20 Questions: What is the Best November Tournament This Season?

Posted by dnspewak on October 24th, 2011

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference and a Big 12 microsite writer.

Question: What is the Best November Tournament This Season?

The pick: Maui Invitational

Participants (with preseason rank): Island: Duke (#6), Memphis (#9), Kansas (#13), Michigan (#18), UCLA (#20), Tennessee, Georgetown, Chaminade; Regional: Belmont, Middle Tennessee, UNC Greensboro, Towson

The theme at the Maui Invitational this fall is history. Sure, it’s impressive that the field includes five teams ranked in the preseason Top 20 in the Coaches’ Poll, but the bracket will also provide us with all kinds of wonderful nostalgia. On one side of the bracket, Duke and Michigan might play a rematch of the 1992 National Championship in the semifinals; or, Memphis and Tennessee could battle for in-state supremacy once again (except the game is, you know, in Hawaii). The possibilities are endless — and that’s the case on the other side too. The winner of Georgetown/Kansas will likely face UCLA, and those three programs have 15 combined NCAA titles. And hey, if Memphis and Kansas keep winning, they could meet in a rematch of the 2008 title game. Mario Chalmers won’t be allowed in the building this time.

John Wooden is Just One Legend This Historic Tournament Will Remind Us Of

At this point, you may be physically shaking at some of these matchups. We don’t blame you. That’s how enticing these games are: they’ve got historical value, star power, legendary coaches and terrific fan bases. And you think that’s all the 2011 Maui Invitational has to offer? Take a look at the regional rounds, which also includes Belmont, widely considered one of the top non-BCS programs this season with the majority of an NCAA Tournament team returning. The Bruins dominated the Atlantic Sun in 2010-11, and it’ll face Duke in the regional round of this tournament at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The result of the game won’t determine who flies to Hawaii — Duke will automatically advance — but the Bruins are likely to put a scare into the Blue Devils (2008 NCAA tourney, anybody?).

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20 Questions: Which Coaches Are Feeling the Heat This Season?

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2011

Question: Which Coaches Are Feeling the Heat This Season?

It’s the nature of the business that college coaches are hired to be fired.  With only a handful of exceptions around the country, job security among the coaching fraternity is hard to come by.  Every offseason roughly 15 to 20 percent of the profession turns over, with approximately half of those open jobs coming as a result of some unfortunate soul’s termination.  As we entered last season, the names of the men on the hot seat were easy to predict, and four of the five coaches listed didn’t let us down — Paul Hewitt (Georgia Tech), Jeff Capel (Oklahoma), Sidney Lowe (NC State), and Bruce Pearl (Tennessee) were all ousted after disappointing seasons (our fifth choice, Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, got his team into the Dance and cooled his seat considerably).

Let’s take a quick look at one coach from each of the power conferences who could really use a breakthrough season in 2011-12.

ACC: Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest.  This was a tough league to choose from because eight of the 12 ACC coaches are in one of their first three seasons at their school.  But if we have to choose someone, it’s probably going to be the coach who guided his program to a historically awful season in his first year at the helm.  A one-win conference slate in addition to home losses to the likes of Stetson, Winthrop, UNC-Wilmington, and Presbyterian won’t buy you a great deal of slack from a program still trying to recover from the death of Skip Prosser four years ago.  Throw in the fact that several players have gotten into legal and academic trouble under Bzdelik’s watch and you start to wonder if he can survive another miserable season.  If the second-year coach expects to last much longer, he’s going to have to show some improvement in Winston-Salem this year.

There's Bad... Then There's Historically Bad...

Big East: Stan Heath, South Florida.  The five bottom-feeder Big East programs have all changed coaches in the last two years… except one — South Florida’s Stan Heath.  Heath enters his fifth season in Tampa with a total of one winning season and 19 Big East victories.  After putting together a solid 20-13 season resulting in an NIT appearance in his third year at the helm, USF backslid significantly last year to a 10-23 (3-15 Big East) mess.  Even at a school where basketball isn’t taken very seriously, a coach cannot expect to finish at or near the bottom of the standings of a 16-team league regularly and expect to stay employed very long.  He returns a verified talent in Gus Gilchrist in the post, but the Bulls don’t have a legitimate point guard and will spend this season shuttling around between different venues while the Sun Dome is refurbished.  If he’s not careful, the playing facility may not be the only new thing in USF hoops a year from now.

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20 Questions: Which Returning Player Will Make the Leap?

Posted by rtmsf on October 20th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the Pac-12 and Mountain West correspondent and a regular contributor.

Question: Which Returning Player Will Make the Leap?

Two seasons ago, Derrick Williams was quite a find as a freshman for Arizona. He averaged 15.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and was the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and a member of various freshman All-American teams. Despite those accomplishments, it was surprising the big leap forward he took last season, when he upped his averages to 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and did so in insanely efficient fashion, posting the second highest offensive efficiency rating  according to Ken Pomeroy (among players using at least 28% of his team’s possessions). After hitting just four three-pointers as a freshman, he hit 42 as a sophomore and did so at an superb 57% clip.  The year Williams was a freshman, Evan Turner was busy turning in a monster season in Columbus, averaging 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game on his way to winning multiple National Player of the Year awards. While Turner wasn’t nearly the surprise bust-out that Williams was (he did, after all, average 17.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG and 4.0 APG the previous season), both players made huge leaps in their final collegiate seasons on their way to earning NPOY consideration.

Evan Turner & Derrick Williams Both Broke Out In Big Ways

This season, it looks like Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes are the two preseason co-favorites for National Player of the Year honors. But, will we see someone else come up from out of the pack to challenge the frontrunners? For the purposes of answering this question, I’m going to look for a dark horse candidate, and in doing so, eliminate guys like Jordan Taylor and Ashton Gibbs, two veterans who have proven themselves already and who will likely be All-American candidates. Likewise, I’ll eliminate Perry Jones and Terrence Jones from consideration as well – two youngsters who had good if not spectacular freshman seasons but whose amazing athletic ability any old dummy could see.

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20 Questions: Will Harvard Finally Break Through to the NCAA Tournament?

Posted by rtmsf on October 19th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC and one of that conference’s microsite writers.

Question: Will Harvard Finally Break Through to the NCAA Tournament?

One word says it all: yes. Barring serious injury, there is no reason Harvard shouldn’t attend the Big Dance this season. But before we break down why the Crimson will get there, let’s look at where they come from.

Unlike most would have you believe, Harvard has in fact played in the NCAA Tournament before. It was the 1945-46 season, and conference schedules were a thing of the future. Ivy League opponents were few and far between, as head coach Floyd Stahl’s squad only faced Brown (twice) and Yale. In the end Harvard finished with a 19-3 overall record, but I would be remiss not to mention that three Crimson victories came against the not-so-mighty Chelsea Naval Hospital team. Harvard’s lone regular season loss came at the hands of Massachusetts rival Holy Cross. Unfortunately, the Crimson’s regular season success held no good omens for the postseason, as the Crimson fell quickly to Ohio State in the first round of the Tournament and followed that up with a regional consolation loss to NYU. Oklahoma A&M (now known as Oklahoma State) went on to win the 1946 championship, beating North Carolina 43-40 in the finals.

Harvard Was Only a Couple of Ticks Away Last Year (credit: Harvard Crimson)

The Crimson never made it back. Head coach Tommy Amaker inherited a program with one postseason appearance and no winning coaches since Edward Wachter left Cambridge in 1933. He inherited a team that hadn’t had a winning season since 2001-02 nor a winning conference season since 1996-97. To this point the athletic department was content with .500 Ivy League seasons every few years, mostly trying only to avoid embarrassment instead of actually compete.  But in 2007 after he was fired by Michigan, Harvard called up Amaker: “The Ivy League was appealing to him. He was drawn to Harvard’s tradition of excellence, to the New England area, to the opportunity to flourish in such a strong academic environment.” But the drawbacks I mentioned above–along with tough Ivy League restrictions–pushed the other side of the scale.

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20 Questions: Who is the Most Underrated Team in America?

Posted by rtmsf on October 18th, 2011

Brian Otskey is RTC’s Big East correspondent and a regular contributor.

Question: Who is the Most Underrated Team in America?

Selecting an “underrated” team is always a difficult proposition. Plenty of teams could qualify for this distinction but it’s a highly subjective choice, routinely exhibited in national polls where one voter’s opinion can be vastly different from another. When picking an underrated team, I look for a roster with highly talented and experienced returning players who aren’t easily recognized by the average college basketball fan. Additionally, a quality coach with a track record of year to year improvement is an important piece of the puzzle. In order to find the ultimate underrated team, I looked at many schools from all across the country. Cincinnati, Creighton, Kansas (yes, they’re underrated), Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, UCLA, Villanova and Wisconsin received lots of consideration but I ultimately settled on a team that might be overlooked because of who they lost to graduation. The Wichita State Shockers are my choice for the most underrated team in the nation heading into the 2011-12 season.

Wichita State is the Nation's Most Underrated Team

Wichita State loses J.T. Durley, Gabe Blair and Graham Hatch from last year’s team but a returning core of five seniors should keep the Shockers at or near the top of the Missouri Valley Conference. Those three players combined for 23.9 PPG in 2010-11 as the Shockers captured the NIT title but head coach Gregg Marshall also returns a plethora of quality senior guards, led by Toure’ Murry and David Kyles, as he begins his fifth year at the helm in Wichita. Murry has great size and rebounding ability for a guard while Kyles is a lights-out long-range shooter, knocking down just under 40% of his triples last year. With Joe Ragland and Demetric Williams adding depth to the back court along with some freshmen such as Evan Wessell, the Shockers will have a deep and talented guard rotation. Senior wing Ben Smith is primed to break out as he takes on a larger role. Smith made 50% of his field goals and connected on 38.6% of his threes last year in only 16.5 MPG. If Smith and Kyles have a good season, Wichita State will put up a lot of points from behind the arc.

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20 Questions: Will Renardo Sidney Get In Shape and Behave This Year?

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 17th, 2011

Brian Joyce is an SEC microsite writer and a regular contributor.  He can be reached @bjoyce_hoops on Twitter.

Question: Will Renardo Sidney Get In Shape and Behave This Year?

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury is cautiously optimistic that troubled big man, Renardo Sidney, is on the road to redemption. Sidney has had numerous difficulties ranging from weight and conditioning issues, well documented fights with teammates, and even questions over his amateur status due to receiving improper benefits before stepping foot on the Starkville campus. Mo’ money has meant a lot mo’ problems for Renardo Sidney.

Renardo Sidney Behaving Himself

ISSUE 1: CONDITIONING – Now there is reason for Bulldog fans to be hopeful. Sidney lost 23 pounds over the summer while working out with former NBA star John Lucas. The weight loss has helped the 6’10” power forward improve his conditioning so far this year. He is actually finishing conditioning drills, according to Stansbury. “That doesn’t mean he was winning every race,” his coach says, “but he made it through it. For him, that’s a step in the right direction. We’ve just got to keep stepping the right way and not step back.”

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