Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #5 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 7th, 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. 

#5 – Where The Madness Happens

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #5 – SEC

Posted by rtmsf on November 7th, 2008

Kurt of SEC Hoops: The Good, The Bad, The Dirty is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish:

EAST

  1. Tennessee (25-5, 13-3)
  2. Florida (25-5, 12-4)
  3. Kentucky (22-8, 11-5)
  4. Vanderbilt (24-6, 9-7)
  5. South Carolina (19-10, 8-8)
  6. Georgia (15-13, 5-11)

WEST

  1. Alabama (18-11, 8-8)
  2. LSU (21-10, 8-8)
  3. Mississippi State (21-10, 8-8)
  4. Ole Miss (17-13, 7-9)
  5. Arkansas (14-15, 5-11)
  6. Auburn (14-17, 3-13)

sec-logo1

What You Need to Know.  The name of the game for the SEC this year is youth. The Western Division in particular, as nearly every team loses some nucleus from squads that formed a comparatively weak conference half as it was. Tennessee once again looks to lead a strong Eastern Division despite the loss of All-American Chris Lofton. The nation will be looking towards this typically loaded conference with several questions heading into 2008-09. Can Florida’s sophomores have a breakout season similar to those of 2006-07? Can Kentucky put enough guards around all-SEC forward Patrick Patterson to compete for the East? And can the West avoid being stomped once again in head-to-head competitions with the East? My answers: yes, yes, and no.

Predicted Champion.   Tennessee (#2 seed NCAA). It’s pretty easy to brag on Bruce Pearl. He’s one of the nation’s premier coaches, owning a ridiculous 394-108 (.785) record as a head coach, standing third amongst current head coaches. Despite losing popular 2007-08 preseason pick for National Player of the Year Chris Lofton and do-everything guard/forward JuJuan Smith, the Vols will benefit from huge losses across the board for the SEC. All-American forward Tyler Smith (13.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg) returns to provide the squad with a heavy-duty anchor inside (although the 6’7, 215 lb. junior hits 37.8% from behind the arc), while talented center Wayne Chism will be mopping up inside defensively. Hopping aboard the orange train are a pair of insanely talented newcomers. Everything-All-American out of high school Scotty Hopson will be challenging for the starting spot at shooting guard while junior-college All-American Bobby Maze looks to start at point guard. All in all, the talent, experience, and coaching level is the highest in Knoxville, and that’s why the Vols are picked to win the SEC regular season for the second consecutive season.   Here’s some clips from the classic #1 v. #2 matchup Tennessee had with Memphis last season.

NCAA Teams.

  • Florida (NCAA #3) – The Gators have once again put together a formula for a set of super sophomores. The league’s top freshman, as well as one of the conference’s best point guards in years, returns in Nick Calathes while a pair of star freshmen in Kenny Kadji and Eloy Vargas will attempt to fill the rather large shoes of NBA-bound Marreese Speights. Don’t be surprised if the Gators reclaim the SEC regular-season title for the third time in the past four years and show up knocking on the door of the NCAA’s Elite Eight.
  • Kentucky (NCAA #6) – The Wildcats have a lot of outside shooting to replace, after losing over 33 points per game in Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley. SEC Co-Freshman of the Year Patrick Patterson returns and looks to touch the ball on nearly every possession, and incoming freshman DeAndre Liggins should serve as this year’s heavily-relied upon freshman for the Wildcats at the point guard spot. UK could challenge for the Eastern Division (and thus, the overall SEC crown) and sneak into the NCAA Sweet Sixteen if the pieces fall correctly.
  • Vanderbilt (NCAA #9) – Replacing SEC Player of the Year Shan Foster won’t be easy for Kevin Stallings, but the Commodores have another potential POY candidate in A.J. Ogilvy to step into that leadership role. Ogilvy returns as the conference’s most efficient player and scorer, and Jermaine Beal will be the guy to pass inside to the talented post-man while remaining a scoring threat this season. Although the Commodores lose an immense talent in Foster, Ogilvy should be enough to push the squad into the first couple of rounds in the NCAA Tournament.
  • LSU (NCAA #11) – The Tigers return nearly every major contributor from last year’s 13-18 squad except for star freshman Anthony Randolph and head coach John Brady, who was replaced during the offseason with accomplished former Stanford coach Trent Johnson. Johnson inherits possibly the league’s most talented overall player in senior Marcus Thornton, the league’s leading returning scorer, along with a chance to get LSU back to the NCAA Tournament (if just so) for the first time since 2006’s Final Four run.
  • Mississippi State (NCAA #12) – The Bulldogs lose the most talented duo in the conference in multi-dimensional Jamont Gordon and dominating post-presence Charles Rhodes. In addition, State will need to find a replacement at shooting guard with sophomore Ben Hansbrough transferring to Notre Dame. The positive, however, is that MSU is loaded with talented and will anchor around National Defensive Player of the Year Jarvis Varnado, who led the nation in blocks per game and helped the team rank second nationally in field-goal percentage defense. Adding two big new pieces to the puzzle in freshmen Dee Bost and Romero Osby, the Bulldogs could win their share of the West for the third time in the past four season and make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in the past eight seasons.

NIT Teams.

  • Alabama (NIT) – I’ve predicted several SEC squads with similar in-conference records, and thus those with the weaker RPIs have been restricted to the NIT. Alabama is one of them. The Tide return former All-American Ronald Steele, but major questions still surround his ability to return to his former self after several complications with knee injuries. McDonald’s All-American freshman JaMychal Green will step into the spot of the league’s most dominant offensive post-man in departed Richard Hendrix. If Green can handle the post himself, or if little-known sophomore Justin Knox can step in to assist, the Tide could find themselves away from a top NIT seed and into the NCAAs.
  • South Carolina (NIT) – New head coach David Horn from Western Kentucky infamy will step into a very favorable position at the helm of the Gamecocks. USC brings back more firepower, at least percentage-wise, than any other SEC team and could post the biggest turnaround season the league has seen in quite some time. Junior Devan Downey returns as one of the league’s top point guards and toughest men to keep out of the lane along with ranking as the SEC’s second-leading returning scorer. With almost every piece seeming to come into place for a special season for USC, keep your eyes pealed for a potential Gamecock bubble squad.

Others.

  • Arkansas – Just as USC returns nearly everyone, Arkansas loses nearly everyone from a team that underachieved a season ago. Namely, the Razorbacks lose former SEC Freshman of the Year Patrick Beverly, who decided to try his luck overseas. Despite a solid recruiting class, this should be a rebuilding year for John Pelphrey.
  • Auburn – The Tigers simply have had a bare cupboard in both talent and depth constantly under Jeff Lebo, and this year is little different. The return of Korvotney Barber should help matters some, assuming he stays healthy, but Auburn won’t improve to any real degree until Lebo is let go.
  • Georgia – The Bulldogs under Dennis Felton have been comparable to Auburn under Lebo for quite some time, except that Felton recruits a bit better and has had some nominal success such as last year’s confusing SEC Tournament run. With mass suspensions and off-the-court issues, UGA should remain near or at the bottom of the conference this season – and Felton should receive his pink slip much like Lebo.
  • Ole Miss – The Rebels lost a lot last season, but were still anchored inside by solid and experienced forwards, especially Dwayne Curtis.  With those losses, this team is almost entirely underclassmen and could sneak into the NIT if they catch some breaks.

RPI Boosters.

  • Kentucky @ North Carolina (11.18.08) – If the Wildcats can pull a massive upset of the consensus #1 team in the nation in Chapel Hill, they will be well on their way to returning to national recognition.
  • Tennessee vs. Marquette (12.16.08) – The Volunteers get little or no breaks throughout the non-conference schedule, and this SEC vs. Big East matchup will be for conference bragging rights.
  • LSU @ Texas A&M (12.20.08) – If the Tigers want to prove they are rebounding, this will be one of few opportunities for them to so in the non-conference slate.
  • South Carolina @ Baylor (01.02.08) – The Gamecocks’ schedule is ridiculously light, and their schedule will be inflated by this point in the season. This game is a must-win if USC wants to take the step up into the NCAAs.
  • Tennessee @ Kansas (01.03.08) – Another heavyweight matchup for the Vols, who have a chance to take down a reigning national champ on their home court.
  • Kentucky @ Louisville (01.04.08) – The Cats could seriously bolster their NCAA seed and chances to advance in the NCAAs by taking down Louisville on the road.
  • Memphis @ Tennessee (01.24.08) – A quickly-heating rivalry as the amount of NBA potential on this floor could drown the common man.

Important Games.

  • LSU @ Mississippi State (01.11.09) – If the Tigers want to break through the cap and take the West, a win in this early conference game would be a huge advantage.
  • Kentucky @ Alabama (01.24.09) – The Tide must be able to win games at home against the top tier of the East if they have any serious hope of challenging for the overall SEC crown.
  • Mississippi State @ Alabama (02.21.09) – If the Bulldogs take care of the Tide at home, they have a shot to make it six in a row over their rivals and take a major step towards another West title.
  • Tennessee @ Florida (03.01.09) – The Gators must hold serve at home to compete in the East, while the Vols could wrap up the conference title with a win here.
  • Kentucky @ Florida (03.07.09) – We know the Wildcats can win at home, but can they win in Gainesville? This one could be for the East.

Neat-O Stat.  The Southeastern Conference is one of the nation’s deepest and most competitive leagues. The SEC ranks second only behind the ACC in average conference RPI since 1999, and has put every single member into the NCAA tournament since 2002.

65 Team Era.  The SEC has had a tremendous amount of success in this era, going 178-117 (.603) which is good enough for third behind the ACC and Big East.  This includes thirteen F4s and five national titles.  What’s particularly impressive is that only four of those F4s and two titles belong to Kentucky, the traditional standard-bearer of this league, which shows that the rest of the conference has taken basketball to heart and stepped it up. 

Final Thoughts.  The SEC was a huge disappointment on the national scene a season ago. Without major flag-bearers such as Kentucky or Florida dominating, expectations fell on Tennessee to take their #2 seed to the Final Four. Instead, the Vols served as the only team from the conference to make the Sweet Sixteen before falling on their faces to Louisville.  While this year likely won’t be much of an improvement, consider it a gigantic top-to-bottom reloading of one of the nation’s premier men’s basketball conferences, with the league’s talent being tremendously youth-oriented.  Three SEC teams look to have serious aspirations for getting past the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and all are from the East: Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky. If a Western Division team can step up and compete better than expected and at least two of these teams make the Sweet Sixteen this season, it should serve as a useful springboard to a very potent year for the SEC on the national scene in 2009-2010.

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Further Exhibition Nonsense

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2008

We really can’t wait for the real games…

Seems as if rims were soft tonight.

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Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #6 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 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. 

#6 – Where Imagine If He Puts It Together Happens

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #6 – Big Ten

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2008

Josh & Mike at Big Ten Geeks are the RTC correspondents for the Big Ten Conference.  

  1. Michigan State  (29-6, 16-2)
  2. Purdue  (27-7, 15-3)
  3. Wisconsin  (24-8, 13-5)
  4. Ohio State  (20-12, 10-8)
  5. Illinois  (18-13, 9-9)
  6. Minnesota  (21-10, 9-9)
  7. Michigan  (16-14, 8-10)
  8. Penn State  (18-12, 7-11)
  9. Northwestern  (13-17, 6-12)
  10. Iowa  (12-18, 4-14)
  11. Indiana  (8-20, 2-16)

big-10-logoWYN2K.  This is not your father’s Big Ten, or rather, it’s not your older brother’s Big Ten.  Gone are dominating big men of the past, such as Greg Oden, DJ White, Kosta Koufos, and James Augustine.  They’ve been replaced by guards such as Manny Harris, Kalin Lucas, E’Twaun Moore and Demetri McCamey.  A solid big man (such as the perennially-underrated Goran Suton and incoming freshman B.J. Mullens) is a luxury that most Big Ten teams will not enjoy.  You’ll see a lot of lineups featuring one player at 6’7 or taller.  Some might hope this will spur the Big Ten into faster play, but, as Northwestern proved last season, guard-oriented teams can be every bit as slow as tall teams.

Predicted Champion.  Michigan St.  (NCAA #2).  There are two things everyone can agree on for season predictions: Michigan State and Purdue promise to be the two toughest teams, and Indiana promises to finish in the basement.  Beyond that, there’s a lot of uncertainty here.  We like the Spartans to take the title.  Part of that is talent (the roster features ten top 100 RSCI players), and part of that is schedule (MSU gets one game against the formidable Wisconsin, while Purdue has only one game against lowly Indiana).  Also, in a guard-heavy conference, picking the team with the best frontline (Suton, Diaper Dandy Delvon Roe, and conference Player of the Year candidate Raymar Morgan – see below) isn’t a bad strategy.  Sort of a “land of the blind” kind of thing.  In our estimation, the Boilermakers feature the best starting five, but they have depth issues.  Still though, it would not be a shock if Purdue came out on top.

NCAA/NIT Teams.  We think this is a 4-bid league, but that fourth bid is hardly a shoe-in.  Yes, the Big Ten is down (again), but we see a lot more parity in the middle of the conference.  Fourth place through seventh is really up for grabs, and we think that makes for a lot of NIT teams.  In fact, the Big Ten could send more teams to the NIT than to the NCAA tourney.  We think the top 3 teams (MSU, Purdue (NCAA #4), and Wisconsin (NCAA #8)) are near-locks for the NCAA Tourney, the next three (Ohio St. (NCAA #11), Illinois, and Minnesota) promise to be bubbilicious, and the next three (Michigan, PSU, and Northwestern) figure to be in the NIT hunt. 

Others.  Iowa and Indiana almost certainly aren’t going anywhere, at least this season.  Both teams are in the rebuilding mode, with Todd Lickliter still working to get “his players” into his system (does he really have a system though?).  Indiana is sort of like how we look after a three-day weekend in Vegas – humbled, confused, full of regrets, and ready to move on.  Coach Tom Crean already has several impressive recruits lined up for the next season – so get your licks in now, Big Ten, because IU will be back sooner rather than later.

Important Games.  The biggest non-conference game on the schedule, without question, is on December 3rd, when UNC faces Michigan St. at Ford Field, site of this year’s Final Four.  It might be the first of two meetings between those teams at that venue.  We’re also interested to see the Davidson-Purdue matchup on December 20th (that Steph Curry is fun to watch), and the December 2nd Duke-Purdue contest that might be the best game between teams with so much talent concentrated on the perimeter.  In conference, the two meetings between Purdue and MSU are the must-see events that likely will determine the conference champ.

Neat-o Stats. 

  • Since 1980, no conference has had more NCAA Tournament appearances than the Big Ten (144).
  • In each of the past 4 seasons, Indiana has a better winning percentage as the underdog than as the favorite.
  • Since 1998, the Big Ten is the 3rd best conference by RPI.
  • The Big Ten is 30-56 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and has never actually “won” the event in nine tries.  The only team not playing in the challenge this season is NC State – which finished dead last in the ACC last season.

(h/t to Statfix.com for some of these)

65 Team Era.  The Big 10 during this era has earned more NCAA bids than any other conference (133), and its record is fourth-best of the period (194-130, .599), including 18 #1 seeds (2d), 47 Sweet Sixteens (4th), 16 Final Fours (2d), and 3 titles (4th).  Even in the 2000s, when there’s been a perception that the league has been ‘down’ relative to the 80s and 90s, the Big Ten has put six teams into the F4, including two in 2005.  We’ve been guilty of ragging the B10 for its ‘boring’ style of basketball, but we can’t argue with its results – and there’s a strong likelihood of seeing another Big Ten team in the F4 this year. 

Final Thought.  The Big Ten will not be the best conference in college basketball, but it should be home to some of the best guards in the country.  The conference received a big infusion of point guards last season, and the best of the bunch, Kalin Lucas, is one of the ten best PGs in the country.  And while super sophomore Manny Harris gets a lot of deserved praise (a lot), we think an even better sophomore shooting guard plays in West Lafayette.  And he might not even be the best sophomore on his team.  We also like last-second-shot-specialist Blake Hoffarber’s chances to become a household name.  Also, the increased parity should make for a lot of close games.  Expect to see very few blowout wins.  Except against Indiana (sorry, Hoosiers).

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Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #7 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 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. 

#7 – Where This Cat Got a Raw Deal Happens

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2008-09 Season Primers: #7 – Atlantic 10

Posted by nvr1983 on November 4th, 2008

Predicted order of finish:

  1. Xavier (29-6, 14-2; Schedule)
  2. Temple (23-11, 12-4; Schedule)
  3. Charlotte (20-13, 11-5; Schedule)
  4. UMass (19-14, 10-6; Schedule)
  5. Dayton (22-11, 9-7; Schedule)
  6. St. Louis (21-11, 9-7; Schedule)
  7. St. Joseph’s (21-12, 8-8; Schedule)
  8. Rhode Island (16-17, 7-9; Schedule)
  9. Richmond (15-17, 7-9; Schedule)
  10. La Salle (13-18, 6-10; Schedule)
  11. George Washington (13-16, 6-10; Schedule)
  12. Duquesne (11-19, 5-11; Schedule)
  13. Fordham (8-22, 4-12; Schedule)
  14. St. Bonaventure (7-22, 4-12; Schedule)

WYN2K.  If the A-10 wants to lay claim to being one of the premier mid-majors [Note: Hold the e-mails, I’m not putting the A-10 with the big boys yet. If you want to, become an RTC correspondent], they will have plenty of shots against the big boys: Duke (3 times-Rhode Island, Duquesne, and Xavier), Kansas (2 times-UMass and Temple), Memphis (UMass), Tennessee (Temple), Texas (St. Joe’s), and many other less prestigious programs in BCS conferences.

Predicted Champion. Xavier (#4 NCAA). Last year, #3 seed Xavier made it to the Elite 8 before falling to perennial national semifinalist UCLA. While Xavier loses several key seniors, they should be able to remain the dominant team in the A-10 due to their superior depth (6 players last year averaged between 9.7 and 12.4 PPG with 3 of those players returning). The Musketeers return Derrick Brown (10.9 ppg), C.J. Anderson (10.7 ppg), and center Jason Love. The loss of the seniors may also be eased by the addition of 6-11 freshman Kenny Frease, freshman point guard Terrell Holloway, freshman shooting guard Brian Walsh, and Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford.  Helping lead the Musketeers will be Sean Miller who became the first Xavier coach to turn down an offer from a bigger name program in quite some time (see: Gillen, Pete; Prosser, Skip; and Matta, Thad). Xavier has a chance to put itself in position for a very high NCAA seed if they can beat Duke in a “neutral site” game in East Rutherford, NJ, on December 20th.  Here’s a clip on Xavier’s trip to the E8 last season.

Others Considered. To be perfectly honest, Xavier should run away with the A-10 this year. Their depth makes them resistant to any reasonable expectation of injuries. The only other legitimate contender if Xavier slips up is Temple (NCAA #10). The Owls, coached by Fran Dunphy (still seems weird not to see John Chaney on the sidelines or storming into other coach’s press conferences), will need to replace the all-around output of Mark Tyndale. They return Dionte Christmas, the A-10’s leading scorer, but he will face increased defensive pressure this year. The Owls also lost Chris Clark to graduation so they will need Ryan Brooks, Lavoy Allen, and Sergio Olmos to step up this year if they want to seriously challenge Xavier.  We also see Charlotte (NIT) and Dayton (NIT) as postseason teams.

RPI Boosters.

  • Rhode Island at Duke  (11.16.08)
  • UMass at Memphis  (11.17.08)
  • Virginia Commonwealth at Rhode Island  (11.22.08)
  • St. Joe’s vs. Texas (Lahaina, HI)  (11.24.08)
  • Dayton vs. Marquette (Hoffman Estates, IL)  (11.29.08)
  • Boston College at UMass  (12.06.08)
  • UMass vs. Kansas (Kansas City, MO)  (12.13.08)
  • Tennessee at Temple  (12.13.08)
  • Temple at Kansas  (12.20.08)
  • Oklahoma State at Rhode Island  (12.20.08)
  • Xavier vs. Duke (East Rutherford, NJ)  (12.20.08)
  • Butler at Xavier  (12.23.08)
  • Vanderbilt at UMass  (01.03.09)

Neat-O Stat. Despite being a mid-major league, the A-10 managed to get 2 programs into ESPN.com’s Prestige Rankings. Interestingly, they are the only programs to make the top 20 without having made a Final 4. The only A-10 team to have made the Final 4 is UMass, which checks in at #52. I guess this speaks to the rewards of being consistent. A while back some bums stated they were going to revise the criteria to come out with their own rankings. It’s coming. We promise. . .

65 Team Era.  As stated above, the A-10 is often the bridesmaid, never the bride, when it comes to the Final Four.  Ok, UMass did have its one shot at glory in 1996, but ten other times an A-10 team has gotten to the Elite Eight only to have its hopes dashed in that round (five times in the last decade).  This includes Temple five times, Xavier twice, UMass once, St. Joseph’s once, and Rhode Island once.  During the era, the A-10 has gone 63-65 (.492), which puts it right there with CUSA as the top mid-major league over the last quarter century. 

Final Thoughts. Despite my cheap shots, the A-10 is one of the top conferences in the country. Last year, they only managed to get three teams into the NCAA tournament, but has the potential to get a couple of more bids. To do this, teams will have to get to 10 wins in this conference since the bottom of the conference is so weak. If a lot of teams end up 9-7 or 8-8 in conference play, those teams will end up in the NIT again.

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Some Exhibition Nonsense

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 2008

We don’t put any much stock in Exhibition Games, because, well, they’re exhibitions.  But maybe we should – last year, Findlay defeated Ohio St. and Grand Valley St. beat Michigan St., and both of those teams had worse seasons than expected (OSU in particular – NIT).  Someone should do a correlation on this.  Anyway, here are some exhibition tidbits for the discerning fan…

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Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #8 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 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. 

#8 – Where Thankfully, No More Assclown Happens

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #8 – Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on November 3rd, 2008

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Memphis  (34-1, 16-0)
  2. UAB  (26-9, 12-4)
  3. Tulsa  (22-13, 11-5)
  4. UTEP  (21-12, 10-6)
  5. Houston  (20-13, 9-7)
  6. Southern Miss  (19-15, 9-7)
  7. Marshall  (18-15, 8-8)
  8. UCF  (17-16, 8-8)
  9. Tulane  (14-18, 6-10)
  10. SMU  (13-20, 5-11)
  11. ECU  (11-21, 4-12)
  12. Rice  (9-23, 2-14)

conference-usa-logo

WYN2K.  The story of Conference USA basketball the last few seasons has been the absolute dominance of Memphis. This year should be no different as the Tigers return a great combination of veteran talent and blue chip freshmen. To put it in perspective, they have not lost a Conference USA game since an 80-74 loss at UAB on February 2nd, 2006. Despite the recent Tiger dominance, the arrival of quality coaches like Tom Penders (Houston), Mike Davis (UAB), Larry Eustachy (Southern Miss) and Ben Braun (Rice) has helped raise the level of play. There is enough talent in the conference to get two NCAA tournament teams and a few other teams in the other postseason tournaments. There will be close calls, but in the end none of the other teams will score that elusive upset over Memphis.

Predicted Champion.  Memphis (#2 seed NCAA). It’s really too easy to predict this one. I realize that the three most valuable players from last season: G Derrick Rose, G Chris Douglas-Roberts and C Joey Dorsey are all gone, but there are some talented players ready to step in. The star of Memphis coach John Calipari’s latest collection of blue-chip prospects is G Tyreke Evans from American Christian in suburban Philadelphia. Evans was one of the most highly-sought out prep point guards in the nation and is the heir apparent to Rose at the position. The other incoming player that should see a lot of action is F Wesley Witherspoon, a small forward from Lilburn, Georgia. Among the returners, F Robert Dozier is without a doubt the best athlete in the low post and is the leading returning scorer (9.2 ppg), rebounder (6.8 rpg) and shot-blocker (1.7 bpg). Depth abounds at the guard position where Willie Kemp, Antonio Anderson, Shawn Taggart and Doneal Mack all have proven they can step up in key situations. The only area where the Tigers lack a proven commodity is at the center position, where Joey Dorsey starred the past couple of seasons. But there is the enough talent on this roster to dominate the Conference USA field and make another deep run in the NCAA tournament.  Here’s a bone for UM fans (last year’s highlight mix)…

Others Considered.  Do not sleep on UAB (NCAA #9) this season. If there is any team in this conference with a legitimate shot at making the NCAA tournament outside of Memphis, it’s these guys. They were missing point guard Paul Delaney III for practically all of last season and still ended up finishing second behind Memphis in conference play. The Blazers also return the best shooter in Conference USA, Robert Vaden, and a solid scoring threat at small forward in Lawrence Kinnard. I could definitely see these guys getting in the dance as #9 or #10 seed if they avoid the costly slip-ups. Don’t call these guys one year wonders either because Blazer coach Mike Davis’ 2009 recruiting class is one of the best in the country. There is an outside shot that Tulsa (NIT) could make the NCAA Tournament with their very experienced squad. The Golden Hurricanes have Jerome Jordan, a 7-footer who has the NBA scouts drooling and is poised for a breakout year after a dominant finish last season. It doesn’t hurt Jordan that he has an all-conference point guard in Tony Uzoh getting him the ball. There is an interesting collection of incoming talent on this Houston (NIT) squad, including former St. John’s F Qa’rraan Calhoun and G Desmond Wade, a point guard from New Jersey who led his high school team to two state titles. But the Cougars lost way too much talent to seriously consider making the NCAA tournament. I have similar feelings about UTEP who returns one of the best athletes in this league – Stafon Jackson – and in the low post they bring in talented Memphis transfer Kareem Cooper. The Miners return most all of their key players from last season, but I’m just still not sold that they can put it all together under Coach Tony Barbee and make the NCAA Tournament. If nothing else, the Miners will be extremely tough on their home floor, the Don Haskins Center. Former national Coach of the Year Larry Eustachy has the most experienced team in the league at Southern Miss. Guards Jeremy Wise and Courtney Beasley are all-conference level guards who give the Eagles and Eustachy a shot at being a top-echelon C-USA team.

Important Games.  Every time Memphis plays a top-half Conference USA team it could be an interesting contest, since a lot of teams seem to ‘play up’ for the Tigers. But I doubt anyone will beat the Tigers at FedEx Forum this season, so the road games will be the most interesting challenges. Specifically, trips to El Paso and Birmingham loom large on the Tigers’ schedule. There are also a couple of contests that will determine who is behind Memphis in the conference pecking order.

  • UAB @ Houston (01.10.09)
  • UAB @ Tulsa (01.28.09)
  • Memphis @ UTEP (02.21.09)
  • Memphis @ UAB (02.26.09)
  • Conference USA Championship Game (03.14.09)

RPI Boosters.  If this league wants to move past its status as a ‘one-bid’ league then they’ll need to pull of at least a few decently high-profile upsets in the non-conference season. There are opportunities for every team in the league to get a marquee win at some point. Memphis will not be included in this particular list because they will be favored in most, if not all of their games this season. Not all of these are booster games against big conference foes, there are also some interesting match-ups against other mid-major teams.

  • Tulsa @ Oklahoma State (11.20.08)
  • UNLV @ UTEP (11.24.08)
  • VCU @ East Carolina (11.25.08)
  • Miami (FL) vs. Southern Miss (11.21.08) @ Paradise Jam (VI)
  • Rice @ Texas (11.27.08)
  • Western Kentucky @ Tulane (12.06.08)
  • SMU @ Texas A&M (12.17.08)
  • UAB @ Louisville (12.29.08)
  • Houston @ Mississippi State (01.03.09)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids.  As compared to the past few seasons, this is a much deeper and generally more talented group of Conference USA teams. Even the middle of the pack teams like Marshall, UCF and Tulane could put some scares into the top teams. But this conference is still fundamentally Memphis and the proverbial eleven dwarves at the end of the day. The other teams are gradually getting stronger and this could become one of the better “mid-major” conferences in the next few seasons.

Neat-o Stats. 

  • I know I’ve made the point ad nauseum, but Memphis has absolutely dominated the Conference USA competition in the past three seasons. The Tigers’ combined record in C-USA play in those three seasons: 45-1. If that’s not domination, frankly I do not know what is.
  • Since basketball powers Marquette, Cincinnati, Louisville, and DePaul left for the Big East in 2005 there’s only been one season where the C-USA has had multiple NCAA tournament teams. In the 2005-06 season, both Memphis (#1 seed) and UAB (#9 seed) qualified for the tournament. No C-USA team besides Memphis has made it to the Big Dance since.
  • Incoming UCF freshman big man Jakub Kusmieruk may be the biggest guy in all of college basketball since the 7’7” Kenny George of UNC-Asheville had to retire due to injury. Listed at an astonishing 7’4” and 295 pounds, this native of Poland is worth keeping an eye on. He probably won’t see too many minutes in his first season, but all indications are that the kid has a good work ethic and can become a force in the low post for the Golden Knights.

65 Team Era.  It’s amazing how far CUSA has fallen since the great exodus of 2005.  Consider that in 2004, the league earned SIX bids to the NCAA Tournament, racking up four first-round wins.  Now it’s very fortunate to get a team other than Memphis into the Big Dance (only happening once – UAB in 2006).  Thus, the historical stats (48-42, .533) don’t hold much meaning because the league has changed so much from its current iteration. 

Final Thought.  The quality of basketball in Conference USA has taken a dive since the “basketball” teams all left for the Big East and Atlantic 10. But it would be foolish to presume that no team outside of Memphis is worth talking about. In fact this conference’s best days of basketball are ahead of them. UAB is bringing in a top-rated recruiting class and has a couple of serious NBA prospects on their roster currently. UTEP has Stafon Jackson and he could be the best athlete in all of Conference USA. While they aren’t tournament contenders right now, Marshall brought in an impressive recruiting class that includes Florida’s Mr. Basketball, Shaquille Johnson. Outside of Memphis few C-USA teams have players leave early for the draft, but Jeremy Wise is a great combo guard and could be the best player in Southern Miss history. There are multiple strong OOC games for C-USA teams to prove themselves in. Basically the onus is on the teams outside of Memphis to make a name for themselves and continue to elevate the national opinion when it comes to Conference USA basketball.

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Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #9 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 3rd, 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. 

#9 – Where Unharnessed Firepower Happens

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #9 – Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on November 3rd, 2008

Jordan Freemeyer is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Big Sky Conferences.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. BYU  (21-8, 13-3)
  2. UNLV  (20-9, 12-4)
  3. Utah  (18-11, 10-6)
  4. San Diego State  (18-11, 9-7)
  5. New Mexico  (16-13, 8-8)
  6. Air Force  (14-15, 7-9)
  7. Wyoming  (12-17, 6-10)
  8. Colorado State  (10-19, 5-11)
  9. TCU  (6-23, 2-14)

WYN2K.  This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Mountain West, which has been very successful in basketball. The conference stretches from San Diego to Dallas and as far north as Wyoming. The Mountain West has sent a team to the Sweet Sixteen in two of the last four years (Utah – 2005; UNLV – 2007).  Correspondingy, as programs, UNLV and Utah have had the most success of teams in the Mountain West. UNLV won the 1990 National Championship with coach Jerry Tarkanian and Rick Majerus took Utah to the championship game in 1998.  While often overlooked nationally, the MWC is rich in basketball history.

Predicted Champion.   BYU (NCAA #8). The Cougars won the Mountain West last season, going 14-2 in conference play, and return co-Mountain West Player of the Year Lee Cummard to their backcourt. Cummard led BYU with 15.8 points per game last year and also grabbed 6.3 rebounds on average. The Cougars return eight letterwinners from last year’s team and went 16-0 at home last season.  Here’s a Lee Cummard highlight.

Others Considered/Bubble Teams.  The only other team from the Mountain West to make the NCAA Tournament last year was UNLV (NCAA #11). The Runnin’ Rebels return their top two scorers from last season in guard Wink Adams and forward Joe Darger. The biggest obstacle in UNLV’s road to the conference championship is the team’s ten newcomers. Utah (NIT) had a disappointing season last year, going just 7-9 in conference play, but the Utes return all five starters including senior center Luke Nevill, who led the team last season with 15.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. San Diego State (NIT) could also contend for an NCAA bid.  Here’s an amusing video of Wink Adams highlights vs. BYU put together by, quite clearly, a UNLV fan.

Important Games.

  • Utah @ San Diego State (01.10.09)
  • UNLV @ BYU (01.21.09)
  • BYU @ Utah (01.27.09)
  • UNLV @ Utah (02.25.09)
  • Mountain West Championship Game (03.14.09)

RPI Boosters.

  • San Diego State @ Arizona (12.10.08)
  • San Diego State v. St. Mary’s  (12.13.08) (Wooden Classic)
  • BYU @ Arizona State (12.20.08)
  • Gonzaga @ Utah (12.31.08)
  • UNLV @ Louisville (12.31.08)
  • Wake Forest @ BYU (01.03.09)

Neat-O Stat.  In nine years of Mountain West Conference play, 29 teams have had 20-win seasons going into Selection Sunday. All 29 of those teams were selected for the NCAA Tournament, including BYU and UNLV last year. Considering that a 25-win Utah State team from the WAC missed the tournament in 2007, that says a lot about the tournament committee’s respect for the strength of the Mountain West.

65 Team Era.  In the nine seasons of the Mountain West, the league has only had a single one-bid year (2001 – BYU).  In six years the MWC was a two-bid league (incl. the last four) and in 2002 and 2003, the league put three teams into the Big Dance.   An 8-20 (.289) record is a little lower than one might hope given an average seed of #10.4 for the era, but there have been two trips to the Sweet Sixteen, and every BCS team dreads a first-round matchup with a disciplined MWC squad because they know that they’ll be in for a brawl.  Since 2004, MWC first-round losses have been by an average of only 6.6 points. 

Final Thoughts.   NCAA Tournament office pools are won by people that picked Mountain West upsets seemingly every year, so keeping an eye on this conference is a good idea if you want to win your office pool come March. The conference is also very easy to follow because it has its own TV network, The Mtn., which shows nearly every conference game. There are some very good coaches and talented players in the MWC, so it is an entertaining conference to watch.

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