Is Tennessee the Most Dangerous “Play-in” Team Since VCU in 2011?

Posted by David Changas on March 18th, 2014

In 2011, the field for the NCAA Tournament was expanded from 64 to 68 teams, and the NCAA decided to call the first four games, played on the Tuesday and Wednesday following Selection Sunday, the “First Round” –thus creating the comical idea that some 60 teams receive byes into the second round. Everyone is wise to this, of course, and realizes the “First Four,” as the games are also named, are, in actuality, four “play-in” games. That year, upstart VCU snuck into one of the NCAA Tournament’s last four at-large spots, beat co-#11 seed USC in Dayton, and proceeded to win four more times in advancing to the school’s first Final Four. Since VCU’s historic run took place three seasons ago, it appears no team may be as well-equipped to duplicate the Rams’ feat as Tennessee this year. Prior to the season, the Volunteers were, in most places, considered a Top 25 team, and a shoo-in for the Big Dance. Things didn’t play out as expected, however, and Tennessee had to go 5-1 down the stretch – with the only loss coming to overall #1 seed Florida – to earn one of the last bids to the Tournament. Now that they’ve made the field, could this be the start of a run that could put all questions about Cuonzo Martin‘s job status to rest?

With Cuonzo Martin's job maybe in jeopardy, a VCU-esque run would go a long way to solving that issue. (AP)

With Cuonzo Martin’s job maybe in jeopardy, a VCU-esque run would go a long way to solving that issue. (AP)

Based upon Tennessee’s recent play, which saw the Vols destroy its last four regular season opponents and South Carolina in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament by an average of 23 points, and gave #1 Florida a great test before falling short, there is evidence to suggest it may be. The Volunteers are experienced, starting three seniors and two juniors, and talented, with two first-team all-SEC performers in guard Jordan McRae (18.6 PPG) and Jarnell Stokes (14.7 PPG, 10.3 RPG) — one of two SEC players to average a double-double this season. They also have another rebounding stalwart in fifth-year senior Jeronne Maymon, who missed the 2012-13 campaign as a result of microfracture surgery. Maymon has struggled to regain his form, but he has shown signs lately of regaining some of his old skill set. The bulk Tennessee has on the inside with Stokes and Maymon presents a significant challenge for each of its opponents.

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SEC Tournament Preview: Which Team Other Than Florida Can Cut Down the Nets?

Posted by Brian Joyce, David Changas & Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2014

In anticipation of all the action at the Georgia Dome later this week, the SEC microwriters will be previewing the SEC Tournament by answering several of the key questions heading into the event in a roundtable format. Today’s burning question covers which teams can cut down the nets on Sunday. Florida is clearly the favorite after an 18-0 run in SEC play, but besides the obvious choice of the Gators, which other team could realistically win the championship game on Sunday?

Billy Donovan and Florida are the clear favorites in the SEC, but can any other team take down the mighty Gators? (AP)

Billy Donovan and Florida are the clear favorites in the SEC, but can any other team take down the mighty Gators? (AP)

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell): Tennessee. The Vols are more than just the current flavor of the week after winning each of their last three games by more than 27 points. Their talent is undeniable, as Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae will both probably get shots in the NBA, and there aren’t many other teams outside of Kentucky in this conference that can say that. That talent didn’t translate to consistently good performances throughout the entire season, but it has lately. The Vols’ defense has been especially effective in recent weeks, as Tennessee has held opponents under 0.93 points per possession in five of its last six games. Locking down teams is usually a great pathway to success in March, and with a big, bruising frontcourt that causes match-up problems and a guy in McRae who can go off for 30 points at any time, this is a dangerous team.

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SEC M5: 03.03.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 3rd, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky‘s 72-67 loss at South Carolina Saturday night may rank as the most shocking result in SEC play so far this season. The Wildcats are now 11-5 in league play and 21-8 overall. The loss was their third in five games, and one of those wins was a near-miss against LSU at home. Given the preseason hype for John Calipari‘s collection of freshman, and the nonsensical talk about a 40-0 season for this team, it’s safe to say the Wildcats’ season has been a disappointment so far, and if things don’t get turned in the right direction soon, a quick exit from the NCAA Tournament is inevitable. Yahoo’s Pat Forde took stock of the situation and pulled no punches in his criticism of Calipari. Among other things, Forde criticized Calipari for his scapegoating of Ryan Harrow after last season’s disappointment, his unwillingness to take the blame for what’s gone wrong with this team, and his failure to answer tough questions in the face of the team’s struggles. Needless to say, Forde’s take will be the subject of much discussion in the Bluegrass state in the coming days, and we have a tough time finding too much to criticize about what the veteran writer had to say.
  2. Perhaps it was Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings seeking validation for his comments about Tennessee fans who want to see Cuonzo Martin fired after three seasons at the Volunteers’ helm that led to Tennessee‘s crushing 76-38 victory over the Commodores Saturday in Knoxville. Whatever it was, the performance was a welcome sight for Vol fans who have been frustrated with the level of performance they have seen for most of the year from a squad that appeared before the season to be a clear-cut NCAA Tournament team. Tennessee’s stifling defense forced Vanderbilt to make only 11 field goals on its way to shooting 22%. Meanwhile, the Volunteers shot 53% from the field, and 48% from three-point range, controlled the glass, and turned the ball over only 8 times. Tennessee also got a fantastic performance from Antonio Barton, the senior transfer from Memphis who has been mostly disappointing in replacing the departed Trae Golden. Barton was assertive on both ends of the floor and scored a season-high 21 points on 5-for-7 three-point shooting. If he can give the Volunteers more of that, perhaps they can finally become the team many expected prior to the season.
  3. Speaking of Tennessee, the Volunteers are one of three SEC squads fighting for the NCAA Tournament lives. It appears that they, as well as Arkansas and Missouri, will take things down to the wire as they try to make the field of 68. According to CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm’s latest bracketology, the Razorbacks and Tigers are in the field, with Missouri starting out in a “First Four” game in Dayton. Tennessee is the third team out, which means the Volunteers should have a chance to work their way back into the field. They travel to Auburn on Wednesday for a game that they simply cannot afford to lose, before coming home Saturday to host Missouri in what will be a crucial bubble matchup. As we chronicled here Friday, Arkansas’s win at Kentucky may have propelled them into the field, though it’s clear they must keep winning to stay there. The Razorbacks took care of business on Saturday against Georgia in winning for the eighth time in their last nine tries. While the SEC has seen plenty of mediocre basketball this year, with three teams squarely on the bubble, the final week of the regular season and the SEC Tournament will offer plenty of drama about who makes the field.
  4. With the SEC Tournament just over a week away, teams are jockeying for position in the Georgia Dome. The tournament is now a five-day event, and the top four seeds receive double byes to Friday’s quarterfinal round. Not only does securing one of those double byes give the teams who earn them extra rest, they likely eliminate the possibility of having to play a team with a low RPI in a second-round game. As it stands now, Florida has secured the top seed, and Kentucky looks good for the second spot. Georgia currently sits at third and looks to be in good shape to secure one of the double byes. Tennessee controls its destiny and will secure a double bye by winning out, given that the Volunteers own wins over most of the teams also in the running for the final double bye spot. A lot can happen in the next week, but for the league’s bubble teams, avoiding a game with one of the conference’s bottom-feeders is of paramount importance.
  5. In its first week as the nation’s top-ranked team, Florida acquitted itself well, pulling out a 57-54 win at Vanderbilt on Tuesday before coming home Saturday and trouncing a solid LSU team 79-61. The primary knock against the Gators this year has been their inconsistency from the perimeter, but they knocked down 13 of 23 threes (56.5%) against the Tigers and were never threatened. Dorian Finney-Smith, who came into the week having made one three-point attempt in his seven previous games, went 7-for-14 from behind the arc in the two games. Florida coach Billy Donovan knows having Finney-Smith shoot the ball this well is a big boost for the Gators, and for them to have any chance to win the national championship, it will need to continue. With the win, Florida extended its school-record winning streak to 21, and must only win at South Carolina and at home against Kentucky to finish the conference regular season at 18-0. Despite the mediocrity of the league, going through any power conference without a loss is quite an accomplishment, and it appears the Gators are well on their way to achieving it.
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SEC M5: 02.19.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 19th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Everything was working for Kentucky during the first half of last night’s game in Oxford, and I mean everything. Jarrod Polson threw an alley-oop and made a three; Alex Poythress was getting in on the three-point action; and Julius Randle already had a double-double. With a 17-point lead it looked like Kentucky had answered any question about how they’d bounce back from a tough loss. Oh, but questions persist. The Rebels put up 45 points in the second half and were able to cut the game down to two possessions with under two minutes left. Like they did against Missouri, the Wildcats again let a big early lead slip, and allowed an opponent back into a game it had no business being in. The issues weren’t only on the defensive end. College Basketball Talk’s Matt Giles points out that only four of Kentucky’s two-point fields goals weren’t at the rim, and for an eight-minute second half stretch the Wildcats only scored on free throws. The lackluster defensive effort in the second half needs to be a learning experience for the Wildcats, since they likely won’t be able to escape a game like this against better teams (see: teams that make the NCAA Tournament). The shooting woes, however, are a bigger issue.
  2. So this writer may need to eat a little crow. Yesterday I wrote that I expected Georgia to do just fine as it entered a difficult stretch. Well, it didn’t start out that well for the Bulldogs, who took a 19-point loss to Tennessee in a game that got shuffled to ESPN due to a crumbling arena in Bloomington, Indiana. In front of a national audience, Georgia wasn’t able to validate its great SEC record. Early on the Vols did something they didn’t do Saturday against Missouri: get the ball to Jarnell Stokes, who scored 20 points and led Tennessee to advantages in rebounds and points in the paint. The Vols also have to be encouraged that they won this game without Jordan McRae having a big impact (11 points, 2-of-5 shooting). Antonio Barton made more three’s in this game (four) than he had in the last ten SEC games combined. If that sparks him out of his prolonged shooting funk it would add another dimension to Tennessee’s offense. This was the bounce back performance the Vols needed to kick off a stretch of four winnable games that could boost their resume.
  3. Frank Haith remembers all too well Vanderbilt’s three-point barrage early in Missouri’s loss in Nashville. But after forcing Arkansas and Tennessee into a combined 8-of-37 from deep, he thinks his team is on the right track defensively. “We’re doing a great job of understanding where shooters are at and personnel and doing our work early and getting there and having high hands,” Haith said. “I thought we had some slippage in that area … particularly Vanderbilt. They made some shots, but we didn’t do what we needed to do in terms of getting to their shooters, and Odom and Parker, those guys had really good games against us.” Missouri may be defending the three better of late, but its defense in general is a concern. The Tigers entered conference play with solid defensive numbers, but have sunk to 10th in the SEC in two-point field goal defense (allowing 47%) and 11th in three-point field goal defense (allowing 35.4%). They’ve also lost games in which they scored 79 and 88 (!) points. But it’s not surprising they are improving. Few teams can put the length at the top of a zone than Missouri can with Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown. Thursday’s game against the Commodores will be a good litmus test of the Tigers’ progress, since Missouri did give up 12 three pointers in the first meeting.
  4. South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell has stood out amid a thoroughly disappointing season in Columbia. The freshman has Mike Anderson’s attention ahead of tonight’s game in Fayetteville, and has drawn high praise from his own coach. “He’s the guy everyone pencils in when they prepare a scouting report against us,” Frank Martin said. “I’m extremely proud of him. Not only is he performing, but he’s taking on the leadership role of our team. He’s also taking on defensive responsibilities against the better players on the other team.” Thornwell has also taken on a leadership role on the court, as he has the ninth highest usage rate (27.3%) in the SEC. Despite that much exposure he’s still been efficient shooting the ball (56.8 TS%), and though generally thought of first as a scorer, he also has the the eighth best assist percentage (22.6%) in the conference. Thornwell has had to grow up quickly with the personnel losses South Carolina has had, and it appears he’s done a great job of this on and off the court. He’s the type of just-a-cut-below-an-early-draft-entry talent that could stick around and be a tremendously accomplished four year player, and perhaps a building block for better days in Columbia.
  5. James Moran of The Daily Reveille conducted a “post-mortem” on LSU’s NCAA Tournament chances, and identified the cause of the Tigers untimely death. He writes, “The Feb. 6 loss to Georgia was actually the fatal blow to the Tiger’s season. LSU had finally gotten some momentum going for it, and losing a relatively uncompetitive game in a dead arena to a team that was 10-10 at the time killed all of it.” Can reasonable minds disagree on whether this patient is actually dead? Probably not. The Tigers sit at #70 in the RPI and just whiffed on a week that featured road games at Arkansas and Texas A&M. It’s incredible how quickly a season can turn. It was just two weeks ago that the Tigers picked up impressive back-to-back wins over Kentucky and Arkansas. At this point it seems the only chance for LSU to resurrect itself would be by splitting road games against Kentucky and Florida, and winning their remaining four games (at Vanderbilt, home against Georgia, Mississippi State and Texas A&M). We’ll see if there is one drastic change of momentum left in Johnny Jones’ talented team.
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The Year of the Freshman Point Guard in the SEC?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 29th, 2013

Antonio Barton was held out of Tennessee’s practice yesterday with a leg injury. The Memphis transfer is expected to handle the bulk of the minutes at point guard for the Volunteers this season, so having Barton available immediately was important because last year’s starting point guard, Trae Golden, transferred to Georgia Tech. Freshman Darius Thompson is the most likely replacement if Barton’s injury lingers. Thompson doesn’t bring the buzz of fellow freshman guard and five-star recruit Robert Hubbs, but he does bring intriguing size (6’5″) to the position. Thompson would join a slew of SEC freshman being counted on to lead talented offenses this season.

Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin Is Making a Habit of This (AP/Adam Brimer)

Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin Is Making a Habit of This (AP/Adam Brimer)

Andrew Harrison is the most high-profile of these freshman point guards. As talented as the Wildcats are, the Kentucky offense won’t run itself. Harrison will need to get Julius Randle the ball in the right spots on the block, and his penetration will also be the key to getting easy baskets for Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee.

Billy Donovan may also have to rely heavily on his blue chip freshman point guard, Kasey Hill. Hill was going to get big minutes this season regardless, but with Scottie Wilbekin’s indefinite suspension in play, these minutes may be more front-loaded than Donovan originally anticipated. Wilbekin was excellent at the top of Florida’s half-court defense last season, so there is more than just the offense that may need to be replaced.

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20 Questions: Can a Third SEC Team Emerge as a National Player?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on October 17th, 2013

seasonpreview (1)

Throughout the preseason, RTC national columnists will answer the 20 most compelling questions heading into the 2013-14 season. Previous columns in this year’s series are located here.   

Basketball in the Southeastern Conference has long been dominated by Kentucky and Florida. Since 1997, those two schools have combined for four times as many National Championships as the rest of the conference has Final Four appearances. LSU’s 2006 national semifinal appearance was a proud moment for the Tiger program, but outside of that showing and a more recent flourish from Tennessee (six straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2006-11), it’s hard to find too many SEC teams not named Kentucky or Florida that have made waves nationally. The forecast for 2013-14 doesn’t look a whole lot different than usual, with the Gators and Wildcats climbing into most experts’ preseason Top 25s, the two powers again finding separation from their conference mates. But is there another team in the league capable of surprising the experts and making a push into the national consciousness? The track record of the rest of the conference makes it difficult to be overly optimistic about the prospects of any team making that leap, but a talented Tennessee team with some valuable newfound stability could prove capable of pulling up a third seat at a dinner table that has long sat only two.

Good Luck Finding A Tougher Inside Duo -- SEC Or Elsewhere -- Than Tennessee's Pair Of Bruisers: Jarnell Stokes And Jeronne Maymon

Good Luck Finding A Tougher Inside Duo — SEC Or Elsewhere — Than Tennessee’s Pair Of Bruisers: Jarnell Stokes And Jeronne Maymon

Given the recent success of the Bruce Pearl era (at least when he wasn’t doubling as a grill-master) and the expansive women’s basketball tradition in Knoxville, Tennessee would certainly seem like the most natural program to be poised for a step up in national notoriety. Cuonzo Martin’s first two seasons at the helm in Knoxville exhibited some of that promise, but the Vols would up just short of the NCAA Tournament in each campaign. This season, the talent is in place to not only make the field of 68, but also do some damage upon arrival.

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Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun – Are Package Deals With Top Recruits Just The Flavor Of The Day Or Are They Here To Stay?

Posted by BHayes on September 25th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler.

With the recent news of a potential Cliff Alexander-Jaquan Lyle package deal, can we officially label the recruiting season of 2013 as the summer of bromance? An Alexander-Lyle pairing would mark the second duo of top-25 recruits in the class of 2014 to make the college decision a joint one, as Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones (both top-five recruits according to a number of outlets) have long marketed themselves as a package deal for college recruiters. We may not be witnessing Bigfoot here – package deals like this have certainly gone down in the past – but are these examples proof of an emerging trend? The most frequent iteration of the phenomenon in years past had to be the brother package – see Harrison, Andrew and Aaron (Kentucky) or Barton, Will and Antonio (Memphis) – or if we were stretching, close friends who either grew up together or played their high school ball with one another. But now we are beginning to push the definition of proximity even further, as high school basketball players from completely different parts of the country are forming relationships strong enough to consummate these package recruitment deals. It’s a testament to the growing reach of the AAU circuit, the increased facility of long-distance communication in today’s world, and last, but not least, an eerie imitation of the current dynamics within NBA free agency – the professional equivalent of the recruitment process.

Kentucky Has A More Common Version Of The Package Deal Arriving On Campus This Fall In the Harrison Brothers --Emphasis On Brothers

Kentucky Has A More Common Version Of The Package Deal Arriving On Campus This Fall In the Harrison Brothers –Emphasis On Brothers

The modern high-major college recruit simply isn’t afforded the same summer vacation  he used to have. Even a decade ago, there simply were not as many mandatory (in the sense that every other high-level recruit will be there) camps, AAU tournaments, and international competitions as there are today. We could spend a lot of time discussing the many negatives of this current grassroots setup, but one positive to grow out of the arrangement is that recruits have the chance to spend more time with their peers from across the country. Especially for kids not playing their high school ball at the hoop factories (Findlay, Oak Hill, Huntington, etc.), I would imagine finding peers in your native surroundings can be a challenge, so having the chance to spend time with those facing the exact same circumstances as you has to be a welcomed opportunity for these star recruits.

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Morning Five: 02.12.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 12th, 2013

morning5

  1. One of the many contentious points around Maryland’s programs in recent years has been its perceived slight of Lefty Driesell. Many of Driesell’s supporters have pointed out how much more Gary Williams has been recognized by the school despite their fairly similar credentials (obviously, Williams’ national championship puts him on a slightly different level to some). In truth, a large part of this may be due to the circumstances surrounding Driesell’s departure (following the death of Len Bias). Maryland appears to be doing something to rectify this as they will honor Driesell at a game against Clemson on February 23 and then on April 16 will unveil a bronze relief that will hang at the Comcast Center. Given all of the vitriol that has flown through the Maryland athletic department in recent years we hope this will go a long way to repair some of those relationships.
  2. Grantland’s feature on Larry Brown is almost a week old, but we just stumbled upon it yesterday and it’s well worth a read to get a better sense of one of the most complex great coaches the game has ever seen. When Brown landed at Southern Methodist our first question was probably the same as many other’s had for him: Why? We aren’t sure if we fully comprehend why it was Southern Methodist out of all of his potential destinations, but Brown may provide some insight with the last quote in the article: ”I just want to be relevant.”
  3. We normally link to Luke Winn’s weekly power rankings, but yesterday Winn showed a little versatility with his analysis of VCU‘s vaunted Havoc defense. By now most of you have probably heard of it, but few have actually seen it in effect. With the way that the Rams are playing there is a decent chance at least one team from a power conference will experience it for the first time and if they aren’t prepared for it you will be hearing a lot more about Havoc in March.
  4. After finally breaking into the top 25 of a few unenlightened polls, Memphis was dealt a setback when it was announced that Antonio Barton would be out for 4-6 weeks after breaking his right foot. Fortunately for Barton and the Tigers it is a hairline fracture, which will not require surgery. Barton, who is averaging 6.2 points in 19 minutes per game with all of his numbers going down with each season he has been at Memphis, broke the foot in Saturday’s win at Southern Mississippi. With the Tigers finally starting to play well late in the season under Josh Pastner losing Barton would be a fairly significant blow, but given his timeline for returning there is a realistic possibility that he could play in the Conference USA Tournament and definitely the NCAA Tournament (assuming the Tigers don’t fall apart first).
  5. Connecticut doesn’t have any NCAA Tournament aspirations this season thanks to their poor APR scores, but they were quietly putting together a very respectable season in year one of the post-Calhoun era and had been managing to stay out of the headlines for negative media attention. That is until Enosch Wolf was arrested on campus ar0und 6 AM yesterday in what has been described as a domestic dispute. As a result he has been suspended indefinitely and will not return to the team “until the legal and university process is finalized” according to Kevin Ollie. Wolf, who is averaging 3.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in greatly increased playing time, is one of the few big men the Huskies have and their only legitimate center. Given the circumstances involved (“grabbed the victim’s hair, pushed her head and knocked off her glasses”) we don’t expect to see him back on the court any time soon.
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Set Your DVR: Feast Week

Posted by bmulvihill on November 19th, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Thanksgiving week, otherwise known as “Feast Week” for college hoops fans tuning into ESPN, provides us a bunch of viewing options while we gorge ourselves with turkey and stuffing. Several of the higher profile preseason tournaments get going or finish up this week including the Maui Invitational, the NIT Tip-Off, and the Battle 4 Atlantis. While we don’t know all the potential match-ups in those tourneys just yet, you can be sure there will be some great games. We’ll take a look today at the first round games for a few of the tournaments but definitely tune into the later rounds as they progress. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Game of the Week

#5 Michigan vs. Pittsburgh (PNIT Semifinals) – 9:30 PM EST, Wednesday on ESPN HD (****)

The battle between Michigan’s Trey Burke (above) and Pitt’s Tray Woodall could be the best point guard match-up we see all season(AP)

  • The battle between Pittsburgh’s Tray Woodall and Michigan’s Trey Burke at the point guard position could be one of the best we see all season. Woodall is averaging 14 points and seven assists through four games this season and shooting a fantastic 57.1% from inside the arc. Burke is averaging 18 points and eight assists through three games and is also shooting 57% from inside the arc. There are two areas to keep an eye on as these two battle throughout the night – turnovers and three-point shooting. Burke is turning the ball over at a slightly higher rate than Woodall – 20% vs. 15%. While both are excellent distributors of the basketball, the player who wins the defensive battle and can create more turnovers will give his team a huge advantage. Additionally, Burke is extending defenses with his 43.8% shooting from downtown. His ability to continue to hit threes against a Pitt team that has shown weakness against perimeter shooting will be vital to a Michigan victory — particularly so if Michigan wants to free up space on the inside for its frontcourt.
  • Speaking of the frontcourt battle, Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan, and Jon Horford finally give coach John Beilein some rebounding to go along with his penchant for the outside shot. Michigan has been a three-point heavy squad with very little rebounding support under Beilein. With the additions of McGary and Robinson, the Wolverines can go big and hit the offensive boards hard should their outside shooting go cold. They are going to need it because the Panthers bring their own talented frontcourt to the party in Talib Zanna, J.J. Moore, and 7’0” freshman center Steven Adams. Offensive rebounding will be a huge factor in this game. Michigan is only allowing opponents to grab 14% of their offensive rebounding opportunities, good for third in the nation. They face a much tougher Pitt frontline however whose offensive rebounding rate is sixteenth in the nation at 46%. Something has to give.
  • Given the great match-ups we are going to see in this game, it should be a close one in Madison Square Garden. The difference could be Michigan’s outside shooting. The Wolverines are currently hitting 49% of their three-point attempts. Outside pressure can come from Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., freshman Nick Stauskas, and even Robinson. If Jamie Dixon’s squad can improve its perimeter defense and get Adams more involved in the offense, they will have a chance to take down the Wolverines. Otherwise, U of M will walk out of the Garden with a victory.

Six Other Games to Watch This Week

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 5th, 2012

Ryan Peters is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. You can find him on Twitter @pioneer_pride and read his musings online at Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride.

Top Storylines

  • A Conference in Considerable Flux – Before MemphisHoustonUCF, and SMU defect to the Big East – which officially makes a geographic mockery of the Big East’s name – C-USA will have one final season together as a full-fledged “upper-level” Division I conference. With only six NCAA Tournament teams and zero NCAA tournament victories in the past three seasons, however, can C-USA muster together a respectable showing for the 2012-13 campaign that doesn’t rival most mid-major conferences? Memphis is the only virtual lock to go dancing, yet several other programs (see MarshallUTEP, and Tulane) are on the rise and could conceivably end up on the right side of the tournament bubble come March. Still, it may be overly optimistic to think C-USA will break the two-team NCAA bid barrier that has eluded the conference since 2005.
  • A Run Towards Perfection – In his fourth season as Memphis’ head coach, Josh Pastner has an opportunity to do something his predecessor, John Calipari, did with apparent ease for three straight seasons prior – have his Tigers run the table in C-USA. With the conference slightly weaker heading into this season (according to Ken Pomeroy), Memphis has a real opportunity to put up a perfect 16-0 regular season mark against their conference foes. It will still prove to be difficult, especially when facing UCF and Marshall twice as part of their unbalanced schedule, yet Memphis returns four starters and is sitting on a potential NBA lottery pick in Adonis Thomas if the 6’7” small forward can stay healthy for much of the season.

Josh Pastner leads a talented home-grown roster in Memphis’ final season in C-USA.

  • Welcoming Back a Legend – Anytime you can hire a head coach with a resume such as the 71-year old Larry Brown, I guess you have to do it, given SMU’s desperation to hire a big name. After all, you’re talking about a guy with an NCAA championship and an NBA championship on his resume. The problem is – aside from his age and inability to coach through the initial contract at his last three destinations – Brown has been away from the college game for nearly 25 years, when he won the 1988 NCAA championship coaching Danny Manning (who, interestingly, is a new C-USA coach himself) and the Kansas Jayhawks. How much can the Mustangs reasonably expect from Brown under these conditions? The cupboard is bare with the graduation of leading scorer and most efficient player, Robert Nyakundi, and the removal of four players including starting point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas, so you have to wonder if Brown will have the patience to stick around long enough to fully rebuild a SMU program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1993. One benefit from Brown’s hiring is that he has assembled an impressive coaching staff, which includes the Mustangs possible head-coach-in-waiting in Tim Jankovich.
  • New Coaching Blood – Including Brown, there are four C-USA programs that hired new coaches this offseason, which makes up a whopping one third of the entire league. The most notable new hires are Brown and the aforementioned Danny Manning, who left his assistant post at Kansas in an attempt to push Tulsa out of complacency. Donnie Tyndall (Southern Miss) and Jerod Haase (UAB) complete the list of coaches. It will be an uphill battle in season one; research has shown head coaches typically struggle in their first season at their newest destination. Perhaps these men can buck the trend and adapt quickly, although the more likely scenario has some of the league taking advantage and pushing ahead of these rebuilding programs for the time being. Well, maybe except for Rice (more on that later)…

Reader’s Take I


Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Memphis (14-2)
  2. Marshall (12-4)
  3. UTEP (11-5)
  4. UCF (10-6)
  5. UAB (9-7)
  6. Southern Mississippi (8-8)
  7. Tulane (7-9)
  8. East Carolina (7-9)
  9. Houston (6-10)
  10. Tulsa (5-11)
  11. SMU (5-11)
  12. Rice (2-14)
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Checking In On… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2011

Steve Coulter—is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. You can also find his musings online at http://www.duclarion.com/sports or on Twitter @broncos2thebowl

Reader’s Take

 

Caught on Film

Conference USA Player of the Week Alandise Harris had the throwdown of the week with this dunk in a win over Arkansas that earned the top spot on ESPN’s Top Plays.

The Week That Was

  • Memphis Falls In Maui, Picks Itself Up: The 13th ranked Memphis Tigers have had an up-and-down beginning of their season, finishing with a total of 196 points in their two victories, while shooting a miserable 33 percent from the field in their lone loss to No. 15-ranked Michigan. The Tigers failed to find an offensive spark against the Wolverines, losing 73-61 in the opening round of the Maui Invitational on Monday. Senior Charles Carmouche was the only Memphis player to shoot 50% in the game making six of his 12 attempted shots and finishing with a team-high 14 points. On Tuesday night, the Tigers redeemed themselves, holding on to narrowly defeat in-state foe Tennessee 99-97 in double overtime. Memphis was in control most of the way, but blew its ten-point halftime lead as the Volunteers surged late behind a stellar performance from junior Jeronne Maymon, who hit a game-tying shot in the closing second of regulation. He finished with 32 points and 20 rebounds while guard Will Barton had 25 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomores Antonio Barton and freshman Adonis Thomas helped the Tigers, providing a spark off the bench and finishing with 21 and 19 points, respectively. Antonio, the little brother of Will, hit a crucial jump shot in the second overtime with a little over a minute remaining.
  • Rice, Marshall, Tulane Off To Hot Starts: While the conference’s current leaders—Rice, Marhsall, Tulane (all 4-0)—will see tougher competition in weeks to come, the three teams have gotten to the top of the conference standings by throttling weaker competition. Junior swingman Arsalan Kazemi has the Owls started in the right direction, averaging a double-double through the first four contests. Similarly, junior swingman Kendall Timmons has been an integral part of the Green Wave’s early season surge out of the conference cellar. Timmons is shooting a pristine 66.7% from the field while averaging 18.7 points a game for Tulane. The Thundering Herd are the least shocking of the unbeatens remaining in conference; however, they’ve taken advantage of a weak early schedule. Marshall can prove themselves in weeks to come when they play a pair of Big East giants—Cincinnati and Syracuse—on the road. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Conference Primers: #9 – Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 28th, 2011

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

Reader’s Take

Despite having two teams earn bids into the NCAA Tournament last season, Conference USA walked away without a win.

 

Top Storylines

  • Can Memphis Pull Away?: While the Tigers have fielded strong teams since John Calipari left after the 2008-09 season, they’ve never had quite as much talent in that time as they figure to show this season. With essentially every notable contributor returning, a huge gap could form quickly. On the other hand, chemistry rarely comes instantly, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Memphis have a double-digit loss season, either.
  • Central Florida Continues To Build: Thanks partially to a soft non-conference schedule of six opponents with KenPom ratings 200 or lower and a non-D-I matchup, UCF cracked the national rankings for the first time in school history. While the Knights came down to Earth once conference play began, momentum is important no matter how it’s established. After winning two postseason games, we’re excited to see how the UCF follows up on a surprising season.
  • Realignment Hovers Over C-USA: Perhaps no single conference houses as many schools that were rumored to be on their way out than Conference USA, even if its membership ultimately stayed intact. East Carolina and UCF are frequently connected to the Big East; Memphis’ basketball program is as valuable a commodity as there is outside of the Power Six, and in its shakier days, the Big 12 could have found itself eyeing the Texas schools as a contingency plan in case the Longhorns and Sooners packed up for the Pac-12. It didn’t come to pass, but you have to wonder just what C-USA will look like in the long term.

This Year's Tigers, Led By Will Barton, Could Be Pastner's Most Talented Memphis Team Ever

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Read the rest of this entry »
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