ATB: Can Anyone Stop Carolina?

Posted by rtmsf on December 4th, 2008

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ACC Wins Again. Well, it was closer this year than it has been since 2005, but the ACC won the event for the tenth year in a row, 6-5.  The league of atlantic coast schools are now 62-35 (.639) against its midwestern counterparts in this challenge – can we go back to the ACC/Big East version now?  Oh, and we really couldn’t have made worse picks today if we had tried – we went 1-4, and Wake was our only winner – picking that game correctly was akin to picking the sun to come up tomorrow.  Maybe we’ll stay out of this prediction business for a while.  What we found really interesting was that home court in the two leagues with the most advantageous home environments didn’t seem to matter much – home teams were 5-6 in the Challenge (see below).

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Carolina Looks Unstoppable. UNC 98, Michigan St. 63. We hesitate to move into the realm of hyperbole in early December, preferring to leave that to the likes of Vitale with his offerings of UNC “competing with” the Clippers, T-Wolves and Grizzlies (which is patently absurd, btw).  But at least at this point in the 2007-08 season, UNC is well ahead of everyone else in college basketball.  What the Heels did to Michigan St. tonight in its home state could appropriately be described as an absolute dismantling.  Frankly, we’re not sure how the Spartans show their faces in E. Lansing tomorrow, considering the Heels only defeated UCSB by 15 in Santa Barbara and Kentucky by 19 in Chapel Hill.  As good as Carolina was, MSU was utterly moribund.  UNC held the Spartans to 35% shooting from the field, 24% from three, and forced 21 turnovers, many of which directly led to Carolina layups or threes.  Speaking of which, if Ty Lawson is going to play as well as he did tonight – ripping balls out of passing lanes (7 steals) and dropping 25-footers with consistency (twice), then we really can go ahead and pass the championship trophy over to Roy Williams.  And the question of whether Tyler Hansbrough is healthy was put to rest with another workmanlike 25/11 where he was pretty much able to do whatever he wanted inside the lane.  Danny Green was his typical stat-stuffer self (6/5/5 assts), and Ed Davis continues to impress off the bench (10/7 in 17 mins).  As for MSU, the only player that seemed ready to play was Chris Allen, who singlehandedly kept MSU in the game with his long-range shooting in the first half.  The others – Kalin Lucas, Delvon Roe, Marquise Gray – all horrible.  Looking at the schedule, the next  even remote possibility of a team staying within 15 pts of Carolina will be at Wake on January 11th.  As for MSU, this supposed top ten team hasn’t looked anywhere near it thus far this season – can Izzo get it together?

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ACC – Big 10 Challenge Preview Pt. 2

Posted by rtmsf on December 3rd, 2008

So we went 3-2 in our picks last night, which is actually downright terrible when you’re just picking teams straight up.  Duke, Minnesota and BC went pretty much as expected, but we didn’t see the Jack McClinton slap coming, and we’re still having trouble fathoming Illinois blowing a solid lead at home.  Nevertheless, let’s see if we can do better with tonight’s games.  With a 3-3 tie going into tonight, can the Big 10 win at least one road game and hold serve at home to get to the magical six victories?

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Wednesday Games (12.03.08)

  • Indiana (4-2) @ Wake Forest (6-0) – 7:15pm (ESPN).  In a normal year, this would have been one of the top three games of the Challenge; but as we’re all aware, Indiana is not having a normal year.  Still, the Hoosiers should take pride in the four wins they’ve gotten, especially their most recent victory over a possible NCAA team in Cornell at home.  Unfortunately for IU, Wake is no Cornell – they’re easily the most athletic team Indiana has faced so far, and their size is astonishing (five regulars are 6’9 or taller).  They have offensive firepower (averaging 86.7 ppg on 51.7% FG) and are playing improved defense this year, holding teams to 64.8 ppg on 34.4% shooting (although we haven’t figure out if that’s a function of length and size or consistent defensive principles).  And did we mention that the Deacs are at home, and are 7-1 in this event?  Put simply, this will get ugly for Indiana tonight, possibly even worse than the Notre Dame debacle two weeks ago (-38 in that one).  The Pick: Wake Forest. 

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ATB: ACC & Big 10 Deadlocked 3-3

Posted by rtmsf on December 3rd, 2008

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Story of the Night. Is this the year, after nine straight emasculations at the hands of the ACC, that the Big 10 finally breaks through and wins the ACC/Big 10 Challenge?  Well, considering that going into the last day of the Challenge in 2007-08, the ACC led 5-1, the previous year 4-2, and in fact, the Big 10 has NEVER gone into the final day deadlocked, we consider this a moral victory.  Maybe they don’t, but we do.  Looking at tomorrow night, the ACC still has the upper hand (Wake is a mortal lock at home vs. Indiana, and Georgia Tech will be heavily favored at home vs. Penn St.), but if Michigan St. and Northwestern can protect their home court/field, (big ifs) then Michigan @ Maryland could be the tipping point game.  Maryland will be favored, but Michigan has proven that it can play with anyone this year, and you never know which Terp team will show up.  If only the Illini had held on at home tonight, Big 10 fans!!

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This Is What Duke DoesDuke 76, Purdue 60. The most hyped game of tonight’s Challenge, if not the actual best game, reminded us all of what Duke consistently does every year in November and December – beat all comers.  Those of us who were fooled by Duke’s completely shameful avoidance of true nonconference road contests forgot what Duke typically does when they play those ACC-mandated games away from home – win them.  Duke looked focused and ready to play from the tip, while Purdue was clearly over-focused, to the point of blowing wide open layups and showing an inability to make simple defensive switches.  The Purdue jitters excuse quickly morphed into one involving Duke’s superior defense, though, as Purdue stars Robbie Hummell and E’Twaun Moore were held to a pedestrian 25 pts (six below their average), but 20 of those points were in the last eleven minutes of regulation, when the game was largely out of reach.  The Devils held the Boilers to 37% from the field and a mere 2-13 from three.  Equally impressive, Duke dominated the boards 44-26, including eight extra possessions from offensive rebounds.  Kyle Singler led the way for Duke with a double-double (20/12), but Jon Scheyer (20 pts) and Nolan Smith (12 pts) contributed with timely threes, as Duke improved to 10-0 in the Challenge. Purdue Fan = not happy.

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Checking in on the… ACC

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2008

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

Power Rankings (Record):

  1. North Carolina (7-0)
  2. Duke (7-0)
  3. Wake Forest (6-0)
  4. Miami (4-1)
  5. Clemson (7-0)
  6. Maryland (4-2)
  7. Boston College (4-2)
  8. Florida State (7-0)
  9. Georgia Tech (4-0)
  10. Virginia Tech (4-2)
  11. NC State (4-0)
  12. Virginia (3-2)


Thanksgiving Tournament Wrap-up

Not surprisingly, the North Carolina Tar Heels took care of business in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Their impressive 102-87 victory over Notre Dame in the championship game was a good indication of just how impressive this North Carolina team can be. Tyler Hansbrough impressed with 34 points while Ty Lawson contributed 22 points and 11 assists. The Tar Heels are proving early that they are practically unbeatable when at their best.

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Tyler Hansbrough Out Indefinitely

Posted by rtmsf on October 30th, 2008

Big breaking news out of Chapel Hill tonight…  The nation’s top returning player on the unanimous #1 team will be out indefinitely with something called a ‘stress reaction‘ of his right shin.  Although the injury isn’t serious as of now, without appropriate rest it could continue to inflame and deteriorate into a much more serious stress fracture of the bone.  From ESPN:

The reigning Associated Press player of the year did not practice Thursday. Instead, he underwent an MRI that revealed the stress reaction, which if not properly treated could lead to a stress fracture, team spokesman Steve Kirschner said.  “He’ll be ok,” Hansbrough’s father, Gene, told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz. “His leg’s been bothering him for a couple of weeks. It’s a stress reaction and he needs to rest a bit. He just needs time to let it heal. There is no reason for him to limp through it.”  According to ESPN medical analysist Dr. Michael Kaplan, the MRI likely showed increased uptake in tibia (leg bone) suggesting a stress reaction. An overload or overuse type phenomenon occurs with inflammation and, ultimately, fatigue failure with stress fracture. This is a precursor condition to stress fracture. A period of rest is mandatory for tissues to quiet down or worsening injury will result.

Psycho T Can’t Wear a Mask For His Shin (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The timetable for Hansbrough to return to action is officially “indefinitely” but the realistic timeframe sounds like a month or so, which means the Heels will be without two starters (including Marcus Ginyard, out with – what else – a stress fracture) for their game vs. Kentucky, an away game at UCSB, the Maui Invitatonal games (Notre Dame, Texas, Alabama) as well as the ACC/Big 10 Challenge game against Michigan State at Ford Field.  These weren’t going to be easy games for UNC anyway; assuming Hansbrough is out for all of them, they might just lose several. 

More importantly, UNC fans can’t feel comfortable with this news even if Hansbrough appears to be at full strength by January.  Call us a pessimist, but these are the kinds of nagging injuries that warriors like Hansbrough invariably try to come back from too soon, which end up recurring or at minimum never completely healing throughout the rest of the season.  Stay tuned on this story, because if Psycho-T is out or even at half-speed, the 2008-09 season is wide open…

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ATB: Wed/Thurs Wrapup

Posted by rtmsf on November 30th, 2007

ATB v.4

11.28-29.07

ACC 8 – Big Ten 3. Wed. night was the second marquee night of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, and the ACC carried a commanding 5-1 lead into the night’s games. After UNC (v. Ohio St.) and BC (v. Michigan) picked up road wins to go with Maryland’s home victory v. Illinois, the ACC had once again dominated this event (Penn St. and Michigan St. home wins made the final tally 8-3). What accounts for this annual decimation? One reason is that the ACC protects home court much better than the Big 10, going 28-1 in friendly venues during the last six years of this event (B10: 18-13 over the same period). Another reason is that the strength of the bottom of the ACC is consistently better than its Big 10 equivalent – ACC bottom-feeders throughout the series such as Clemson, Florida St. and Virginia have comprised an 18-8 record, while Big 10 equivalents Minnesota, Penn St. and Northwestern were 7-18 over the same timeframe. How thorough is the annual beatdown? Michigan St. is the only B10 school with a winning record in this event (5-3), while only four ACC schools have more losses than wins.

ACC/Big 10 Challenge. #13 Michigan St. 81, NC State 58. This was just a good old-fashioned whipping. Goran Suton scored all sixteen of his points in the first half en route to a dub-dub (16/12), as the Spartans rolled out to an early twenty-point margin and coasted home the rest of the way. MSU”s patented bruising defense held the Wolfpack to 35% shooting, which is showing signs of rising to the level of some of Izzo’s better defensive teams from the early 2000s. Through six games, the Spartans are holding teams to 38% from the field and 31% from three. #3 UNC 66, Ohio St. 55. In a brickfest game (UNC: 38%; OSU: 27%), Ohio St. ran into a looooong drought (missing 17 straight shots) in the second half that gave Carolina the boost they needed (w/o Ty Lawson) to avoid the upset bid. We watched this game in its entirety, and while we’d love to say great defense carried the day here, it just looked like sloppy basketball to us. Wayne Ellington looked great (23/8) for the Heels, but Psycho T struggled against the more athletic Othello Hunter inside (memo to NBA scouts: hustling 6’8 post men with limited range only gets you so far). There was one jawdropping sequence where Hansbrough simply could not get his shot up over Hunter (6 blks), who repeatedly threw it back into his face. By the same token, Kosta Koufos was a veritable no-show (4/3) for the Buckeyes. The other surprise of the night was the inspired play of OSU freshman Jon Diebler, whose four first half threes kept OSU in the game. Boston College 77, Michigan 64. This is a game that the Big 10 really needed to win, and UM couldn’t get it done at home against BC. A tight game opened up with about 8 mins remaining when BC went on a 12-2 run to essentially salt the game away. RTC whipping boy Tyrese Rice blew up for 28/8/5 assts (eff: 30), as Michigan simply had no answer for him. Maryland 69, Illinois 61. In a battle of two teams that will likely be up-and-down and hard-to-figure all year, the Terps were led by Eric Hayes’ career-high 18 pts in the win over the Illini. Penn St. 66, Virginia Tech 61. In a battle of conference bottom-feeders, Penn St. was led by Mike Walker’s 17 off the bench.

Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series. #16 Oregon 80, Kansas St. 77. Notwithstanding the Bill Walker watersports moment, this was a really entertaining game. Both teams went back-and-forth throughout the second half, but K-State’s fate ultimately rode on their inability to make a foul shot in the OT. The Wildcats missed three straight front ends as Oregon pulled away in the overtime. The end-of-game sequence was a wild finish, as Oregon’s Maarty Leunen shot three times (and was fouled but not called on at least two of them) from point-blank range, rebounded his own misses, and finally received the foul call on the fourth attempt (6 seconds remaining). After hitting one of two FTs, KSU’s Jacob Pullen dribbled length of the court in four seconds, only to charge into an Oregon player as his made layin was waved off. Oregon then threw it length of the court, but the ball was intercepted by K-State at the opposite foul line. An immediate timeout led to the Bill Walker fiasco and a pretty good look that missed from Michael Beastley (24/12). Oregon’s big four combined for 53 pts, but we were most impressed last night by Joevan Catron (15/8), who took the key charge with two seconds left and showed a lot of heart and hustle for the Ducks last night. #25 USC 66, Oklahoma 55. The other B12/Pac-10 game of the night was at USC, and the Trojans are continuing to show improvement with their young freshmen leading the way. Davon Jefferson had 23/9 and OJ Mayo had 18/5 (but zero assts), but Mayo was the key player (scoring 11 in a row) during a second-half stretch that increased the USC lead from 2 to 12 and effectively put the game away. Where has Taj Gibson (2/3 in only 9 foul-plagued mins) gone?

More Overtime Goodness. #18 Gonzaga 70, St. Joseph’s 65. We wish we could have seen this one, but again, this one was on the U and Comcast hates us. Supposedly St. Joe’s came storming back from a 17-pt first half deficit and led for most of the second half until a late Matt Bouldin three gave Gonzaga the lead again. In the overtime, both teams mostly traded FTs until Gonzaga secured the win late. This was a very good road win in a hostile environment for the Zags. St. Joe’s was led by Pat Calathes with 24/7 in the losing effort. Vanderbilt 91, South Alabama 88. This double-OT jewel of a game wasn’t on tv anywhere we could find, but it appears that Memorial was rocking last night when the Commodores stayed unbeaten at home. Vandy came back from an 8-pt deficit in the mid-second half to take the lead, but a Ronald Douglas tip-in with 0.8 left sent the game to OT. Vandy had a shot to win in the first OT, but good foul shooting in the second OT ultimately put the game away for the Dores. Andrew Ogilvy led VU with 19/8 while Shan Foster contributed 26/4.

Upset Special. Massachusetts 107, Syracuse 100. In a tremendous boost to the credibility of Travis Ford’s rising UMass program, the Minutemen went into the Carrier Dome on Wed. night and beat the Orange in a high-scoring affair that saw the opponent score more points than any other team in the Dome’s history. Gary Forber (23/6/7 assts) hit a key three with just over a minute remaining to give UMass a six-point lead and the Orange were finished. Big numbers from many players on both sides – for UMass, Ricky Harris had 25; for Syracuse, all five starters had double figures, led by Eric Devendorf with 23 and three other players with 20 each (Greene, Flynn, Onuaku).

Other Ranked Teams.

  • #2 UCLA 83, George Washington 60. Collison comes off the bench to give the Bruins 14/5. Love with another dub-dub (12/12).
  • #4 Kansas 87, Florida Atlantic 49. Another KU rout as B-Rush goes for 17 pts off the bench in 19 mins of action.
  • #5 Georgetown 66, Old Dominion 48. Georgetown returns favor from last year, holding ODU to 31% shooting. Gerald Lee (24/12) was the only bright spot for Old Dominion.
  • #8 Texas 98, Texas Southern 61. Texas continues to impress – DJ Augustin led with 20 pts.
  • #9 Texas A&M 76, Alabama 63. Another balanced, efficient performance from the Aggies. Bama is just so limited beyond Hendrix (19/12) and Gee (19/3).
  • #21 Xavier 93, Oakland 68. All five starters hit double figures for the Muskies.

Other Notable Scores.

  • California 74, Nevada 68. Great road win for Cal, as Ryan Anderson went for a career-high 36/13 to counteract Marcellus Kemp’s 26/5/4.
  • Seton Hall 65, Princeton 55. The Hall is off to its best start since The Beard was roaming the sidelines (19 yrs).
  • Kent St. 81, St. Louis 40. Wow – has Majerus ever lost by this much before? Statistical oddity – KSU was 100% from three (3-3), while SLU was 0% (0-11).
  • Wichita St. 62, Appalachian St. 53. App St. continues to struggle with another home loss.
  • Hampton 64, VCU 55. VCU has been extremely disappointing so far as well (Maynor – 22 pts).
  • Charlotte 63, Wake Forest 59. Solid CUSA win over an ACC team.
  • Colorado 60, Air Force 50. Jeff Bzedlik’s return to AFA as an opponent went much better than the game at CU (lost 84-46).
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Blogpoll – Week 3

Posted by rtmsf on November 29th, 2007

What a week. So we’re a little late on this week’s blogpoll, among several other things, but we’re slowly getting caught up and feel that this week’s poll is the first one that accurately captures how teams are playing several weeks into the season. We’ve had a chance to watch most of the teams in the poll ourselves, and our illustrious blogging brethren have ostensibly done likewise. So here’s Week 3 (blogger ballots located here)…

Blogpoll - Week 3

Note: blogpoll does not include 11/27-28 games.

Justifying Our Ballot. We still rank UCLA #1 and UNC #2 ahead of overall #1 Memphis simply based on the fact that we believe UCLA and UNC have beaten better teams than Memphis thus far. Memphis looked solid in CvC wins versus Oklahoma and UConn, but those teams are probably mid-conference finishers this year. UCLA has a marquee win (w/o Darren Collison) against #13 Michigan St., a team that is better than we thought; and UNC has solid wins over likely NCAA teams Davidson, Old Dominion and #20 BYU (w/o Ty Lawson). Memphis will have an opportunity this weekend to improve its standing in our eyes with a win vs. #25 USC. Like everyone else, we raised #9 Texas A&M and #6 Duke on the strength of their wins in the PNIT and Maui, respectively, and #8 Texas got a nod into the top ten by virtue of its destruction of #12 Tennessee. In the lower reaches of the top 25, we still refuse to vote for #18 Clemson despite their win at Mississippi St. We’ve been down this road before with them, and if the Tigers are 14-0 going into the game vs. UNC on January 6, then we’ll consider it. We also left BYU, Miami (FL), and USC off of our ballot, figuring that Stanford, Ohio St., Wisconsin and Baylor had put together better resumes to this point. After the ACC/Big 10 meetings the last two nights, we’re really questioning our sanity on those two midwestern teams above.

Uncertainty. We’re still seeing blogger indecisiveness when it comes to Indiana and Michigan St., but some new additions at the low range of the top 25 populate our list this week. Here are the top five most uncertain teams (remember, a high std dev means greater variation in blogger rankings of that team):

  • Indiana (std dev = 6.43; range = 10 to nr)
  • Pittsburgh (6.39; 8 to nr)
  • Clemson (5.74; 11 to nr)
  • BYU (5.44; 13 to nr)
  • Michigan St. (4.83; 8 to 21)

The top seven teams in the blogpoll are also the top seven lowest standard deviation this week.

Conference Call.

  • Big East – 5
  • ACC & Pac-10 - 4
  • Big 12 - 3
  • Big 10 – 2
  • Atlantic 10 , CUSA, Horizon, MVC, Mtn West, SEC, WCC – 1

Wow, the SEC is really struggling right now, with only one team ranked (Tennessee) and that squad getting its doors blown off by Texas last week. The ACC only has four ranked teams, but leads all conferences with 6 of the 31 remaining unbeaten teams in D1. Impressive that half of that league is still flawless. Other BCS unbeatens: (Big East & Big 12 – 4 each; Pac-10 – 3; SEC – 1; Big 10 – 0).

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ATB: Mon/Tues Night Wrapup

Posted by rtmsf on November 28th, 2007

ATB v.4

11.26.07

Detroit Sucks. Monday was an extremely light night, with no ranked teams playing (not that we could see it anyway amidst our hand-to-hand mouth combat with feral dogs and a thermostat that randomly alternated between blistering and frostbite conditions) . There were a couple of interesting games on the board, however, and the one that caught our attention the most was the early SoCon showdown between Davidson and Appalachian St. Why they’re playing in November, we have no idea, but if Davidson were to lose any conference games this year, we figured that away at App St and at UNCG are the most likely candidates. Well, Stephen Curry made sure that wasn’t going to happen, as he blistered the Mountaineers for a 26-pt first half en route to a final tally of 38/6/4 stls with nine (!) threes in an eleven-pt victory. From our perch, this was a clear statement by Curry and the Davidson program that they aren’t to be trifled with at the mid-major level – they have their eyes set on regularly competing with the UNCs and Dukes of the world. #21 Davidson 71, Appalachian St. 60. The only other notable game of the night was the “play-in game” of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge between Iowa and Wake Forest. Wake got 15/8 from a BWS named Chas McFarland (seriously, he’s named Chas) and gutted out a road win in an ugly, ugly game (eFG% combined = 37%, incl. 3-30 from three). We’re not convinced Wake is any good this year, though, as the Deacs always seem to win this game (7-1 in the Challenge) no matter how the rest of the season goes. Wake Forest 56, Iowa 47.

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11.27.07

There were too many games to cover here, so let’s hit the broad highlights:

ACC/Big 10 Challenge. #9 Indiana 83, Georgia Tech 79. IU got the only win of the night for the Big 10 at home in a tightly contested game versus the Yellowjackets. We caught a little bit of this one and all we could think is that this is yet another example of never knowing what to expect from Georgia Tech. Times like tonight they look like they can compete with anyone in the country; then they’ll turn around and lose to Georgia St. next week. E-Giddy went for 29 (8 TOs, though), but the key player for IU was DJ White (18/14/3 blks). #10 Duke 82, Wisconsin 58. We feel like we’ve all watched this game a million times. Duke hits a three, takes a charge, hits another three, Crazies going wild, pressure D causes opponent time-out. That was this Wisconsin game in a nutshell. The Badgers were on their way out of it by the second tv timeout. Meanwhile, Coach K is clearly on a mission to re-invent how basketball is played at the collegiate level. The closest analog we can remember in recent history to this Duke team was the Villanova teams of recent vintage of Kyle Lowry, Allan Ray, Mike Nardi and Randy Foye, but even they played with a post man in Curtis Sumpter. Duke isn’t even bothering with the Sumpter role, and don’t give us Kyle Singler either. We still say this smallball strategy will ultimately catch up with the Devils when they play a team with athletic bigs and defensive guards, but that day hasn’t come yet. Duke put five players (led by Paulus’ 18) in double figures, but where did Taylor King come from (5 threes)? #24 Clemson 61, Purdue 58. We didn’t see much of this one, but what we saw exhibited a Purdue team filled with hustling guards who wouldn’t let Clemson pull away. Had the Boilers shot it a little better from three (2-12), they could have taken this one. Take nothing away from Clemson, though – they’re well on their way to another 17-0 start. Virginia 94, Northwestern 52. This is why the Big 10 never wins these competitions – the ACC almost always defends its home courts. Sean Singletary had 18/10 assts in the win. Florida St. 75, Minnesota 61. To wit, same as above. Tubby takes his first loss as the Minny coach.

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Other Ranked Teams.

  • #1 Memphis 104, Rider 82. Derrick Rose with a great game (19/12 assts) as Memphis rolls again.
  • #7 Tennessee 93, NC A&T 59. UT was up thirty at halftime; Lofton with 24 and Tyler Smith with 17/12.
  • #20 Pittsburgh 80, Boston Univ. 53. Another balanced attack from Pitt (all five starters betw. 9 and 15 pts).

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Conference Challenges, Invitationals & Hardwood Series

Posted by rtmsf on September 27th, 2007

Now that schedules are out, we thought it was worth a quick look at the new so-called conference challenges that are set to begin this year. We already know about the ACC’s annual emasculation and disembowelment of the Big very small 10 Conference, but we will recap that one too while we’re on the topic.

Big East / SEC Invitational

Big East / SEC Invitational

The Big East, having played in this sort of made-for-tv event once before (the ACC/Big East Challenge from 1989-91 resulted in an evenly split 12-12 record), has decided that it wants to show its wares against the SEC these days. This is a noble pursuit inasmuch as the two leagues have equalized in power over the last 15 years, with the Big East falling and the SEC rising. The confounding problem with this event is that it only involves four games annually and ESPN determines the matchups. While at first blush we thought this might be a good thing – visions of UConn-Florida, Kentucky-Syracuse, Tennessee-Georgetown and LSU-Seton Hall were dancing through our heads (ok not so much on the last one) – but upon actual review of this year’s schedule, we have to wonder if this will be worth our time at all.

December 5 (Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center; Birmingham, Ala.)
7:00 p.m. West Virginia vs. Auburn – ESPN2
9:30 p.m. Georgetown vs. Alabama – ESPN

December 6 (The Wachovia Center; Philadelphia, Pa.)
7:00 p.m. South Carolina vs. Providence – ESPN2
9:30 p.m. LSU vs. Villanova – ESPN

Out of this group, we see what, maybe one or two NCAA Tournament teams (Georgetown and who? Villanova or WVU?). Sure, Bama losing Ronald Steele couldn’t be anticipated, but what’s up with choosing last year’s SEC bottom dwellers Auburn, LSU and South Carolina? Is the SEC willfully trying to lose these games?

Big 12 / Pac-10 Hardwood Series

So that brings us to the other new conference challenge, which is slated to pit the Big 12 and Pac-10 against each other. This challenge mimics the ACC-Big 10 version in that every team will participate, and some even twice (Arizona & Stanford this year). Also, teams will play at home arenas rather than neutral sites, which ultimately makes early-season games more exciting.

Thurs., Nov. 29, 2007
8:00 p.m. Oregon at Kansas State – ESPN2
10:00 p.m. Oklahoma at USC – FSN

Fri., Nov. 30, 2007
8:00 p.m. Washington State at Baylor – ESPNU
10:00 p.m. Iowa State at Oregon State – FSN

Sat., Dec. 1, 2007
4:30 p.m. Washington at Oklahoma State – ESPN
10:00 p.m. Missouri at California – FSN

Sun., Dec. 2, 2007
2:00 p.m. Arizona State at Nebraska – ESPNU
2:00 p.m. Stanford at Colorado – ESPN2
5:00 p.m. Texas A&M at Arizona – FSN

7:00 p.m. Texas at UCLA – FSN

Outside the 10-game series window:
7:oo p.m. Arizona at Kansas (Sun., Nov. 25) – ESPN
3:30 p.m. Stanford vs. Texas Tech (Sat., Dec. 22) – ESPN2

Now that’s more like it. There are seven legitimately good games in this group, and a couple of them are potential blockbusters (Texas-UCLA and Arizona-Kansas). Furthermore, this could go a long way toward improving the schedule strength of these two conferences, both of which have traditionally been lower among the BCS conferences.

ACC / Big 10 Challenge

ACC / Big Ten Challenge 2

And now for the annual event where the ACC has not only won but dominated the Big 10 for eight years running. 48 wins, 27 losses. This year should be no different. Even though the ACC is a little down from last season, the Big 10 is a lot down, and we see no more than four wins from our midwestern friends this year.

Monday, Nov. 26
7:00 p.m. Wake Forest at Iowa – ESPN2

Tuesday, Nov. 27
7:00 p.m. Georgia Tech at Indiana – ESPN
7:30 p.m. Minnesota at Florida State – ESPN2
7:00 p.m. Northwestern at Virginia – ESPNU

9:00 p.m. Wisconsin at Duke – ESPN
9:30 p.m. Purdue at Clemson – ESPN2

Wednesday, Nov. 28
7:00 p.m. N.C. State at Michigan State – ESPN
7:30 p.m. Illinois at Maryland – ESPN2
7:00 p.m. Boston College at Michigan – ESPNU
9:00 p.m. North Carolina at Ohio State – ESPN
9:30 p.m. Virginia Tech at Penn State – ESPN2

A couple of final thoughts on these conference challenges. We’d like to see more conferences get involved with this, even if only the top few teams in the mid-major conferences were playing other top teams. A Missouri Valley/WCC or CAA/A10 challenge would be really instructional for considering mid-majors in March – a little like BracketBusters but more comprehensive.

Additionally, it should be a really fun ten days after the Thanksgiving weekend settling in each night for these games. The Big East and SEC have got to give us some better matchups, though.

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