It’s About Time Wichita State and Kansas Play Each Other

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 6th, 2014

It’s easy to see why Kansas and Wichita State should play each other. They are two of the three best basketball programs in a basketball-obsessed state. They are physically separated by less than 200 miles. They have played each other 14 times, most recently for a short run between 1989-93, and the Shockers are far better now than the teams that fell to the Jayhawks by at least 20 points in each of those meetings. Their histories – one a cultural monolith and longtime juggernaut; the other a historically mediocre Division I program – make for an excellent in-state, big brother-little brother dynamic that’s unique in college basketball. There are politicians who want these teams to play each other so badly that one went as far as to introduce a bill, later defeated, that would have forced them to play. Many others have tried to fan the flames of what could be one of the best rivalries in college basketball. Wichita State fans are vehement: They want nothing more than for their Shockers to get a shot at the Jayhawks. For crying out loud, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall once called Kansas the “chickenhawks”. I could go on, but instead of laying out the obvious, sensible reasons why Kansas and Wichita State should play each other, I’ll get into the more timely question of whether the two teams are any closer to actually playing each other.

It's clear Marshall wants Kansas and Wichita State to play each other (Getty Images).

It’s clear Marshall wants Kansas and Wichita State to play each other (Getty Images).

Sadly, it seems that they are not. Bill Self has long held that a game against Wichita State would not benefit Kansas, and that his program schedules games solely that are in its best interests. He argues that a potential match-up with Wichita State – despite all the seemingly logical reasons listed above – just isn’t worth it. “This isn’t knocking Wichita State,” Self told The Kansas City Star on December 17. “But if it was best for our program, I would reach out to them about scheduling them. But it’s not. I’ve heard a lot of talk about them wanting to play us so bad; Gregg Marshall’s never contacted me about playing.” Marshall reportedly reached out to Kansas officials to propose a three-game series that would comprise one meeting at Allen Fieldhouse, one at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, and one at Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita (not Wichita State’s home court). Whether Marshall has spoken directly with Self about the proposed series is beside the point, because Self doesn’t seem like he’s willing to budge. He simply doesn’t want this game to happen.

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The Best Of 2013 In College Basketball

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 31st, 2013

With 2013 winding to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was in college basketball. There were too many memorable moments to recount ‘em all, but here’s our honor roll for the last calendar year — a list laced with games, plays, and performances that will long struggle to escape our memory banks.

Best Game: Michigan vs. Kansas, NCAA Tournament, Sweet Sixteen

Trey Burke's Last-Gasp Sweet-16 Heroics Will Surely Be One Of 2013's Prevailing Memories

Trey Burke’s Last-Gasp Sweet-16 Heroics Will Surely Be One Of 2013’s Prevailing Memories

Gonzaga-Butler may have given us the best final seconds of regulation (see below), and Louisville-Notre Dame definitely donated the most riveting 25 minutes of action after regulation, but when talking games of the year, Michigan vs. Kansas was simply unmatched when it came to elevated stakes and elite talent. We won’t soon forget Trey Burke’s comeback-capping, game-tying three to force overtime, but it would be a shame if that’s all that lived on from this classic. Sweet Sixteen match-ups between national title contenders don’t come around every March; would you have bet against Kansas to get to Championship Monday if Burke’s three hadn’t found the bottom of the net on that Friday night?

Honorable Mention: Gonzaga at Butler, Louisville at Notre Dame.

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Previewing a Sneaky Good Saturday of Basketball on Tap

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 21st, 2013

This Saturday’s schedule may not shimmer like last week’s did – the face-off between Oklahoma State and Colorado stands as the only game featuring two ranked teams – but dig a little bit and you may like what you find. Or better yet, let us do the digging: Here are four storylines to keep an eye on during this sneaky-good Saturday of college hoops.

Phog Allen Fieldhouse Has Hosted Quite A Few Visitors Over The Years, But Never The Georgetown Hoyas. That Will Change On Saturday.

Phog Allen Fieldhouse Has Hosted Quite A Few Visitors Over The Years, But Never The Georgetown Hoyas. That Will Change On Saturday.

Two Storied Programs Meet In Rare Clash

Kansas and Georgetown may have both inhabited the upper reaches of college basketball’s hierarchy for quite some time now, but that doesn’t mean the two programs know each other especially well. Saturday’s meeting at Phog Allen Fieldhouse (12 PM EST, ESPN) will be just the third time the two schools have faced off, although the latest Hoya-Jayhawk matchup was quite recent, coming just two seasons ago at the Maui Invitational. Needless to say, the cast of characters (on both sides) has seen a massive overhaul since that game. While this one is worth watching for the pure novelty of the Hoyas’ maiden voyage to Allen Fieldhouse, there’s more at stake here than just a new twist on history. Kansas seeks to maintain the momentum gained in last weekend’s win over New Mexico, while the Hoyas, firmly off the national radar for the past month, find themselves with a nice opportunity to quell some doubts after a shaky first month. Rock Chalk meets Hoya Saxa – quite a way to kick off the weekend.

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Gonzaga Churns Out Another Victory; Could These Bulldogs Be Different Come March?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 11th, 2013

First things first: Gonzaga’s 80-76 win over West Virginia on Tuesday night will not go down as any sort of victory for the ages. Heck, it may not even count as a “good win” come March. But before we strip away all its value, with say, a game of “name a Mountaineer”, let’s also give the Zags a little credit. Grabbing a road victory, in a hostile environment, over a competitive power conference team is never an easy task. Every Big 12 team – Oklahoma State and Kansas included – will be happy if they leave Morgantown with a win this season. Signature victory it is not for Mark Few’s team, but with another “taking-care-of-business” performance in the books, the Zags look poised to hang around the top of the polls for yet another season. Of course, that upward November to March trajectory has ended in a Tournament nose-dive too often for almost anyone to take the Zags seriously these days — no matter how good a regular season they may register. The familiar question begs: Is this Gonzaga team built to win in March?

Kevin Pangos And The Zags Can Score The Basketball (Just Ask West Virginia), But Will That Offensive Efficiency Finally Equate To March Success? (AP)

Kevin Pangos And The Zags Can Score The Basketball (Just Ask West Virginia), But Will That Offensive Efficiency Finally Equate To March Success? (AP)

Let’s hold off for a moment on evaluating Tournament potential, and first admit that the Zags are pretty good at picking up wins in the months leading up to March. Down eight with eight minutes left, and with Ken Pom’s win probability graph suggesting just a 15% chance of a Gonzaga win, this game long looked like one that might not support the above thesis. But in those final eight minutes the Zags did what they do best: score the basketball. The nation’s most efficient offense pumped in 24 points before the buzzer sounded, with a trio of Kevin Pangos threes serving as Coliseum-silencers along the way. Gonzaga has now scored at least 79 points in every game this season; this despite playing at a tempo that ranks below the national average. Just like last year’s 32-3 team, who finished second nationally in offensive efficiency, these Bulldogs can really score. Read the rest of this entry »

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Do Yourself a Favor: Watch UCLA Freshman Zach LaVine Play

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 11th, 2013

Anyone who watched Missouri beat UCLA last Saturday probably came away impressed with the Tigers’ backcourt trio of Jordan Clarkson, Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown. The three guards combined for 63 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, and attacked UCLA’s defense from inside and out, on the break and in the half-court, on spot-ups and dribble penetration. The Tigers were impressive, so it was no surprise to see them ranked no. 24 in the AP Poll released on Monday. If you watched Missouri beat the Bruins, you might even be inclined to argue that the Tigers deserve a higher ranking. I was impressed with Missouri. I think it was underrated heading into the season. Now that coach Frank Haith is done serving a suspension that – if we’re being totally honest – should have kept him away from the sidelines far longer than five games, the Tigers are in position to climb the rankings in the coming weeks, and maybe even challenge Tennessee and LSU for the de-facto SEC regular season bronze medal (i.e., the team that inevitably finishes behind Kentucky and Florida for third place). But what really struck me about Saturday’s game had nothing to do with Missouri. Near the end of the first half, Bruins freshman Zach LaVine pounced on a Tigers turnover just beyond his team’s three-point line, dribbled the length of the court, took off from one step inside the paint and flushed home a ferocious, one-handed windmill dunk.

This wasn’t the first time I had heard of LaVine. I knew coming into the season he was one of the nation’s better freshmen – though one who was more overlooked than he otherwise would have been in most years because of how loaded this freshman class is. I knew he was a good athlete, someone who could score, someone who could give the Bruins another scoring threat behind guards Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson. But this – one of the most impressive breakaway dunks I’ve seen from any player at any level – was something I wasn’t quite prepared for. So I spent some time looking around on YouTube, found this clip, rewound each of LaVine’s dunks at least three times and quickly came to the conclusion his jam against Missouri was downright mediocre by comparison.

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One Month In: Where Are All the Great Teams?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 9th, 2013

This week will see a new team take its turn at the top of the polls, but like their predecessors in the rankings’ top slot, the Arizona Wildcats will seize the reins just days after a performance in which they hardly resembled the best team in the country. The pesky Columbia Lions — also known as the team that nearly ended Michigan State’s reign atop the polls before it even began — may be significantly less talented than the UNLV outfit that gave Arizona fits at the McKale Center on Saturday afternoon, but that shouldn’t provide Sean Miller’s team a free pass on their underwhelming effort. The Runnin’ Rebels, disappointing as they have been, really aren’t that bad (temporarily forgetting the 21-point home loss to UCSB as I write that), and close losses do happen, but there is a presumption that the #1 team in the country will take care of business in a manner befitting an elite unit. Upcoming games against New Mexico State and Michigan will offer the Wildcats a quick chance to validate their lofty ranking, but even with a pair of victories this week, are we really ready to call Arizona truly elite? And if we aren’t ready to offer that declaration for the #1 team in the polls, might we be faced with a college basketball season devoid of a profoundly great unit?

T.J. McConnell And The Wildcats Are The Nation's New #1, But The Wildcats Still Have Plenty To Prove

T.J. McConnell And The Wildcats Are The Nation’s New #1, But Like Many Other Top Teams, The Wildcats Still Have Plenty To Prove

To the point, Arizona’s ascent to the top spot in the polls has had as much to do with the failings of the five preseason teams ahead of them as it has the Wildcats’ own success. True, that preseason top-five grouping has been a bit cannibalistic (Kentucky fell to Michigan State; Duke dropped one to Kansas), but no member of the quintet has yet shown an ability to be consistently great. The new pieces have struggled to fit at Kentucky and Kansas — each team has two losses; while Louisville and Michigan State failed to do something that Belmont and UAB accomplished – beat North Carolina. And Duke, vanquished by the pollsters newest #1 team 10 days ago at the Garden, just picked up its first quality win of the season when the Blue Devils defeated Michigan last week at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

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Fred Hoiberg’s Unique Formula Continues to Add Up To Wins

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 21st, 2013

On Wednesday night, the Iowa State Cyclones went into the Marriott Center and scored one of the better victories of this young season, beating an explosive (and previously undefeated) BYU team, 90-88. A check of the box score would reveal few surprises on the Cyclone side; Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane dropped in 21 points apiece to pace Fred Hoiberg’s squad, and fellow starters Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue and Matt Thomas all pitched in at least four field goals of their own. What that box score doesn’t reveal is that Iowa State was forced to play crunch-time possessions without Kane (ejected for a flagrant foul), Ejim (fouled out with two minutes left), and Hogue (fouled out minutes before Ejim); or that it sparingly used Daniel Edozie, who came up with the biggest play of Iowa State’s win — a blocked shot and subsequent recovery on a Tyler Haws jump shot in the final seconds. They were far from perfect down the stretch — especially at the free throw line — but the Cyclones showed off a necessary resourcefulness in claiming a statement victory in Provo. As unlikely and unusual as that game-ending lineup was for Iowa State, the challenge at hand must not have felt that foreign for their coach. Piecing together new casts has become commonplace for the Mayor; no two rosters in the Hoiberg era have born any sort of close resemblance, but the former Cyclone star has found a way to remold each and every new-look squad into a winner. Suffice it to say, after only four games, he appears to have done it again this year.

Fred Hoiberg's Roster Suffered More Turnover This Offseason, But That Hasn't Stopped The Mayor From Leading The Cyclones To An Impressive 4-0 Start

Fred Hoiberg’s Roster Suffered More Turnover This Offseason, But That Hasn’t Stopped The Mayor From Leading The Cyclones To An Impressive 4-0 Start

Hoiberg has lost at least three starters in each of his three offseasons in Ames, including last summer. The departures of seniors Will Clyburn, Korie Lucious, Chris Babb, and Tyrus McGee meant Iowa State would be returning just two contributors from a year ago – Ejim And Niang. An exodus of that size, particularly without the arrival of a star-studded freshman class, would typically mean a rebuild is in order. Not in Ames. There’s a “transfers welcome” sign hanging from Hilton Arena these days, with the former Marshall guard Kane the latest talent to undertake Hoiberg’s relocation program. More newcomers join him in this season’s Cyclone rotation. JuCo transfers Hogue and Edozie both had a hand in last night’s win, while two promising freshmen, Thomas and Monte Morris – top 100 recruits both – round out the cast of new faces for the 4-0 Cyclones.

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Crosstown Shootout Needs To Head Back To Campus

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 20th, 2013

There is little doubt that the 2011 Crosstown Shootout changed the Xavier-Cincinnati rivalry forever. For starters, there’s the fact that the Crosstown Shootout doesn’t even exist anymore. The Crosstown Classic is the new handle for the annual encounter between the two kings of the Queen City’s college basketball scene, but the revised moniker is far from the only amendment to come out of the ugly brawl. After alternating between Xavier and Cincinnati’s home courts for 22 years prior to and including the 2011 game, last year’s edition took place on neutral hardwood at downtown’s U.S. Bank Arena. That arrangement remains in effect again this winter, as the two schools will renew pleasantries on December 14. In the immediate aftermath of the brawl there had been some voices calling for an end, at least temporarily, to the rivalry, but the two administrations let cooler heads prevail and settled on this two-year neutral site plan instead. No long-term strategy was formed at the time, and reports released yesterday indicate that the wait-and-see approach is still in effect, as school officials have yet to reach a conclusion on where the rivalry will continue in 2014 and beyond. The only question does appear to be where, however; two years removed from the incident, both sides sound committed to ensuring that the rivalry rolls on. The latter is certainly great news, and while the patience and sensitivity surrounding this situation is understandable in many regards, two years of reflection will have been plenty long enough — it’s time to bring this game back to campus.

Semaj Christon And Xavier Will Meet Cross-Town Rival Cincinnati On December 14 At U.S. Bank Arena; Here's To Hoping That Encounter Takes Place  On-Campus Next Season

Semaj Christon And Xavier Will Meet Cross-Town Rival Cincinnati On December 14 At U.S. Bank Arena; Here’s To Hoping That Encounter Takes Place On-Campus Next Season

The Bearcats-Musketeers series dates all the way back to 1927, with the annual meeting having gone uninterrupted from 1946 to the present. Many of those encounters took place on neutral courts, including the three interesting seasons (1987-89) when the two schools actually shared a home court. So, taking the “Classic” (that just doesn’t sound right) away from campus was hardly unprecedented in the rivalry, but that doesn’t mean it should stay there. If we are speaking generally, college basketball as a whole derives much of its identity from the energy and enthusiasm of the sport’s on-campus homes. Rabid student populations and nuanced arenas deliver an experience unlike any you will find at an NBA arena. So why take one of the game’s premier rivalries away from that setting and into an approximated NBA facility? The answer, as it pertains to this year and last, is quite obvious, of course, but muting the emotions of this rivalry is only fair for so long. The Crosstown Classic has long been a highlight of the Cincinnati sporting calendar. If the series is going to continue, there is no reason why it shouldn’t carry on in all its glory.

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Forgotten Sophomore Marcus Smart Reminds Everyone He’s Still Around

Posted by Eli Linton on November 20th, 2013

Eli Linton is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Oklahoma State and Memphis in Stillwater. 

After what we have seen on display early this season from an outstanding freshman class led by Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, and Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart went into Gallagher-Iba Arena on Tuesday night as the forgotten sophomore, but he left as arguably the best and most complete player in the nation. No.7 Oklahoma State sent a message to the rest of the college basketball world, dismantling No.11 Memphis, 101-80, behind a first half explosion from Smart, who turned in the best performance of the season so far. The game that was supposed to be a showdown between two very talented backcourts ended up instead as a showcase of Smart as a superstar talent, and left everyone wondering just how far this Oklahoma State team can go this season.

Smart Was Sensational on Tuesday Night (SI.com)

Smart Was Sensational on Tuesday Night (SI.com)

In just 16 first half minutes, Smart unleashed 26 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Memphis, by comparison, scored 32 points in the entire half and went 11-of-31 from the field. The greatest stretch of dominance from Smart happened during a two-minute window in the first half, when he scored 12 points on four straight possessions. He finished with a career-high 39 points, five steals, four rebounds, and four assists. “When he scores like that, he could be the best player in college basketball,” said Memphis coach Josh Pastner after the loss. “There is a reason why he was a first-team All-American. Tonight he was tremendous.”

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Rule Change Progress Report: Possessions and Scoring Up

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 19th, 2013

With college basketball’s first full week-plus in the books, now seems like a good time to pause and take further inventory of the impact of the much-discussed offseason rules changes. Ken Pomeroy offered an early analysis of their influence by comparing first weekend statistics from the last two seasons; with a larger available set of data now, are KenPom’s first weekend findings still holding true? Namely, are fouls, scoring and tempo still on the uptick this season? Have the freedom of motion initiatives significantly impacted the game in any other areas? Let’s dig in…

Not All Teams Have Taken To The New Rules -- And Inevitable Free Throw Bonanza -- Like Unbeaten Indiana State And Jake Odum (13).

Not All Teams Have Taken To The New Rules — And Inevitable Free Throw Bonanza — Like Unbeaten Indiana State And Jake Odum (13).

While the extra week’s worth of games does provide us with a little more ammo for the examination, we should keep in mind that we are still working with a small sample size as well as a relatively unrepresentative bucket of data when considering the entire set. For example, Oklahoma State scored 117 points against Mississippi Valley State in its season opener; not only do the Delta Devils not reappear on the Cowboys Big 12 schedule, but it’s unlikely Marcus Smart’s squad comes close to matching that output against any team that actually does. Quite clearly, the first couple weeks of the season is filled with mismatched foes and lopsided victories – things you rarely see after January.

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Is UMass Finally Ready To Bust Out?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 14th, 2013

Trendy sleepers only stay trendy for so long. After receiving preseason love as an Atlantic 10 darkhorse before each of the last two seasons, the UMass Minutemen watched that buzz quiet a bit this time around. That’s not to say UMass was expected to struggle this season – they were picked a respectable fourth in the A-10 Preseason poll – but the familiar makeup of this group of Minutemen left many wondering how they could possibly carve out a different, happier ending from that of years past. Well, fast forward a week into the season and take a nice whiff of the optimism emanating from Western Massachusetts. Opening week victories over BC and LSU don’t make UMass anyone’s team of the week, but they do show this team’s capability (thus far, at least) to do something their predecessors could not – handle their business in the non-conference. March fates are rarely decided in the second week of November, but take notice, even if it is a year or two past schedule: That sleeper may finally be waking up in Amherst.

Chaz Williams Has One Final Chance To Lead UMass Back To The NCAA Tournament For The First Time Since 1998; Does A Strong Opening Week Mean Williams And Company Are Ready To Make It Happen?

Chaz Williams Has One Final Chance To Lead UMass Back To The NCAA Tournament; Does A Strong Opening Week Mean Williams And Company Are Ready To Make It Happen?

A couple of 9-7 records in Atlantic 10 play (UMass’ finish in both 2012 and 2013) are rarely part of the recipe for an at-large bid to the Dance, but in each of the last two seasons, the more damning portion of the Minuteman resume was not their so-so in-conference performance. Two years ago they posted just one top-130 victory before January (a home win over Davidson), while striking out on opportunities against top-50 foes Florida State and Miami (FL). Last season’s non-conference effort was marginally better, but wins over Harvard, Providence and Ohio should not be the pre-conference highlights for a team with serious NCAA Tournament aspirations – especially one from a non-BCS conference. Making matters worse, the chances were again there for Derek Kellogg’s club, but losses to NC State, Tennessee, and Miami (FL) all came by double figures. Once again, those touting the Minutemen were quickly made to look too ambitious.

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Let’s Talk Early Returns on Officiating and the New Foul Rules

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 13th, 2013

Ken Pomeroy has an interesting post on his website concerning the early effect of the enforcement of new rules regarding contact by the defender. He acknowledges that the sample size is very small, but he basically compared all the Division I games last weekend with a similar number of games to start last season. Scoring is up by about 4.5 points per team while tempo has only increased by about one possession per team. Therefore almost all of the scoring increase is because of an increase in fouls called, which has resulted in nearly nine more free throw attempts per game. With the number of possessions and field goal attempts remaining steady, the tradeoff has come in fewer turnovers, specifically those caused by steals. Overall, it appears that officials are calling fouls for defensive contact that last year resulted in steals.

Karl Hess and Other Officials are Working with Players on New Rules

Karl Hess and Other Officials are Working with Players on New Rules (Photo: flickr.com)

Many coaches have expressed concerns with the new rules, mostly regarding consistent enforcement. That is a reasonable worry since college basketball has no organized governance structure over officials during the regular season, with assignments made by individual conferences. There is, however, a national element with respect to the NCAA Tournament. Those officiating assignments are made by NCAA director of men’s basketball officiating, John Adams, who sounds like a supporter of the new rules. On Monday’s ESPN College Basketball Podcast, Tom Izzo and Bill Self both expressed concerns with how officials will call fouls. There was even a suggestion that the NCAA might want to make an example of the new officiating style by calling the Champions Classic games closely and putting all the stars on the bench with foul trouble. Last night’s games totaled 46 and 53 fouls, respectively, a high number (the season average thus far is 42) but not completely off kilter. And really only Michigan State’s Adreian Payne spent much of crunch time in foul trouble (Duke’s Jabari Parker fouled out late, but Kansas had already surged ahead at that point). John Calipari had a different take, basically echoing what Jay Bilas has been saying: “If you don’t want fouls to be called on you, then just don’t foul.” Sounds simple enough.

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