Champions Classic Report Card: Grading Hoops’ Biggest Early-Season Event

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 19th, 2014

College basketball reentered the national consciousness on Tuesday night as familiar blue-bloods Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State squared off in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. Let’s examine, assess and grade a few of the event’s most interesting themes and outcomes.

Kentucky’s platoon system: B+

Kentucky vs. Kansas lacked drama, but the Champions Classic remains a great event. (Darron Cummings AP)

Kentucky vs. Kansas may have lacked drama, but the Champions Classic remains a great event. (Darron Cummings AP)

With the glut of talent on this year’s Kentucky roster (as if Kentucky ever doesn’t possess a glut of talent), John Calipari has taken to a ‘platoon’ system wherein he substitutes five guys at a time – two entirely different lineups – throughout each game. That approach, seldom seen at college hoops’ highest level, went swimmingly on Tuesday night as the ‘Blue Platoon’ (38 points, seven blocks) and ‘White Platoon’ (28 points, four blocks) each had an important hand in dominating Kansas from start to finish. Works like a charm, right? Well, maybe. While Calipari denies that his scheme amounts to ‘communism,’ one does have to wonder if the more inefficient or ineffectual players will end up receiving too much playing time as a result of this strategy in the future. Let’s say, for example, that Marcus Lee is consistently less effective than his Blue Platoon counterpart for a prolonged stretch – it wouldn’t make much sense to continue giving him equal or similar minutes each night. That said, the Wildcats drubbed the Jayhawks by 32 points, and – as the saying goes – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Early-season drama: D-

This event has generally produced very good, very tight contests,in the previous three iterations, with only a few points separating each team. Even last year’s 11-point Kansas win over Duke – the Jabari Parker vs. Andrew Wiggins game – was tied with under five minutes to play. That level of drama was nowhere to be found on Tuesday night, however, as Duke largely controlled things for the full 40 minutes against Michigan State, and Kentucky absolutely manhandled Kansas. We’ve been spoiled up to this point and were probably due for a couple blowouts (it’s a testament to the consistent excellence of each program that the first three years were so good), but it’s still a bummer. Hopefully the drama returns in 2015.

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Is Kentucky’s Platoon System Built to Last?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 19th, 2014

John Calipari has been known to indulge in a bit of hyperbole from time to time, which forced most of us to take the preseason news of his installment of a hockey-style, 5-for-5 substitution system at Kentucky with a grain of salt. Super cool that you have a roster deep enough to float an idea like this, Coach Cal, but lets talk when actual games begin, okay? Impediments to wholesale substitution patterns go well beyond having a short roster. Foul trouble, injuries and varying match-ups are all reasons to maintain the classic flexibility of free substitutions. Even with a Kentucky roster overflowing with ability, this mindless platoon system Calipari was espousing seemed suboptimal at best and viciously exploitable at worst.

Waves Of Wildcats Wore Down Kansas On Tuesday Night

Waves Of Wildcats Wore Down Kansas On Tuesday Night (USA Today)

Or so the thinking went. After Kentucky walloped Kansas by 32 points in Tuesday night’s Champions Classic, it is suddenly evident that Calipari’s decision to eschew convention has the potential to pay massive dividends. At least for a night, there were no complaints about playing time. Rhythm remained steady as the units exchanged places, and both blue and white platoons played with the sort of boundless energy that Calipari dreamed this arrangement could foster. You could pull any five guys out of the Kentucky 10-deep and field a sufficiently scary basketball team, but the relentlessness of a long, athletic Wildcats front line was significantly magnified by the five-in, five-out waves that Kansas had to fight through all night. The Wildcats not only looked like the best team in the country on Tuesday night, but also a potentially unbeatable best team in the country.

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Five-Star Analysis From the High School Class of 2011

Posted by Sean Moran on November 14th, 2014

RTC recruiting guru Sean Moran takes an in-depth look at the players ranked as five-star recruits from the class of 2011. How many of these players are still in college? How many are already out of the NBA? We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Rating high school players is an inexact science. Look no further than the 2011 recruiting rankings for evidence of this. That year Scout.com ranked 27 players as five-star prospects, and as we get set to enter the 2014-15 college basketball season, there are only six of those players remaining. Anthony Davis was the No. 1 recruit and he certainly lived up to the billing, leading Kentucky to a National Championship during his only collegiate season. Davis is now an All-Star in the NBA, but several other teams spent high draft picks on members of the class with varying degrees of success: guys like UConn’s Andre Drummond, Florida’s Bradley Beal, Duke’s Austin Rivers and Indiana’s Cody Zeller. A few other five-star players were not so lucky. James Michael McAdoo went undrafted after three years at UNC and Kentucky’s Marquis Teague is now out of the NBA after getting drafted late in the first round in 2012. Three years later, only 11 of those 27 are in the NBA (including Quincy Miller, who was recently waived by the Nuggets) while 10 are out of the league altogether, and six are still in college. For those remaining six collegians, they have one season left to impress the NBA scouts. The entire list of five-star prospects from the Class of 2011 is below.

class of 11 where are they now

2011 Five-Star Prospects Still in College

No. 9 – LeBryan Nash, 6’6”, SF, Oklahoma State. Nash is the highest-rated prospect of the class still in college. The athletic wing expected to be a one-and-done player coming out of high school, but he is now a senior for the Cowboys. He spent part of his freshman season injured but still managed to average 13.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. His field goal attempts have decreased every successive year and, as a result, his efficiency has risen. As a junior Nash averaged 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds with a 109.5 ORtg. He had some big games in league play, including a 29-point performance against West Virginia, but Nash only managed to score six points in a first round NCAA Tournament loss to Gonzaga last year. Heading into his senior year, Nash was named an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection.

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Digging Deeper Into ESPN’s Future Power Rankings

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on September 16th, 2014

The 2014-15 college basketball season may be creeping ever closer, but the folks over at ESPN are already thinking well beyond Indianapolis and the 2015 Final Four. Last week, ESPN’s group of college basketball insiders released their take on what Top 25 polls could look like over the next three seasons in a column entitled “Future Power Rankings.” The panel evaluated and rated programs on a 1-10 scale in five different categories — Coaching, Current Talent, Recruiting, Program Power, and Stability — then pooled the results to extract a singular score (out of 100) for each program. Coaching, Current Talent and Recruiting each counted for 25% of that final tally, while Program Power made up another 15%. Stability counted for just 10%.

Rankings and lists may seem particularly interesting on the slog through these college basketball-less months, but the exercise in responding is the same now as it will be in January, February and March: We will always have our gripes. Highlighted below are a few of the more controversial decisions — some method-based, others result-oriented — that ESPN’s committee of experts produced.

Coach K Should Have Plenty Of Reasons To Keep Smiling; His Program Graded Out On Top In ESPN's Future Power Rankings

Coach K Should Have Plenty Of Reason To Keep Smiling, As His Program Graded Out On Top In ESPN’s Future Power Rankings

  • Redundancy Within Formula: In many ways, this list would have wound up more accurate, honest and interesting if the esteemed panel hadn’t been forced to break down each program into five components. The gimmicky, algorithmic path that they followed may offer more individual points of discussion (Is John Thompson III really that bad a coach? Is the power of Xavier’s program ACTUALLY significantly stronger than Villanova?) , but there’s significant overlap across many of the categories. The delineation between coaching and recruiting is often a difficult one — as Mike Francesa and John Calipari recently discussed — and stability also strongly correlates with a successful, entrenched head coach. In fact, save for Kentucky, every team in the top 10 of the rankings had a stability score that measured within four points of their coaching score (UK received a 98 for coaching and an 88 for stability). Looking elsewhere, recruiting and program power are another pair of categories with predictable overlap, as growth in either category inevitably fuels the other.

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Chaotic Weekend Builds Drama for Regular Season’s Final Act

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 3rd, 2014

It was a weekend that saw 11 ranked teams fall, an unlikely band of Shockers find a small slice of immortality (the regular season variety), and an already jumbled NCAA Tournament bubble grow exponentially more confusing. Ever predictably, the arrival of March meant great drama for college basketball fans. With one week now left in the regular season, here are three key storylines that emerged from a riveting weekend of action on the college hoops hardwood.

Last #1 Seed Up For Grabs

Syracuse Has Suddenly Lost Three Of Four After A 25-0 Start; Can Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis, And Company Right The Ship In Time To Get Back On The #1 Seed Line?

Syracuse Has Suddenly Lost Three Of Four After A 25-0 Start; Can Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis, and Company Right The Ship In Time To Get Back On The #1 Seed Line?

Presumptive #1 seeds Arizona, Florida and Wichita State were all able to avoid the upset bug this weekend, and barring multiple losses in the next two weeks, each seems adequately safe on the top line. But with Syracuse continuing its mini-slide in Charlottesville Saturday afternoon, that fourth #1 seed has no apparent owner heading into the season’s final week. By my count, no fewer than eight teams should still be in play for the honor, although scenarios for five of those squads — Creighton, Michigan, Wisconsin, Villanova and Virginia – would almost surely include winning out through their conference tournaments, and then also getting help from elsewhere. The trio with the firmest grasp on their own fate — Duke, Kansas, and the aforementioned Orange — may not be doing as much Championship Week scoreboard watching as those five teams, but all would still likely need to win out to earn that last #1 seed. But before those three schools face the gauntlet that will be the Big 12 and ACC Tournaments, there is still business to be tended to this week. Despite a date with surging rival UNC (at Cameron), Duke may have the easiest list of chores among the three: KenPom’s predictor gives the Blue Devils a 68 percent chance of finishing off the regular season with a pair of wins. Kansas faces Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse before concluding the regular season with a visit to West Virginia; the latter contest offers a challenge sufficient enough to leave KenPom predicting that a Jayhawks’ final week sweep will occur only 60% of the time (and that number probably does not account for the likelihood that Joel Embiid sits out). Syracuse shouldn’t look past Georgia Tech on Tuesday (don’t forget those Boston College Eagles!), but its Sunday trip to Tallahassee is a significant landmine — significant enough that the Orange are expected to polish off their regular season with two wins just 48 percent of the time. The margin for error is thin for all three of these teams; a loss – no matter where it comes from – would all but end dreams of that fourth #1 seed.

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We Salute You: Paying Homage to the Nation’s Undefeated Teams in League Play

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 6th, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court and spent way too much time on these articles.

With the calendar turned to February and the meat of conference play upon us, the most dominant and least effective teams are showing their colors against equal competition. And with the halfway point of conference season rapidly approaching for many – and already here for others – now is a good time to take stock of both teams that are undefeated in conference and those who have yet to win. Tuesday’s installment took a look at the less fortunate teams among us, ranked from least likely to most to not win a game in conference play. Today, we do the same, but with the 10 teams still undefeated in conference play.

Note: All statistics dutifully harvested from kenpom.com.

Syracuse (22-0, 9-0 Atlantic Coast Conference)

Jim Boeheim has done a masterful job managing his lineup. But will the grind of the ACC season catch up to the Orange? (Getty)

Jim Boeheim has done a masterful job managing his lineup. But will the grind of the ACC season catch up to the Orange? (Getty)

  • Odds: 1.8 percent chance to go undefeated
  • Most likely losses: Feb. 22 at Duke, 67 percent; March 1 at Virginia, 59 percent
  • Biggest strength: Top 10 offense; defensively, second in block rate and steal rate
  • Achilles’ heel: Middle-of-the-road free-throw shooting
  • Key player: Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis (12.1 points per game, 5.6 assists per game, 2.3 steals per game; plays more of his team’s minutes than any other power conference freshman)
  • Outlook: Syracuse’s chances of going undefeated are not equal to their chances of beating the teams on this list. (In fact, I’d take the Orange in each match-up, and I hope that the team most likely to go undefeated and this Syracuse squad end up facing off in the NCAA Tournament, because that would be one hell of a game.) But the Orange still have to go into Cameron Indoor Stadium to face a Duke team that took them to overtime in Syracuse in an instant classic this past weekend. They also have to travel to Virginia and former Big East rival Pittsburgh in the regular season, which are the three toughest away games on their entire schedule. Syracuse has played a grind-it-out slow tempo this season, its seventh straight in which its pace of play has slowed down, going from 27th in tempo in 2007-08 to 344th of 351 teams in 2013-14. That slow tempo lets coach Jim Boeheim play six to seven players regularly, and his starters have played tons of minutes, which could be a big problem as the season drags on or, heaven forbid, a core player gets hurt.

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Saturday Preview: Entering February, Stakes Are Raised

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 1st, 2014

Hello February! College hoops welcomes you into 2014’s second month with a mouth-watering slate of action. You may be sold at “Duke-Syracuse,” but there will be plenty of games that don’t set Carrier Dome attendance records worth watching. That’s not to say that your college basketball fan credentials will be confiscated if you aren’t settling in to your couch for some ACC on ESPN action at 6:30 PM ET today – because they will be – but here are some other storylines to watch on the first day of February.

Perfection Will Be Tested

All Three Unbeatens Are In Action Saturday. With Visitors From Durham In Town, C.J. Fair And Syracuse Look To Be The Most Vulnerable Of The Trio.

All Three Unbeatens Are In Action Saturday. With Visitors From Durham In Town, C.J. Fair And Syracuse Look To Be The Most Vulnerable Of The Trio.

For the first time since 1976, there are three teams 20-0 or better in college basketball, and all three are in action on Saturday. Wichita State shouldn’t have any issues with Evansville (3-6 in the MVC) at The Roundhouse (3:00 PM ET, ESPNU), but both Arizona and Syracuse face serious threats to their dreams of perfection. The Wildcats visit Berkeley to take on a Cal team (10:30 PM ET, P12 Nets) which had been undefeated at home up until Wednesday, when Arizona State squeezed out an overtime win over the Bears. If Mike Montgomery’s team is to add the signature victory of all signature victories to its resume, they will need senior Richard Solomon to have a big game against that impressive Arizona frontcourt. All the way across the country, Duke would be well-served to find a way to match up with the impressive frontcourt of their undefeated opponent. The Blue Devils are not a great rebounding team, but in their game with Syracuse (6:30 PM ET, ESPN), keeping the Orange (ninth nationally in OR%) off the offensive glass will be imperative for Coach K’s squad. On the other end, look for Jabari Parker to get plenty of touches out of the high post. A record crowd is expected at the Carrier Dome for this one, which obviously sounds like good news for Syracuse. Maybe not, though. The last time there was an attendance record set at the dome (last February, versus Georgetown), a do-it-all 6’8” forward named Otto Porter torched the Orange for 33 points and eight rebounds in a lopsided victory for the visitors. Can Parker induce a little déjà vu on Saturday, and end Syracuse’s perfect season while he’s at it?

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While It May be Time for the Final Four to Return to NBA Arenas, No Change is Imminent

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 29th, 2014

It’s getting hard to remember the days when Final Fours weren’t confined to cavernous NFL stadiums. It’s been almost 20 years since the last non-dome Final Four (Continental Airlines Arena and East Rutherford, New Jersey, played host back in 1996), and the streak has also served to rob the two coasts of any national semifinal hosting duties. There had been recent discussion of bringing college basketball’s biggest stage back to NBA arenas, but Monday’s announcement of the finalists for the 2017-20 Final Fours revealed that shift won’t be occurring for at least another seven years, if at all. In theory, the practice of getting as many fans as possible to the event is a noble one – more eyeballs is better, after all – but the continued avoidance of the two coasts (you know, where there are like, a few kind of important cities) is a puzzling oversight by the NCAA. Even forgetting for a moment that nobody wants to visit Indianapolis in April, or that part of what makes college basketball unique is its geographic comprehensiveness, the NCAA’s shunning of east and west coast host sites puzzles on a purely financial level. The brightest spotlight – and relatedly, most money – is to be found in America’s signature cities (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, DC, etc.), most of which can’t currently accommodate the NCAA’s 60,000 minimum seat requirement for a hosting facility. No worries if the host city rotation retains a heavy dose of domes, but NCAA, it makes too much sense (and cents) not to bring the Final Four back to the biggest population centers from time to time.

74,326 Fans Descended On The Georgia Dome For Last Year's Championship Game. A Move Back To NBA Arenas For The Final Four Would Significantly Diminish That Attendance Figure, But The Benefits Could Easily Outweigh The Costs.

74,326 Fans Descended On The Georgia Dome For Last Year’s Championship Game. That Attendance Figure Would Shrink Significantly If The Final Four Moved Back To An NBA Arena, But The Benefits Of Such A Shift Could Outweigh Any Costs

Forgetting practical reasons for a moment, the NCAA’s reluctance to bring the Final Four back to NBA arenas takes away from the ubiquity of the sport’s reach. Professional sports are confined to 40 or so major American cities; college football covers a little more ground, but there are still nine states without an FBS program. In college basketball, only Alaska lacks a D-I college basketball program, and every one of the 351 programs has a “neighbor” within a few hours of them. Hoops covers America unlike any other sport; the game is almost everywhere. Equally spreading Final Four sites around the entire nation is a quixotic notion, but the sizable gap in current coverage doesn’t jive with one of the sport’s most defining elements.

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Checking The Panic Meter: Which Teams Should Really Worry About Their January Swoons?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 24th, 2014

As Brian Otskey noted earlier this week, January losing streaks have caused a number of once-top teams to tumble down, and in some cases, out of the polls. The rigors of conference play have deflowered those gaudy late December records, prompting a number of far-sooner-than-expected reality checks. Past history will tell you that some of these January slumps will be reduced to mere blips on the radar by March (e.g., the defending champion Louisville Cardinals lost three in a row in the first month of 2013), while others are indeed the beginning of a fade into college hoops oblivion. Wondering about future prospects for fading powers? Here’s a look at where the panic meter should be (10=High Panic, 1=Nothing to worry about) for five of college basketball’s most downward-trending squads.

Georgetown: Panic Meter=10

John Thompson III, Markel Starks And Georgetown Suddenly Have Their Backs Against The Wall

John Thompson III, Markel Starks And Georgetown Suddenly Have Their Backs Against The Wall

With Jabril Trawick not expected back anytime soon (broken jaw), and Josh Smith out indefinitely due to academics (don’t forget that Greg Whittington’s “indefinite” academic suspension a year ago eventually caused him to miss the Hoyas’ final 19 contests), Georgetown is clearly undermanned right now. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has been brilliant, and Markel Starks intermittently so, but finding offensive contributions from players who aren’t 6’2” guards has proven impossible since Smith‘s suspension began. With the 10-day forecast looking especially gloomy — top-15 teams Creighton, Villanova and Michigan State are up next for JT3’s club – Georgetown’s season could be very close to finished by the time Super Bowl Sunday arrives. Even if the Hoyas can get Smith and Trawick back by early February, a challenging closing stretch awaits: Six of Georgetown’s final seven opponents are currently ranked in KenPom’s top 75. It’s probably not the way Georgetown wanted to find March peace, but Hoyas’ fans may finally avoid their annual NCAA Tournament heartbreak.

Wisconsin: Panic Meter= 1

If you play basketball in the Big Ten, you are going to lose games. The league is simply too strong top-to-bottom to cruise the entire winter without resistance. Yes, Michigan and Michigan State – losses are coming for you as well (beginning for one of the two on Saturday). In any case, Wisconsin should be just fine. Aside from some struggles from three-point range (likely temporary), the uber-efficient Badgers’ offense has continued to roll, even through their current three-game losing streak. The defense could stand to improve marginally (55th nationally in defensive efficiency), but there is just too much offensive firepower in Madison for Bucky’s train to go too far off the tracks.

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Let’s Open the Wooden Watch List’s Doors Just a Bit Wider

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 22nd, 2014

Earlier today, the Los Angeles Athletic Club released its Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list, a veritable collection of this season’s top performers who are in the running for the sport’s highest individual honor. While the organization got most of the list right, this is sports coverage in 2014, so the proper response to the released list is to immediately poke holes in it and state cases for those who were overlooked. Of course, the way the season is shaping up, this might just serve as a list of Doug McDermott and the players he soundly beat on the way to taking Wooden Award honors in “The Year Of The Freshman.” But if the purpose of the list is to acknowledge players based on their performance thus far this season, there are five who deserve more consideration than they were granted by the LAAC.

Lamar Patterson has led Pitt all season and his Panthers are in first place. That isn't enough for Wooden Watch List spot? (Charles LeClaire/USA Today)

Lamar Patterson has led Pitt all season and his Panthers are in first place in the ACC. That isn’t enough for a Wooden Watch List spot? (Charles LeClaire/USA Today)

  • Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh: 17.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.4 SPG, 122.8 ORtg, 59.8% eFG, 44.3% 3FG – It seems like everything about the Panthers this season has been criminally underrated, including its star forward. The senior has had just one bad game all season long (November 12 against Fresno State), and on the rare occasion when he isn’t an efficient scorer, he still finds ways to help Jamie Dixon’s offense.
  • Joel Embiid, Kansas: 11.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.8 BPG, 67.9% FG, 115.3 ORtg, 68.4% eFG, 12.7% BLK – The Cameroonian freshman exploded onto the scene early in the season, and depending on whom you ask (as well as what time it is), is the leading prospect to be selected with the top pick in this June’s NBA Draft. With Tarik Black combating foul trouble and Perry Ellis fighting inconsistency on a regular basis, it’s tough to picture where the Jayhawks would be if not for its stud rookie center.

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Conference Play Already Delivering Unexpected Drama

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 11th, 2014

We may still be in the nascent period of conference play, but early developments have hinted that a number of league races may not play out as planned. Heading into another good college basketball weekend, here are a few of the more surprising twists supplied by the early days of conference action.

The American Athletic Conference Is Up For Grabs

Remember when Louisville was supposed to be head and shoulders above the rest of this conference? Or when UConn was the Cards’ only real competition for the inaugural AAC crown? Yeah, me neither. Rick Pitino’s team may still be the AAC favorites, but after a non-conference season featuring just one victory over a top-100 team, the recent dismissal of Chane Behanan, and Thursday night’s home loss to Memphis, it’s safe to say that the Cardinals’ grasp on pole position has been significantly weakened. As for the Huskies, an ugly 0-2 beginning to conference play (losses at Houston and SMU) has altered the trajectory of their season. Shabazz Napier and company should be able to handle UCF later today, but with a trip to Memphis and a home date with Louisville looming next week, a 1-4 start to conference play is a definite possibility. It’s not the AAC we expected to see, certainly, but this unforeseen parity could give the league one of the better, more entertaining conference races the rest of the way.

It's Early, But Russ Smith And The Cardinals Have Unexpected Company In Their Chase For The American Athletic Conference Crown

It’s Early, But Russ Smith And The Cardinals Have Unexpected Company In Their Chase For The American Athletic Conference Crown

Butler Still Seeking Its First Big East Win

Expectations were initially modest for Butler this season, but a non-conference campaign with just a pair of minor blemishes – two-point losses to Oklahoma State and LSU – gave hope that the transitions between coaches (Brad Stevens to Brandon Miller) and leagues (A-10 to Big East) might be smoother than expected. Not so much, however, as the Big East has so far proved daunting for the Bulldogs, dropping their first three games: on the road at Xavier, and home games to Villanova and (gasp!) DePaul. Three total overtime periods were needed for those two home defeats, but no number of extra sessions will excuse a loss to DePaul, a program that was 7-86 in the five-plus Big East seasons that preceded their successful trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Bulldogs are better than that Big East record would indicate, but a brutal upcoming schedule has the potential to permanently sink the Butler ship. Georgetown visits Indianapolis tonight, and 11 of the 12 games that follow come against teams in Ken Pom’s current top-75. At least for a season, the Butler faithful may end up missing not only Brad Stevens, but also the Atlantic 10.

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College Basketball is Alive and Well Out West

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 7th, 2014

We have heard plenty about the perceived “East Coast bias” with respect to media coverage of American sport, but when it comes to recent college basketball history, let’s face facts: The Western half of the United States hasn’t done a whole lot for us. No team situated west of Kansas has reached the Final Four since UCLA did it in 2008, and Arizona and Oregon are the only Western programs to even reach a Sweet Sixteen in the last two seasons (both did so last March). The Pac-12, undoubtedly the West’s signature conference, has suffered through a historically depressed string of seasons, with the nadir coming in 2012, when the national polls were “Pac-free” from February on and the league quite nearly went without an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. But the Pac-12 – and much of the rest of the West – is back. Arizona’s steady, month-long reign atop the polls may be the most glaring example of the western resurgence, but a pair of Sunday victories — authored by San Diego State and Colorado – serves notice that the Wildcats may not be the only elite team along the left coast.

San Diego State Seized One Of The Signature Victories Of The Season, And Steve Fisher's Tenure, Sunday At Allen Fieldhouse

San Diego State Seized One Of The Signature Victories Of The Season, And Steve Fisher’s Tenure, Sunday at Allen Fieldhouse

The loudest clamor for respect undoubtedly came from Lawrence, where Steve Fisher’s Aztecs shocked Kansas (and just about everybody else across the country) in ending the Jayhawks’ 68-game home winning streak over non-conference opponents. The final result alone inspires awe, but even more impressive was how San Diego State achieved that end. The Aztecs were unfazed by the bright lights and raucous energy of Allen Fieldhouse; they led for every second of the final 32 minutes of the game. The trademarks of the program that Steve Fisher has built – toughness and physicality on both ends of the floor – were on full display, as the Aztecs snatched 51 rebounds (12 more than the Jayhawks) and harassed Kansas into a 17-of-57 effort from the field.

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