RTC Live: USC @ Arizona State

Posted by rtmsf on January 27th, 2011

Game #117.  RTC Live makes its first trip to the desert Southwest with a trip to Tempe for some Pac-10 basketball.

It’s been a trying first half of the Pac-10 season for Herb Sendek’s Arizona State Sun Devils, but there’s a lingering sense that they should be better than they are.  Having only played two home games en route to a 1-6 start, the schedule certainly breaks favorably for a renaissance. Two of the issues are that ASU’s usually staunch defense has been lacking and guard/forward Rihards Kuksiks has been in what seems like a season-long funk.  Tonight’s visit from USC provides an opportunity, as the Trojans come in struggling as well.  After starting off strongly by beating Washington State and UCLA, and nearly knocking off league gorilla Washington, USC lost to both Oregon schools away and split against the Bay Area schools last weekend at home.  Jio Fontan and Nikola Vucevic have played well, but there hasn’t been much consistency beyond those two.  It should make for an interesting game here tonight in Tempe.  Join us for a little Pac-10 hoops from the desert.

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ATB: A Crosstown Blowout!

Posted by rtmsf on January 7th, 2011

The Lede.  As we head into the first weekend where almost every conference will be in action — the ACC, Big 12 and SEC finally kick it into high gear — tonight was a pretty interesting night of hoops with the Crosstown Shootout turning into a blowout, the Pac-10 providing us with a couple of good games, and Northwestern showing everyone once again why you should never count on them to man up and make the NCAA Tournament.  Let’s dive in.

Cincy Had a Lot to Celebrate in This Year's Crosstown Shootout (cincinnati.com)

Your Watercooler MomentDoes the Crosstown Blowout Legitimize Cincinnati?  Let’s be honest: this was an undefeated Cincinnati team playing at home against a beat-up Xavier squad. On paper, if you covered the names of the teams and players and looked at the stats and what each team had done so far, this wouldn’t have appeared as much of a contest. But this is the Crosstown Shootout. The schools’ names are what matter the most, not the least. Everything else can be thrown out the window of your nearest chili joint. Forget analysis. Forget what it means in terms of the rest of the year. To ask those questions implies that you don’t quite get the depth of this rivalry.

But there was no romanticism tonight. 66-46, Bearcats, and that’s no surprise. Cincinnati’s deeper bench, confidence, and enjoyment of the home atmosphere were too much for the Musketeers, and, even though the game wasn’t truly out of reach until late, you knew at about the 8:00 mark of the first half that there wasn’t much of a fightback coming from XU. When you realize that 6’9/265 pound Yancy Gates (22/14), who looks 7’2 with 35 more pounds of arm when you get up close to him, is hitting outside fade-aways off one foot, and that Tu Holloway (5 pts on 2-13) — he of the 21.4 PPG average — will probably not get to double-figures, well…you know the outcome well ahead of time. Holloway was the most glaring casualty of UC’s intense defensive effort, but he wasn’t the only frustrated Musketeer. On eighteen field goals, XU had only four assists, and they were flummoxed from three-point land, shooting 1-10.

Now that it’s over, we can ask that question: what does this mean? Should a 15-0 Cincinnati team be considered a national championship contender? It would be unwise to let the magnitude of this rivalry make this victory appear bigger than it is. In fact, the Bearcats were warned of this before the game. According to both Gates and reserve guard Larry Davis in their post-game comments, the team adopted an “all-business” approach at the behest of head coach Mick Cronin. His thinking on this is a product of how tough life is in the Big East. “You can’t just be ‘rivalry-tough,’” Cronin said. “We still have to play five teams on the road who are ranked in the top 14 in the country.” In other words, he got across to his team that there is life outside of the Crosstown Shootout. That said, this will probably be filed as yet another win over a mediocre team and won’t do much to persuade UC’s detractors. Does Cincinnati belong in the Top 25? Certainly. Are they a championship contender? Hey, this is a very good team. After a 15-0 start, they definitely deserve a little more attention than they’re getting, but whether they’re 15-0 or 8-7, with a Big East schedule looming, whom could you say that about with any assurance? That record will boost their confidence, and in terms of wins and losses, they’ve given themselves some wiggle room. They deserve credit for possessing more maturity than recent Bearcat squads, and it appears that this group has bought in to what Coach Cronin is teaching them. Cronin has his players’ trust. He’s gotten through to them early. That means a lot, to be sure. But it’s the only definite thing you can take away from their season so far, because what’s to come is so much more meaningful for their season than what’s already happened. Cronin doesn’t mind if you underestimate his team, of course. He knows the value of that, and he said so after the game: “Nobody thinks we’re any good, still, and that’s a good thing. So I’m just going to keep telling them that. As long as I can keep playing that card.”

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • St. Mary’s as the Class of the WCC.  With the Gaels’ easy 98-75 win at LMU tonight, a team that was expected to push St. Mary’s and Gonzaga from the third-place spot, we’re becoming more and more convinced that Randy Bennett’s team is the class of the WCC this year.  From our viewpoint, they simply have more offensive weapons and a more diverse attack than the Zags, and in a league that isn’t known for sticky defense, that should be the difference.  With one of the toughest road venues already out of the way after this evening and a supreme home court advantage at the McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, we’re looking at a 13-1 record for SMC, good enough for the Gaels to knock Gonzaga out of first place for the first time in a decade.
  • The Other Terrence: Terrence Ross.  Washington’s Ross was the much-less-heralded recruit named Terrence out of Portland last year, but in his introductory few games of Pac-10 play, he’s making himself known very quickly.  The 6’6 wing torched his home state Oregon Ducks tonight for 25/4/4 stls, and in his last three games, he’s pouring in 17/3 on 57% shooting.  With Abdul Gaddy done for the season with an ACL injury, Ross and the other backcourt Huskies will be asked to pick up his slack — this rising freshman is showing himself capable of the job.
  • Corey Stokes & Dominic Cheeks En Fuego. Nine treys fired, nine threes entered into the score books tonight against South Florida.  The two Villanova guards have gunner Corey Fisher to blame for the team’s only three misses from outside the arc tonight (9-12).  Not bad for a squad that came into tonight’s game shooting a rather weak 32.8% from deep this season.  The Wildcats have generally played one of the weaker schedules in the Top 25 to date, but that will change soon with unbeaten Cincinnati arriving over the weekend and games against Louisville, Maryland, UConn and Syracuse in successive contests.
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RTC Live: Arizona State @ Oregon

Posted by rtmsf on January 1st, 2011

Game #87.  It’s the end of an era in Eugene as Oregon closes down venerable old McArthur Court with visiting Arizona State.

Arizona State comes into Eugene trying to drown its sorrows by feasting upon the Ducks, and Oregon looks to close McArthur Court with a victory against the Sun Devils. Both teams started out their Pac-10 seasons with blowout losses and are looking to rebound from them Saturday; Oregon lost by 19 at home to Arizona, while Arizona State lost by 22 at moribund Oregon State, although the Sun Devils were missing leading scorer Trent Lockett, who will likely miss this contest as well. The Ducks’ lack of depth and inability to stop teams from shooting well was exposed by Arizona, which limited Oregon big man Joevan Catron to nine points in 11 minutes before he fouled out. The Ducks missed their last 16 three-point attempts after making their first of the game against the Wildcats, and shot 36 percent from the field. Arizona State has a perimeter-oriented offense, but it struggled to convert shots inside and out and could not contain Oregon State center Joe Burton, who had 17 points on 7 of 9 shooting. The lack of effective size and depth for both teams makes this an intriguing matchup, and the backdrop of the final game at The Pit will make for an interesting game.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences.

A Look Back

  • For the first time this season, the Pac-10 had a week where a handful of teams combined to put together some good efforts, and more importantly, some good wins over quality competition. As of Saturday morning, it looked like more of the same for Pac-10 teams, as USC headed to Lawrence and put up a valiant effort against Kansas, before letting it slip away – a familiar course of action from around the conference. But, later that afternoon UCLA handed BYU its first loss of the season in the Wooden Classic, one of the leading candidates to that point for the best win of the season by a Pac-10 school. The next day, Arizona beat North Carolina State in Raleigh, qualifying as a decent road win. And then on Tuesday, USC wrapped up its tough two-game road trip with a win at Tennessee, probably making the Saturday UCLA win take a back seat. At any rate, while some success has come the Pac-10’s way lately, the conference still sits at 72-39 on the season, with the really quality wins over quality opponents remaining few and far between.
  • Team of the Week.  USC – This award was headed to the Southland one way or another. But USC gets the nod over its L.A. rival after basically playing Kansas and Tennessee to draws on the road, escaping with a win in Knoxville despite coming up short at the Allen Fieldhouse. The Trojan win over Tennessee gives Kevin O’Neill’s club perhaps the two best Pac-10 wins in non-conference play to this point (the other a win over Texas), with the start of Pac-10 play a week away. Junior point guard Jio Fontan saw his first action as a Trojan this week, after sitting out the first semester due to his transfer from Fordham. He was effective in his first two games (he had 15 points at Kansas and 13 points,  four assists and three steals at Tennessee), but is still working on getting comfortable with his teammates. As he settles into his role, he has the ability to make the rest of his team better, meaning the Trojans of February and March should be even more dangerous than they are now.
  • Player of the Week. Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State – The week started out a little iffy for Thompson, as for most of the Cougars’ game at Santa Clara on Sunday, his shots weren’t falling. Throw in six turnovers and Thompson had his Washington State club on the verge of being upset. But with 17 seconds to go, he hit a three to tie the game at 71. From there the game went to overtime, where Thompson scored another seven points and his Cougs pulled out a tough one by six. Thompson wound up with 23 points (albeit on 5/16 shooting), seven rebounds, six assists, five steals, a couple blocks and four threes along the way. Not bad for a rough night. He followed that performance up with a much crisper performance in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic on Wednesday, with 28 points and four more threes in a Cougar win over Mississippi State. He is now averaging 21 points per game on the season while hitting 48% of his shots and leading his team in assists and steals.
  • Newcomer of the Week.  Josh Smith, Freshman, UCLA – Smith was a major factor in UCLA’s Saturday win over BYU, scoring 15 points, grabbing eight rebounds and playing gutsy and smart minutes down the stretch, despite playing with four fouls, as UCLA fought off the Cougars. Smith picked up his fourth foul on a questionable call with about 15 minutes left in the game, and after he went to the bench BYU scored 11 straight points to cut the UCLA lead to just two. However, rather than keep Smith on the pine until late in the game, head coach Ben Howland showed a lot of faith in his big kid, putting him back in the game with over ten minutes still to play. Smith responded immediately, rebounding his own miss and getting the put-back just after re-entering on his way to seven points, three rebounds and perhaps the biggest defensive play of the game in a span of just over four minutes. That big defensive play occurred when Smith, playing with those four fouls, slid over in the lane in front of a driving Jimmer Fredette, and drew an offensive foul, the fourth foul on BYU’s All-American candidate. Smith has been up and down in his first month as a collegiate player, but if the Bruins entertain hopes of an NCAA Tournament invitation, they’ll need to continue to get play like this from their big and talented youngster.
  • Game of the Week.  USC 65, Tennessee 64 – In all honesty, that USC/Kansas game was probably the more entertaining game. But in a week where the Pac-10 actually pulled out some big wins, I wanted to mention a Pac-10 win in this space for the first time this season. After leading by as much as eight in the middle of the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Trojans had to hang on down the stretch in order to pull this one out. Senior guard Donte Smith continued his hot play of late by hitting a big three with just over two minutes left to give USC some breathing room at 65-60, but Tennessee pulled back within striking distance with four straight free throws. But USC stepped up the defensive pressure down the stretch and forced a deep Volunteer three which rattled off the rim as time expired to earn the win. USC won despite a rough night for leading scorer Nikola Vucevic who was held to just four points and one rebound before fouling out after just 24 minutes. The Trojans were led by 5’7 freshman guard Maurice Jones and his 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, four steals and three three-pointers.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week.  Washington State in the Diamond Head Classic, ESPN on 12/23 and 12/25 – The Cougs should get a chance or two at some quality opponents in Honolulu. With a win over a short-handed Mississippi State team already under their belts, they get to face Baylor in the semifinal round. Baylor will present quite a challenge for WSU, but it also gives the Cougars a chance to put another good win on their resume. Win or lose, they should then get a chance to face either Butler or Florida State on Christmas Day, either in the championship game or the third-place game. While neither one of those opponents is ranked, they each present Ken Bone’s club with another opportunity to face some big-league competition.

Power Rankings

1. Washington State 9-1.  We mentioned the Cougars’ overtime win at Santa Clara above while awarding the Player of the Week award to Klay Thompson, but several other Cougs contributed in that game. Junior forward Marcus Capers hit all five of his shots in that game, ending up with 14 points and seven rebounds, and front-court mate DeAngelo Casto scored 15, including five in the overtime period, and added ten more rebounds. From Santa Clara, WSU headed to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic, and got things off to a strong start there, taking apart Mississippi State in the second half of their opening round game there. WSU outscored MSU 44-17 in the second half while hitting 12 of their 24 three-point attempts for the game and outrebounding the Bulldogs 39-23.

Looking ahead: Baylor awaits in the second round of the Diamond Head tournament, with Butler or Florida State rounding up the weekend. Once back on the mainland, all thoughts turn to conference play as a trip to Pauley Pavilion opens Pac-10 play next Wednesday.

2. Washington 7-3.  Two wins this week by an average of 29 points over teams with a combined 7-15 record tells us little or nothing about this Husky team. We know they can beat up on bad teams – they’ve made a living out of doing so. Isaiah Thomas led the way for the Huskies as he broke out his own personal 10-0 run to start the second half of Washington’s 30-point victory over San Francisco. And he took that streak and turned it into a season-high 24 points in the 28-point win over Nevada on Wednesday. Thomas’ numbers this season thus far are up nearly all the way across the board. While his scoring average is down a bit, he’s averaging career-bests in assists, steals, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, with a career low in turnovers. With competition going up a notch as conference play nears, we’ll keep an eye on those numbers to see if Thomas can keep up that level of play.

Looking ahead: A trip to Los Angeles in advance of the new year, with the Pac-10 opener at USC on 12/29 followed by a visit to Pauley Pavilion on New Year’s Eve.

3. UCLA 7-4.  The importance of the UCLA win over BYU can’t be overstated. For a young team, bouncing back from a horrific 09-10 campaign, with an 0-3 record in their three biggest games of the season and a painful loss to Montana to boot, the BYU win showed this young team that they are capable of playing with top-25 caliber programs. But, just as important as their performance in a highly anticipated game was how they would respond in the next game, against a team without as much name recognition. After UCLA’s strong performance in a loss at Kansas a few weeks back, they got caught napping in their next game against Montana. This time, they faced Montana State after the BYU game, and while there were lapses of concentration (after leading by as many as 15 in the first half, UCLA got sloppy and allowed Montana  State to retake the lead), UCLA was able to pull away late and secure a 16-point win behind Malcolm Lee’s 18 points. Ben Howland would have preferred more consistent play in the follow-up game, but at least his team was able to come away with the win.

Looking ahead: The Bruins wrap up their pre-Pac-10 non-conference slate on Thursday with a visit from UC Irvine before hosting the Washington schools in the opening weekend of conference play.

4. Arizona 11-2.  The Wildcats looked pretty bad in knocking off Northern Arizona by five last Thursday, but bounced back with a solid win over NC State on Sunday night, and then a blowout of overmatched Robert Morris on Wednesday. In the NAU game, Arizona was outrebounded 28-18 and had to fight back from a seven-point half-time deficit to get to a tie game with just over a minute left. From there, Kevin Parrom connected on a three-point play, and then Brendon Lavender got a steal that led to a breakaway bucket to complete the final margin. The NC State game was much less dramatic, as the Wildcats never trailed in the second half, but they did get outrebounded again, this time by a 36-28 margin, including an 18-7 deficit on the offensive end. The Robert Morris game was a whole other level of undramatic, as the Wildcats won by 26. Derrick Williams continued his efficient play, scoring almost 19 points per game this week, although his rebounding numbers have fallen off some – he had just eight total rebounds in the first two games before grabbing nine against RMU. The sophomore Parrom was the most impressive Wildcat this week, with his 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and three threes against NAU making up the best line of his young career.

Looking ahead: Nothing but Pac-10 play from here, as the Wildcats open with visits to the Oregon schools beginning on 12/30.

5. USC 7-5.  We’ve talked about USC pretty extensively above, so we’ll just point out here that aside from the addition of Fontan, the Trojans have plenty of room to grow defensively. In each of the last four seasons, USC ranked in the top 25 teams in the nation in terms of defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy, and last year they were number two in the country in that area. This year, they sit at a respectable 44th, but if we know Kevin O’Neill, you can expect that ranking to improve as the year goes on.

Looking ahead: Lehigh on Thursday is the last non-conference game of the regular season, with conference play kicking off Wednesday with a visit from pre-season Pac-10 favorite, Washington.

6. Arizona State 6-4.  The Sun Devils scored a couple of solid wins this week, with a three-point road-win over Nevada and a 17-point home handling of Long Beach State. The concern around Tempe has been the relatively quiet performances from seniors Rihards Kuksiks, Ty Abbott and Jamelle McMillan, but no such worries this week. Kuksiks led the way in the Nevada game with 20 points and four threes. But it was Ty Abbott who hit a clutch three just under a minute to silence a run by the Wolfpack and give the Sun Devils some breathing room. Abbott wound up with 17 in that game, then followed that up with a team-high 15 against LBSU. McMillan was also solid this week, averaging six assists per game and snagging six steals in the Long Beach game alone. Freshman Kyle Cain also had a big game against the 49ers, grabbing 16 rebounds and scoring 12 points.

Looking ahead: North Carolina A&T is the final non-conference visitor prior to Pac-10 play, with a trip to Corvallis kicking things off there next Thursday.

7. Cal 6-5.  Win a game you should win, lose a game you should lose. That’s the story of the Golden Bear week, as a loss to Kansas followed a win over Cal Poly. The bad news is this team doesn’t seem to be improving a whole lot as the season goes on. We knew that this Cal team had some growing pains ahead of it, with a slew of youngsters trying to replace last year’s decorated but now-departed seniors. In the early going, Mike Montgomery has relied on veterans like front-court grinders Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp and backcourt annoyance Jorge Gutierrez to keep the Bears in games out of sheer determination. These guys fight and scrap and bother the opposition (at times to the point of retaliation, as we saw with Kansas’ Marcus Morris and his flagrant elbow on Wednesday night), but they’re just not the type of guys who you can create offensive opportunities, a problem which leads to things like the infamous Cal five-point half. The hope for Golden Bear fans was that freshmen guards Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin would use the non-conference season to settle in and be ready to break out in Pac-10 play, but while Crabbe has had some moments on his way to averaging 7.4 points and 4.7 assists per game, Franklin has struggled mightily. He’s turned the ball over more than he’s handed out assists and he’s shooting an awful 28.4% from the field. Montgomery keeps running him out there though, for 26-plus minutes a night every night, hoping that his confidence in his talented freshman will rub off some. If it does, this Cal team could surprise some people; if it doesn’t, they’ll just continue to annoy people.

Looking ahead: A meeting with Hartford on Tuesday wraps up the non-conference slate, then it is on to Palo Alto for their Pac-10 opener with Stanford.

8. Stanford 6-4.  From here on down to the last place team in the conference, there is nothing but bad news and losses this week. Stanford’s struggles started Saturday when they were dominated at Butler. After already trailing by 19 at halftime, the Cardinal were outscored 10-0 to start the half by Matt Howard alone as Butler got all over Johnny Dawkins’ club in every aspect of the game. On Tuesday, in what was the final game of an 8-4 Big 12 win in the Big 12/Pac-10 challenge, Stanford tripped up against at Oklahoma State. Juniors Jeremy Green and Josh Owens led the Cardinal again this week, as they have done most of the season, scoring 33.5 points per game between the two of them this week, as opposed to the 28 they normally average. However, there hasn’t been even a semi-consistent third option anywhere else, although freshman guard Aaron Bright threw his hat into the ring for that role against Oklahoma State with 15 points and four assists.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal host Yale on Thursday, then get their conference play opened on the second day of the new year with a battle against Bay Area rival Cal at the Farm.

9. Oregon 7-5.  Losses to Virginia and Idaho this week turn what had been a reasonably good non-conference slate for the Ducks into just a typical ugly record for a team expected to finish near the bottom of the conference. Oregon showed this week that not only are they an undersized team, they’re also simply an under-talented team, as they shot just 34% from the field combined. Senior Joevan Catron continued to produce – he led the Ducks in scoring and rebounding in each game – but he’s still playing out of position and is more or less surrounded by an underwhelming cast.

Looking ahead: The Arizona schools come to town, starting on Thursday, in what should be a long and ugly conference run for the Ducks.

10. Oregon State 5-6.  The Beavers had two very winnable games this week at home, and came away with a 1-1 record. First, the bad news: a loss against George Washington in which they turned the ball over 19 times, forced just nine turnovers and missed 15 of their 19 attempts from three. A forgettable performance, so let’s just forget it, especially since the win this week was a 20-point blowout of Illinois-Chicago, a team that just got done beating Illinois, a top 25 team. Not only is that a pretty good win for the Beavs, the way that did it has to have their fans excited, as four OSU players scored in double figures: a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen. Sophomore Jared Cunningham led the way with 22 points and three steals. Highly-anticipated redshirt freshman Roberto Nelson went from 14 in just his third game in a Beaver uniform. Freshman Ahmad Starks had 12 points, three assists and four threes, and fellow freshman Devon Collier had ten points, seven rebounds and three steals. When Craig Robinson assembled these kinds of recruits in Corvallis, this is what OSU fans had in mind. Throw in guys like senior forward Omari Johnson and sophomore centers Joe Burton and Angus Brandt and all of a sudden you’ve got the makings of a rotation that looks like a passable Pac-10 group. And that’s without even mentioning senior guard Calvin Haynes, a guy capable of going for 27 points, as he did against Charlotte, although just as likely to go for two points on five field goals attempts in 25 minutes, as he did in a blowout loss at Colorado. This is still a bad Beaver team, but there is no reason this team can’t at least be competitive in many games in a down Pac-10.

Looking ahead: It’s all Pac-10 play from here, as the Beavers will host the Arizona schools next week.

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After the Buzzer: 24 Hours of Hoops Review

Posted by rtmsf on November 17th, 2010

Since we’re running late on this, we’re only going to hit some of the most-telling items from yesterday’s 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon.

Yesterday’s Hits…

  • Ohio State’s Offense.  Like Syracuse last season after downing UNC, OSU’s dominant win over Florida makes the Buckeyes the media darling to challenge Duke for the 2011 national championship.  We’ve been high on the Buckeyes since well before last night and the reason is that Thad Matta has weapons everywhere on the floor (although they need to shore up that defense — see “Misses” below).  Perhaps only the Blue Devils have an equal or better amount of experience and offensive talent to avoid prolonged scoring droughts during a game, one of the key differences between good and great teams.  We knew Jared Sullinger was going to be great (22/12 in two games), but Aaron Craft’s 2.8:1 assist-to-turnover ratio has been a revelation.
  • SDSU = Best in the West?  People were buzzing about this throughout last evening as SDSU repeatedly staved off Gonzaga’s advances to become only the fifth visiting team to ever win at the Kennel.  Billy White was outstanding, going for 30/9 on 14-18 shooting, but we’re honestly not sure if this game said more about Gonzaga than it did about SDSU (see “Misses” below).
  • NIT as a Real Tourney.  The last one standing.  Still, it’s worth mentioning that VCU’s “upset” road victory over Wake Forest in the Preseason NIT wasn’t actually for naught, as their players will be rewarded with a trip to New York City and an opportunity to play two games in Madison Square Garden.  Hooray for tournaments that actually advance their winners!!! 
  • Abdul Gaddy.  Quietly, the biggest bust of the freshman class of 2009 is putting together a nice start to the season.  In two games, Gaddy has shot 9-14 from the field and hit four of six three-pointers.  He’s also dished out eleven assists to only three turnovers.  Granted, the competition thus far has been weak, but this game is all about confidence, so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the much-better competition he’ll see next week in Maui.  He’s worth keeping an eye on.
  • Delvon Roe.  The junior theater major had a night he’ll never forget.  After seamlessly starring in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” as Charles the Wrestler in a school play a couple of hours before MSU’s game with South Carolina, he then exited stage left to the Breslin Center where he dropped 15/5/6 assts in a virtuoso encore performance.  Can you imagine what he was thinking when he saw that the schedules come out?
  • Trent Lockett’s Dunk.  We don’t have to say anything, just watch…

…and Misses.

  • Butler’s Mystique.  That didn’t last long.  In a classic Pitino-fires-up-the-troops situation, Butler learned a valuable lesson as to what it’s like to be hunted at the highest level.  Prior to last season’s NCAA Tournament run to the championship game, the Bulldogs were well aware of what it meant to be the top dog in the Horizon League, where every one of its road games is the biggest game on an opponents’ schedule.  Now Brad Stevens’ team has climbed the pole to where it has also become the featured game on the schedule even at a tradition-rich powerhouse like Louisville.  This step up in class will take some getting used to, although we fully expect Stevens and his crew to figure it out (Matt Howard looked great, by the way, and we still don’t believe in the long-term viability of the Cards).
  • Syracuse’s Slow Start.  Jim Boeheim is spitting mad at his team, and with good reason.  Fab Melo has been disappointing thus far — he has more fouls (13) in three games than points (8), but it’s the play of expected breakout star Kris Joseph that should have him worried.  The junior has shot 6-23 from the field, including a dreadful oh-fer last night against Detroit where he fouled out in nineteen minutes of action.  The Orange are 3-0, but they’re not playing well.  The good news is that they have a fairly light schedule until Big East play (one notable exception is a game against #2 Michigan State at the Jimmy V Classic. 
  • Ohio State’s defense.  By the same token, we should at least raise an eyebrow that OSU gave up 61% shooting to Florida, a team prone to mediocre shooting who never came anywhere close to that mark last season (57% against Jacksonville).  The Buckeyes made up for it by convincingly winning the turnover margin (+10), but we’re going to want to see a much better performance on that end of the court before anointing OSU a title favorite.
  • Gonzaga & Elias Harris.  In three games, Harris is playing like a guy who spent all summer thinking about how good he was supposed to be.  He’s averaging a pedestrian 8/3, but Mark Few’s team needs him to at least double that.  Harris has NBA athleticism and tools to be dominant, but he looked overwhelmed by the big SDSU front line last evening, and the Zags will be nowhere without him.
  • LSU/Texas Tech/Wake Forest/DePaul.  All four major conference schools lost at home last night to a mid-major.  There’s a little more than meets the eye here if you look a little more closely.  Frankly, VCU is a better team than re-building Wake so that’s hardly an upset, and North Texas (an NCAA team last year) defeating Texas Tech shouldn’t really surprise that many people.  DePaul’s several years from becoming competitive again in the Big East, and LSU seems to be treading water these days. 

Tweet of the Day.  It was that kind of a night/day/night around the twittersphere, as Ryan Feldman’s reply suggested last night.

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Frosh Watch: Preseason Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC contributor.

Welcome to Frosh Watch! With college basketball becoming more and more an underclassman’s game it’s imperative that we keep tabs on just who is living up to his potential and who is struggling to adjust to the college game. Is Harrison Barnes really the answer to all of UNC’s problems? Does Kyrie Irving make Duke even better? Will Kentucky’s Enes Kanter ever get to play? What about Tony Mitchell over at Missouri? Those questions — and many more — will all be answered eventually. But that’s a job for another week. First we need to introduce you to some of the rookies we’re most excited about this year. What we’re going to do is look at some of the impact rookies in each of the six BCS conferences, and then give you four freshmen from the non-BCS conferences.  During the seasson we’ll re-visit some of the players on this list (and some not) as part of our weekly wrap.

DISCLAIMER: This is just a taste of the 2010-11 freshmen class — not a finite list. Don’t worry if one of your team’s top signees didn’t make the cut (i.e., Kanter and Mitchell), as he’ll have every opportunity to earn recognition down the road. Consider this first group a hoops aperitif. Just something that teases your college basketball appetite before games start and preseason hype takes a backseat to on-court reality.

ACC

  • Harrison Barnes, forward, North Carolina — Barnes became the first freshman to ever earn AP first team preseason All-America honors when he received 17 votes on Nov. 1. Expect the future lottery pick to lead UNC in points, ‘wow’ plays, and fan hearts won as the Tar Heels storm back into the national picture after a one-year hiatus.
  • Kyrie Irving, guard, Duke — Irving is the most heralded backcourt recruit to come to Durham since Jason Williams, and we all know how that turned out for Coach K. With Irving running the attack, the Blue Devils won’t miss Jon Scheyer.
  • C.J. Leslie, forward, NC State — If Sidney Lowe saves his job this year, it will be because Leslie lived up to the hype. Leslie’s ability to slash into the lane should make the Wolfpack a more well-rounded offensive team, in addition to freeing up space down low for big man Tracy Smith.

Big East

SU Fans Hope Melo Smiles Like This All Season Long (Post-Standard/D. Nett)

  • Fab Melo, center, Syracuse — Melo’s name should be enough to get him on this list (it really is fantastic), but the 7’0, 244-pound monster also is the preseason Big East Freshman of the Year. Paired with Rick Jackson, Melo gives the Orange one of the most tantalizing frontcourts in the nation.
  • Vander Blue, guard, Marquette — Blue somewhat flew under the radar during his high school career, but all that changed after his stint on Team USA this summer in the FIBA Americas U18 Championships. Blue scored 13 points to help USA win the gold medal, and now he’ll be expected to be an instant impact scorer for the Golden Eagles.
  • Roscoe Smith, forward, Connecticut — There are few things to be excited about if you’re a UConn fan. Smith is one of the bright spots in what was a miserable offseason for the Huskies. Smith hasn’t played a game yet, but coach Jim Calhoun already has declared him to be the second best power forward on the team.

Big Ten

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Southwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 1st, 2010

Welcome to our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Southwest Region (NM, AZ, NV, HI, SoCal)

  • Jio Fontan – Soph, G – USC. Last year, USC was the talk of the college basketball world for a stretch, when senior point guard Mike Gerrity, a transfer from Charlotte, took over the team in December and promptly led the Trojans to an upset blowout victory over then #8 Tennessee in his first game of the season. The Trojans went on to win their next five games, including the inaugural Diamond Head Classic, with Gerrity serving as a big spark. In 2010-11, head coach Kevin O’Neill and his team will welcome another Division I transfer to the active roster over the winter break, and they hope to sustain the bump in talent they’ll get when Fontan joins the team as a midseason transfer from Fordham. In fact, Fontan was in the midst of an on-campus visit last December 19 when Gerrity was leading the Trojans to their win over the Volunteers and he committed to the school just days later, perhaps seeing the blueprint for his own success in Gerrity’s. Luckily enough for O’Neill and the Trojans, Fontan will have more than just the one semester of eligibility that Gerrity had.  But while their paths to the USC roster may seem similar, their games are different. Fontan is more of a combo-guard, capable of running an offense, but more adept at creating for himself than being a pure distributor. Not that he isn’t capable of handing out assists – he averaged more than four assists per night during his one season plus five games at Fordham – but Fontan is at his best with the ball in his hands, able to both blow by defenders and hit from long range, scoring the ball to the tune of 15.3 points per game in his freshman season on his way to Atlantic 10 rookie of the year honors. Paired with established frontcourt returners Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson and a talented group of newcomers, including 5’7 point guard Maurice Jones who will handle the lead guard duties until Fontan is eligible, Fontan will be surrounded by far more talent than he ever was in his time at Fordham. And if things go as well as could be hoped for, Fontan will have a chance to reprise Gerrity’s Trojan debut, as Southern Cal will travel to Kansas (and then, three days later, they’ll play the return game in the Tennessee series) for Fontan’s first game, giving USC a chance to make another big mid-season splash on the national stage.
  • Tre’Von Willis* – Sr, G – UNLV. For a good part of last summer, Tre’Von Willis, the star shooting guard for the Runnin’ Rebels, may have thought that his collegiate career was over thanks to his June 29 arrest for felony battery involving an ugly incident with a woman in nearby Henderson, Nevada.  Willis ultimately copped to a plea agreement of a lesser charge of misdemeanor domestic battery, and in interviews since the incident he has shown considerable sincerity and self-awareness in suggesting that he placed himself in a bad situation.  After he serves a mandated three-game suspension meted by coach Lon Kruger, Willis will likely be back in action for UNLV’s second regular season game against Southeastern Louisiana.  And it’s a good thing that he will be, as the Rebel program has eyes on putting together its best season since the understated head coach rolled into town several years ago.  Considering that the Rebs have been to a Sweet Sixteen and won 30 games in a season under his tutelage (both in 2006-07), those are lofty goals.  But they are also realistic ones so long as some of the injury problems that Willis and several others have recently endured are controlled.  Willis in particular continues to experience knee pain as a result of arthroscopic surgery in August to repair cartilage, a recurring problem which caused the capable scorer to lose some of his lift at the end of last season and definitely impacted his effectiveness.  As an example, after scoring twenty or more points ten times through mid-February, Willis only hit the figure one more time during the last eight games of the year, a sure indication that he was not at 100%.  The hope is that his summer surgery,  a new outlook on opportunity as a result of his legal troubles, a sprinkling of maturity (he also had a daughter) and much-needed rest will encourage Willis to come back with an all-America caliber season.  He was chosen as a first-team all-MWC guard in 2009-10 when he contributed an all-around game of 17.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 3.5 APG while increasing his previously-sketchy shot selection to the point where he added nearly 10% (from 38% to 48%) on his field goal percentage.  If he can truly put everything from last summer behind him and remain healthy for an entire season, the new Aria Hotel may not be the only must-see on The Strip this winter.

Tre'Von Willis Has to Sit Three Games (LV Sun/S. Morris)

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level (part three)

Posted by rtmsf on October 5th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

To read the entire In Their Words series, click here.

Part Three: SCHEDULING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • Larry Williams, Athletic Director, Portland: Williams has been the AD at Portland for six years now following a five year stint as the head of licensing and product marketing at his alma mater Notre Dame. Williams was a two-time All-American offensive lineman with the Irish before starting 44 games in the NFL.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.
  • Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason – Caputo is entering his sixth season as an assistant coach for the Patriots after spending the previous three seasons as an administrative assistant and video coordinator under head coach Jim Larranaga.
  • Eric Reveno, Head Coach, Portland – Reveno heads into his fifth season at Portland having turned around a program from a team that was 18-45 in his first two seasons to a team on the rise with a 40-24 record over the last two seasons. Reveno spent his previous nine seasons as an assistant at Stanford, his alma mater where he was a Pac-10 Conference All-Academic Team selection as a senior.

Last time out, the topic was recruiting. This time around, we’ll take a look at how mid-major programs feel about putting together their non-conference schedules and the different strategies that are used in order to line up games. It’s a part of the sport that doesn’t get talked about a whole lot, but it can have a big impact on how the program is perceived, and in turn, can impact a program’s ability to recruit successfully. One theme emerges as pretty unanimous: this is not a part of the job that is a lot of fun.

Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider: It’s brutal.

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: It is tough. Recruiting is number one certainly, but scheduling is not an easy thing.

Larry Williams, Athletic Director, Portland: It really is, next to recruiting, the hardest thing we do in trying to run a basketball program.

It's Not Easy to Get Teams to Visit Places Like the Chiles Center (Portland)

While just about everyone at the mid-major level agrees that the scheduling process ranges from unpleasant to demoralizing, each program is able to develop their own strategies for filling in a schedule.

Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State: Different programs have different philosophies. You have home-and-home series where a school will come to your place one year and you agree to go to their school the following year. There are guarantee games where the larger school will pay you to go play them or you can pay a smaller school to come play you. And there are tournaments. There are different ways to do it.

To begin with, a school has to decide what it wants from its non-conference slate, and what it can reasonably get. Non-conference schedules are generally filled in with a combination of home-and-home agreements (where each school in the game will agree to play one game against the opposing team on their own home floor and the opponent’s home floor), guarantee games (where one team, usually a bigger school, will pay another team to come to their arena for a game), early season tournaments and other neutral-site events. At Long Beach State, they have shown over the past couple of years that they aren’t afraid to take on a scary-looking schedule. Last season they played the toughest non-conference schedule in the country, with games at Notre Dame, Texas, Kentucky and Duke and neutral site contests against Clemson, West Virginia and UCLA. It doesn’t get any easier for the 49ers this season, with road trips to Washington, Utah State, North Carolina and Arizona State combined with neutral site games against St. Mary’s and Clemson (with two others to be determined by the results of an early-season tournament), and a home game against San Diego State.

Brown: We try to play some home-and-home series with teams in our region and then Coach (Dan) Monson’s philosophy is, given that the way our conference is set up and that every year only one team from our conference is going to the NCAA Tournament, his philosophy is to go play bigger schools so that when we get into our conference or into the NCAA Tournament, we’re not shell-shocked. We’ll play three guarantee games against three bigger schools, three BCS conference schools, where they’ll pay us to go play them. We also like to get into a tournament because they can guarantee three games where they only count as one game against your schedule. Like for instance last year, we were at the 76 Classic in Anaheim and this year we’re going to the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands.

Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason: As far as Coach (Jim) Larranaga’s philosophy, he looks for balance in the schedule. You’ve got to play a certain amount of home games, a certain amount of road games and some sort of preseason event that is on a neutral site. I think that’s the key thing for us.

Balance in the schedule is the ideal for most mid-majors, mixing a handful of tough games with games against teams that they should beat, and finding a relatively equal number of road games for every home game on the schedule. But it is hard to achieve balance in a schedule when it is very difficult to get high-major and BCS-conference schools to come to your place, especially when you’ve had some previous years of success.

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What Should the NCAA Do With Its Four Little PiGs?

Posted by rtmsf on May 4th, 2010

This has been discussed repeatedly since the late April announcement that the NCAA Tournament would be moving to a 68-team design beginning in 2011, but we’ve yet to come across a piece that outlines all of the iterations that the new four-PiG format might take.  Hashing it out on the phone with The Kiff (a longstanding member of the Cult of 64) last weekend, we ultimately settled on two major bones of contention — who gets to play in the four play-in games, and how do you structure it so as to maximize interest, revenue and bracketing?  We’ll discuss each of these questions in turn, but first, it’s interesting to read a quote from one prominent member of the NCAA Selection Committee for insights as to what may or may not be on the table here.  Laing Kennedy, the Kent State athletic director who will finish up a five-year term as a member of the NCAA Selection Committee, has this to say about it:

Going from 65 to 68 means four first-round games. Our committee, when we meet in May, will look at some models on how to bracket that. For example, you can have two afternoon and two night games in Dayton, or two games at two different sites.  But the big question to be decided by the committee is which teams should play those play-in games, and how the winners will be seeded into the field.  Speaking individually, I would look at the last eight, and rewarding the AQs [automatic qualifiers].  Those would be highly competitive first games. But those are things we have to look at in May.

Additionally, Greg Shaheen, the NCAA Senior Executive VP who got lit up by the media in the week leading up to the Final Four, said during a radio interview with Doug Gottlieb recently that all options are on the table with respect to logistics but one of the primary considerations of the committee in structuring the new games will be to remove some of the stigma from them.  A noble endeavor, indeed.

How to Avoid the Dreaded Stigma?

With the hope that reasonable minds ultimately will prevail, here are our thoughts on the matter.

Who Plays In It?

This is the part most fans care about, and with good reason — they want to know whether as standard practice they can continue to ignore PiG Tuesday.  As it currently stands, roughly 99.9% of America* fails to so much as recognize that there is a Tuesday night game ostensibly involving NCAA Tournament opponents.  Only the truly anal among us wait until Wednesday to fill out our bracket on the ridiculous off chance that the winner of the PiG is the “right” matchup to give its corresponding #1 team trouble (and you know who you are).  So let’s cut right to it.  For the last ten seasons, there have been only four groups of people who care about this game.

* unscientific sampling of the three guys walking around the office hallway

  1. #16A’s fans, players and families.
  2. #16B’s fans, players and families.
  3. Overly nervous fans of the corresponding #1 seed waiting on an opponent for Friday’s #1/#16 game.
  4. The good citizens of Dayton, Ohio, who keep attending this thing year after year.

Just about six weeks ago, we saw this played out in real time as the “Opening Round” of the NCAA Tournament between Arkansas-Pine Bluff-Winthrop competed directly with the first round of the NIT and several interesting matchups that included UConn-Northeastern, UNC-William & Mary, Texas Tech-Seton Hall and NC State-South Florida.  From that night’s ESPN coverage to the trending Twitter topics and later to the Nielsen ratings, it was painfully clear that on this mid-March evening, the NIT games were the preferred matchups for college hoops fans.  As anyone working at 700 West Washington Street in Indianapolis is surely aware, that should NEVER happen.  Even on its worst night, for an NCAA Tournament game to be overshadowed by another basketball-related sporting event in March should be an impossible achievement, and yet on that particular evening it was not.

This NIT Contest, Not the NCAA Game, Was the Featured Event of the Night

And therein lies the problem.  Most people, even hardcore college hoops fans like us, don’t consider the Tuesday night PiG to be a legitimate part of the NCAA Tournament.  It involves the two worst-rated teams in the field, which means nobody knows anything about them; and it has zero impact on our brackets, which means there’s no corresponding reason to care to learn about them either.  So the question for the NCAA becomes: how do you legitimize it?  How do you remove that stigma that Shaheen mentioned as problematic?  How do you make people care about the (now) four play-in games on Tuesday so that random NIT games involving struggling national powers don’t take priority over NCAA games on the sports page?  Here are the two viable alternatives as we see them.

Status Quo (x4)

Keeping things as they are now where the #16s play the ‘other’ #16s (or possibly #17s in the new scheme) wouldn’t seem to do much to enhance the legitimacy of the PiGs, but there is precedent for this.  From 1978 to 1985, the NCAA Tournament doubled in size from 32 to 64 teams (can you imagine the outcry in today’s environment??).  There were several fits and starts along the way as it expanded a little more almost every year in-between, but suffice it to say that in 1983, the NCAA invited 52 teams to the ball with the final eight automatic qualifiers slotted as #12 seeds into four play-in games (or the “preliminary round” as they called it then).  In 1984, there were five play-in games with an additional #11 seed added to the mix.  In both of these years, all of the play-in games were played on the Tuesday prior to the first round games, and the teams were sent to PiG sites of Philadelphia’s Palestra or Dayton’s UD Arena depending on relative proximity to the school(s) involved.  The winners advanced to play #5 seeds in the true “first round,” with the one exception of the #11 seed (Northeastern) in 1984 who played a #6 seed in that round.

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ATB: Play-In Game and NIT Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Welcome to the Real Dance, BluffersArkansas-Pine Bluff 61, Winthrop 44.  Well, we’re off to a great start so far this year.  With tonight’s convincing win over Winthrop, UAPB becomes the 64th entrant into the bracket, and those who fret about completeness (“I can’t make my picks yet!!”) are able to finally concentrate.  For a team that started the season 0-11 as it traveled all over the country taking regular beatings, a win tonight and another roadie to Jacksonville to face Duke on Friday feels like just desserts.  Allen Smith had 14/5 and Tavaris Washington contributed 8/13/5 assts as the Golden Lions broke open a close game at the half to slowly pull away in the second.  Even though it is only the PiG, this is the first win by a SWAC team in the NCAA Tournament since Southern University pulled the trick as a #15 in 1993.

Allen Smith Moves On to Play Duke (DDN/L. Powell)

Argument for the Play-In-Game.  In watching some of this game tonight in front of 8,000+ fans at the UD Arena in Dayton, while switching over to some of the more interesting NIT games tonight, we once again come back to the idea of expansion and how the NCAA might look into integrating ideas into the existing system using something that approximates logic and reason.  Obviously, the preferred scenario is no additional expansion, but it’s also the least likely.  We’re never going back to a perfectly symmetrical sixty-four team bracket now that we’re at 65, so let’s consider the next best alternative.  The Tuesday night PiG is widely mocked among bracketeers around the country, but as you can see by clicking through the link above, people in Dayton attend and enjoy the game.  We’ve said for the better part of a decade, though, that having a single game hanging out on a thread like that is weird and feels a little funny — it’s like finding a box of raisins in the paper towels section at the grocery store.  We think that the fix for this is to have four play-in games, which means 68 teams would be invited to the NCAA Tournament.  Each region would have one PiG, and all four of them would be played in the 7pm and 9pm time slots on Tuesday night, with winners moving on to the Friday games around the country.  Dayton could host two games and another great basketball city such as Salt Lake or Memphis could host the other two.  Here’s the rub, though.  Rather than making the four PiGs a situation where the worst eight teams (#16 seeds) are slotted into them, make it so that the games utilize the unyielding buzz and conversation about the bubble that dominates the entire previous weekend.  You achieve this by slotting the last eight at-large teams into these four play-in games.  This year, that would have meant the following scenario:

  • Utah State vs. Mississippi State
  • UTEP vs. Illinois
  • Minnesota vs. Arizona State
  • Florida vs. Virginia Tech

How ridiculously fun would that be to watch on Tuesday night?– no offense to tonight’s competitors, but it’s no contest!  Bubble teams, this is the chance for you to make your case against a similarly situated team — it’s win or go home.  The UAPBs and Winthrops of the world would already be in the round of 64 (aka the first round) as #16 seed auto-bids.  The winner of these four PiGs comprised solely of the eight lowest at-larges could be slotted as #12 or #13 seeds regardless of who wins.  Can someone tell us what’s wrong with this idea?

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Pac-10 Tourney Daily Diary – Quarterfinals

Posted by rtmsf on March 12th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. One of our RTC correspondents is at the Pac-10 Tournament.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, he will post a nightly diary with his thoughts on each day’s action. Here is his submission for the quarterfinal games.

UCLA 75, Arizona 69

  • I know that this is a horrific year for the Pac-10, but in terms of the historic caliber of these two programs and the fact that one of them is literally 10.1 miles away from this gym, it’s more than a little disappointing that the lower bowl of the Staples Center wasn’t even filled at tipoff.  Seriously, any of the top eight teams has a shot at winning this event, and with it, the auto-bid.  Bruins and Cats fans need to step up a little more.
  • I’ve seen UCLA play live a handful of times this season, and I continue to be amazed at how unathletic this team is.  How did that happen so quickly to a team that could boast top-drawer athleticism in the form of Arron Afflalo, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, etc.?
  • Cool shirt of the day in the Arizona section…  “The Streak Matters…” referencing UA’s 25-year streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances that is in dire jeopardy short of a Pac-10 championship this weekend.  The guys say that they meet up from all over the country every year to watch the Pac-10 Tournament and have a blast together.  The shirts are to make sure that head coach Sean Miller understands that it’s not a ‘new day’ just because he’s in Tucson now — apparently Miller had made some quotes near the start of the season that they found dismissive of their illustrious history.  Interesting take from the Arizona fans there.

Arizona Fans Will Need to Start a New Streak

  • I continue to have a decent-sized mancrush on freshman forward Derrick Williams for Arizona.  16/7 per game on 59% shooting; he’s rarely out of position, takes care of the ball, draws fouls like a mofo, and has tremendous hands.  He could be one of their all-timers if he sticks around for 3-4 years.
  • Nic Wise tweeted after the Arizona loss today…  in a word: disappointment.  That about sums it up for a senior losing in a tournament setting.

California 90, Oregon 74

  • Jerome Randle is a really fun player to watch play this game.  His bomb from 25 feet followed by a steal and a nifty reverse layup off the ball-around-the-back move was spectacular and happened directly in front of me.  I’ve seen a lot of really good guards play this year, but few have the ability to regularly catch fire from all over the court like he does.  Nice kid, too.
  • It’s the Randle show in the first half here at the Staples Center. with 6:30 left, he already has 20 points, which puts him on a pace for a 70-pt afternoon.  I don’t think I’ve seen a single shot of his touch the rim yet today.  Backcourt mate Patrick Christopher has at least hit rim a little bit, but he’s also blowing up to a certain extent — 14 in the first half on 4-5 threes.  When these two guys are on their game from outside, few teams in America can score with them.  The problem is that good defenses can neutralize one or both of them for parts of the game.  When that happens, the Bears are in trouble.
  • The question I’ve had all year when watching Cal play is how far can a team that relies so abundantly on four perimeter-style players go into the postseason?  It can be done, but it’s not easy.  Villanova has proven that a four-guard set can work pretty well so long as your guards are willing to be tough inside and not give up anything easy.  But what about Cal?  I don’t find their perimeter attack nearly as strong as those Nova teams, nor do they defend anywhere near as well.  Still, it’ll depend on the matchup, but I don’t think they can win more than one NCAA Tournament game, if that.  They would need to play a team that mirrors themselves in terms of perimeter play; otherwise I think they’re likely one-and-done.

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Pac-10 Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference.

Final Standings

  1. California    (13-5, 21-9)
  2. Arizona State    (12-6, 22-9)
  3. Washington    (11-7, 21-9)
  4. Arizona     (10-8, 16-14)
  5. USC     (8-10, 16-14)
  6. Oregon State     (8-10, 14-16)
  7. UCLA     (8-10, 13-17)
  8. Stanford    (7-11, 13-17)
  9. Oregon      ( 7-11,  15-15)
  10. Washington State     (6-12, 16-14)

Conference Awards

  • Player of the Year: Quincy Pondexter, Sr, Washington. Pondexter won the Pac-10 Player of the Week award a record five times this season while averaging 20 points and eight rebounds a game (second and third in the conference, respectively) for the third place Huskies.
  • Coach of the Year: Herb Sendek, Arizona State. After losing two starters from last year’s team to the NBA, the Sun Devils were expected to take a big step back in the conference. Instead, Sendek kept his team in the race for the regular season title until the last weekend and put his squad in position to possibly earn an NCAA tournament bid.
  • Freshman of the Year: Derrick Williams, Arizona. The freshman from La Mirada High School in Southern California averaged 15.7 point and seven rebounds per game for the Wildcats and connected on 58.8% of his field goal attempts to help coach Sean Miller post a winning record in his first year in Tucson.
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Seth Tarver, Oregon State. Tarver led the Pac-10 with 2.3 steals per game and led his Beaver squad in rebounding, all while manning the point in coach Craig Robinson’s zone defense.

All Pac-10 First Team

  • G Jerome Randle, Sr, California
  • G Nic Wise, Sr, Arizona
  • F Quincy Pondexter, Sr, Washington
  • F Landry Fields, Sr, Stanford
  • F Derrick Williams, Fr, Arizona

All Pac-10 Second Team

  • G Isaiah Thomas, So, Washington
  • G Patrick Christopher, Sr, California
  • G Ty Abbott, Jr, Arizona State
  • G Klay Thompson, So, Washington State
  • F Nikola Vucevic, So, USC

All Pac-10 Freshman Team

  • G Reggie Moore, Washington State
  • G Trent Lockett, Arizona State
  • F Derrick Williams, Arizona
  • F Tyler Honeycutt, UCLA
  • F Reeves Nelson, UCLA

Pac-10 Tournament Preview

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