Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
College football is officially in the books and that means college hoops takes center stage. It’s going to be a great weekend of action highlighted by two Big Ten showdowns and an ACC battle that will shape the national picture. Good luck deciding which game you are going to watch at 12:00 PM EST tomorrow. Let’s get to the breakdowns.
#1 Duke at #21 North Carolina State – 12:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN (*****)
With the injury to Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee will need to muscle up on defense against NC State.
The ACC is starting to look like Duke, North Carolina State, Miami, and then everyone else. The big news for the Blue Devils going into Saturday is the loss of forward Ryan Kelly to a foot injury for an indefinite period of time. Kelly’s loss appears to be significant for Duke but we really will not know the entire story until Saturday’s game is over. Kelly’s outside shooting and overall scoring threat will be missed, but it may be his size on defense that is missed most. Duke will be left with either freshmen Amile Jefferson and Alex Harris or junior Josh Hairston to help Mason Plumlee defend the interior. With an extremely athletic front line, NC State will test the Blue Devils’ resolve right away. Expect the Wolfpack to try to overwhelm Plumlee down low by attacking the inside. By doing this, they will attempt to put Plumlee in foul trouble and get to the line. If Plumlee gets into foul trouble, it will be a very long afternoon in Raleigh for the Dukies. The team that plays better defense will win this game.
#9 Minnesota at #4 Indiana– 12:00 PM EST, Saturday on BTN (*****)
Minnesota made a statement in its blowout win at Illinois this week. They are looking for the Big Ten title and it’s going to take a great team to beat them. What’s most impressive about the win is actually their lack of offensive rebounding. That may seem like a crazy statement but when you consider how good they are on the offensive boards it makes sense. The Gophers lead the country in offensive rebounding percentage (OR%) at 48.5%. They are absolutely dominating that statistic. So when their OR% dipped to 25% against Illinois, their worst performance of the year, and yet they still won by 17 points, it means this team can do a lot more than just grab boards. Shooting 61% eFG proved that. Interestingly enough, however, it could be rebounding that derails the Gophers against Indiana. Minnesota actually struggles on the defensive boards and Indiana is ranked in the top 10 nationally there. With the incredible offensive weapons that Indiana has at its disposal, grabbing a bunch of misses is just salt in its opponents’ wounds. This game is going to be a great spectacle with tremendous match-ups all over the floor. Trevor Mbakwe against Cody Zeller might be the best big man battle we will see all year. If Minnesota can make it two road wins a row against the best in the Big Ten, watch out for Tubby Smith’s team.
For the third year in a row, ESPN is bringing us what we consider one of the great television events on the sports television calendar, the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon. That means that for the third year in a row, I’ll be live-blogging the whole thing from start to finish — and this year, we’re climbing this hoops blogger’s Everest without supplemental oxygen. That is to say…I’m going caffeine-free. More importantly, here is the schedule of games for this year’s marathon (all times Eastern):
12:00 midnight — Miami (FL) at Memphis (ESPN)
2:00 am — St. John’s at St. Mary’s (ESPN)
4:00 am — Central Michigan at Hawaii (ESPN)
6:00 am — Stony Brook at Monmouth (ESPN)
8:00 am — Robert Morris at Kent State (ESPN)
10:00 am — Northeastern at Southern Illinois (ESPN)
12 noon — Oral Roberts at Tulsa (ESPN)
2:00 pm — La Salle at Baylor (ESPN)
4:00 pm — Virginia Tech at Kansas State (ESPN)
5:30 pm — Marist at Villanova (ESPNU)
6:00 pm — Ohio State at Florida (ESPN)
7:30 pm — Miami (OH) at Duke (ESPNU)
8:00 pm — Butler at Louisville (ESPN)
9:30 pm — Belmont at Tennessee (ESPNU)
10:00 pm — South Carolina at Michigan State (ESPN)
11:00 pm — San Diego State at Gonzaga (ESPN2)
11:30 pm — Pacific at UCLA (ESPNU)
The first attempt at this resulted in some hallucinations and arrhythmias as the hour got late (I had been up for 16 hours before starting the live blog) and I required a few caffeine-laden beverages. Last year, we had a technical glitch that kept us on our toes, but the live blog survived. This time, to raise the standard yet again, I’ll be sans caffeine. I know that without a webcam (we’re not that kind of site) you have no reason to believe that I’m not pounding sodas and cappuccinos and Five Hour Energy drinks by the blender-full. Since I believe RTC is the only site that’s done this all three years, well…you’ll just have to trust me. After two years, I think our relationship is in that kind of place. I hope you’ll join us right here (the live blog will continue in this post) a few minutes before midnight. Now, for my pre-live-blog meal. How’s a little turkey and wine sound?
11:47 PM Monday — Here we go. The high-def at the RTC Southern Compound is rockin’. We’ve checked the router and the internet connection to the building (which bit us in zee buttocks last year), and it appears solid. The football game is all but over (as it has been since halftime). Let’s go.
Story of the Night. Our preseason F4 picks are UNC, UCLA, Indiana and Gonzaga, so it’s no surprise that we really like the Zags this season. Imagine our own surprise, however, when we learned just before tipoff of today’s #16 Gonzaga-Montana game that Josh Heytvelt will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a stress fracture in his foot. Given what we know about these sorts of things, we wonder just how effective he’ll be when he gets back. Obviously, without Heytvelt, the Zags have no chance to reach their first F4. Or do they? Heytvelt’s replacement, 6’10 freshman forward Austin Daye, put on a show in his first game, going for 20/10/2 blks on 8-13 shooting and 2-2 from long range. Daye’s performance along with Jeremy Pargo’s high-wire act (he totally went B-Diddy on one of his dunks) and 17/5/5 asts were more than enough as Gonzaga put down Montana without much of a problem. If Heytvelt can come back healthy in January, this team is going to be a major player next March. (Gonzaga 77, Montana 54). One other comment from this game’s coverage on FCS Pacific – commentator Craig Ehlo needs to go back to guarding MJ or something; dude is terrrrible.
Things We Saw. We got to see pieces of five other games today, and here were our impressions. #4 Kansas once again showed just how good they can be, while never actually showing us how good they are. We never had a moment where we thought they were playing all that well, and yet they still won by 23. There were four missed dunks by the Jayhawks during the game, tons of missed foul shots (16-31), and still… UMKC was never really a threat to win in Allen Fieldhouse. Mario Chalmers was the lone bright spot, going 8-13 (6-9 from three) for 23 pts, but Bill Self said they have to get better at many phases of the game if they expect to do anything significant this year (Kansas 85, UMKC 62). Another game we watched was #11 Oregon v. Pacific. Judging by tonight, if there was any doubt as to whether Tajuan Porter can take over for Aaron Brooks, let that notion be put to rest. Porter was scintillating with 28 pts on 10-15 shooting (5-8 from three) and acted as much a leader as we had previously seen from him. Malik Hairston added 20/6 and Maarty Leunen contributed 17/10 in a well-balanced attack against a Pacific team that hung in there. We’re expecting big things from the Ducks this year (Oregon 80, Pacific 64). The Pittsburgh-St. Louis game was a little boring, but it showed us (once again) just how good of a coach Rick Majerus is, as the Panthers didn’t put the game away until a minute to go. If SLU can play like this all season, they’ll be a factor in the A10 race (Pittsburgh 69, St. Louis 58). We didn’t catch as much of the #17 Stanford-UCSB game as we would have liked, but we noted that Stanford once again handled business without much sweat, as Anthony Goods (23/6) outplayed Gaucho star Alex Harris (18/2) in the battle of the guards (Stanford 67, UCSB 48).
Upset Alert. Two minor ones. Nevada will need to win these games if it expects to make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight time (UCF 63, Nevada 60). And Cincinnati dropped its second home game in a week tonight – the Bearcats are a long way from “Big East competitive” at this point (Bowling Green 69, Cincinnati 67).
Line of the Night. Michael Beasley (Kansas St.). Again. Only 30/14 tonight in a 29-minute, 5-foul performance against Pittsburg St., a D2 team. It should be noted that K-State was down 40-38 at halftime to this team, though.
On Tap Today (all times EST). 43 games, including Indiana’s debut and a solid test for Duke at home (i.e., not NC Central).
Indiana (-24) v. Chattanooga 7pm – Eric Gordon makes his long-awaited debut.
Duke (-17) v. New Mexico St. (ESPN2) 7pm - if Duke is playing with a chip this year, they’ll win this by 30.
Syracuse (-15.5) v. Siena (ESPNU) 7pm – looking forward to seeing freshmen Flynn and Greene(oh wait, we don’t get ESPNU).
LSU (NL) v. SE Louisiana (ESPN FC) 8pm – Anthony Randolph, anyone?
Missouri (-14.5) v. Central Michigan (ESPN FC) 3pm – year 2 of 40MoH begins.
Oklahoma (NL) v. Alcorn St. (ESPN FC) 8pm – more Blake Griffin.
Texas (NL) v. Texas-San Antonio (ESPN FC) 8pm – DJ Augustin is our favorite PG.
Ohio St. (-15.5) v. Wisconsin-Green Bay (ESPN2) 9pm – first game since the Findlay debacle.
Oregon (NL) v. W. Michigan (ESPN FC) 10:30pm – third game in three nights – any tired legs?
UCLA (-28.5) v. Youngstown St. (ESPN2) 11pm – first chance to watch K-Love’s superb outlet passing – haven’t you heard?
So we figure we’ll be done with these conference primers by Christmas 2008 Thanksgiving, which is about the time most people start keeping an eye on college hoops anyway. In the meantime, we thought we’d take a moment to recap the seventeen single bid conferences we’ve already reviewed. Keep in mind, our definition of a single bid league is a conference that does not regularly compete for multiple NCAA bids (even if they occasionally get multiple bids).
Some brief Single Bid Conference superlatives while we’re at this point:
Best Team. Davidson (#9 Seed NCAA)- this team has a shot at the Sweet 16 this year
Possible Spoiler. Louisiana-Monroe (Sun Belt) – everyone loves WKU in the Sun Belt, but ULM has an excellent team returning
Low Major All-Americans.
Stephen Curry (Davidson) – POY
Bo McCalebb (New Orleans)
Kyle Hines (UNC-Greensboro)
Jason Thompson (Rider)
Alex Harris (UCSB)
Hon. Mention – Courtney Pigram (ETSU), Arizona Reid (High Point), Courtney Lee (W. Kentucky), Tim Pollitz (Miami (OH))
Conference We Wish Were on TV More Often. America East. We dunno why, other than we’ve enjoyed watching teams like Albany, Vermont and BU over the past few years. Seems like a fun conference.
Conference We Wish Would Re-Organize (or Implode).Sun Belt. Despite a long and proud history, there are simply too many teams (13) located in too many places (from Denver to Miami). This conference has lost its bearings.
Conference Champ You Can Count on to Cover the Spread in NCAA Tourney 08 – Big West. Although Ivy league champs tend to stay close, Las Vegas knows that, so we like the Big West instead, where teams not named Long Beach St. have lost by an average of only 7 pts during the 2000s.
Conference Champ You Can Count on to NOT Cover the Spread in NCAA Tourney 08 – Summit. In its last nine first round games, the Summit champ has lost by an average of 22 pts.
And here’s how our Consensus Conference Picks are shaping up (RTC choice in red):
Since last time, we added the CBS Sportsline picks as well as the conference media days selections for each league. We had three more leagues came on with a full consensus (Patriot – Holy Cross; Sun Belt – W. Kentucky; Southern – Davidson) to join the OVC (Austin Peay), while the Big Sky (Montana) was only one vote short. The Big West (UCSB) and MAC (Kent St.) were solidly in one team’s corner, while the Summit (IUPUI) and Ivy (Cornell) weren’t far behind. We’re still not buying that Ivy selection of Cornell, though.
WYN2K. As we continue our ascent up the conference ladder, we once again come to a league where the top clearly consists of mid-major quality programs, but the bottom of the conference weighs it down as a whole and keeps it from becoming a consistent multiple bid performer. As might be expected for a middling league, the Big West has split its OOC games over the past three seasons (142-155, .478), winning the games against the lower leagues and losing to those above (1-13 last year vs. BCS teams). So what we see again this year is a handful of teams near the top that could easily compete in the WAC or Horizon, and an equal number that might be better suited for the OVC or Atlantic Sun (geographical considerations notwithstanding). Yet due to its schizophrenic nature (representative of its Californian makeup, perhaps?), the Big West has only once in the last fourteen years received two bids (2005), and that was solely because upstart Utah St. defeated unbeaten juggernaut Pacific in the conference finals that year.
Predicted Champion. UC Santa Barbara (#13 seed NCAA)is our choice to represent the Big West this year (turns out we’re not very original). Besides being located in one of the most awe-inspiring landscapes the lower 48 has to offer, the Gauchos return four starters from a second-place club including likely POY guard Alex Harris (21.1 ppg, .458 3fg%) and all-conference forward Chris Devine (14.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg).These two, along with a sophomore backcourt (Justin Joyner and James Powell)that made the all-freshman team last year, hold down a formidable defense that has finished second in the league for six consecutive years. Throw in transfer center Nedim Pajevic from Weber St. and UCSB has all the pieces to win its first conference title in six years. The way we see it, the only hurdle against this team’s success are the tasty waves and a cool buzz down on the campus beach (h/t Jeff Spicoli).
Others Considered. Should UCSB stumble just a bit, we like Cal Poly as next in line to pick up the pieces. Despite losing all-conference wing Derek Stockalper, the Mustangs return sufficient talent to build off of their season-ending 10-2 run (including the conference title game). Three other starters return, including all-conference guard Dawin Whiten and inside presence Titus Shelton (#96 nationally in blk%). The other team we like a lot in this league is Cal St. Fullerton, another second-place team from last season that returns three starters, but must deal with the loss of Bobby Brown, the school’s all-time leading scorer. The Titans are most excited about incoming transfer guard Josh Akognon, a lights-out shooter who led Washington St. in scoring during Dick Bennett’s last season there in 2006. As a sophomore, Akognon dropped 25 on UCLA’s vaunted defense in a half, so expectations are obviously high. Pacific had a rough year last season after a run of three straight NCAA Tourney appearances (49-3 in the Big West over that span), but they do return four of their top seven players and still carry a swagger that the rest of the league hasn’t quite forgotten yet. A core group of juniors led by Anthony Brown will spearhead the renaissance for head coach Bob Thomason, so they can’t be dismissed.
Games to Watch. The Big West is back to nine teams after two years at eight, so the round-robin schedule remains intact. Here are the key games to watch for:
UCSB @ Cal St. Fullerton (01.12.08) & Cal St. Fullerton @ UCSB (02.07.08)
Cal Poly @ Cal St. Fullerton (01.10.08) & Cal St. Fullerton @ Cal Poly (02.09.08)
UCSB @ Cal Poly (01.19.08) & Cal Poly @ UCSB (02.14.08)
ESPNU Bracketbusters (02.23.08)
Big West Championship Game (03.15.08) ESPN2
RPI Booster Games. The Big West doesn’t typically play a lot of games against BCS teams, and we’re not sure why that is (perhaps it has more to do with location than anything). Nevertheless, the league was 1-13 (.071) last year, with the sole victory coming from UC Irvine against South Carolina (67-52). Here are this year’s best opportunities for RPI enhancement:
Pacific @ Oregon (11.11.07) ESPN FC
UCSB @ Stanford (11.11.07)
Mississippi St. @ UC Irvine (11.22.07) ESPNU
Cal Poly @ Arizona St. (11.26.07)
UNLV @ UCSB (11.27.07)
Cal St. Fullerton @ Arizona (11.28.07)
Nevada @ Pacific (12.01.07) ESPN FC
UCSB @ UNC (12.22.07)
Cal Poly @ USC (12.22.07)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Not this year. While UCSB is very good, it’s not so good that it will dominate the league to the level necessary to ensure an at-large bid (as Pacific managed to do in 2005).
Neat-o Stat. Last year’s champion Long Beach St. galloped into the sunset with a conference regular season title as well as the tournament title before getting utterly shellacked 121-86 by Tennessee in last year’s first round matchup. Not only did the program lose its coach Larry Reynolds, it also lost its top nine scorers. The leading returning scorer is guard Artis Grant, who averaged all of 1.9 ppg last season in less than ten minutes of game time. Dan Monson, the architect of Gonzaga basketball in the late 1990s (of which Mark Few gets all the credit), took the job and according to one media report, he’s quite happy with the decision. He may have said that before he saw how thin his roster was going to be this year.
64/65-Team Era. The Big West’s record of 28-29 (.491) is extremely misleading due to the UNLV effect. UNLV was in this league from 1982-1996, and while there the Runnin’ Rebels ran off only 21 wins, 3 F4s and a national championship in 1990. The other seven wins during the era belong to UCSB (1990 – 1), New Mexico St. (1992 – 2; 1993 – 1), Utah St. (2001 – 1) and Pacific (2004 – 1; 2005 – 1). In more recent NCAA history, Pacific has owned the Big East in the NCAAs, beating #5 Providence 66-58 (2004), #9 Pittsburgh 79-71 (2005) and coming very close to beating #4 Boston College (Pacific lost 88-76 in 2OT) in the Eagles’ first year as a member of the ACC. Since 1994 the league has been a one-bid league with the one exception mentioned above in 2005, and its average seed has been a #12.9. If we omit Long Beach St.’s asskicking last year at the hands of Tennessee, we see that the league has performed admirably (if not successfully) in its first round games during this decade. We mentioned Pacific’s three games above, but in the Big West’s other five games its representative lost by an average of only 6.8 pts, showing that these teams play competitive basketball. For now, though, let’s reminisce about Bong Long Beach St.’s championship RTC at the Big West Championship.
Final Thought. The Big West is a league seemingly in continual flux. Every time it seems to be building a cache of solid programs at the top, one of them bolts for another conference (see: UNLV, New Mexico St., Utah St.). As a result, it can never quite get a good enough RPI rating to break through as an annual two-bid league. Regularly reaching into the lowest reaches of D1 to pick up the likes of UC Davis and UC Riverside just to have a full complement of teams only worsens the problem. Who will be next to go if a spot opens in the WCC or WAC – UCSB? Pacific? We shall see.
This afternoon the 2007-08 Wooden Award candidates were released to the public. The top 50 vote-getters (who gets to vote for this anyway – is the Wizard of Westwood sitting in his apt filling out ballots?) are listed below (organized by conference, then by team):
Conference Rundown: Pac-10 (10), Big East (8), ACC (7), Big 12 (6), SEC (5), Big 10 (2), Mid-Majors + Low Majors (12).
We like the love thrown to the non-BCS leagues – nearly a quarter of the selections are from eleven other leagues.
It’s no surprise the Pac-10 is held in such high esteem this coming season, while the Big 10 isn’t – look at the difference in good players returning.
For some reason, the Wooden doesn’t consider freshmen in its preseason picks, even though it does at the end of the year (Kevin Durant was the recipient last year). If it did, you’d figure the Pac-10 would look even better, with OJ Mayo and Kevin Love added to the mix.
Other than freshmen, who are some notable omissions around the country? First thought was Josh Heytvelt (Gonzaga), but maybe that has something to do with his propensity to ingest hallucinogens – can’t see the WoW signing off on that selection. We might have chosen Darrell Arthur over Mario Chalmers at Kansas, but maybe the Jayhawk fans would disagree with us. Raymar Morgan (Michigan St.), anyone? Edgar Sosa (Louisville)? What about Alex Harris down at UCSB?
Some guys we’d take off the list – Tyrese Rice at BC has shown he can shoot a lot and turn the ball over a lot – what else? Choosing DeMarcus Nelson smacks of making sure someone from Duke is on the list. We’re also not sure about the selection of Texas Tech’s Martin Zeno to the list. None of this really matters, though, as the list will eventually whittle itself down based on actual performance.
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George Mason’s band director, Dr. Michael W. Nickens, has his swagger on. Pic via @davestipe on Twitter.