On This Season’s Gonzaga Dilemma

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 9th, 2015

Two years ago, the debate raged. Did Gonzaga, the #1 team in both polls on Selection Sunday, really deserve a #1 seed? It was a question rarely faced by teams towering over the polls at such a late juncture, but the Zags’ 31-2 record didn’t impress everyone. Critics brought up the weak WCC. They pointed out an unflattering RPI ranking of #8. More anecdotally, they looked up and down the Gonzaga roster and asked — other than Kelly Olynyk — where all the pros were. The Zags claim to a #1 seed was as energized a debate as any on Selection Sunday in March 2013.

Mark Few, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Are Steering Gonzaga Towards Yet Another Dominant Regular Season Finish. Will The Zag's Disappointing 2013 NCAA Tournament Showing Impact This Team's Spot Within The Bracket?

Mark Few, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Are Steering Gonzaga Towards Yet Another Dominant Regular Season Finish. Will The Zags’ Disappointing 2013 NCAA Tournament Showing Impact This Team’s Placement Within The Bracket?

That story’s ending shouldn’t have escaped memory yet (Cliff Notes: #1 seed granted, but Sweet Sixteen appearance sold separately) and it may have more damage to deliver the Bulldogs. This season boasts an equally dominant Gonzaga outfit and a similarly helpless WCC, which puts Mark Few’s team on a crash course for a familiar Selection Sunday predicament. After easily knocking off San Francisco on Thursday night, the 15-1 Bulldogs look as poised as ever to rip through a soft WCC and reach Selection Sunday with just one loss, an overtime defeat at Arizona (who is kind of good!). Early results indicate competition for the four #1 seeds is likely to be even fiercer this season than it was two years ago, but this Gonzaga group also looks to be stronger as well. Dominoes in the race for a #1 seed will be falling from now until March — in both Spokane and elsewhere — but round two of the great Gonzaga debate is coming. There’s no reason not to begin considering the question now: Will the kings of the WCC deserve to be on the bracket’s top line?

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Morning Five: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 9th, 2015

morning5

  1. Illinois suffered a huge loss when Rayvonte Rice, the team’s leading scorer, broke his left hand in practice on Monday. Rice, who was averaging 17.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, is expected to miss the next three to six weeks, but that all depends on how he responds to the surgery. For Illinois, which managed to knock off Maryland in its first game without Rice, they now face an uphill battle if they hope to make it to the NCAA Tournament. While their win against Maryland (and the relatively weak Big Ten this year) might give Illinois fans a reason to believe they will be able to survive Rice’s absence, the reality is that they probably lack the firepower now to be competitive with the top of the conference.
  2. It takes a lot for a rehearsed recruiting announcement to catch our attention, but when you announce that you are committing to a different school than you actually are, we notice. So when Carlton Bragg, a five-star forward in the class of 2015, announced that he was going to Kentucky, but put a Kansas cap on (he is going to Kansas…we think) it caught our attention. Bragg could find himself in a crowded Kansas frontcourt, but for now he does not appear to have any issues with that saying, “I don’t really care for minutes, I just want to be part of the team.” For what its worth, Bragg isn’t the first Kansas commit to confuse people during his announcement as Cliff Alexander faked out Illinois fans last year by reaching for their hat before going for a Kansas hat. Unlike last year, we doubt that there will be much sympathy for Kentucky fans who finally missed out on a big-name target.
  3. If Syracuse fans were hoping that DaJuan Coleman could be the missing piece to help turn their season around, they can forget about that now as the junior center has opted to officially redshirt this year. The news should not be that big of a surprise since Coleman has not played in a year after injuring his knee on January 7, 2014. Although Coleman’s prior production (4.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season) might not seem worth noting, he was a big-time prospect coming out of high school and a great deal of his poor production can be traced back to his injuries. His redshirt could help Syracuse going forward by giving them more experience in the frontcourt in coming years.
  4. It looks like we may have seen the last of Kuran Iverson in a Memphis uniform. The 6’9″ sophomore, who had been averaging 4.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game, was suspended for two games earlier this week for an unspecified violation of team rules. He compounded that infraction by retweeting a tweet critical of Josh Pastner although he subsequently deleted that retweet. We don’t know much about Iverson’s background in terms of legal issues and his interactions with Pastner, but we would be surprised to see him in a Memphis jersey again.
  5. Proponents of increasing benefits for student-athletes appear to have received a small victory as the NCAA is trying a pilot program where they will pay for travel for the families of players competing in the men’s and women’s Final Four. The families of players competing in the college football title game will also be provided with this benefit. The football players will be allotted $3,000 (from the College Football Playoff not the NCAA) to cover their family’s expenses (travel, accommodations, meals, etc) while basketball players will receive $4,000 from the NCAA for those expenses. We are not sure how this will be enforced as players can definitely find ways to take advantage of this particularly if their families live near the venues, but overall it appears to be a victory for student-athletes albeit a very small subsection of them.

A Column of Enchantment: People Hate Kentucky, Expect Nothing, Unicorns…

Posted by Joseph Nardone on January 8th, 2015

We made it through the marathon known as the holidays. This is a good thing for so many different reasons. Between ridding yourselves of unwanted family time, being able to start making your checking account look (semi) decent, all the way to not needing to tippy-toe around the idea of a scary, bearded man sneaking down your chimney being a good thing, and not a thing that your children should fear and an event which shouldn’t result in you calling Dateline ID for some new story — it is over. It is all over. Let the sanity of normal life begin, except not at all.

You people are all batpoop insane. Not normal insane or just a little bit insane or Gary Busey insane, but batpoop insane. Batpoop insane, by my definition, is just above Busey insane yet two tiers lower than being I have to punch that old lady for a baseball in the stands insane. I say that because of my Twitter timeline. A combination of the people I follow, the people they retweeted, and the not so smart idea of doing a Twitter search made my eyeballs want to escape the depths of my cranium. Why? Because it seems like a very large number of humans really hate Kentucky.

Why?  (USA TODAY Sports)

Why? (USA TODAY Sports)

With Ole Miss taking the Wildcats down to the wire on Tuesday night it seemed like everyone and their (respective) mothers were rooting for Big Blue Nation to falter. But why? I am seriously curious about this certain type of bizzaro fandom. I get rooting for your team to the point of it being unsettling and even bordering on inappropriate, although, I have yet to understand the type of fandom which results in people hating teams or conferences or athletes that much. Sans the few examples of certain athletes being worse than an evil-doer in The Walking Dead or being nauseated by the oversaturation of certain conferences, what makes a person hate a team so much? I am genuinely curious.

I get being jealous of Kentucky’s success or — to some extent — not being in love with John Calipari’s one-and-done approach. Still, shouldn’t we be celebrating what and how they do it? I mean, in an age when everyone complains about selfish players and whatnot, Calipari continues to recruit tippy-top-recruits (how do I get a patent?) and convinces them to play unselfishly, putting their numbers and individual accolades to the wayside, all in favor of Kentucky basketball. It is the same thing people used to do when they applauded Coach K’s methods during Duke’s great runs. However, because Cal and/or Kentucky basketball is less likable because I haven’t the slightest, people continue to hammer them for whatever reasons they can find and instead of celebrating a close win after a two-week layoff they rather poke holes in all things surrounding the program.

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Who’s Got Next? Blakeney to LSU & UNC Gets a Felton…

Posted by Sean Moran on January 8th, 2015

http://rushthecourt.net/mag/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/whosgotnext.jpg

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. 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.

Antonio Blakeney Looks to Turn LSU into a Basketball School

LSU is a football power that signs five-star recruits and churns out top 10 recruiting classes on a routine basis, but with last week’s commitment from five-star guard Antonio Blakeney, the Tigers’ basketball program is now joining in on the fun. It’s rare for LSU to nab five-star recruits in roundball, much less two five-star recruits in one class, but LSU now has commitments from the No. 5 ranked shooting guard to go along with forward Ben Simmons, one of the top high school players in the country.

Blakeney, a 6’4” shooting guard, originally committed to Louisville after taking in the school’s first ACC football game but subsequently backed out of the decision. Rumors then ran wild that the Floridian, who played on a Nike-backed AAU team, had de-committed due to Louisville’s contractual shoe affiliation with Adidas. Blakeney went on to visit three different SEC schools — LSU, Kentucky and Missouri — before choosing the Tigers based on his relationships with head coach Johnny Jones and assistant coach David Patrick. In an interview with Scout.com, Blakeney discussed his reasoning behind the decision: “Kind of just the story and the plan he [Jones] has for the program, period. LSU is a football school and he’s trying to change it to a basketball school. Last few years he’s gotten good players like Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey. All those guys were top 80 in the country.”

While Blakeney has clearly developed a bond with the coaching staff in Baton Rouge, he will also gets to play with his AAU teammate and friend, the uber-talented Simmons. The Australian-born senior is a 6’8” small forward who came to the United States during his freshman season and played with Blakeney last summer on the Nike EYBL circuit. Possessing the ball-handling skills of a guard, Simmons is listed as the first or second-best player in his class by every recruiting publication. He committed to the Tigers more than 15 months ago in large part because Patrick is Simmons’ godfather and had played professionally with Ben’s father in Australia.

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The RTC Podcast: Conference Openers Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 7th, 2015

Happy New Year, everyone, and welcome back to the RTC Podcast. After a bit of a hiatus for the holidays, the guys returned in earnest this week with Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) jumping on to help us evaluate the non-conference part of the season and look ahead to conference play. With three remaining unbeatens, a slew of one-loss teams, and a national narrative that is trending toward Kentucky and everyone else, we focused on the turning point of the season that is represented by the beginnings of conference play. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts. The full rundown is below.

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record, and feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-9:19 – Seton Hall & the Big East
  • 9:19-13:54 – Other Surprise Teams
  • 13:54-29:45 – Early Week Results (Notre Dame-UNC, Oklahoma-Texas, Ole Miss-Kentucky)
  • 29:45-33:47 – Survivor Update
  • 33:47-37:07 – UCLA Struggles
  • 37:07-39:55 – Most Entertaining Conference
  • 39:55-52:14 – You, Me and the AP (Georgetown & Gonzaga)
  • 52:14-57:05 – Week Preview

RTC Weekly Primer: An Ode to the Big 12

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 6th, 2015

Money talks. It’s an unavoidable and unfortunate truth. In almost any facet of life, money is persuasive. Whether indirectly or directly, visibly or otherwise, it influences the decisions we make, creates irresistible motives, and causes things to happen that are otherwise undesirable. It’s an unparalleled force. A few years ago, the Big 12 was a victim of the almighty dollar’s faculties. It succumbed to money’s authority. Between 2010-13, while the league went about its business playing collegiate sports in the midsection of America, it was relentlessly under siege. Driven by economic motives, the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 ravaged it, pilfering four of its 12 members and rearranging the landscape of college sports. During this period of extreme uncertainty, there were thoughts of dissolution. There appeared to be a significant chance that the Big 12 would soon cease to exist. At the very least, it had been weakened as it’s BCS brethren had beefed up. These were times filled with worry; with concern; with fear.

The Big 12 May Have Lost the Football Wars This Year, But It is Killing the Basketball Side (USA Today Images)

The Big 12 May Have Lost the Football Wars This Year, But It is Killing the Basketball Side (USA Today Images)

Several years later, with all of that uncertainty now in the rear view mirror, money seems somewhat irrelevant. It still talks, and the economic side of Big 12 sports might not be as lucrative as that of the Big Ten or SEC. But money doesn’t automatically result in good basketball. And in 2014-15, while the Big Ten and SEC are crammed with mediocrity, the conference that once looked in serious danger is thriving. Seven of the 10 conference teams currently rank in KenPom’s Top 25, while only eight from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC collectively make the cut. In an age where money increasingly steps to the forefront of any discussions on college sports, there remains a majestic purity about this sport. And as conference play gets underway in the Big 12, that purity will be as enjoyable and as evident as ever. It’ll also produce night after night of high-quality basketball.

Three for the Money

Kansas at Baylor | Wednesday, 9:00 p.m. EST, ESPNU

Where else to start but with the Big 12? As will be the case many times this year, there are multiple mouth-watering match-ups in conference play, but any game that involves Kansas still draws extra attention. It’s an annual tradition around this time of year to pose the question, “Is this the year that somebody finally unseats Kansas atop the Big 12?” But this year, such an inquiry might just have a little more merit to it. Baylor isn’t necessarily one of the teams that could knock the Jayhawks from their perch — that responsibility should fall to Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State. But the Bears are an outstanding example of the depth of the league. Picked sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll, Scott Drew’s squad has been steadily improving this season. Led by a physically imposing front line that pounds the offensive glass as well as anybody in the country, Baylor won’t be an easy out for anybody. And especially not for a Kansas team that, despite only two losses and several good wins, hasn’t looked vintage. It is important to note that we’ve seen the stage set like this before only to have the Jayhawks hit their stride in early February and run away from the pack. But the backcourt of Frank Mason and Wayne Selden is a far cry from what Self has had in Lawrence over the years. The interesting match-up here, however, is down low, where Kansas’ forwards, specifically Cliff Alexander, will have to brandish their Big 12 title winning credentials and show some requisite toughness.

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RTC Rewind: Virginia Survives, Others Not So Lucky…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 5th, 2015

Last Tuesday, in the first Weekly Primer of conference play this season, I wrote the following: “The beginning of conference play is important, not just because attention ratchets up and the momentous games come in droves, but because these first few weeks are full of realizations. This is when we start to get a true feel for individual teams.” A little later on, I concluded the paragraph with this: “We’ll learn a lot these next few weeks. Or at the very least, we’ll think we have.” With one week in the books – for some, two games; for others, one game; for still others, none – it’s time to start making decisions. What do we think we know? Which 2-0 conference starts are flukes? Which upsets are signs of bigger and better things to come? Which conference races are starting to take shape? Which are still complete crapshoots? These are the types of questions to consider.

Headliner: Virginia 89, Miami 80 (2OT)

Virginia Got All It Wanted from Miami, But Had the Last Laugh on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Virginia Got All It Wanted from Miami, But Had the Last Laugh on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Virginia is still undefeated… but barely. After controlling much of Saturday’s contest at Miami, Virginia’s usually-stout defense was carved up late, and the Cavs eventually needed a clutch Justin Anderson three to stave off their first loss of the season. But while this was a game that should have been more comfortable for the defending ACC champions, this shouldn’t reflect negatively on them. In fact, it further drives home the point that Virginia isn’t just a defensive juggernaut. The Cavaliers can score, too, which is what makes them a top-five team in the country. But what originally looked like smooth sailing for Tony Bennett’s team turned into a perfect example of just how hard it is to go unbeaten in college basketball. Virginia escaped in Coral Gables, but the alarm bells that were sounding during overtime once again alerted the nation that anything can happen in conference play. Miami entered Saturday’s game having lost three of its last five contests by double figures, including a 28-point defeat to Eastern Kentucky. But when conference foes meet, they are generally in the same ballpark athletically. That means all it takes is an outstanding performance here, a subpar one there, sprinkled with a little underdog luck, and an upset is brewing. Louisville almost proved that point as well late Sunday at Wake Forest. Virginia and Duke are both really good teams, but neither will run the table. Kentucky might be a different story in the SEC, but the ACC is just too murderous this season.

And then there were three…

While Virginia scraped by Miami, Saturday wasn’t nearly as kind to three of the six remaining undefeated teams. For Colorado State and TCU, that’s probably no surprise. TCU had feasted on the nation’s weakest schedule, and the Horned Frogs are still a bubble outsider until they show they can win games in the Big 12. Colorado State had won an unsustainably high number of close games, and a trip to New Mexico proved to be its tipping point. The big name that fell over the weekend, though, was Villanova. The Wildcats traveled to Seton Hall on Saturday, but their lack of a true go-to scorer — the generally reliable Ryan Arcidiacono was dreadful — did them in. As a result, Villanova far too often settled for three-pointers outside of the natural flow of its offense, and, as other teams with similar makeups can attest – I’m looking at you, Iowa State – that is a recipe for an upset. Villanova can’t change the composition of its lineup, and that’s why the Wildcats will remain a step or two below the top tier of teams nationally.

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RTC Top 25: Week Seven

Posted by Walker Carey on January 5th, 2015

Conference play got off to a frenetic start last week, and no team took better advantage of the start of league place than #19 Seton Hall. Playing both conference-opening games on their home court, the Pirates dispatched #16 St. John’s on Wednesday and #8 Villanova on Saturday. The Big East looks to be a little deeper this season than many anticipated, and the emergence of teams like Seton Hall are one of the major reasons why. #13 Oklahoma also did an admirable job of distinguishing itself in its first conference game on Saturday, as the Sooners took care of #21 Baylor, making it clear they will be a force to be reckoned with in Big 12 play. With conference play now in full swing in nearly every league, expect teams to continue to distinguish themselves from the pack in coming weeks. It is going to be a fun couple of months.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump….

rtc25 w7

Quick n’ dirty Analysis.

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Morning Five: 01.05.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 5th, 2015

morning5

  1. The biggest news in college basketball this weekend came from the sidelines as Cincinnati announced that Mick Cronin would not coach the rest of the season and serve in an advisory role while dealing with what has been described as a non-life-threatening arterial dissection. Cronin has been out since finding out about the condition on December 19. While it appears that Cronin expects to return to his sideline duties at some point, but in the interim associate head coach Larry Davis will serve as the head coach. At Butler, they removed the interim title from Chris Holtmann and made him the head coach officially replacing Brandon Miller, who took a medical leave of absence just prior to the start of the season. Very little information about Miller’s condition has been released, but we wish him the best in recovering from whatever he is dealing with. Holtmann has lead the Bulldogs to an 11-4 record this season and appears to have the program headed in the right direction after a disastrous first season following Brad Stevens’ departure.
  2. While the coaching announcements stole the headlines there were also quite a few major developments involving significant players. The biggest news comes out of St. John’s where sophomore guard Rysheed Jordan (14 points per game) is taking an indefinite leave of absence to deal with “personal and family matter” although some reports indicate that it might be related to disciplinary issues. At Stanford, freshman Reid Travis (7.5 points and a team-leading 6.9 rebounds per game) will be out indefinitely with a stress fracture. At Virginia TechJoey van Zegeren (9.8 points and a team-leading 5.3 rebounds per game) was suspended indefinitely apparently as the result of an incident (or incidents) at practice. As for Dayton, nothing seems to be going right for the Flyers this season with the latest misfortune coming in to the form of point guard Ryan Bass having to miss the rest of the season due to concussion-related symptoms following a concussion in an early November practice.
  3. It might have been a rough week for the SEC in college football, but things are starting to look a little bit better for the conference in basketball. We all know about Kentucky and Florida even if the latter has been awful this season, but we will have to start keeping an eye on LSU starting next year. The Tigers, who already have the consensus #1 player in the class (Ben Simmons) coming in, appear to have added another five-star guard to their backcourt with Antonio Blakeney‘s commitment to LSU. You may remember Blakeney as the recruit who committed to Louisville before backing out soon after in a move that some recruiting analysts publicly claimed was driven by shoe companies (Blakeney plays for a Nike AAU team; Louisville is an adidas school). If that was in fact the reason for Blakeney backing out of his Louisville commitment then LSU fans can feel safe. If not, they might not want to get too excited quite yet.
  4. Texas got a big boost this weekend with the return of point guard Isaiah Taylor, who had been out the past six weeks after breaking his left wrist. Taylor, who had been averaging 15 points and 3 assists per game this season before his injury, had 8 points, 4 steals, and 2 assists, but also showed his rust with 6 turnovers. Although Texas managed to go 8-2 without Taylor, they clearly were not the same team without him as evidenced by their losses to Kentucky and Stanford. With Taylor back in the mix, the Longhorns might be the favorites in the Big 12 and should be a Final Four threat.
  5. As you may have noticed this has been a rough year for Kobe Bryant, who is climbing up the all-time NBA scoring list while being on a losing team and setting all kinds of new standards for inefficiency. That didn’t stop Bryant from opining on the state of basketball in American and laying the blame on AAU programs and the culture around them. While we agree with many of Kobe’s comments, we don’t see him offering many solutions outside of scrapping it for a European-style club system, which we are certain wouldn’t fly in the US with the established interests. Mike DeCourcy, who has never been known to mince words, also went after Kobe pointing out that for all the shortcomings of the American system we still manage to produce the best basketball in the world by far.

A Column of Enchantment: Resolutions are for the Weak

Posted by Joseph Nardone on January 1st, 2015

Don’t be that person. You know, the guy or gal who waited an entire year to make life-altering decisions on the first of the brand spanking New Year. Like, if you wanted to do whatever it is that you chose as your resolution so bad why in the Sam Cassell, Jr., have  you waited  so long? Seriously, what in the heck was wrong with quitting smoking, drinking, losing some pounds or giving up visiting professional streetwalkers on the regular that you couldn’t do that on October 14? I mean, if it were that important. Alas, it is a day for false hope. Where your significant other swears to change, Uncle Lou gives up the sauce, and some person near your cubicle swears that he/she (or maybe a he-she) will never touch chocolate again. So, um, basketball — kind of.

Worth Every Penny. (Photo: Mark Dolejs - USA TODAY Sports)

Worth Every Penny. (Photo: Mark Dolejs – USA TODAY Sports)

Jim Harbaugh left the not-so-friendly confines of the NFL for a coaching job at Michigan. It has been reported that the khaki-wearing football savant will be making roughly $7 million a year to coach some unpaid labor. And, you know what, he is worth every penny. Please, let me explain why and how this also correlates as to why college basketball coaches who get paid large sums of money deserve it as well.

Do you think there are actual X-and-O coaches as good as Jim Harbaugh out there? Of course there are. The same could be said for many college basketball coaches. To think that Coach K is literally the single best on-the-floor general on the entire planet is nuts. To think that — even if it were true — being the best in-game coach is the sole reason he wins lots of games is silly. In fact, there might be some guy in Budapest right now, coaching some third-tier division, who actually might know more stuff about the game than Harbaugh or Coach K. However, the two have something that separates them from the rest of the hundreds and hundreds of excellent coaches who get run from their jobs. It happens to be the same exact thing that made The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels a WWE Hall of Famer, but Marty Jannetty some form of cautionary tale/joke.

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RTC Weekly Primer: The Wait is Over, Conference Season is Here…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 30th, 2014

The wait is over. The wait is finally over. For a month and a half now, college basketball has kept us intermittently engrossed. There have been glimpses of the beauty, sniffs of the joy. But beginning today, we get to dive in. We get the full dosage. We get to bask in all the glory. The beginning of conference play is important, not just because attention ratchets up and the momentous games come in droves, but because these first few weeks are full of realizations. This is when we start to get a true feel for individual teams. This is when preseason “underrated” statements are validated and gaudy records against weak competition are exposed. It’s too early to make sweeping judgments about conferences as wholes, but at last, the balance of power within those leagues will start to reveal itself. We’ll learn a lot these next few weeks. Or at the very least, we’ll think we have. And right now, that’s good enough.

Three for the Money

We’re actually going to bypass this section for now because there aren’t many single games that stand out this week. There are no clashes between conference heavyweights. In fact, there are only a couple of contests between two ranked teams. Instead, this week is about collections of games. It’s about the Big Ten tip-off event on Tuesday. It’s about the quintet of Big East games on Wednesday. It’s about the first full west coast Friday night in the Pac-12. And it’s about a jam-packed Saturday all across the nation.

A Juicy Big Ten Triple-header

Maryland Begins Its Opening Big Ten Season Today (USA Today Images)

Maryland Begins Its Opening Big Ten Season Today (USA Today Images)

The two worst teams in the league, Northwestern and Rutgers, actually get things started today at Noon, but we can pretend that game isn’t happening. The real curtain-raiser is the afternoon tripleheader on ESPN2. First, Iowa travels to Columbus to take on Ohio State in a rematch of last year’s upset of the then-No. 3 Buckeyes. Without Roy Devyn Marble in the lineup, though, the Hawkeyes aren’t the same team they were a year ago, more closely resembling the team that closed last season on a 1-7 slide. They lack consistent scoring punch in the backcourt, and that could mean trouble against an Ohio State team of which perimeter defense is a legitimate strength. KenPom only gives the Hawkeyes a 19 percent chance to enter Value City Arena and get a win.

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Kentucky’s Perfect Dream: Is 40-0 Really Attainable?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 30th, 2014

On days like last Saturday, they tell you to throw out the records. Rivalry games like Kentucky-Louisville are supposed to occur in a vacuum, a place where bragging rights supersede any other consideration. At leas that’s how the thinking goes. It’s a quaint notion, indeed, but this latest installment of the Bluegrass State rivalry turned out to be all about the records. To be more specific, Kentucky’s record. With all due respect to Louisville’s previously unblemished loss tally – and even more respect to a stacked ACC – the Cardinals were never going to chase a perfect season, even if they had found a way to take down the Wildcats. But for Kentucky, with its stiffest test now in the rear-view and the zero in its loss column unchanged, dreams of an undefeated season have begun to transition out of fantasy and into reality. It was all anyone wanted to talk about after the game: Is 40-0 really possible?

The Young Wildcats Have Had Plenty Of Fun So Far; Are They Capable Of Crafting College Basketball's First Perfect Season Since 1976?

The Young Wildcats Have Had Plenty Of Fun So Far; Are They Capable Of Crafting College Basketball’s First Perfect Season Since 1976?

It is hard to look at the Kentucky schedule and find a single remaining game that it is likely to lose. This much is true. Using KenPom as our basis, the Wildcats are predicted to have at least an 89 percent chance of winning in 15 of their 18 SEC games. The three exceptions are visits to South Carolina on January 24 (84% win share), Florida on February 7 (77% win share), and Georgia on March 3 (84% win share). Florida’s best win this season is over Yale; the Gamecocks have beaten only one team in KenPom’s top 125 (Oklahoma State); and Georgia has two top-70 wins (Seton Hall and Colorado). Do we really expect any of these teams to prove capable of toppling one of the most dominant college basketball teams of the 21st century? I don’t think so.

Getting through the SEC unscathed – conference tournament included — is definitely possible for the ‘Cats. But is it likely? As difficult as it is to look down the schedule and find an SEC foe capable of beating them, winning 21 straight games against major conference teams is not as easy a task as many are suggesting. Even KenPom gives Kentucky just a 24.3 percent chance of ripping off the next 18 in a row. Avoiding a road trip to Arkansas on the schedule this year helps the cause, but won’t there be a night – most likely away from Rupp Arena — where the shots just aren’t falling for Coach Cal’s young bunch? They are shooting just 32.1 percent from three-point range and 66.2 percent from the line; imagining a 40-minute offensive drought is not too difficult, particularly in a foreign environment. Of course, you could use those same percentages to make a different but equally compelling point. Kentucky has been utterly dominant to this point, despite those inefficiencies — why even worry about them?

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