Big East Tourney 2009 Retrospective

Posted by nvr1983 on March 18th, 2009

By Ray Floriani

NEW YORK CITY – The Big East Tournament is over. Louisville is crowned champion. Few might argue if you were to call this the greatest Big East postseason get together to date. It was five days of memorable moments. A fitting send off gift to Mike Tranghese the long time commissioner who served with class and excellence.

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Villanova Shootaround

Big East Sweet 16

We should have known this would be an interesting tournament. From the first game on Tuesday when we had winless DePaul knock off Cincinnati in the opener.

During the evening doubleheader seated next to me was UCONN assistant George Blaney scouting the Seton Hall-South Florida. A suggestion was offered that the best part of having all 16 conference teams in New York was for us to finally see the USF dance team, the Sun Dolls. Blaney smiled and agreed.

USF Sun Dolls

Wednesday bubbles were burst as the tournament progressed. Thursday gave us the ‘classic’. Just mention that word and passionate basketball followers know what and who you mean. Syracuse-UCONN six overtimes. Leaving the Garden after 2 a.m. a veteran writer remarked, “this is better than Maryland-NC State (in ’74.’) Without a doubt!

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Syracuse Dancers

Friday left everyone a little tired. Syracuse still had some energy in them as they knocked off West Virginia in overtime. Just one this time.

Saturday left Rick Pitino all smiles. He grew up near the Garden. Was a Knick fan and later coach. Pitino has enjoyed some memorable moments in ‘the world’s most famous arena’. Saturday night was another as his Louisville Cardinals captured the championship. Yes, memorable for Pitino. And for all of us who were fortunate to experience the Big East Tournament.

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WAC Tournament Semifinals Wrapup

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2009

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing the WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

The semifinal games featured the top two seeds Utah State and Nevada taking on the five and six seeds New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech. NM State and La. Tech were attempting to become the lowest seeds to ever face each other in the conference tournament finals. It was not to be however as both Utah State and Nevada held serve. Utah State defeated New Mexico State on a baseline jumper by Tyler Newbold with 3.1 seconds remaining to propel Utah State to the title game. Nevada meanwhile overcame an early first half deficit of 10 points to pull away from La. Tech 77-68.

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Six OTs in New York, Revisited

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2009

Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC Conferences, but he found himself in MSG on Thursday night for the Big East classic between Syracuse and UConn.

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NEW YORK CITY – It has been billed a classic. Some are calling it the greatest college basketball game ever. What ever the opinion, the 6 OT UConn-Syracuse marathon was discussed quite frequently on Friday.  The game was almost missed by yours truly. In the spring I officiate girls’ lacrosse and had a mandatory state meeting in Millburn, New Jersey. The meeting was set for 6:30 and expected to end at 8 or so. That would allow plenty of time to drive the 24 miles to MSG in non-rush hour traffic. The last game of the night starts around 9:30 so I thought getting to one quarterfinal is better than none.

Our meeting went a little over (I should have known this was an omen), but route 78 and the Lincoln Tunnel cooperated and I was settled in for the roughly 9:35 tip.  The nuances and momentum changes, missed free throws and great shots (even the one by Eric Devendorf at the regulation buzzer that didn’t count) are well documented. Some of the behind the scenes stories are worthy of telling.

As the overtimes went on three, four , five, you had an almost surreal feeling that this was normal and would continue. No one went for the exit. The fans with their presence were expending energy and involved in a classic experience of their own. Have work in the a.m.? Hit Starbucks first in full force.  The Garden PA system operator had a sense of humor. After each overtime and following the pep band, a song would be played. Selections included After Midnight (Eric Clapton), Wait Till the Midnight Hour (Wilson Pickett), Oh What a Night (Four Seasons) and Late in the Evening (Paul Simon). One more OT we might have heard ‘Tossing and Turning.’

After about 3 OTs a media member gave a thumbs up to official Bob Donato who just smiled as if to say ‘we’re all in this for the duration.’ Good writing friend Jeff Bernstein high fived yours truly after two of the occasions. A former college assistant at NYU, Jeff is a really loving this. Turns out he won’t leave MSG until 3 am, after filing a story.

Before leaving MSG sometime after two I stop by the Syracuse locker room to congratulate good friend and long time Syracuse assistant Bernie Fine. “I don’t know if I should say good game last night or this morning,” I noted.  Bernie says, “thanks, you can say both and did you see (West Virginia coach Bob) Huggins?  He was by you and left after three overtimes. I bet he was hoping for more,” Fine jokingly added.  Friday evening Syracuse beat  writer Mike Waters said he didn’t exit the Garden until 3:30. “I still wound up getting up about 9,” Waters said.  Bob Trainor, a radio man, left about 4:45 a.m. and there were roughly 7 people left. A number of the Garden press support personnel did not leave until 4.  In the post game press conference on Friday Boeheim and Andy Rautins were asked if they were looking for a place to eat, McDonald’s, anywhere. “We looked,” Boeheim said, “but in Syracuse you have places open at 2:30 in the morning. In New York it’s hard to find something open,” he added in jest.

Lou Monaco, who writes for ESPN and the Star-Ledger, covered the early games and had to leave near the end of regulation for his train. Monaco’s train had a 55 minute delay at Secaucus Junction. His cell phone needed to be charged but he could follow the game from passengers on blackberrys. He got to his Summit destination and it was so late the bars were closed. “I could see through the windows of the one bar that the game was going on,” he said. Monaco got in his car drove a few miles to his Springfield home and could still see most of OT number 6.

Good writing friend Jack Stycznski has a blog for the New York Times. Jack was seated next to me the whole game and we broke down the contest the full three and three quarter hours. The next day he sent an email, “I’m so tired I can’t think straight.”  Jack said due to travel schedules and logistics he got a full 90 minutes, yes one and one half hours, sleep and hit the office.  “Every time we meet each other,” he said, “we can say ‘six’ and remember a great night.”

A great night. The greatest game I’ve covered? Maybe. Definitely top three. The other two? I’m not sure at this moment. I might need overtime to decide.

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Hey Kid, I’ll Give You $20 to Carry This Package For Me…

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2009

One of the very best things about college sports other than the cheerleaders and the dance teams are the mascots.  And while you’ll never, ever see a cute blonde pixie getting in the face of a competitor, it’s fairly common for mascots to get involved in tomfoolery and hijinks.  Case in point: last night at the WAC Tournament with seven seconds left in a one-pt game, Utah St.’s “Big Blue” confronted New Mexico St.’s “Pistol Pete” and ripped off his mustache, leading to a row during a timeout in the middle of the court.  From the AP report:

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During a timeout with 7 seconds left and New Mexico State leading 70-69, Utah State’s mascot, “Big Blue” the bull, confronted New Mexico State’s “Pistol Pete” cowboy mascot and ripped off his fake mustache. The cowboy then chased the bull to halfcourt, jumped on his back and tried unsuccessfully to pull him to the floor. “Pistol Pete” then started to try to choke his rival before retreating to his end of the court. Several newspaper photographers covering the game said they heard a man in a Nevada shirt offer the Utah State mascot $100 to go grab the mustache. The man confirmed to The Associated Press that was true and that he paid the mascot the $100, but declined to provide his name. He said he did not expect New Mexico State’s “Pistol Pete” to respond the way he did.

This is phenomenal.  Who is this nefarious Nevada fan peeling off hundies like he was PacMan over at Solid Platinum?  And how perfect was his timing in that situation – can you imagine if Big Blue had gotten his team – down one point at the time – a tech for his aggression?  Stew Morrill probably would have gored Big Blue with his own horns.

If anyone finds a video of this, send it along and we’ll put it up.

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WAC Quarterfinal Recap & Semifinal Preview

Posted by nvr1983 on March 13th, 2009

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing the WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

Note: Rush the Court will be live-blogging tonight’s WAC Semifinals, which starts at 8:30 PM ET.

The quarterfinals of the 2009 WAC Tournament are in the books and the league’s top two seeded teams–Utah State and Nevada–advanced. The #3 and #4 seeds Idaho and Boise State? Not nearly as fortunate. Each session brought its own upset as in the tournament’s first game #5 seed New Mexico State upended #4 seed Boise State. The Broncos had won the first two meetings of the season and were looking to make it three straight and looked to be off to a good start when they built a 30-20 lead midway through the first half. However, New Mexico State found its shot and took a 38-36 lead into the break. Boise State tied the game at 38 apiece less than a minute into the game after a pair of made free throws but that’s as close as they would get the rest of the way. Spurred by an 8-0 run, New Mexico State seized control of the game and timely free throws and a second half barrage of three pointers by junior guard Jonathan Gibson helped the Aggies to advance to the semifinals. Gibson finished with a team high 22 points for the Aggies. Boise State was led by Mark Sanchez who scored a game high 25 points. In all four Aggies finished with double figures in scoring while three Broncos achieved that mark. Boise State finishes the season at 19-12 and will await their postseason fate. The Aggies improve to 17-14 and will face top seed Utah State at 6:00 p.m. PT.

In the first session’s second game the regular season champion Utah State took on #9 seed Fresno State. Most Aggie fans approached this game with a bit of guarded optimism not normally seen in a 1 vs. 9 matchup. However, there was due cause for their concern as Fresno State had pushed Utah State to the brink in both regular season meetings. The Bulldogs had lost by just four in the always tough Dee Glenn Smith Spectrum in Logan and then later took Utah State to overtime before eventually losing. After Fresno State escaped the 8/9 play-in game against Hawai’i, they looked to spring the upset. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the Aggies had different plans. Utah State jumped out to a 16-3 lead and never looked back. Utah State hit a season high 13 three pointers en route to an 85-68 victory. Utah State’s Stavon Williams finished with 22 points on 8-11 shooting including 6-8 from three point distance. Gary Wilkinson and Jared Quayle each pitched in 18 for the Aggies. Fresno State had four players reach double figures led by freshman Paul George with 16. Senior Dwight O’Neil, playing in his final game scored 14 points. Utah State rekindles their rivalry with New Mexico State in the first semifinal game at 6:00 p.m. PT.

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Sun Belt Conference Tourney Wrapup

Posted by nvr1983 on March 13th, 2009

Toppers Return to The Dance
As we predicted last time around, Western Kentucky will represent the Sun Belt Conference in the Big dance this year. This was no surprise to avid Belt followers. However, what was a surprise was the opponent they faced in the finals – South Alabama.

South Alabama came into the tournament as the sixth seed, and slid into the finals after winning their first two games by a combined total of five points. One of their opponents was Troy, who’s magical run came to a close by just three points. Not that they didn’t have their fair share of chances to get the win themselves. Trojan guard Michael Vogler missed the front end of a one-and-one and then two 3-point tries in the final 17 seconds as Troy tried to tie the game.
Ironically, South Alabama’s last leg into the final game came with little difficulty when they knocked off  Arkansas Little-Rock, a team that also struggled to find its range, by ten points. The Trojans had no answer for the loss of Moore, their top scorer, and it showed, as they went 16-61 from the floor on the night. However, South Alabama would not be so fortunate against WKU in the finals.

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Majerus the Academician

Posted by rtmsf on March 12th, 2009

Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC Conferences. He is bouncing around the Northeast this week visiting several championship week venues.

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ATLANTIC CITY, NJ – Rick Majerus can coach. There was never a doubt over that. The St.Louis mentor also has opinions and doesn’t mind voicing them. At the Atlantic Ten Tournament opening round in Atlantic City on Wednesday Majerus took the opportunity to once again be heard. His Billikens just won a thrilling 62-60 overtime game against LaSalle. He spoke generically about being ‘fortunte to win’ and so forth. Then it came.

“It would be a shame to beat Xavier tomorrow and not to have them go to the (NCAA) tournament,” he said. ”But we aren’t going to win. I just do not like post season conference tournaments.” He continued as records captured and pens scribbled. “I really think academics is the most important issue. We are keeping these kids out of class for roughly four days, they are missing too much academic work. The regular season champion is the champion. In these tournaments you win a four day event, wear a championship t-shirt and walk around like you won something. That’s phony.” Majerus went on to note he has been successful in these events at Marquette, Ball State and Utah. In his two A-10 tournaments he’s done a credible job. He took a more talented Dayton team into overtime before losing a heartbreaker last season.  The LaSalle win was a nice one affording an opportunity to face Xavier.

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Majerus has pontificated about conference tournaments before. The Xavier comments were surprising. For one, XU is in whether they run the A-10 table or were upset. Secondly, saying your team won’t win doesn’t instill confidence in your players. Majerus did say later, “we will play our asses off tomorrow.” An outstanding coach, outspoken and thought provoking. Rick Majerus is never boring.

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Before the Majerus interview I met with the Billiken cheer/dance squad. Two years ago I interviewed Allie McLaughlin one of their members as a note in  another column. She’s now the coach. Personable but not the controversial notebook filler like Majerus. The Atlantic City venue has some schools claiming the casinos off limits to their spirit squads. Not St. Louis. “If they are twenty one they can go to the casinos,” she said. The narrow Billiken win gave them that opportunity.

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Big 10 Wrapup & Tourney Preview

Posted by nvr1983 on March 11th, 2009

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

The Season That Was
Politicians often talk about “Two Americas” – there’s the super-rich, lighting Cuban cigars with $100 bills, and then there’s the rest of us. Well, this year, there were “Three Big Tens.” First, there was Michigan State, who won the conference title in a walk by four games. That’s the largest margin in a very long time (over 10 years). And just like this little credit crisis hasn’t forced Warren Buffett to fly coach [Ed. Note: Having read about Warren, he might fly coach anyways.], Raymar Morgan‘s long bout with pneumonia didn’t slow down the Spartans one bit. We predicted Michigan State to win, we just didn’t know it would be this easy.

Then there’s the middle, which was filled with parity. Second place through ninth place was separated by 3 games. Call it the Big Ten’s middle class. Purdue didn’t develop into the team everyone thought they would. Sure, Robbie Hummel‘s extended absence hurt, but it was really the big steps back taken by E’Twuan Moore and Keaton Grant that made the biggest difference. Illinois actually overachieved this season, after last year’s debacle. The truth is that the Illini weren’t that bad last year, but suffered a lot of close losses. A big turnaround was to be expected. But to go from 16 wins to 23 (and counting) without adding a single player of significance was beyond optimistic. That’s exactly what Bruce Weber‘s team did though. Wisconsin will see their streak of 30-win seasons come to an end this year, and despite what you might read or hear about this team, it was the defense that let them down. In fact, the Badgers sported the league’s best offense on a per possession basis. But without twin towers Brian Butch and Greg Steimsma, opponents shot much better from inside the arc.

Penn State continued its happy-go-lucky ways, going 10-8 in conference play despite being outscored (handily) by its opponents. But good for the Nittany Lions, it’s wins that punch Dance tickets, not scoring margins. Ohio State might have had the most talent in the league, but finished right in the middle of the pack. We said that before the season started that Ohio State would be hard-pressed to improve on last year’s performance. We were right – Thad Matta is finding out that landing All American Recruits isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Speaking of attrition, Northwestern had virtually none, and that went a long, long way into fueling their best post-war season. The Wildcats will come up short for landing an NCAA Tourney bid unless they win the conference tournament, but that shouldn’t diminish the job Bill Carmody‘s done. Another turnaround was present in Ann Arbor, where John Beilein has Michigan on the brink of their first NCAA Tournament appearance in over 10 years. The Wolverines have looked like giant killers that took down Duke, UCLA, and nearly UConn; but this is also the same team that was outscored by opponents in conference play. They need to find that early-season magic for the stretch run. Minnesota has been somewhat of an oddball team as well this year in that this is the worst field goal shooting team in the conference, but they’re also tied for the best free throw shooting team in the conference. Clearly they have the talent to score more, but it just hasn’t happened.

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RTC Live: Atlantic 10 Tournament

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2009

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3/14 Update:  The Championship Game between Duquesne and Temple begins tonight at 6pm EDT.  See you there!

3/13 Update: Tonight CCT will be live-blogging the semifinals, with Xavier-Temple the early game at 6:30 pm and Dayton-Duquesne in the nightcap.  Enjoy!

3/12 Update:  The quarterfinal round promises to have several good games.  Here is today’s liveblog, courtesy again of our friends at College Chalktalk.

RTC Live is pleased to announce that we have partnered with our Atlantic 10 correspondent, College Chalktalk, to provide simul-blogging live from courtside of the A10 Tournament in Atlantic City, NJ, this week.

The Tournament began this afternoon with two good games where St. Louis and St. Joseph’s advanced to the quarterfinal round, and it will continue tonight as UMass will battle Duquesne and St. Bonaventure will play Richmond.   CCT, the authoritative voice on Atlantic 10 basketball, will be simul-blogging the UMass-Duquesne game, and we invite you to join their coverage here on the site tonight and throughout the rest of the week.

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Big West Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2009

Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports is the RTC correspondent for the Big West and SEC Conferences.

The Big West Tournament will kick off tonight at the Anaheim Convention Center, and anyone who claims they know who will be crowned on Saturday is either: (1) lying, or (2) not familiar with the way the season has gone thus far. The fact is that any Big West team is capable of beating any other team, and seeding means little in making your predictions.

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Top seed Cal State Northridge won the regular season title outright, but have faced injuries, legal issues and general inconsistencies that made the race a little closer than most expected when the Matadors were chosen as preseason favorites. Long Beach State, the #2 seed, started out on a blazing 5-0 conference start but has alternated between wins and losses for the remaining eleven games. Third-seeded Pacific hasn’t won a road game since January 31, and even lost to lowly Cal Poly early in the season.

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Conference USA Wrapup & Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2009

Memphis passed its last regular season road test and now only has a few games to go to return to the “promised land” that they’ve never really left.

While the Tigers’ dominance over the rest of CUSA is nearly unparalleled in the history of modern college basketball, it doesn’t mean that every other team is chopped liver. Basically anything can happen in a tournament setting and the Tigers have endured a few close calls this year.

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So here are the teams as they are seeded and some pertinent info:

#1: Memphis Tigers

Coach: John Calipari

Record: 28-3 overall (16-0 in CUSA)

Players to Watch: G Tyreke Evans, F Robert Dozier, F Shawn Taggart, G Antonio Anderson

Season Highlights: In a year that many thought would be fraught with ‘rebuilding’ and the like, the Tigers continue to look dominant. The arrival of the latest one-year wonder: Tyreke Evans, has allowed the blue and gray not miss a beat from last year’s final four squad. But the veteran leadership of guys like Antonio Anderson, Doneal Mack, Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier has been a huge factor too. They suffered early-season setbacks against Xavier and Syracuse, but they’re currently riding 20+ game winning streak. There have been a few close calls and at the end of the day they’re still undefeated against the rest of the conference.

They Will Win If: They simply show up and play their game. I don’t want to imply that the Tigers will simply cream whomever they play, because they could well lose. But they’re playing an extremely favorable draw on their home court. This is a recipe for success and it also doesn’t hurt that they’ve won over 50 games in a row against CUSA teams.

First Game: vs. the winner of #8 Tulane/#9 East Carolina; Thursday at 8:30 pm.

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SEC Wrapup & Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2009

Ryan ZumMallen of LBSportsPost is the RTC correspondent for the Big West and SEC Conferences.

A lot of people have written off the SEC as an also-ran.  It’s lacked a Top 20 presence most of the season and doesn’t figure to make a lot of noise in The Dance.  LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee are looking like the only teams that have earned themselves a Tournament spot – save, of course, a surprising SEC Tournament champion.  But in a conference boasting the likes of Jodie Meeks, Nick Calathes, Ole Miss’ Terrico White and others, it’s entirely plausible that a middle of the pack squad could pull a Chattanooga and punch themselves a Tourney ticket.

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LSU was clearly the best team in the conference this season, posting the best margins of points (+10.1) and rebounds (+5.7) per game.  But the Tigers are not without their faults.  Their three SEC losses were to Alabama, Vanderbilt and Auburn – who boast a combined 25-23 conference record.  Not exactly quality losses, and LSU will need to be wary carrying a two-game losing streak into the conference tournament; lest we forget that many teams need an SEC title more than the #16 Tigers do.

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