Could the 16-Team Nike Event Signal a Shift in Scheduling Patterns?

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 17th, 2012

Christopher Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

While Michigan State has found on-court success under the steady hand of coach Tom Izzo, his athletic director Mark Hollis has embraced progressive scheduling tactics that have granted the Spartans access to some of the nation’s most unique events. Last year, Hollis set the standard for inventive hosting sites by spearheading the plans for Michigan State’s game against North Carolina aboard the active warship USS Carl Vinson. The sensational vistas and patriotic atmosphere made the Carrier Classic an unmitigated success. Three similar events next season – on the same day, no less – have been scheduled since, with each taking place on a different U.S. Naval ship; a three-fold amplification of college hoops nationalism, all thanks to Hollis’ trailblazing work. He one-upped himself earlier this year by reaching an agreement for MSU to play Connecticut in a 2012-13 season-opening event at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, an active U.S. forces garrison and NATO site. Hollis’ next endeavor was a historical tribute to the 1963 Mississippi State-Loyola (Chicago) NCAA Tournament game that took place against the wishes of Mississippi’s segregationist governor, which he accomplished by initially offering a neutral site on the MSU campus, then helping to arrange a two-year home-and-home series between the two schools.

The 16-team event will honor the 80th birthday of Nike co-founder Phil Knight (Photo credit: Steve Dipaola/Reuters).

The creative AD has now set his sights on another commemorative event, this one far more inclusive than any of his recent scheduling novelties. According to ESPN’s Andy Katz, Hollis has received confirmation from 16 schools on a dual-pronged mega-tournament honoring the 80th birthday of Nike chairman Phil Knight. The event is tentatively scheduled for a four-day period in November 2017, with two separate fixtures (The Rose Garden and Veterans Memorial Coliseum) featuring an eight-team fields. Hollis selected 16 Nike-sponsored schools he feels represents “all of college basketball’s power conferences.” With multiple participants from each league, the two-tournament format prevents a violation of NCAA protocol prohibiting conference opponents from playing in the same event. The 16 teams are participating on behalf of their own programs in an effort to pay homage to Knight and his illustrious résumé. Neither Nike nor Knight will be involved in staging the festivities.

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Breaking Down a Potential UCLA-Indiana Final in the Legends Classic

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 7th, 2012

Christopher Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Playing formidable competition in early season invitational tournaments is the best way to build a solid RPI foundation upon which to base the rest of your non-conference schedule. In recent years, as teams have adjusted to the notion that non-league scheduling does, in fact, have an appreciable affect on the bubble cut line come Selection Sunday, these tournaments have provided some intriguing matchups featuring national title contenders. The Legends Classic, one of the more anticipated tournaments in the early season college hoops calendar, released its bracket Monday. The 12-team field, on the whole, is a bit underwhelming, but tournament organizers did do us the favor of setting up a potentially epic finale on November 20 at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Indiana and UCLA, after staging two regional round games on their respective home courts, will need to win only one game against a power conference team before meeting in the tournament’s final game. If UCLA can sneak by Georgetown and Indiana takes care of business against Georgia, the two surefire preseason top-five outfits will put it all on the line for the Legends Classic crown.

Joshua Smith, UCLA

The Legends Classic bracket features two national championship contenders in Indiana and UCLA (Credit: Associated Press).

That’s must-see viewing for any college hoops fan, a tantalizing early season matchup of Final Four-worthy opponents. With more than three months remaining before the bracket kicks off, there’s plenty of time to salivate over this enticing showdown. But in these news-bereft late summer months, where Midnight Madness can’t come soon enough, I’m bringing you a way-too-early positional breakdown of what figures to be one of the best non-league fixtures in the upcoming season. To take this a step further, I’ll provide a prediction, score included, as a way of sparking the debate for which team is better positioned to make good on their considerable preseason hype. Remember, Georgetown or Georgia could knock off UCLA and/or Indiana in the semifinals and thus prevent the more favorable and altogether more entertaining finals matchup. But if the Hoosiers and Bruins are indeed what most preseason prognosticators are making them out to be, they should both advance to the championship round. Still, there’s no guarantee, so take this predictive exercise at face value.

Point guard: Yogi Ferrell/Jordan Hulls vs. Kyle Anderson/Larry Drew II

If Ferrell outplays hulls in preseason practice, Crean likely will insert him into the starting lineup in time for this highly-touted matchup. Ferrell is a true point guard who penetrates and finishes at the rim, but scoring won’t be his primary responsibility this season; facilitating the group of talented finishers around him—guys like Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, Christian Watford and Cody Zeller—is the first order of business. Hulls has been around long enough to remember discernibly darker days in Bloomington, the pre-Kentucky upset era—faraway as it may seem—and can make up for his deficiencies on defense with experience, leadership and pinpoint three-point marksmanship. He may ultimately start alongside Ferrell at the two. Countering the Hoosiers’ duo is Anderson, one of the more intriguing skills-to-size prospects in the 2012 class. At 6’7″, Anderson poses a major athletic and size advantage over most every point guard, yet he also boasts the shrewd ball handling, court vision and mid-range touch to excel at the position. He functions efficiently on the low block, posting up defenders and finding open shooters on the perimeter. Drew II, a year after transferring from North Carolina, will challenge Anderson for the starting job. Both players should see significant floor time this season, and they could split minutes in this early nonleague tournament.

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Handicapping Next Season’s Best Big Ten/ACC Challenge Matchups

Posted by EJacoby on May 15th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

With the announcement of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge schedule for next season, fans now have some important dates to circle on their calendars. The 14th annual competition between power conference heavyweights will take place on November 27 and 28 with all games televised on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU. Eight of the teams in competition are currently slotted in the RTC preseason Top 25, and there are several enticing matchups between big-time teams. Given that it’s mid-May, it’s far too early to break down the individual strategic matchups, but we’ll give you the best games to look forward to, and why. The Big Ten has won three consecutive challenges after the ACC was victorious in the first 10. Here’s what the 2012 ACC/Big Ten Challenge presents us.

Last Season, Aaron Craft and Ohio State Punked Duke in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge (Getty Images/J. Robbins)

Prestige and Intrigue, North Carolina at Indiana (Nov. 27) – Two of the top five or six programs in college basketball history square off in the headline event of this challenge, and it’s going to be one of the biggest games of the non-conference season. North Carolina loses its four top players from last season, but don’t count out the Tar Heels next year. James Michael McAdoo returns along with a bevy of talented perimeter players in Reggie Bullock, Dexter Strickland, Marcus Paige, and Leslie McDonald. However, UNC has the task of playing in Bloomington against a Hoosiers squad that might be the top team in the country next season. With a lineup full of talented scorers and the experience of last season’s spotlight, Indiana will be a title contender and a strong favorite in this game. The battle between Cody Zeller and McAdoo inside is a matchup of perhaps the two most talented low post prospects in the country.

The Best of the Bunch, NC State at Michigan (Nov. 27) - While UNC at IU presents the greatest national intrigue, a game on the same night presents a better overall matchup. When NC State hits the floor at Michigan, we’ll be seeing two likely Top 10 teams meet with experienced talent. Lorenzo Brown against Trey Burke pits two of the nation’s best point guards going at it, with two different styles at the position. Tim Hardaway, Jr., and C.J. Leslie are each talented juniors for their respective teams that flirted with the NBA but are back to lead their contenders. Throw in strong recruiting classes for each squad and we’ve got a doozy. Lucky for the Big Ten, they once again have the home court advantage in this one.

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2011 NIT Season Tip-Off Bracket Announced

Posted by nvr1983 on July 20th, 2011

Earlier today the match-ups for the 2011 NIT Season Tip-Off were announced. Unlike many preseason tournaments where the team that will advance is already pre-determined in this tournament you actually have to win to advance, which apparently is a novel concept for preseason tournaments. Like most preseason tournaments it features early-round games at a regional host site with a team from each region advancing to a different destination (in this case Madison Square Garden) for the semifinals and finals.

Scoop and the Orange hope to be back at Madison Square Garden

The host teams for the regional sites (November 14-16) will be Syracuse, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, and Stanford. Here are the match-ups for each site for the first round (full bracket here).

  • Syracuse versus Manhattan and Albany versus Brown
  • Virginia Tech versus Monmouth and George Mason versus Florida International
  • Oklahoma State versus Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Oral Roberts versus Texas-San Antonio
  • Stanford versus Fresno State and Colorado State versus Southern Methodist
The winners of the first round games in each region will play against each other with the team and the winner of that game will advance to play in Madison Square Garden for the semifinals and finals (and consolation game for the losers of the semifinals) on November 23 and 25. The losers of the first round games in each region will meet on campus sites on November 21 and 22.
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Introducing the Champions Classic: Get Your Tickets Now

Posted by rtmsf on December 8th, 2010

We’re starting to get a little concerned in the focus and alacrity with which the powers-that-be seem to be listening to us.  And when we say us, we mean all of us — the traditional media who have been pushed, challenged and inspired by the alt-media, and the alt-media who in turn has raised its professionalism and quality to compete and bolster the establishment.  We pushed back in a historic way with NCAA Tournament expansion, and the result was a tolerable, if not ideal, one.  We’ve asked for greater scrutiny and accountability from the NCAA in how it polices its programs, and although we’re a long way from finished, the organization has gotten better.  And most recently, we’ve begged for a true tipoff event that will fire people up and remind them that college basketball has returned in the midst of a crowded fall sports landscape. 

The Champions Classic Will Have a F4 Feel To It

Today’s announcement of the creation of the Champions Classic, a new marquee season tipoff event that will feature, quite literally, four of the best programs in the sport playing each other over the next three seasons at different venues, is a great first step toward accomplishing that goal.  ESPN of course will carry the event (probably as the marquee event of the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon), and we’re already salivating at the matchups between some of roundball’s most regal programs.  Here’s the schedule — try to contain yourself — we have to get through this season first:

Year 1 – Nov. 15, 2011 (Madison Square Garden, NYC)

  • Duke vs. Michigan State
  • Kentucky vs. Kansas

Year 2- Nov. 13, 2012 (Georgia Dome, Atlanta)

  • Duke vs. Kentucky
  • Michigan State vs. Kansas

Year 3 – Nov. 12, 2013 (United Center, Chicago)

  • Kentucky vs. Michigan State
  • Duke vs. Kansas

Um, wow.  It’s taking every ounce of willpower that we have around here to resist the urge to already start breaking down these games.  These are Final Four-caliber matchups at truly neutral sites, and there’s no reason to believe that as long as K, Calipari, Izzo and Self are around that any one of these programs will have much of a  ”down” year.  We also love that the venue rotates between different host cities, which again gives it the feel of a major event.  There are enough top-drawer programs involved that will sell out no matter where it’s held in a given year.  Hopefully after this three-year rotation, the organizers will keep moving it around, careful to avoid any blatant home bias (i.e., holding it in Kansas City or Louisville). 

According to the release article, all four representative coaches were immediately on board with this idea, and it makes us wonder if the organizers were four-for-four in their solicitations for this event.  There’s one notable name missing, of course, and that’s North Carolina.  We wonder if the Heels ever got the call, or whether Duke was #1A and Carolina was #1B in terms of fielding an ACC team in the Classic.  Of course it wouldn’t make sense to have both because they wouldn’t play each other and it would mess up the rotation, but presumably the organizers could have considered slotting one or the other into the event in different years.  We like it better this way, though.  It provides consistency over the three years and we can already start slobbering on our keyboards about future matchups.  Furthermore, even though the NCAA needs to clean up the trickling-out problem of the start of the season, the Champions Classic will go a country mile in slapping America across the forehead that college hoops is back, baby, and you should pay attention.  Great decision. 

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Floriani: Tempo-Free at the Preseason NIT

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

Ray Floriani of College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC, and makes additional contributions based on his analysis from action around the country.

There has been a lot of news coming out of Knoxville, Tennessee, as of late. Until last week, all of it centered on activity off the court – from Bruce Pearl’s recent troubles with the NCAA to last year’s player suspensions. Presently, the conversation is shifting to what is transpiring on the floor as Tennessee captured the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden. They did it in resounding defensive fashion.

Let’s take look at a tempo-free analyses of each of the games contested at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

First Semifinal

eFG FT RATE OREB PCT TO RATE
VCU 39 28 29 18
Tennessee 42 26 38 19

Neither team was a walk-it-up-the floor type as they both came to New York averaging over 70 possessions per game. In an 80-possession contest, Tennessee had the offensive efficiency edge, 96-90. The talk at halftime was the Rams’ shooting, or lack of it. Their eFG percentage the first half was a horrid 28%. Only a rebounding edge and the Tennessee’s careless ball-handling style (23% TO rate) kept them within one at intermission.  In the second half, VCU found the range thanks to 6’2 guard Brandon Rozzell (23 points, 19 in the final half). The big story was rebounding. Bruce Pearl’s club cleaned the glass the second half. Scotty Hopson, a 6’7 wing who was a matchup problem all night for VCU, had 11 boards to complement his 18 points and 6’10 Brian Williams enjoying a New York homecoming, adding 13 rebounds. In the end, the Vols edged the Rams, 77-72.

Jamie Skeen made these fans proud of his tenacity on the boards.

Second Semifinal

eFG FT RATE OREB PCT TO RATE
UCLA 44 31 26 18
Villanova 44 45 33 10

At the half, Villanova enjoyed a 15-point lead and a huge 122-78 edge in offensive efficiency. In a low 70s possession game (UCLA 73, Villanova 71), the final numbers were a bit more respectful but Villanova still enjoyed a 116-96 OE edge. Credit a better second half by UCLA largely due to an improved defensive effort after halftime. Throughout the contest, the Bruins could not keep the Villanova guards in front of them defensively as Ben Howland planned. Corey Fisher shot 6-9 en route to a game high 26 points. Fisher constantly drew fouls from beaten Bruin defenders and was 14-15 from the line. Villanova cleaned the glass, largely due to sophomore Mouphtaou Yarou who pitched in a big 13-point 16-board night.  UCLA did have four in double figures, but not Tyler Honeycutt. The 6’8 forward came in averaging 15 PPG but struggled scoring just eight points on 3-8 shooting. Villanova was able to prevail, 82-70, also on the basis of their low turnover rate.

Consolation

eFG FT RATE OREB PCT TO RATE
VCU 56 26 33 17
UCLA 54 15 52 26

VCU was devastated on the glass, but extremely efficient overall. The pace was to the Rams’ liking (UCLA 80 possessions, VCU 76) with Shaka Smart’s club owning an impressive 117-106 edge in offensive efficiency. Even with a quick pace, VCU did not get into transition similar to the semis and actually trailed UCLA 16-6 in fast break points.  As noted in the table, UCLA owned the backboards largely due to Tyler Honeycutt (13 rebounds) and Reeves Nelson (10). The turnover rate was a killer for the Bruins with Honeycutt and Reeves in the mix again, combining for 8 of the 21 Bruin miscues.  Another encouraging sign for VCU was inside play. The Rams scored 34% of their points from three (actually right on the team average coming to New York) but displayed a nice presence in the paint in Jamie Skeen. The 6’9 senior scored a game high 23 points while grabbing a team high 9 boards. In the end, VCU topped UCLA, 89-85. The level to which the Bruins’ defense improves is a major storyline in Westwood.

Final

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Dissecting the Premier November Tournaments

Posted by zhayes9 on October 28th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

With college basketball approaching in a matter of days, fans across the nation can look forward to one of the major draws of the sport: pre-conference tournaments. Aside from catering to hungry fans that want to see highly ranked teams do battle even in the earliest stages of the season, these tournaments are golden opportunities for coaches to judge and evaluate where their teams stands against elite competition. It presents our first chance to surmise that, say, Kentucky’s fabulous freshmen may not quite stack up to last year’s history-making class, that Duke may miss Brian Zoubek and Jon Scheyer more than originally expected or that Jacob Pullen can adequately handle point guard duties for Kansas State. The teams we label in early November as the prime contenders to cut down the nets five months later in Houston are revealed for the first time in tournament settings that allow programs to build early season momentum, confidence and quality wins that stand out come Selection Sunday. No other sport provides such drama in tournament settings at such an early point in the season.

As usual, a handful of headlining programs have elected to participate in these tournaments. Duke will encounter their first true tests in the CBE Classic, Pitt eyes a difficult field in the 2K Sports Classic and North Carolina heads out to Puerto Rico in a wide open field. All of these fields could provide intense drama and classic clashes normally reserved for the first days of spring. Here’s a preview of the best tournaments college basketball has to offer in pre-conference play and the main storylines heading into each event. Mark your calendars now.

2K Sports Classic (Opening Rounds: November 8-10, Semifinals: November 19, Finals: November 20)


The Field: Ever since the Gardner-Webb shocker upended plans for Kentucky and their rabid fans to travel to Madison Square Garden, this has been an event where the four regional hosts automatically advance to NYC. This year’s participants are Pittsburgh, Illinois, Texas and Maryland. The prohibitive favorite has to be preseason Big East topper Pittsburgh and their four starters returning from an overachieving squad that garnered a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Ashton Gibbs is a game-changing scoring guard and the athletic Gilbert Brown is an x-factor on the wing for Jamie Dixon. Illinois has expectations of reaching the second weekend in March for the first time since the national championship defeat in 2005, while Texas hopes that addition by subtraction helps avenge last season’s collapse from #1 team in the nation to first round victim. Maryland will likely still be figuring out a rotation at this stage after their three leading scorers were all lost to graduation. One player that may vault into stardom is Terps big man Jordan Williams, who nearly averaged a double-double as a freshman in the ACC.

The Sleeper: It’s difficult to fathom that losing Damion James and Dexter Pittman can possibly make a team better, but one has to prescribe to the notion that more defined roles and a clear-cut rotation should translate into improved chemistry for Texas following last season’s bitter disappointment. Rick Barnes still has tremendous talent up and down his roster including the infusion of two McDonalds All-American recruits in point guard Cory Joseph and power forward Tristan Thompson. If he utilizes more discretion on when to pull the trigger, it wouldn’t shock us if Jordan Hamilton had a breakout campaign. This also provides an early chance for Florida transfer Jai Lucas to shine on a big stage. Remember, Lucas is just two seasons removed from averaging 8.5 PPG and shooting 44% from deep as a freshman.

The Pick: While Texas has a strong chance of advancing, we’re even more bullish on Illinois in the preseason. Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale bring height and scoring inside, Demetri McCamey is an assist machine at the point and freshman Jereme Richmond is the perfect answer on the wing for Bruce Weber. If they were to face Pitt in the final, McCamey out-muscles Ashton Gibbs on the perimeter, Richmond’s length contains Gilbert Brown on the wing and Tisdale’s versatility pushes Pitt big man Gary McGhee from his comfort zone in the paint. With the victory, the buzz around Illinois’ chances in the ultra-competitive Big Ten will only escalate.

CBE Classic (Opening Rounds: November 12-18, Semifinals: November 22, Finals: November 23)

The Field: While Duke, Marquette, Kansas State and Gonzaga will play two warm-up games on their home floor, all four advance to Kansas City for a star-studded doubleheader (controversy could certainly unfold should San Diego State, the preseason MWC favorite and a top-25 caliber squad in some experts’ minds, upset Gonzaga and still be forced to play in Oxford, Ohio rather than KC). As the near-consensus #1 team heading into the season’s tip-off, Duke is the favorite and receives the easier semifinal matchup in Marquette. The Golden Eagles enter the season as a likely second tier Big East team along with West Virginia, Seton Hall, Notre Dame and possibly Connecticut or Louisville. Look for the Kansas State-Gonzaga matchup to be one of the best games of the entire month. The Wildcats boast one of the best players in the nation in Jacob Pullen and a bruising, deep frontline, while Mark Few has the Zags loaded with talent, notably German import Elias Harris and sharpshooting swingman Steven Gray.

The Sleeper: Gonzaga has a golden opportunity in this tournament to do some major damage, boost their portfolio with two quality wins and become the storyline of the month of November. Defeating two top-five teams is a daunting task, but all Gonzaga has to do is escape Kansas State and at least remain competitive with Duke to make a positive impression nationally. Last year, it would have been the hard-nosed Matt Bouldin to contain Pullen around the perimeter. With Few’s ability to match his frontcourt to at least a draw with the Kansas State paint patrollers, how defensive-minded junior guard Demetri Goodson handles the challenging assignment of slowing down Pullen could ultimately determine Gonzaga’s success in KC.

The Pick: We’ve seen the role of contrarian playing by some prognosticators pegging Michigan State at #1 rather than Duke, but I’ll abstain. Duke will win this tournament, although Frank Martin’s bunch should be an awfully difficult draw in the final with their physicality and the scoring prowess of Pullen. The Blue Devils’ remarkable perimeter depth has the tools to wear down either opponent. Expect both Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins to drain some key treys that help keep the Blue Devils atop the rankings.

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RTC Destination 2011: Maui

Posted by nvr1983 on October 14th, 2010

Normally we would consider a trip to Maui an excellent idea even if John Calipari is not always so thrilled by the idea, but a trip to Maui in 2011 could be an even more exceptional trip based on the recently released 2011 Maui Invitational field in what should be the best field in the history of the storied tournament. The field includes five teams that have won national championships (Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Michigan, and Georgetown), two solid programs that have been hit by scandal recently (Tennessee and Memphis) and the host school that pulled off the greatest upset in NCAA history (Chaminade). In addition to the loaded field the Maui Invitational has expanded into what can best be described as a confusing combination of games with the tournament broken into three parts:

  • Four teams (aka “sacrificial lambs” TBD) will play games between November 11th and 17th at the seven Maui-bound schools (all of the teams listed above except Chaminade). Three of the schools will get to play two games and the other will only get to play one game.
  • Those four teams (“sacrificial lambs”) will play a pair of doubleheaders at one of those four schools on November 19th and 20th
  • The regular 12-game Maui Invitational (for the big boys and Chaminade) from November 21st through 23rd

So what this basically means is that the seven Maui-bound teams will get a game against what should be relatively easy opponents before heading out to Maui for the traditional tournament. The other four teams will get a chance to take a swing at Goliath and then play against each other. From all indications it seems like this is going to be like the Coaches vs Cancer games where they have a “tournament” even though the big boys are guaranteed a spot in the next round.

Site of the 2011 Maui Invitational?

We hope that the Maui Invitational committee will see fit to choose a worthy group of adversaries for the “other four” (perhaps teams like Cornell, Siena, Richmond, and Northern Iowa last year). The big boys would probably be opposed to that idea for fear of losing what they had originally expected, but if the Maui Invitational committee is serious about making this expanded Maui Invitational more interesting it is something that they should strongly consider.

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Preseason NIT: Weakened Field But Still Special

Posted by rtmsf on August 17th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago we broke down what will arguably be the top holiday tournament of the 2010-11 season, the Maui Invitational.  The other Big Daddy of pre-conference tourneys, the Preseason NIT, released its brackets today, and at first blush, the field is not all that exciting this year.  Take a look at the below bracket and tell us where you get a little tingly thinking about the downstream matchup possibilities?

The only legitimate national contender in the field is Villanova, with 105-point scorer Corey Fisher returning along with a whole cadre of talented inside players including Mouph Yarou, Antonio Pena and Isaiah Armwood.  If the expectation is that productive freshmen become superb sophomores, then the Wildcats are a team with as much upside as anyone else in America next year.  The dropoff in talent from VU to the next best squad, Tennessee, is significant, but the real precipice occurs after that point.  The Vols lost Wayne Chism, JP Prince and Bobby Maze from their Elite Eight team, but they bring back star-in-waiting Scotty Hopson and add Tobias Harris to a solid cast of role players, so UT has a chance to be very good again.  We’d expect these two teams to sleepwalk their way to the finals on Black Friday in Madison Square Garden.

The third and fourth seeds and regional hosts Wake Forest and UCLA are two of the weaker teams we’ve seen in this position in some time.  Neither is a likely NCAA Tournament team next season, and it says here that both schools will have trouble getting out of their PNIT region despite the fact that it will be played on their home courts.  Wake returns two promising sophomores in CJ Harris and Ari Stewart, but the loss of all-ACC players Al-Farouq Aminu and Ish Smith, not to mention head coach Dino Gaudio (replaced by Jeff Bzdelik), will be too much for the duo to bear so early in the season — expect the Deacs to crumble against a strong VCU team with something to prove.  UCLA returns more than Wake Forest, but if you’ve somehow been in a fugue state for the past twelve months, the Bruin program has fallen on hard times due to poor recruiting, team chemistry and injury problems.  The talented but enigmatic Malcolm Lee returns along with several other young players (Tyler Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson, Jerime Anderson), but the addition of five-star stud Josh Smith to the mix isn’t going to suddenly remind UCLA how to win games.  A second-round matchup against Pacific, with its top four players returning, or Nevada, always looking for a Pac-10 scalp as a member of the overlooked WAC, will be difficult for UCLA, even in Pauley Pavilion.

The one thing we will continue to give the PNIT folks credit for, though, is that they actually still understand the meaning of the word “Tournament.”  Yeah, yeah, we know that other entities get around it by using words like “Classic,” but a bracket is a bracket and it really only makes sense when a team advances into the later rounds by, you know, winning.  There are no guarantees — Villanova, Tennessee, Wake Forest and UCLA will actually have to beat two visiting teams to earn the privilege of a trip to New York City during Thanksgiving week to play in the World’s Most Famous Arena.  So from that perspective, we’ll still enjoy watching the Preseason NIT this November if for no other reason than they get it right.

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Maui Invitational Sets Up Possible Blockbuster of Kentucky-Washington

Posted by rtmsf on August 5th, 2010

The Maui Invitational brackets were released this afternoon (see below), and it will be up to the rebuilding programs of Jeff Capel at Oklahoma and Tony Bennett at Virginia to put the brakes on what could be the most highly anticipated early-season game from two fanbases who do not like each other since the Na’vi faced off against RDA Corp. on Pandora.  A prime-time semifinal matchup between Kentucky and Washington seeks to titillate the senses, uniting people in two camps of outrage — Husky fans who view John Calipari as a soulless devil who poaches already-committed recruits (namely, Enes Kanter and Terrence Jones); and Wildcat fans who chafe at the allegation and love to throw victories and program superiority back in people’s face (namely, tweeter extraordinaire Isaiah Thomas). 

As we discussed last week, Thomas has already anointed Kentucky fans as “kinda stupid,” and his tweet today that both teams need to win so that “people can watch what they wanna see” echoes some of his previous comments made when Jones reneged on his UW commitment in May.  Of particular interest is his specific call-out of new UK point guard Brandon Knight, where he said, “been there KILLD that lol.”  On November 23, Knight will have had at least three or four games under his belt (while Thomas will have had over 70), so it will be very intriguing to see how that particular matchup goes. 

For a couple of schools who have so little in common culturally, geographically and athletically, this is a treat for the rest of us.  Quickly reviewing the comments sections on two prominent UW and UK blogs reveals that, even though both teams have first round games against other schools (including an interesting Washington game versus former Wazzu coach Tony Bennett, now at Virginia) and powerhouses Michigan State and UConn residing in the top half of the bracket, people on both sides want to talk about the potential second-round showdown of Cats and Dogs.   Could anyone have imagined such a thing six months ago?

As for the rest of the field, an MSU-UConn rematch from the 2009 Final Four would be special, but we might put our early-season money on Wichita State springing the upset in the first round to face the Izzos in the second.  Of course we’re going to hope for the UK-UW game in the other semifinal, with the fired-up Huskies using their experience advantage to sneak past a bunch of young Cats oozing with potential.  That would set up a Michigan State-Washington final, which would be a fun, athletic game played well above the rim on both ends.  Ultimately we’d expect MSU to out-physical the slighter Huskies, but with so many tasty morsels of possibility in this year’s version of the Invitational, we really could not care less who else plays whom at this point.  How soon until Thanksgiving week? 

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Breaking Down The ACC/Big Ten Challenge Matchups

Posted by zhayes9 on May 13th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a regular RTC writer and resident bracketologist.

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge is surely one of the highlights of the non-conference season. These two power conferences are perennially the most competitive and successful in college basketball, and the powers-that-be who determine the games routinely do a fantastic job of pitting the best teams from each respective conference against each other. The Challenge next winter is ratcheted up even another notch with Duke, Michigan State and Purdue likely rounding out the top three in the polls. Let’s delve into each game with a breakdown and prediction:

November 29- Virginia at Minnesota

The ugly Sylven Landesberg breakup was crushing for Virginia’s hopes of contending in the ACC this season. Trusting Tony Bennett and his system, most prognosticators would likely have pegged the Cavailers as a NCAA team with Landesberg around. Virginia still has returning talent in spite of his departure, but it won’t feature enough firepower to win at the Barn in Minneapolis. Replacing Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson won’t be easy, but Tubby Smith still has a 47% three-point shooter in Blake Hoffarber, breakout candidate Devoe Joseph and the return of star guard Al Nolen at his disposal. Winner: Minnesota (Big Ten leads 1-0).

November 30- North Carolina at Illinois

One of the headlining matchups, this game should peg two top-25 teams that boast loads of young talent. Depending on how much of an impact freshmen Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock can make immediately, and how much John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Larry Drew improve in the offseason, Carolina could make the leap from NIT participant to top-15 team. Illinois has their own heralded recruiting class entering Champaign to play alongside reigning assist kid Demetri McCamey and the twin towers of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. It’s a bit overzealous to expect a young UNC team to win such a difficult road game this early in the season. Winner: Illinois (Big Ten leads 2-0).

Mike Tisdale leads a talented Illinois squad against Carolina

November 30- Ohio State at Florida State

These two teams faced off in last year’s Challenge and the Buckeyes were able to emerge victorious in Columbus. Now they travel to Tallahassee to take on a Seminole squad that may have lost Solomon Alabi, but they do return all-ACC candidate Chris Singleton and sophomore Michael Snaer, a much-ballyhooed recruit two years ago that could make an impact. The Buckeyes still out-man the ‘Noles at nearly every position, though. If Aaron Craft is able to run the point as a freshman, the sky’s the limit for Thad Matta’s team. Jared Sullinger is the most college-ready player of this year’s class. He teams with three-point marksman Jon Diebler, the super-talented William Buford, defensive stalwart David Lighty and shot-blocker extraordinaire Dallas Lauderdale. Buckeyes squeak one out on the road. Winner: Ohio State (Big Ten leads 3-0).

November 30- Michigan at Clemson

Clemson will be looking for redemption after last season’s Challenge collapse against Illinois. A new coach, Brad Brownell, leads the Tigers charge without Trevor Booker. They still have enough to knock out a rebuilding Michigan team on their home floor. Demontez Stitt, Andre Young and Tanner Smith lead a talented Clemson backcourt, while Jerai Grant can certainly contribute in the post. Without Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, it’s going to be a long season for John Beilein. Look for incoming freshmen Tim Hardaway Jr. and Evan Smotrycz to get an opportunity right away. Winner: Clemson (Big Ten leads 3-1).

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Floriani With Some Forgotten Athletes

Posted by jstevrtc on November 27th, 2009

Ray Floriani is an occasional contributor and the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC conferences.  He covers college basketball in the greater New York City area.

NEW YORK CITY – They are visible on the baseline. They certainly are noticed during timeouts with their dance routines and gymnastics-based daredevil moves known in the field as “stunts.”  Cheerleaders are a part of the college basketball fabric.  But how many people realize the behind-the-scenes aspects of cheerleading ?

About fifteen minutes prior to the Coaches vs. Cancer final at Madison Square Garden, North Carolina and Syracuse players are going through pre-game warm-ups.  UNC cheer coach Curt Brossman is on the baseline taking a few minutes.  He had his squad stretch for about 30 minutes and gave them final instructions.  Cheerleading is anything but a haphazard venture.

Brossman cheered 5 years at North Carolina.  He is in his fourth year at UNC as cheer coach.  During high school Brossman played on the baseball and golf teams. He cheered on his high school co-ed squad during his senior year and essentially was hooked.  “At North Carolina a lot of the guys try out with no prior cheer experience,” he said.  “The women have a lot more experience in cheerleading when they come to UNC and try out.”  Among 30 or so cheer candidates each year, there are fewer men. They probably have played a sport in high school or they simply want to be part of the Carolina program.  The women have cheered from recreation, through middle school, high school and now are taking the next step.  The tryouts, especially emphasizing stunting and dance with the women, last a few days and Brossman notes with a smile there are candidates who are simply overmatched and just will not make the grade.  With the men, it is more of less seeing if they can handle their part of the stunt at the finish (usually) and have the necessary strength.

Hope this doesn't affect Ray's longtime friendship with Coach K.

Hope this doesn't jeapordize Ray's longtime friendship with Coach K.

Brossman has made a smooth transition from the baseline to coaching.  “I’ve been involved in and worked at a number of cheer camps the past few years,” he said.  “It hasn’t been a tough adjustment (to coaching).  I really like to teach the skills involved in cheerleading.”

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