Conference Report Card: ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 28th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

Conference Recap

The ACC had a down year though North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall-led resurgence and Florida State’s Sweet Sixteen appearance helped a little bit. Before and during the season, Duke was the runaway favorite in the conference: Kyrie Irving’s toe injury obviously was the pivotal point that brought Duke back down to earth. Equally pivotal (in the reverse direction) was Marshall’s move to starting point guard for North Carolina. With Larry Drew II at the helm, there is no way the Tar Heels could have come close to surpassing Duke for the regular season title. The down year did not really surprise most people, and despite lofty preseason expectations (read: people forgot how highly rated North Carolina was to start the season) I think the perception is that the league at least lived up to preseason expectations with a couple of notable exceptions: NC State, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech. NC State had NCAA Tournament talent, but did not come anywhere close to sniffing the Big Dance; Wake was arguably the worst major conference team in the country; and Virginia Tech once again found itself very highly seeded in the NIT. On the flip side, Clemson and Florida State both exceeded expectations.

Roy Williams and Kendall Marshall led a mid-season resurgence that resulted in a trip the Elite Eight. (News Observer/Robert Willitt)

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Conference Report Card: Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 25th, 2011



Brian Goodman is an RTC editor and contributor.

Year In Review

Before the start of the season, pollsters bought into Kansas State as the sexy pick to take the Big 12 in 2011 on the heels of an Elite Eight appearance in 2010. The Big 12 was not overly impressive in non-conference play, as the Wildcats fell hard to Duke in a de facto home game in Kansas City, and Missouri did the same against Georgetown in one of the more thrilling matchups of the early season.

As league play began, the preseason #3 Wildcats disappointed, starting 2-5, and the usual stalwarts of the Big 12, Kansas and Texas, rose to the top. After topping the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in January, the Longhorns looked to be in the driver’s seat, especially after Kansas was blindsided at Bramlage Coliseum to give Texas a two-game lead. However, Rick Barnes‘ team suffered another late-season collapse, going 2-3 to finish the regular season while the Jayhawks dusted off the competition to pull ahead to take their seventh straight conference crown.

Elsewhere in the conference, the Wildcats bounced back to end the season in third place. The middle of the conference wasn’t settled until the latter stages of the season with Missouri falling lat and Texas A&MColorado and Nebraska treading water. Baylor underachieved, given the talented personnel in Waco, and Oklahoma State never really looked in sync. OklahomaTexas Tech and Iowa State all had awful seasons to finish at the bottom of the standings.

In the conference tournament final, Kansas played its best basketball of the season, topping Texas to gain some revenge entering the Big Dance. Colorado was snubbed on Selection Sunday despite beating Kansas State three times, but the Big 12 still managed to get five teams into the NCAA Tournament. However, only the Jayhawks made it out of opening weekend alive, and they fell short of expectations as they lost to Shaka Smart and the Rams’ reign of BCS destruction.

KU's front line of Thomas Robinson (left) and the Morris twins evolved into a strength, and the Jayhawks struggled most when they weren't utilized on offense. (AP/Jamie Squire)

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Conference Report Card: Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 19th, 2011

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • College basketball has never witnessed a season like this year’s Big East. The conference destroyed its own record of eight NCAA bids by placing 11 clubs in the Big Dance this year and also claimed the national champion with Connecticut, which spent most of the season in the middle of the pack in the Big East. The Huskies also gave the conference its first title since the Huskies last did the trick in 2004. While there was not a truly great team in the Big East (including Connecticut), the league was better than any other from top to bottom. Of the five teams that failed to make the NCAA Tournament, only South Florida and DePaul were truly uncompetitive. Rutgers showed signs of improvement while Seton Hall managed to win seven league games and gave some good teams a major scare in the process. Even Providence, which finished 4-14, knocked off Louisville and Villanova in consecutive games back in January. Despite the lackluster NCAA showing by most Big East members, it says here the conference boasted the best player in the nation (sorry, Jimmer) and a deserving national champion. Additionally, ten Big East teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 at some point this season. Say what you want about its postseason performance (it’s certainly fair to bash the league in that regard), but this was by far the best conference in the nation this year.

Jim Calhoun (left) and Kemba Walker will be inextricably linked to UConn's memorable NCAA Tournament run. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

Team-by-Team (teams are in order of finish, but grades are based on performance vs. expectations):

  1. Pittsburgh (28-6, 15-3): The regular season was terrific once again for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers but, as has become common over the years, they fell short of their goal–getting to the Final Four. Pittsburgh lost four of their final eight games after starting the season 24-2. A mid-season injury to Ashton Gibbs was thought to bring them down a peg, but Pitt responded with wins at West Virginia and Villanova without him to quiet any doubters. That turned out to be their peak. Dixon did not really test his team out of conference except for two games at Madison Square Garden against Maryland and Texas back in November as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer event and a “home” game (in Pittsburgh) against Tennessee, which they lost. Looking back, one theory could be that an average non-conference schedule did not adequately prepare this team for the NCAA Tournament which is all about match-ups and teams you haven’t seen before from other leagues. While Big East coaches love to use the strength of the league as a crutch when questioned about a lack of non-conference heft to their schedule, I think this is a theory that has to be taken into consideration. Big East play is obviously rough and tumble every night but that can actually be a detriment come tournament time when games are officiated tighter and you don’t have as much time to prepare for an opponent who you likely don’t know very well, if at all. Pitt will lose Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee to graduation while Gibbs tests the NBA waters. I expect Gibbs to come back to join a very good recruiting class led by five-star forward Khem Birch. Despite the loss of three senior leaders, look for Pitt to be in the thick of the Big East race yet again next season. Dixon has established a culture of winning and I have learned never to doubt him after witnessing the 2009-10 campaign, a season that certified Dixon as one of the best basketball minds in the country. While this year was a great success during the regular season, Pitt’s inability to get to the Sweet Sixteen and eventually the Final Four renders this year a disappointment. GRADE: B- Read the rest of this entry »
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Conference Report Card: SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 18th, 2011

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC conference. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • It was a good year for the Southeastern Conference. After a weak showing in the NCAA Tournament last year, the SEC was the only conference with multiple teams (Kentucky and Florida) in the Elite Eight. The SEC also got five teams into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years. It was a major improvement over the sad slump that was 2009 when the SEC only qualified LSU, Tennessee, and Mississippi State at 8, 9, and 13 seeds, respectively.
  • When the season started, I predicted the conference could get five and possibly six teams in the tournament and I still contend that Alabama was snubbed.  But regardless of that, five teams is a good showing and a sign of improvement for a conference that lost a little respect as an elite conference in the past few years.
  • Florida was consistent all year, winning close games by playing calmly even when trailing late, but the biggest turning point for the conference came when Kentucky finally was able to win those same close games.  The Wildcats were sitting at 7-9 in conference play and likely facing a first-round game in the SEC when they won close games against Florida, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee finishing the regular season 10-6 and easily marching through the conference tournament.  Kentucky was the favorite at the Final Four in Houston, but poor shooting likely cost the Wildcats their eighth national championship.  And the debate about John Calipari’s ability to win it all with young teams goes on.
Brandon Knight came up big for John Calipari when he needed the star freshman guard the most.

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Conference Report Card: Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that received multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap:

After an awful 2009-10 season in which the Pac-10 had to limp into a second NCAA Tournament bid when Washington hit the gas pedal down the stretch, the four tournament bids the conference received this year was a huge improvement. With Arizona advancing to the Elite Eight, the Pac-10 advanced a team beyond the Sweet 16 for the first time in three seasons, and the conference was a much deeper collection of teams than last year. And without a doubt, that came as a result of the enhanced talent level across the conference. Coming into the season, there were just 17 seniors on rosters across the conference, and the youngsters showed vast  improvement this year, notably Derrick Williams (an All-American and national player of the year candidate), Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Honeycutt, and Klay Thompson with several other players making big strides in their games. While the Pac-10 still struggled to gain national respect, it was clear to fans that the level of play is on the rebound from its 2009-2010 nadir.

The Pac-10 was Derrick Williams' personal playground in 2011, and the Wildcats displayed perhaps the most impressive performance of the NCAA Tournament in their dismantling of Duke. (AZ Daily Star/M. Popat)

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Conference Report Card: Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011

John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten conference. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • Coming into the season, the Big Ten was considered the best conference in America. Michigan State was expected to be in the Final Four again and Purdue, Ohio State, and Illinois were expected to be among the nation’s elite. Then the season started and the conference slipped a bit. The Big Ten didn’t live up to its lofty billing, with the exception of Ohio State, which sat at #1 in the polls for a large part of the season. Of course, Robbie Hummel’s knee injury didn’t help Purdue. Illinois wilted under the weight of too much talent and not enough leadership, whereas Michigan State just never seemed to find its footing against a difficult schedule.
  • As conference play went on, all the teams beat up on each other, creating a mess in the middle and leading to four teams (Michigan, Illinois, Michigan State and Penn State) receiving seeds between 8-10 in the NCAA Tournament. The conference went 2-2 in those games. But the disappointment in the NCAA Tournament came from the top seeds that failed to live up to expectations. Ohio State, the #1 overall seed, was dispatched by Kentucky in the Sweet 16 in Newark. Then again, that was better than Purdue managed to do, as the Boilermakers fell to VCU in Chicago. Wisconsin made it to New Orleans, but Brad Stevens outcoached Bo Ryan and the Badgers lost to a lower-seeded team once again.
  • Those losses meant the Big Ten finished a season of much promise with zero teams in the Elite Eight. Much like the conference’s well-publicized bowl game problems, the postseason left a sour taste after many teams played good basketball during the regular season.

The postseason was a struggle for everyone in the Big Ten, even Final Four regular Tom Izzo and his Spartans, which had to make a late run to even crack the field.

Team-by-Team Grades


  • Michigan (A): Before the season the Wolverines were expected to compete with Iowa and Indiana to avoid the basement in the Big Ten standings. By the end of it, they were scaring #1 seed Duke in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. It was a remarkable job by JohnBeilein to get a young team ready to play. Darius Morris was the engine of the turnaround. The sophomore point guard scored 15.0 points per game and dished out 6.7 assists per game while leading a team composed of mostly freshman and sophomores. Tim HardawayJr., a freshman, was the team’s only other double-digit scorer at 13.9 points per game. Michigan didn’t have a single senior on its roster this season and, with two more talented backcourt recruits in CarltonBrundidge and TreyBurke coming in, it appears to be ready to be a big player in the conference moving forward although they are still waiting on Morris to officially decide on whether he will enter the NBA Draft.
  • Ohio State (A-): The Buckeyes didn’t get it done in the NCAA Tournament, but they were the #1 team in the polls for most of the season and had the best freshman in the country in Jared Sullinger. The loss to Kentucky certainly put a damper on the season. Still, Ohio State went 34-3 with its only two regular season losses being at Purdue and Wisconsin in conference play. David Lighty, DallasLauderdale, and JonDiebler all graduate, but if Sullinger is serious about sticking around the Buckeyes will be a national title favorite again next season. Especially considering they have two McDonald’s All-Americans in point guard ShannonScott and center AmirWilliams coming in along with small forwards SamThompson and LaQuintonRoss. It’s Thad Matta’s typical reload instead of rebuild plan.
  • Penn State (A-): Qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade makes the Nittany Lions’ season a success. Even though they lost to in-state rival Temple in the second round, 66-64, it was a thrilling game to end a satisfying season that included victories over Wisconsin (twice), Illinois, and Michigan State (twice). Oh, and a loss to Maine. Talor Battle finally got his chance to go to the NCAA Tournament and finished his career with 2,213 points, 624 rebounds, and 517 assists. He’ll certainly be missed next season along with frontcourt veterans David Jackson and JeffBrooks. Thus, Penn State has some size coming in with two 6’11 centers in PatAckerman and PeterAlexis, but the program is probably due for a bit of a backslide.

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Conference Report Card: Atlantic 10

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 8th, 2011

Joe Dzuback of Villanova by the Numbers is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Looking Back

2011 was business as usual it seems as two teams, Temple and Xavier, combined to represent the conference in the AP Poll for 11 of the poll’s 19 weeks. Three teams (Richmond, Temple and Xavier) were invited to the NCAA for the fourth consecutive year with two advancing to the second round and one advancing to the Sweet 16 before bowing out. The steady progress, if not the deeper advancement, into the NCAA Tournament field should give the conference cause for celebration. If the A-10 has not gained ground, it certainly hasn’t lost any ground either. The conference beat its Performance Against Seed Expectation (PASE – the number of wins earned in the NCAA versus the historic record for the assigned seed), 2.57, by winning a total of three games in tournament play. This year also marked the sixth consecutive postseason where the conference received at least one at-large bid. And for the second consecutive postseason, seven conference members in all (50% of the conference membership) played on after the final buzzer sounded in Atlantic City. The conference placed two teams (Dayton and Rhode Island) in the NIT and two others (Saint Louis and George Washington) in the CBI in 2010, with Dayton winning the NIT and Saint Louis losing in the CBI Finals to VCU. This postseason, only Dayton made the NIT, while Duquesne, Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure were invited to the CBI. Unfortunately none of them advanced beyond the second round.

So why are conference observers edgy? Despite the “all steady” in the NCAA Tournament, teams from two other non-BCS conferences, Virginia Commonwealth of CAA and the Horizon League’s Butler were represented in the Final Four, with Butler advancing to Monday night for the second consecutive year. The Atlantic 10 has not sent a team to the Final Four since the Massachusetts squad of 1996, whose Final Four appearance was later vacated by the NCAA, and has had only one representative (Xavier in 2008) [ed. note: corrected]  in the Elite Eight since the 2004 Tournament when Saint Joseph’s lost to Oklahoma by two points, 64-62, in East Rutherford, New Jersey on the same weekend that Xavier was eliminated by Duke, 66-63, in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Xavier’s Tu Holloway enjoyed a terrific season for the Musketeers. (credit: AP)

Final Ranking, Team-by-Team

  1. Richmond (28-8, 13-3) #12 seed: Coach Chris Mooney’s Spiders had several outstanding performances out of conference including their 65-54 win over Purdue (#3 seed NCAA), but those were negated by head-scratching losses to Iona aand Bucknell. The same held true in conference play, where wins over Dayton and Duquesnewere undermined by a home loss to Rhode Island early in conference play. The Spidersearned a #3 seed in the conference tournament where they knocked off #2 seed Temple that was dealing withinjuries and earned the conference’s automatic bid witha 67-54 win over Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Tournament finals. The Spiders beat #5 seed Vanderbilt (69-66) and #13 seed Morehead State (65-48) to advance to the Sweet Sixteen and a date with#1 seed Kansas. The ride ended witha 77-57 loss, but Mooney signed a contract extension which should keep him at Richmond for the foreseeable future. Mooney loses four key members of the squad this season, but returns 11 players, including two who started multiple games this season, for 2011-12. GRADE: A
  2. Temple (26-8, 14-2) #7 seed NCAA: The consensus favorite to win the conference regular season, the Owls stumbled in the Old Spice Classic, dropping two of their three games in Orlando. Coach Fran Dunphy’s squad dropped a third out of conference game to Villanova on the eve of conference play, but ran off three wins to start conference play. Back-to-back losses to Duquesne and Xavier put the Owls in second place in the conference, which is where they finished the regular season. Injuries sidelined sophomore Michael Eric, reducing an already short frontcourt rotation, for the last two weeks of the season. Scootie Randall also battled injuries as the season wound down, leaving Dunphy with a seven-man rotation for the Atlantic 10 tournament. A semifinal loss to Richmond ended Temple’s bid to earn the conference’s automatic bid for a third consecutive year, but the Owls secured a #7 seed to the NCAA Tournament and an in-state match-up with Penn State in the first round game, which they won 66-64 on a last second shot by Juan Fernandez. In the second round, they pushed #2 seed San Diego State to the limit before falling in double overtime. GRADE: B+ Read the rest of this entry »
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Mountain West Report Card

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 5th, 2011


Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap: It was a banner year for the Mountain West despite the turbulence of the offseason that will see two of the standard-bearers of the conference (Utah and BYU) leave for arguably greener pastures this summer with TCU following them out the door the following summer. The two teams leading the conference this season, BYU and San Diego State, posted a combined 66-8 record this year and were constants in the national top ten making the Sweet 16 before bowing out in tight contests. In addition to having two of the country’s top teams the conference also had arguably the nation’s top player in BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, who led the country in scoring, regularly producing eye-popping, shake-your-head-in-disbelief moments and becoming a household name in Utah and beyond. UNLV joined the conference leaders in the NCAA Tournament, but tripped up in ugly fashion before losing head coach Lon Kruger to Oklahoma over the weekend. Colorado State and New Mexico had their hopes pinned on NCAA Tournament bids, but came up a little short. Nevertheless, this was undoubtedly the biggest collection of talent in the history of this conference and likely the high water mark. While there is not a whole lot of love lost between either followers of the conference or executives in the MWC and BYU, there is little doubt that the loss of both of the Utah schools from its ranks will leave a major hole.

It was clearly the year of the Jimmer in the Mountain West

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