2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by zhayes9 on September 26th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

Following a blissful 2009 that culminated in Roy Williams’ second national championship since taking over at his alma mater, life as a North Carolina basketball fan hasn’t exactly been business as usual. The development of the John Henson-led recruiting class didn’t advance as quickly as hoped, guard play and defense continued to be lingering issues, injuries curtailed the seasons of some key players and a staggering five ACC losses at the Dean Dome followed. This all resulted in a spot in the NIT while their bitter rivals from down Tobacco Road emerged as the final team standing. Don’t feel so sorry for Tar Heel fans, though. With a Hall of Famer at the helm, continued success on the recruiting trail and the history and lore of UNC basketball remaining strong, there won’t be too many more NIT berths on the horizon. With a questionable ACC and arguably the best freshman in the nation wearing the powder blue, a jump from tenth to second in the conference isn’t out of the question (schedule here).

A common Roy Williams expression last season

Team Outlook: One thing that Roy Williams should stress during October practice and even into non-conference play is that every single spot in the starting five is an open competition. There’s talent and potential stardom flooding this roster, but the roles and minutes have yet to be determined. Larry Drew improved his court vision and shooting touch from his freshman to sophomore seasons, but he could be challenged by incoming freshman Kendall Marshall. Williams also has sophomores Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and rookie Reggie Bullock, known for his athleticism and outside shooting, to compete for time in the backcourt. Harrison Barnes will in all likelihood instantly be their most dynamic player. Barnes is a one-and-done who can create his own shot and has such a mature and refined game for an 18-year old. The question mark could be in the frontcourt where it’s yet to be determined if Tyler Zeller can remain healthy and John Henson can contribute more offensively as a sophomore. Both possess the skill level for breakout campaigns, giving Williams plenty of weapons.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 7. After a warm-up against Lipscomb, the Tar Heels embark for Puerto Rico where they’ll be the prohibitive favorites to take the tournament crown. The most threatening obstacles will be Minnesota in the semifinals and a potential championship game against Kevin Jones and West Virginia. After downing Michigan State the last two seasons in the Challenge, Carolina receives another tough test in lllinois on the road. The Illini should be greatly improved in 2010-11 with Demetri McCamey opting to return for a senior season and the skilled frontcourt duo of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. The series with Kentucky continues with the Wildcats visiting the Dean Dome, a young, inexperienced group still likely trying to mesh at that early stage in the season. The final challenge is a semi-home game in Greensboro against Texas after the two teams battled it out in Dallas last December, a hyped battle that turned out to be quite pedestrian when both schools grossly underachieved by seasons end. Carolina also faces rebuilding Rutgers in NYC and travels to Evansville for a game against the Missouri Valley bottom feeder.

Cupcake City: I’d give Williams credit for striking an appropriate balance on the number of challenging games a program with the stature of North Carolina should take on while also sprinkling in a handful of cupcakes that will help this curious team mesh and develop chemistry. The opener against Lipscomb is a glorified exhibition and the Puerto Rico opener against Hofstra shouldn’t be an upset threat unless Williams’ rotation is in flux and CAA POY candidate Charles Jenkins has a career performance. The Heels also draw UNC-Asheville and will be looking for some revenge when College of Charleston comes to town (unbelievably, Carolina was ranked ninth during that upset). Two teams that may challenge the Heels are Long Beach State and William & Mary. The 49ers return their top three scorers under former Minnesota headman Dan Monson. The Tribe, one of the feel-good stories of last season that saw their season end in the NIT against Carolina, brings back Quinn McDowell to a team that attempted the third most three-pointers in the nation last season, a dangerous proposition should they catch fire.

Toughest Early Season Test: Due to Kentucky’s inexperience, the question marks surrounding Texas and the lack of another preseason top-25 caliber school in Puerto Rico, look for the Tar Heels toughest early season test to take place when they travel to Champaign to visit the Orange Krush.  The return of McCamey changed the prospects of this entire team. The 6’3 senior led the nation in assist rate last season and will have an instant matchup advantage against any one of Drew, Marshall or Strickland. Look for sophomores Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson to greatly improve during their sophomore seasons, the twin towers of Davis and Tisdale are back to man the paint and stretch defenses, and head coach Bruce Weber was able to lure McDonalds All-American Jereme Richmond to Illinois. If the leadership and toughness improve this winter, the Illini could very well challenge Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State atop the Big Ten. Harrison Barnes will have to be the best player on the floor for UNC to leave such a rabid atmosphere with a confidence-building victory.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Duke Blue Devils

Posted by zhayes9 on September 10th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

Two years ago at this time, Duke’s bitter rival from down Tobacco Road was being lauded as the unanimous #1 team in the nation. This was a no-brainer designation; after all, North Carolina was returning their top eight scorers from a 36-3 Final Four qualifier. Fast forward to the present and the tables have turned dramatically in college basketball’s most famous rivalry. Now it’s two potential All-Americans returning for a senior campaign and a chance at back-to-back titles. It’s Duke luring in the top freshman guard the high school ranks had to offer. After eight years of disappointing March finishes, the Blue Devils are once again perched high atop college basketball’s landscape, staring down mockingly at all of the haters and doubters below. Two autumns following their bitter rivals earning this same nod, it’s now Duke that deserves the recognition of a unanimous preseason #1 ranking.

Smith teams with Curry, Irving and Dawkins for an explosive backcourt

Team Outlook: While a plethora of talent is back for a repeat run, Mike Krzyzewski will be the first to point out how difficult it will be to replicate last year’s impeccably constructed squad. The regular season wasn’t an easy ride, but by March every player on Duke’s roster knew their roles, accepted their responsibilities and executed to near perfection in an ideal championship concoction. Brian Zoubek was one of the most effective rebounders in the country, notably on the offensive glass, while fellow senior Jon Scheyer anchored the Blue Devil attack with great efficiency and intelligence. The happy ending to this story for Duke fans: they’re replacing Zoubek and Scheyer with more talented basketball players. Mason Plumlee doesn’t quite provide the bulk and rebounding prowess of Zoubek, but his ceiling, athleticism and versatility are measurably higher. Kyrie Irving may not have the wealth of experience of Scheyer, but the comparisons to former Duke POY Jay Williams are nothing to scoff at. Throw in Seth Curry, a Liberty transfer with great genes that averaged 20 PPG as a freshman in the Big South, and the returns of Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith from the championship squad…things are looking fairly promising in Durham, no? A team that goes the entire regular season losing 2-3 games and grabs a #1 seed come March, similar to Kansas’ campaign in 2009-10, is a completely reasonable expectation.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 8.5. Duke has their pick of tournaments and national television events to choose from in November and December. This year, a trip to the CBE Classic to face Marquette and either Kansas State or Gonzaga is the highlight of the non-conference slate. The chance is there to face two potential top ten teams in the tourney final. In a rematch of last year’s national title game that was announced just days after Gordon Hayward’s halfcourt shot barely fell of the iron, Duke and Butler will meet on December 4 at the IZOD Center, an arena the Blue Devils have scheduled games in the past (anyone recall Redick’s shooting clinic vs. #2 Texas?). The biggest confrontation could be the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against Michigan State, a team many are projecting to reach the Final Four for the third consecutive spring. The Spartans will visit Cameron for the highest anticipated pre-conference contest this season. Other tricky games are a home visit from Temple, a trip to St. John’s during ACC play in what could be their toughest test against the Johnnies in years and A-10 sleeper Saint Louis coming to town.

Cupcake City: The cupcakes are few and far between this season for Duke. Princeton doesn’t qualify. It’s the season opener and the Blue Devils should win fairly handily, but the Tigers are the preseason Ivy favorite and play a style not likely to produce blowouts. Miami (Ohio) returns three of their top four scorers and could contend in the MAC, ditto with Bradley in the MVC and UAB in Conference USA. The only true cupcakes are Colgate and Elon coming to Cameron. Given the weight of Duke’s expectations and the number of challenging tests before ACC play even begins, I’d say these glorified exhibitions are more than deserved.

Toughest Early Season Test: I’m of the belief that Gonzaga can absolutely beat Kansas State in the second semifinal at the CBE Classic, but if the favored Wildcats do emerge, they will be Duke’s toughest early season test, possibly even more so than the faceoff with Michigan State within the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor. Kansas State’s frontcourt of Jamar Samuels, Curtis Kelly, Wally Judge and Freddy Asprilla is deep and athletic enough to give Duke a scare. If there’s one weakness to the Blue Devils this season, it’s their lack of frontcourt depth should the Plumlee brothers slip into foul trouble and/or Ryan Kelly doesn’t develop as quickly as hoped after limited experience last season. Samuels, Kelly and the rest could utilize Frank Martin’s brutal, physical style to give Duke fits in the paint. If Gonzaga should come out on top, their frontline of Robert Sacre, Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk may pose the same problems.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Purdue Boilermakers

Posted by zhayes9 on September 7th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

This is the year for Purdue. The Baby Boilers that burst onto the scene as freshmen with a win at the Kohl Center are now wily veterans, seniors on a mission to take that next step to the final Monday of the NCAA Tournament. The progression for the trio of Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson has been steady- a second round falter in 2008, a Sweet 16 loss in 2009 and another in 2010 that could have been so much more had Hummel not torn his ACL at Minnesota in February. The glory of playing under the Final Four’s bright lights in their home state was supposed to be Purdue’s rather than Butler’s to enjoy. The sour taste of how last spring concluded for Purdue has to be incredibly motivating. The return of Johnson and Moore after a brief NBA Draft flirtation immediately validated Matt Painter’s program as one to be reckoned with in 2010-11. West Lafayette’s Big Three have one last chance to accomplish something truly special. The urgency is palpable. Their time is now.

Hummel is the backbone of the Boilermakers

Team Outlook: For the first time since Glenn Robinson was gracing the hardwood, Purdue has legitimate hopes of winning a national title. Matt Painter hit the jackpot with his recruiting class of four years ago and that group’s final chance is quickly approaching. The main questions: Can they replace the toughness, tenacity and selflessness of Chris Kramer? Will JaJuan Johnson play with a fire in his belly from November through March? Can a healthy Lewis Jackson provide steadiness and reliability at the point guard spot? Will there be enough depth if Purdue should fall victim to the injury bug yet again? You won’t find a more complete trio in the nation than Hummel, Johnson and Moore. Painter has instituted a phenomenal man-to-man defense that has resulted in top-16 finishes in defensive efficiency the last four seasons. Those are two ingredients that even the biggest Indiana diehard has to admit gives Purdue a punchers chance to emerge as the final team standing in Houston. Navigating a rough-and-tumble Big Ten with a mountain of pressure and expectations is no piece of cake, but if anyone is up to the task, it’s Painter, Hummel and the talented Boilermakers.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 5. Unlike their rivals and primary Big Ten competition Michigan State, the Boilermakers opted to refrain from loading up their non-conference schedule, although there are three definite tests that lie ahead. Their stiffest challenge is the ACC/Big Ten matchup at Virginia Tech where they’ll have to handle Malcolm Delaney and a raucous Hokie faithful. A close second is a return trip to Morgantown smack dab in the middle of Big Ten play to face Kevin Jones and West Virginia. After winning down in Tuscaloosa last December, the Crimson Tide return with a visit to Purdue’s home floor, although few project Anthony Grant’s team to be NCAA-bound this March. The other intriguing matchup is part of the Chicago Invitational should Purdue beat Southern Illinois and Richmond down Wright State. Richmond features one of the toughest guards in the nation in reigning A-10 Player of the Year Kevin Anderson. The other true road game on the non-conference slate is Valparaiso, a middle-of-the-pack Horizon squad.

Cupcake City: The Boilermakers bring in their fair share of cupcakes to Mackey Arena this year. They’ll likely start with three blowouts against Howard, Alcorn State and Austin Peay, although Oakland could cause some problems in the middle with Keith Benson back for another run at the Summit title. Purdue also welcomes North Florida and IPFW  in December and the defections from Carbondale has left Southern Illinois and head coach Chris Lowery fairly depleted. Indiana State lost two of their top three scorers from a 17-15 (9-9) MVC team. There’s a solid batch of easy sledding for Matt Painter on this year’s non-conference schedule before gearing up for the brutal Big Ten.

Toughest Early Season Test: Richmond may be a borderline Top 25 team for most of the season and the Mountaineers will be anything but a pushover down in Morgantown, but this distinction isn’t even close- the trip to Blacksburg is a game that Purdue absolutely can lose. The Big Ten certainly didn’t catch any breaks with Purdue, Michigan State (at Duke) and Ohio State (at Florida State) all taking difficult road trips this December. Seth Greenberg won’t be hyperventilating this Selection Sunday if his team comes close to playing up to their potential. Almost zero production was lost from a squad that finished 10-6 in the ACC but was relegated to the NIT due to their super-soft non-conference schedule. With ACC POY candidate Malcolm Delaney joining Jeff Allen and Dorenzo Hudson for Virginia Tech‘s own version of the Big Three to match Purdue, Tech could be the main competitor to the Blue Devils in what appears to be a mediocre ACC. Blacksburg will be absolutely rocking for this one. Luckily, Painter has some tremendous seniors that have played in extreme environments many times in the past.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Michigan State Spartans

Posted by zhayes9 on September 2nd, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

If there’s one guarantee when it comes to Michigan State on an annual basis, it’s this: more often than not, the Spartans are playing their best basketball in March when the chips are down and the spotlight shines all that brighter. Since the 1997-98 season, Tom Izzo’s team is an extraordinary 98 games over .500 in Big Ten play and have notched five regular season conference titles, so it’s not as if the Spartans go through the motions for four months before kicking it into high gear in the NCAA Tournament. Still, when Izzo and his program are mentioned on a national scale, it’s normally their spring success that defines the last 13 years at the helm: 9 Sweet 16 berths, 7 Elite 8 appearances, 5 Semifinal Saturday’s and that glorious national title in 2000. Prognosticating is never easy, but judging by the talent returning for Izzo in 2010-11, the Breslin Center rafters may have to clear room for another banner.

Tom Izzo's teams get the job done in March

Team Outlook: Whether Kalin Lucas would have made the difference in Michigan State upending Butler and Duke in last season’s Final Four is up for contentious debate, but one silver lining Spartan fans realized when Lucas tore his Achilles was that they’d have their former Big Ten Player of the Year back for his senior season. While it should take Lucas weeks into the season to regain full health and confidence, he’s surrounded by a supporting cast that can pick up the slack. Draymond Green will be thrust into a starting role he should handle, a unique point-forward with tremendous court vision that can also score inside. A focused Durrell Summers can explode for three-point binges bordering on unstoppable, although he must mold himself into a stronger and more consistent perimeter defender in the absence of transfer Chris Allen. Delvon Roe may finally prove healthy for an entire campaign and Izzo brought in freshman Adreian Payne to aid him in the post. Pending Izzo’s decision on how to handle a recent drunk driving incident, Korie Lucious proved a capable sub for Lucas in State’s tournament push while Keith Appling is another guard with a bright future off the Spartan bench. Michigan State is talented, deep, phenomenally coached and will play in March atmospheres every night in the rugged Big Ten. A preseason #2 ranking will likely follow when October rolls around for a program and a coach that’s used to winning under the brunt of sky-high expectations and a challenging schedule.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 9.5. Combine Izzo’s always-aggressive scheduling strategy with a loaded Big Ten and Michigan State’s slate for the 2010-11 season rivals any Big East death march since that conference expanded. A home date in ESPN’s Tip-Off against South Carolina shouldn’t prove too dramatic of a challenge but the Spartans voyage to Maui will be if a championship goal is met. Believe it or not, Wichita State is a tougher semifinal matchup than Connecticut this season, the preseason Missouri Valley favorite that returns a good chunk of their balanced scoring output. A potential finals meeting with either Kentucky or Washington is waiting should State avoid a “shocking” upset (get it? Wichita State Shockers? Never mind). As a much-needed break a week following Maui, Michigan State gets to face Duke in Cameron Indoor, the loaded preseason #1 team in the nation for what should be the highlight game before the calendar turns to 2011. A week later? The Jimmy V Classic against Syracuse. I’m not done- in late December the Spartans continue their series with Texas on their home floor in East Lansing. That’s the potential to face plenty of stiff competition heading into a treacherous Big Ten.

Cupcake City: As any Divison I coach would at this high of a level, Izzo managed to sneak in a few cupcakes to give his Spartans brief reprieves around those hyped matchups. As the team projected to do the most damage this season, State draws Division II Chaminade in their quarterfinal Maui game. The Spartans open the regular season against Eastern Michigan on November 12 and will face Tennessee Tech in their first game back from the islands. One team that could give the Spartans a bit of a scare is Oakland, last year’s Summit champions that received the tremendous news this spring that Keith Benson would be returning for his senior season. If the Golden Grizzlies secondary pieces can step up following the losses of Johnathon Jones and Derick Nelson, this battle at Auburn Hills could be a sneaky one for Izzo. The only other semi-soft team on the docket is Bowling Green. Combine this non-conference schedule with what’s expected to be a strong in-conference slate and it’d be shocking if the Spartans didn’t finish the season with a top-three SOS, which is always a welcomed RPI booster.

Toughest Early Season Test: This one is fairly obvious, no? One year after being thrown to the wolves at what ended up being an underachieving North Carolina squad, it’s Michigan State once again making the trek to Tobacco Road to face likely-#1 Duke on December 1. When Izzo received the news that Lucas was returning to go with an already established core, he had to know the ACC/Big Ten Challenge would likely pit his Spartans in the most marquee contest possible. I can easily envision Duke pulling off similar to what Kansas accomplished last season- nearly a wire-to-wire spot atop the rankings with two or three slip-ups all season long. Although I’m of the opinion they’ll miss Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek more than anticipated given how challenging it is to find a team that played their roles so effectively as last season’s Blue Devil squad mastered, there’s truly an unfair amount of talent returning to the defending champs. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are both ACC Player of the Year candidates, Coach K lured the top incoming guard in the nation to Durham in Kyrie Irving, they boast the Plumlee brothers in the post and Seth Curry is quite the weapon off the bench. The Spartans will have their hands full in Durham especially if Lucas isn’t playing at 100% to limit Duke’s dynamic frosh.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Florida Gators

Posted by rtmsf on August 31st, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

Two NIT berths and one questionable NCAA bid following the first back-to-back title run since the Laettner and Hurley-led Dukies of the early 1990’s, Billy Donovan can finally approach a season without the sour taste of an early NBA/overseas defection, instead focusing on the welcomed expectation of an SEC title. Just as we did with conference rival Kentucky last week, here’s a breakdown of the Florida Gators schedule in their quest to return to the pinnacle of college basketball.

Team Outlook: The moment 6’8 junior forward Alex Tyus opted to complete his four years in Gainesville rather than enter the NBA Draft early, Billy Donovan knew he had a team that could compete for an SEC crown on his hands. Blindsided by the sudden departures of Marreese Speights and Nick Calathes in recent years, Donovan’s only loss would be that of role player Dan Werner. Adding a talented recruiting class led by rugged forward Patric Young and versatile wing Casey Prather to a core returning all five starters meant Donovan finally had some continuity with his program. The group returning isn’t exactly that of Duke, Purdue or Michigan State, though. After all, the Gators finished a mediocre 9-7 in SEC play and lost four of five down the stretch, putting their eventual NCAA Tournament bid in serious jeopardy. Donovan hopes that another year of development for blue chip recruit Kenny Boynton will pay dividends, Tyus and Vernon Macklin can hold down the middle, Erving Walker continues to dish out assists at a high rate and Chandler Parsons pulls some more late-game heroics out of his hat. A successful season followed by Mike Rosario and Bradley Beal entering the fray in 2011 could vault the Gators back to the hoops elite after a three year hiatus.

Donovan Returns All Five Starters From an NCAA Team

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 8. Coach Donovan struck an appropriate balance of challenging non-conference games and SEC warm-ups for his Gators. Florida will participate in the ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon with a primetime battle at home against Ohio State. They might be drawing the Buckeyes at the right time with their point guard situation in flux and the Buckeyes looking to form an identity post-Evan Turner. The Florida-Florida State series continues in late November with the Gators traveling to Tallahassee to take on a talented Seminoles team with, once again, NCAA Tournament expectations. Chris Singleton should be a difficult matchup for the Florida frontline. Similar to their December contest with Syracuse in Tampa last year, Donovan scheduled a top-five preseason team in Kansas State in what should be one of the most anticipated non-conference games around the country. A New Year’s Eve trip to the Queen City to face a Xavier team that returns three starters from a Sweet 16 qualifier should prove another stiff test.

Cupcake City: The Gators did apply some frosting to their schedule, but they didn’t go overboard. A few of the games should be relative cakewalks — UNC-Wilmington, North Carolina A&T, Florida Atlantic, Jacksonville and Radford have the makings of easy Gator victories (don’t tell Donovan that after Florida’s stunning home loss to South Alabama last season). There are some sneaky challenges thrown in, too. Morehead State and double-double machine Kenneth Faried will be Murray State’s biggest challenger in the OVC again; they visit Gainesville on November 21. Kent State recoups three of their top four scorers from a team that won the MAC regular season title. With Siena losing talented seniors and their coach, it is Fairfield expected to take the crown in the MAAC. Rhode Island returns enough of a core to contend in the competitive Atlantic 10. The Gators also have tricky road trips to nearby Orlando to take on UCF and Washington, D.C., to face American.

Toughest Early Season Test: The neutral site meeting with Kansas State on December 18 has all the makings to be Florida’s toughest non-conference test and a meeting of two top-ten teams. The Wildcats enter the season with some questions, notably how Jacob Pullen will handle pulling double duty with Denis Clemente no longer around to run the offense and how much the loss of Dominique Sutton to transfer will affect their interior presence and physicality. Even so, most prognosticators would peg K-State to take the Big 12 title with Pullen returning and a breakout expected from forward Curtis Kelly. Frank Martin also trots out a deep frontline that will test Parsons, Tyus, Macklin and the freshman Young inside early in his college career. How Erving Walker defends Pullen on the perimeter could also determine the outcome in front of what should be a primarily pro-Gator crowd.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by zhayes9 on August 27th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

After dissecting a trio of Big 12 teams in prior weeks, more and more elite programs are releasing their 2010-11 schedules to the masses. Let’s continue with Kentucky, a squad that reloaded following the departure of an astounding five first round draft picks.

With so much turnover, Calipari has another tough coaching job on his hands

Team Outlook: A fan base as rabid and fanatical as Kentucky’s surely awaited this week’s announcement with tremendous anticipation. Big Blue Nation has expectations for their Wildcats that perennially surpass any other program in the nation. Their point guard and this April’s #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, John Wall, will be replaced by Brandon Knight, whose high school accolades and ranking matches those of his predecessors under John Calipari. If deemed eligible by the NCAA, Enes Kanter will fill the post presence left by the ultra-productive DeMarcus Cousins. Similarly to Kanter, Terrence Jones spurned Washington and headed to Kentucky, a 6’9 wing very capable of matching the offensive production provided by Eric Bledsoe a season ago. The key word for Kentucky and Calipari since he took the helm: replenish. And if Knight, Kanter and Jones are history next April, three more top-ten recruits will fill the void. It’s a tall task for Knight and Kanter to match the contributions of Wall and Cousins, two of the top three players in the sport last season. Still, with such talent abounding, a wide open SEC, and the true dribble-drive offense back into high gear, to expect a giant step back from Big Blue and underestimating the coaching prowess of Calipari would be a grave mistake.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 7.5. A program with the visibility and significance of Kentucky should challenge themselves at every chance. Forced out of necessity more than choice to load up in November and December at Memphis, Calipari has utilized that same strategy in Lexington. The potential is there to face fellow powerhouses at least in terms of college basketball history: North Carolina, Michigan State, Louisville, Indiana, Notre Dame, Washington and Oklahoma, although these teams remain at varying degrees of competitiveness. Kentucky will surely attract an enormous contingent to Maui where they could face a top-ten team in the semifinals in Washington and a top-two team in the finals, Michigan State. North Carolina is still working its way back up to elite status following last year’s NIT berth, but the young Wildcats’ trip to the Dean Dome won’t be any sort of cakewalk. The same theory applies to Louisville on New Year’s Eve, the next chapter of one of the fiercest rivalries the sport knows. A matchup with possible NCAA squad Notre Dame should also prove competitive. Kentucky gets everyone’s best shot, and it’s no relief for Calipari that up to seven non-conference contests will be either on true road or neutral floors.

Cupcake City: Two notable cupcakes travel to Lexington when Mississippi Valley State and Coppin State make the trip for what should be 40-point blowouts, but other than that Calipari did a solid job limiting the scrubs. East Tennessee State returns their top three scorers from an NCAA Tournament team that was blown out in the first round by, you guessed it, Kentucky. I’m not saying the Wildcats are vulnerable to lose to the Buccaneers, but they will not be a total walkover. Winthrop rode a Big South Cinderella run to an NCAA bid and is on the slate. Boston University with John Holland and Jake O’Brien is halfway decent, while a Maui tune-up in Portland against the rebuilding Pilots will provide a raucous atmosphere. Last season, Kentucky did struggle a bit early in the campaign against Miami (OH), Stanford and Sam Houston State while Calipari determined roles and rotations for a plethora of new players. If the same holds true a year later, Portland and BU could be pesky opponents.

Toughest Early Season Test: It’s far from a guarantee that Kentucky downs Washington in the Maui semifinals. After all, the Huskies return the majority of their backcourt led by Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton and Abdul Gaddy with a frontcourt anchored by Matthew Bryan-Amaning and a talented newcomer in Terrence Ross. Plus, they should have plenty of motivation to knock Kentucky down a few pegs following the Kanter and Jones situations that have been rehashed continuously. If the Wildcats can survive Washington, and I have a sneaking suspicion they will, Michigan State awaits in the final if the Spartans can knock off Connecticut or Wichita State (unless they pull a Virginia against Chaminade). The Spartans return their entire Final Four squad with the exception of Raymar Morgan and Chris Allen. Containing Kalin Lucas is baptism by fire for green Brandon Knight, while wing Darius Miller may have the unenviable task of chasing around three-point bomber Durrell Summers. The Spartans will likely be ranked number two in the nation behind Duke at this point. Win or lose, the learning experience will certainly be valuable for the young Wildcats.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Baylor Bears

Posted by zhayes9 on August 19th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

Continuing our Big 12 theme after a breakdown of Kansas and Texas, let’s dissect the Baylor Bears on their quest to accomplish what Butler did this April: play a Final Four in their home state.

Drew has led Baylor out of the Big 12 basement

Team Outlook: Baylor head coach Scott Drew lost two indispensable components to any successful college basketball team this summer with the graduation of senior point guard/assist machine Tweety Carter and interior defensive force Ekpe Udoh to the NBA Draft. Replacing the leadership and experience of Carter coupled with Udoh’s double-double tendencies in the post usually means a giant step back for a program that’s not considered a hoops powerhouse. Mass defections in the Big 12 help the cause, but expectations for 2010-11 are really not all that different from a season ago. It’s entirely possible blue chip freshman Perry Jones can equal or surpass the production of Udoh, and A.J. Walton showed enough glimpses of potential during his freshman year that the loss of Carter won’t sting so harshly. LaceDarius Dunn opting to return also helps plenty. Drew and this Baylor program have reached the point where reloading, rather than rebuilding, is the name of the game.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 5.5. For a team trying to enter the upper echelon of the Big 12 on a consistent basis, it’s a tad surprising Drew didn’t opt to challenge Baylor more during the non-conference slate. Baylor’s schedule looks like a walk in the park relative to Kansas, Texas or Kansas State, but there are some frisky teams on the docket just prior to Big 12 competition. Baylor will participate in ESPN’s 24-Hour Hoops Marathon with a mid-afternoon tilt against a La Salle team not expected to contend in the Atlantic 10. Their assigned game in the Pac-10/Big 12 Hardwood Series is a home date with Arizona State, a squad projected to be near the bubble this season. In fact, the Bears don’t leave Texas until the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu where they’ll face either Mississippi State or Washington State after likely dispatching of San Diego in the quarters. Either Butler or Florida State may wait for the final. The jewel of the non-conference schedule is a matchup with Gonzaga in Dallas on December 18.

Cupcake City: The frosting is a bit too heavy on Baylor’s cupcake for my liking. Drew loaded the slate with a plethora of teams the Bears should run over. These opponents include Grambling State, Jackson State, Lipscomb, Prairie View A&M and Bethune-Cookman prior to the Gonzaga meeting and Texas Southern and Morgan State just before Big 12 play, seven teams mired in the dregs of Division I. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the February 15 breather against Wayland Baptist. Was Texas Pan-American not available? NJIT? It’s one thing to throw in a handful of semi-talented mid-majors, but these are mostly teams in the MEAC and SWAC. I’m not sure how scheduling these games do Baylor, a team that returns a fair chunk of talent, any good. If anything, the committee will penalize the Bears come Selection Sunday with all of these wins against sub-300 RPI squads.

Toughest Early Season Test: The nationally televised clash with Gonzaga in Dallas (a doubleheader at the home of the Mavericks with Texas A&M taking on Arkansas in the undercard) is the prize of the early season portion of the schedule. Gonzaga returns four starters from a squad that won another WCC regular season title and is projected to finish in the top 20 this year. The Baylor frontline of Quincy Acy, Perry Jones and Anthony Jones should have a difficult time containing the Gonzaga attack of versatile threat Elias Harris and seven-footer Robert Sacre. The Zags also boast Steven Gray, a capable outside shooter that can stretch the Baylor defense and open space for Harris and Sacre to operate. Going up against Gonzaga in the non-conference is dangerous. They need these RPI-boosting victories playing in a conference that doesn’t provide many tests.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Class Schedule 2010-11: Texas Longhorns

Posted by zhayes9 on August 15th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

After looking at Kansas last week, here’s a breakdown of Big 12 foe Texas and their quest to avenge last season’s disappointing collapse:

Gary Johnson: no longer a role player

Team Outlook: Rick Barnes lost three of his most productive players from last year’s up-and-down campaign. The fact that all three of those cogs were selected in the top-32 of the NBA Draft renders their descent from #1 ranked team to first round flameout all that more disturbing. Barnes and his burnt orange faithful are ready to look forward to a new season where, due to the incredible depth assembled last season, the drop-off talent wise isn’t monumental. While Kansas State, Baylor and Kansas are primed to finish in some order atop the Big 12, Texas isn’t too far behind. It’s also not blasphemy to suggest that the loss of a handful of bodies could be addition by subtraction for a coach that often struggled to maintain a consistent rotation. From scoring wing Jordan Hamilton to the rugged play of Gary Johnson to the lockdown defense of Dogus Balbay and a star studded recruiting class, the Longhorns could very well see their season last longer than it did last March.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 8.5. Coach Barnes has never been shy about loading up his non-conference schedule. That strategy certainly didn’t change in 2010 with a number of powerhouse programs both on the road and in Austin featured on the slate. After two warm-ups at home, Texas will travel to NYC for the 2K Sports Classic and face Illinois, a projected top-25 team that returns nearly all of their production from a year ago. Emerge victorious and it’s likely the Longhorns will face a Pitt team that brings back everyone but Jermaine Dixon from a squad that collected a #3 seed out of the always-challenging Big East. Texas was paired with USC in the Pac-10/Big 12 Hardwood series game to be played out in LA. Finally, four rematch games will provide Texas with a challenge- December 18 vs. North Carolina in Greensboro, four days later in a true road game at Michigan State and two early January home dates with Arkansas and Connecticut.

Cupcake City: To avoid burning out his team, Barnes did schedule a few walkover games. Louisiana Tech is one of the two warm-ups for New York, but the Bulldogs lost both Kyle Gibson and Magnum Rolle. Sam Houston State is on the slate, a program that gave Baylor a brief scare in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last March, yet once again they were hit hard by graduation. Texas State could contend in the Southland with a fair share of talent returning. Other squads on the slate include North Florida, Lamar, Coppin State and Rice with none of these contests on the road or on neutral floors. The Longhorns should cruise through these games.

Toughest Early Season Test: A matchup with Pitt at NYC would provide a stiff test, but this one isn’t even close: a true road game at Michigan State, a team that could easily be #1 in the nation when the Longhorns invade the Breslin Center. State only lost Raymar Morgan to graduation off of  last year’s Final Four club that completed the run without the services of star point guard and potential First Team All-America Kalin Lucas. Other than possibly Jacob Pullen, containing Lucas sets up to be Balbay and stud freshman Cory Joseph’s toughest task. Forwards Gary Johnson and the other star frosh Tristan Thompson will have their hands full with a healthy Delvon Roe and Draymond Green. The Spartans are also incredibly deep and always well-coached. Still, they have been vulnerable in the last couple seasons to losses on their home floor. Texas will need an A+ effort to accomplish that feat.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Class Schedule 2010-11: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by zhayes9 on August 9th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

If you’ve been a visitor to RTC since last summer, you’ll remember our Class Schedule feature during the offseason, one in which we dissect and analyze the schedules of the most notable teams in the nation, from the easiest to the hardest stretch, the most intense rivalry to the early season tune-ups, upset watch to best individual matchup. If your team is lingering around the expected preseason top 25, their schedule will be scrutinized in the next couple of months. There’s no rhyme or reason to the madness, just a prominent school every few days as the releases begin to trickle out from the respective schools (up next is Texas).

Team Outlook: As we did last summer, let’s start with the Kansas Jayhawks (schedule here). Kansas saw another mass defection similar to the post-Chalmers shot version of Rock Chalk, but just as that team barely blinked on their way to a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, we don’t expect much rebuilding this winter in Lawrence, either. Marcus Morris returns as a candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year and one of the most skilled big men in the country. Josh Selby enters as one of the most heralded freshmen in the nation and could step in as starting point guard immediately. There’s plenty of talent around Morris and Selby that have the chance to make a leap forward, from enigmatic wing Tyshawn Taylor to athletic forward Thomas Robinson and Marcus’ brother, Markieff Morris. The reloading of this roster should be strong enough to maintain a spot in the polls wire to wire with a chance that Bill Self hoists his seventh consecutive conference crown next March.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 6. Kansas’ non-conference games remind me of Notre Dame’s football schedule every fall- a slate chocked full of “name” programs that, well, shouldn’t be all that powerful when the dust clears. At first glance, one can’t help be impressed by the names: UCLA, Arizona, Michigan, California, USC, Memphis. And yet, in all likelihood only Memphis has a legitimate chance to sniff the Top 25 this season unless things come together for Ben Howland awfully quickly, and even the Tigers were just dealt a potentially devastating blow this past week. Give Self credit, though. He couldn’t have anticipated the Pac-10 would be mired in such a down spiral and he could have drawn top-15 Syracuse or top-five Michigan State in the Jimmy V Classic instead. As it stands right now, Kansas should be favored in every single non-conference game this year. Their only true road games are at California and at Michigan, two teams that are in the process of re-stocking their squads and could find themselves missing out on postseason play altogether in 2011.

Cupcake City: With six games against “name” schools and Colorado State thrown in, the frosting isn’t piled on too heavy for Kansas. Even two of their weaker non-conference games come against teams that played in last year’s NCAA Tournament- North Texas and Ohio. The Mean Green are expected to win the Sun Belt once again with three of their top four scorers returning, while the Bobcats have four double-digit scorers not named Armon Bassett back in Athens following their improbable blowout of Georgetown last March.  Another team that could hang with a Kansas team still feeling each other out in mid-November is a talented Homer Drew coached Valparaiso squad. The teams that Kansas should run roughshod over in Lawrence include Longwood, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, UT-Arlington and UMKC. Also: ask Kentucky if you should overlook Miami (OH).

Toughest Early Season Test: As we mentioned, California and Michigan are rebuilding, rendering those true road games a bit lower on the difficulty scale (although it wouldn’t be wise to overlook any true road game in college basketball). The stiffest challenge should come from Memphis in the first game of the Jimmy V Classic doubleheader on December 7. Memphis is one of the few teams that can match Kansas’ explosiveness and athleticism. Even factoring in the Will Barton fiasco, Josh Pastner brings in two other five-star recruits in small forward Jelan Kendrick and Memphis native point guard Joe Jackson. They’ll join forces with returnees Will Witherspoon, Will Coleman and sleeper Angel Garcia to reclaim what they believe is their rightful spot atop Conference USA. Remember last season when a less talented Tigers squad took the Jayhawks down to the wire in November?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story