First Round Game Analysis: Friday Evening

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

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 Friday evening games.

7:10 pm – #8 Gonzaga vs. #9 Florida State  (Buffalo pod)

This is a very tough game to call, so let’s start with what we know about it.  The Zags, no stranger to cross-country travel, come into Buffalo after an 11-day layoff where St. Mary’s took Mark Few’s team behind the woodshed and beat them handily in the WCC Tournament championship.  Florida State comes in having dropped its quarterfinal game against NC State in an effort that had their fans shaking their heads in disgust.  So needless to say, both teams are looking for a fresh start here.  The Zags are always dangerous, and this year’s squad led by Matt Bouldin and Elias Harris has the offensive firepower to score with just about anyone in America.  Merely an ok three-point shooting team, they tend to rely on the drives of Harris and mid-range game of Bouldin to create offense.  However, they don’t tend to respond well to teams that crowd and push them around, but unfortunately, FSU is just such a team.  The Seminoles enjoy the nation’s top defensive efficiency, and while they have the opposite problem of finding points, they should have no problem putting the clamps down on the Zag scoring options.  The question here comes down to whether the FSU defense, anchored by 7’1 Solomon Alabi and 6’9 Chris Singleton’s combined four blocks per game, is better than the Gonzaga offense, and we think that it is.  And as up/down as the Seminoles were in the ACC, they never came close to losing to the likes of Loyola Marymount and San Francisco, as Gonzaga did this year.

The Skinny:  The Zags this year aren’t quite as good as they usually are, and they’re facing a team that will shut down their biggest strength.  FSU wins this one by eight points to get a date with Syracuse.

7:15 pm – #7 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Georgia Tech  (Milwaukee pod)

Here’s another one that’s got people confused.  For good reason, too.  All year long we’ve been waiting on Georgia Tech to do something with all that talent, and now they’re playing better basketball, just in time.  Oklahoma State’s showing against Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament will cost them some support, but we’re going to excuse that performance.  That was a tired basketball team, playing their third game in a six day span with K-State at the end of it — and the Wildcats were coming off of a five-day rest.  Georgia Tech is going to go inside to Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal like crazy, but when the Yellow Jackets actually shoot the three, they shoot it well.  Defending the three is a glaring OSU weakness, so it will be interesting to see how often Georgia Tech eschews their big men in favor of launching it from the arc, because those shots will be there.  So…good outside shooting, great inside players…sounds pretty good for Tech, right?  The question will be whether or not they can get to that point in their offense.  Georgia Tech ranks in the bottom twenty of Division I teams in terms of turning the ball over.  Can the Jackets, then, find a way to keep James Anderson from shredding them or Keiton Page from raining threes?

The Skinny: Oklahoma State won’t have to exert too much energy guarding the three, since Tech’s propensity to turn the ball over will take care of some of that.  The Cowboys have been getting more and more help from their role players, and we feel 9-7 in the Big 12 is better than 7-9 in the ACC this year.  It’ll be a great first round game, but we like Oklahoma State in a close one.

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NCAA Region by Region Tidbits: 03.15.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2010

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 rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

East Region Notes (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

  • #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 said Al-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 Barnes told 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 Alford told 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 Anderson told 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.

West Region Notes (Andrew Murawa)

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RTC Bracket Prep: West Region

Posted by rtmsf on March 15th, 2010

This is the third of our four quick-and-dirty region breakdowns. This will serve to help the quick triggers who like to fill out their brackets first thing on Monday morning. For the rest of you, we’ll be providing more detailed game-by-game analysis throughout the rest of the week.

Energy Solutions Arena Hosts the West Regional

Region: West

Favorite: Syracuse, #1 seed, 29-4.  Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange is the favorite in this region by a good margin.  His team has lost their last two games and there are whispers that center Arinze Onuaku may not be available for the first two rounds, but SU is talented enough to survive the first weekend without him (as a comparison, UNC didn’t have Ty Lawson at full strength for the first weekend last year).  K-State is realistically the only team in this region capable of standing toe-to-toe with Syracuse in terms of relative talent, but they play too loosey-goosey to actually beat the Orange.

Should They Falter: Kansas State, #2 seed, 26-7.  Should Syracuse get upset, K-State is in position to take advantage.  With a dynamite backcourt of Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen capable of going off in bunches, the Wildcats could make a run to their first Final Four since the mid-60s.  The quality of talent in this region just isn’t very deep, so outside of Syracuse or K-State, who else could realistically win the requisite four games?

Grossly Overseeded: Vanderbilt, #4 seed, 24-8.  A team that lost to Western Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi State, none of whom are Tourney teams, should not have gotten a protected seed with only a couple of marquee wins this year.

Grossly Underseeded:UTEP, #12 seed, 26-6.  The Miners really didn’t start rolling until they integrated Derrick Caracter into the lineup, but they’ve been fantastic since then.  At worst, this team should have been in the #8-#10 range.  Instead, they’ll get an opportunity to prove themselves against the annual public darling #5 Butler, where Vegas has UTEP as only a 2.5-point underdog.

Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): UTEP.  For the same reasons as above, once UTEP beats Butler, they will also be able to get past #4 Vanderbilt who is probably overseeded, or #13 Murray State, a team they’re simply better than.

Final Four Sleeper (#4 seed or lower): BYU, #7 seed, 29-5.  This is an easy one.  Everyone knows that BYU is murder to play at home, and if the Cougars can get past their first two opponents (Florida and K-State), then they will have as partisan a home crowd as possible in Salt Lake City to play two eastern teams,  either Pitt or Xavier and Syracuse.  The problem for BYU will be getting there.  They’ve had NCAA first round problems for the better part of two decades, and even though they’re much better than their initial opponent Florida, they’ll need to play really well to beat Kansas State.

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Buzz: Big East Chatter

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2010

Rob Dauster from Ballin is a Habit reports in from the Big East Tournament on some of the big news this afternoon…

A couple quick notes here from the press room chatter:

  • Arinze Onuaku looks like he is going to be fine. He took a spill with about three minutes to go as Syracuse was trying to come back against Georgetown and had to be carried off the court. According to his doctor, however, it looks like the injury is just a strain and he should be ready go by the start of the NCAA Tournament.  “I think he’ll be back, unless something bad happens tomorrow. I’ve seen him worse,” Syracuse doctor Irving Raphael said after the game. “We’re hoping it’s just a strain, but tomorrow we’ll get an MRI. It’s already scheduled.”  Onuaku left on crutches.
  • The other story that has been floating around is in regards to St. John’s head coach Norm Roberts. NY Post writer Lenn Robbins filed a story this morning claiming that a source told him that Roberts was going to be fired.  But as of now, that seems to be just the rumor that is circulating as nothing official as been announced. I’ve said it numerous times, but my personal opinion is that they should give Roberts at least one more year. He’s bringing back 10 seniors and only loses Anthony Mason, Jr., from the rotation. His kids play hard and stay out of trouble. In this day and age, that’s saying something.
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ATB: Not Michigan State, Villanova or Tulsa? What?

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2010

Feeling Title-y.  There were three conference championships won tonight around the nation, and you can count the number of people on one hand who had these three picks back in November.

  • #7 Ohio State 73, Illinois 57.  Evan Turner put in his usual work (16/12/5 assts) for the Buckeyes and Jon Diebler rained seven threes as OSU pulled away in the second half to win at least a share of the Big 10 regular season title.  Both Purdue and Michigan State will need to win both of their remaining games this week to tie the Buckeyes at the top of the standings, but regardless, OSU will be the top seed in next week’s Big 10 Tournament.  If you’re looking for a darkhorse Final Four candidate, look no further than this Buckeye team with NPOY Turner leading the charge.  We heard that they RTC’d tonight in Columbus to celebrate the championship, but we’ve yet to have visual confirmation of this.

Who Had OSU as Big Ten Champs in November? (AP/T. Gilliam)

  • #1 Syracuse 85, St. John’s 66.  Newly-minted #1 Syracuse put five players into double figures in an easy win that captured the Big East regular season title outright tonight.  The Orange were led by Arinze Onuaku’s 21/8 as the senior played in front of his mother for the first time in his career.  SU will now travel to Louisville for a Saturday matchup against one of the two teams that has beaten them this year, while the presumably-motivated Cards will be playing for their postseason lives as they simultaneously close down Freedom Hall.  Will Jim Boeheim’s kids have the focus needed to overcome the expected Cardinal surge with their top seed in the Big East Tournament already sewn up?
  • #21 UTEP 80, Marshall 76.  The Miners clinched the CUSA regular season title with a strong second half showing led by star Randy Culpepper, who poured in 22 of his 31 points after the break.  UTEP has now won thirteen in a row and they’re doing it with great defense and balanced scoring from the aforementioned Culpepper and big men Derrick Caracter (14/9 on the year) and Arnett Moultrie (10/7 on the year).  Marshall’s Hassan Whiteside threw up another ridiculous line (20/14/6 blks), but it wasn’t enough for the Herd, who now drop to 10-5 in the conference.  UTEP is ranked #50 in the RPI, but you’d have to believe a strong showing in next week’s CUSA Tourney will get them in.

Teams That Helped Themselves.  There were a lot more teams that seemed more interested in hurting themselves than helping themselves this evening.

  • Clemson.  The Tigers guaranteed themselves a winning ACC record with tonight’s win over Georgia Tech, in so doing also likely cemented a spot in the NCAA Tournament.  With a win on Saturday at Wake Forest, Clemson will also earn a first-round bye into the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament next week.
  • Marquette.  The Golden Eagles were already in the NCAA Tournament, but their win tonight solidifies things and also gives MU a shot at the prestigious double-bye in the Big East Tourney next week.  Now at 11-6 in conference, they need Pitt to lose twice this week, but at worst with this win Marquette will end up with the #5 seed.
  • Missouri.  Mizzou played with fire in allowing its game with Iowa State to go into overtime, but Zaire Taylor’s driving two at the buzzer gave them the escape they needed to make a claim on third place in the Big 12 standings.  Taylor essentially won the game for the Tigers, with three clutch shots in key situations.  They’ll have an opportunity to make some noise on Saturday when they host Kansas in Columbia.

Teams That Hurt Themselves.

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ATB: Easy as 1, 2, 3…

Posted by rtmsf on March 1st, 2010

Syracuse Poised to Move to #1.  Remember the paucity of insanity we were lamenting in this space last weekend?  No longer.  Although the calendar still officially says February, March arrived in earnest on Saturday.  In what was probably the single best weekend of the entire college hoops season (and hopefully portends a month of craziness), the top three teams in the media/coaches polls were vanquished.  By 2:15 pm Saturday afternoon, #2 Kentucky had lost in Knoxville; four hours later, #1 Kansas had dropped its second game of the year in Stillwater; and by the same time on Sunday evening, #3 Purdue had joined the others with a loss.  In an 0range-themed weekend with Tennessee and Oklahoma State doing damage, it is literally the Orange, as in #4 Syracuse, who stands to move to the top of the polls for just the second time during the regular season in its long and illustrious history (SU held the top spot for six weeks in 1989-90).  And why not?  The beatdown that Jim Boeheim’s team put on #8 Villanova on Saturday night was downright clinical in its division of labor and efficiency.  Six of Boeheim’s seven “starters’ contributed double figure points; five of them grabbed seven or more rebounds; and, four offered three or more dimes for their efforts.  If you focus on stopping Wesley Johnson, Arinze Onuaku (17/9/3 blks) burns you.  If you take away Andy Rautins, Scoop Jardine (16/7 assts) picks him up.  Rick Jackson?  Kris Joseph (16/9/3 assts).  Syracuse has an answer for every problem, and their zone, while perhaps not the best in college basketball history as Bob Knight said, is awfully good.  The Orange have met every major challenge thrown at them this year, and when you take a look at their two losses (Pittsburgh and Louisville at home) you start to think that maybe they weren’t as mentally prepared for those games as they should have been, because in every one of their “big” games this year, they’ve been virtually flawless.

A Record On-Campus Crowd Saw SU Dominate Villanova (P-S/Lauren Long)

As For the Top Three…  We’re not going to read too much into the losses that #1 Kansas and #2 Kentucky took on the road this weekend.  Even great teams lose road games once in a while, and both Tennessee and Oklahoma State are good enough teams to do some damage in March (more discussion on both games in the conference recaps below).  However, #3 Purdue isn’t getting off so easily.  We already knew that Matt Painter’s team would continue to fight and claw in their inimitable style without the services of Robbie Hummel, but the Boilers got completely pushed around today (-28 rebounds) by the bigger, stronger Michigan State Spartans and their offense was a complete disaster without the versatile forward in the lineup (30% from the field; 22% from deep).  How does the NCAA Selection Committee fairly evaluate this team?  They’re likely to win their final two games against Indiana and Penn State, which would put them at 26-4 overall and 14-4 in the Big Ten with a 3-1 record sans Hummel.  But Ohio State and Michigan State are likely to also finish at 14-4 in the Big Ten, which means that the winner of the Big Ten Tourney will have the inside track on a #1 seed, or at worst, a top #2 seed.  But what if Purdue loses in the B10 quarters or semis?  Are they a #2 seed or a #3 seed or lower?  The resume is strong, but they’re just not the same team as they were with Hummel in the lineup.  Honestly, we would wager that the Committee is secretly hoping that Purdue drops one or both of this week’s games to the bottom-feeders of the conference to make their decision to demote them more defensible.

Conference Recaps.

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(Elite) Eight Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on February 23rd, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver permeating thoughts every week as the season progresses.

This week’s Scribbles column will take on a new twist- which eight teams I’d select to reach the four regional final games in late March. Now, I realize individual matchups within the bracket will determine the fate of these teams, but these are the eight clubs I feel like have an excellent chance of winning three games to reach the Elite 8 regardless of the teams that stand in their way. Some of these teams are the favorites, those expected to reach this level or their season will be labeled a colossal disappointment. The others are mild sleepers that certainly have the capabilities to make a serious run. Without further ado:

1. Kansas- One screaming commentator keeps telling me there’s not one clear favorite heading into March Madness this season. There’s no one team that stands above the rest akin to last year’s North Carolina entering the field as the favorite to hoist the championship trophy on that Monday night in April. This claim continues to baffle me for two reasons: 1) North Carolina was NOT the clear favorite to win the national championship last season. They entered the NCAA Tournament coming off a semifinal loss in the ACC Tournament to Florida State and were chosen as the #3 overall seed in the Dance behind Louisville and Pittsburgh. They were also dealing with question marks around Ty Lawson’s playing status. For a sample, I checked back to the NCAA Tournament pool I conducted last season and North Carolina was picked to win it all less than both Pitt (the most frequent) and Louisville. Even though the Heels featured the most pure talent, let’s put an end to this false claim. I also vehemently disagree that one team doesn’t stand alone this season ahead of the pack. To me, Kansas is the clear cut #1 favorite to win their second title in three years. Bill Self has the second most efficient offense and the third most efficient defense. He’s slowly but surely cut down his rotation and found a perfect balance. Most great teams start with a dominant point guard and center and Self has both of those covered. Even the enigma known as Tyshawn Taylor received a jolt from a surprising start by Self last Saturday and responded. I haven’t even mentioned the scorching hot Xavier Henry. The Jayhawks are an obvious Elite 8 team.

Taylor and Self finally on the same page?

2. Kentucky- If any team can hold a candle to Kansas at this stage of the season, it’s Kentucky. The Wildcats have matched Kansas’ road triumphs in the Big 12 with impressive wins away from Lexington against Florida, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. John Calipari has blended complicated personalities to perfection and found the ideal concoction to finally win a national title. I mentioned Kansas has a tremendous starting point with Collins and Aldrich; they’re actually topped by the inside-outside duo of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Wall has emerged from a mid-season turnover slump to play more like the December John Wall the entire college basketball world fell in love with. He’s absolutely deadly in transition and continues to make clutch plays down the stretch. Cousins will be the single most difficult player to guard in the entire NCAA Tournament, evident by his top-five rank in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. He has guard skills in a 6’11 body and is the most effective rebounder in the nation. The real question is if Kentucky can play a halfcourt game against the likes of Purdue and West Virginia should they run into either team. The Wildcats are much more ordinary than spectacular when they play a game in the 60s and are forced to settle for outside jump shots. Still, this team has the goods and the talent to reach a regional final.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles… (With a Wednesday Twist)

Posted by zhayes9 on February 3rd, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every week as the season progresses.

This week’s Scribbles column will look ahead to a couple months down the road in Indianapolis, where 65 deserving teams will be whittled down to just four, and to that blissful Monday night in April when one lucky group will be dancing at mid-court to the tune of One Shining Moment. In my estimation, there are ten squads with a promising-to-slight chance of hoisting a 2010 National Champions banner during their home opener next season. I’m here to tell you those ten teams, why they have hopes of winning a national title, what’s holding them back, and the most realistic scenario as I see it come late March or beginning of April. These teams are ranked in reverse order from 10-1 with the #1 school holding the best cards in their deck.

10. Duke

Why they can win it all: Their floor leader and senior stalwart Jon Scheyer is the steadiest distributor in all of college basketball, evident from his incredibly stellar 3.28 A/T ratio and a 5.6 APG mark that ranks third in the ACC and 23d in the nation. Scheyer is also a deadly shooter coming off screens when he has time to square his body to the basket, nailing a career-high 39% from deep to go along with 44% from the floor overall. Duke is also a tremendous free-throw shooting team as a whole and Coach K has the ability to play a group of Scheyer-Kyle Singler-Nolan Smith-Mason Plumlee-Lance Thomas that doesn’t feature one player under 70% from the charity stripe. Duke also features a ton more size in the paint than during previous flameouts in the NCAA Tournament. When Singler plays small forward, Coach K can rotate Miles and Mason Plumlee, the glue guy Thomas, rebounding force Brian Zoubek and even Ryan Kelly at two positions with no player under 6’8. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more efficient backcourt in the nation than Scheyer and Smith. And it’s widely known that exceptional guard play is the ultimate key to winning in March.

What Makes Duke 2010 Different than Duke 2006-09?

Why they won’t win it all: Depth could certainly be an issue for the Blue Devils’ chances of raising their first banner since 2001. Andre Dawkins has fallen almost entirely out of the rotation and Coach K has started to limit Mason Plumlee’s minutes during important games. Also, Brian Zoubek’s tendency to immediately step into foul trouble limits his availability. It wouldn’t shock me to see Duke play Scheyer, Smith and Singler 40 minutes per game during their time in the NCAA Tournament. That could cause those key players, who rely primarily on their jump shot, to lose their legs and start throwing up bricks. Kyle Singler isn’t quite the superstar he was last season, either. Singler’s numbers are down across the board — scoring, rebounding, FG%, 3pt% — and he’s been dealing with a nagging wrist injury that may not improve in the weeks and months ahead. Duke also lacks the athleticism of teams like Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Texas. They could struggle with quicker guards like John Wall and athletic rebounders of the Damion James mold.

Likely scenario: I see Duke reaching the Sweet 16 as a #2 seed where they fall to a more athletic, quick group of guards that can explode to the rim and draw fouls. Duke may have height, but most of that height just isn’t a threat offensively by any stretch of the imagination. Eventually getting into a jump shooting contest could be the Blue Devils’ downfall if two of Smith, Scheyer and Singler go cold.

9. West Virginia

Why they can win it all: Da’Sean Butler is one of the best players in the nation when the chips are on the table. If the Mountaineers need a big shot to keep their season alive, Butler will demand the basketball and more than likely deliver. He’s downed Marquette and Louisville on game-deciding jumpers and led the second half charge against Ohio State. West Virginia is also supremely athletic and Bob Huggins’ teams always crash the boards with a tremendous ferocity. No contender can match the height across the board that West Virginia touts other than Kentucky. Huggins has experimented with lineups in which all of his players are 6’6 or taller, including 6’9 Devin Ebanks acting as a point-forward and 6’7 Da’Sean Butler capable of posting up smaller two-guards. Sophomore Kevin Jones is an incredible talent and a rebounding machine (7.7 RPG) that hits 55% of his shots from the floor and 44% from deep. West Virginia has the luxury of any of their forwards being able to step out and drain a mid-range jumper, from Ebanks to Jones to Wellington Smith to John Flowers every once in a full moon.

Ebanks is the X-factor for West Virginia

Why they won’t win it all: Let’s face it: Bob Huggins doesn’t have exactly the best track record when it comes to NCAA Tournament success. Huggins hasn’t reached the Elite 8 since 1995-96 with Cincinnati and only one Sweet 16 in the last ten years. In 2000 and 2002, his Bearcats lost just four games all season and yet didn’t reach the second weekend of March both times. Most also question whether the Mountaineers can hit outside shots on a consistent basis. They’ve struggled mightily in the first half of Big East games and can’t afford to fall behind against elite competition in March like they did against Dayton last season. Point guard play is a prudent question for West Virginia, as well. Joe Mazzulla is a quality perimeter defender and a capable distributor, but he’ll never be the offensive threat he was two seasons ago due to that shoulder injury. Darryl Bryant can certainly catch a hot streak shooting-wise, but in all honestly he’s more suited as an undersized two-guard. Bryant is averaging just 3.6 APG in 25+ MPG of action.

Likely scenario: I’m still fairly high on this team. I love Butler at the end of games and Ebanks can do anything for Huggins — from score to rebound to run the point — and Kevin Jones is one of the most underappreciated players in the Big East. In the end, I see a clankfest from outside ultimately costing West Virginia their season. And for all their rebounding history, the Mountaineers are in the mid-60s in the nation. The Elite Eight seems like a proper place for their season to conclude.

8. Texas

Why they can win it all: No team boasts better perimeter defenders than Texas. Anyone that watched Dogus Balbay completely shut down James Anderson in the second half Monday night knows he’s the best perimeter defender in the nation, even stronger than Purdue’s Chris Kramer. Avery Bradley came in with the reputation as an elite defender and he’s certainly lived up to that billing. Even J’Covan Brown off the bench is a capable defensive player and Justin Mason is a plus defender. When Dexter Pittman stays out of foul trouble, Texas boasts a legitimate shot-blocking presence that can negate quick guards on the rare occasion they slip past Balbay or Bradley. Texas is also the deepest team in the nation and Rick Barnes has the capability of playing 10 or 11 men on any night if he feels the need. The preserved minutes could pay dividends in the form of fresh players come March. Damion James should also be on a mission come March as a senior. He’s never reached a Final Four during his Longhorns career and came back for a fourth year in Austin to accomplish that very feat.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on December 29th, 2009

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.

1. The most competitive conference in the land this season should spark the most competitive Player of the Year race come March. Top-seeded Kansas boasts three potential candidates once center Cole Aldrich starts to play with a more aggressive mentality on the offensive end. Senior point guard Sherron Collins has the skill set to explode come conference play and should provide the Jayhawks with more than one clutch play the season wears on. Freshman Xavier Henry has surpassed everyone’s expectations early in Lawrence as the Jayhawks early scoring leader. Nipping at the heels of #1 Kansas is #2 Texas and their all-time rebounder Damion James. James has exploded onto the scene the last week-plus with two masterful performances against North Carolina (25/15/4 stl on 8-22 FG) and Michigan State (23/13 on 10-18 FG). You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that argues James isn’t the current frontrunner for Big 12 POY and deserves definite consideration for first team All-America honors. Kansas State has been one of the bigger surprises in college basketball through the first month and a half behind sharp-shooting guard Jacob Pullen. The junior went on a tear recently scoring 28 in a big road win at UNLV then topping himself with 30 points at Alabama. In his last three games, Pullen has nailed an incredible 16 of his last 25 threes. Lurking in the shadows is Oklahoma State’s James Anderson (21.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG) and Iowa State forward Craig Brackins (17.5 PPG, 8.1 RPG) with Baylor’s Ekpe Ugoh and Oklahoma’s Willie Warren also making large impacts on their respective squads.

2. It’s fairly clear the top two teams in a weaker Pac-10 conference will be Washington behind Isaiah Thomas and Quincy Pondexter and California behind their big three of Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher. While both teams have encountered their early season struggles, Washington knocking off an emotionally scarred Texas A&M squad at home Tuesday and California hanging in with Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse should convince most critics that those two will compete for the Pac-10 title. Prior to the season, many believed UCLA would be that third team in the Pac-10 to cause some damage and sneak into the NCAA field. But with a week that included wins over Tennessee, St. Mary’s and UNLV, it’s becoming quite evident that USC might very well be that team. Even with early season home defeats at the hands of Loyola Marymount and Nebraska and blowout losses at Texas and Georgia Tech, the Trojans are coming together behind newly-entrenched point guard Mike Gerrity and coach Kevin O’Neill. The two-time transfer Gerrity is already the Trojans leading scorer and far and away their best assist man. He won’t blow anyone away with flash and speed, but he knows how to run an offense and play the position with efficiency. A starting five of Gerrity, Nikola Vucevic, Alex Stepheson, Dwight Lewis and Marcus Johnson all of a sudden doesn’t look too shabby, does it?

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Checking In On… The Big East

Posted by jstevrtc on December 2nd, 2009

checkinginon

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Despite the holiday, loyal readers of RTC may have noticed something missing last week.

Where was Checking in on the Big East?  Without BIAH waxing poetic about the happenings within the nation’s biggest conference, how were you able function?

For that, I must apologize.  But, you see, it wasn’t all my fault.  For starters, the editors at RTC are ruthless.  Not only did they have me traveling up and down the eastern seaboard during the busiest travel weekend of the year, they forced me to cover the semifinals and finals of the Preseason NIT for RTC Live.

Brutal, those guys.  I guess that’s why they pay me the big bucks.

Anyway, I probably could have found the time to put together a recap for you, but apparently grandmas don’t realize that having dial-up isn’t the same as having the internet.  Old folks, you gotta love ‘em.  She made me a mean Thanksgiving leftover sandwich as a peace offering.  She’s not all bad, that one.  I forgave her, just like I hope you all will forgive me.

Back to the point, since we have a lot to go over, and seeing as the first few weeks of the college hoops season are a bit hectic, the structure of this post is going to be a bit different than future posts.  But never fear, as your trusty Big East expert is here to guide you through it.  So tuck the children in, strap on your seat belts, and, well, you tell them, B.B…

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Set Your Tivo: 11.24.09

Posted by nvr1983 on November 23rd, 2009

tivo

After last week when we really kicked off the season, our list of games this week is a little weak to be quite blunt primarily because of the Thanksgiving holiday break. Don’t worry though. It’s not all football games and turkey. There are some interesting games this week that are worth following even if you are travelling (or like some of us here) working during the week. Today we only have one game worth Tivo-ing, but it is one of the more intriguing games so far this season.

Cornell at #9 Syracuse at 7 PM on ESPN360.com: We mentioned this game in our post naming Syracuse as our Team of the Week. Everybody has been praising the Orange (and for good reason), but those who follow college basketball closely know that they could very easily lose to the Big Red, which is something I am sure that Jim Boeheim has stressed to his players since the morning after their huge win over UNC. After their wins over Caland UNC this past week everybody knows about the Orange. They have one of the best frontcourts in the nation with Wesley Johnson, Rick Jackson, Kris Joseph, and Arinze Onuaku complimented by some outstanding perimeter play (so far) from Scoop Jardine, Andy Rautins, and Brandon Triche. The country isn’t quite as familiar with Cornell who have already notched impressive road wins at Alabama and UMass before falling by 10 at home against Seton Hall. The Big Red are led by Ryan Wittman (17 PPG and 4 APG)–one of the nation’s top  players that the casual fan doesn’t know about–who is complimented by fellow seniors Louis Dale (13.7 PPG and 3.7 APG)  and Jeff Foote(11.0 PPG and 8.7 RPG). If the Orange need any motivation to get up for this game, Boeheim will just have to remind them of last year when they barely outlasted Wittman and his game-high 33 points  before pulling away late. We expect the Orange to win this one since they are the more talented team and are playing at home, but don’t be surprised to see Cornell hanging around as I’m sure their players have been looking forward to this game for quite some time as it is the second biggest game on their schedule trailing only their trip to Allen Fieldhouse on January 6th to take on preseason #1 Kansas. While I think that motivation will aid the Big Red, it probably won’t be enough to make up for their massive disadvantage inside where they won’t have an answer for the Orange big men and Johnson in particular.

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RTC Team of the Week: Syracuse

Posted by nvr1983 on November 22nd, 2009

We will readily admit that we crushed the Orange for their embarrassing exhibition game loss to Le Moyne three weeks ago and even left them out of our Top 25 after that loss, but we can admit when we were wrong even if we are pretty sure most Syracuse fans felt the same way that we did at the time. We figured that Jim Boeheim was in for a long year waiting for next year’s much hyped recruiting class to come to upstate New York. After the Le Moyne loss, the Orange rolled off big wins at home against Albany (by 32) and Robert Morris (by 40), but those two programs were hardly in the same category as the three teams that would be travelling to Madison Square Garden for the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic (UNC, Ohio State, and Cal) and we expected the Orange to have a difficult time competing with those teams even if we never really considered any of those teams that great (you will notice that my co-editors were a bit behind me on the Tar Heels being overrated if you look at that last poll).

syracuse orange

The Orange opened up against Cal, a team we had already covered live twice this season (against Murray State and against Detroit), and destroyed the more highly touted Bears. After falling behind 5-0 to start the game, the Orange took the lead with 17:08 left in the first half and dominated Cal from that point forward with their frontcourt outscoring Cal’s 54-22. The Bears highly regarded backcourt struggled against the zone and shot just 30% as a team from beyond the arc only managing to outscore the Syracuse guards by 10 (51-41). The fact that the Orange dominated on the inside was no surprise to us. They have one of the best frontcourts (Wesley Johnson, Rick Jackson, and Arinze Onuaku) in the country and Cal’s frontcourt is lackluster to put it kindly. The real surprise was the play of their guards and redshirt sophomore Scoop Jardine (22 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists) in particular.

We figured the next hurdle — defending national champion UNC — would be a much higher hurdle and it was. For a half. The first half of the game was as good as any we have seen this season with the teams trading quick runs and both teams making big shots. The Orange opened the game with an 8-0 run that had us questioning whether Roy Williams was trying to channel Phil Jackson by not taking a timeout and letting his team work things out on their own. The Tar Heels responded with a quick run of their own and took the lead at 12-11 with 15:06 left in the first half. The Orange briefly took a 9-point lead at 31-22 before the Tar Heels rallied again to tie it up before taking a 39-37 lead into the intermission. Then the Orange exploded opening up the 2nd half on an insane 22-1 run that left us speechless and led Williams to comment after the game that Syracuse “beat the dickens out of us”. Andy Rautins was the star of the game with an Andrei Kirilenko-like line of 11 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and 7 steals (minus all the whining) and Wesley Johnson added a 25 points and 8 rebounds against one of the best frontcourts in the country. The Orange’s performance left us wondering if this year’s version might be better than last year’s version even without Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Paul Harris. And for those of you who are wondering, the Orange will be in this week’s yet unreleased RTC Top 25, which should be out some time on Monday. The Orange need to be careful not to let the honor of being RTC’s inaugural Team of the Week get to their heads though because their next game is at home against a very good Cornell team that much of the country doesn’t know about, but has already won on the road at Alabama and UMass.

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