I will start off today with a few words about Boston. We have been running this site for approximately six years now and there have been plenty of significant events/tragedies that we have not really talked about in this space for a variety of reasons, but this one hit closer to home for the primary reason that Boston was actually our home (at least for one of the two of us that run this site) for 11 years. I have not been back since leaving at the end of June for a new job, but was already planning on doing so this coming June well before the tragedy that transpired yesterday. I just want to send my condolences to those who lost loved ones yesterday and wish for a speedy recovery for all of those who were injured.
We knew it was coming, but yesterday Nerlens Noel made it official that he would be entering the NBA Draft. Some pundits may argue that Noel should spend an extra year in college to rehab from a torn left ACL, but we do not see the benefit. Noel, who was considered by many to be the #1 pick before he tore his ACL, is still considered a potential #1 overall pick depending on which team gets that pick. As crazy as it sounds the potential #1 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft might get overshadowed on next year’s Kentucky team particularly if he is not 100% when he returns. There have not been many cases where an underclassman leaves early with such a significant injury, but these are exceptional circumstances.
Plenty of people have mocked the NCAA’s new academic standards, but for many recruits those numbers can be hard to meet, which has led to a rise in the number of recruits who pursue alternative routes to college including junior college. As the article points out New York City only produced one Division I men’s basketball player who was academically eligible and the standards are about to get tougher. As John Infante points out the new standards will also alter the calculus of eligibility for players who do not go straight from high school to Division I basketball. This might seem like a small story now, but it could become a big issue once the new standards go into effect.
Last season the Missouri Valley Conference was one of the best conferences in the country, but after it was announced that Creighton would be leaving we knew they were set for a downgrade. Yesterday we found out it would be a big downgrade as it was announced that Loyola (IL) would be replacing Creighton. Nothing against Loyola, which appears to be making attempts at improving its program by upgrading its facilities and hiring new coaches (unfortunately we are more familiar with their women’s coach than their men’s coach), but going from one of the top “mid-major” teams in the country to a 5-11 Horizon League team is a huge drop-off. Now the conference still has its fair share of heavyweights, but with this type of replacement we would not be surprised to see some other conferences try to poach some of the Missouri Valley Conference’s top programs.
One of the few bright spots for Purdue last season was how young they were. Their fans could ignore their 8-10 Big Ten record as merely growing pains for an extremely young team. They can still have those hopes, but while they maintain their top underclassmen the Boilermakers have been losing quite a bit of their supporting cast with the most recent departure being Anthony Johnson who asked for and was granted a release by the school. Johnson put up decent numbers as a sophomore (4.9 points and 2.9 rebounds), but shot a putrid 36.2 percent from the floor and was expected to see his minutes decrease with most of the team’s top players returning.
The Iowa Hawkeyes were not going to be denied a win on Saturday night as they beat the Wisconsin Badgers, 70-66. There was an emotional feel to Carver-Hawkeye arena as the Hawkeyes honored 1993 captain Chris Street‘s death during halftime. The Hawkeyes built a 16-point lead early in the game and it was too much for the Badgers to recover. Bo Ryan’s team held their first four B1G opponents to 50.5 PPG but Fran McCaffery’s offense put up 70 points as sophomore Aaron White scored 17 points of his own. White was very aggressive by getting to the free throw line and shooting 13-of-15from the charity stripe.
Even the best of the freshmen have been known to hit a slump during the heat of the conference season. Michigan State freshman Gary Harris (12.6 PPG) hasn’t been shooting very well lately and head coach Tom Izzo believes that he might have hit the “wall.” During the Spartans’ 59-56 win over Ohio State, Harris shot 0-of-5 to begin the game but pulled himself out of the slump to finish with eight points for the night. Harris made the necessary adjustment at his coach’s urging to attack the basket rather than settle for jumpers as he shot 4-of-5 from the field during the rest of the game.
Speaking of the freshman wall, another first-year guard who has had a rough patch lately is Michigan’s Nik Stauskas. Stauskas was shooting over 50% from beyond the arc has made just 3-of-13 attempts from the perimeter over the last three games. But regardless of his mini-slump, both Stauskas and his coaches are not too concerned at the moment. When asked about Stauskas’ shooting, head coach John Beilein responded, “We will just keep working with him.” Coaches around the conference understand Stauskas’ strengths and have been trying to take his three-point shot away while also making him work on the defensive end to disturb his rhythm. It appears to be working.
The Ohio State Buckeyes might not win the Big Ten title this season, but Deshaun Thomas has shown that he is the best scorer that the league as to offer. Thomas scored 28 points during the Buckeyes’ three-point loss in East Lansing over the weekend — that’s 50% of his team’s total points! But if he can get some consistent help from his teammates, they might be good enough to become a top 15 team for rest of the season. Lenzelle Smith had six points to support Thomas, but a couple more buckets by the rest of the supporting cast might have helped the Buckeyes leave town with a great win. Sophomore Shannon Scott has been pushing the ball in transition and is another candidate to step up as a second scorer for Thad Matta.
Matt Painter’s Purdue Boilermakers are young but seem to be improving and it showed in their dominant win (79-52) over West Virginia on Saturday. One of the key contributors in the win was redshirt sophomore guard Anthony Johnson, who scored 12 points in just 20 minutes. Painter was impressed by his backup point guard’s performance on both ends of the floor, stating, “Anthony played half of the game and had zero turnovers.” Johnson responded, “Credit to my teammates for giving me the ball in the right positions.” The Boilermakers will continue to be a tough out at Mackey during the next few weeks and can strive to play spoiler in the tough conference race.
This is almost certainly not the way John Beilein and Michigan wanted to start a 2012-13 campaign that’s so filled with promise. Because of an unspecified “violation of team standards,” sophomore point guard and preseason All-American Trey Burke will sit out the team’s season debut when it takes on Northern Michigan in an exhibition game Thursday in Ann Arbor. Burke broke the university record for assists in a season last year, but it’ll be freshman Spike Albrecht starting in his place during the one-game suspension and handling the assist duties for the Wolverines. “Trey will sit out the first game as a result of some ‘out of character’ decisions he now regrets,” Beilein said in a statement, according to AnnArbor.com. “We believe he has learned a valuable lesson and we are confident he will grow from this experience.” This does not seem like a situation that will adversely affect the Wolverines’ regular season, but nobody likes to start the season with a distraction like this.
If there’s one way to describe Ohio State over the last few years, it may be that less is more. The Buckeyes have been regular Big Ten and national title contenders over the last decade or so, but they’ve never done it with much depth. This year could bring something Buckeye fans aren’t used to. Coach Thad Mattaindicated this week that Ohio State will be rotating more players than usual this season, with a possibility for six or seven different lineups. Things did not go off without a hitch in the Buckeyes’ exhibition opener on Tuesday — a 83-71 win over Walsh College — but Matta did tinker with the lineup, sending out a different starting five at the beginning of the game then again after halftime. Ten players saw the floor for Ohio State, and eight played at least 14 minutes. If this stays true to form, that many Matta-recruited top-notch athletes over the course of 40 minutes could give teams fits this year.
As for the depth at Minnesota, the Golden Gophers took a hit in advance of their first exhibition game with an injury to freshman Wally Ellenson. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the 6-foot-4 guard broke a bone in the middle finger of his left hand during a rebounding drill this week when it got caught on a teammate’s jersey. Coach Tubby Smith said it was a clean break and it is expected to keep Ellenson out of game action for 6-8 weeks. Now, Smith says, a redshirt could be in order. “He was playing well and he probably wasn’t going to be [redshirted], but it’s going to be something that we’re going to probably consider at this juncture,” Smith said.
If you have any doubt that the state of Indiana is basketball mecca, just tune into Big Ten basketball this season to see some of the conference’s brightest young stars who hail from the Hoosier State. It’ll be players like Gary Harris at Michigan State, Glenn Robinson at Michigan and Yogi Ferrell at Indiana who are expected to make an instant impact when they suit up as first-year players. Purdue will also rely on the young talent of in-state talent with Ronnie Johnson on the rise. And that’s just the short list. For some more Indiana-bred talent, check out Michael Pointer’s story from the Indianapolis Star. Or just stay tuned for what ought to be an awesome season of hoops in the Midwest.
Evidently, Purdue basketball will be a name game this season. As Jeff Washburn writes, if the Boilermakers’ exhibition opener is any indication, Big Ten fans can get used to hearing about the Johnsons in West Lafayette this winter. Terone Johnson, Anthony Johnson and Ronnie Johnson led the way for Purdue in its 70-61 win against Montevallo on Tuesday night, and those three are expected to be at the forefront all year long. As mentioned earlier, Ronnie is a highly-touted freshman with a big future while Terone and Anthony will also help provide formidable backcourt depth. They combined for 47 of Purdue’s 70 points in the exhibition game.
Here’s a breakdown on how things went down in the Big Ten tournament’s first day of action:
Matt Gatens led Iowa to a big win over Illinois (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)
Iowa 64 – Illinois 61
The skinny: It’s been a tough season for Illini fans, and now (some would say thankfully) it is over. Myers Leonard was a force down low for Illinois, scoring 18 points and grabbing six boards, but Brandon Paul struggled his way to four points on 2-11 shooting. Meanwhile, Matt Gatens continued his solid senior season with 20 points to lead the Hawkeyes, but it was his defense on Paul that really was the difference in this contest for Iowa. Head coach Fran McCaffery complained earlier this week about Gatens not being included on the all-Big Ten defensive team, and the senior looked every bit an elite-level stopper in this match-up. All-Big Ten freshman Aaron White had 13 points and 9 rebounds including a key offensive board with about 40 seconds left after a missed free throw by Roy Devyn Marble that helped seal the game for Iowa.
Up next: The #8-seed Hawkeyes will face #1-seed Michigan State at noon today. Iowa only played the Spartans once this season, falling 95-61 in a game at East Lansing on January 10.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Big Ten correspondent, Will Green.
Sully’s Back, But With Demands – In the year 2011, in the age of ‘now,’ in a profit-first educate-yourself-later society, amidst a flittering of teenage NBA draft picks, ferocious freshman phenomenon Jared Sullinger decided to stay in school. How quaint. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing quaint about Sullinger, his (rightly) assumed sense of on-court leadership, his brutally physical style of play, or that Ja Rule–esque snarl that makes him look like a squirrel who just ate a questionable nut. But seriously, it’s highly unlikely that anyone other than Jordan Taylor will stand in the way of Sullinger winning the Big Ten Player of the Year Award, and rightfully so. He has spent the better part of the off-season slimming down and getting faster. The best player on the best team in the conference simply can’t suffer a slump; he’s worked too hard and has clearly made a commitment to improving his game before leaving for the pros. The question is less about what Sullinger’s level of performance will be than it is about the effect his performance will have on other members of his team. Last year, his 17 /10 were a reflection of consistent contribution that was also part of a greater team-wide cohesion. Jon Diebler, David Lighty and even Dallas Lauderdale each had pronounced and vital roles on last year’s team. They’re all gone now. While some of the supporting cast and several new stars-in-the-making will join Sullinger, will increased reliance upon him make OSU more of a one-man show? Or will the Buckeyes continue to roll out a team-focused squad with four scorers in double figures and a core group of five guys who notch 30 minutes a game? Whatever happens, Sullinger will be back and he will be better than last year. Consider yourself warned.
Welcome, Nebraska – On July 1, Nebraska officially joined the B1G, an acronym whose ludicrousness we continue to subconsciously validate by pronouncing it ‘Bih-one-ggg’. If you’re scoring at home, UNL’s entry makes for 12 teams in the Big Ten, a conference that shouldn’t be confused with the Big 12, which only has ten teams now since Nebraska left it. Now that we’ve all scratched our heads for second, we should pause to consider how massive the amount of potential football revenue must have been to persuade the intransigent Big Ten to alter its ranks. The Cornhuskers’ inclusion marks only the second change in league makeup since the 1950s. So how will the other 11 schools adjust to the adjustment? Football-wise, they should all watch their backs. On the basketball court, though, it probably won’t have a big (or should we say, a ‘B1G’) impact. Sadly for Husker fans, their roundball team loses two of their top three scorers and has some major offensive issues to solve in a league whose tempo of play limits even the country’s very best offenses. Head coach Doc Sadler continues to recruit a healthy mix of transfers and high school players, but over his five-year tenure nine of them have left due to reasons other than matriculation or the NBA. Nebraska has had some encouraging moments in recent years, including a five game improvement in Big 12 play from 2009 to 2010 (from 2-14 to 7-9). The team’s defensive efficiency would’ve finished fourth and it’s adjusted tempo would’ve finished fourth slowest in last year’s Big Ten. In some respects, Nebraska feels like a perfect match for the conference. And yet, for many of those same reasons, it might be a little out-matched in its first few years.
Ed DeChellis Leaves For Navy – Nowadays, stories like these are rarer than that bloody slice of carpaccio you once had at a fancy restaurant: a coach leaving a higher paying, higher-infrastructure, higher strength-of-schedule situation for a middle of the pack team in a unambiguously low-major conference. Make no mistake: Ed DeChellis didn’t become the new head coach at Navy. He stopped being the head coach at Penn State. Unless they’re ousted via scandal or especially egregious results you simply don’t hear about power six coaches voluntarily leaving for a “lesser” job. And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Or is it? The answer to that question centers around just how much “less” of a job the Navy coaching position really is, and if anything DeChellis might have done warranted the move. The wink-wink nudge-nudge consensus is that while DeChellis didn’t necessarily knock anyone’s socks off, the school refuses to take basketball seriously. Some have lambasted the athletic department’s commitment to DeChellis and the program overall at a school that’s known best for intense linebackers and an 84 year-old Italian-American man. It will be interesting to observe new head coach Patrick Chambersin his first few seasons and see whether or not he runs into a similar set of struggles as DeChellis did during his tenure. If the holistic drawbacks of coaching in University Park really outweigh the benefits to the extent that someone would walk away from the position, then PSU has bigger problems to fix than figuring out how to win in the Big Ten this season. But if anyone can overcome whatever said “drawbacks” may or may not be, it’s Chambers.
The Buckeyes, led by big man Jared Sullinger, are easy favorites in the Big Ten.
RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.
Three more conferences begin things tonight. The Big Sky and Sun Belt look to be very competitive with multiple teams capable of getting hot at the right time and running away with the title, while the Summit League features the Oakland Golden Grizzlies at the head of the pack and everyone else trying to keep up. All three conferences are definite single-bid leagues meaning all games will be played with a great sense of urgency; the agony of defeat and glory of victory becomes that much more apparent as well.
The Favorite: Northern Colorado has played the best ball in the Big Sky over the course of the past month and they also have arguably the league’s best player in Devon Beitzel on their side. Montana will have their chance to prove me wrong, but right now it is the Bears who are the favorite.
Dark Horse: Any team that is proficient at shooting the three ball cannot be discounted in a game. Despite having a middle of the road 9-7 record within the conference, Northern Arizona can stroke it with anyone. Cameron Jones, Gabe Rogers, and Eric Platt all shoot well over 40% from downtown.
Who’s Hot: Northern Colorado has won eight of their last nine games and 15 of 18 to enter the Big Sky tournament as the hottest team.
Player to Watch: Cameron Jones has had his way with Big Sky teams this year as he is averaging just shy over 20 points on the year and has scored in double figures in every game save one. He’s got Northern Arizona playing well entering the tournament as the Lumberjacks have won four of five games with the lone loss coming to Northern Colorado by a point.
First-Round Upset: Eastern Washington over Weber State. Although they have struggled for most of the season, Eastern Washington is riding a modest two game winning streak entering the Big Sky tournament with their last win coming against the team they will do battle with in the tournament’s first round: Weber State.
How’d They Fare? It was one of the most heroic performances that you have never heard of in college basketball. Anthony Johnson’s performance in the second half of the Big Sky Championship game against Weber State propelled Montana to the NCAA Tournament where they narrowly lost to #3 seed New Mexico. Montana was trailing 40-20 at the intermission, but Johnson scored 34 of his 42 points in the decisive half to defeat the Wildcats. If Johnson’s unbelievable performance carried over to the New Mexico game, Montana advances to the second round. Instead, they were defeated by the Lobos 62-57.
Interesting Fact: Not an interesting fact, but simple one of the greatest moments—if not the very greatest—in Big Sky history came in the 1999 NCAA Tournament. North Carolina fans, close your eyes:
Jason Spencer is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky. In addition to his tireless contributions for RTC, Jason is a screenwriter whose pursuits can be followed at the home of Blindly Driven Entertainment. [ed. note: this post was written prior to the Nov. 26-28 games]
A Look Back
This just in, Damian Lillard is a “BEAST!” Of course, if you follow the conference, you knew that already. Lillard has shown thus far in this young season that the MVP award is his to lose. In the first four games he is averaging 23 points per game. We will just let that sink in for all upcoming Weber State opponents.
Are they for real? Montana State has rattled off five straight wins, but the question remains, is it a fluke? Well, they will get their chance to prove it right away. They have upcoming games against Iowa State, Illinois State, UCLA, and they kick off the conference season vs. Weber State. By Christmas we will know whether Bobcat fans are getting something nice or coal in their stockings.
Defense wins championships. If that saying holds true, then Montana should feel good about their team. On 11/22 the Grizzlies held Idaho to 12% shooting. Yes that’s right; theVandals shot 6-50 from the field. Somewhere, coach Wayne Tinkle is smiling.
1. Weber State: (2-2)
Recent Games: 77-65 Loss at Utah State 11/13, 97-72 Win vs. Colorado Christian 11/16, 90-75 Loss at Utah 11/20, 86-54 Win at Alaska Anchorage 11/25
Upcoming Games: Great Alaska Shootout second and third rounds 11/26 and 11/27, vs. Seattle 12/4
The Wildcats debut at the top spot despite going 2-2 in their first four games. It’s hard to argue with having the two-time defending regular season champs and a team returning the reigning league MVP as the top team here. Last week they kept it respectable on the road against Utah and really should have beaten Utah State on the road. But down the stretch the crazy Aggie fans got the best of their in-state rival. Damian Lillard picked up where he left off last year averaging 23 points per game through the first four games. NBA scouts have already started to salivate at the thought of Lillard in an NBA uniform. NBADraft.net has him as a late first round pick in the 2012 Draft. Look for Lillard and the Wildcats to make some noise in the Great Alaska Shootout on Thanksgiving weekend.
2. Northern Arizona: (3-2)
Recent Games: 78-64 Loss at Iowa State 11/12, 74-70 Loss at Creighton 11/14, 74-46 Win vs. Alabama State 11/16, 97-47 vs. Southwestern Arizona 11/19, 74-66 Win at Kennesaw State 11/22
Upcoming Games: at Pepperdine 11/28, at Cal State Bakersfield 11/30, vs. Bethany 12/4, vs. Texas-Pan American 12/8
If there was a 1a and a 1b in the Power Rankings then the Lumberjacks would be that 1b. This team is loaded with experience. Head coach Mike Adras brings back four starters from last year’s 14-14 squad. They nearly took down Creighton on the road, which is no easy feat by the way. Then they took care of business their last three, topped off with a big road win at Kennesaw State. With all the returning experience and the past coaching success of coach Adras, the Lumberjacks will be nipping at Weber State’s heels all year long.
3. Northern Colorado: (2-2)
Recent Games: 93-52 Wins vs. Tabor 11/12, 67-53 Win vs. Wyoming 11/16, 93-70 Loss at Arizona 11/21, 87-84 Loss at Santa Clara 11/23
Upcoming Games: Las Vegas Invitational 11/26 and 11/27, vs. Black Hills State 12/4
With the best season in school history in the rearview mirror, the Bears are looking to capitalize on their program’s momentum. First-year coach B.J. Hill takes over for the departed Tad Boyle who left for Colorado. Don’t look for this team to miss a beat since Hill served for four years under Boyle before taking over this year. However this team lives and dies by Devin Beitzel. He had a solid 20 points in a close loss at Santa Clara but overall is shooting 20.8% from three point range. For the Bears to challenge for a conference title, Beitzel has got to find his stroke.
4. Montana State: (5-1)
Recent Games: 77-59 Loss at Hawaii 11/13, 65-58 Win vs. Central Michigan 11/14, 80-76 Win vs. Cal State Fullerton 11/15, 92-67 Win vs. Minot State 11/19, 73-57 Win vs. Cal Poly 11/21, 76-59 Win vs. San Francisco 11/24
Upcoming Games: at Iowa State 11/27, at Seattle 11/29, at Illinois State 12/4, vs. Johnson and Wales 12/10
If coach Brad Huse is reading these Power Rankings, feel free to use it as bulletin board material. The “no respect” card should be played after the Bobcats rattled off five wins in a row. Yet this team is still ranked fourth. For them to climb up the rankings they must show they are for real. Beating Big 12 member Iowa State on 11/27 would be a start. The one-two punch of Bobby Howard and Erik Rush is going to be something the rest of the league better take notice of come conference play.
5. Montana: (2-2)
Recent Games: 81-66 Loss at Nevada 11/13, 80-71 Loss at Utah 11/17, 78-51 Win vs. Montana Tech 11/19, 75-33 Win vs. Idaho 11/22
Upcoming Games: vs. Cal State Fullerton 11/30, vs. Portland 12/3, at UCLA 12/5, vs. Great Falls 12/9
The Grizzlies are trying to capitalize on their amazing run through the Big Sky Conference Tournament last year. They of course are also trying to replace Anthony Johnson, the catalyst of their past success. So far, center Brian Qvale has been everything they thought he would be as a senior. With Will Cherry showing his freshman campaign was no fluke, this team will once again have something to say come conference tournament time.
6. Portland State: (3-1)
Recent Games: 83-81 Win vs. Pepperdine 11/12, 69-53 Loss at SMU 11/19, 102-98 Win vs. Lamar 11/20, 69-58 Win vs. UC Riverside 11/21
Upcoming Games: vs. Seattle 12/1, at Oregon 12/5, vs. George Fox 12/9
Don’t tell these guys that they got nothing to play for. Head coach Tyler Geving has his team playing with a chip on their shoulder this year. The Vikings are not eligible for the postseason, including the Big Sky Conference Tournament. This year they will have to play the role as spoiler, and it’s beginning to look like that might happen more often than others want. The Vikings have a balanced attack with four players averaging in double figures with a fifth close to ten points per game. The trouble for upcoming opponents will be who do they guard?
7. Eastern Washington: (1-3)
Recent Games: 67-60 Loss vs. San Jose State 11/12, 98-72 Loss at Washington 11/16, 96-87 Win vs. Northwest Washington 11/18, 83-54 Loss at Boise State 11/24
Upcoming Games: vs. Idaho 11/27, at Gonzaga 11/30, vs. New Hope Christian 12/4
Head coach Kirk Earlywine has the youngest team in the conference this year. Not one senior is on this year’s roster. This has not stopped the young Eagles from showing lots of promise. The question is will this be the year that the youngsters grow up? Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year Glen Dean has been sidelined thus far with a stress fracture and remains day-to-day. Having Dean back in the lineup is most certainly the key to the Eagles season.
8. Idaho State: (1-3)
Recent Games: 88-80 Loss at Colorado 11/12, 90-42 Loss at Arizona 11/14, 78-68 Win vs. Great Falls 11/19, 79-47 Loss at South Dakota State 11/23
Upcoming Games: vs. Montana Tech 11/29, at Iowa 12/4, at Cal State Bakersfield 12/7
The first question that comes to mind if you are an opposing coach of Idaho State would be where is Broderick Gilchrest? The man went unconscious at Colorado for a career high 39 points. The following game he was held to four points on one-of-nine shooting from the field at Arizona. As the conference season gets underway, coach Joe O’Brien will have to find a way to get Gilchrest open looks. As for the schedule, it doesn’t get any easier. Six of their next eight games are on the road.
9. Sacramento State: (1-3)
Recent Games: 80-78 Loss vs. Cal State Bakersfield 11/14, 84-55 Win vs. Bethany 11/16, 64-60 Loss at North Dakota 11/19, 61-54 Loss vs. UC Davis 11/23
Upcoming Games: vs. Cal Poly 11/27, at Washington State 11/30, at Utah Valley 12/4, at Loyola Marymount 12/7, vs. William Jessup 12/10
This has to be the most encouraging last place conference team in the nation. Brian Katz knew what he was getting into when he took over the Hornets coaching job. In the last three seasons this team has won a total of fifteen games, with last year contributing nine of those. Katz has only three players returning from last year that contributed. But as with any rebuilding project, to get over the hump, you’ve got to learn how to win close games. In their three losses, they have lost by a total of thirteen points. Once this team learns how to win the close ones, they could surprise some people.
A Look Ahead
Northern Colorado is going to Vegas, baby! The Las Vegas Invitational to be exact. The Bears will take on Valparaiso on 11/26 and either Bethune-Cookman or Texas A&M Corpus Christi on 11/27. This tournament includes such national powers such as Kansas and Arizona. It should be a great experience and atmosphere for B.J. Hill’s club.
Expansion talk! The Big Sky is not waiting on the big boys to make a move. Being proactive, earlier this month the league added North Dakota and Southern Utah as full members. The move puts the league at eleven teams in basketball. Who will be the twelfth? Rumor has it South Dakota is interested.
BracketBusters will feature all nine members of the Big Sky Conference. Fans can watch their favorite Big Sky team on one of the ESPN family of networks 2/18-2/20. This is the first time that all members of the conference will participate in a given year.
The “Human Highlight Film” Award
Weber State’s Damian Lillard, (1) drives through the defense of Alaska Anchorage’s Casey Robinson (44) and Brandon Walker (22) during their Great Alaska Shootout NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov 25, 2010, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Michael Dinneen)
Is there anyone else in the league that we should give this to? We didn’t think so either. Damian Lillard, let the love fest begin! A man among boys, this 6’2 junior guard from Oakland, California has started off the season with a flurry. The reigning Big Sky Conference MVP is up to his old tricks again averaging 23 points per game through four. If it pleases the court, I would like to enter into evidence “Exhibit A” (below). After a heavy helping of threes to the face, Damian decides to take it to the hoop “nasty style” at the 1:28 mark. Is there any doubt why he wears number 1?
Shamelessly cribbing from the clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present you with the 2010-11 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we ramp up to the start of the season a little over a month from now. We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube. If you want to have some fun while killing time, we encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. Enjoy.
Greetings, everyone, from beautiful San Jose, California. It’s a 75-degree outside the building, but nobody cares about that because it’s time for March Madness, and already across the country today, the games have been insane. Is there any other sporting event in the world that is so consistently awesome on a year-to-year basis? I’m going to be updating this diary by the half so as to accord with NCAA policies. Let me know if you have anything you’d like to know in the comments.
Game 1: #4 Vanderbilt vs. #13 Murray State
What a crazy early afternoon of games so far – are you kidding me? Two games in OT and a third down to a last-second shot that missed? The one thing that I can’t believe the NCAA doesn’t mandate is at least a running scoreboard to keep the fans here abreast of other games. Because that’s all anyone wants to know about right now is what’s going on in the Villanova – Robert Morris game.
Vandy is more athletic than you might think, but Murray is right there with them, jump for jump. The only real advantage I see Vandy having is a little more size and length inside with 6’11 pair of AJ Ogilvy and Festus Ezeli.
This Murray team has the look of a team that won 30 games this year. They have a swagger and confidence that they belong here and have shown no sense of intimidation against their SEC foes. There’s a regional rivalry at play here too, as Murray is located squarely in SEC country and surely gets their fill of talk about Kentucky, Vandy and so forth.
Racers Mascot Hyped Up
Murray State forward #43 Tony Easley acts as cheerleader/coach when he’s not on the floor, encouraging his teammates, getting in their ears, and greeting them as the first one off the bench during timeouts. I love seeing that. Every team needs at least one of those players to keep his teammates honest.
Gotta love March Madness when an upset is brewing… the buzz in the room just turns on like a switch, and suddenly 90% of the arena starts looking to buy Murray State t-shirts and caps.
In keeping with the style of play of both Murray and Vanderbilt, a lot of players saw action and put up points in the first half. Murray was led by the electric little guard BJ Jenkins with 9 pts and Vandy by Jeffery Taylor also with 9 pts. AJ Ogilvy has been largely unheard from in the game (2 pts, 1 reb).
Each day this week during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region. If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
President Barack Obamapicked Kentucky to lose in his bracket’s final game but Coach John Calipari is worried about just getting momentum. “Land the plane. Survive and advance,” Calipari told Chris Low of ESPN. “That’s all we’re thinking about. We’re not worried about the score and who scores and what. Just land the plane and move on.”To that end, East Tennessee State lost by ten to Pitt last year as a #16 seed in the first round. Can they be the first to pull off the historic upset?
Perhaps both Texas and Wake Forest should just throw out their recent struggles.
Temple is only favored by 4 points over Cornell. Meanwhile Lafayette head coach Fran O’Hanlon has worked with both coaches and is rooting for both.
Would professors at Wofford dare to not pick the Terriers over Wisconsin in their office pool? And apparently message boards hounded Badger junior Tim Jarmusz earlier this season as he moved from starting forward to coming off the bench.
Washington’s Isaiah Thomas has a broken bone in his shooting hand, which is why he wears a glove.
Last year Marquette’s players shaved their heads in solidarity, but this time they got a different haircut.
New Mexico’s Darington Hobson is predicting a run to the regional finals. Meanwhile the New York Times has a great profile on Montana’s Anthony Johnson.
Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses. Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds. Here are the Thursday evening games.
7:10 pm – #8 Northern Iowa vs. #9 UNLV (Oklahoma City pod)
The Midwest Region’s first game of the tournament features two teams battling for the privilege of going up against Kansas in the next round. What press there is about Northern Iowa, Jordan Eglseder gets most of it. UNLV will also have to watch out for senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh, a streaky three-point shooter who’s had five straight games in single figures and is due for a run. It was thought at the beginning of the year that UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis and Oscar Bellfield would do a little more sharing of the scoring burden for the Runnin Rebels this year, but it’s been Willis who’s shouldered most of the load. At 17.5 PPG, he averages a full seven points more than the Rebels’ next leading scorer, sophomore forward Chace Stanback. Both of these teams take good care of the basketball and, even though neither of them is going to give the scoreboard operator much of a workout, the game itself should be a good one between two teams of similar talent. We hope all these guys get to enjoy the trappings of the tournament… because it won’t last long, sorry to say.
The Skinny:In a game played in the mid-50s (both in tempo and era), look for UNI to make the key plays down the stretch to win this one by four.
7:15 pm – #1 Kentucky vs. #16 ETSU (New Orleans pod)
If any #16 seed is going to be the first to topple a top seed in this bracket, here’s your best shot. East Tennessee State was in this exact position one March ago and took #1 Pittsburgh to the wire. In fact, the Buccaneers trailed by just three points with 2:47 left in a contest usually reserved for monumental blowouts. ETSU was expected to rebuild after losing four starters from the Atlantic Sun champion of 2008-09, but the Bucs pulled off two upsets in the A-Sun Tournament and toppled Mercer in a true road game, meaning ETSU and former UAB headman Murry Bartow are dancing for the second straight campaign. One player who may give the top seed Wildcats some trouble is a 6’4 wing named Tommy Hubbard that has finally harnessed his talent and is one of the most improved players in the nation. Let’s be honest here, though: Kentucky should roll over the underdog Bucs. The Big Blue has more athleticism and pure ability than any team in the field, never mind the A-Sun champion that finished the season with 14 losses. No guard can come close to contain the blazing speed of John Wall. DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson should have their way on the boards. Even a few breathtaking alley-oops could be in store for the ESPN folks to feast on. Last year Cal State Northridge gave John Calipari’s Memphis team a real scare in the first round. Expect the Kentucky head coach to learn from that game and have his squad prepared to blow the doors off ETSU from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
The Skinny: Kentucky will spend most of the game up 20+ before calling off the dogs Cats to win by fifteen or so.
Each day this week during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region. If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at email@example.com.
#8 Texas was once the top team in the nation, but now they are reeling. However, a team trending even worse might be their opponent: #9 Wake Forest. Demon Deacon Head Coach Dino Gaudio saidAl-Farouq Aminu had an x-ray done on his hand and appears to be ready to play on Thursday. Meanwhile, Texas, who comes in having lost seven of their last nine games to teams in the NCAA Tournament, said he is trying to deflect questions that the Longhorns are done this year. “There are people saying Texas is done,” Texas coach Rick Barnestold the Dallas Morning News. “I don’t think our guys have felt like that at any point.” Meanwhile Wake Forest’s last road win against an NCAA Tournament team was their December 5 win over Gonzaga, 77-75.
#5 Temple against #12 Cornell will be the game to watch on Friday to start. The subplot of course is that Cornell head coach Steve Donahue spent ten years as an assistant under Temple head coach Fran Dunphy, who crossed town from Penn to Temple in 2006. Donahue said he purposely does not schedule Dunphy’s Owls for a reason. “See, we would never play each other in a regular season game because it would be torture. In this profession, you want your friends to advance,” Donahue told the Ithaca Journal. “The NCAA tournament is the pinnacle of what you do, so both of us will have to get over that.” Dunphy reflected similar sentiments to the Philadelphia Daily News. “If you had said to me who do you not want to play? Cornell,” Dunphy said about the matchup. “We’re good friends and there is a no-win situation in that.”
#11 Washington, the Pac-10 Tournament champion,had to play to get into the field of 65. Their opponent, #6 Marquette, is not happy about traveling to San Jose to play the Seattle school. “They going to fly, or drive?” Marquette coach Buzz Williams asked the AP of the Huskies’ trip to the neutral site. “I think anytime you play on the West Coast against a team from the Pac-10, you are the underdog.”
#3 New Mexico, the regular season champion of the Mountain West Conference, will have their hands full with #14 Montana’s Anthony Johnson who scored 34 of his 42 points in the second half to clinch their Big Sky championship and NCAA Tournament bid. When asked about his ability, Lobos head coach Steve Alfordtold the AP, “We know he’s extremely talented … a potent scorer.” The Lobos will be playing to try to reach their first Sweet 16 in school history.
#7 Clemson taking on #10 Missouri will be an interesting matchup, guaranteeing an up-tempo pressuring style that Clemson coach Oliver Purnell favors. Missouri coach Mike Andersontold The St. Louis Globe-Democrat, “It won’t be one of those, walk it up and pass it about 20 times or five times. It’s going to be end-to-end. (It’s going to be) some athletic kids hopefully making some athletic plays.”
#2 West Virginia will tip off the NCAA Tournament against #15 Morgan State on Thursday. Coach Bob Huggins did not mince words when asked on whether or not West Virginia should be a top seed. “I thought statistically we were a 1,” Huggins said Sunday to the AP. “The disappointing thing is that when they stand up there and say, ‘Let’s look at the full body of work,’ and if you look at the full body of work, we were probably a 1.” The Mountaineers probably have a case for a #1 seed and will look to come out and show it to start the Tournament.