2008-09 Conference Primers: #2 – Big 12

Posted by rtmsf on November 9th, 2008

Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley and Big 12 Conferences.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Texas   (27-3, 14-2)
  2. Kansas  (24-7, 14-2)
  3. Oklahoma  (27-5, 13-3)
  4. Baylor  (25-5, 12-4)
  5. Oklahoma St.  (19-11, 8-8)
  6. Texas A&M  (19-12, 7-9)
  7. Nebraska  (18-11, 7-9)
  8. Missouri  (18-13, 6-10)
  9. Kansas St.  (18-13, 6-10)
  10. Iowa St.  (16-16, 3-13)
  11. Texas Tech  (15-16, 3-13)
  12. Colorado  (14-16, 3-13)

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What You Need to Know.  Although Kansas won the National Championship last season in dramatic fashion, most of the team won’t be around to try to do the repeat shuffle like Florida did the previous two seasons.  However, that doesn’t mean the Big 12 Conference won’t have an exciting season in the wings.  The buzz around the Big 12 is that sophomore Blake Griffin from Oklahoma (who passed on the NBA, unlike is KU peers) decided to stay another year at Oklahoma to try to lead his team to a championship.  Griffin has already been mentioned for several preseason All-American teams and awards.  Texas returns a great nucleus of talent on a team that tied for the conference championship last year with Kansas.  Baylor is the biggest surprise coming into the season.  Head Coach  Scott Drew has brought this disgraced program back from the ashes a few years ago when Patrick Dennehy was murdered by teammate Carlton Dotson and information was later covered up by then head coach Dave Bliss. Baylor made the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in twenty years.   Iowa State and Texas A&M are led by former Missouri Valley Conference coaches, Greg McDermott and Mark Turgeon, respectively.  Although Kansas State made a splash back into the national spotlight showcasing Michael Beasley and Bill Walker, they’ll now take a step back into the pack, but with the salaries of their coaches including their assistants, they should be held to high expectations.  Nebraska will be playing small ball this year as they do not have a player over 6’8, but it isn’t like they haven’t triedMissouri is still trying to find its identity and coach Mike Anderson hopes to finally play his type of up-tempo, high pressure defense.  Although only in his third year at the helm, Anderson is on the hot seat.  Colorado has a lot to build on with mostly freshman and sophomores.  Texas Tech got a little head start when legendary coach Bobby Knight passed the keys to his son Pat Knight at the end of last season, while first year coach Travis Ford restarts the Oklahoma State program after the Sutton family was ousted. 

Predicted Champion.  Texas (NCAA #1).  Although Texas  hoped DJ Augustin wouldn’t leave Austin for the NBA, he did.  The Horns return four of five starters, though, (AJ Abrams, Conner Atchley, Damion James and Justin Mason) and most of the team that made it last season to the Elite Eight.  AJ Abrams can hit a shot quickly and from anywhere.  He is the top returning scorer in the Big 12 (16.5 ppg).  Without Augustin, Texas will be relying on Dogus Balbay to run the point.  Unfortunately, Balbay is returning from an injury and played on a Turkish club team with players who received money.  However, Abrams is also an option at point guard and feels confident that he can run the team.  The frontcourt is solid with veterans James (12/10 last season) and Atchley.  Height doesn’t always equal playing ability, but when you have four players on the roster that are over 6’10”  (Atchley, Clint Chapman, Dexter Pittman and Matt Hill) they have the ability to be physical underneath.  The thing that sets Texas apart from the other Big 12 teams is their NCAA Tournament and coaching experience compared to the other contenders.  I expect Texas to take it a step further this year and make a Final Four appearance. 

NCAA Tournament Teams.

  • Kansas (NCAA #4). Some might think that I am crazy for predicting Kansas to finish second in the Big 12 this season with only 2 players coming back with significant playing time (Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich).  Kansas will have seven newcomers to the program and some will be expected to be big players right away including juco All-American Mario Little, freshman twins Markieff and Marcus Morris and freshman guard Tyshawn Taylor.  Expect that there will be some growing pains.  However, Kansas is a beneficiary in scheduling, not only during the non-conference season, but in the Big 12 schedule as well.  The Jayhawks are participating in the CBE Classic that has them playing preliminary games at home and the semis/finals in Kansas City which is also basically at home.  Then in Big 12 play, they play the North schedule which means that they’ll play at Baylor and at Oklahoma only once, play Texas in Lawrence, while those three South teams have to play each other twice.  Playing at Allen Fieldhouse is not an easy task which makes their schedule amenable to success.  The Jayhawks will lose some early non-conference games and probably games they should not, but will be solid come conference and post-season time. The main cogs of the team that won the National Championship last year played together as freshmen and struggled early, but turned out to be one of the big stories as the season went along.  Similarly to that group, this season I see KU only getting past the first round of the NCAAs. 
  • Oklahoma (NCAA #5).  The media has picked Oklahoma to win the conference, Blake Griffin to be POY and Willie Warren to be the ROY. Warren was the leading scorer in the McDonalds All-American game and can seriously dunk.  If you want to see some of the talent Warren has to offer, check out this dunk.   Along with Griffin and talented freshman Warren, the rest of the team will be full of role players.  With so much of the focus on Griffin and Warren, that means that several other players need to step up their play to give Oklahoma additional options along with those two gifted players.  One of those players that might make an impact is 6’9” UCLA transfer Ryan WrightJeff Capel is a capable coach, but his 3rd year in the conference will keep them from winning the conference.  However, expectations are high and I expect Oklahoma to reach the Sweet 16. 
  • Baylor (NCAA #6).  Baylor is a team that returns its top eight scorers from last season led by Curtis Jerrells (15.3 ppg).  They were the Big 12’s highest scoring team and who could forget the epic non-televised 5 OT game with Texas A&M last season.  Kevin Rogers, LaceDarius Dunn and Henry Dugat are scoring machines that provide a depth of experience.  A senior-laden team, Scott Drew has built this team from scratch and is creating dividends by making he NCAA Tournament for the first time in two decades. But Baylor will not win the conference because their defense is suspect and their frontcourt will need to improve.  However, they tasted the feeling of the NCAA Tournament and got knocked out right away, but it will be different this year and I expect that they will make the Tourney again and at least win one game. 
  • Oklahoma St. (NCAA #7).  The Cowboys still have enough in the cupboard to make it to the NCAA Tournament even though they will break in first-year coach Travis Ford.  They are a little thin on the inside but return their leading scorer, James Anderson, and 80% of their scoring.  Having an up-tempo style that Ford likes to run will help minimize the frontcourt deficiencies.  They should do well enough to make it to the NCAAs, but will probably be bounced in the first round.
  • Texas A&M (NCAA #9).  Mark Turgeon in his 2nd year will be able to make one more run with the players that Billy Gillispie left behind before heading to Kentucky.  It remains to be seen if Turgeon will be able to recruit the right players to fit into playing in the Big 12.  Coming from the Valley, it is a big transition to try recruiting the right players for the large conference schools (note:  Bruce Weber (Illinois), Matt Painter (Purdue), Greg McDermott (Iowa St.)).  Though I see A&M sneaking into the NCAAs, this team could very well find itself in the NIT next March. 
  • Nebraska (NCAA #12).  Nebraska will be playing small ball this year and more in the up-tempo style that Doc Sadler would like to play, but the lack of an inside presence and a weak non-conference schedule will put them squarely on the bubble of the NCAA tournament.  This team could realistically have only one loss coming into conference play.  It has everyone coming back except for Aleks Maric who was their productive center, but even the newcomers were around the team and know the system as four players redshirted last season.  Having the confidence-building games will bring Nebraska into conference play on a high and they’ll benefit by playing in the North division, but they will struggle when they have a stretch of four games against South teams and Kansas. However, the Huskers will surprise some people this year, finish 7th in the conference and sneak into the NCAAs as one of the last at-large bids.

NIT Teams. 

  • Missouri (NIT).  The pieces appear to be in place in Columbia for the Missouri Tigers to start making some strides to return to the spotlight again but the depth is not there to run a full court, high pressure defense for Mike Anderson’s system to be completely successful.  They will have some success early in the season, but they will be tired by the time they get to conference play and will fall off from the picture.  They will be the last team into the NIT. 
  • Kansas St. (NIT/CBI).  Michael Beasley and Bill Walker are not there anymore so this team will have some significant challenges to replace those players.  They have a somewhat soft non-conference schedule except for the Las Vegas Invitational which will build up their win total, but will fall short in the Big 12 race to be considered for the NCAAs.  If they do not do well enough for the NIT, they will be in the CBI for the postseason.

Others.

  • Iowa St.  Greg McDermott is still getting his feet wet in his 3rd year as the roster has had a total turnover in the past two seasons (seven new players last year and another six this year).  Like Turgeon, it is hard to tell if he’s getting the right recruits to compete in the Big 12.
  • Texas Tech.  Although Pat Knight received the keys to the team mid-season last year, this team will struggle as they try to find their identity and whether they decide to implement a whole new scheme or keep with what Bobby Knight established and the players that were recruited for his scheme. 
  • Colorado.  Jeff Bzdelik is in year two of a total rebuild of this team, as eight players have left the team since Bzdelik arrived in Boulder in 2007.  They will probably start several freshman who will be overwhelmed.  Their offense is yet to be established as they try to run clock to keep the score in the 50s.  There are too many things going against the Buffs from being a factor this year.

Important Games.  The Big 12 has a great advantage in that they are key players in several major exempt tournaments this year that they can make a splash in:

  • Texas—Maui Invitiational
  • Oklahoma—Preseason NIT
  • Baylor—Anaheim 76 Classic
  • Kansas—CBE Classic
  • Oklahoma St—Old Spice Classic
  • Kansas St.—Las Vegas Invitational
  • Colorado (Rainbow Classic)
  • Missouri (Puerto Rico Tipoff)
  • Texas Tech (Legends Classic)
  • Texas A&M (South Padre)

Also some great non-conference matchups as a part of the PAC-10/Big 12 Challenge:

  • Oklahoma vs. USC  (12.04.08)
  • Texas vs. UCLA  (12.04.08)
  • Kansas @ Arizona  (12.23.08)

It is always a chore to get a large conference school to go on the road to play on a smaller team’s home court, but here are the road tests the Big 12 is taking on this year (not neutral site):

  • Nebraska @ TCU  (11.19.08)
  • Kansas St. @ Cleveland St.  (11.22.08)
  • Iowa St. @ Northern Iowa  (12.03.08)
  • Texas Tech @ Lamar  (12.13.08)
  • Oklahoma St. @ Texas A&M-CC  (12.14.08)
  • Texas Tech @ UTEP  (12.17.08)
  • Iowa St.  @ Houston  (12.18.08)
  • Oklahoma @ Rice  (12.22.08)
  • Texas A&M @ Rice  (12.31.08)
  • Colorado @ SMU  (01.05.09)

Conference Key Games.  These games will decide the conference champ:

  • Texas @ Oklahoma  (01.12.09)
  • Baylor @ Oklahoma  (01.24.09)
  • Texas @ Baylor  (01.27.09)
  • Kansas @ Baylor  (02.02.09)
  • Oklahoma @ Baylor  (02.11.09)
  • Oklahoma @ Texas  (02.21.09)
  • Kansas @ Oklahoma  (02.23.09)
  • Baylor @ Texas  (03.02.09)
  • Texas @ Kansas  (03.07.09)

Neat-O Stats.

  • 4-The number of 20-win seasons in Baylor’s 102-year history.
  • 5-Texas is one of just one of five schools to advance to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament in four of the last six years (Duke, UConn, Kansas, Pitt)
  • 51-4—This is Kansas’ record in the last 55 games dating back to 2006-07 when Kansas lost to UCLA in the Elite Eight.  Their only losses since then leading up to their NCAA Championship last year were to Texas, Kansas St. and Oklahoma St. last season. 

65 Team Era.  The teams in this conference are a combined 268-222 in the NCAA Tournament with 35 Final Four appearances and five National Championships.  As the Big 12 conference, their first National Championship was with Kansas last season (the others were as the Big 8, which merged into the Big 12 in 1996-97).  The conference’s record in this era is 161-112 (.590), which puts it roughly on par with the SEC as a major conference.  Where the league has struggled (until last year, of course) was winning national titles.  Only KU in 1998 and 2008 have won championships during this era. 

Final Thoughts.  The Big 12 will be a top heavy league this year and in some minds might be down compared to years past.  It will have four strong teams that will easily make the NCAA tournament and then there is a log jam between 5-9 on who will step up to either make the NCAA or settle for the NIT for the post season.  It will be interesting to see if Texas will finally outlive the hype that is given to them each year to make it to the Final Four and be in line to play for the National Championship.  Oklahoma is poised to make a run, but if Griffin gets hurt, will they still be able to win games?   It will be interesting to see how Kansas does after winning the championship the year before but losing so much to not be considered able to repeat.  With 10 of the 12 teams in the conference participating in high profile early season tournaments, the Big 12’s season will be defined on how those teams do in those tournaments.  If they are successful, then they will be the talk of this basketball season.  If they fail miserably, expect them to get fewer teams into the Big Dance than they have the last few years.

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #3 – ACC

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2008

Zach Smith of Old Gold & Blog and DeaconsIllustrated is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). 

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. North Carolina (28-2, 14-2)
  2. Duke (27-5, 13-3)
  3. Wake Forest (21-8, 11-5)
  4. Miami (20-9, 10-6)
  5. Clemson (20-10, 8-8)
  6. Virginia Tech (18-12, 8-8)
  7. Georgia Tech (17-12, 7-9)
  8. Maryland (17-13, 7-9)
  9. NC State (15-14, 5-11)
  10. Boston College (15-15, 4-12)
  11. Florida State (13-16, 4-12)
  12. Virginia (11-16, 4-12)

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WYN2K. The ACC is still the ACC. I know many still long for the return of the days of nine teams (or even eight), but for better or worse a 12-team ACC is here to say, and it’s still plenty enjoyable. It may not be the absolute best conference in 2008-2009, but it’s dang good, and I have a feeling the majority of college basketball fans would still rather watch Duke play North Carolina play than Louisville play UConn. Everyone agrees UNC is the best team in the country (assuming they’ll have Tyler Hansbrough back sooner rather than later) and Duke is right there in the top five with them. With high expectations and lots of potential, Wake Forest is also making appearances in preseason top 25 rankings, and Miami also came in at #17 in the preseason AP poll. Clemson doesn’t appear to be far behind. I expect all five of those teams to make the NCAA Tournament this season, and I will not be surprised if Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Maryland compete for berths as well. If he comes back healthy, Hansbrough (22.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg) is likely to once again be the national player of the year, while Boston College’s Tyrese Rice (21 ppg, 4.9 apg), Miami’s Jack McClinton (17.7 pgg), North Carolina’s Ty Lawson (12.7 ppg, 5.16 apg), and Duke’s Gerald Henderson (12.7 ppg, 31 blocks) are all players to keep an eye on this season. Wake Forest boasts this year’s best recruiting class, led by forward Al-Farouq Aminu, and people will definitely want to keep an eye on Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert as well.

Predicted Champion. This isn’t a difficult choice to make this season. There’s little doubt the North Carolina Tar Heels (NCAA #1) are the best team in the ACC this season, and I think just about everyone will be surprised if they don’t win both the regular season and the tournament. Roy Williams has done an excellent job in his time at Carolina, and with both Tyler Hansborough and Ty Lawson deciding to return for another season, the Tar Heels have all five starters from last season back on the floor. No team in the ACC can match the talent, depth, and experience on this Carolina roster. They play fast and score quickly (88.6 ppg, .488 from the field last season) beat teams by the widest margins in the ACC (+16.1), and have an absurdly high rebounding margin (+11 – the closest team was +5). They also led the ACC in assists per game (16.8) and assist/turnover ratio (1.17). They don’t always play the best defense in the conference, but with their offense they don’t need to. It’s going to take an excellent performance for anyone in the ACC to beat them this season.

Others Considered.  I’d be lying if I said I seriously considered anyone else. North Carolina is just that good. I’m not saying Duke (NCAA #3) isn’t a great team—they are—but I don’t think they’re quite there with Carolina this season. Duke is a pretty clear favorite to be runner-up this season, and for good reason. They return a talented base, including point guard Greg Paulus (11.4 ppg, 3.2 apg), shooting guard Jon Scheyer (11.7 ppg), forward Gerald Henderson, and center Kyle Singler (13.3 pgg, 5.8 rpg). They will also count on strong performances from new starter Lance Thomas, as well as bench contributions from Nolan Smith and freshman Miles Plumlee. They score almost as much as UNC (83.2 ppg), play even better defense (allowing only 69.4 ppg) and lead the conference in turnover margin (+4.8). The Wake Forest (NCAA #5) Demon Deacons get in this discussion based primarily on potential. They didn’t graduate a single impact player, return two of last season’s most talented freshmen in forward James Johnson (14.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and guard Jeff Teague (13.9 ppg, 1.83 steals), and bring in the ACC’s best recruiting class of forward Al-Farouq Aminu and centers Tony Woods and Ty Walker. If Coach Dino Gaudio can maximize the potential in this team then they could really make some noise this season.

Other Likely NCAA Bids.  Miami (NCAA #6) and Clemson (NCAA #12) should both be good enough to make the tournament this year. Jack McClinton (17.7 ppg) is the clear leader of the Miami team – a great shooter who has improved his entire game. Miami relies on a strong defense (second in scoring defense last season at 67.9 ppg) and will do so again this season, hoping to ride that into the NCAA Tournament. Clemson hopes to join them, led by Trevor Brooker who is both a great scorer and rebounder. In the past the Tigers have relied on a speedy trapping defense that creates lots of turnovers, but much of the talent that made that style of play work in the past is gone this season. They’ll need Brooker and KC Rivers to step up and put points on the board this season. Virginia Tech (NIT) and Georgia Tech (NIT) are likely bubble teams this season. VT only lost one starter from last year’s squad and returns lots of young talent, including AD Vasallo and Jeff Allen. Georgia Tech lost a lot from last year’s team but brings back some young talent in a good recruiting class. Maryland (NIT) lost a great frontcourt and will rely on Greivis Vasquez to lead them to a potential NIT birth.

The Rest.  NC State, Boston College, Florida State and Virginia are all likely to be staying home in March, although it is certainly possible for one or two to surprise and make some kind of noise this season and maybe grab an NIT birth. NC State lost its top three players from a season ago and will need lots of guys to step up this year. Boston College boasts a great player in Tyrese Rice, but lacks anyone to support him and I don’t see who could step up and really fill that role. Florida State loses as much as NC State did, if not more, and probably has even less talent that could step up. Virginia, like these other teams, lost its top three players from last season and another to injury. For now, everything is on Mamadi Diane’s shoulders and the prospects for this season are grim.

RPI Boosters.

  • Kentucky @ North Carolina – ESPN 9:00  (11.18.09)
  • Ohio State @ Miami – ESPN 7:00 ACC/B10 Challenge  (12.02.08)
  • Duke @ Purdue – ESPN 9:15  ACC/B10 Challenge  (12.02.08)
  • Indiana @ Wake Forest – ESPN 7:00  ACC/B10 Challenge  (12.03.08)
  • North Carolina @ Michigan State – ESPN 9:15  ACC/B10 Challenge  (12.03.08)
  • NC State @ Davidson – FSN 12:00  (12.06.08)
  • Miami @ Kentucky – ESPN 5:30  (12.06.08)
  • Duke @ Xavier – CBS 2:00  (12.20.08)
  • Davidson @ Duke – ESPN 7:00  (01.07.09)
  • Georgetown @ Duke – CBS 1:30  (01.16.09)

Preseason Tourneys.

  • North Carolina – Maui Invitational
  • Duke – Coaches Versus Cancer
  • Boston College – Preseason NIT
  • Virginia Tech – Puerto Rico Tip Off
  • Miami – Paradise Jam
  • Wake Forest – 76 Classic
  • Maryland – Old Spice Classic
  • Florida State – Las Vegas Invitational

The preseason/Thanksgiving tournaments should provide some good early challenges for these ACC teams, and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge usually provides some entertainment as well. Just about everyone has a couple of significant OOC games, and for some of the bubble teams these could be the RPI boosters they need to make a push into the NCAA Tournament.

Key Games.  I’ve heard it said that every game is a big game in the ACC, and in many ways this is true. Obviously, though, some are bigger than others so let’s take a look:

  • Clemson @ Miami – FSN 7:45  (12.21.08)
  • North Carolina @ Wake Forest – FSN 8:00  (01.11.09)
  • Duke @ Georgia Tech – ESPN 7:00  (01.14.09)
  • Miami @ North Carolina – ESPN 9:00  (01.17.09)
  • Virginia Tech @ Wake Forest – ESPN2 7:00  (01.21.09)
  • Duke @ Clemson – ESPN 9:00  (02.03.09)
  • North Carolina @ Virginia Tech – ESPN 7:00  (03.04.09)
  • Duke @ North Carolina – CBS 4:00  (03.11.09)

As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s really difficult to just pick a handful of important ACC games, but these represent a smattering of some of the best teams and contenders playing each other. I promise, there will plenty of important and exciting games in the ACC all season long.

Did You Know. Tyler Hansbrough is the first AP National Player of the Year to return for another season since Shaquille O’Neal did it at LSU after winning the award in 1991. Pretty impressive, but maybe more surprising is that O’Neal returned – I’d be curious to know why he did. Also interesting, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski actually led a team to a gold medal for the second time over the summer. He had also been an assistant coach on the 1992 Dream Team. Unfortunately for him, coaches aren’t actually awarded medals, only players.

65 Team Era.  By nearly every objective measure, the ACC has been the best league of the last quarter-century: the best overall NCAA record (234-116, .669), the most #1 seeds (21), the most titles (6), the most F4s (22) and the most S16s (63).  These numbers are all driven by the fact that UNC and Duke have arguably been two of the top several programs in the nation during this time period.  What if we removed these two from consideration – how would the ACC compare?  After removing 130 wins, 19 #1 seeds, 5 titles, 18 F4s and 33 S16s, you’re left with a conference that would look a lot like the Atlantic 10 or CUSA in its best years.  It’s pretty amazing just how dominant those two programs have been over the years, and will continue to be. 

Final Thoughts.  It’s going to be another fun year in the ACC this season. I grew up outside ACC country, but having been here for several years now I can honestly say there’s nothing quite like it. I was skeptical at first, but I’ve been convinced. I’m looking forward to another great season. The top tier of teams is excellent, and the conference has enough depth to be exciting from nearly top to bottom. Despite North Carolina’s unanimity at the top, I don’t believe it is impossible for someone else to knock them off. Duke could certainly do it, as could anyone else in that next tier of teams. It will also be interesting to see how Tyler Hansbrough’s injury affects the Tar Heels and the ACC as a whole.

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #4 – Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2008

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. UCLA (25-4, 15-3)
  2. Arizona St. (20-8, 11-7)
  3. USC (17-11, 10-8)
  4. Washington St. (17-12, 10-8)
  5. Washington (18-12, 9-9)
  6. California (14-15, 8-10)
  7. Arizona (13-16, 8-10)
  8. Oregon (11-17, 7-11)
  9. Stanford (12-17, 6-12)
  10. Oregon St. (7-22, 3-15)

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WYN2K.  This is not the same Pac-10 conference as last year, plain and simple.  Gone are lottery picks OJ Mayo (USC), Russell Westbrook (UCLA), Kevin Love (UCLA), Brook Lopez (Stanford) and Jerryd Bayless (Arizona).  Gone are Robin Lopez (Stanford) and Ryan Anderson (Cal), also first-rounders.  Gone are Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (UCLA) and Davon Jefferson (USC), who went in the second round and not at all, respectively.  This year’s Pac-10 transition isn’t just limited to players.  There are new coaches at Oregon St. (Craig Robinson), Stanford (Johnny Dawkins), Cal (Mike Montgomery) and Arizona (Russ Pennell).  It’s safe to say that no other major conference will look as significantly different from last year as the Pac-10 in 2008-09. 

Predicted Champion.   UCLA (NCAA #1)Perhaps the only consistency in the Pac-10 this year will be he continued dominance of Ben Howland’s UCLA Bruins over the rest of this conference.  After three straight Final Fours and another superb recruiting class matriculating in Westwood, Howland has built his program to the enviable point where he can lose two lottery picks and another starter as early entries to the NBA Draft and not expect his program to suffer major slippage.  While we don’t believe that this version of UCLA will be as good of a team as the 2007-08 edition, the Bruins’ position relative to the rest of the conference may actually be stronger this time around.  He returns an all-american PG, Darren Collison, who has played in three F4s and led the nation in 3FG% last year (.525, min. 80 attempts).  More importantly, Collison has a chip on his shoulder after a miserable national semifinal performance against Memphis last year (2 pts, 5 tos, 5 fouls) – when he’s directing his team effectively, there are few teams in America that can overcome their bruising defense and efficient offense.  The national #1 recruiting class is headlined by all-world guard Jrue Holiday, who is expected to start from day one.  His talent, along with a cadre of perimeter (Malcolm Lee, Jerime Anderson) and inside players (J’Mison Morgan, Drew Gordon), will give Howland numerous lineup options to throw at opponents.  Furthermore, UCLA returns a finally-healthy Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya to provide experience and a steady hand at crunch time.  As we said before, we don’t believe this UCLA team will be as good as last year’s squad, but it probably doesn’t have to be.  The Pac-10 has dropped in talent significantly, and UCLA should be able to roll through to another fantastic record and possible high RPI rating to garner another #1 seed out west.  Here’s a pretty good indication of why Darren Collison is so important for this team.

NCAA Teams.  We’re not sure that we see more than four NCAA teams in the Pac-10 this year, which sent six to the Big Dance last season and arguably deserved seven (Arizona St.).  In the best-case scenario, things come together for certain teams and the league hopes for five on Selection Sunday, but there’s a more realistic chance that there will only be three NCAA selections made on that day. 

  • Arizona St. (NCAA #4)Herb Sendek’s coaching resume shows that once he gets a program to the 20-win plateau for the first time, it typically stays there.  In other words, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that ASU, who is returning its top eight players from a 21-13 NIT quarterfinalist, will regress this season.   The key player, of course, is James Harden, a coulda-been-one-and-done, who lit up the conference for 18/5/3 assts, including 41% from behind the arc (and 53% overall).  Harden is a future lottery pick in a league where the only other potential such picks are freshmen (DeRozan, Holiday).  Pac-10 teams are not going to enjoy their trips to Tempe this year.
  • USC (NCAA #8) – We struggled in making this selection, but the thing that pushes USC into the top three of the Pac-10 is simply, talent.  Other than UCLA, no other program has as much pure talent that it can put on the floor.  Undisciplined, maddening talent – sure – but that’s Tim Floyd for ya.  Demar DeRozan wll be a highlight reel for his one year in LA, but he has considerable help next to him, assuming they can all learn to share the ball and play together.  Daniel Hackett, Taj Gibson and Dwight Lewis are all talented players, and if UNC transfer Alex Stepheson is deemed eligible to play for the Trojans this year, USC has enough talent to make a run at the Pac-10 title.  We don’t expect that to happen because Ben Howland is Ben Howland and Tim Floyd is Tim Floyd, but the talent differential excuse doesn’t hold water anymore. 
  • Washington St. (NCAA #10) – We’re taking a bit of a risk with Wazzu at fourth and a bubble team for the NCAAs, but we truly believe that Tony Bennett is a system coach.  Like Bo Ryan at Wisconsin, the names on the backs of the jerseys are largely irrelevant to the success of the program.  They’re going to run their slower-than-Xmas stuff no matter which faces are running around out there, and in so doing, dare the rest of the Pac-10 to figure it out.  Now we’re not saying that the losses of Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and Robbie Cowgill won’t hurt – after all, that trio was the most decorated group of players in Washington St. history; but with center Aron Baynes returning along with guard Taylor Rochestie and small forward Daven Harmerling, Bennett has more than enough experience to continue confounding skeptics up in Pullman. 

NIT Teams.

  • Washington (NIT) – This program has seemed to be in a funk ever since Brandon Roy left the dreary environs of Seattle.  If the Huskies are going to take advantage of a weaker Pac-10 to make a run at the NCAA Tournament (or the NIT), they’re going to have to get another superb season from PF Jon Brockman (18/12 on 54% FG).  But that won’t be enough without improved performances from Quincy Pondexter and Justin Dentmon on the perimeter.  Freshman Isaiah Thomas is getting some hype from Husky fans – perhaps he can push them over the top. 

Others.

  • California – The story here is obviously Mike Montgomery’s return to college coaching at his former employer’s bitterest rival.  Had Cal held onto star player Ryan Anderson, we would have considered the Bears as a bubble NCAA team.  We do think Monty will get there eventually, as he did at Long Beach St. and Stanford (not exactly powerhouses when he arrived), but he’s not a quick-fix guy and it will take time to undo the culture of mediocrity left by Ben Braun. 
  • Arizona – On talent alone, with Chase Budinger, Nic Wise and Jordan Hill, the Wildcats should be a top three Pac-10 team.  However, with the fiasco that unfolded last month and the eyebrow-raising hire of the fomer Arizona State radio announcer Russ Pennell as the head coach, we’re not sure anyone will actually want to play for UA this season.  Putting them seventh was a gift. 
  • Oregon – We still can’t figure out how Ernie Kent got a big contract extension, but we suppose it doesn’t take much to satisfy people in Eugene.  At least until Mark Few takes an interest in coaching in the Pac-10.  With only one significant player returning, the 5’6 Tajuan Porter, and nine new faces, we just don’t see the Ducks making a return trip to the NCAAs this season.
  • Stanford – We think Johnny Dawkins is in for a surprise in Palo Alto this season.  Nobody has any clue as to how good of a coach he will be, but we can say with a degree of certainty that the only thing keeping the Cardinal afloat last year was the interior presence of the comical Lopez twins.  The guardplay was relatively abysmal (39.5% shooting), and oh, well, now the Lopezes are gone.  Good luck with that, JD. 
  • Oregon St. – Hey, did you guys hear that new head coach Craig Robinson is Barack Obama’s bro-in-lawWe hadn’t either.  Screw Corvallis, with Robinson’s financial resume, he should be in DC helping Barry fix the economy.  Seriously though, last year, OSU might have been the worst major conference team we’d ever seen (Indiana has a shot at bettering that this year).  Ferguson had success at Brown, though, which is a herculean task in its own right, so maybe he can get a few Ws in Corvallis this season.  Three or four would be miraculous. 

RPI Boosters.

  • Washington v. Kansas  (11.24.08)
  • UCLA @ Texas  (12.04.08)
  • USC @ Oklahoma  (12.04.08)
  • Arizona @ Texas A&M  (12.05.08)
  • Gonzaga @ Washington St.  (12.10.08)
  • Arizona v. Gonzaga  (12.14.08)
  • Kansas @ Arizona  (12.23.08)
  • Notre Dame @ UCLA  (02.07.09)

Important Games.

  • UCLA @ USC  (01.11.09)
  • Arizona St. @ UCLA  (01.17.09)
  • USC @ Washington St.  (01.24.09)
  • USC @ UCLA  (02.04.09)
  • USC @ Arizona St.  (02.15.09)
  • Washington @ UCLA  (02.19.09)
  • Arizonan @ Arizona St.  (02.22.09)

Neat-O Stat.  The Pac-10, with only ten conference members, is the only BCS league that plays a true round-robin schedule of home/away games with every other team.  We like this because it gives a true measure of the strength of each team relative to one another in the conference.  There are no plans on the horizon to expand the Pac-10 to twelve members (for football reasons, the NCAA requires twelve teams to have a postseason championship game). 

65 Team Era.  The Pac-10 has traditionally been the weakest of the six major conferences in its NCAA Tournament performance, going 127-96 (.570) over the era.  The league simply doesn’t put as many teams into the Tournament as its peers, earning 4.1 bids per year – the next lowest is the Big 12 with 4.8 per year, and the “Super Six” average is 5 bids per year.  As might be expected as a correlation to that fact, the Pac-10 is also last among the six conferences in #1 seeds (12), S16s (36) and F4s (9).  UCLA can’t do it all, folks!

Final Thoughts.  UCLA has led the re-emergence of the Pac-10 conference as a basketball powerhouse the last several seasons, but turmoil among several previously consistent programs (Arizona, Stanford) has put the possibility of UCLA and the Nine Dwarves back into the conversation.  One thing that we can be certain of is that Ben Howland will win and win big as long as he’s residing in Westwood.  He hasn’t won a national title yet, but it seems a foregone conclusion that one of these years he’ll break through and win the brass ring.  The rest of the Pac-10 is going to have to figure out a way to recruit on par with UCLA as well as perform in March before this league will be considered a national power again.  We know that Pac-10 schools can attract star talent across the spectrum, but can they be coached up to taste national success?   

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #5 – SEC

Posted by rtmsf on November 7th, 2008

Kurt of SEC Hoops: The Good, The Bad, The Dirty is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish:

EAST

  1. Tennessee (25-5, 13-3)
  2. Florida (25-5, 12-4)
  3. Kentucky (22-8, 11-5)
  4. Vanderbilt (24-6, 9-7)
  5. South Carolina (19-10, 8-8)
  6. Georgia (15-13, 5-11)

WEST

  1. Alabama (18-11, 8-8)
  2. LSU (21-10, 8-8)
  3. Mississippi State (21-10, 8-8)
  4. Ole Miss (17-13, 7-9)
  5. Arkansas (14-15, 5-11)
  6. Auburn (14-17, 3-13)

sec-logo1

What You Need to Know.  The name of the game for the SEC this year is youth. The Western Division in particular, as nearly every team loses some nucleus from squads that formed a comparatively weak conference half as it was. Tennessee once again looks to lead a strong Eastern Division despite the loss of All-American Chris Lofton. The nation will be looking towards this typically loaded conference with several questions heading into 2008-09. Can Florida’s sophomores have a breakout season similar to those of 2006-07? Can Kentucky put enough guards around all-SEC forward Patrick Patterson to compete for the East? And can the West avoid being stomped once again in head-to-head competitions with the East? My answers: yes, yes, and no.

Predicted Champion.   Tennessee (#2 seed NCAA). It’s pretty easy to brag on Bruce Pearl. He’s one of the nation’s premier coaches, owning a ridiculous 394-108 (.785) record as a head coach, standing third amongst current head coaches. Despite losing popular 2007-08 preseason pick for National Player of the Year Chris Lofton and do-everything guard/forward JuJuan Smith, the Vols will benefit from huge losses across the board for the SEC. All-American forward Tyler Smith (13.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg) returns to provide the squad with a heavy-duty anchor inside (although the 6’7, 215 lb. junior hits 37.8% from behind the arc), while talented center Wayne Chism will be mopping up inside defensively. Hopping aboard the orange train are a pair of insanely talented newcomers. Everything-All-American out of high school Scotty Hopson will be challenging for the starting spot at shooting guard while junior-college All-American Bobby Maze looks to start at point guard. All in all, the talent, experience, and coaching level is the highest in Knoxville, and that’s why the Vols are picked to win the SEC regular season for the second consecutive season.   Here’s some clips from the classic #1 v. #2 matchup Tennessee had with Memphis last season.

NCAA Teams.

  • Florida (NCAA #3) – The Gators have once again put together a formula for a set of super sophomores. The league’s top freshman, as well as one of the conference’s best point guards in years, returns in Nick Calathes while a pair of star freshmen in Kenny Kadji and Eloy Vargas will attempt to fill the rather large shoes of NBA-bound Marreese Speights. Don’t be surprised if the Gators reclaim the SEC regular-season title for the third time in the past four years and show up knocking on the door of the NCAA’s Elite Eight.
  • Kentucky (NCAA #6) – The Wildcats have a lot of outside shooting to replace, after losing over 33 points per game in Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley. SEC Co-Freshman of the Year Patrick Patterson returns and looks to touch the ball on nearly every possession, and incoming freshman DeAndre Liggins should serve as this year’s heavily-relied upon freshman for the Wildcats at the point guard spot. UK could challenge for the Eastern Division (and thus, the overall SEC crown) and sneak into the NCAA Sweet Sixteen if the pieces fall correctly.
  • Vanderbilt (NCAA #9) – Replacing SEC Player of the Year Shan Foster won’t be easy for Kevin Stallings, but the Commodores have another potential POY candidate in A.J. Ogilvy to step into that leadership role. Ogilvy returns as the conference’s most efficient player and scorer, and Jermaine Beal will be the guy to pass inside to the talented post-man while remaining a scoring threat this season. Although the Commodores lose an immense talent in Foster, Ogilvy should be enough to push the squad into the first couple of rounds in the NCAA Tournament.
  • LSU (NCAA #11) – The Tigers return nearly every major contributor from last year’s 13-18 squad except for star freshman Anthony Randolph and head coach John Brady, who was replaced during the offseason with accomplished former Stanford coach Trent Johnson. Johnson inherits possibly the league’s most talented overall player in senior Marcus Thornton, the league’s leading returning scorer, along with a chance to get LSU back to the NCAA Tournament (if just so) for the first time since 2006’s Final Four run.
  • Mississippi State (NCAA #12) – The Bulldogs lose the most talented duo in the conference in multi-dimensional Jamont Gordon and dominating post-presence Charles Rhodes. In addition, State will need to find a replacement at shooting guard with sophomore Ben Hansbrough transferring to Notre Dame. The positive, however, is that MSU is loaded with talented and will anchor around National Defensive Player of the Year Jarvis Varnado, who led the nation in blocks per game and helped the team rank second nationally in field-goal percentage defense. Adding two big new pieces to the puzzle in freshmen Dee Bost and Romero Osby, the Bulldogs could win their share of the West for the third time in the past four season and make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in the past eight seasons.

NIT Teams.

  • Alabama (NIT) – I’ve predicted several SEC squads with similar in-conference records, and thus those with the weaker RPIs have been restricted to the NIT. Alabama is one of them. The Tide return former All-American Ronald Steele, but major questions still surround his ability to return to his former self after several complications with knee injuries. McDonald’s All-American freshman JaMychal Green will step into the spot of the league’s most dominant offensive post-man in departed Richard Hendrix. If Green can handle the post himself, or if little-known sophomore Justin Knox can step in to assist, the Tide could find themselves away from a top NIT seed and into the NCAAs.
  • South Carolina (NIT) – New head coach David Horn from Western Kentucky infamy will step into a very favorable position at the helm of the Gamecocks. USC brings back more firepower, at least percentage-wise, than any other SEC team and could post the biggest turnaround season the league has seen in quite some time. Junior Devan Downey returns as one of the league’s top point guards and toughest men to keep out of the lane along with ranking as the SEC’s second-leading returning scorer. With almost every piece seeming to come into place for a special season for USC, keep your eyes pealed for a potential Gamecock bubble squad.

Others.

  • Arkansas – Just as USC returns nearly everyone, Arkansas loses nearly everyone from a team that underachieved a season ago. Namely, the Razorbacks lose former SEC Freshman of the Year Patrick Beverly, who decided to try his luck overseas. Despite a solid recruiting class, this should be a rebuilding year for John Pelphrey.
  • Auburn – The Tigers simply have had a bare cupboard in both talent and depth constantly under Jeff Lebo, and this year is little different. The return of Korvotney Barber should help matters some, assuming he stays healthy, but Auburn won’t improve to any real degree until Lebo is let go.
  • Georgia – The Bulldogs under Dennis Felton have been comparable to Auburn under Lebo for quite some time, except that Felton recruits a bit better and has had some nominal success such as last year’s confusing SEC Tournament run. With mass suspensions and off-the-court issues, UGA should remain near or at the bottom of the conference this season – and Felton should receive his pink slip much like Lebo.
  • Ole Miss – The Rebels lost a lot last season, but were still anchored inside by solid and experienced forwards, especially Dwayne Curtis.  With those losses, this team is almost entirely underclassmen and could sneak into the NIT if they catch some breaks.

RPI Boosters.

  • Kentucky @ North Carolina (11.18.08) – If the Wildcats can pull a massive upset of the consensus #1 team in the nation in Chapel Hill, they will be well on their way to returning to national recognition.
  • Tennessee vs. Marquette (12.16.08) – The Volunteers get little or no breaks throughout the non-conference schedule, and this SEC vs. Big East matchup will be for conference bragging rights.
  • LSU @ Texas A&M (12.20.08) – If the Tigers want to prove they are rebounding, this will be one of few opportunities for them to so in the non-conference slate.
  • South Carolina @ Baylor (01.02.08) – The Gamecocks’ schedule is ridiculously light, and their schedule will be inflated by this point in the season. This game is a must-win if USC wants to take the step up into the NCAAs.
  • Tennessee @ Kansas (01.03.08) – Another heavyweight matchup for the Vols, who have a chance to take down a reigning national champ on their home court.
  • Kentucky @ Louisville (01.04.08) – The Cats could seriously bolster their NCAA seed and chances to advance in the NCAAs by taking down Louisville on the road.
  • Memphis @ Tennessee (01.24.08) – A quickly-heating rivalry as the amount of NBA potential on this floor could drown the common man.

Important Games.

  • LSU @ Mississippi State (01.11.09) – If the Tigers want to break through the cap and take the West, a win in this early conference game would be a huge advantage.
  • Kentucky @ Alabama (01.24.09) – The Tide must be able to win games at home against the top tier of the East if they have any serious hope of challenging for the overall SEC crown.
  • Mississippi State @ Alabama (02.21.09) – If the Bulldogs take care of the Tide at home, they have a shot to make it six in a row over their rivals and take a major step towards another West title.
  • Tennessee @ Florida (03.01.09) – The Gators must hold serve at home to compete in the East, while the Vols could wrap up the conference title with a win here.
  • Kentucky @ Florida (03.07.09) – We know the Wildcats can win at home, but can they win in Gainesville? This one could be for the East.

Neat-O Stat.  The Southeastern Conference is one of the nation’s deepest and most competitive leagues. The SEC ranks second only behind the ACC in average conference RPI since 1999, and has put every single member into the NCAA tournament since 2002.

65 Team Era.  The SEC has had a tremendous amount of success in this era, going 178-117 (.603) which is good enough for third behind the ACC and Big East.  This includes thirteen F4s and five national titles.  What’s particularly impressive is that only four of those F4s and two titles belong to Kentucky, the traditional standard-bearer of this league, which shows that the rest of the conference has taken basketball to heart and stepped it up. 

Final Thoughts.  The SEC was a huge disappointment on the national scene a season ago. Without major flag-bearers such as Kentucky or Florida dominating, expectations fell on Tennessee to take their #2 seed to the Final Four. Instead, the Vols served as the only team from the conference to make the Sweet Sixteen before falling on their faces to Louisville.  While this year likely won’t be much of an improvement, consider it a gigantic top-to-bottom reloading of one of the nation’s premier men’s basketball conferences, with the league’s talent being tremendously youth-oriented.  Three SEC teams look to have serious aspirations for getting past the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and all are from the East: Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky. If a Western Division team can step up and compete better than expected and at least two of these teams make the Sweet Sixteen this season, it should serve as a useful springboard to a very potent year for the SEC on the national scene in 2009-2010.

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #6 – Big Ten

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2008

Josh & Mike at Big Ten Geeks are the RTC correspondents for the Big Ten Conference.  

  1. Michigan State  (29-6, 16-2)
  2. Purdue  (27-7, 15-3)
  3. Wisconsin  (24-8, 13-5)
  4. Ohio State  (20-12, 10-8)
  5. Illinois  (18-13, 9-9)
  6. Minnesota  (21-10, 9-9)
  7. Michigan  (16-14, 8-10)
  8. Penn State  (18-12, 7-11)
  9. Northwestern  (13-17, 6-12)
  10. Iowa  (12-18, 4-14)
  11. Indiana  (8-20, 2-16)

big-10-logoWYN2K.  This is not your father’s Big Ten, or rather, it’s not your older brother’s Big Ten.  Gone are dominating big men of the past, such as Greg Oden, DJ White, Kosta Koufos, and James Augustine.  They’ve been replaced by guards such as Manny Harris, Kalin Lucas, E’Twaun Moore and Demetri McCamey.  A solid big man (such as the perennially-underrated Goran Suton and incoming freshman B.J. Mullens) is a luxury that most Big Ten teams will not enjoy.  You’ll see a lot of lineups featuring one player at 6’7 or taller.  Some might hope this will spur the Big Ten into faster play, but, as Northwestern proved last season, guard-oriented teams can be every bit as slow as tall teams.

Predicted Champion.  Michigan St.  (NCAA #2).  There are two things everyone can agree on for season predictions: Michigan State and Purdue promise to be the two toughest teams, and Indiana promises to finish in the basement.  Beyond that, there’s a lot of uncertainty here.  We like the Spartans to take the title.  Part of that is talent (the roster features ten top 100 RSCI players), and part of that is schedule (MSU gets one game against the formidable Wisconsin, while Purdue has only one game against lowly Indiana).  Also, in a guard-heavy conference, picking the team with the best frontline (Suton, Diaper Dandy Delvon Roe, and conference Player of the Year candidate Raymar Morgan – see below) isn’t a bad strategy.  Sort of a “land of the blind” kind of thing.  In our estimation, the Boilermakers feature the best starting five, but they have depth issues.  Still though, it would not be a shock if Purdue came out on top.

NCAA/NIT Teams.  We think this is a 4-bid league, but that fourth bid is hardly a shoe-in.  Yes, the Big Ten is down (again), but we see a lot more parity in the middle of the conference.  Fourth place through seventh is really up for grabs, and we think that makes for a lot of NIT teams.  In fact, the Big Ten could send more teams to the NIT than to the NCAA tourney.  We think the top 3 teams (MSU, Purdue (NCAA #4), and Wisconsin (NCAA #8)) are near-locks for the NCAA Tourney, the next three (Ohio St. (NCAA #11), Illinois, and Minnesota) promise to be bubbilicious, and the next three (Michigan, PSU, and Northwestern) figure to be in the NIT hunt. 

Others.  Iowa and Indiana almost certainly aren’t going anywhere, at least this season.  Both teams are in the rebuilding mode, with Todd Lickliter still working to get “his players” into his system (does he really have a system though?).  Indiana is sort of like how we look after a three-day weekend in Vegas – humbled, confused, full of regrets, and ready to move on.  Coach Tom Crean already has several impressive recruits lined up for the next season – so get your licks in now, Big Ten, because IU will be back sooner rather than later.

Important Games.  The biggest non-conference game on the schedule, without question, is on December 3rd, when UNC faces Michigan St. at Ford Field, site of this year’s Final Four.  It might be the first of two meetings between those teams at that venue.  We’re also interested to see the Davidson-Purdue matchup on December 20th (that Steph Curry is fun to watch), and the December 2nd Duke-Purdue contest that might be the best game between teams with so much talent concentrated on the perimeter.  In conference, the two meetings between Purdue and MSU are the must-see events that likely will determine the conference champ.

Neat-o Stats. 

  • Since 1980, no conference has had more NCAA Tournament appearances than the Big Ten (144).
  • In each of the past 4 seasons, Indiana has a better winning percentage as the underdog than as the favorite.
  • Since 1998, the Big Ten is the 3rd best conference by RPI.
  • The Big Ten is 30-56 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and has never actually “won” the event in nine tries.  The only team not playing in the challenge this season is NC State – which finished dead last in the ACC last season.

(h/t to Statfix.com for some of these)

65 Team Era.  The Big 10 during this era has earned more NCAA bids than any other conference (133), and its record is fourth-best of the period (194-130, .599), including 18 #1 seeds (2d), 47 Sweet Sixteens (4th), 16 Final Fours (2d), and 3 titles (4th).  Even in the 2000s, when there’s been a perception that the league has been ‘down’ relative to the 80s and 90s, the Big Ten has put six teams into the F4, including two in 2005.  We’ve been guilty of ragging the B10 for its ‘boring’ style of basketball, but we can’t argue with its results – and there’s a strong likelihood of seeing another Big Ten team in the F4 this year. 

Final Thought.  The Big Ten will not be the best conference in college basketball, but it should be home to some of the best guards in the country.  The conference received a big infusion of point guards last season, and the best of the bunch, Kalin Lucas, is one of the ten best PGs in the country.  And while super sophomore Manny Harris gets a lot of deserved praise (a lot), we think an even better sophomore shooting guard plays in West Lafayette.  And he might not even be the best sophomore on his team.  We also like last-second-shot-specialist Blake Hoffarber’s chances to become a household name.  Also, the increased parity should make for a lot of close games.  Expect to see very few blowout wins.  Except against Indiana (sorry, Hoosiers).

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2008-09 Season Primers: #7 – Atlantic 10

Posted by nvr1983 on November 4th, 2008

Predicted order of finish:

  1. Xavier (29-6, 14-2; Schedule)
  2. Temple (23-11, 12-4; Schedule)
  3. Charlotte (20-13, 11-5; Schedule)
  4. UMass (19-14, 10-6; Schedule)
  5. Dayton (22-11, 9-7; Schedule)
  6. St. Louis (21-11, 9-7; Schedule)
  7. St. Joseph’s (21-12, 8-8; Schedule)
  8. Rhode Island (16-17, 7-9; Schedule)
  9. Richmond (15-17, 7-9; Schedule)
  10. La Salle (13-18, 6-10; Schedule)
  11. George Washington (13-16, 6-10; Schedule)
  12. Duquesne (11-19, 5-11; Schedule)
  13. Fordham (8-22, 4-12; Schedule)
  14. St. Bonaventure (7-22, 4-12; Schedule)

WYN2K.  If the A-10 wants to lay claim to being one of the premier mid-majors [Note: Hold the e-mails, I’m not putting the A-10 with the big boys yet. If you want to, become an RTC correspondent], they will have plenty of shots against the big boys: Duke (3 times-Rhode Island, Duquesne, and Xavier), Kansas (2 times-UMass and Temple), Memphis (UMass), Tennessee (Temple), Texas (St. Joe’s), and many other less prestigious programs in BCS conferences.

Predicted Champion. Xavier (#4 NCAA). Last year, #3 seed Xavier made it to the Elite 8 before falling to perennial national semifinalist UCLA. While Xavier loses several key seniors, they should be able to remain the dominant team in the A-10 due to their superior depth (6 players last year averaged between 9.7 and 12.4 PPG with 3 of those players returning). The Musketeers return Derrick Brown (10.9 ppg), C.J. Anderson (10.7 ppg), and center Jason Love. The loss of the seniors may also be eased by the addition of 6-11 freshman Kenny Frease, freshman point guard Terrell Holloway, freshman shooting guard Brian Walsh, and Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford.  Helping lead the Musketeers will be Sean Miller who became the first Xavier coach to turn down an offer from a bigger name program in quite some time (see: Gillen, Pete; Prosser, Skip; and Matta, Thad). Xavier has a chance to put itself in position for a very high NCAA seed if they can beat Duke in a “neutral site” game in East Rutherford, NJ, on December 20th.  Here’s a clip on Xavier’s trip to the E8 last season.

Others Considered. To be perfectly honest, Xavier should run away with the A-10 this year. Their depth makes them resistant to any reasonable expectation of injuries. The only other legitimate contender if Xavier slips up is Temple (NCAA #10). The Owls, coached by Fran Dunphy (still seems weird not to see John Chaney on the sidelines or storming into other coach’s press conferences), will need to replace the all-around output of Mark Tyndale. They return Dionte Christmas, the A-10’s leading scorer, but he will face increased defensive pressure this year. The Owls also lost Chris Clark to graduation so they will need Ryan Brooks, Lavoy Allen, and Sergio Olmos to step up this year if they want to seriously challenge Xavier.  We also see Charlotte (NIT) and Dayton (NIT) as postseason teams.

RPI Boosters.

  • Rhode Island at Duke  (11.16.08)
  • UMass at Memphis  (11.17.08)
  • Virginia Commonwealth at Rhode Island  (11.22.08)
  • St. Joe’s vs. Texas (Lahaina, HI)  (11.24.08)
  • Dayton vs. Marquette (Hoffman Estates, IL)  (11.29.08)
  • Boston College at UMass  (12.06.08)
  • UMass vs. Kansas (Kansas City, MO)  (12.13.08)
  • Tennessee at Temple  (12.13.08)
  • Temple at Kansas  (12.20.08)
  • Oklahoma State at Rhode Island  (12.20.08)
  • Xavier vs. Duke (East Rutherford, NJ)  (12.20.08)
  • Butler at Xavier  (12.23.08)
  • Vanderbilt at UMass  (01.03.09)

Neat-O Stat. Despite being a mid-major league, the A-10 managed to get 2 programs into ESPN.com’s Prestige Rankings. Interestingly, they are the only programs to make the top 20 without having made a Final 4. The only A-10 team to have made the Final 4 is UMass, which checks in at #52. I guess this speaks to the rewards of being consistent. A while back some bums stated they were going to revise the criteria to come out with their own rankings. It’s coming. We promise. . .

65 Team Era.  As stated above, the A-10 is often the bridesmaid, never the bride, when it comes to the Final Four.  Ok, UMass did have its one shot at glory in 1996, but ten other times an A-10 team has gotten to the Elite Eight only to have its hopes dashed in that round (five times in the last decade).  This includes Temple five times, Xavier twice, UMass once, St. Joseph’s once, and Rhode Island once.  During the era, the A-10 has gone 63-65 (.492), which puts it right there with CUSA as the top mid-major league over the last quarter century. 

Final Thoughts. Despite my cheap shots, the A-10 is one of the top conferences in the country. Last year, they only managed to get three teams into the NCAA tournament, but has the potential to get a couple of more bids. To do this, teams will have to get to 10 wins in this conference since the bottom of the conference is so weak. If a lot of teams end up 9-7 or 8-8 in conference play, those teams will end up in the NIT again.

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #9 – Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on November 3rd, 2008

Jordan Freemeyer is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Big Sky Conferences.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. BYU  (21-8, 13-3)
  2. UNLV  (20-9, 12-4)
  3. Utah  (18-11, 10-6)
  4. San Diego State  (18-11, 9-7)
  5. New Mexico  (16-13, 8-8)
  6. Air Force  (14-15, 7-9)
  7. Wyoming  (12-17, 6-10)
  8. Colorado State  (10-19, 5-11)
  9. TCU  (6-23, 2-14)

WYN2K.  This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Mountain West, which has been very successful in basketball. The conference stretches from San Diego to Dallas and as far north as Wyoming. The Mountain West has sent a team to the Sweet Sixteen in two of the last four years (Utah – 2005; UNLV – 2007).  Correspondingy, as programs, UNLV and Utah have had the most success of teams in the Mountain West. UNLV won the 1990 National Championship with coach Jerry Tarkanian and Rick Majerus took Utah to the championship game in 1998.  While often overlooked nationally, the MWC is rich in basketball history.

Predicted Champion.   BYU (NCAA #8). The Cougars won the Mountain West last season, going 14-2 in conference play, and return co-Mountain West Player of the Year Lee Cummard to their backcourt. Cummard led BYU with 15.8 points per game last year and also grabbed 6.3 rebounds on average. The Cougars return eight letterwinners from last year’s team and went 16-0 at home last season.  Here’s a Lee Cummard highlight.

Others Considered/Bubble Teams.  The only other team from the Mountain West to make the NCAA Tournament last year was UNLV (NCAA #11). The Runnin’ Rebels return their top two scorers from last season in guard Wink Adams and forward Joe Darger. The biggest obstacle in UNLV’s road to the conference championship is the team’s ten newcomers. Utah (NIT) had a disappointing season last year, going just 7-9 in conference play, but the Utes return all five starters including senior center Luke Nevill, who led the team last season with 15.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. San Diego State (NIT) could also contend for an NCAA bid.  Here’s an amusing video of Wink Adams highlights vs. BYU put together by, quite clearly, a UNLV fan.

Important Games.

  • Utah @ San Diego State (01.10.09)
  • UNLV @ BYU (01.21.09)
  • BYU @ Utah (01.27.09)
  • UNLV @ Utah (02.25.09)
  • Mountain West Championship Game (03.14.09)

RPI Boosters.

  • San Diego State @ Arizona (12.10.08)
  • San Diego State v. St. Mary’s  (12.13.08) (Wooden Classic)
  • BYU @ Arizona State (12.20.08)
  • Gonzaga @ Utah (12.31.08)
  • UNLV @ Louisville (12.31.08)
  • Wake Forest @ BYU (01.03.09)

Neat-O Stat.  In nine years of Mountain West Conference play, 29 teams have had 20-win seasons going into Selection Sunday. All 29 of those teams were selected for the NCAA Tournament, including BYU and UNLV last year. Considering that a 25-win Utah State team from the WAC missed the tournament in 2007, that says a lot about the tournament committee’s respect for the strength of the Mountain West.

65 Team Era.  In the nine seasons of the Mountain West, the league has only had a single one-bid year (2001 – BYU).  In six years the MWC was a two-bid league (incl. the last four) and in 2002 and 2003, the league put three teams into the Big Dance.   An 8-20 (.289) record is a little lower than one might hope given an average seed of #10.4 for the era, but there have been two trips to the Sweet Sixteen, and every BCS team dreads a first-round matchup with a disciplined MWC squad because they know that they’ll be in for a brawl.  Since 2004, MWC first-round losses have been by an average of only 6.6 points. 

Final Thoughts.   NCAA Tournament office pools are won by people that picked Mountain West upsets seemingly every year, so keeping an eye on this conference is a good idea if you want to win your office pool come March. The conference is also very easy to follow because it has its own TV network, The Mtn., which shows nearly every conference game. There are some very good coaches and talented players in the MWC, so it is an entertaining conference to watch.

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2008-09 Season Primers: #10 – Missouri Valley

Posted by rtmsf on November 2nd, 2008

Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley and Big 12 Conferences.

 

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Creighton  (27-4, 15-3)
  2. Southern Illinois  (25-6, 14-4)
  3. Bradley  (22-8, 12-6)
  4. Illinois St.  (22-8, 10-8)
  5. Drake  (21-10, 10-8)
  6. Indiana St.  (17-13, 7-11)
  7. Wichita St.  (15-15, 6-12)
  8. Northern Iowa  (15-15, 6-12)
  9. Evansville  (14-15, 6-12)
  10. Missouri St.  (13-17, 4-14)

WYN2K.  Last season, Drake was predicted to finish 9th in the league and ended up having a dream season, winning the conference and the conference tournament, only to be knocked out by Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament in a thrilling game.  Most coaches from the Missouri Valley after a successful season jump ship and embrace the hype of their ability to move up into the major conferences – Steve Alford (Iowa at the time), Bruce Weber (Illinois), Matt Painter (Purdue), Greg McDermott (Iowa St.), Mark Turgeon (Texas A&M) and now Drake’s head man, Keno Davis.  Davis jumped at the Providence job 26 days after taking Drake to its first NCAA Tournament in many, many years.  The question that needs to be asked is whether Drake was that good or if the Valley was down last year.  It was probably a combination of both.   In the past, the Missouri Valley Conference has had multiple teams make the NCAA Tournament and the known teams in the conference will be making their return.  Creighton has been in the postseason (NCAA or NIT) a conference-record eleven straight seasons and Southern Illinois last year broke their six-year streak of getting into the NCAA Tournament.  Creighton has a ton of experience coming back whereas Southern Illinois is going back to their roots of tough defense and a solid floor general.  Drake will not reach the same level as  last year  as they have their third different head coach in as many years.  If Drake didn’t have the year they did last year, the story of the Valley would have been Illinois St.  First year coach Tim Jankovich (who was an assistant at  Kansas) was able to take advantage of the recruits of former coach Porter Moser and led this team to an unbelievable season themselves, but got destroyed on national TV in the Missouri Valley Tournament Championship game by Drake (79-49) and that was probably what kept them from being considered for the Big Dance.  Valley Preseason  Player of the Year Osiris Eldridge will be back to try to lead the Redbirds to another successful season.  After getting to the finals of the inaugural CBI postseason tournament, Bradley  is a tested team with experience that will make some noise this year.  Former Creighton assistant and second-year head coach Kevin McKenna has started to turn the Indiana St. team around and will show improvement.   Gregg Marshall is still trying to have the same success with Wichita St. that he had at Winhrop, but still has a lot of work to do.  Northern Iowa gets out of the gate a ltitle behind with several injured players, one suspended for the first three games and one waiting until semester’s end to become eligible. MVC cheerleader and resident little man Barry Hinson is out at Missouri St. and did not leave a lot behind.  Evansville is Evansville, although they have the advantage of returning all five starters from last season.  

Predicted Champion.  Creighton (NCAA #9).  Creighton is the obvious choice as they have eight players returning that played 12 or more minutes a game.  They also led the nation in bench scoring last year and there is enough talent on this team that the two players leading the nation in scoring off the bench without receiving a start (Booker Woodfox and Cavel Witter) may still not start this season.  P’Allen Stinnett is the Jays’ POY candidate that can amaze and wow people with his athleticism, but will need to be a leader this season and play with emotion like he is known for (keeping it contained to keep from bugging officials and unnecessary fouls).  Justin Carter comes in from the JUCO ranks as a scorer who may be able to step into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.  The frontcourt may be a little suspect since they only have three players over 6’8 but it appears they have been to the weight room and if they make the impact as expected, they will solidify this team.  Coach Dana Altman plans to have the high-pressure full-court defense back in motion this year to create turnovers.  The veteran coach, the returning player experience and the ability to play high-pressure defense is what will cause Creighton to rise to the top.  Also having eleven straight 20+ wins in a season is a streak that this team will not want to break.  This team should be able to get to the NCAA Tournament and win a couple of games to continue to build this program.  Here’s POY candidate P’Allen Stinnett rising up for a dunk.

NCAA/NIT Teams. 

  • Southern Illinois (NCAA #13). SIU had a high-profile non-conference schedule last season due to recent success, but came up short in justifying their hype.  Fortunately, the Salukis still have a high-profile non-conference schedule, but at the expense of playing marquee home games and instead going on the road to try to regain their notoriety.  They have the opportunity to be the featured team with the likes of Duke, Michigan and UCLA by being a part of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic if they win their home regional and advance to New York.  They are also part of the John Wooden Tradition game against St. Mary’s.  So the opportunities are there to be back in the spotlight for the Valley.  SIU will be led by senior point guard Bryan Mullins who was the Valley Defensive Player of the year and a solid leader.  The supporting cast is hyped as SIU’s best recruiting class ever and they had the opportunity to go to Canada over Labor Day to get familiar and some early playing time.  However a little blow came after the Canada trip when 3-point specialist Joshua Bone (at least he has seemed like that every time I have watched him) had a tough trip and decided to leave the team once they returned. That is one less player with experience.  So there will be a bit of a learning curve this season for Southern Illinois, but their tradition and fan base will keep them in contention and they should have enough to make it back to the NCAAs after settling for the NIT last season. 
  • Bradley (NIT).  People reading this who are knowledgeable of the Valley probably think I am crazy for having Bradley ranked so high compared to their own views and what other publications have written.  However, it was three short seasons ago that Bradley was in the Sweet 16.  Like it or not Jim Les has developed quite a program with Bradley.  Last season because of injuries, suspensions and other various reasons, the actual starting lineup that was expected to be on the floor didn’t occur very much, but last year’s team was a solid team. Being able to be a part of the initial CBI basketball tournament gave them the chance to play longer than most Valley teams and an opportunity to improve in areas for this season.  With the trio of point guard Sam Maniscalco, guard Andrew Warren and forward Theron Wilson provide a good starting group of players that if the newcomers gel could make some noise.  However, Bradley probably does not have enough firepower to win the Valley this season,  and are otherwise borderline in making the NCAA tournament so they probably will be in the NIT.
  • Illinois St. (NIT).  The Illinois St. defense was a stalwart last season as they were 11th nationally in points allowed per game (59.3).  Osiris Aldridge will be looked upon to continue his conference leading scoring along with the additions of transfers Champ Oguchi (Oregon) and Landon Shipley (Austin Peay).  The Redbirds’ frontcourt will be decimated to start the year as forwards Brandon Sampay and Bobby Hill are expected to be out until January due to injuries.  So this team will just be starting to gel under a cupcake non-conference schedule and these players will be coming back once conference season starts.  It may take a while for this team then to adjust to the higher level of play and integrating these players back into the lineup which will keep Illinois St. from returning to the Big Dance this season.  The non-conference slate that has an RPI average of 215 is well below standards of the Valley and will not jump onto anyone’s page as an at-large team for the NCAA Tournament.  Unless they win the conference tournament, it is the NIT for them.
  • Drake (NIT).  Mark Phelps takes over the Bulldogs and has now been tasked with high expectations after last year’s remarkable season.  Gone is the point guard, Adam Emmenecker, who really made things gel for Drake last season.  However they return “Bucky” Cox who likes to shoot threes more than play inside and All-MVC pick Josh Young at guard.  Keno Davis did not go too deep into his bench last season so a lot of players come in inexperienced.  Also, Davis did not really talk to players extensively and sort of let the players play their game.  On the other hand, new coach Phelps is more of  a talker, telling the team the things they need to do that may take some adjustment.  Both the coach and the team like the 3-ball so that will help the team stay on a common ground, but the moving back of the 3-point line will affect them if they live and die by the three.  The Bulldogs are the hunted and not the hunters this season and will suffer through a year of transition and will probably settle for the NIT this season.  In the meantime, Drake fans will still have this to remember… 

Others. 

  • Indiana St.  This team took a hit when its leading returning scorer Marico Stinson unexpectedly left the team and the university, but is on an upswing with a solid coach.  Look for them to make some noise next season.
  • Wichita St.  Only one returning starter and several new players will still try to find an identity while Gregg Marshall tries to look like he is not mad at the world.
  • Northern Iowa.  UNI gets out of the gate a little slowly with injuries and players missing from the team that won’t be able to play right away.  With coach Ben Jacobsen on the hot seat, he cannot afford to have another mediocre season after what Greg McDermott did with the team before Jacobsen’s tenure.  It may show the recruiting or coaching ability is not there. 
  • Evansville.  This team is still rebuilding as half the team is still freshman and sophomores though they have an advantage of returning all five starters.  However, they will need  a lot of help inside and that is not there yet. 
  • Missouri St.  The most exciting thing Missouri St. fans have to look forward to is the new $67M JQH Arena.

RPI Boosters / Key Games.

The key to this conference getting multiple bids is to have success against BCS and high mid-major teams.  Unfortunately, home games for the Valley teams are far and few between.

  • Missouri St. @ Auburn  (11.14.08)
  • Bradley @ Florida (CBE Classic)  (11.16.08)
  • Southern Illinois @ 2K Sports College Classic vs. Duke and Michigan/UCLA, but of course have to get out of their regional to get to New York.  (11.20-21.08)
  • Missouri St. vs. Arkansas  (11.22.08)
  • Wichita St. @ Old Spice classic vs. Georgetown and Maryland, Michigan St., or Gonzaga.   (11.27-30.08)
  • Northern Iowa vs. Marquette (Chicago Invitational)  (11.28.08)
  • Northern Iowa vs. Auburn (Chicago Invitational)  (11.29.08)
  • Indiana St. @ Depaul  (11.29.08)
  • Drake vs. Vanderbilt (Cancun Tourney)  (11.29.08)
  • Wichita St. @ Texas Tech  (12.03.08)
  • Creighton @ St. Josephs  (12.06.08)
  • Indiana St @ Louisville  (12.06.08)
  • Bradley @ Michigan St.  (12.07.08)
  • Creighton vs. Dayton  (12.10.08)
  • Indiana St. @ Purdue  (12.13.08)
  • Evansville @ North Carolina  (12.18.08)
  • Southern Illinois v. St. Mary’s  (12.20.08)  (Wooden Tradition)
  • Creighton vs. Depaul (in Vegas possibly)  (12.23.08)

Drake and Northern Iowa also benefit from a state law requiring Iowa and Iowa St. to play both Valley teams each year which adds and extra large conference school to their schedule. (ed. note: apparently this is a myth… thanks, readers)

 

Then you have the key conference games that will decide the conference champ.

  • Creighton vs. Southern Illinois (01.14.09)
  • Bradley vs. Illinois St.  (01.29.09)
  • Southern Illinois vs. Creighton  (02.14.09)
  • Drake vs. Southern Illinois (02.25.09)
  • Creighton vs. Illinois St.  (02.26.09)
  • Drake vs. Bradley  (02.28.09) 

Neat-O Stat.  Home Sweet Home.  The Missouri Valley Conference is known for defending its home court.  Southern Illinois is 92-6 in overall home games since 2001-02 and is 61-2 against conference opponents at home during that same period.  During that same period, Creighton is 97-17 at home.  Since Creighton opened the Qwest Center in 2003-04, the Jays are 66-13 at home.   These are just a couple of examples of why major conference teams don’t want to visit Valley schools. 

65 Team Era.   The MVC is a multiple-bid league, having before last season gone a decade between single-bid years (1998 to 2008).  In the 24-year history of this era, the league has only gotten one bid seven times, and even got as many as four in the high-water mark of 2006.  Despite an average seed of #10.2 over this period, the Valley has gone 22-45 (.329) and put seven different teams into the Sweet 16, including S. Illinois in 2007 and both Wichita St. and Bradley in 2006.  What’s more, in the last six years, MVC teams play teams tough, losing by an average of 6.1 pts in their knockout games (only one double-digit loss in 14 games).  We see 2008 as a one-year blip, and have no reason to believe the MVC won’t continue to put numerous teams into the Dance and have them succeed.    

Final Thoughts.  If Creighton plays to its potential they could easily run away with the conference and have a chance to make some noise in the Big Dance.  The 2-5 spots will be a dog fight between the established Southern Illinois and the questions of the one-year wonders of Drake and Illinois St.  Bradley will stick its nose in and cause a little disruption in the league similar to what Drake did last year and could be the big surprise.  If the Valley teams can win their high-profile non-conference games, the league will be recognized again as a powerful conference.  No significant wins by the Valley in the non-conference could unfortunately put them in obscurity for another season.  However, I say to look for the Valley to be a multiple-bid league once again this season and to make an impact on the college basketball world. 

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2008-09 Season Primers: #11 – West Coast

Posted by rtmsf on November 1st, 2008

Michael Chin is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference (WCC).

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Gonzaga
  2. Saint Mary’s
  3. San Diego
  4. San Francisco
  5. Santa Clara
  6. Portland
  7. Pepperdine
  8. Loyola Marymount

SleeperSan Francisco

WYN2K.  For the last ten years the WCC national storyline has read “Gonzaga and the seven dwarfs.” However, as many have learned, Grumpy and Sleepy are finally growing up.  Saint Mary’s and San Diego, both of which made the Big Dance last season, return 88% of their scoring and are primed for return trips to March Madness. Saint Mary’s is lead by lightning quick Aussie Patrick Mills and All Conference Defensive Player of the Year Diamon Simpson.  Down south, the Toreros return forward Gyno Pomare and guard Brandon Johnson, both of whom made the All-Conference team a season ago. Don’t be fooled however, Gonzaga still has the bullets to defend their conference crown as they return WCC player of the year Jeremy Pargo and potential lottery pick Austin Daye. Aside from the “three wise men,” the remaining teams in the conference are rebuilding. Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and USF all have new coaches, while Santa Clara’s Kerry Keating is only in his second year as the head man of the Broncos. Portland looks to build on a young cast which includes Nik Raivio (brother of former GU All-American Derek) and Luke Sikma  (son of Sonic great Jack Sikma).

Predicted Champion.  Gonzaga (NCAA #3).  The Bulldogs’ strength this year will be in its backcourt where they figure to go with three guard sets quite often. This team will go as far as Conference POY Jeremy Pargo will take them. After flirting with the NBA this summer, the Chicago native decided to return for a final year to hone his outside shooting skills. His backcourt mate Steven Gray is the sharpshooter of the bunch. The third guard for the Bulldogs is Matt Bouldin.  After a stellar freshman campaign two seasons ago, Bouldin had an up-and-down year as a sophomore. Demetrius Goodson, a super athletic freshman point guard and Micah Downs, a former Kansas Jayhawk capable of playing the 2, 3, and 4 positions add significant depth to the GU backcourt. The frontline, though stellar on offense, lacks proven depth and a real defensive force. Austin Daye, the silky forward from Irvine, can shoot it from anywhere on the court and provides GU with a real mismatch when he plays at the 3 spot. The only true experienced big man on the GU roster is senior Josh Heytvelt. Injuries and personal problems have nagged at his career, however, but if he can bounce back from a constant foot problem and returns to his sophomore form, GU should have a solid post threat to go alongside their outstanding perimeter shooting.  The depth for Gonzaga has potential, but right now it is unproven. The best of the bunch is 7-footer Robert Sacre, but last year Few used him in limited action on tips-offs.  Another 7-footer, Will Foster, may provide some defensive minutes, but to date has not shown any offensive prowess.  Coaches like Ira Brown’s toughness, but against a Diamon Simpson or Gyno Pomare, he will have a tough time. Freshman Andrew Poling and Iowa POY Grant Gibbs may end up redshirting this season.

Others Considered. 

  • Saint Mary’s (NCAA #10).  Although the Patty Mills story is the biggest news around in the picturesque campus of Moraga, CA, the Gaels have more to be excited about than Kobe and Chris Paul describing Patty as “lightning quick.” Not only do the Gaels return last year’s freshman of the year (Mills) and Defensive POY (Simpson), but also two other starters and almost all of their scoring. However, what could put the Gaels over the top in the WCC is their depth. Unlike other WCC teams, the Gaels are arguably ten deep.  The front line returns all three starters (Simpson, Omar Samhan and Ian O’Leary).  Of the three Diamon is the most polished. His game can be described in one word – relentless. Already the senior from Hayward, CA, has broken the career blocks record at SMC and is currently in the top ten all-time in rebounds for the Gaels.  Samhan, the only true center on the team, has a nice offensive skill set and has steadily improved his defense over the last two seasons.  As mentioned, the bench provides the Gaels with a wealth of experience. Returners Yusef Smith and Lucas Walker, as well as 7-foot Indiana transfer Ben Allen provides the Gaels with true backups for Samhan and Simpson. In particular, Ben Allen’s shooting ability should allow Coach Randy Bennett to use some of the high post offense that got the Gaels to the Dance in 2003-04.  In the backcourt, aside from Mills, the Gaels return redshirt junior Wayne Hunter to the lineup. The 6-2 guard would have been Bennett’s best on-ball defender, but because of the logjam last year, Bennett could not find a place for him. Should Hunter’s offense regress, expect the Gaels to go Aussie Carlin Hughes. Even if he doesn’t start, Hughes will see significant minutes as he is the best returning shooter on the Gaels roster.  One guy to keep an eye on is freshman Clint Steindl. Another transport from down under, he may take minutes from O’Leary if the senior swingman’s offensive game goes cold.  There is talk that Collin Chiverton, fellow teammate of UCLA recruit Drew Gordon, may also see time, but with the depth the Gaels possess, he may end up redshirting.
  • San Diego  (NIT).  Seniors Brandon Johnson and Gyno Pomare took the WCC by surprise last season with a strong finish, winning the conference tournament at home, then knocking off UConn in the first round of the NCAAs. The question now is whether their “one shining moment” will catapult the Toreros to the top of the WCC.  The good thing for the Toreros is they return their entire team from a year ago.  While Pomare and Johnson are the headliners, guards Dejon Jackson and Tremaine Johnson will have to continue their growth in order for their team to reach the Dance.  Forwards Chris Lewis and Rob Jones also saw significant action next year and should also to continue to improve. However, in order to have a real shot at the Gaels or Bulldogs, USD will have to get some major contributions from some young players, most notably Brazilian transfer Roberto Manfra and Nathan Lozeau.  The two are USD’s biggest bodies and must be able to hold their own against the likes of Josh Heytvelt, Omar Samhan, and Diamon Simpson.  Another factor for the Toreros is that the tournament moves from the friendly confines of Jenny Craig Pavilion to a neutral site this year. The last two times USD made it to March Madness, they hosted the WCC Tournament.  Here’s an audience-eye view of the big upset over UConn.

 

Fighting for Fourth.

  • Santa Clara.  Center John Bryant, perhaps the best center in the conference, is a load. But aside from him the team is thin and unless junior guard Calvin Johnson and some transfers step up, the Broncos will only be a .500 team at best.
  • San Francisco.  With the return of all conference forward Dior Lowthorn and former Rutgers guard Manny Quezada, USF has the offensive weapons to upset anyone in the conference. But if new coach Rex Walters wants to play with the big boys he will need to find some other pieces to go along with these two studs.
  • Portland.  Quietly former Stanford assistant Eric Reveno has built a solid team in Portland. Most of his team returns, including guards Taishi Ito and Nik Raivio and forwards Luke Sikma and Robin Smuelders, but they don’t match up well with the likes of Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and San Diego.

Bottom Feeders. 

  • Pepperdine.  After the Vince Walhberg debacle, Pepperdine went to the archives and dug up former coach Tom Ashbury. With a promising but young team, Ashbury will need to teach these guys how to win so they have a chance in years to come.
  • Loyola Marymount.  Like Pepperdine, Coach Bill Bayno is counting on next year when he brings in Seton Hall transfer Larry Hughes and Oregon Transfer Drew Viney.

All Conference Team.

  • Patrick Mills, St. Mary’s  (POY)
  • Jeremy Pargo, Gonzaga 
  • Austin Daye, Gonzaga
  • Diamon Simpson, St. Mary’s  (DPOY)
  • Gyno Pomare, San Diego  

Prediction.  Until another team proves otherwise, the Gonzaga Bulldogs remain at the top. However GU is not a unbeatable as some think (Sporting News ranks them #4 nationally). The Bulldogs can shoot the lights out with the best of them, but their frontcourt remains a huge question mark. On the other hand, Saint Mary’s can bang with anybody, but until someone can prove to be their go-to deep shooter, the Gaels will have a difficult time matching up against upper echelon athletic teams, especially those with great shooting guards. San Diego is the darkhorse, but to this analyst they look like a poor man’s Gonzaga.  In order for all three to make a return appearance to the NCAAs they will have to perform well in brutal preseason schedules and manage the expectations. This shouldn’t be a problem for Gonzaga, as they are used to the pressure which comes from being the top dog, but as for Saint Mary’s and San Diego, it will be interesting to see what how they will respond as the hunted.

65 Team Era.  The WCC is 20-34 (.370), but let’s not kid ourselves, the majority of those wins (12) are from Gonzaga during the last decade (4 others are from the run-n-gun LMU teams in the late 80s/early 90s).  Still, in five of the last nine seasons, the WCC has been a multiple-bid league, including the best-ever showing of three bids in 2008.  How interesting is it that the lowest seed, #13 San Diego, was the only team to win a game in the Tourney, while higher seeded #7 Gonzaga and #10 St. Mary’s were sent packing in their first game.  With the collective strength of the top half of this conference this year and potentially into the future, there should be numerous opportunities for the WCC to have multiple teams advancing very soon.

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2008-09 Season Primers: #12 – Colonial

Posted by rtmsf on October 31st, 2008

Ryan Kish of George Mason Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA).

Predicted order of finish:

  1. VCU
  2. Northeastern
  3. George Mason
  4. Old Dominion
  5. Delaware
  6. Georgia State
  7. Hofstra
  8. James Madison
  9. William & Mary
  10. UNC-Wilmington
  11. Towson
  12. Drexel

WYN2K.  Last season was a letdown for the CAA faithful after two seasons of multiple bids and tournament wins over historical powerhouses to becoming a single bid conference with that team losing in a first round rout.  The 2006 and 2007 NCAA tournament victories from George Mason and VCU have set the bar for this conference so that now just getting to the NCAA tournament and avoiding a blowout isn’t the criteria for a successful season anymore.  Last season George Mason looked as if they were riding that magic carpet again, running through the CAA tournament and snagging that automatic bid after a rollercoaster season, only to be sent home early from the Big Dance by the three point onslaught of Notre Dame.  This conference returns 65% of its starters and has some exciting freshmen and transfers entering the mix, but are they poised for another successful March?

Predicted Champion.  VCU (#10 Seed NCAA).  Tough call this season, as always in the competitive CAA, but the pick has to go VCU. Last season the Rams were atop the conference standings all season, only to stumble in the conference tournament. The selection comes mostly because of the experience of head coach Anthony Grant and reigning conference MVP Eric Maynor, whose slaying of Duke in the 2007 NCAA Tournament might have just been a preview of things to come as he enters his senior year.  Sophomore Larry Sanders is another name to watch for this Rams squad as a defensive force in the front court.  Last season Sanders only started half of the season’s games yet led the team in rebounding (5.2) and blocked shots (3.0).  Speaking of Maynor…

 

Others Considered. Not to be overlooked are the Huskies of Northeastern who return their entire starting lineup and top nine scorers from last season including Matt Janning who could challenge Eric Maynor for conference MVP.  Old Dominion and George Mason have been very successful programs for the conference in recent history as both are well coached and can potentially challenge the likes of VCU and Northeastern.  Make no mistake that this could be another season for the CAA in which an ankle sprain or two in March could determine the conference champion. 

Newcomers.  Last season Delaware was atop the standings for most of the season with the success brought on by transfers Marc Egerson (Georgetown) and Jim Ledsome (Nebraska) becoming eligible.  Look for the same thing to happen at Georgia State this season.  Head coach Rod Barnes (2001 Naismith Coach of the Year), who had to endure a season watching his reserve team of transfer players best his team’s current starters each practice, could be the CAA’s hot new coach this season.  Georgia State returns all-CAA guard Leonard Mendez (16 ppg) who will be surrounded by big school talent with the additions of Trey Hampton and Xavier Hansbro (former player of Barnes at Ole Miss), point guard Joe Dukes (Wake Forest), forward Bernard Rimmer (Mississippi State) and guard Dante Curry (South Florida).  George Mason and UNCW had the best recruiting success this past off-season.  Mason was able to nab point guard Andre Cornelius and forward Ryan Pearson from the lure of the BCS schools while UNCW locked up forward Kevon Moore and guard Jerel Stephson.  All of these are players that could be playing in bigger conferences and are likely the most Division I ready freshmen entering the CAA this year.

Games to Watch. 

  • George Mason at VCU  (01.24.09)
  • Northeastern at VCU  (01.28.09)
  • VCU at Old Dominion  (02.14.09)
  • Northeastern at George Mason  (02.14.09)
  • Old Dominion at Northeastern  (02.28.09)

RPI Booster Games.  The CAA has had success in recent years against out of conferences foes, both mid-major and BCS. This season the conference favorites don’t have a whole lot of opportunity to make a splash early on but their definitely is some winnable games against some notable programs that could start the multiple bid talk early.

  • James Madison at Davidson  (11.17.08)
  • Georgia State at Georgia Tech (12.17.08)
  • VCU at Oklahoma (12.20.08)
  • Winthrop at Old Dominion  (12.20.08)
  • Northeastern at Indiana  (12.22.08)
  • George Mason at Dayton  (12.30.08)
  • Northeastern at Memphis (12.31.08)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids.  Fairly likely.  VCU has a real chance of winning an at-large bid this season should they not grab the automatic bid from the conference tournament.  Northeastern’s tough schedule could hinder them from a possible at-large birth. Starting at the end of November the Huskies are on the road five of six games before heading into conference play. Ouch.  George Mason and Old Dominion don’t have much on the OOC slate which would mean they don’t have a lot of margin for error in the early part of their schedules.  With the bottom half of the conference steadily improving, the RPI numbers could be good enough to get a team an at-large bid if they have between 14-16 conference wins. 

65 Team Era.  From 1987-2005, the CAA was a one-bid league.  Of course, that changed in a big way in 2006, when two teams were invited to the NCAA Tournament and George Mason became the greatest Cinderella to make the F4 in history.  Two more teams were invited in 2007, and while only George Mason was invited in 2008, there’s no reason to think that the CAA is not a conference generally on the rise.  The CAA is 15-27 (.357) in the era, which definitely ranks it as one of the higher mid-major conferences.  Hey, we gotta throw it in – this never gets old…

Final Thoughts.  Last season proved that the depth of this conference is improving as annual bottom-feeders James Madison, Delaware and William & Mary all made noise at some point in the season. Look for that trend to continue as even the newest CAA members Georgia State and Northeastern could be contending for the top of the standings come March.  That is not to say the big boys of the conference have declined. George Mason, VCU, Old Dominion, and UNCW all bring more talent this season than the conference has ever seen.  The experience of the coaches on the sideline this season is a big asset for this conference and could spell trouble for opposing teams at the Big Dance. The team(s) that make it to the Big Dance this season could be poised for some not-so-much of an upset victories.

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2008-09 Season Primers: #13 – WAC

Posted by rtmsf on October 30th, 2008

Kevin McCarthy from Parsing The WAC and Sam Wasson from bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC. 

Predicted Order of Finish:

(Kevin’s Prediction)

  1. Nevada
  2. Utah State
  3. Louisiana Tech
  4. San Jose State
  5. New Mexico State
  6. Boise State
  7. Hawai’i
  8. Fresno State
  9. Idaho

(Sam’s Prediction)

  1. Nevada
  2. Utah State
  3. New Mexico State
  4. Louisiana Tech
  5. San Jose State
  6. Boise State
  7. Hawai’i
  8. Fresno State
  9. Idaho

WYN2K.  The most unusual aspect about the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in the fast-approaching season is that there is no league favorite. Yes, the usual suspects Nevada, Utah State and possibly New Mexico State could very well finish at or around the top but there’s no bet-the-house team that will run roughshod over the other squads.  Adding some spice to the recipe, Louisiana Tech and San Jose State are now ready to complicate matters and join the big brothers of the league, making it a five-dom vying for the top spot in 2008-2009.  The WAC should be affixed with a ‘high degree of parity’ label but this new season also offers a definite divide: a schism of the five most competitive teams and then the four remaining and re-tooling squads.

Predicted Champion.  The winner can be reached via Highway 80…that’s Nevada (NCAA #12) for the geographically destitute.

Others Considered.  Utah State, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State and New Mexico State all offer the possibility of taking the league crown.

RPI Booster Games.  If any of these games become victories for The Big Five of the WAC or Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Idaho then it’s a boost to the conference power ranking.

Boise State

  • @ BYU  (10.10.08)
  • @ San Diego (10.22.08)

Fresno State

  • @ St. Mary’s (11.17.08)
  • v. UNLV (12.03.08)

Hawaii

  • @ Illinois  (12.08.08)

Idaho

  • @ Michigan State  (11.16.08) 
  • @ Gonzaga  (11.18.08)
  • @ Washington State  (12.21.08)

Louisiana Tech

  • @ UCLA  (12.28.08)

New Mexico State

  • @ USC  (11.18.08)
  • @ Kansas  (12.03.08)
  • @ New Mexico  (12.23.08)
  • v. New Mexico  (12.30.08)

Nevada

  • @ San Diego  (11.15.08)
  • v. UNLV  (12.06.08)
  • v. North Carolina  (12.31.08)

San Jose State

  • @ San Diego  (11.08.08)
  • @ St. Mary’s  (11.27-28.08)

Utah State

  • @ BYU  (12.06.08)
  • v. Utah  (12.22.08)

The Circular Firing Squad. In 2008-2009, leaving town to play league opponents will not have any WAC teams cheerily singing of yellow brick roads, more a frosty recital wishing for roads less taken.

Multiple NCAA Bids. It won’t happen this season due to multiple poor non-conference schedules and also because of intra-conference battles that will hemorrhage league win-loss records.

Possible NCAA Success. Not likely as Nevada will be a year of experience and another solid frontcourter away from nabbing at least one Big Dance victory.

NIT.  After the WAC champion heads off to the NCAAs, complete with visions of making it to Ford Field dancing in their heads, look for four NIT invites to be extended to Utah State, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State and New Mexico State respectively. Utah State has a string of nine straight postseason bids while Louisiana Tech and San Jose State will be game to host or head anywhere after the WAC tournament in order to extend their seasons, as will New Mexico State.

The Widest WAC Shoulders aka The MVP.  Luke Babbitt. This Nevada freshman will be THE MAN in the frontcourt for Coach Mark Fox. He needs to be as the Wolf Pack has very little firepower at the one and two positions except for him. So how long will it take Reno-ites to label Babbitt as Hot Hand Luke?

WAC All-Leaguers. Gary Wilkinson - Utah State, Brandon Fields – Nevada, Jonathan Gibson – New Mexico State, Magnum Rolle – Louisiana Tech, Adrian Oliver – San Jose State.

Contenders.  Kyle Gibson, Louisiana Tech, Roderick Flemings – Hawaii, Armon Johnson – Nevada, Sylvester Seay – Fresno State, Jahmar Young – New Mexico State, C.J. Webster – San Jose State, Mac Hopson – Idaho

Questions to be answered.

  • Can Utah State’s 6′ 9″ Gary Wilkinson dominate this season?
  • Who will be the greater contributor for USU, Tai Wesley, Tyler Newbold or will it be equal?
  • Will 6′ 10″ Brandon Webster step forward this season or remain a ‘tease’ for Fresno State?
  • Can Roderick Flemings average a double-double for Hawaii?
  • Will someone step up at the point for Louisiana Tech head coach Kerry Rupp?
  • Can oft-injured Richie Phillips and necomers Dario Hunt and Ahyaro Phillips provide enough help upfront for Luke Babbitt at Nevada?
  • How long will it take for San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver to discard his rustiness from sitting out?
  • Will Johnathan Gibson or Jahmar Young, or both, step up the most for New Mexico State?
  • How will the roster turnover at New Mexico State roster affect the team’s chemistry. Five seniors graduated and underclassmen Herb Pope, Jaydee Luster, DeAngelo Williams, Chris Cole, Paris Carter, Johnnie Higgins left the program in the offseason while Wendell McKines left briefly but came back. The Aggies also added Mick Durham as assistant coach to replace Matt Grady.

Did You Know.  The 2007-08 season saw four teams tie for the regular season title at 12-4 (Nevada, Utah State, Boise State and New Mexico State).

Final Thoughts.  Unlike last season, most of the better talents in the WAC should be returning in 2009-2010 as just Gary Wilkinson among the top players completes his eligibility. This bodes well for multi-Big Dance WAC invites down the road, as the league could be a year away from returning to its perch as one of the premier high mid-major conferences.

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A Brief Conference Primer Interlude…

Posted by rtmsf on October 30th, 2008

We’ve made it through eighteen of our thirty-one season conference primers so far, and our correspondents continue to top each other with their breadth of knowledge and coverage of the one-bid leagues.  So we want to thank them and once again highlight their fantastic work over the past few weeks by anchoring their primers in one post here, so that you (and we) can easily access them.  Going forward, we’ll primarily be dealing with the traditional multiple-bid conferences or conferences that should expect to see multiple bids this season.  Conference #13 will go up tonight, and we’ll be counting down to tipoff on Nov. 10, when the #1 conference primer will be unveiled. 

Also, keep in mind that our correspondents will continue to bring RTC comprehensive coverage of each league throughout the season.  Each of the above leagues will have an update post every two weeks, beginning in mid/late November. 

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