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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RTC Rewind: Kentucky Flexes Muscles, Rough Pac-12 Weekend, More…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 29th, 2014

Never a dull week… Never a dull week, I tell you. The holiday season was supposed to be the last down time for college basketball, but this past weekend – the last without wave after wave of important conference games – was anything but silent. From a clash at the summit in Kentucky to another stunner from Texas Southern – yes, really – it was another fine weekend on the hardwood.

Weekend Headliner: Kentucky 58, Louisville 50.

If it was going to happen, it was going to happen here; at least, so it seemed. Only one game stood between Kentucky and a feeble SEC slate. Only one major challenge remained. Only Louisville. And thus, there’s no place to start but here when rehashing the final 2014 weekend of college hoops. Because it – a Kentucky loss – didn’t happen.

It Was Another Defensive Masterpiece From the Wildcats (USA Today Images)

It Was Another Defensive Masterpiece From the Wildcats (USA Today Images)

John Calipari’s team further cemented itself atop the collegiate basketball landscape with an ugly but effective victory over its bitter rival. The most striking thing about Saturday’s game was the difficulty Louisville had finding shots and scoring on the offensive end. If a top-five team with an All-American forward and an electric home crowd looked overwhelmed, how must other teams feel? The Wildcats’ smothering defense held the Cardinals to an ice cold 26 percent shooting and 0.85 points per possession. Most importantly though, Kentucky was able to do exactly what makes its defense so special: It forced Louisville to take an inordinate number of contested mid-range jumpers. A whopping 34 of the Cardinals’ 58 field goal attempts (58.6 percent) came from between five and 20 feet from the basket, an area from which they’ve shot 29 percent on the season. This was a significant departure from Louisville’s standard shooting distribution, and its a big reason why they had such trouble with Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.

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RTC Top 25: Week Six

Posted by Walker Carey on December 29th, 2014

Much like week two of the season, last week was defined by a number of intriguing upsets. This trend began on Monday night when #14 Kansas was blown out by 25 points at Temple. It continued on Tuesday, as both #5 Arizona and #10 Texas fell to unranked opponents – the Wildcats losing at UNLV and the Longhorns losing at home to Stanford. Christmas Day spelled trouble for #15 Wichita State, as it was upset by George Washington in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic. Finally, Sunday saw previously unbeaten #22 Washington fall at home to America East darling Stony Brook. With conference play fully set to begin this week in most conferences, we bid farewell to the stunning non-conference upsets that have been a major part of the college basketball season thus far. Upset enthusiasts should not worry too much, though, as we all know by now there is no such thing as an easy win in conference play. Strap in and get ready because it is going to be a fun two-month ride from here to March.

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 2.04.11 AM

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Morning Five: 12.29.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 29th, 2014

morning5

  1. After a few bumps to begin the season, it appears that the Larry Brown experiment at Southern Methodist appears to be getting back on track. The latest addition to the Mustangs is Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye who committed to SMU over the weekend. Although Ojeleye only put up modest numbers–3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game–in limited playing time this season, he was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school and might flourish in an environment where he is not sitting behind multiple McDonald’s All-Americans. The 6’8″ sophomore will be eligible to play in December 2015 since he will have to sit out a year. When he does return, he could be part of a dynamic frontline that will probably have Markus Kennedy, Jordan Tolbert, and Ben Moore back next season.
  2. If you were expecting to see Dwayne Polee II back in a San Diego State uniform any time soon, you might want to reconsider that after Steve Fisher revealed that Polee had a similar event last season during a practice. Given this new information, we certainly understand why the school is not offering a time table for Polee’s return as he will now have to go a much more extensive medical work-up. Polee, a senior forward who is averaging 8.4 points per game, will likely be out for quite a bit more time and given the data in recent years about sudden cardiac death in Division 1 men’s basketball players we cannot fault them for being extremely cautious.
  3. It has been a rough few weeks for UCLA basketball. After the embarrassment of going down 24-0 and only scoring seven points in the first half against Kentucky, they lost to Alabama yesterday after only scoring 17 points in the first half and that is better than it seems because they only had scored five points with 5:15 left in the first half. Things will not be getting any easier for the Bruins who lost Wanaah Bail for the season after he was declared academically ineligible. On the surface, Bail’s paltry output of 1.5 points and 2.6 rebounds in 9 minutes per game might not seem like much (and it isn’t), but on a team with as little depth as UCLA has it only exacerbates that weakness even more.
  4. We tend to stay away from the AAU scene for a variety of reasons, but have heard plenty of horror stories involving the people who bankroll some teams. So when we heard about a a banker in Houston who financed a prominent AAU team, we we intrigued. Unlike the typical AAU stories we read, the key piece in this story–Steve Trauber–does not appear to have any intention of using the players for his own financial gain (and it appears that he is already doing quite well financially anyways). In fact, one of the players on the team last year was Trauber’s son, J.T., who is currently a walk-on Rice. We doubt that we will see many similar stories of rich individuals backing youth basketball teams, but it is nice to see it happen.
  5. For years we have heard arguments about which city produces the best basketball talent. We usually hear cities like New York, Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta thrown around, but it might be time that we expand our horizons. As Scott Cacciola of The New York Times notes Toronto is quickly becoming a basketball hotbed. Although they do not have the tradition of major cities in the US, the talent produced by Toronto (at least the very top tier) in recent years rivals that of any major US city. While we are not quite ready to get on board with the idea that Canada will be a legitimate threat to the US in the 2016 or 2020 Olympics, the spread of basketball outside of the US and its impact on the game and college basketball recruiting is certainly something to keep an eye on.

Media Timeout: The Birth and Death of Rivalries After Realignment

Posted by Will Tucker on December 26th, 2014

College basketball places huge emphasis on individual games — showdowns between top-ranked teams, annual rivalry clashes, single-elimination tournaments — but it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture from time to time. Each month, the Media Timeout will review emerging trends in how fans and journalists watch, follow, and talk about the sport.


Conference realignment in recent years has reshaped the college basketball landscape in both obvious and subtle ways. To paint the timeline in admittedly broad brushstrokes, it started with Colorado and Nebraska abandoning the Big 12 for the greener pastures of the Pac-10 and Big Ten, respectively. In the scramble for leagues to position themselves for the eventual “superconference” paradigm, the Pac-10 would add Utah to complete the Pac-12; the Big Ten would go on to poach Maryland and Rutgers; the SEC, Missouri and Texas A&M; the Big 12 reloading with TCU and West Virginia. Most of the Big East diaspora – Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame basketball, and eventually Louisville – settled in the ACC, and the Big East experienced its own dramatic transformation to a basketball-centric league as a result. Those shifts trickled down through many of the mid-major conferences, including the Mountain West, Conference USA, and Atlantic 10, weaving a convoluted web of migration across the country.

realignment europe

The War in Prussia Had Nothing on Conference Realignment

The consequences of those migrations are still revealing themselves several years later. Nowhere have they been more tangible to fans than in the separation of traditional rivals and the formation of new rivalries, sometimes taking root in unexpected places. Rivalries have long been fluid entities, in spite of our tendency to mythologize and idealize a bygone era of college basketball – one in which meritocracy trumped TV revenue, recruiting was an even playing field, and geography and shared heritage determined which schools became rivals. In 1980, for example, Depaul-Marquette was a big deal; Syracuse-UConn wasn’t that big of a deal; and Louisville and Kentucky had played each other only 12 times, ever.

So with that in mind, let’s pay homage to several of the casualties of conference realignment, before turning our attention to budding rivalries that may take their place. We’ll also look at existing rivalries that are being preserved despite changes in conference affiliation.

Rivalries Lost

Duke-Maryland: The rivalry between Duke and Maryland had lost some of its luster by the time the Blue Devils closed out the series by claiming their 13th win in the final 16 meetings: Overall, the Blue Devils held a commanding 114-63 advantage over the Terrapins. But there’s no question that this rivalry’s demise was a significant loss for college basketball fans. This is especially true for fans in D.C., where both schools have a significant alumni presence (College Park is about nine miles from the Capitol Building; Duke places a large number of alumni in the nation’s power cities). On the hardwood, the series experienced a golden age at the turn of the 21st century, when the teams traded national championships and were fixtures at the top of the ACC standings. While the rivalry may have lost some of its competitive edge in recent years, it never lost the element that truly set it apart: vehement hostility. From JJ Redick’s phone number, to the $500,000 in property damage recorded during the 2001 College Park riots, to the imperious “Not our rival” chants serenading Maryland players in Cameron; the discontinued series left big shoes to fill in terms of sheer animosity.

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Dear Santa: Conference Season is Beginning, Please Bring Help

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 25th, 2014

The man in the red suit is a busy guy right about now, but more than a few college basketball teams should be hoping Santa has time to swing by campus before his work is done. No milk and cookies were left fireside in Lexington, KY, or Durham, NC (reinforcements not needed), and some programs need seek only a stocking stuffer or two (hey there, Virginia and Wisconsin). But most teams have wish lists that stretch far longer. Conference play is here, and the blissful ignorance of the non-conference season? Long gone. In its place arrive true days of reckoning – grinding tests against peers that won’t allow deficiencies to go unpunished any longer. With conference season looming, we take a look at a handful of college basketball teams in desperate need of a gift this Christmas.

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Iowa: Last Season’s Shooting Touch

Shoddy defense destroyed the Hawkeye’s promising start a season ago, but things have changed this winter. The defense has been much improved (22nd nationally in defensive efficiency), but a sputtering offense has left Iowa just 9-4 heading into conference play. All eight of the Hawkeye returnees have seen their three-point percentage drop this year (team: 259th nationally in three-point percentage), while only Gabriel Olaseni has improved upon his 2013-14 two-point field goal percentage (team: 232nd nationally in two-point percentage). The widespread nature of the shooting epidemic would seem to indicate some sort of systemic explanation. No Roy Devyn Marble? A lack of comfort with a quicker tempo? A coaching staff that has lost its players? Any or all of these questions could be a dig at the root cause, but even if they are, expecting some reversion to the more efficient levels of 2013-14 is entirely fair. The defense has been there; can Santa bring back the Hawkeyes’ shooting strokes?

Arkansas: Road Victories

For most of Mike Anderson’s tenure at Arkansas, the New Year (and conference play) has brought two things in bunches: home wins, and road losses. The Razorbacks are well positioned to earn their first Tournament appearance under Anderson after a 9-2 start, even if old habits die hard. The Hogs are undefeated on the home hardwood (8-0) and less perfect on the road: Both of the Hogs’ losses (Iowa State and Clemson) have come in enemy arenas. A November win at SMU should not be overlooked, but Arkansas needs to prove they can win games away from Bud Walton Arena in 2015. A depleted SEC should play the role of enabler.

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A Column of Enchantment: Bah Humbug to You and Yours

Posted by Joseph Nardone on December 25th, 2014

Depending on when this is published it is either the celebration of the world’s most famous carpenter and his birthday or it is the day after. Either way, to you and yours, I hope you have as much fun doing whatever it is that normal people do on the morning after some guy sneaks into your house, steals your cookies, drinks your milk and are forced to feed his reindeer, as every other normal member of the human species. Alas, college basketball.

Somehow Oliver Purnell is Involved in this Christmas Scene

Somehow Oliver Purnell is Involved in this Classic Christmas Scene

For those of you who do not care for Christmas or truly hate spending time with your family, well, there’s some pretty solid news. Despite the Hallmark Channel and the like throwing more bad movies at your picture-box than the SyFy channel could ever dream of, there does happen to be a few college games on the slate. Four in total (that I know of at least). So, I guess, you will have something to watch as you pretend to listen to Aunt Betty’s latest victories in the kitchen. To be completely fair, though, Aunt Betty does make a mean pasta salad. Unfortunately, the four games in Hawaii aren’t all that intriguing. George Washington plays Wichita State; Ohio takes on surprisingly disappointing Nebraska; Colorado will attempt to make Hawaii a non-destination point; and DePaul will play Loyola Marymount. I’d ignore all these games even if you like your family just a little bit, but if you really need to get a college hoops fix then I suggest you watch DePaul continue to pretend to be a semi-competent basketball team. I mean, it is Oliver Purnell‘s farewell tour — I think.

It is no secret that the Blue Demons have floundered under Big Bad Oliver. Being approximately a billion games under .500 just isn’t good (statistic might not be accurate). Still, because DePaul, Purnell has been able to hang onto his job since the athletic department seems to care about winning basketball games as much as it does in learning the true identity of Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer. Like, not a lot. Not to mention that Rudolph’s backstory sure seems fishy. Where are that deer’s parents? His nose is red so that makes him qualified to lead the rest of the more experienced reindeer? You’re telling me that Santa made it all those years in bad weather without the (again, I think?) orphaned-ish reindeer, but he somehow came into power? I am pretty sure Rudolph has some unflattering pictures of Santa somewhere. Nepotism runs deep — even at the North Pole, friends.

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Merry Christmas From RTC…

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2014

Not much in the way of college hoops this week, so all the more reason to spend some quality time with your friends, families and loved ones (we’re looking at you, Fido). Here’s hoping that everyone has a safe and happy holiday. Merry Christmas from your friends at Rush the Court!

santa-basketball copy

The RTC Podcast: Happy Holidays Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 24th, 2014

Happy Holidays everyone! As you head to wherever you’re settling in this week for the return of St. Nick and his band of flying mammals, give a listen to this week’s RTC Podcast. In this edition, we talk through some of the big upsets of the past couple of weeks, what it all means long-term, and hand out some holiday gifts to the Santa, Grinch and the other dignitaries through five weeks of the season. Give it a listen as you wrap those remaining gifts for your disliked uncle and your ridiculous cousins. 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.

  • 0:00-9:32 – Michigan State and Kansas upset
  • 9:32-13:05 – Kentucky and Virginia shut down quality opponents
  • 13:05-16:50 – Other notable wins
  • 16:50-38:17 – College basketball Christmas awards
  • 38:17-40:33 – Saturday’s undercard preview
  • 40:33-47:02 – Kentucky-Louisville Preview

Morning Five: Christmas Eve 2014 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 24th, 2014

morning5

  1. San Diego State senior forward Dwayne Polee II, averaging 8.4 points per game, was discharged from San Diego hospital less than 24 hours after collapsing on the court during a game against UC Riverside. Polee was cleared to resume normal activities, but has not been cleared to play basketball yet. Polee presumably underwent the typical tests that a person who has a syncopal event undergoes (EKG, telemetry, etc) and might even have to wear an event monitor, but we are not sure how much more testing the medical staff at San Diego State will require before allowing him to play basketball again. Given the number of tragedies we have seen in college basketball in recent years, we cannot fault them for being conservative.
  2. The past few months have been rough for Michigan both on the football field and basketball court, but they did have at least one positive thing happen on Monday night when Austin Hatch scored his first point as a college basketball player. Hatch, who survived two plane crashes that killed his entire immediate family, had scored a point in an exhibition game earlier this year, but this was his first official point. Hatch’s free throw elicited a standing ovation and capped off a much-needed 72-56 win for a struggling Michigan team against Coppin State. Hopefully this is the first of many points and appearances for Hatch.
  3. Wake Forest picked up a minor victory as Mitchell Wilbekin had his suspension reduced to three games by the NCAA. Wilbekin’s suspension had been six games, but the decrease means that he will be able to play against Duke and Louisville, which frankly probably won’t affect the outcome of either game. Although the school had previously said they disagreed with both the infraction and the length of the previous suspension they did say that they were pleased that the NCAA was “willing to listen to our reasons for supporting a lesser penalty”. With the reduced suspension, Wilbekin will just have to miss one more game (Richmond) before returning on December 31 against Princeton.
  4. The case involving Oklahoma strength and conditioning coach Jozsef Szendrei probably won’t get much attention in the post-Nevin Shapiro/Penn State world, but the alleged violations seem pretty blatant. According to a report, Szendrei was caught distributing cash provided by a booster to the players while they were at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Szendrei was apparently caught before he could distribute the cash ($100 per player) to every player and the school compliance officer “got everything back” so it appears that neither the school nor the media consider it to be a serious issue. However, in much the same way that Shapiro paying for a player’s meal (or other minor expenses) could be construed as a failure at an administrative level so should this type of issue where a booster was able to do something like this. Szendrei claims this was a one-time thing and it appears that the school is sticking with the story that everything was fixed, but for a school with Oklahoma’s recent history of NCAA violations (under both Kelvin Sampson and Jeff Capel) you have to wonder if they might need to be a little more strict with who they let near their players.
  5. With the huge Kentucky-Louisville game looming on Saturday, Dana O’Neill took a look at strength of some of the biggest rivalries in college basketball. While we share her concern about losing some of the sport’s best rivalries we often think that too many people overlook the new rivalries that have been created with conference realignment. It seems like after all the complaining about significant rivalries being lost to conference realignment many of those games have managed to be rescheduled even if only temporarily for now.