways this is true. Obviously, though, some are bigger than others so let’s take a look:

  • Clemson @ Miami – FSN 7:45  (12.21.08)
  • North Carolina @ Wake Forest – FSN 8:00  (01.11.09)
  • Duke @ Georgia Tech – ESPN 7:00  (01.14.09)
  • Miami @ North Carolina – ESPN 9:00  (01.17.09)
  • Virginia Tech @ Wake Forest – ESPN2 7:00  (01.21.09)
  • Duke @ Clemson – ESPN 9:00  (02.03.09)
  • North Carolina @ Virginia Tech – ESPN 7:00  (03.04.09)
  • Duke @ North Carolina – CBS 4:00  (03.11.09)

As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s really difficult to just pick a handful of important ACC games, but these represent a smattering of some of the best teams and contenders playing each other. I promise, there will plenty of important and exciting games in the ACC all season long.

Did You Know. Tyler Hansbrough is the first AP National Player of the Year to return for another season since Shaquille O’Neal did it at LSU after winning the award in 1991. Pretty impressive, but maybe more surprising is that O’Neal returned – I’d be curious to know why he did. Also interesting, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski actually led a team to a gold medal for the second time over the summer. He had also been an assistant coach on the 1992 Dream Team. Unfortunately for him, coaches aren’t actually awarded medals, only players.

65 Team Era.  By nearly every objective measure, the ACC has been the best league of the last quarter-century: the best overall NCAA record (234-116, .669), the most #1 seeds (21), the most titles (6), the most F4s (22) and the most S16s (63).  These numbers are all driven by the fact that UNC and Duke have arguably been two of the top several programs in the nation during this time period.  What if we removed these two from consideration – how would the ACC compare?  After removing 130 wins, 19 #1 seeds, 5 titles, 18 F4s and 33 S16s, you’re left with a conference that would look a lot like the Atlantic 10 or CUSA in its best years.  It’s pretty amazing just how dominant those two programs have been over the years, and will continue to be. 

Final Thoughts.  It’s going to be another fun year in the ACC this season. I grew up outside ACC country, but having been here for several years now I can honestly say there’s nothing quite like it. I was skeptical at first, but I’ve been convinced. I’m looking forward to another great season. The top tier of teams is excellent, and the conference has enough depth to be exciting from nearly top to bottom. Despite North Carolina’s unanimity at the top, I don’t believe it is impossible for someone else to knock them off. Duke could certainly do it, as could anyone else in that next tier of teams. It will also be interesting to see how Tyler Hansbrough’s injury affects the Tar Heels and the ACC as a whole.

Share this story

Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #4 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2008

Shamelessly cribbing from last spring’s very clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present to you the Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we gear up toward the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube. 

#4 – Where Virtually Unstoppable Happens

Share this story

2008-09 Conference Primers: #4 – Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2008

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. UCLA (25-4, 15-3)
  2. Arizona St. (20-8, 11-7)
  3. USC (17-11, 10-8)
  4. Washington St. (17-12, 10-8)
  5. Washington (18-12, 9-9)
  6. California (14-15, 8-10)
  7. Arizona (13-16, 8-10)
  8. Oregon (11-17, 7-11)
  9. Stanford (12-17, 6-12)
  10. Oregon St. (7-22, 3-15)

pac10logo1

WYN2K.  This is not the same Pac-10 conference as last year, plain and simple.  Gone are lottery picks OJ Mayo (USC), Russell Westbrook (UCLA), Kevin Love (UCLA), Brook Lopez (Stanford) and Jerryd Bayless (Arizona).  Gone are Robin Lopez (Stanford) and Ryan Anderson (Cal), also first-rounders.  Gone are Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (UCLA) and Davon Jefferson (USC), who went in the second round and not at all, respectively.  This year’s Pac-10 transition isn’t just limited to players.  There are new coaches at Oregon St. (Craig Robinson), Stanford (Johnny Dawkins), Cal (Mike Montgomery) and Arizona (Russ Pennell).  It’s safe to say that no other major conference will look as significantly different from last year as the Pac-10 in 2008-09. 

Predicted Champion.   UCLA (NCAA #1)Perhaps the only consistency in the Pac-10 this year will be he continued dominance of Ben Howland’s UCLA Bruins over the rest of this conference.  After three straight Final Fours and another superb recruiting class matriculating in Westwood, Howland has built his program to the enviable point where he can lose two lottery picks and another starter as early entries to the NBA Draft and not expect his program to suffer major slippage.  While we don’t believe that this version of UCLA will be as good of a team as the 2007-08 edition, the Bruins’ position relative to the rest of the conference may actually be stronger this time around.  He returns an all-american PG, Darren Collison, who has played in three F4s and led the nation in 3FG% last year (.525, min. 80 attempts).  More importantly, Collison has a chip on his shoulder after a miserable national semifinal performance against Memphis last year (2 pts, 5 tos, 5 fouls) – when he’s directing his team effectively, there are few teams in America that can overcome their bruising defense and efficient offense.  The national #1 recruiting class is headlined by all-world guard Jrue Holiday, who is expected to start from day one.  His talent, along with a cadre of perimeter (Malcolm Lee, Jerime Anderson) and inside players (J’Mison Morgan, Drew Gordon), will give Howland numerous lineup options to throw at opponents.  Furthermore, UCLA returns a finally-healthy Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya to provide experience and a steady hand at crunch time.  As we said before, we don’t believe this UCLA team will be as good as last year’s squad, but it probably doesn’t have to be.  The Pac-10 has dropped in talent significantly, and UCLA should be able to roll through to another fantastic record and possible high RPI rating to garner another #1 seed out west.  Here’s a pretty good indication of why Darren Collison is so important for this team.

NCAA Teams.  We’re not sure that we see more than four NCAA teams in the Pac-10 this year, which sent six to the Big Dance last season and arguably deserved seven (Arizona St.).  In the best-case scenario, things come together for certain teams and the league hopes for five on Selection Sunday, but there’s a more realistic chance that there will only be three NCAA selections made on that day. 

  • Arizona St. (NCAA #4)Herb Sendek’s coaching resume shows that once he gets a program to the 20-win plateau for the first time, it typically stays there.  In other words, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that ASU, who is returning its top eight players from a 21-13 NIT quarterfinalist, will regress this season.   The key player, of course, is James Harden, a coulda-been-one-and-done, who lit up the conference for 18/5/3 assts, including 41% from behind the arc (and 53% overall).  Harden is a future lottery pick in a league where the only other potential such picks are freshmen (DeRozan, Holiday).  Pac-10 teams are not going to enjoy their trips to Tempe this year.
  • USC (NCAA #8) – We struggled in making this selection, but the thing that pushes USC into the top three of the Pac-10 is simply, talent.  Other than UCLA, no other program has as much pure talent that it can put on the floor.  Undisciplined, maddening talent – sure – but that’s Tim Floyd for ya.  Demar DeRozan wll be a highlight reel for his one year in LA, but he has considerable help next to him, assuming they can all learn to share the ball and play together.  Daniel Hackett, Taj Gibson and Dwight Lewis are all talented players, and if UNC transfer Alex Stepheson is deemed eligible to play for the Trojans this year, USC has enough talent to make a run at the Pac-10 title.  We don’t expect that to happen because Ben Howland is Ben Howland and Tim Floyd is Tim Floyd, but the talent differential excuse doesn’t hold water anymore. 
  • Washington St. (NCAA #10) – We’re taking a bit of a risk with Wazzu at fourth and a bubble team for the NCAAs, but we truly believe that Tony Bennett is a system coach.  Like Bo Ryan at Wisconsin, the names on the backs of the jerseys are largely irrelevant to the success of the program.  They’re going to run their slower-than-Xmas stuff no matter which faces are running around out there, and in so doing, dare the rest of the Pac-10 to figure it out.  Now we’re not saying that the losses of Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and Robbie Cowgill won’t hurt – after all, that trio was the most decorated group of players in Washington St. history; but with center Aron Baynes returning along with guard Taylor Rochestie and small forward Daven Harmerling, Bennett has more than enough experience to continue confounding skeptics up in Pullman. 

NIT Teams.

  • Washington (NIT) – This program has seemed to be in a funk ever since Brandon Roy left the dreary environs of Seattle.  If the Huskies are going to take advantage of a weaker Pac-10 to make a run at the NCAA Tournament (or the NIT), they’re going to have to get another superb season from PF Jon Brockman (18/12 on 54% FG).  But that won’t be enough without improved performances from Quincy Pondexter and Justin Dentmon on the perimeter.  Freshman Isaiah Thomas is getting some hype from Husky fans – perhaps he can push them over the top. 

Others.

  • California – The story here is obviously Mike Montgomery’s return to college coaching at his former employer’s bitterest rival.  Had Cal held onto star player Ryan Anderson, we would have considered the Bears as a bubble NCAA team.  We do think Monty will get there eventually, as he did at Long Beach St. and Stanford (not exactly powerhouses when he arrived), but he’s not a quick-fix guy and it will take time to undo the culture of mediocrity left by Ben Braun. 
  • Arizona – On talent alone, with Chase Budinger, Nic Wise and Jordan Hill, the Wildcats should be a top three Pac-10 team.  However, with the fiasco that unfolded last month and the eyebrow-raising hire of the fomer Arizona State radio announcer Russ Pennell as the head coach, we’re not sure anyone will actually want to play for UA this season.  Putting them seventh was a gift. 
  • Oregon – We still can’t figure out how Ernie Kent got a big contract extension, but we suppose it doesn’t take much to satisfy people in Eugene.  At least until Mark Few takes an interest in coaching in the Pac-10.  With only one significant player returning, the 5’6 Tajuan Porter, and nine new faces, we just don’t see the Ducks making a return trip to the NCAAs this season.
  • Stanford – We think Johnny Dawkins is in for a surprise in Palo Alto this season.  Nobody has any clue as to how good of a coach he will be, but we can say with a degree of certainty that the only thing keeping the Cardinal afloat last year was the interior presence of the comical Lopez twins.  The guardplay was relatively abysmal (39.5% shooting), and oh, well, now the Lopezes are gone.  Good luck with that, JD. 
  • Oregon St. – Hey, did you guys hear that new head coach Craig Robinson is Barack Obama’s bro-in-lawWe hadn’t either.  Screw Corvallis, with Robinson’s financial resume, he should be in DC helping Barry fix the economy.  Seriously though, last year, OSU might have been the worst major conference team we’d ever seen (Indiana has a shot at bettering that this year).  Ferguson had success at Brown, though, which is a herculean task in its own right, so maybe he can get a few Ws in Corvallis this season.  Three or four would be miraculous. 

RPI Boosters.

  • Washington v. Kansas  (11.24.08)
  • UCLA @ Texas  (12.04.08)
  • USC @ Oklahoma  (12.04.08)
  • Arizona @ Texas A&M  (12.05.08)
  • Gonzaga @ Washington St.  (12.10.08)
  • Arizona v. Gonzaga  (12.14.08)
  • Kansas @ Arizona  (12.23.08)
  • Notre Dame @ UCLA  (02.07.09)

Important Games.

  • UCLA @ USC  (01.11.09)
  • Arizona St. @ UCLA  (01.17.09)
  • USC @ Washington St.  (01.24.09)
  • USC @ UCLA  (02.04.09)
  • USC @ Arizona St.  (02.15.09)
  • Washington @ UCLA  (02.19.09)
  • Arizonan @ Arizona St.  (02.22.09)

Neat-O Stat.  The Pac-10, with only ten conference members, is the only BCS league that plays a true round-robin schedule of home/away games with every other team.  We like this because it gives a true measure of the strength of each team relative to one another in the conference.  There are no plans on the horizon to expand the Pac-10 to twelve members (for football reasons, the NCAA requires twelve teams to have a postseason championship game). 

65 Team Era.  The Pac-10 has traditionally been the weakest of the six major conferences in its NCAA Tournament performance, going 127-96 (.570) over the era.  The league simply doesn’t put as many teams into the Tournament as its peers, earning 4.1 bids per year – the next lowest is the Big 12 with 4.8 per year, and the “Super Six” average is 5 bids per year.  As might be expected as a correlation to that fact, the Pac-10 is also last among the six conferences in #1 seeds (12), S16s (36) and F4s (9).  UCLA can’t do it all, folks!

Final Thoughts.  UCLA has led the re-emergence of the Pac-10 conference as a basketball powerhouse the last several seasons, but turmoil among several previously consistent programs (Arizona, Stanford) has put the possibility of UCLA and the Nine Dwarves back into the conversation.  One thing that we can be certain of is that Ben Howland will win and win big as long as he’s residing in Westwood.  He hasn’t won a national title yet, but it seems a foregone conclusion that one of these years he’ll break through and win the brass ring.  The rest of the Pac-10 is going to have to figure out a way to recruit on par with UCLA as well as perform in March before this league will be considered a national power again.  We know that Pac-10 schools can attract star talent across the spectrum, but can they be coached up to taste national success?   

Share this story