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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Floriani at the Preseason NIT

Posted by rtmsf on November 26th, 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 – A few Preseason NIT semifinal impressions as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade marches on. For years it was the Macy’s parade, long before corporate sponsorship entered our stadia and arenas.  UConn looked very good pushing the pace. The Huskies entered the semi with LSU averaging 66 possessions. Against the Tigers, UConn had a 37 possession first half and a 45-29 lead at the break. The final possession total was 69, somewhat misleading as the Huskies started using more clock the last six minutes with the game in hand. Their final offensive efficiency in the 81-55 rout was 117.

alex oriakhi uconn

I’m impressed with the UConn bigs, Gavin Edwards (15 pts), Charles Okwandu and Alex Oriakhi (9 boards). They are all skilled and can run the floor like deer. Don’t forget Stanley Robinson (14 pts, 11 reb), a matchup problem on the wing or in the paint and point guard Kemba Walker (20 pts, 5 assists). It all adds up to a strong cast.  The Huskies had some less than spectacular performances before getting here. LSU saw the Big East refs at their best to date. Coach Trent Johnson was upset that his Tigers could not handle the transition. Coach had to be concerned as well about Tasmin Mitchell (9 pts on 4-12 shooting) and point guard Bo Spencer (5 pts and 2-14 from the floor).  Storm Warren (15 points 7 rebounds) was the lone Tiger consistently productive on this night.  My baseline press vantage point saw Johnson not ranting but in virtual conversation or debate with the officials all night. Clearly, LSU had a lot more issues with execution that needed addressing.

I’m impressed with Arizona State coming out tough. Too often teams are prepared and ready for Duke but play tenuous, afraid to miss a shot or make a turnover. Herb Sendek has plenty of experience facing Duke while at NC State, so he had his team ready and playing the role of aggressor. I was especially impressed with the grit and penetration skills of Sun Devil senior guard Derek Glasser who consistently gained access to the paint.  To their credit on a night they could have been headed to a third place game on Black Friday, Duke was resilient to meet the challenge and respond. Kyle Singler (1-6 first half) hit a huge trey that sparked a mid second half spurt that allowed Mike Krzyzewski’s club to prevail 64-53.

This is Duke’s biggest team in years if not the biggest under Coach K. Still, the motion offense, movement and presentation of great looks is there. I’m looking forward to the big man matchup. UConn blocked 13 shots or 21% of the LSU field goal attempts on Wednesday. Their shot-blocking ability has to be a big concern for Duke.  I’m also interested to see how well LSU can respond after Wednesday as they meet ASU in the consolation.

To all… a happy holiday!!!

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Gazelle Group Back Up To Its Old Tricks

Posted by rtmsf on August 25th, 2009

Take a look at these two news reports, spaced about seven weeks apart this summer:

Exhibit A (July 9, 2009): 

The next chapter of Isiah Thomas’ coaching career will start amid familiar territory for the Hall of Famer: the Big Ten. FIU’s new coach is prepping to debut Nov. 9 at Ohio State in the opening round of a Coaches vs. Cancer tournament.

Exhibit B (August 25, 2009):

Isiah Thomas’ coaching debut at FIU just got a little tougher.  FIU’s first season under the Hall of Fame player will begin Nov. 9 at defending national champion North Carolina, part of a Coaches vs. Cancer tournament. It’s also the opener for the Tar Heels, according to the schedule released Tuesday by the Atlantic Coast Conference.

What in the name of Anucha Browne Sanders is going on here?!?

2k sports classic cvc

Look no further than our old friends, the Gazelle Group.  Yes, the entity that decided that the meaning of the word “tournament” is factually and legally ambiguous, (updated for 2009) has decided that a UNC-FIU opener would be more interesting to more eyeballs than an Ohio St.-FIU game, and as such, has switched the openers for both schools as part of its sponsored Coaches vs. Cancer tournament event.    Controversy does seem to follow Thomas wherever he goes, but we’re putting this one squarely on the shoulders of the Gazelle Group.   In comparison, these guys make college football bowl organizers look fair and transparent.

FIU’s AD Pete Garcia is no more impressed with GG than we are.  He claims that the event organizers “bullied” FIU into signing the contract under the pretense that they would face OSU, and you know what, we believe him.  He stated that Gazelle Group organizers approached him last week asking him to change teams, and FIU refused.  When they received the press release today showing UNC as their opening opponent, they were shocked, and now they’re threatening to pull out of the CvC altogether.  As for the Gazelle Group, they’re hiding behind their contract language (which does clearly state FIU will play OSU or UNC), but it wouldn’t surprise us in the least if they promised one thing and did another while they were busily redefining that a basket will be worth 4 points and a player will receive 11 fouls this year.  

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Will 2009 be the Year the Big 10 Finally Challenges the ACC?

Posted by nvr1983 on April 23rd, 2009

Yesterday the pairings for the 2009 ACC/Big 10 Challenge were announced, and cries of rejoice went up from Iowa City through Evanston over to State College as the Big 10 schools realized that they have a fighting chance at actually winning their first Challenge in the eleven years of its existence.   Let’s take a look at the matchups and show you the games where the land-grant institutions (+NW) from the midwest can actually make this happen.

Penn St. @ Virginia
– PSU is coming off of an NIT Championship and will return its best player, Talor Battle, along with a strong corps of juniors.  UVa will still be learning new coach Tony Bennett’s system.  This is a winnable road game for the Big Ten, and PSU will win it.

Maryland @ Indiana – Assuming Greivis Vasquez returns to school (he should), Maryland should be able to pull away from Indiana relatively easily.  Even moreso if they nab Lance Stephenson.  Tom Crean has a nice recruiting class coming in, but it’s heavy on volume, not stars, and Maryland should get this one.

Michigan St. @ UNC – Goodness, haven’t we seen enough of this already?  We don’t care who UNC loses or Michigan St. keeps.  It’s in Chapel Hill, and even that doesn’t matter.  UNC wins.

Northwestern @ NC State – NW wasn’t terribly far from being an NCAA team this year, and they return most everyone; NC State was pretty far from it and they may lose Brandon Costner.  The gut says this is a winnable game for the Wildcats, but you never know with those guys.  If the Big Ten expects to win this year’s challenge, though, they’ll need this one, so we’re giving it to them.

Virginia Tech @ Iowa – Todd Lickliter’s extremely young team should make a leap of progress next season, but we’re still not sure they’re ready for Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen.  ACC gets the road win.

Wake Forest @ Purdue – Best game of the Challenge, with two black/gold teams taking each other on.  While Wake has proven it can look dominant in November/December before crumbling in February/March, Purdue will be super-jacked for this one.  Look for Hummell and Moore to outplay Teague and Aminu as the home team wins.

BC @ Michigan – In Y2 of John Beilein’s rebuild in Ann Arbor, he worked miracles.  Next year his best two players (Harris and Sims) return, and Crisler Arena will become a place nobody wants to play.  Big 10 win.

Duke @ Wisconsin – these are the games where the home team camps out for weeks in anticipation of beating the Devils, only to watch as Duke eviscerates said home team by 18 pts in the first half on their way to a laugher.  Wisconsin will think it can win this game; Duke knows better.

Florida St. @ Ohio St. – For the first time in four years, OSU won’t be bringing in some 7-foot top recruit, but they won’t need it because they’re bringing back everyone else, including star Evan Turner.  FSU will lose their star Toney Douglas and Uche Echefu, and while they’ll be very good next year, they’ll still be adjusting to life without those players at that time.  OSU at home gets the W.

Illinois @ Clemson – This game is a tossup because both teams bring back a substantial amount of talent as well as bring in strong recruiting classes.  We have a feeling that Illinois is about to become relevant nationally again, but we’re not sure Clemson is ready to cede their spotlight.  Especially in December, when Clemson excels.  We’re going with the home team here.

Minnesota @ Miami (FL) – Tubby welcomes back every player of consequence from an NCAA squad while bringing in a top 12 recruitng class.   Miami isn’t that tough to play at anyway, but especially when Frank Haith loses three of his top five players (incl. Jack McClinton).  Minnesota wins.

There you have it.  Final results (projected):

Big Ten: 6
ACC: 5

The key tossup games in our eyes are Northwestern @ NC State and Illinois @ Clemson.  The Big Ten will need to win one of those two to supplant the ACC for the title of this challenge for the first time in, um, ever.

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Weekend Tourneylicious…

Posted by rtmsf on November 27th, 2008

So the Maui Invitational ends tonight in an early-season blockbuster game – Notre Dame vs. North Carolina – and the CBE Classic and Paradise Jam are already finished, but fear not, hoopheads, there’s plenty more on the way this week..

Continuing tonight in MSG, we have the semifinals of the Preseason NIT.  The finals will be on Friday night.  Although the marquee teams aren’t as illustrious as some of the other names we’ll see over the next few days, the PNIT still holds a certain aura in terms of its prestige and respect among college fans.  We like Purdue to wear down a spirited BC squad in the first game tonight, and Oklahoma to outlast Robert Vaden’s UAB team in the second game (Blake Griffin will have another monster game against UAB’s soft interior), setting up a top 10 showdown on Friday night between teams that you may not get to see much of this year (definitely  must-see tv on Black Friday night). Read the rest of this entry »

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Which One is Jamie, and Is She Single?*

Posted by rtmsf on November 25th, 2008

Ray Floriani (pictured, center) of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC Conferences.  A dilettante of the highest order, he attended the Coaches vs. Cancer final rounds in New York last week.


*(ed. note: Ray wrote in to say that Jamie is the redhead on the far left – no, not the Bruin)

NEW YORK CITY – Part of the excitement and ambience of college basketball involves the fans. As in fanatic, passionate and devoted. Largely associated with them is the spirit groups, cheerleaders, dance teams, etc.

Coaches vs. Cancer last week in New York afforded the opportunity to meet with the UCLA Dance Team, the only team in town. “We appear at weddings, civic events and charity events,” coach Molly Vehling said. “But our most important job is cheering for our teams. We cheer at  football and basketball games and it makes me proud that we traveled the farthest and have the only (spirit) group here.”

Those chosen for teams as UCLA dancers go through tryouts. After being selected comes weekly practices punctuated by conditioning. The ladies on the dance teams, at UCLA and other schools, are athletes in their own right.

To a member, this was the first trip to Madison Square Garden for the team. They took in the obligatory sights from Central Park, Fifth Avenue to Ground Zero. Getting on the Garden floor brought added meaning to their performance.

“This (MSG) is a great place to cheer,” said Jamie, a senior. “I’ve cheered in the Staples Center which is similar but here there is so much history.” Jamie used the trip as a test. She’s a microbiology major hoping to go to law school. She’s looking at NYU Law so her first trip to the Big Apple had added significance. Her impression? “New York is a great city, just a little chilly.” Understandable since the region was hit with unseasonably cold temperatures in the low thirties.

Her teammate Michelle summed up the experience, ”this (Madison Square Garden and New York) is just an awesome place.”

After finishing the trip on a high note as the Bruins defeated Southern Illinois in the consolation game, the dance team was off to Broadway.  What show, I asked? ‘The Rockettes,” they answered in unison.  Makes sense one talented dance group seeing another.

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We’ll See Your Maui, and Raise You a CBE…

Posted by rtmsf on November 24th, 2008

Yep, Feast Week is here, and that means tons of preseason tournament action this week.  And to think that some misguided folks still associate Thanksgiving with the gridiron!  Let’s take a quick look at the two tournaments starting tomorrow in Hawaii and Kansas City, and leave a comment if you have a favorite memory from one of these tourneys or a particular game you’re really excited about seeing.


Maui Invitational

This is our favorite annual preseason tournament.  The Hawaiian shirts, the late start times, Bill Raftery, the high school gym, the raucousness of the fans, the soothing views of the sea as we go to commercial breaks, all of it.  Oh, and it’s usually a loaded field, and this year is no different. If things go as expected (and hoped), we’ll have two good games tomorrow (Texas v. St. Joe’s and Oregon v. Alabama) followed by an absolute blockbuster on Tuesday (Texas v. Notre Dame) and Wednesday (Texas/ND v. UNC).  And hey, who knows, there’s always the chance that little Chaminade can re-enact its magic from that fateful evening 26 yrs ago against another #1 team from the ACC with the reigning POY on the team.  Right?

CBE Classic

Ed. note: we’ve already written a post on the absurdity of the Gazelle Group’s decision to pre-slot the regional hosts (Florida, Washington, Kansas, Syracuse) into the semifinals.  Luckily for GG, all four hosts won their regions, thereby avoiding any possible outcry over the inherent unfairness of not allowing an upset winner to ‘advance’ into the semifinals of this ‘tournament.’

Nevertheless, the matchups in Kansas City are fairly good ones. All four of these teams have a good shot at playing March Madness this year.  For our money, Florida’s young guns versus Kansas’ would be the ideal final game on Tuesday night.

Semifinal Doubleheader
(November 24 – 7:30 ET)
Syracuse vs. Florida- ESPN2
Kansas vs Washington- ESPN2

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