Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Virginia, Middle Tennessee, Stony Brook and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 12th, 2013

tuesdayscribblesBrian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Does Virginia want to make the NCAA Tournament? Since beating Duke almost two weeks ago, the Cavaliers have lost to Boston College and Florida State and barely escaped Maryland in overtime on Sunday in a game that each team tried to give away multiple times. The more and more I look at Virginia’s resume, the more I think this team will be in the NIT. It has gotten to the point where there are too many bad losses to overcome, barring a run this week in the ACC Tournament. The Hoos have a couple things going for them, mainly the win over Duke and the victory at Wisconsin in November. Home wins over North Carolina, NC State and bubble buddy Tennessee also help but Tony Bennett’s club has a stunning EIGHT bad losses on its resume. Virginia went 11-7 in the ACC but went 0-3 against Colonial Athletic Association teams. Go figure. From an efficiency perspective, this is a strong team that plays stifling defense, has a couple of great players in Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell to go along with a solid supporting cast. The resume lacks some punch though and Virginia has a lot of work to do this week in Greensboro. The Cavs will likely open with NC State on Friday, a game they really need to win.

    Tony Bennett will sweat it out this week

    Tony Bennett will sweat it out this week

  2. One team fighting with Virginia for a tournament berth is Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders were eliminated from the Sun Belt Tournament by Florida International on Sunday and now have to sit and sweat out the next five days. Kermit Davis’s team finished with an impressive 28-5 overall record and lost just once over a 20-game conference schedule, on the road in overtime to Arkansas State (the next best team in the league). Davis has been with the program since 2002 and has built it up to respectable mid-major status. Is this a team worthy of a chance at a bid? Absolutely. The question is, will it get one? If I were on the selection committee, I’d probably have to say no unfortunately. Despite doing what it was supposed to do in its conference, Middle Tennessee didn’t do much out of conference. Yes, it beat two SEC teams (Mississippi and Vanderbilt), but neither of those teams is making the NCAA Tournament (unless the Rebels have a great conference tournament). But the real reason why I’d leave Middle Tennessee out is the fact that it was not competitive against Florida or Belmont, two of its better non-conference opponents. A competitive showing in either game would likely have changed my mind. In addition, the Blue Raiders lost a tough one in overtime to Akron. Those are missed opportunities that may end up costing this team a chance to dance.
  3. The fact that Stony Brook had to go on the road in the America East Tournament is a travesty. The Seawolves won the conference by three full games and their reward was a road trip to face #4 seed Albany in its own gym. It’s not right. I realize these smaller conferences don’t have the budgets that the power leagues do but would it be so difficult to host the tournament at whichever school wins the regular season title? Is that too much to ask? Instead, the America East picked Albany to host the quarterfinals and semifinals with the championship being hosted by the higher seed. The final part makes sense but the rest of it seems like bizarro world. Stony Brook had a stellar year, going 23-6 (14-2) in regular season play. Hopefully Steve Pikiell’s team will be rewarded with a nice seed in the NIT and maybe even a home game! Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Virginia, North Carolina, National COY, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 5th, 2013

tuesdayscribbles

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. If there is one team that personifies this rollercoaster season of unpredictability, it is probably Virginia. Last week was the Cavaliers’ season in a nutshell as they toppled Duke in Charlottesville before laying an egg at Boston College on Sunday. At 20-9 (10-6), Virginia sits squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble with two regular season games to play. In my heart of hearts, I believe this is a tournament-quality team. Virginia has impressive victories against aforementioned Duke as well as NC State, North Carolina and a huge road win at Wisconsin earlier in the season. Additionally, the Cavs sport wins over bubble buddies Tennessee and Maryland (on the road). Unfortunately for Virginia, the story doesn’t end there and turns sour rather quickly. Tony Bennett’s team has lost a stunning seven games to sub-100 RPI opponents, six of them coming on the road or at a neutral site. The loss to #315 Old Dominion is particularly puzzling. With just a 2-6 road record in conference play, an RPI in the 60s and an embarrassing non-conference strength of schedule, Virginia is not in a great spot despite its good wins. Joe Harris and the Cavs need to take care of business against Florida State and Maryland before putting together some kind of ACC Tournament run. This is one of the more bizarre NCAA resumes I’ve ever seen and one sure to create a lot of debate in the committee room.

    Joe Harris and Virginia haven't been consistent

    Joe Harris and Virginia haven’t been consistent

  2. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s comments after his team’s loss to Virginia created a stir throughout the college basketball world over the last few days. Coach K complained about his team not being able to safely get off the floor while Virginia’s students rushed the court after their team’s big win. While the video does show the Duke team unable to enter the tunnel and head to the locker room, I feel Krzyzewski is out of line. His team was protected by multiple arena security personnel who formed a human wall between the Duke team and the Virginia students. At no time were the Duke players in any danger. I understand why things this man says get noticed, after all he is the sport’s winningest coach. But why does everything Coach K says have to be taken as gospel? Let the kids have some fun and stop with the “get off my lawn!” attitude. Unless your team is in danger of being hurt, comments like these serve as a distraction and quite honestly look like sour grapes to me.
  3. After suffering the loss to Virginia, Duke rebounded in a big way by taking down Miami and exacting a measure of revenge for the blowout loss earlier this year in Coral Gables. It was a struggle though as the Blue Devils needed a career-high 36 points from Ryan Kelly (in his first game back since January 8) just to win by three on their home floor. While Kelly clearly sparked Duke offensively in this game, he makes a bigger difference on the other side of the basketball. Kelly is an outstanding defender because he’s a tall, agile forward who can get up into a player on the perimeter and force him to shoot over or pass around Kelly, often going east-west instead of north-south. Kelly’s presence on the floor did not make a huge difference in this particular game when it comes to Miami’s offensive efficiency but he did frustrate the Hurricanes from the three point line. Miami shot just 6-21 from deep and a big reason for that was Kelly and his length. As we head into postseason play, Kelly’s return will make a huge difference on the defensive side of the ball for Duke. Anything he does offensively is gravy for this team. Duke is undefeated with Kelly in the lineup and that bodes well for the Blue Devils as they look to grab a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and make a run at the program’s 16th Final Four appearance. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Tuesday (or Wednesday!) Scribbles: On Scoring, Rule Changes, Syracuse and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 27th, 2013

tuesdayscribbles

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Much has been made about the decline in scoring in college basketball over the last decade. These days, it is very common to see games played in the 60s, 50s or even 40s in some instances. It is true that scoring has decreased substantially over the last 10 years and the numbers bear it out. In the 2002-03 season, 172 teams averaged at least 70.0 PPG. That number has steadily declined, falling to 145 five seasons ago and 111 this year. With the advent of advanced statistics, one in particular stands out. Ten years ago, 123 teams averaged an adjusted tempo of 70.0 possessions per game. That was cut in half by 2007-08 (62 teams) and the number has continued to decline even since then. This season, only 28 of America’s 347 Division I teams play at that pace or greater. Why is this happening? Pace is certainly a factor but there are other issues at play here. With the proliferation of television coverage and video based scouting programs such as Synergy Sports Technology, scouting and video material is more available than ever. Head coaches and their staffs know everything about an opponent and that makes a huge difference for a lot of teams on the defensive end. A lot of teams run the same sets and it’s simply easier to prepare when you see the same thing over and over again. The elephant in the room, however, is the talent level in college basketball. Most of us probably wouldn’t like to admit it but the talent level has noticeably dipped in our sport over the last decade. I’m not talking about a once in 20 years type of player like Kevin Durant but the overall depth of talent in the game. There’s a reason a lot of people are saying this year’s NBA Draft class could be the weakest ever. That’s because it is. Until college basketball gets a much-needed infusion of talent, low scoring games will remain the norm.
  2. A lot of people would like to see the so-called “one-and-done” rule fade to black and that got me thinking about some much-needed rule changes in college basketball. I’m not going to discuss the one-and-done here, I’m talking about changes that need to be made during the actual games. If I had the power, the first thing I’d do is shorten the shot clock to 30 seconds. Five seconds may not sound like a lot but since there are roughly 66 to 67 possessions in an average Division I game, that would translate into another 10 possessions per game. Immediately you’d see an increase in scoring which makes the game more attractive to fans. One thing that annoys me is the amount of timeouts and stoppages in the game. There are already four mandated media timeouts every half and each team gets a total of five timeouts per game. In an era when coaches rarely leave timeouts on the table, there are 18 different timeouts in a typical college game, an average of one every two minutes and 13 seconds. It hurts the flow of a game in a big way and my proposal would be to reduce the number of timeouts to three per team and no extras in overtime. The end of every college basketball game these days seems to include a multitude of timeouts, fouls and official reviews. Officials reviewing plays has helped many sports get calls right, including college basketball. However, officials are abusing the monitor more than ever before. A big reason why is the NCAA rule change a few years ago regarding flagrant fouls and elbows thrown. I get why this rule was implemented (player safety) but there is no evidence this rule acts as a deterrent. Players have been taught from a young age to clear space with your elbows when being pressured by a defender. Now, a loose elbow can be deemed a flagrant foul even if there was no intent to injure by the offending player. This has to change. I have absolutely no problem with calling a flagrant foul for a malicious elbow or other physical contact. But calling a flagrant for an innocent or accidental elbow is wrong and is another thing that contributes to college games that lack an entertaining flow. A couple other changes I’d make include not resetting the 10-second count in the backcourt after a timeout, not being able to inbound the ball into the backcourt (it’s a bailout move for a team without a quality inbounds play) and starting the 1-and-1 bonus at nine fouls instead of seven. What are your thoughts on some of these proposals?

    Tubby Smith, Minnesota

    Tubby Smith has Minnesota pointed in the right direction

  3. This time of year, bubble talk dominates the discussion. My way of looking at bubble teams is simple: Did you beat quality opponents and what have you done away from home? This approach is one Jay Bilas mentions on television every year, something I wholeheartedly agree with. I remember years ago when Bilas went on ESPN and said something like, “Bubble teams have all proven they can lose. The question is, who did you beat and where did you beat them?” Truer words have never been spoken. You can’t dismiss all losses but when we’re talking about bubble teams, we’re usually looking at teams that have lost anywhere from 9 to 12 games, sometimes more. When I look at this year’s group of bubble teams, a few stand out. Minnesota is only 7-8 in Big Ten play but has multiple quality wins over Memphis (neutral), Illinois (away), Wisconsin (home), Michigan State (home) and last night’s massive upset of Indiana at the Barn on its resume. All of that trumps Minnesota’s loss to Northwestern and should get the Golden Gophers into the Big Dance.  Staying in the Big Ten, Illinois is in the same boat and I believe the Illini have done enough to warrant a bid at this point. Villanova is an interesting team. The Wildcats have a high number of losses (11) but wins at Connecticut and home versus Louisville and Syracuse have them in the NCAA discussion. I think Villanova is an NCAA-worthy team but the Wildcats need to do more to earn a bid because a pair of bad losses on their resume hurt the cause. Teams like St. Mary’s are harder to quantify. The Gaels have just one top 50 win (home vs. Creighton) on their resume and a pair of bad losses to Pacific and Georgia Tech. When a team wins a number of games against poor competition as St. Mary’s has, it’s very hard to determine if they’re NCAA-worthy. I think the Gaels are, but their resume leaves a lot to be desired. Beating Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament would prove to everyone that they deserve a spot. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On the Big East Race, Duke, Michigan and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 19th, 2013

tuesdayscribbles

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. As we hit the stretch run of the college basketball season, tight conference races begin to captivate the nation. There are terrific regular season title races going on in a bunch of conferences, including the Atlantic 10, Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten but the best race is happening in the Big East. In the conference’s final season as we have come to know it, three teams are tied atop the league standings at 9-3 heading into Tuesday’s action with three more nipping at their heels. It’s only fitting that two of the Big East’s heavyweight rivals, Syracuse and Georgetown, are among the group at 9-3. Joining them is an upstart Marquette team, picked seventh in the 15-team conference. Right behind the leaders is a team some seem to have forgotten about at 9-4, the Louisville Cardinals. Notre Dame at 9-5 after an important win at Pittsburgh last night and 7-5 Connecticut round out the teams within two games in the loss column. The great thing about this race is the best games are still to come. Syracuse and Georgetown hook up twice down the stretch, including on the final day of the regular season. The Orange have the toughest schedule with the aforementioned games against the Hoyas plus a trip to Marquette and a visit to the Carrier Dome from Louisville still on tap. Marquette plays four of its final six games on the road beginning this evening but gets Syracuse and Notre Dame at home where the Golden Eagles have won 23-straight games since a loss to Vanderbilt last season. Luckily for Marquette, its four road games are against a hit-and-miss Villanova team, St. John’s and two of the teams near the bottom of the league standings. It’s never easy to win on the road but Marquette has a somewhat favorable schedule. In the end, my money would be on a 13-5 logjam between Syracuse, Georgetown and Louisville with tiebreakers determining the team that gets the top seed at Madison Square Garden next month.

    Otto Porter and Georgetown will have a say in the Big East title race (M. Sullivan/Reuters)

    Otto Porter and Georgetown will have a say in the Big East title race (M. Sullivan/Reuters)

  2. For the final time this Saturday, ESPN’s BracketBusters event will pit non-power league teams against one another, some in major need of a resume-building win as the regular season begins to wind down. Denver against Northern Iowa and Ohio at Belmont are solid matchups but the best game by far is Creighton visiting St. Mary’s on Saturday.The Bluejays have lost five of their past nine games heading into tonight’s game with Southern Illinois, one they should win, after a 17-1 start to the season. Quality non-conference wins against Wisconsin, Arizona State and California (all away from Omaha), plus a good home win over a solid Akron club, have Creighton in a pretty good spot for a bid relative to other teams in the mix. The problem for Greg McDermott’s squad is that it hasn’t done much of anything in calendar year 2013. The good news for Creighton is the NCAA Selection Committee says wins in November and December mean just as much as February and March. As long as Creighton splits its upcoming games with St. Mary’s and Wichita State, I feel that should be good enough to merit an NCAA berth no matter what happens in the Missouri Valley Tournament. As for St. Mary’s, it is even more desperate. The only semblance of a quality win on the Gaels’ resume are wins at BYU and Santa Clara, the former coming thanks to Matthew Dellavedova’s miracle buzzer beater in Provo. To have a chance at the NCAA’s I feel St. Mary’s has to beat Creighton and run the West Coast table while making the finals of the conference tournament. There just isn’t enough meat on its resume to justify a bid despite having one of the nation’s strongest offensive attacks. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Notre Dame/Louisville, Kansas, Creighton and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 12th, 2013

tuesdayscribblesBrian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. At 10:54 PM on Saturday night, with Louisville up comfortably over Notre Dame late in the second half, I tweeted the following: “This might be the worst Saturday prime time game ever.” Alas, college basketball found another way to make me look stupid. Jerian Grant’s insane final minute lit a fire underneath what was until then quite a boring game. We know what happened in the end. It was one of the more bizarre games I’ve ever seen and turned into an edge of your seat thriller in the blink of an eye. The longest regular season game in Big East history, in addition to being supreme entertainment, taught us some important things about both teams. The most important takeaway for me was how bad Louisville is in late game one possession situations. I wasn’t stunned by Russ Smith’s antics but the fact that Rick Pitino refused to call a timeout not once, not twice but three times when his team could have won the game with a basket absolutely shocked me. This is not the first time Louisville has played poorly down the stretch of a close game. Against Syracuse, the Cardinals folded in the final minute and the Orange took advantage in a big way. Even in a win against Pittsburgh, Louisville didn’t exactly put on a clinic on how to close out a game. This is a pattern of sloppy play and could come back to bite Louisville in the NCAA Tournament. As for Notre Dame, the fight it showed in overtime was sensational. The Irish never quit despite being out-manned up front after foul trouble forced Jack Cooley and reserve big man Tom Knight out of the game. Garrick Sherman made his case for more minutes and could be a valuable player off the bench down the stretch for Mike Brey’s team. Notre Dame isn’t a great team but the Irish proved in the overtime periods that they can hang around the top 25 and win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament.

    Rick Pitino's team needs to sure up its play at the end of close games (AP)

    Rick Pitino’s team needs to sure up its play at the end of close games (AP)

  2. The Notre Dame/Louisville game was just one of many fantastic finishes this week. It all got started last Tuesday night with a high level thriller between Ohio State and Michigan that went to overtime. Wisconsin had two crazy finishes, the first a double OT win over Iowa and the second was a fantastic game against Michigan on Saturday highlighted by Ben Brust’s half court heave to force overtime. Oklahoma State and Baylor went to an entertaining OT session while Indiana and Washington lost on buzzer beaters. Illinois had no business winning that game but it just proves how wacky college hoops is this year. I believe Indiana is the best team in the nation but the Hoosiers aren’t head and shoulders ahead of anybody. They’re simply the best of a large group of very good teams. Parity in this sport is at an all time high. I shake my head when I hear someone say the regular season doesn’t matter or they don’t even watch college basketball because the level of play isn’t great. Those people will never get it, although they will get to see a nutty NCAA Tournament if the regular season is any indication. I have never seen such a wide open year than this one. You know who might have had the best week? NCAA referee John Gaffney. He worked Michigan/Ohio State, Illinois/Indiana and then did two games on Saturday, one of which was Notre Dame/Louisville. That’s one heck of a week.
  3. You would be hard pressed to find a team that had a better week than Illinois. The Fighting Illini began the week at 2-7 in Big Ten play, losers in six of their last seven games with games against Indiana and Minnesota coming up. John Groce’s team turned it on at the right time and came away with two huge wins for their NCAA Tournament chances. Even at 4-7 in conference play, Illinois looks to be in the tournament as of now thanks to the two wins last week along with victories over Butler, Gonzaga and Ohio State. It was the D.J. Richardson show against Indiana as he almost singlehandedly brought them back late in the game. Illinois was able to make shots against the Hoosiers and turn them over, resulting in extra possessions. It was a different recipe against Minnesota as Illinois used strong three point shooting and solid defense, the two primary reasons for their January meltdown, to knock off the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis. That was in was arguably just as big as Indiana because Illinois needed to get a quality road win in conference. It remains to be seen where the Illini will go from here but they have a great chance to get back to .500 in league play with games against Purdue, Northwestern and Penn State upcoming before a big time showdown with Michigan on February 24. Four of Illinois last six games are on the road so it would be well advised to take care of business over this softer stretch. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Tuesday (Wednesday) Scribbles: On Underwhelming Teams, Soft Schedules, Wisconsin and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 6th, 2013

tuesdayscribblesBrian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. The Super Bowl marks the beginning of a two month stretch where college basketball dominates the national sports scene. From now until April 8, the focus will be squarely on our terrific sport. Sure it can be frustrating for the diehard fans that have been following every game since early November but the attention of the casual fans is what drives coverage and television ratings. The unfortunate reality is that without casual fan interest, college basketball would exclusively be a niche sport. We all have had that NCAA Tournament pool experience where the person who starts watching in February or March and knows very little other than team names and rankings wins the pool while the person who studies the efficiency metrics and knows that Travis Trice is a great three point shooter but awful inside the arc (h/t Luke Winn) finishes near the bottom of the pool standings. Nevertheless, it is an exciting time of year as bubble talk, last four in and last four out quickly creep into the daily sports conversation. Games like Tuesday night’s Ohio State/Michigan classic are what drive interest in the sport. We’ve been treated to plenty of great games this season but this one couldn’t have come at a better time, a time when most of America is now squarely focused on college basketball. Strap in, it’s going to be really fun as we head into the part of the season where every game is so big and teams make their final push towards March.
  2. As we move into this crucial part of the season, the issue of teams peaking early can become a concern for some. The season is a process, an evolution if you will, and not every team is playing its best basketball come March. As I look across the nation, there are a few teams that may have already peaked or are peaking right now and may not be able to sustain their current level of play into March. Oregon, NC State, Miami and Butler come to mind. Two losses to the Bay Area schools have put a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. Is it a short term blip or a sign of things to come for the Ducks? Their ability to score and propensity for turnovers are causes for concern but Oregon’s defense is surprisingly solid. NC State’s issue is just the opposite. The Wolfpack certainly can score, although their offense was shut down in losses to Maryland and Virginia. However, defense has been a problem all year and NC State’s efficiency, ranked #141 in the country, is simply not at a level where you can win games consistently. Chances are the Wolfpack have already peaked and their inability to stop teams will catch up to them eventually. Miami is a case of a team that may be peaking as we speak. The Hurricanes have won 10 consecutive games in a variety of different ways. This fact (meaning they can play different styles/speeds) combined with a defensive efficiency ranked fourth in the country suggest Miami can sustain this level of play. Concerns for the Hurricanes include three point shooting, free throw shooting and offensive rebounding but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Miami hold steady, at least for the next few weeks. Butler is an interesting case. The Bulldogs are 18-4 (5-2) but have lost two of their four games since the emotional win over Gonzaga on January 19 while also struggling through a win over lowly Rhode Island. Butler’s league isn’t as tough as the other teams mentioned here so it will likely enter the NCAA Tournament with a very strong record. Of concern is the BU defense which is not at the elite level it was when the Bulldogs first went to the national title game three years ago. However, it would be foolish to doubt Brad Stevens and his group. With a soft schedule down the stretch, there is still time for Butler to pile up wins and gather confidence heading into the tournament. I would say Butler has not peaked yet despite some major wins already on its resume. Look out for the Bulldogs next month.

    C.J. Leslie and NC State may have peaked early (E. Hyman/RNO)

    C.J. Leslie and NC State may have peaked early (E. Hyman/RNO)

  3. As we head into February and the regular season begins to wind down, I figure this is a good time to look at a few of America’s underwhelming teams. There are teams out there with gaudy records but few quality wins or those who just haven’t gotten on track relative to preseason expectations. Notre Dame, UNLV, UCLA and Missouri come to mind immediately. Notre Dame is 18-5 and 6-4 in the Big East which appears good on the surface but this was a team many thought would finish third in that rugged conference. However, a closer inspection reveals the Irish have just two quality wins on their resume (Kentucky (maybe) and at Cincinnati). In Big East play, Notre Dame has lost twice on its home court, something that has been almost unheard of over the years in South Bend. Notre Dame has never been a defensive juggernaut under Mike Brey but this is arguably his worst defensive team in 13 years at the helm. UNLV is a team with lots of talent that always leaves you wanting more, always following up a stretch of good play with a disappointing loss. The Rebels struggle away from Vegas which is understandable but you would still like to see them beat a few good teams on the road. They have failed to do that. UNLV can still turn it around but I feel like we’ve seen this movie before. Three consecutive first round NCAA flameouts show that UNLV isn’t quite ready for primetime. In fact, the Rebels have not won a postseason game since a first round victory over Kent State in 2008. UCLA is still a work in progress but there is no denying it has been underwhelming. The Bruins have lost three of their last four games since winning 10 straight games after a disappointing 5-3 start. Defense has been a concern all season long but it’s the offense that has scuttled of late. Five of UCLA’s final seven games are on the road and one of the home games is against Arizona. Things could get a little dicey down the stretch for the Bruins. Missouri is the team I feel is the most overrated of all. Despite a resume that lacks one single freaking SEC road win and non-conference wins over fading Illinois and mediocre Stanford, the Tigers continue to be ranked in both major polls. Missouri is not a good defensive team and has given up a lot of points to pretty much every good team it has played. Phil Pressey can be a great distributor but he’s also a turnover machine and a poor jump shooter. Mizzou will probably make the NCAA Tournament but an early departure is highly likely. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On The Mountain West, Ole Miss, Villanova and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 29th, 2013

tuesdayscribbles

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. A lot of people are pumping up the Mountain West Conference this season and rightly so. Trailing only the Big Ten and Big East in the Pomeroy ratings, the Mountain West has seven of its nine teams in the top 100. Two Mountain West teams made the AP top 25 this week (New Mexico and San Diego State) while another (UNLV) is knocking on the door. That said, I don’t believe there is a single elite team in this league. The parity in this league makes for great action night after night but I would be surprised if any of these teams makes a legitimate run at the Elite Eight or Final Four. San Diego State and UNLV probably have the best potential to advance in the NCAA Tournament but each has too many flaws to make a serious run in my opinion. San Diego State does a number of things well but I question its ability to score against good competition and get a bucket when it is really needed. I think the Aztecs are the best in the Mountain West but their lack of size and occasional scoring issues will be their downfall. As for UNLV, it may have the most talent of any team in the league. But talent doesn’t always equal wins. Anthony Bennett is a flat out stud but the Rebels struggle against teams that can match their athleticism but also against teams that can slow it down and make it a half court game. UNLV’s turnover issues and shaky play away from Las Vegas are also major causes for concern. It always seems that whenever the Rebels look like they’re about to turn the corner, they lose. The win at San Diego State was a positive but UNLV gave it right back by losing to Colorado State three days later. This has been a trend for UNLV over the years as it just can’t seem to sustain a high level of play. A questionable or disappointing loss always seems to follow a nice win. New Mexico is an interesting team. Steve Alford has built a nice program in Albuquerque but I have been down on this team for the better part of the season despite its record. The Lobos really struggle to score, as evidenced by the putrid 34 points they put up in Saturday’s blowout loss at San Diego State. It’s disappointing because they have talented guards and a solid big man in Alex Kirk. Similar to UNLV, New Mexico often has a letdown after a period of strong play. The Lobos started 12-0 then lost at home to South Dakota State. Then they went on the road and beat Cincinnati, only to lose the next game in uncompetitive fashion to St. Louis. Then they won four straight (including at Boise State and vs. Colorado State) before getting blown out by the Aztecs. Until New Mexico proves it can consistently beat good teams, I will have my doubts. The Mountain West is really fun to watch but don’t get carried away about the league’s postseason prospects.

    Steve Fisher, San Diego State

    Steve Fisher may have the best team in the Mountain West (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

  2. One team out west that I feel does have the potential to go deep is Gonzaga. I do have a few concerns about the Bulldogs but I really do believe this is the best team Mark Few has ever assembled in Spokane. The Zags have the perfect balance with talented guards and strong players around the rim. Kelly Olynyk is having a spectacular season coming off a redshirt year and he anchors a strong frontcourt that also features the uber-athletic Elias Harris. Gonzaga is tough to match up with because it can score in so many different ways. If you zone the Zags, you risk Kevin Pangos dropping a ton of threes on you while giving up a lot of offensive rebounds. If you play man-to-man, Pangos can penetrate and dish to the big men at will or Gonzaga will run him off ball screens for plenty of good looks from deep. Gonzaga, with the nation’s fourth-ranked offensive efficiency, is incredibly difficult to contain on that end of the floor. The Bulldogs have been held under 70 points only five times in 21 games. The way to beat Gonzaga is to be physical and take advantage of its very average defense. Few’s team struggles to defend ball screens and is vulnerable against teams with a rugged style of play. You often get a lot of rugged, slow it down games in the NCAA Tournament and Gonzaga is going to have to sure up its defense by March in order to survive. That said, Gonzaga’s offensive prowess is a huge asset and one that should carry it to at least two NCAA Tournament victories in a perfect world. Of course, the world isn’t perfect and basketball games, more than any other sport, are often determined by match-ups. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Florida, Illinois, Surprising Conference Leaders, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 22nd, 2013

tuesdayscribblesBrian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Saturday night’s epic Gonzaga vs. Butler game was everything college basketball is about and then some. The game had all the trappings: two great basketball teams, a national TV audience, a historic venue, two terrific (and classy) coaches, an electric atmosphere, 40 minutes of competitive action, and an indescribable finish to the game. This was college basketball in its purest form. Everything you could ask for in a game. The kind of game you would show someone who has never watched college basketball before. It was the game of the year to date, one that will be nearly impossible to top in the regular season (we know what the Tournament can do). This was a high-level game between two teams that have the potential to make deep runs in March and the top two “mid-major” programs of the last decade. Roosevelt Jones’ game-winner will be the lasting memory from this game but I hope people remember just how well it was played on both ends. In the final minute and a half, I don’t think either team missed a shot in those final 90 seconds and the only mistake was Alex Barlow’s turnover which, ironically, set up the memorable ending. Dick Vitale said it was one of the top five games he has seen since he started working for ESPN 34 years ago. I wouldn’t doubt it. The game was that good.

    Butler's contest against Gonzaga proved to be a top game-of-the-year candidate (AP)

    Butler’s contest against Gonzaga proved to be a top game-of-the-year candidate (AP)

  2. An important result from last week in the Big Ten was Wisconsin taking down Indiana on Tuesday night in Bloomington. That’s now 11 straight Badgers’ victories over the Hoosiers and it’s safe to say Bo Ryan owns Tom Crean. Even when Crean was at Marquette, he only won three games against Ryan’s Badgers in their annual intra-state rivalry making him 3-13 against Ryan in his career. “Tommy Basketball,” as Ryan once called him, didn’t have an answer for Wisconsin last week. The Badgers controlled the pace of the game from the opening tip and got physical with the more athletic and talented Hoosiers. Once again, Ryan overcame a talent disadvantage on the road to score a huge victory. He’s one of the best pure basketball coaches in the nation and it shows year after year no matter who is on his roster. Wisconsin let Cody Zeller do his thing in the first half but the Badgers really clamped down on him after halftime. A big key to the win was limiting Jordan Hulls. With Ben Brust glued to him most of the game, Hulls could only manage one three-point attempt. That’s outstanding defense and a great game plan against one of the best shooters in the country. Wisconsin limited everyone not named Zeller to 28.2% shooting, a remarkable accomplishment against one of the best offensive teams in the nation. It was a great win for the Badgers but, unfortunately for them, they followed it up with a road loss to Iowa on Saturday night. Nevertheless, Wisconsin is getting better. Never count out Bo Ryan. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Duke, Title Contenders, USC and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 15th, 2013

tuesdayscribbles

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Over the last week we have seen the number of undefeated teams reduced to zero. Now that every team has a loss, the speculation about which team should be #1 is heating up. Those who adhere to the résumé argument will say that Duke deserves to stay atop the polls despite its Saturday loss to NC State and they are absolutely right. The problem is, in my opinion, that ranking teams based on their résumé  alone is the easy way out. We have a NCAA Tournament Selection Committee who does that for us every year in mid-March. There is more to ranking a team than who it has beat and who it has lost to. There are other factors to consider including statistics and extenuating circumstances. When it comes to the Blue Devils as they are currently constructed, I can’t say they are the best team in the country. Duke is a potent offensive team, but there are other areas for concern. While acknowledging that the efficiency numbers say otherwise, I don’t believe Duke is an elite defensive team. The Blue Devils have allowed 70+ points on only four occasions, but all have come against good competition–Minnesota, Louisville, Santa Clara, and NC State. That tells me when the chips are down against good teams, Duke might not be able to get the stops it needs to win a close game away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. Rebounding is also a concern for Mike Krzyzewski’s team despite having Mason Plumlee in the middle. But perhaps the more immediate concern is the injury to Ryan Kelly who is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Duke has been quiet about it, with Coach K only saying it could be a long-term recovery. This only creates more doubt about a player who is very important to the team’s success. Duke is certainly among the top three or four teams in the country right now, but with Kelly’s uncertainty, some defensive concerns (especially compared to say, Louisville), and the rebounding Achilles heel, I have a hard time saying Duke is the flat out best team in the nation.

    Ryan Kelly's injury is a major concern for Duke.

    Ryan Kelly’s injury is a major concern for Duke.

  2. Watching Connecticut take it to Louisville in the first half of last night’s Big Monday game probably created some doubt about the Cardinals among those watching. Of course, there are two halves to a basketball game and Louisville showed why it was ranked #1 in this week’s poll with a dominant second half against the Huskies. There are two main keys to Louisville’s success: Peyton Siva and team defense. Siva was on the bench for quite some time in the first half with foul trouble, but came back and took over after intermission. Louisville’s defense, after giving up 54% shooting in the first half and likely enduring the wrath of Rick Pitino at halftime, held Connecticut to 24 points on 26% shooting over the final 20 minutes. Louisville’s ability to lock you down is second to none. There is not another team in the nation that combines the quickness and ball pressure of two all-conference guards, tall and agile forwards, depth, and an eraser with a massive wingspan on the back line. If the Cardinals are to win a national championship in Atlanta this April, defense will be the reason why. While Louisville is certainly better offensively than it was last season, I still have some concerns on that end of the floor. Louisville could have a tough time against a team with a good interior defense (Kansas for example) because three-point shooting it a major weakness. Can the Cardinals score in a halfcourt game (as tournament games usually are) against strong competition when they absolutely have to come up with a bucket? In my view, that is still to be determined.  If the answer is yes, Louisville will be your national champion. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On C.J. McCollum, Transfers, Cincinnati and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 8th, 2013

tuesdayscribbles

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he will be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. It was such a shame to see Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum leave Saturday’s loss at VCU with a broken left foot after what appeared to be a rather innocuous drive down the lane late in the first half. McCollum, who led the nation in scoring before Saturday’s game, is expected to miss eight to 10 weeks. Given that time frame, McCollum could be back as soon as early March, hopefully in time for the Patriot League Tournament, which begins March 6, and any subsequent postseason tournament Lehigh qualifies for. The 6’3” senior guard out of Ohio had been in the midst of his best season yet for the Mountain Hawks, shooting over 50% from three point range and averaging 25.7 PPG before the injury. McCollum had already posted four 30+ point games and was ready to lead his team into a conference battle with the other Patriot League contender, Bucknell. Without him in the lineup, Brett Reed will have to look to his three other double digit scorers (Gabe Knutson, Mackey McKnight, and Holden Greiner) for even more production in an effort to get Lehigh to its third NCAA Tournament in four seasons.

    C.J. McCollum will miss 8 to 10 weeks with a broken foot.

    C.J. McCollum will miss 8 to 10 weeks with a broken foot.

  2. The new transfer proposal that could be approved by the NCAA this summer and implemented in time for the start of the 2014-15 season could turn college basketball into an absolute mess. The proposal says that any student-athlete who keeps a 2.6 GPA (essentially a B-minus grade) or higher would be eligible to transfer without the current one-year waiting period to another school. In my opinion, this would open up a can of worms nobody wants to see. Transfers have already gotten out of control and there is no need to further that trend. Not only would you have players moving from school to school like free agents in professional sports, you would also see coaches at mid-majors and even mediocre high majors losing their top players left and right because coaches at more successful programs can offer them playing time on a quality team. Imagine there is a rising junior on a team near the bottom of a power conference. A coach at a stronger program sees this player as an important piece to his puzzle, gets him to transfer and play immediately. Essentially, that player is a free agent and the rich get richer while the majority of programs struggle to move up in their conference because most of the good players they work on developing head to teams that are in a better position to begin with. It hurts the coaches, fans, and players of the lower level school while adding nothing to the game overall. It is a bad proposal that could ruin the sport as we know it. If it were up to me, I would eliminate hardship waivers and no penalty transfers for graduate players while requiring every player who transfers for any reason to sit out one year. That is the only way to ensure competitive balance. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Butler-Indiana, Arizona-Florida, Jim Boeheim, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 18th, 2012

tuesdayscribblesBrian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. After enduring the dreaded finals week, we college basketball fans were given a treat on Saturday afternoon courtesy of two teams who call basketball heaven, otherwise known as the state of Indiana, home. In what was the game of the year to date, the Butler Bulldogs overcame a second half deficit and tons of foul trouble and knocked off the top-ranked Indiana Hoosiers. While an unranked team beating #1 is always an amazing accomplishment, nobody should be surprised by this result. Butler has done this time and time again over the last few seasons with a variety of different players (although this was the program’s first victory over a #1-ranked team) who embrace the same unselfishness and winning culture. The Butler Way, as it has been deemed, is the reason why Brad Stevens is considered among the top coaches in the college game. This meteoric rise for the 36-year-old Stevens, in only his sixth year as a head coach, doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Butler won the game by torching Indiana from deep and dominating inside, consequently exposing preseason All-American Cody Zeller’s deficiencies. Roosevelt Jones and Andrew Smith took it to Zeller all game and made him look like a very average center in the process, one who struggled to rebound and had difficulty scoring against the physical Butler defense. Zeller’s stat line may look alright (18 points, five rebounds), but 10 of his points were scored at the foul line. He wasn’t a major factor on either end of the floor, a credit to Stevens and his preparation as well as Butler’s personnel. This is a blueprint for future opponents with the proper personnel on how to attack Zeller and Indiana. The Hoosier defense, which up until Saturday’s game had looked much improved, did not look all that impressive on this day. Aside from Victor Oladipo (who is quickly becoming Indiana’s most important player), the Hoosiers didn’t defend the way they needed to against Butler’s deliberate offensive sets. Indiana has plenty of time to fix the problems and remains a legitimate national title contender but Saturday’s result was a good reality check. There is no truly dominant team in college basketball this season and we will see more results like this as the year progresses.

    Alex Barlow's Game-Winner Knocked Off Indiana

    Alex Barlow’s Game-Winner Knocked Off Indiana

  2. Another fantastic game broke out later Saturday night in Tucson where Arizona overcame a six point deficit in the final minute to shock Florida and remain undefeated. In a 40-minute game, the Wildcats led for only a stunning one minute and 24 seconds, out-played in their own building for the vast majority of the game. What did I draw from this game? Not much except that it was fun to watch and both teams are legitimate top ten outfits. Who is the better team? I’m sticking with Florida. The Gators went into the McKale Center and methodically dismantled Arizona for 37 of the 40 minutes played. The problem for Florida was meltdowns at the end of both halves which proved fatal. The Gators held an 11-point lead with under two minutes remaining in the first half but two turnovers and a blown defensive assignment on Nick Johnson allowed Arizona to cut the lead to three at the half. Florida weathered the storm and slowly built up a comfortable lead in the second half before Arizona charged back. A Scottie Wibekin triple with 2:44 remaining seemed to be the dagger but Florida would not score again. In a final minute disaster, the Gators committed three turnovers and 90% free throw shooter Kenny Boynton missed the front end of a one-and-one. Mark Lyons still had to hit a tough shot off the glass to give Arizona the win but this was a total giveaway by Florida, a team that had no business losing this game given the way it played out. What did I like about the Gators? A lot, from Patric Young’s smooth touch and suffocating defense to Mike Rosario’s newfound self-control and poise. Billy Donovan’s team does a great job in zone defense and I thought they should have played some more possessions in it. After a made basket, I really liked Florida throwing on some light full court pressure before settling back into the 2-3 zone. It served them well by confusing Arizona for the better part of the game. Offensively, Florida has nice balance and utilizes Erik Murphy in the perfect way with pick-and-pops as well as a series of staggered screens that really confused Arizona’s defense. Rosario and Boynton play more under control this year and don’t chuck as often as in the past. This is a team that should win the SEC and contend for a national championship. As for Arizona, this is a very good team but not one I’m sure can contend for a national title. Sean Miller’s club must cut down on its turnovers (which it did against Florida) and improve its three point defense. I mentioned Arizona’s poor opponents three point percentage in a previous edition of this column and the Wildcats failed to stop Florida’s shooters on Saturday. That has to get better in the long run if Arizona wants to go deep in March. Kaleb Tarczewski is a tremendously talented young center but he was exposed by Young. Tarczewski will keep getting better but any team with a skilled big should be able to handle Arizona inside. Don’t get me wrong, Arizona will likely win the Pac-12 and advance deep in the NCAA Tournament but this team is flawed, as are many. This was a great resume-building win for Arizona but I’m not so sure the Wildcats would have beat Florida if the game wasn’t in Tucson. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Illinois, Undefeated Teams, A Blown Call Nobody Noticed, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 11th, 2012

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

  1. Illinois fans, here is my mea culpa. I was wrong not to rank your team. On Saturday night, the Fighting Illini ventured up to Spokane and walked out of the Kennel with the best win of any team to date. Yes, better than Duke’s wins over Louisville and Ohio State. Why? There has not been a road win of this magnitude by any team through this early point in the season. The Illini proved they’re for real with a dominant second half against a very strong Gonzaga team. After taking the opening punch and falling behind 8-0 right out of the gate, John Groce’s team didn’t panic and made fantastic adjustments. Gonzaga’s game plan was clearly to feed the ball inside and try to dominate a less than imposing Illinois front line. Illinois’ defense suddenly picked up later in the first half, swarming the Gonzaga big men and forcing the Bulldogs into an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers. Illinois was able to speed the game up a bit and prevent Gonzaga from setting up its half court offense effectively. The Zags attempted 18 threes which is right about their season average but a lot of them were rushed and not something the game plan should have called for against an Illinois team without a significant inside presence. Brandon Paul looked like an All-America candidate with his performance not just on the offensive end but defensively against Pangos and the Gonzaga guards as well. Can Illinois keep this level of play up? I’m not sure but I know one thing: The Illini are way better than I thought. This team’s over-reliance on the three-point shot is concerning and is bound to catch up with them at some point, but Illinois has already proved it will be a factor in the loaded Big Ten.

    Brandon Paul Looked Like An All-American Candidate On Saturday Night In Spokane. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

  2. Another impressive performance played out in a different fashion on Saturday night in Clemson, South Carolina. Trailing Clemson by six points midway through the second half, Arizona absorbed the hit and put the pedal down in impressive fashion with a 26-5 run down the stretch to come out of rowdy Littlejohn Coliseum with a sneaky good road win. It was an impressive showing because this Arizona team had been highly touted but untested coming into the game. The Wildcats passed that test with flying colors as they head into a Saturday showdown with Florida in Tucson. Mark Lyons took control in the final minutes for Arizona but contributions from Nick Johnson (13 points, five steals) and Solomon Hill (10 rebounds despite an awful shooting night) illustrate the talent and depth of Sean Miller’s team. Although he didn’t have a great game, I was thoroughly impressed with the physique of freshman Kaleb Tarczewski. It was the first time I’ve seen him play and his body appears mature beyond his age. He’ll be a load for any opponent in the post. Arizona is clearly the best team in the Pac-12 and has the pieces to make a deep run in March. With the gritty Miller at the helm and a boatload of talent, this team will keep getting better as the year moves along. Make sure you watch the Wildcats take on Florida this Saturday night in what could prove to be the best non-conference game of the season.
  3. Another week, another confounding loss for Baylor. Just when you thought the Bears were turning the corner after winning at Kentucky, they put together an absolute stinker of a loss at home to a mediocre Northwestern team that had just suffered back-to-back home losses to Maryland and Illinois-Chicago. Baylor was dominated on the glass by a Northwestern lineup that isn’t all that physically imposing and allowed the Wildcats to shoot 51% for the game. It is inexcusable for a team with Baylor’s talent to have three losses at this point in the season but you know what I like to say, nobody does less with more than Scott Drew. When you look at the statistics, Baylor appears to be a pretty good team. But the chemistry and focus clearly is lacking, otherwise this team wouldn’t have lost to Charleston and Northwestern on its home court. Baylor is a highly talented team and has actually improved its turnover numbers significantly from previous years. Pierre Jackson is playing like one of the best point guards in America and Drew has seen junior forward Cory Jefferson take a huge step forward. Baylor has two more non-conference challenges before Big 12 play begins, against BYU in Waco and a tough trip to Gonzaga in back to back games at the end of this month. Even if the Bears enter Big 12 play at 8-4, I still believe this team is good enough to eventually earn a Top 25 ranking and fit solidly in the NCAA Tournament. At this point however, Baylor just isn’t there yet. Read the rest of this entry »
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