ATB: Epic Night in MSG

Posted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2009

afterbuzzer1

syr-uconn

Six OTsSyracuse 127, Connecticut 117 (6OT). Every once in a while there’s a game where as you’re watching it you just know something amazing is going to happen.  Maybe it’s the bounce the players have on the court or the electricity in the air of the crowd.   Maybe it’s the way a seven-foot-three giant outhustles a guy half his size for a loose ball on the floor, or the  way a shooter comes hard off a curl to drill a 28-footer like it was a floater in the lane.  It’s unclear how you know what you know, but you know that you’re witnessing something special, and you’re not alone – everyone in the joint can sense it, and the fans watching from home feel it too.  There are only a few games in our personal history that we can remember having that sensation.  The Laettner game was one – we realized it when UK started nailing threes all over the place to erase the 12-pt Duke lead in the blink of an eye.  The Arizona-Gonzaga second round game in 2003 was another.  Tonight’s Syracuse-UConn game was the latest.

Games like this, you don’t just watch.  All the senses are engaged.  You breathe them.  You taste them.  Even better, these games breathe you.  They inhale the collective emotions and anxieties of everyone in the building, and like a living organism, emit a beautiful poetry of synaptic orgasmica. The final game time was just shy of four hours (an absurd length for a hoops game), but the second half and OTs felt like about fifteen minutes.  It’s like nestling up with a loved one or stumbling across your favorite movie on TNT.  Time no longer matters.  That’s how you know.  Our Big East correspondent, Rob Dauster, was live-blogging this game from his Blackberry inside MSG tonight, and reading through his posts is like reading the wild scribblings of a man reaching hoops nirvana (and exhaustion).  There was one post that he made that absolutely crystallized this game for everyone tonight – Every single person is standing in this gym.”  Because that’s what it comes down to: the crowd, the players, the gym – all in unison, all making magic happen.  For what it’s worth, Rob, every single person at home was standing too.

Now let’s get to the game itself.  Obviously, we’ve been saying all year that Syracuse has F4 talent.  The problem has been that they haven’t been able to maximize that talent, but the Orange are now showing signs that they’re starting to figure it out.  This SU team has a swagger that we haven’t seen since the G-Mac days, but the key difference is that Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, Paul Harris, Arinze Onuaku and Andy Rautins are far more talented than McNamara’s last two teams.  We fully expect the Orange to have nothing left in the tank for WVU tomorrow night, but we’d be utterly shocked if this team laid an egg in next week’s NCAAs.  The Cuse plays hard, and we just have a sneaky suspicion this year that they’re going to make some noise in this year’s Tourney (Flynn’s Charles Smith impression notwithstanding).

As for UConn, they had three possessions in the first five OTs to win the game, and each time they dribbled the ball around and forced up some horrible shot.  Even the play that gave them the tie to send it to OT before Devendorf’s absurd three at the end of regulation was off of a broken play.  This is indicative of the same problem that has plagued this group of Huskies since they got to Storrs – they’re just not clutch.  Here we are discussing a group of juniors that spent several weeks at #1 this year, and they’ve yet to win a postseason game.  Not one!  Husky fans are going to get angry at us and declare that they were able to win some meaningless game against Gonzaga or whoever during the regular season… but they’re UConn, an elite program, and they should know better than that.  Legacies are built in March (that’s how Calhoun built his), and this group of players remains suspect until they prove once and for all that they can play championship level basketball in tournament formats.  We’re still waiting on it.

After 70 Mins of Action, Syracuse Moves On (photo credit: NYT)
After 70 Mins of Action, Syracuse Moves On (photo credit: NYT)

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Maybe John Calipari Was Right. . .

Posted by nvr1983 on March 5th, 2009

You may remember that one of the big stories from last year was Memphis and its inability to hit free throws. John Calipari was routinely questioned about it and shrugged it off essentially saying that his team was winning so it didn’t bother him that much. And with the national title game winding down they were in a position to bring Memphis its first title by knocking off Kansas. Then the unthinkable happened. Following the game Calipari was roundly mocked for his bold proclamations leading up to the game that free throws didn’t matter. You could definitely count us among those who made plenty of jokes at Calipari’s expense. Well it turns out that we may have been wrong. . .

Following up John Branch’s article on the remarkably constant free throw percentages over the past 50 years, Jack Styczynski decided to look deeper into free throw percentages. Styczynski, who was perturbed by Branch’s statement that ““there is little correlation between free-throw percentages and winning percentages”  looked through the NCAA’s basketball database and compared the team free throw percentages to the teams that made the Final 4 since 2000. Here is a summary of his findings:

  • In 2005 and 2007, none of the teams in the Final 4 were in the top 50 in team free throw percentage.
  • Last year, UNC (#13) was the only team in the Final 4 that ranked in the top 50 in Division I in free throw percentage.
  • In 2006, national champion Florida (#34) was the only team in the top 50. Apparently Billy Donovan decided to stop working on free throws the next year (and it didn’t matter).
  • Michigan State was the only other national champion to finish in the top 50 (#27 in 2000) during this period.
Rumeal Robinson hit some of the biggest FTs in NCAA history
Rumeal Robinson hit some of the biggest FTs in NCAA history

While all that historical information is nice, we at Rush the Court like to look to the future (namely this March and April) so I broke down the free throw percentages of the top 25 teams in the nation through the games that ended on March 3, 2009. I used the ESPN/USA Today rankings, which are slightly different than the AP rankings, but they have the same teams so we’re looking at the same sample either way. Using the NCAA’s statistics for games through March 1, 2009, the 50th best free throw shooting team (Seton Hall) was shooting 72.6% so I’m using that as the cut-off for this analysis. I have listed the free throw percentages and color-coded the teams into groups: red (<70%), yellow (70-72%), and green (>72%) .

fts-as-of-03-03-09The narrow range of the yellow group (2%) indicates how closely bunched together some teams are, but there are standouts for better or worse. UNC is by far the best free throw shooting team at 2.5% higher than Villanova (76.5% vs. 74.0%), which is the next best FT shooting team in the top 25. Syracuse is on the other end of the spectrum having the worst FT shooting (64.4%) of any team in the top 25, which has to worry Jim Boeheim a little bit. The primary cause of Syracuse’s poor free throw percentage is Arinze Onuaku, who shoots a horrific 31.1% (last in Division I for a player shooting over 100 FTs). The rest of Syracuse’s team isn’t that bad at the line (70% from the FT line). In any case, you can assume that you won’t be seeing much of Onuaku if Syracuse needs to seal a game from the free throw line. If anything, Rick Pitino should be more concerned as Louisville only shoots 64.7% and they lack someone like Onuaku who can be hidden on the bench late in games. For some perspective on these percentages, last year’s much-maligned Memphis team shot 61.4% from the free throw line.

What does all this mean? According to Branch’s article and tournament performance since 2000 it doesn’t mean much, but I do know that John Calipari would like to spend a little extra time in practice at the free throw line if he could go back to last year.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on February 18th, 2009

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Player of the year.

How do you define it. Who put up the best stats? Who is the best player on the best team? The most valuable player? Maybe the guy that, if you were to have a draft involving every player in the league, you would pick first?

My criterion is simple – who is the best player? Easy enough, right?

As of now, there are only four players that should be considered for the award, and another few that deserve a mention in the conversation.

  1. DeJuan Blair, Pitt – 15.7 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 5.8 Orpg, 60% FG
  2. Jerel McNeal, Marquette – 19.9 ppg, 4.0 apg, 4.7 rpg, 2.2 spg, 44% 3PT
  3. Terrence Williams, Louisville – 12.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 4.6 apg, 2.1 spg, 1.93 a/t
  4. Hasheem Thabeet, UConn – 13.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 4.3 bpg, 64% FG

Others deserving mention: Luke Harangody, Jonny Flynn, Jeff Adrien, Levance Fields, and Da’Sean Butler.

Right now, I have no idea who deserves the award. Two weeks ago, I thought McNeal would run away with it. Last week, I thought Thabeet would made a run at national player of the year. This week, well, just scroll down and read about the player of the week.

There are great arguments to be made for each of these four, as well as the five players deserving mention (I mean, Luke Harangody is the only player in the country to be in the top five of points and rebounds per game, and barely cracks the top five for Big East POY?).

What it is going to come down to is who leads their team to the Big East regular season title. Each of the four players listed are the MVPs of the four teams currently tied (in the loss column) atop the Big East.

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Set Your Tivos: 02.11.09

Posted by nvr1983 on February 11th, 2009

Set Your Tivos

First, welcome to the “new and improved” Rush The Court. This is pretty much the same interface we were using before, but there are a few minor differences so it may take us some time to work the kinks out. Anyways, there are some note-worthy games tonight. You may have heard about a little game going down in Durham, North Carolina tonight.

Game of the Night
#3 UNC at #5 Duke at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Yeah. I know it’s not exactly the scoop you were expecting from us, but this is probably one of the 5 best match-ups so far this season so I’m not going to go with another game just to be contrarian. The big match-up in this game is on the inside featuring Tyler Hansbrough and Kyle Singler. The Blue Devils will need a big game out of Singler who has struggled lately who is only 9/38 FG in his last 3 games. The other key match-ups will be on the perimeter with Ty Lawson against Greg Paulus at the 1 and high school teammates Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderson going against each other. UNC should win this game fairly easily with the way that Duke has been playing lately. If Coach K wants to knock of Hansbrough in his last game at Cameron, he will need Singler to play like he did earlier this year and Jon Scheyer to be hitting any open looks he gets.

Other Games to Watch
#22 Syracuse at #1 UConn at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: On almost any other night this would be our “Game of the Night”, but there is that small rivalry we mentioned before. Jim Calhoun‘s team is starting to look like the team that some thought could threaten this year’s G.O.A.T. UNC team with the emergence of Hasheem Thabeet as a black hole on the inside. Syrcuase will need a huge game out of Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf against the UConn guards (Jerome Dyson, A.J. Price, and Kemba Walker) because Arinze Onuaku isn’t going to be shooting 70% with Thabeet lurking on the inside. I’m going with the Huskies by double-digits in this one.

#13 Xavier at Dayton at 7 PM on ESPN Classic: I’m guessing that both teams were caught looking ahead to this game as both lost their last game to inferior opponents. These two teams are probably the class of the Atlantic 10 so this might end up being a preview of the conference championship game although St. Joseph’s and Duquesne may spoil the party. If Dayton wants to pull off the upset (and have a “Rush the Court” situation), they will need to contain Derrick Brown and B.J. Raymond. Normally, I might lean towards Dayton to pull off the upset, but I think the Musketeers will be too focused after losing to Duquesne in their last game.

#2 Oklahoma at Baylor at 9 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: This is a game that Baylor needs to win if they are going to have a chance to make the tournament. It probably isn’t fair to make a game against the #2 team in the country and national POY (yes, I’m calling the race) Blake Griffin a must win, but it isn’t fair to lose 5 straight in conference and still make the NCAA tournament. If the Bears are going to pull off the upset, they should focuse on limiting Willie Warren because they aren’t going to stop Griffin and hope that Curtis Jerrells and LaceDarius Dunn both have big games.

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 02.07.09 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 7th, 2009

dynamite1

We’re back with another thrilling edition of Boom Goes the Dynamite where we try to cover every single game on TV. Since we have only two people working on BGTD, we appreciate any reader tips on what games everyone should be watching since there are so many on TV and the Internet. For a rundown of the games today, check out today’s Set Your Tivos.

11:40 AM: ESPN GameDay is live from Spokane site of the Memphis-Gonzaga game tongiht at 9 PM. The crowd is fairly small, but I’ll give the Bulldog fans a break since it started at 8 AM local time on a Saturday morning at a school with just 4,515 undergraduates. I’m still waiting for a basketball GameDay to match a college football GameDay in terms of attendance and crazy fans. Looking at the schedule, I’m going to have go with February 21st when Oklahoma plays Texas in Austin, TX as the ESPN GameDay where the fans actually show up.

Noon: Some great work by the ESPN camera crew making Philadelphia look like something other a dump. The Syracuse-Villanova game should be one of the better ones today with both teams being in the 2nd tier in the Big East after UConn, Pittsburgh, and Louisville. The jury is still out on Marquette after last night’s debacle. Like we said watch the Jonny Flynn versus Scottie Reynolds match-up. The Arinze Onuaku injury could be big particularly with Dante Cunningham on the inside.

12:40 PM: Sorry for the delay in posting, but we’re having some problems with WordPress. Anyways, Villanova is absolutely destroying Syracuse right now. A basket by Cunningham stretches the lead to 21 at 36-15. It might be a while before we have another update on this game unless the Orange make a run. If the game continues like this, Jim Boeheim‘s squad will fall out of the top 25 leaving just 5 Big East teams in the rankings.

1:00 PM: The ESPN announcers just said that Donovan McNabb played some basketball when he was at Syracuse. Either he had some ridiculous intramural basketball career that I’m not aware of or they just assume that every mobile black QB was a two-sports star. I’m guessing it is the latter.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2009

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Remember all that talk about the Big East getting nine, maybe ten, teams into the dance? It seems like a long time ago now, as it is a legitimate possibility the league only gets seven teams in. The three teams in danger of missing out are Georgetown, Notre Dame and Providence.

The Irish are in the worst position right now. They are currently sitting at 12-8 and 3-6 in the Big East, but they are just 2-7 against the RPI’s top 50. Their RPI is 77 and their SOS is 49, which aren’t great. But the Irish still play four teams in the RPI top 20, and three more in the top 70, which means the Irish have plenty of chances to up their RPI rating.

Providence could also be in trouble. Their RPI is 63 and their SOS is 42. Their record is a little better than the Irish (14-7, 6-3), but they have struggled against the best teams (1-5 vs. RPI top 50, but 3-2 against 51-100). They, too, will get plenty of chances to improve their resume as they have five more games against the top 20.

Georgetown looks to be the safest right now. They have an RPI of 20, have played the toughest schedule in the country (and second toughest in Big East play to West Virginia). They are just 3-5 against the RPI top 50, but they do own wins against Memphis and at UConn. All Georgetown needs to keep in mind is Arizona last year. The Wildcats finished 16-14, 8-10 in the Pac-10 (good for 7th), but got into the dance as a 10 seed based on their tough scheduling (#2 in SOS).

The bottom line is that it is tough to rule out anyone near the bubble in the Big East. With so many quality teams in the league, all it would take for a Cincinnati or a St. John’s is a great finish to the season, and a run to the quarters or the semis of the Big East Tourney.

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ATB: Upset Wednesday

Posted by rtmsf on January 29th, 2009

afterbuzzer1The Lead. There were seven ranked teams playing conference road games tonight, and only three of them survived.  One of the survivors, the Greatest Team of All-Time, did so by a sliver.  It’s a rough life playing on the road in the conference, and did anyone else notice that the calendar is turning to February very soon?  The shortest month of the year is when all those gaudy 20-2 records suffer scrutiny, as great teams start to hit their stride, and merely good ones begin taking their lumps.  We have a sneaky suspicion that it began tonight – let’s lock in for the ride.

Game of the NightWake Forest 70, Duke 68. This game was everything that was anticipated, and a little more.  Sick dunks, clutch shooting, and some tremendous hustle and defense were the markers on both ends of the court.  Oh, and one really bad call.  Call us crazy, but we’re not sure how you call a travel on Duke when a player is lying beneath him on a rebound, but the call was moot (Wake still would have possession on the inevitable and ensuing jump ball).  Still, as we watched this game, we had much the same sentiment we had two weeks ago when Wake “upset” North Carolina, which was, Wake appears to have the superior talent on the floor.  Now, the Deacs certainly showed signs of youth and inexperience in the last few minutes (missed FTs, poor decision-making) when Duke fought back to tie the game, but we never once thought Duke might actually win the game (ok, one time, and that was when James Johnson failed to hustle after the rebound after Jon Scheyer missed what would have been the go-ahead three – but no others).  Wake’s defense was once again spectacular, harassing the Duke shooters into 33% from the field (and 18% from three), including nine blocks and ten steals.  But the fact of the matter is that Duke plays every possession and Wake tends to take some off (both mentally and physically), and that’s why the Deacs didn’t run away with it in the second half.  Wake got dub-dubs from Al-Farouq Aminu (15/10, including a filthy follow flush, below) and James Johnson (13/11) to help pick up for Jeff Teague (11 pts on 4-14 FGs), who Duke swarmed all over the court.  Duke got good nights from their only two consistent scorers, Kyle Singler (22/12) and Gerald Henderson (20/8, including a nasty flush in his own right, also below), but Scheyer struggled (2-10 FGs) and there was no other production for the Blue Devils.  Wake has now won five of its last six home games against Duke, and definitely gotten a huge leg up on the ACC regular season race with wins over Duke, UNC and Clemson so far.  One final note:

HEY WAKE FANS!  This delayed rushing the court nonsense has to end.  You’re a top five team.  You’re a national title contender.  Act like it.

Life On the Road is Tough.

  • Villanova 67, Pittsburgh 57. Just another night in the Big East, right?  Playing in the last college basketball game in the Spectrum (site of the greatest NCAA Tournament game of all-time), VU’s Reggie Redding channeled Christian Laettner and went 10-10 from the line for 18 pts.  It also helped that Villanova was able to get DeJuan Blair in foul trouble and limit his effectiveness in the form of 7 pts in only twenty minutes of action.  This game, along with the Louisville loss two weeks ago, showed just how vulnerable the Panthers are when Blair is not on the floor – in the four games this season where he has had 4+ fouls, Pitt has been outscored by 4 total points and is just 2-2 in those contests.  In all other games, they’re +324 total points and 16-0.  No other player in America has such a huge impact.
  • Providence 100, Syracuse 94. In what was a wild game at the Dunk (luckily Jonathan Xavier wasn’t out on supervised release), Providence nailed ten threes against the SU zone and held on down the stretch for a victory that now puts the Friars in a tie for third-place in the Big East.  Who saw that coming?  Syracuse nailed twelve threes on its own but simply could not get necessary stops at any point in the second half against the PC shooters, particularly Sharaud Curry (22 pts) and Marshon Brooks (17 pts).  Syracuse, who has now lost four of its last five games in this rugged league, was led by Jonny Flynn’s 35 and Eric Devendorf’s 27, but Paul Harris didn’t bring much (8/6) and Arinze Onuaku was ineffective in fifteen minutes based on recent swelling in his knees.  If PC can get to nine wins in this league (and they should, with 2 games against Rutgers and one against S. Florida), they should be in good shape for an NCAA invitation.  Cuse has now lost four of five and has five more tough games upcoming – they need to win a couple of those to stay in the middle of the pack of the league.
  • Cincinnati 65, Georgetown 57. Georgetown has now officially fallen apart.  Was it really only thirty days ago that the Hoyas went into UConn and eviscerated the Huskies with such precision?  Now they’re 3-5 in the Big East with a road trip to league leader Marquette this weekend.  And possibly even worse news – Dajuan Summers turned his ankle tonight and may not be available for a couple of games down the line.  Georgetown already had a minuscule bench – how are the Hoyas to be expected to replace their best wing scorer?  Cincy might be making a Providence-type run of its own now, after having won four of their last five games to move to 4-4 in the conference.  But the bigger story of this game is of course what has happened to Georgetown, and can they recover?
  • UNC 80, Florida St. 77. It looked as if UNC was going to take its third loss of the season tonight in Tallahassee, but Ty Lawson’s running floater from THREE (see below) made sure that wasn’t going to happen.  FSU stormed back in the second half behind Toney Douglas’ 24 (32 for the game), but the Noles couldn’t take advantage of a poor shooting night from UNC (38%) and a single-figure scoring night from Tyler Hansbrough (first time in 56 games).   We’re becoming more and more convinced that this UNC team is the same team as last season.  In Deon Thompson and Tyler Zeller, they have two one more scoring option, but their defense is still marginal at best for a supposedly “great” team, and it’s not going to surprise us when these Heels drop 2-3 more games this conference season because of it.  Wasn’t tonight, though.

Other Scores of Meandering Interest.

  • Ohio St. 72, Michigan 54. Is it safe to now say that Michigan has officially come back to earth? – this loss to OSU is four of their last five.
  • Louisville 80, South Florida 54. Louisville is really starting to play like the team we thought they’d be back in October.  A second half 22-3 run finished off USF, behind 16 from Edgar Sosa (averaging 13 ppg in his last three).
  • Memphis 85, East Carolina 64. The Tigers won their 48th in a row against CUSA competition behind Antonio Anderson’s 28/8 assts.
  • Davidson 92, Chattanoooga 70. Stephen Curry had 32/5/8 assts in another easy win for the Wildcats.
  • St. Joseph’s 68, Richmond 58. Watch out, but with tonight’s road win, SJU is now 5-0 in the A10.  And Ahmad Nivins (15/14) is a beast.
  • Kansas 68, Nebraska 62. Kansas got itself in an early 13-pt hole but was able to rally back and stay unbeaten in the Big 12.
  • Xavier 69, Charlotte 47. XU improved to 6-0 in the A10 behind a dominant performance from their defense, holding Charlotte to 31% shooting.
  • Florida 83, Georgia 57. Nick Calathes had a triple double (20/13/10 assts) in another game on the Dennis Felton death watch.
  • LSU 79, Tennessee 73. We think that Tennessee is pretty much garbage this year, and the fact that LSU can go into Knoxville (after losing to Xavier at home) confirms it.
  • Northern Iowa 59, Illinois St. 55. NIU continues to roll right along in the MVC (now 9-1).
  • Northwestern 77, Indiana 75. IU continues to get so very close to winning one of these games, but they can’t seem to get over the hump (now losing ten in a row).
  • Connecticut 71, Depaul 49. Not every Big East road team lost tonight.  Depaul is an abomination, and Jerry Wainwright should be fired for this (0-8) disaster.
  • Kansas St. 88, Missouri 72. Mizzou had been rolling (4 Ws in a row), so this was a minor shocker.  We guess 12-22 from three will do that, though (KSU).
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Set Your Tivos: 01.24.09 & 01.25.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 23rd, 2009

Set Your Tivos

Check in with RTC on Saturday all day long as we piggyback the slowly burning wick of Boom Goes the Dynamite, your virtually live weekly journal of notes and observations about the day’s biggest games. 

Saturday
Game of the Day
#3 UConn at #19 Notre Dame at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Irish will be looking to bounce back from consecutive road losses (at Louisville and at Syracuse), but that will be a tall task (insert Hasheem Thabeet joke here) against UConn–a team that many consider the best in the Big East (not just based on ranking). Reigning Big East POY Luke Harangody will have his hands full on the inside battling Thabeet and Jeff Adrien. The match-up on the outside should be even more interesting with the Irish backcourt of Kyle McAlarney, Tory Jackson, and Ryan Ayers battling A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson, and Kemba Walker. I’m not sure if the Irish have anybody to contend with slashing ability of UConn, but the key to this game will likely be the production of Price and Walker.

Although UConn is clearly the superior team in this match-up, they will have a tough time in South Bend as the Fighting Irish come into the game with a NCAA-best 44-game home winning streak. Mike Brey desperately needs this game if he wants to establish his team in the upper half of the league. A win for UConn would solidify their place as the Big East favorites and build on their already strong resume. It will be a hard-fought game, but I think in the end Jim Calhoun‘s squad will end the streak tonight.

Others to Watch
#11 UCLA at Washington at 4 PM on FSN: After a slow start (2-3), the Huskies have rallied to win 11 of their last 12 with their only loss coming by 3 points in OT to Cal. I’m not sure what clicked up there in Seattle, but now they are looking like a Pac-10 contender. If they want to challenge for the league title, they will have to knock off UCLA, the current kings of the Pac-10. I’m sure that Ben Howland has been all over his Bruins for their awful execution down the stretch last Saturday in their loss at home to Arizona State. It does not look like the Bruins have fully recovered from that meltdown as they nearly lost in Pullman to Washington State Thursday night and only survived thanks to a career-high 20 points from Nikola Dragovic. UCLA will need more consistent play from its perimeter players (Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, and Jrue Holldiay) or hope they find an inside game if they want to make yet another Final 4 appearance. For those of you who haven’t been following the Huskies, keep an eye on their diminutive freshman point guard Isaiah Thomas (15.8 PPG and 3.2 APG). It looks like is a future star in the Pac-10. Let’s hope that he isn’t charge of personnel moves/recruiting.

#23 Baylor at #5 Oklahoma at 4 PM on ESPNU: This is a match-up of two of the top 3 teams in the Big 12 (at least according to the polls). The Bears rely on a balanced attack with 5 players averaging double figures led by Curtis Jerrells, who averages 17.1 PPG. Scott Drew will need all 5 guys to hit their averages and hope for a little luck to steal one in Norman as Oklahoma is the clear favorite in the league. They are led by national POY candidate Blake Griffin who comes in averaging a ridiculous 22.3 PPG and 13.6 RPG. If he can get consistent support from Willie Warren and Tony Crocker this Sooner team could make deep run in March because I don’t think anybody in the country can guard Griffin.

Keep an eye on
Maryland at #2 Duke at Noon on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Even though this has traditionally been a heated rivalry I normally would not keep this game here except for the fact that if Duke wins they will be your new #1 team in the country. If they do get to #1, John Stevens is pretty sure that you will hear about it.

UW-Milwaukee at #17 Butler at Noon on Time Warner Sports 32, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Butler is clearly the class of the Horizon League, but UW-Milwaukee may be the second best team in the conference so if anybody is going to knock Butler off in their conference tournament and create total chaos on Selection Sunday it may well be the Panthers.

#24 Memphis at Tennessee at 3:30 PM on CBS: It’s amazing that this match-up, which featured two powerhouses last year, has been reduced to this level. Memphis has the excuse of losing Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts. The Vols certainly lost some key players, but after coming into the season ranked in the top 10, this has to be a very disappointing start for Bruce Pearl. This would be a good way to start to resurrect the Vols’ season.

Wisconsin at #24 Illinois at 4 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Bruce Weber will be looking for his Fighting Illini to continue their impressive start against a Badger team that is coming off 3 straight losses with the last 2 coming in OT.

#13 Xavier at LSU at 8 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Normally I would hype this game as a mid-major team trying to steal one against the mighty BCS, but I can’t really do that this year with Butler ranked 13th and the SEC’s conspicuous absence from the polls (Florida is ranked in one, but will be gone with that awful loss to South Carolina). Ignoring that, this would be a great win for Xavier to add to their already strong resume for Selection Sunday, but they shouldn’t be overconfident heading into Baton Rouge as the Tigers having been playing well this season and are undefeated at home. [Yes. I realize I just warned Xavier not to be overconfident heading into a road game against a SEC team.]

Sunday
Game of the Day
#12 Louisville at #8 Syracuse at Noon on Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Finally we have a great game on Sunday. After several weekends with loaded Saturdays followed by a set of duds on Sunday, we get the hottest team in the Big East (Louisville) traveling to play at the team with the most to prove (Syracuse). We at RTC had been critical of Rick Pitino‘s Cardinals when they started slowly but they seem to have turned it around although it seems like the nation did not seem to take notice until they knocked off then #1 Pittsburgh. On the other sideline, Jim Boeheim‘s squad will be looking to bounce back from a difficult stretch where they lost games on the road to Georgetown and Pittsburgh with a win at home against Notre Dame sandwiched between those losses.

This game will likely come down to which team’s strength wins out. Syracuse has the edge on the outisde with Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Andy Rautins having the upper hand in their match-up Earl Clark and Edgar Sosa. Louisville will have the edge on the inside with Samardo Samuels and Terrence Williams going against Arinze Onuaku and Paul Harris. I think these two teams are pretty evenly matched with Syracuse’s advantages being perimeter play and home court while Louisville’s advantages being inside play and momentum. I’ll go with the easy 2s and momentum and take Louisville to continue their current hot streak.

Others to Watch
#7 Michigan State at Ohio State at 3:45 PM on CBS: OSU had been playing better before its trip to Illinois the other night.  Still, West Virginia is the only team to get them on their home court this season, so Michigan St. had best bring a better game than it brought Wed. night against Northwestern, or they’ll be staring at 2 Ls this week.

#4 Pittsburgh at West Virginia at 4 PM on Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: This game suddenly became even more interesting considering how dominant the Mountaineers looked tonight in DC against Georgetown.  Pitt recovered nicely with a home win against Syracuse, and they match up very well with the undersized WVU team, but so did Georgetown.  One thing you can be sure about in this one – most players will leave this one black and blue.

Virginia Tech at Miami at 5:30 PM on FSN: Anyone want to lay odds on which Virginia Tech team shows up coming off their victory over #1 Wake Forest on Wednesday?  Will it be the Hokie team that lost to Seton Hall and Georgia, or the one who led Wake from start to finish?  We’re betting it’s the SH/Georgia version.

Georgia Tech at #9 Clemson at 7:45 PM on FSN: This is a really weak set of FSN games this weekend (frankly the entire weekend is disappointing).  Still, if you’ve got nothing else going on, you can spend a couple of hours watching Paul Hewitt try to save his job and Oliver Purnell try to convince you that the Tigers are legit.

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01.21.09 Fast Breaks

Posted by nvr1983 on January 21st, 2009

We have a pretty nice set of links for you today.

  • Thayer Evans and Pete Thamel of the New York Times with a great piece about the influence of Skip Prosser on the current Wake Forest team. Many people don’t realize that Prosser was actually the architect of this team as he recruited all of the current players. However, a great deal of credit has to go to Dino Gaudio for keeping the team together after Prosser’s death in 2007. I’m guessing this will become a bigger story if Wake Forest can stay near the top of the polls late into the season.
  • We have touched on the APR issue before, but now it looks like the NCAA is looking at extending APR ratings to include coaches. I am not sure if this is necessary since coaches rarely switch schools over short periods of time and I have a feeling the methodology will be questioned on how a student-athlete’s academic performance at a school will affect a coach’s APR after the coach has left that school.
  • Arkansas freshman forward Brandon Moore has been suspended indefinitely on DUI charges. I’m not naive enough to believe that underage college students won’t drink, but getting a DUI while being underage. . .
  • Another story out of the SEC as Alabama’s Ronald Steele has decided to forgo the remainder of his senior season citing ongoing injury issues. It is a sad end to what was a promising career. I still remember some of the hype coming out of the South about this explosive guard. We wish Ronald the best and hope he at least got a good education at Alabama.
  • Pete Thamel with an interesting piece on Arinze Onuaku, who will likely be the key to Syracuse’s chances of making a run deep into the tournament in March.
  • An interesting account of Bill Self‘s recent interaction with John Wall, the #1 recruit in the nation. I’m amazed that Self could be this reckless, but to be honest this seems like a rather minor infraction compared to other stuff that goes on.
  • Seth Davis with his take on NCAA’s policy regarding the length of time a player has to enter the NBA Draft and come back to college.
  • A depressing article about former West Virginia star Kevin Pittsnoggle. I’m sure there are several NBA teams who could use a big man who can shoot.
  • Vegas Watch with a mid-season look at the best odds for his top 10 title contenders and the odds he would take them at. Although it is not as exact (calculating the likelihood they would win each round based on their expected seed) as some of his other work, it is still an interesting read.
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ATB: Pitt Reasserts Itself and a Look Back to Saturday

Posted by rtmsf on January 19th, 2009

afterbuzzerBig Monday. After a weekend (well, Saturday) of good games, it was probably to be expected that tonight’s games were a couple of dogs.  Does anyone know what happened to the late game that used to be on Big Mondays?  A long time ago it was a Big West game, but in recent years it was the WCC (mostly Gonzaga).  Why did that go away?

  • Pittsburgh 78, Syracuse 60. This game nearly put us and everyone in the arena to sleep – it was vaguely reminiscent of the bad Big East of the 90s.  We guess this sometimes happens, especially considering both of these teams had intense games on Saturday (Pitt losing its #1 ranking to Louisville; Syracuse outshooting ND).  This was a bruiser of a game, and the Syracuse players made sure to spend a good chunk of each possession complaining to the refs.  DeJuan Blair had another dub-dub (20/12) with four offensive rebounds, and Sam Young dropped 19 of his 22 in the 2d half as Pitt pulled away.  Want further proof that this was an ugly game?  Syracuse’s Arinze Onuaku and Pitt’s Levance Fields combined to go 0-9 from the line tonight.
  • Kansas 73, Texas A&M 53. This game was over early and often.  Perhaps we were a little presumptuous in our talk last week about keeping an eye on Texas A&M.  In their last two games, the Aggies have looked spotty and inconsistent.  Granted they were playing Oklahoma and Kansas, but they’re definitely not in the top tier of the Big 12 this year – tonight, not a single Aggie player reached double figures.  KU ran out to a 16-4 lead behind Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, and never looked back.  Kansas isn’t being discussed very much this year, but Bill Self’s Jayhawks are still playing their trademark defense as they wait on their many freshmen and sophomores to come along.  They have a very good shot at starting the Big 12 slate at 12-0 (avoiding OU and Texas until their last four games), and they could become a trendy pick to make a sleeper run in March as the young players continue to improve.  Great sign, btw….

barack-chalk-jayhawk

Game of the Night. Boston U. 99, Stony Brook 97 (4OT). In a wild America East game tonight, BU and Stony Brook played an extra half of basketball before BU was finally able to get the win behind Corey Lowe’s seven points in the fourth overtime period.  John Holland of BU wins the Ironman award by playing all sixty minutes of the game.

bu-sb

Weekend Review. Here are some of our other thoughts from the weekend games.

  • No Way, Coach K. Coach K made some noise over the weekend in reference to how he believes the ACC is the toughest conference in America (over the Big East).  If you’re talking about the top three teams in each conference, sure, the ACC is probably slightly better.  Top four?  Nope.  Five?  Nope.  Six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve?  Nope.  Of course, where the Big East falters is at its much-maligned bottom (which is why the Big East’s computer rankings aren’t as high as you might think).  Its bottom four teams are absolute garbage, but the bottom line for us is that there are nine teams that are Sweet 16-quality in the Big East, whereas there are four (maybe five) in the ACC.  The Big East is better.  Period.
  • Louisville is Either Really Good or Really Lucky. For the fifth time in the last six games, Louisville was in an all-out war until the very end of a game.  In all but the UNLV game, the Cards managed to hold on and get the win.  Is this a sign of a gritty team that knows how to make winning plays down the stretch; or is it more indicative of a team that plays hard but isn’t good enough to run away from all but the worst teams?  We’re not sure yet, but with upcoming road games at Rutgers and Syracuse this week, we think we’ll have a better idea as to if they’re truly legit or not.
  • We Can’t Wait Until Jan. 28. Wake and Duke are the two teams playing the best basketball in America right now.  Duke is working on all cylinders right now, with their extremely efficient defense conspiring with their multifaceted offensive attack to regularly put down opponents.  Case in point: Georgetown shot 51% in CIS on Saturday, and still never really had a chance to win that game.  We’re still not sure just how well a team of guards and swingmen will translate in March, but for now, it’s working.  Wake’s defense is even stronger than Duke’s, and when you watch their games, there are at least 2-3 times a game where your jaw hits the floor based on their athleticism and size.  The game next Wednesday will probably be #1 vs. #2, and we can’t wait for it.
  • Carolina Got its Mojo Back. If Carolina goes on a run over the next few weeks (and their schedule is favorable for the Heels to do so), everyone will point to the late first half/early second half run that Carolina made (behind Wayne Ellington’s ridiculous eight threes) as the turning point.  Ellington has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, but if the Heels have any plans to play in Detroit this April, he’s going to have to continue with the hot shooting to keep the middle open for Tyler Hansbrough and Deon Thompson.   When he’s shooting well, Carolina is a much different team, one that few, if any, defenses in America can cover.
  • Mike Montgomery Still Welcome at Stanford (so long as he loses). Cal certainly isn’t as good as its record indicated, but the fast start that the Bears had made under Monty was a nice story through the first half of the season, which is why it was compelling when he returned to Maples Pavilion at Stanford as head man at the Cardinals’ archrival.  Stanford seemed to play a little harder, wanted it a little more, and was able to get the win, knocking Cal from the ranks of the Pac-10 unbeatens.  It’s notable that Stanford fans gave Montgomery a nice reception upon his introduction – that wouldn’t happen in the Big 10 or SEC.  No way, no how.
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Set Your Tivos: 01.17.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 16th, 2009

Set Your Tivos

Game of the Day #1

#12 Georgetown at #2 Duke on CBS at 1:30 PM

John Thompson III might want to think about asking the AD at Georgetown for a new schedule maker. I can understand wanting to get your team ready for the tournament, but this is ridiculous. Coming off a brutal start to their Big East schedule (Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Notre Dame, and Syracuse), the Hoyas get a respite by heading out of conference with a leisurely trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium where the Blue Devils have a 67-game home non-conference winning streak. Normally a trip to Cameron would be a major focus of any team’s season, but with the Hoyas’ recent schedule it will be interesting to see if they have anything left in the tank.

This has the potential to be an entertaining game with great matchups all over the floor. The most interesting matchup will be Greg Monroe against Kyle Singler. While Monroe has more potential and will be a higher NBA Draft pick, Singler is quite talented too and plays at a high level more consistently. I’m not sure how Duke will open up because I don’t think Brian Zoubek has a chance against Monroe, but with Monroe’s tendency to coast it might not be such a big issue for stretches of the game. The matchup will be made more interesting by the fact that Duke was the front-runner for Monroe (the #1 high school recruit at times last year) for most of the recruiting season before committing to Georgetown. If Monroe had joined Singler in the middle, Coach K could have had a legitimate title contender.

If Coach K decides to put Zoubek on Monroe, Singler will end up playing against DaJuan Summers who has really stepped up his game this year (15.1 PPG on 53.8% FG and 44.4% 3FG). Either way, it should be an interesting match-up on the inside. Singler probably has the most complete game of any of the 4 bigs in the starting lineup, but Zoubek is still the weakest link of the Duke starting lineup despite his tremendous improvement since he has been at Duke.  Singler’s ability to shoot from outside brings up another intriguing aspect of this game about whether Monroe can come out and defend Singler if necessary. The Hoyas might be best served to put Summers on Singler to keep Monroe out of foul trouble because they will need Monroe to play 30+ minutes if they hope to pull off the upset in Cameron. In the end, it might be the battle on the inside and who controls the boards that will determine outcome of the game despite the talented guards on both sides.

The backcourts also provide some interesting match-ups: Nolan Smith vs. Chris Wright, Jon Scheyer vs. Jessie Sapp, and Gerald Henderson vs. Austin Freeman. All of these are intriguing match-ups with solid players who are capable of taking over a game at any time. Keep an eye on Henderson in this one since he’s the one world-class athlete on the Duke team and he has stepped it up recently including taking over the 2nd half of the game against FSU last Saturday.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.14.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 14th, 2009

Set Your Tivos

Game of the Night
#8 Syracuse at #12 Georgetown, 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: It’s hard to believe that these two powerhouses are only the 3rd and 4th highest ranked teams in their own conference. [Calm down ACC folks. I realize that you have 4 teams ranked ahead of Georgetown, but the ACC doesn't even come close to the Big East in terms of depth. Look for the next ACC team in the top 25. There are none.] Looking at these teams, I still have a hard time believing that the Orangemen can compete with Pittsburgh, UConn, or Georgetown if all of those teams are playing up to their potential. However, Jim Boeheim has his team playing solid basketball and is one miracle 60-footer away from being undefeated (or at least being in OT to stay undefeated). Syracuse has been able to do this despite the distraction created by the suspension of Eric Devendorf for assaulting a female student as noted extensively here at RTC. Boehiem has been able to do this thanks to solid play from Jonny Flynn (seen below getting away with the most blatant charge that wasn’t called that you will ever see) and Devendorf (when not interacting with the co-eds) on the perimeter and Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku on the inside. The embarrassingly weak early schedule (SOS: 56th in the nation) has certainly helped the Orangemen have a gaudy record.

Tonight the Orangemen will face their first true test against the Hoyas on the road. Unlike Syracuse, Georgetown has already faced a difficult schedule (SOS: #2 in the nation behind only 6-10 Oregon) including 3 brutal games in the Big East (road games at Connecticut and Notre Dame and at home against Pittsburgh). While the Hoyas lack the depth inside (or thugs according to JT2), they will have the most talented player on the court playing for them on the inside in Greg Monroe who has shown glimpses of brilliance this year. Having seen him in person at the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving Break, I can definitely see why he has NBA scouts drooling, but at times he appears too passive at times to dominate games. While neither Harris nor Onuaku can match Monroe’s talent, it will be interesting to see if he can match their intensity the entire game. The other key match-up will be how DaJuan Summers, Chris Wright, and Austin Freeman do against Flynn and Devendorf on the perimeter although I’m not sure how John Thompson III will utilize Summers if Boeheim opts for his patented 2-3 zone. I’m not sure what to make of his experiments with man-to-man, but I would venture that he will go with the more familiar now that he is finally playing some solid teams. I’m guessing that Georgetown has too much talent, the home court, and experience from playing actually competition to lose this game. Syracuse should be able to keep it close until the final 5 minutes when the Hoyas should pull away.

Others to Watch
#2 Duke at Georgia Tech, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This has trap game written all over it. Duke just came off a win at FSU, which has shocked Duke several times this year, and the Blue Devils have a nationally televised showcase at Cameron against the aforementioned Hoyas on Saturday. Georgia Tech is mediocre enough (9-6) that the Blue Devils may overlook them, but just talented enough that they could shock Duke particularly since the game will be played at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The key thing to watch here will be how the Yellow Jacket bigs–Gani Lawal (16.8 PPG and 10.0 RPG) and Alade Aminu (13.5 PPG and 9.4 RPG)–do since interior play will continue to be Duke’s Achilles’ heel (except when they go 3 for their first 27 from 3-point range). If Lawal and Aminu can dominate inside against Kyle Singler and Brian Zoubek, Paul Hewett just may be able to pull out the win.

#3 Wake Forest at Boston College, 9 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: RTC will be at this game (look for the male equivalent of Erin Andrews typing away on his keyboard) to bring you the latest scoop on Wake Forest, the most intriguing team in college basketball. Even after the Demon Deacons win at BYU to end the Cougars nation-leading 53 game home winning streak, there remained a healthy skepticism of Dino Gaudio‘s young squad. However, after they held off everyone’s national title favorite UNC people have really started to come around on this team (I don’t think their rise of 1-2 spots in the polls reflects the magnitude of the change in perception). On the other hand, Boston College may be the most confusing team in the nation. After pulling off one of the bigger upsets of the season (and ending the media’s speculation of an undefeated season for UNC), the Eagles followed it up with a loss at home against Harvard and then to Miami. While the loss to Miami (preseason #17) is excusable, the loss to the Crimson isn’t. Wake will try avoid a letdown similar to the one BC had by relying on Jeff Teague, James Johnson, and Al-Farouq Aminu. Teague will likely be guarded very closely after his explosion against UNC. Wake also hopes to get a big contribution out of Chas McFarland, who was last seen outsprinting Ty Lawson down the court for a crucial lay-up on Saturday. If the Eagles are going to rebound for their back-to-back defeats, they will need a huge game out Tyrese Rice along with solid contributions out of Joe Trapani and Corey Raji. Much like the Duke-Georgia Tech game, this is one to watch to see if the favorite is looking ahead to their next game, which is also a monster match-up for Wake (against undefeated Clemson).

#21 Baylor at Texas A&M, 9:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: A match-up of two lightly regarded teams with impressive records (13-2 and 14-2, respectively). These two teams are my pick to compete with Kansas for the #3 spot in the Big 12 this year. Baylor appears to have recovered from the Dave Bliss fiasco and comes into the game with a top 25 ranking. They have done this with their entire starting 5 averaging double figures, but the unquestioned leader of this team is Curtis Jerrells who will need to have a big game tonight to get a win on the road. Looking through their results so far, I’m having a hard time finding any good wins. A win at College Station would mean a big jump for the Bears in the eyes of the voters. I think a lot of people forget just how good Texas A&M was last year. They were one blown call against UCLA away from potentially forcing OT in the Sweet 16. The Aggies will rely on a balanced attack with Josh Carter, Donald Sloan, Bryan Davis, and Chinemelu Elonu to try and defend their home court.

#24 Michigan at Illinois, 8:30 PM on The Big Ten Network: It looks like a year after his program looked like it was going implode after the Eric Gordon recruiting disaster, Bruce Weber has his team headed in the right direction. Tonight he will try to avenge one of the Fighting Illini’s 2 losses (the other was by 2-points to undefeated Clemson). This should be a close game as the Wolverines won by 10 at Ann Arbor a little over a week ago. Outside of the big guys from each team (Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims for Michigan and Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey for Illinois), my player to watch tonight is Alex Legion, who has shown signs of becoming a big-time scorer since his mid-season addition to Illinois after his transfer from Kentucky.

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