ATB: Bubble Miss For Boise, Chalky Big East Goodness, and Unfortunate Injuries in the MW…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 14th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. Power League Conference Tourneys En Masse.  Some of the Power Six leagues tipped off their conference tournaments Wednesday, and that only means one thing — teams have begun their final-ditch attempts at saving their bubble fortunes once and for all. The Big East already broke the ice; the Big 12, SEC, Pac-12 and Mountain West (the MW is a “power league” in every sense of the word) got off the ground Wednesday. Meaningful outcomes have already gone final, but the best is yet to come. The selection committee keeps a critical eye fixed on these league finales, from the mildly appetizing early rounds you saw Wednesday night right up to the weekend championship games. The final sprint to Selection Sunday is here, and the end of the tunnel – bracket release, office pools, Seth Greenberg wailing and gnashing his teeth on a post-selection show Sportscenter segment (probably) – can’t come fast enough.

Your Watercooler Moment. Boise Falls Short. 

A win against SDSU would have done wonders for Boise State's Bubble Positioning (AP Photo).

A win against SDSU would have done wonders for Boise State’s Bubble Positioning (AP Photo).

By far the greatest bubble intrigue of the night could be found at the Thomas & Mack Center for UNLV and San Diego State’s quarterfinal match-ups in the Mountain West Conference Tournament. The MW has been a crazy league all season — terribly difficult to predict at times, open to random interpretation, a nightly treat of hoops unpredictability and hotly-contested games. There was nothing different about Wednesday night’s showdown. Boise played SDSU tough for 40 minutes and nearly held on for the RPI top-50 win it needed to seal its place in the NCAA Tournament. A loss puts the Broncos in a dangerously tight spot heading into the weekend. As fellow bubble squads around the nation likewise vie for resume-padding wins, Boise could very well see its profile squeezed out of an ever-tightening at-large allotment. The Broncos have done nice work thus far this season, and that road win over Creighton holds more weight now than it did about a month ago, and maybe, maybe the selection committee will give Boise the benefit of the doubt for playing in the top-to-bottom meat grinder that is the MW — who knows. Until the bubble coagulates, evolves, and shakes off its outer-fringe detritus over the next few days, Boise’s fate subject to the committee’s obscure discretion.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • No C.J. McCollum, But Mike Muscala, Bucknell Not a Bad Consolation Prize. A devastating foot injury in an early January game at VCU effectively ended Lehigh star C.J. McCollum’s season, and almost certainly his college career. That robbed us another chance to see McCollum pull off another massive first-round upset, but in order to get back to the NCAA Tournament, McCollum would have needed to get by Bucknell in the Patriot Conference Tournament. Without him in the lineup, the Mountain Hawks didn’t even get a shot at the Bison, losing to Lafayette in the semifinals, but even so, I’m not so sure McCollum could have led his team past Mike Muscala and company. Bucknell is good – really good. They took Missouri to the wire in January, won at Purdue, throttled New Mexico State and handled La Salle comfortably. They finished 12-2 in Patriot League play and on Wednesday night, Bucknell qualified for the NCAA Tournament by beating Lafayette in the tournament final. Whatever #2 or #3 seed happens to draw the Bison will not be smiling at the prospect of a breezy opening-round match-up. Read the rest of this entry »
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Thoughts on the First Session of the Mountain West Quarterfinals

Posted by AMurawa on March 13th, 2013

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report from The MW Tournament in Las Vegas Wednesday afternoon.

Despite a Thomas & Mack Arena that would have been optimistically called half-full at the opening tip, there was plenty of buzz in the arena for a much-anticipated event. However, just two minutes into the first game between UNLV and Air Force, we were hit smack in the face with a low to match the high of tip-off. After grabbing a defensive rebound, Michael Lyons turned to head up court, had his pocket picked from behind by Bryce Dejean-Jones, and then collided with Katin Reinhardt at midcourt. He crumpled to the floor, immediately grabbed for his knee and did not get up. Several minutes later he was helped off the court by the trainers and was unable to put any weight on his leg, leaving little doubt that the Falcons would have to fight an uphill battle without their best player. The unfortunate injury to a team’s senior leader called immediately to mind the 2011 semifinals where, in the same game that Jimmer Fredette went off for 52, New Mexico’s senior point guard Dairese Gary tore his ACL early in the second half with his team having played BYU to a draw to that point. While Dave Pilipovich tried many different combinations of players from the Lyons injury forward (he played 12 different players in the first half), there was little doubt about the outcome.

Michael Lyons, Air Force

Michael Lyons’ Excellent Collegiate Career Ended Too Early On Wednesday Afternoon (David Zalubowski/AP)

However, as UNLV continues to try to figure out their roles in anticipation of the NCAA Tournament, the Rebels got to spend the rest of the game in a glorified scrimmage working on stuff. One of the biggest changes was a new starting lineup featuring both Mike Moser (at the four) and Anthony Bennett (at the five). For the Rebels to live up to their vast potential, Dave Rice has to find a way to get production out of both of these guys – and preferably at the same time. Bennett’s first half minutes were limited by foul trouble (and stupid fouls, at that), but if UNLV is going to come up with a last-minute solution for these two, it probably involves that combination. They’ve tried Moser at the three plenty of times and his inability to consistently knock down the long jumper, take anyone off the dribble or rebound effectively out there has basically put an end to that experiment. But today there were promising signs, albeit against a seriously outmanned opponent. Against an Air Force team that only played one guy taller than 6’6″ in the second half, Bennett scored 19 points after the break and was spectacular at times, while Moser grabbed 10 defensive boards and looked as comfortable as he has all season with Bennett. The primary strategy in the half-court seemed to be starting with Moser and Bennett on opposite blocks, allowing them to set screens for each other and both be in position to crash the glass. Occasionally, one would float out to the three-point line – Bennett up top, where he hit a couple, and Moser to the corner, where he hit one – but against a smaller team, each was able to work effectively inside. Bigger tests await, but the Rebels continue to work on ironing out their offense. Also credit sophomore center Khem Birch for taking to his new role – coming off the bench – without missing a beat. In 19 minutes, Birch made all four of his field goal attempts, grabbed eight boards and blocked three shots.

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Mountain West Season Wrap-Up and Tournament Preview

Posted by AMurawa on March 12th, 2013

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Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.

Tournament Bracket

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Final Standings

  1. New Mexico (26-5, 13-3)
  2. Colorado State (24-7, 11-5)
  3. UNLV (23-8, 10-6)
  4. San Diego State (21-9, 9-7)
  5. Boise State (21-9, 9-7)
  6. Air Force (17-12, 8-8)
  7. Fresno State (11-18, 5-11)
  8. Wyoming (18-12, 4-12)
  9. Nevada (12-18, 3-13)

Superlatives

Player of the Year. Jamaal Franklin, Junior, San Diego State. The fact that the Aztecs finished four games out of first place and just a game above .500 in conference play could rightfully give one pause in selecting the reigning MW Player of the Year to repeat, but with several teammates slowed by injury, Franklin stepped up his numbers almost across the board. With his minutes ticking up just slightly, his point total took a minor dip, while his rebound numbers jumped and, most impressively with point guard Xavier Thames dealing with injuries all year long, his assist averaged doubled. No, he’s nowhere near a finished product – he turns it over too much and actually got worse shooting from range – but in a conference with no dominant players, Franklin’s consistent production (he’s scored in double figures in all but one game) earns the nod. Kendall Williams and Colton Iverson were considered as well, in part due to their impact on their team’s successes, but both New Mexico and Colorado State earned their superior records on the strength of team efforts.

Coach of the Year. Steve Alford, New Mexico. At the start of the year, while the Lobos were considered one of three teams as favorites in the conference, they were largely seen as trailing UNLV and San Diego State. And when all is said and done, they come away with a conference title by two games. Behind a lock-down defense and a patchwork offense, the Lobos won 11 games by two possessions or less. He’s done a great job developing Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow along the frontline and got solid production out of his backcourt. And we can’t discount the job he and his staff did in putting together a schedule that earned New Mexico the fourth-ranked strength of schedule and an RPI of #2.

Once Again, Steve Alford Got Everything Possible Out Of His Lobo Team

Once Again, Steve Alford Got Everything Possible Out Of His Lobo Team.

Freshman of the Year. Anthony Bennett, Freshman, UNLV. During non-conference play, Bennett was regularly a double-double threat and a constant presence on the highlight reels. His numbers dipped in conference play, in part due to a late injury (he only scored in double figures in conference play nine times in 16 games) and he still hasn’t figured out how to play effectively with Mike Moser, but despite those late dips, he’s still the runaway winner of our Freshman of the Year award.

Newcomer of the Year, Colton Iverson, Senior, Colorado State. Entering conference play, Bennett was the favorite for the conference’s best newcomer. But while Bennett’s performance dipped, Iverson’s never did. With 13 double-doubles to his name, not only is Iverson the clear choice here, he was a strong contender for Player of the Year.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on March 5th, 2013

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Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.

Conference Round-up

It started out way back when with three teams – UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico – the teams expected to compete for the conference title. It quickly became apparent that Colorado State deserved to be among that group as well, while a few other teams – Wyoming, Boise State and even Air Force – had their moments in the sun. At one point or another in the season, seven different Mountain West teams could have reasonably dreamed of NCAA Tournament bids to come. And now, with a week remaining in conference play, many of our questions have been answered. New Mexico’s the conference champ, there will be at least four teams dancing (and probably a fifth), and it will be a disappointment if the conference doesn’t advance at least one team to the Sweet Sixteen. All told, it is without a doubt the deepest this conference has ever been. It may not have the elite teams that the conference had in 2011 when both San Diego State and BYU advanced to the Sweet Sixteen (and each were just a shot away from the Elite Eight), but there is still a strong opportunity for one of these teams to make a big run over the next month.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Boise State – While it was New Mexico that clinched the conference title outright this week, we’re going to give the nod to the Broncos, a team that went a long way towards securing an invitation to the Big Dance with wins over Nevada and Colorado State. Boise clamped down defensively this week and got big scoring outputs from Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks to ensure themselves a .500 conference record. They’d still be wise not to let up quite yet, but Leon Rice’s club has put itself in good position to earn just its sixth NCAA Tournament invitation in its history.

Derrick Marks Exploded Against Colorado State For One Of The Year's Best Offensive Displays

Derrick Marks Exploded Against Colorado State For One Of The Year’s Best Offensive Displays

Player of the Week

Derrick Marks, Sophomore, Boise State – Way back in late November, Marks scored 18 straight points for his team in the second half of an upset at Creighton. This past week, with his team in need of another big win, Marks again went nuts in the second half, scoring 24 in a row for the Broncos and making all 11 of his shots from the field on his way to a career high 38 points in a big win over Colorado State. For the week, Marks averaged 22 points, six rebounds, 5.5 assists per game and shot a 68%  eFG.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 27th, 2013

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Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.

Conference Round-Up

For weeks and weeks the constant talk around the conference was of confusion; who is the best team, where is the separation? Now, all of a sudden we look up with still a full two weeks remaining in conference play and, barring a collapse, New Mexico is going to take home at least a piece of the conference title (and a #1 seed in the conference tournament) and is a strong favorite to earn the regular season title outright. Along the way, Steve Alford has probably sealed up the MW Coach of the Year award, while teams like Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State look locked into NCAA Tournament bids. In other words, what was once a confusing mess (and I mean that word in a good way) of a conference is now pretty much crystal clear. Yeah, we still have to settle who exactly gets what seeds, both in Las Vegas and in the NCAA Tournament bracket, but New Mexico has clearly separated itself from the pack.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

New Mexico – While it is not yet sealed, the Lobos went a long way towards earning themselves a Mountain West regular season title this week when they went into Fort Collins, interrupted Colorado State’s 27-game home winning streak and came away with an impressive road win. We’ve spent a lot of time this year talking about what the Lobos can’t do and where their weaknesses may lie, but this far along this much is apparent: These Lobos are tough and they know how to win ballgames.

Kendall Williams' Career Day Carried New Mexico To A Big Road Win

Kendall Williams’ Career Day Carried New Mexico To A Big Road Win

Player of the Week

Kendall Williams, Junior, New Mexico – For the second consecutive week, there is no serious debate about the winner here as Williams went for 46 points, knocking down 10 increasingly improbable three-pointers while doing a little bit of everything for the Lobos in one of the greatest individual performances anywhere in the nation this season. For a guy who hadn’t scored more than 20 since December 22, it was also one of the most unlikely performances, but it is a glimpse into the type of ceiling this ridiculously talented junior has.

Newcomer of the Week

Colton Iverson, Senior, Colorado State – While the Rams came up on the short end of  the stick in both of their games this week, it wasn’t due to lack of production from their senior transfer. Iverson was his typical efficient self, averaging 20 points, 12.5 boards and 34.5 minutes per game of action this week.

Despite Colton Iverson's Big Week, His Rams Went 0-2 (Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post)

Despite Colton Iverson’s Big Week, His Rams Went 0-2 (Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post)

Game of the Week

UNLV 61, Colorado State 59 – Both Colorado State games this week were wildly entertaining. But while the outcome of the New Mexico game was hardly in doubt in the final minute, this battle in Vegas went down to the wire. After getting outscored by 11 in the first half, the Rams came out of the halftime locker room on fire, scoring 19 of the first 27 points in the second half to get back to even with still more than 13 minutes to play. When Dorian Green knocked down a pair of free throws with just under two minutes in the game, the Rams were up two and looked to be in good position to earn a big road win. But the Rams would never score again, while allowing a Bryce Dejean-Jones offensive rebound and putback to tie the game. And then an Anthony Marshall jumper with a waning shot and game clock sealed the deal and sent the home crowd home happy.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 19th, 2013

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Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.

Conference Round-up

As we look forward to the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas in just three weeks from now, we can also begin to look forward to future MW tourneys there, as this past week the conference announced that it approved a deal to keep the conference tourney in the Thomas & Mack Center for at least three more years after this March. And while the conference, fans, and media are all pleased, there are plenty of Mountain West coaches who, though unsurprised, are not happy with this arrangement. Steve Alford and Larry Shyatt are just two of the coaches who have gone on record opposing having to play for the league’s automatic bid on the home court of league rival UNLV, but with the MW Tourney having previously flopped in Denver and now an unmitigated success in Las Vegas (for example, this year the conference reports record ticket sales), odds are strong that the tournament location won’t be changing anytime soon.

The Thomas & Mack Center Will Be The Home Of The Mountain West Tournament For The Foreseeable Future (

The Thomas & Mack Center Will Be The Home Of The Mountain West Tournament For The Foreseeable Future (AP)

As for this year’s tourney, now that we finally have some separation at the top of the conference, it looks like a two team race for the #1 seed in Vegas come March. With San Diego State dropping a pair of games and UNLV getting bitten by Air Force on the road, New Mexico and Colorado State now sit atop the conference standings, three games in the loss column ahead of UNLV, SDSU and Air Force. While this weekend’s game between those two at Fort Collins will go a long way towards determining that winner, we’ve still got a lot of basketball to play.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Colorado State – The Rams got a big final minute from Dorian Green on Wednesday night to knock off San Diego State in Fort Collins, then went on the road Saturday and held on for a rare road win over Air Force. Larry Eustachy’s bunch is still making its hay by dominating teams on the glass; they haven’t had an offensive rebound percentage lower than 35% since January 2, and they’re regularly turning those second chance opportunities into points, putting the Rams in the top 10 nationally in offensive efficiency. And yet, despite perhaps the best rebounding team in memory, a rotation loaded with experienced seniors, and a six-game winning streak (as well as 27 home wins in a row), for some reason people are still a little leery about this team. Nevertheless, if they can extend that home winning streak to 28 on Saturday night against New Mexico, regardless of what happens tomorrow night at UNLV, the Rams should be the conference favorite.

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ATB: Terps Dump Duke, Cowboys Edge OU in OT and Kentucky Fails First Post-Noel Test…

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 18th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The Weekend’s Lede. A Not So Special Weekend. Not every Saturday is a jam-packed day of must-see top-25 matchups and earth-shattering upsets. This season has deluded us otherwise with an immaculate set of weekend slates, so when you get a day like this Saturday, where – with a few exceptions; college basketball is never actually boring – big-time matchups are hard to come by, disappointment is inevitable. This weekend was not as fun as most in 2013, but at this point in the season, as teams labor for resume points and RPI upgrades, most every game is hugely important. A multitude of teams either buttressed or damaged their NCAA hopes, while others remained in neutral. If those general descriptions aren’t enough (and, really, they shouldn’t be) follow along to get the all the gritty details.

Your Watercooler Moment. Terps Talk The Talk.

Must-win is a fuzzy qualifier this time of year. Can any game honestly be termed a “must” when the conference Tournament always providing a final safety net? What if the bubble unexpectedly softens up, and your previously unqualified resume starts trending in the right direction by virtue of other teams’ misfortunes? Those are always possibilities, sure, but you never want to rely on other teams crafting your NCAA Tournament fate. So Maryland took control of its own by picking up its biggest win of the season over No. 2 Duke Saturday, a win it sorely needed (there, I said it) after an uninspiring 11-point home loss to Virginia last week seemed to suck dry the final remnants of its improbable at-large hopes. The Terrapins have been one of the biggest disappointments in the ACC this season. After loudly and persistently clamoring for national poll recognition throughout November and December based on a gaudy 13-1 record that lacked anything resembling a good win, the Terrapins dropped five of their first eight ACC games, including a three-point home defeat to Florida State. Mark Turgeon’s eminently talented team – Dez Wells and Alex Len are surefire pros, and the complementary pieces are credible assets – looked vastly underprepared (or overrated) for the rigors of ACC play, the Terrapins’ Tournament hopes were evaporating and that hot start UM fans eulogized throughout the nonconference season felt like nothing more than a schedule-crafted mirage. With the exception of a home win over NC State, Maryland had basically played its way out of national relevancy. Canning the Blue Devils will help; storming the court is always fun, right? And I’d love to pencil Maryland in for an at-large berth, or at least provide some assurance with a comforting percentage projection. I just can’t, and I won’t, because I don’t know what to expect from this team in its final six conference games. The next four (at Boston College, Clemson, at Georgia Tech, and at Wake Forest) have to be wins. Get through this stretch, and the Terrapins could (could, not will) be inching toward tourney inclusion.

Your Second Watercooler Moment. Big East Movement.

The Golden Eagles are on the rise in the Big East (Photo credit: AP Photo).

The Golden Eagles are on the rise in the Big East (Photo credit: AP Photo).

At the outset of Big East play, it was easy to look at Marquette and Georgetown and see two good but flawed teams. The Golden Eagles run one of the most efficient offenses in the Big East; even after losing Darius Johnson Odom and Jae Crowder, Buzz Williams’ team gets the most out of every possession by leveraging the superb interior precision of Davante Gardner and the intuitive creativity of Junior Cadougan. The only problem? Marquette isn’t nearly as good on the other end of the floor(The Golden Eagles ranked eighth in the Big East in defensive efficiency heading into Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh). The Hoyas are the complete opposite of Marquette: they play top-five efficiency defense, but rank just inside the top-100 in offense. Offense-defense splits are not uncommon – most teams are demonstrably better at scoring or preventing points. Only the elite of the elite can master both. But as we enter the final five or six games of conference competition, the Golden Eagles and Hoyas (along with Syracuse) find themselves on top of one of the most competitive leagues in the country. How exactly did they get there? The most recent set of results shows Marquette handling Pittsburgh at home Saturday and Georgetown delivering another home loss to Cincinnati (its fifth of the season) Friday night, but both have been playing steady if not spectacular hoops for most of the league schedule. Marquette and Georgetown butted heads last week, with the Hoyas’ superior defense besting Marquette’s superior offense. Which team reaches a higher perch on the Big East pecking order by season’s end, I don’t know. Based on last week’s outcome and empirical results from over the weekend, I’ll cast my lot with Georgetown and that suffocating defense.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 13th, 2013

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Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.

Conference Round-up

Another week down the drain and we’re now officially four weeks away from the start of the Mountain West Tournament (well, three weeks and six days by the time this gets published). And, as time passes, some things are becoming more clear and some things are just as confusing as they were weeks ago. For instance: quick, who’s the best team in the conference?

New Mexico’s got a claim on first place as of now, but they’re coming off a season-series-evening loss to UNLV and they’ve already put up a horrendous 34-point offensive (in more than one way) output against San Diego State. The Rebels, for their part, have looked really good in their home win against New Mexico and their road win at San Diego State, but this is a team that just this week lost at Fresno State, the worst team in the conference. The Aztecs? Their backcourt is beat up and their still facing road trips to Colorado State, UNLV, New Mexico and Boise State. Oh, and they’re entering that stretch already a game back of the Lobos and a half-game behind Colorado State. And as for the Rams, despite the fact that they made the AP Top 25 for the first time in just under 60 years, they’ve still got plenty to prove themselves, with a history of struggling away from home, especially against quality opponents. But, for now, I’m going to go out on a limb and put CSU at the top of the pack, based on a whim. But hey, give me credit at least for not taking the easy way out and declaring this a four-way tie for first atop my power rankings.

Who's The Best Team In The Mountain West? I Dunno, But Colorado State's As Good Of A Guess As Any (Dawn Madura, AP Photo)

Who’s The Best Team In The Mountain West? I Dunno, But Colorado State’s As Good Of A Guess As Any (Dawn Madura/AP Photo)

So, that’s the clear as mud part. What parts of this conference are starting to round into understandable shape? Well, that pipe dream back a few weeks ago about six teams making the NCAA Tournament? Yeah, well, that’s not gonna happen. Wyoming and head coach Larry Shyatt have done great things over the past two seasons in Laramie, but they’re getting eaten alive in conference play (2-7 so far) and it would take a complete 180 for them to have a prayer of NCAA consideration come March. Meanwhile, Air Force, which had been so hot the last time we talked, just got done dropping a couple of road games, most damningly to Nevada on Saturday. They needed a lot of stuff to break their way, and while they’re certainly not completely dead yet, I’ve got to see them make some serious noise, especially on the road, in order to think they belong even on the periphery of the conversation. And that leaves Boise State as the potential fifth Mountain West team. There isn’t a lot of room for error for the Broncos, but I, for one, have a hard time believing they won’t be among the field of 68 when the brackets get announced.

Elsewhere, you can start engraving Anthony Bennett’s name on the Freshman of the Year trophy, if you want to get a head start. And the list of serious Player of the Year candidates are limited as well; right now Jamaal Franklin has to be the odds on favorite to defend his title, with Bennett maybe his strongest competitor. As for Coach of the Year, that one is still wide open and will likely be determined in part by how the race at the top of the conference shakes out.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

San Diego State – The Aztecs didn’t leave Viejas Arena this week, but they also didn’t lose, something that only one other Mountain West team (Colorado State, who played just one game) can say. The Aztecs dodged a bullet against Boise State, but then came out and put away Fresno State with a dominating second-half performance. While still not back to full-strength (Xavier Thames, for one, remains limited, although Chase Tapley nears 100%), the Aztecs find themselves just a game back of first place with a chance this week to take a couple huge steps towards a conference title. Of course, those huge steps include going on the road to Colorado State and UNLV, but let’s put it this way: if SDSU wins these games, they’re in very good shape.

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Ten Tuesday (Wednesday) Scribbles: On Underwhelming Teams, Soft Schedules, Wisconsin and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 6th, 2013

tuesdayscribblesBrian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. The Super Bowl marks the beginning of a two month stretch where college basketball dominates the national sports scene. From now until April 8, the focus will be squarely on our terrific sport. Sure it can be frustrating for the diehard fans that have been following every game since early November but the attention of the casual fans is what drives coverage and television ratings. The unfortunate reality is that without casual fan interest, college basketball would exclusively be a niche sport. We all have had that NCAA Tournament pool experience where the person who starts watching in February or March and knows very little other than team names and rankings wins the pool while the person who studies the efficiency metrics and knows that Travis Trice is a great three point shooter but awful inside the arc (h/t Luke Winn) finishes near the bottom of the pool standings. Nevertheless, it is an exciting time of year as bubble talk, last four in and last four out quickly creep into the daily sports conversation. Games like Tuesday night’s Ohio State/Michigan classic are what drive interest in the sport. We’ve been treated to plenty of great games this season but this one couldn’t have come at a better time, a time when most of America is now squarely focused on college basketball. Strap in, it’s going to be really fun as we head into the part of the season where every game is so big and teams make their final push towards March.
  2. As we move into this crucial part of the season, the issue of teams peaking early can become a concern for some. The season is a process, an evolution if you will, and not every team is playing its best basketball come March. As I look across the nation, there are a few teams that may have already peaked or are peaking right now and may not be able to sustain their current level of play into March. Oregon, NC State, Miami and Butler come to mind. Two losses to the Bay Area schools have put a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. Is it a short term blip or a sign of things to come for the Ducks? Their ability to score and propensity for turnovers are causes for concern but Oregon’s defense is surprisingly solid. NC State’s issue is just the opposite. The Wolfpack certainly can score, although their offense was shut down in losses to Maryland and Virginia. However, defense has been a problem all year and NC State’s efficiency, ranked #141 in the country, is simply not at a level where you can win games consistently. Chances are the Wolfpack have already peaked and their inability to stop teams will catch up to them eventually. Miami is a case of a team that may be peaking as we speak. The Hurricanes have won 10 consecutive games in a variety of different ways. This fact (meaning they can play different styles/speeds) combined with a defensive efficiency ranked fourth in the country suggest Miami can sustain this level of play. Concerns for the Hurricanes include three point shooting, free throw shooting and offensive rebounding but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Miami hold steady, at least for the next few weeks. Butler is an interesting case. The Bulldogs are 18-4 (5-2) but have lost two of their four games since the emotional win over Gonzaga on January 19 while also struggling through a win over lowly Rhode Island. Butler’s league isn’t as tough as the other teams mentioned here so it will likely enter the NCAA Tournament with a very strong record. Of concern is the BU defense which is not at the elite level it was when the Bulldogs first went to the national title game three years ago. However, it would be foolish to doubt Brad Stevens and his group. With a soft schedule down the stretch, there is still time for Butler to pile up wins and gather confidence heading into the tournament. I would say Butler has not peaked yet despite some major wins already on its resume. Look out for the Bulldogs next month.

    C.J. Leslie and NC State may have peaked early (E. Hyman/RNO)

    C.J. Leslie and NC State may have peaked early (E. Hyman/RNO)

  3. As we head into February and the regular season begins to wind down, I figure this is a good time to look at a few of America’s underwhelming teams. There are teams out there with gaudy records but few quality wins or those who just haven’t gotten on track relative to preseason expectations. Notre Dame, UNLV, UCLA and Missouri come to mind immediately. Notre Dame is 18-5 and 6-4 in the Big East which appears good on the surface but this was a team many thought would finish third in that rugged conference. However, a closer inspection reveals the Irish have just two quality wins on their resume (Kentucky (maybe) and at Cincinnati). In Big East play, Notre Dame has lost twice on its home court, something that has been almost unheard of over the years in South Bend. Notre Dame has never been a defensive juggernaut under Mike Brey but this is arguably his worst defensive team in 13 years at the helm. UNLV is a team with lots of talent that always leaves you wanting more, always following up a stretch of good play with a disappointing loss. The Rebels struggle away from Vegas which is understandable but you would still like to see them beat a few good teams on the road. They have failed to do that. UNLV can still turn it around but I feel like we’ve seen this movie before. Three consecutive first round NCAA flameouts show that UNLV isn’t quite ready for primetime. In fact, the Rebels have not won a postseason game since a first round victory over Kent State in 2008. UCLA is still a work in progress but there is no denying it has been underwhelming. The Bruins have lost three of their last four games since winning 10 straight games after a disappointing 5-3 start. Defense has been a concern all season long but it’s the offense that has scuttled of late. Five of UCLA’s final seven games are on the road and one of the home games is against Arizona. Things could get a little dicey down the stretch for the Bruins. Missouri is the team I feel is the most overrated of all. Despite a resume that lacks one single freaking SEC road win and non-conference wins over fading Illinois and mediocre Stanford, the Tigers continue to be ranked in both major polls. Missouri is not a good defensive team and has given up a lot of points to pretty much every good team it has played. Phil Pressey can be a great distributor but he’s also a turnover machine and a poor jump shooter. Mizzou will probably make the NCAA Tournament but an early departure is highly likely. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 5th, 2013

CIO header

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.

Conference Round-Up

When tonight’s games wrap up, we’ll officially be halfway through the conference season. The Super Bowl is over, all eyes are on college hoops, there will be just eight games remaining on all the team’s schedules and we’re all starting to think about the madness that awaits in Vegas in early March. For the longest time this season in the Mountain West, we’ve figured there were a pool of six teams in contention for NCAA Tournament bids. And, as we get ready to round the turn, it looks like we’ve still got six teams in the mix; the surprise, however, may be which six teams those are. After we take care of our weekly honors immediately below, we’ll take a look at where each team stands as we near the halfway mark in terms of their NCAA Tournament viability.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Air Force – It was “only” a pair of home wins, but they were an impressive, and an important, pair. With wins over Fresno State and San Diego State, the Falcons put themselves within striking distance of the conference lead, all with a shot at that first place New Mexico team next up on the schedule. The former win was more a matter of just taking care of business, while the latter was truly impressive. Despite the fact that the Aztecs were hampered by injuries, Air Force withstood the full brunt of Jamaal Franklin attempting, and largely succeeding in his attempt, to take over the game. After giving up a 12-point second half lead, the Falcons had the wherewithal to answer every Aztec run and in the final seconds, they dodged a couple looks at game-tying threes, earning the Academy their very own RTC, even if it was small and relatively orderly. After weeks and weeks of having everybody overlook them, it is now time to give this team its due: with Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico all coming to Clune Arena in the back half of conference play, the Falcons have a chance (even if it is still a slim one) to win this thing.

Michael Lyons and Air Force Have Reeled Off Five Straight And Are Within A Game Of The Conference Lead (Rhona Wise, AP Photo)

Michael Lyons and Air Force Have Reeled Off Five Straight And Are Within A Game Of The Conference Lead (Rhona Wise, AP Photo)

Player of the Week

Hugh Greenwood, Sophomore, New Mexico – Before we get to Greenwood, a quick mention of Colorado State’s Pierce Hornung, who made this week’s decision a tough one. Hornung averaged 17.5 points and 12 rebounds per game this week, double-doubling each night and even knocked down all three three-pointers he attempted against Boise State on Wednesday, bring him up to eight-for-15 on the season from deep. But, as versatile as Hornung was this week, versatility is Hugh Greenwood’s middle name (yup, Hugh Versatility Greenwood – it’s an Aussie thing, I think). The Lobo sophomore made ten of the 13 shots he attempted from the field this week, including five-of-six from deep, averaged 14 points per game, 8.5 rebounds and five assists. Oh, and during the Lobos’ trip to Laramie on Wednesday, Greenwood saved the day by knocking down the go-ahead jumper with eight seconds left and sealing the game with a pair of free throws later. After winning multiple Player of the Week awards from us last year, this is Greenwood’s first nod this year.

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RTC Top 25: Week 12

Posted by KDoyle on February 4th, 2013

The fourth different school in the past five weeks appears at the top of the RTC25 and it is not Indiana, despite their big win at home over the previous #1, Michigan. Rather, the Florida Gators are your new #1 team. A top 10 team since the preseason, the Gators are playing their best basketball of the season and look untouchable in the SEC. Further down, there are four new teams making a splash in this week’s RTC25. After spending many weeks on the outside, Pittsburgh finally jumps into the rankings after their home win over Syracuse.

The Quick n’ Dirty after the jump…

Week 12

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ATB: The Original No. 1 Returns, Phog Allen Defiled and More Mountain West Craziness…

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 4th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The Weekend’s Lede. One More Month. Passage into February is a temporal marker for college basketball’s great postseason. Talks of preparing for “next month” are fair game now. Bubble discussion will rage on a daily basis. Each win will be scrutinized not just by the box score, but for its RPI and strength of schedule effects. The next monthly calendar flipping will bring even more excitement, but as the large masses who casually check in on the sport after the Super Bowl conveniently forget, the race to the dance can be just as tantalizing as the dance itself. From here on out, the competition will be fierce, the pressure will mount, and each and every day will bring us closer to our final destination: the NCAA Tournament. With another weekend in the books, time to revisit the first February action of this college hoops season.

Your Watercooler Moment. Another Slow Start Dooms Michigan.

A poor start hurt Michigan's chances Saturday in Bloomington (Photo credit: Getty Images).

A poor start hurt Michigan’s chances Saturday in Bloomington (Photo credit: Getty Images).

Everybody loses games. What separates the great from the merely good, is the ability to learn from those losses, eliminate the bad tendencies, keep the good ones and readjust your memory bank. Michigan knows the perils of getting out to a slow start on the road in Big Ten play. In its lone loss of the season prior to Saturday’s eight-point defeat in Bloomington, the Wolverines allowed Ohio State to storm out to a 16-3 lead in Columbus. Michigan clawed back to make a real game of it, but in the end, Ohio State held on. The Wolverines’ early sluggishness put them in too large a hole to climb out of. Michigan should have come away from that loss with a stern appreciation for how to handle the opening minutes of high-level conference road games. Against Indiana, managing the early possessions without letting things get out of hand was the foremost hurdle to knocking off the No. 3 team in the country in its own super-packed, deafening, red-and-white filled building. Michigan didn’t – the Wolverines allowed the Hoosiers to bust open a 28-13 advantage by the 10-minute mark in the first half, ignite a delirious Hoosiers crowd and force the Wolverines into a massive uphill climb from that point onward. Michigan responded with excellent point guard play from Trey Burke and solid bench production from freshman big man Mitch McGary, but much like the Ohio State game, the Wolverines couldn’t quite make it all the way back.

Other factors – Victor Oladipo’s energetic defense, Cody Zeller’s easy looks in the post, the natural benefits of playing in one of the nation’s fiercest home gyms, Michigan’s numerous chances to win the game later on – need to be considered before pinning this loss entirely on Michigan’s slow beginning. And I don’t doubt John Beilein counseled his team on the dangers of a slow start at a hostile hoops fortress like Assembly Hall. But it just felt like Michigan came out with a tentative, almost rattled mindset – that once Indiana started hitting shots, the Wolverines had no power to settle the game down, collect themselves and dictate the flow on their terms. The comeback effort was strong, again, but it doesn’t disabuse the fact that Michigan played into the Hoosiers’ home-crafted momentum advantage, and had a much, much better shot at leaving with a W if not for that poor opening stretch. An eight-point loss at Indiana is not the end of the world; Michigan will rebound, and when these teams meet again on March 10, you can expect another high-paced, high-intensity, high-stakes battle. 

Also Worth Chatting About. Um, Kansas?

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