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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Morning Five: 03.09.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 9th, 2010

  1. The rush of conference awards are rolling in…  here are some conference POYs that were announced on Monday: James Anderson, Oklahoma State (Big 12); Jerome Randle, California (Pac-10); Evan Turner, Ohio State (Big 10); Darington Hobson, New Mexico (Mtn West); Kevin Anderson, Richmond (A10).  As for conference COY: Matt Painter, Purdue (Big Ten); Steve Alford, New Mexico (Mtn West); Herb Sendek, Arizona State (Pac-10), Frank Martin, Kansas State (Big 12), Fran Dunphy, Temple (A10).  The ACC, Big East and SEC are expected to announce their choices on Tuesday.
  2. At the national level, The Sporting News has selected Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim as its national COY, and has listed their all-americans.  Their first team has five guards on it — John Wall, Kentucky (also FrOY); Greivis Vasquez, Maryland; Evan Turner, Ohio State; Scottie Reynolds, Villanova; James Anderson, Oklahoma State.  Of course, we think that’s cheating, and RTC will have its position-specific AA team later this week.  Watch for it.
  3. Next year’s Coaches vs. Cancer Classic will feature Pittsburgh, Maryland, Texas and Illinois as the four regional hosts who are slotted into the semifinals at Madison Square Garden the week before Thanksgiving.  This could be a very interesting and talented field if the majority of underclassmen on these teams decide to stick around, as they should.  Maryland and Texas lose some key pieces in Vasquez, Milbourne, James and Pittman, respectively, but there are a bunch of really good underclassmen on all of these teams.
  4. Talk about really early entry.  Seattle University’s Charles Garcia is wasting absolutely no time in declaring his intention to go pro this spring.  Seattle is an Independent, so their season is now over unless the Redhawks are invited to one of the lower postseason tournaments such as the CBI or CIT.  What is most notable about Garcia aside from his 19/8 scoring/rebounding average is his ability to draw fouls from the defense.  Garcia picks up an astonishing 10.6 fouls per game on his defenders, which as you may imagine, puts the 6’9 forward at the line nearly ten times per game.
  5. As always, here’s some great analytical work from Vegas Watch, who takes an alternative (and much more defensible) approach to seeding the field of 65.  Keep fighting the good fight, VW, with logic, reason and most importantly, data.
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ATB: Ashton Gibbs Had It All Along…

Posted by rtmsf on March 5th, 2010

Close Calls.  In two closer-than-expected games, #12 Michigan State and #18 Pittsburgh held on to their positions in the Big Ten and Big East, respectively, with quite a bit still on the line.  For MSU, it’s a shot at a shared Big Ten regular season title; for Pitt, it was a double-bye in the Big East Tournament next week.

  • #18 Pittsburgh 73, Providence 71.  In a closely contested game throughout, it was Ashton Gibbs who saved Pittsburgh from what would have been their worst loss of the season at full strength (the IU loss in December was without several players).  With 3.5 seconds remaining, Gibbs (25/4/3 assts) received the ball at the right hash mark on the opposite end of his basket, took two dribbles before stopping and pulling up from about 28 feet to drain a game-winning three at the horn.  The bucket moved the Panthers to 12-5 in the Big East, and with a win over Rutgers this weekend in combination with a Villanova loss to WVU, the preseason-unranked kids from the Steel City would be the #2 seed in next week’s Big East Tournament.  Simply amazing considering the talent in that league this year.

Ashton Gibbs: "I Got This." (PPG/M. Freed)

  • #12 Michigan State 67, Penn State 65.  We’re really not going to fall into this trap that Tom Izzo likes to set for us seemingly every year.  His teams always win a bunch of games, but many of those wins seem to come by a mere point or two, and they also lose a few more than you might expect.  Then the Spartans get into the NCAA Tournament and the very same players who were somewhat underwhelming during the regular season put it all together for another run to the Final Four.  So we’ll reserve judgment on this year’s MSU team until we see what happens later this month.  Tonight Penn State had the ball with five seconds remaining but they were unable to get a shot off to win or tie the game.  With the win, MSU moves to 13-4 in the Big Ten and the Spartans will host rival Michigan this weekend to try to tie Ohio State (and possibly Purdue) for the top record in the league.

Should Washington Join the Bubble Conversation Along With Ole Miss, Dayton and Arizona State?

  • Washington 86, Oregon 72.  With an RPI of #53, twenty wins, and a better strength of schedule than its bubble peers Mississippi State and Virginia Tech, shouldn’t the Huskies at least be in the conversation?  They’ve beaten Texas A&M, Portland and Cal, which is a resume of quality Ws at least as good as Mississippi State (best win: Old Dominion), Dayton (best win: Xavier) and Virginia Tech (best win: Clemson).  We’re well aware how down the Pac-10 has been this year, but just because everyone has already seemed to decide that it’s a one-bid league shouldn’t make it necessarily so.  The resumes need to speak for themselves, and we’re having trouble understanding the difference between the above teams.  Quincy Pondexter had 34/10/6 assts in tonight’s win.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2010

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

Standings

  1. California    (12-5, 20-9)
  2. Arizona State     (10-6, 20-9)
  3. Washington     (9-7, 19-9)
  4. USC     (8-8, 16-12)
  5. Arizona      (8-8, 14-14)
  6. UCLA     (8-8, 13-15)
  7. Oregon State    (7-9, 13-15)
  8. Stanford    (7-10, 13-16)
  9. Washington State    (6-10, 16-12)
  10. Oregon     (6-10, 14-14)

It may not have been the type of season that Cal head coach Mike Montgomery envisioned at the start of the year when his Golden Bears and their five returning starters were ranked in the top 15, but as the calendar page gets flipped to the only month that really matters in college basketball, his team has just finished clinching at least a part of the Pac-10 regular season title and the top seed in next week’s Pac-10 Tournament. What could be very interesting for the Bears, however, is a scenario that Montgomery has no interest in seeing happen: the Bears failing to win the Pac-10 Tournament and its automatic bid, leaving Cal — a team with an RPI in the 20s but no wins against top-50 RPI teams -– squarely on the bubble for NCAA at-large consideration.

Team Rundowns

  • California – The Bears wrapped up their portion of the Pac-10 title by sweeping the Arizona schools behind strong play from their seniors. Over the course of the weekend, the five Bear seniors (Jamal Boykin, Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson and Nikola Knezevic) combined for 129 of the 157 Cal points. Boykin led the way and took home Pac-10 player-of-the-week honors behind averages of 17 points and 8.5 rebounds. Cal still needs either a win at Stanford or a loss by Arizona State in one of their games against the Southern California schools to wrap up sole possession of the regular season crown.
  • Arizona State – The Sun Devils hung around for a half at Haas Pavilion on Saturday, but ice-cold second half shooting (just 7-26 from the field) and a complete inability to hit from range throughout the game (only 3-22 from behind the arc) doomed ASU. Only senior Jerren Shipp was able to get off against the Bears, hitting six of his nine shots (including two threes) for 14 points. Senior center Eric Boateng tied a Pac-10 record by hitting all 11 of his field goal attempts (on his way to 24 points) in their win over Stanford on Thursday. The Devils still have the inside track on the number two seed in the Pac-10 tournament, with a one-game lead over Washington.
  • Washington – The Huskies completed a season-sweep over intrastate rival Washington State on Saturday by getting out to a big first half lead (they led 35-21 at the half) and then fighting off a charging Cougar squad for a seven-point win. Sophomore point guard Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 22 points and junior forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning continued his recent tear by adding 17 points and 12 rebounds. Bryan-Amaning has now averaged 13/7 over the past six weeks. Washington will head to the Oregon schools to wrap up their regular season, needing to win both games and get some help out of the Southern California schools in order to take over second place.
  • USC – Coming into the week, the Trojans still had an outside shot at winning the regular season Pac-10 title. Those hopes died Thursday night when they scored 12 points in the second half (6/25 FGs, 0/13 3s in the second half) against Oregon. The Trojans followed that up with a similar performance against Oregon State on Saturday, shooting just 25% from the field in the second half (and 29% for the game). Coach Kevin O’Neill will lose senior starters Mike Gerrity, Dwight Lewis and Marcus Johnson off a team that has leaned heavily on its starting five, assuring that things will look different around the Galen Center next season.
  • Arizona – The Wildcats split their trip to the Bay Area this weekend, stealing a game from Stanford on Saturday on a 15-foot bank at the buzzer by freshman guard Lamont “Momo” Jones. Jones had a career high 16 points for the ‘Cats and fellow freshman Derrick Williams added 24 points to push Sean Miller’s club into a three-way tie in the middle of the conference. While senior point guard Nic Wise will be wrapping up his college career this weekend, the Wildcats boast a young team (five freshmen get playing time) that will likely be considered one of the early favorites in the Pac-10 next season.
  • UCLA – Senior day summed up the UCLA season pretty well. Before the game started, senior forward Nikola Dragovic, a couple of days after having his shoulder pop out against Oregon State, tripped over a basketball during warm-ups and sprained his ankle. And then, after battling back from a 10-point halftime deficit to tie the game late, sophomore point guard Jerime Anderson had two bad turnovers in the last minute and the Bruins sank back to .500 in the conference. Senior Michael Roll did go out in style, knocking down six three-pointers on his way to 25 points in his last regular season appearance in Pauley Pavilion.
  • Oregon State – The Beavers shot just 4-31 from 3-pt range this week, hit only 37% from the field, turned the ball over 30 times, and still got a split in Southern California when they forced 20 USC turnovers and held the Trojans to 29% shooting on Saturday. Senior guard Seth Tarver led the Beavs with 15 points in a game that was ugly enough to deserve special mention in a season of ugliness in the Pac-10. Oregon State still has a chance to finish the Pac-10 season at .500 with wins over the Arizona schools in the final weekend of the season.
  • Stanford – Despite senior Landry Fields’ strong last weekend in Maples Pavilion, the Cardinal dropped both games this week and are destined for a lower-division Pac-10 finish. Fields averaged 21.5 points and seven rebounds this week, but against the Sun Devils on Thursday he received very little help. Sophomore guards Jeremy Green and Jarrett Mann combined to score just six points on 2-15 shooting (and, to be fair to Mann, he only accounted for one of those field goal attempts – a miss). They both bounced back against Arizona on Saturday, going for 19 and 13 respectively, but the Cardinal lost a heart-breaker on a shot at the buzzer.
  • Washington State – The Cougars stumbled out of the gate on Saturday and by halftime were down 14 on Senior Night in Beasley Coliseum. But sophomore forward DeAngelo Casto led the Cougars on a second half run to get back in the game and even take their first lead of the game in the middle of the second half. However, the Cougars were unable to contain the Huskies’ Thomas late and the Cougs faded down the stretch. Casto wound up with 19/6, but the Cougs’ leading scorer, sophomore Klay Thompson, struggled all day, missing 12 of his 14 field goal attempts and turning the ball over five times. The Cougars will close the season with a road trip to Oregon.
  • Oregon – The Ducks went on the road to Southern California and swept UCLA and USC, breaking a five-game losing streak in a big way, and now have put themselves in position to climb out of the cellar with a strong closing weekend of the season, as the Ducks host the Washington schools while saying goodbye to senior Tajuan Porter as well as MacArthur Court. Porter averaged 22.5 ppg in the LA sweep and threw in seven threes in the win over the Bruins, leaving him just eight threes behind former Arizona star Salim Stoudamire for the all-time Pac-10 mark.
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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on February 24th, 2010

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

Standings

  1. California    10-5       18-9
  2. Arizona State     9-5          19-8
  3. USC     8-6          16-10
  4. Washington     8-7          18-9
  5. Arizona      7-7          13-13
  6. UCLA      7-7          12-14
  7. Stanford      7-8          13-14
  8. Oregon State      6-8          12-14
  9. Washington State     6-9          16-11
  10. Oregon       4-10       12-14

We haven’t had a Pac-10 update ‘round these parts since the conference season began, but it is no secret that the one-word summation of the Pac-10 season to this point is “ugly.”  The only team with anything at all to say about potentially receiving an at-large bid is California, and it is increasingly likely that if Cal fails to win the Pac-10 tournament, they’ll be looking at an NIT bid. For the first time in as far back as I care to research, the only Pac-10 team that will be heading to the NCAA tournament is the team that wins the automatic bid as the Pac-10 tournament champion.

A quick rundown of the teams:

California – The Bears currently top the conference, and of all Pac-10 teams have the best chance at an at-large bid given their RPI in the low 20s and the fourth toughest schedule in the country, but every time it looks like this team is going to  reel off a string of victories, they drop a game like they did Thursday when eighth place Oregon State handled them easily in Corvalis, 80-64. The numbers look good for the senior quartet of Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin (60.2 ppg between the four, with all averaging double-figures on the season), but each has been inconsistent this season, such as when Randle went just 2-9 from the field, 0-5 from behind the arc and had four turnovers in the OSU game.

Arizona StateHerb Sendek’s squad sits just a half-game back of the Bears in the conference standings, a bit of business that will get sorted out on Saturday when they head to Haas Pavilion, but although they have a top-50 win (something Cal cannot boast) over San Diego State, there just isn’t enough there on the ASU resume to really warrant serious at-large consideration. The Sun Devils have gotten as far as they have on the strength of their guard play; senior point Derek Glasser leads the conference in assists, and he and junior point Jamelle McMillan are one-two in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio.

USC – The Trojans are a team that would be a very tough out in the Pac-10 tournament – that is if the Trojans were going to play in the Pac-10 tournament. In an attempt to throw the NCAA hounds off the trail a bit and to make some sort of restitution for the O.J. Mayo, Reggie Bush and how many other incidents, the USC athletic department decided to self-punish the basketball program, stripping them of their chance to play in the postseason this year. Head coach Kevin O’Neill has done a pretty strong job of keeping his kids together and when the Trojans have come out focused they have been very strong this year (they’ve split with Cal, taken their one matchup with ASU, and swept Washington and UCLA), but playing out the string has got to be hard for these kids and as a result, they’ve lost games to Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State, that they might not have lost had a possible NCAA tourney bid been waiting at the end.

Washington – In a season of conference-wide disappointment, the Huskies have got to take home the title of most disappointing Pac-10 team. At the start of the year, Washington was considered something of a co-favorite to win the conference, and seemed to be a team that could make some noise in March. But between then and now, the Huskies have struggled to gain any consistency. They did pull together a four-game win streak in late January/early February, then laid an egg in their big matchup at Cal. Senior forward Quincy Pondexter has likely been the player-of-the-year in the conference (20.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg), but highly-anticipated freshman guard Abdul Gaddy has yet to catch on, and the team has struggled mightily on the road, notching just a 1-6 record so far.

Arizona – At some point in April, right after Sean Miller had accepted the Arizona job, his roster consisted of little more than senior point Nic Wise, junior wing Jamelle Horne, a couple other returning pieces and a boatload of question marks. Miller took advantage of the meltdown at USC and grabbed some of their fleeing castoffs and wound up patching together a pretty strong recruiting class, and actually had this Wildcat team tied for the conference lead not too long ago. Freshman forward Derrick Williams has been the best of the new Cats (15.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and while there are growing pains in the future, especially with Wise getting fitted for cap and gown, folks around Tucson are pretty confident that Miller will be able to get this program back to the heights they are used to.

UCLA – The incongruous facts that the Bruins are 7-7 in conference and two games under .500 on the season and that Ben Howland has done a pretty strong job getting his team that far is a good indication of how bad this Bruin team is. As sophomore Jerime Anderson’s inability to handle the point guard position became apparent, Howland slid another sophomore, Malcolm Lee, over from the two to play out of position. While Lee is still not particularly well suited to the one, he is a definite improvement there. Likewise, as this group as a whole showed that they were incapable of playing the type of man defense that Howland demands, he switched over to run some zone. Still not a great defensive team, but an improvement. Those types of things sum up this season for UCLA. While you still can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear, Howland has at least managed to scrape this Bruin squad together to the point where they aren’t consistently getting embarrassed.

Stanford – Senior swingman Landry Fields and sophomore guard Jeremy Green have turned into quite a duo up on the farm. They are the highest scoring duo in the Pac-10 (nearly 40 points a game), and Fields is a serious conference Player of the Year candidate. Sophomore Jarrett Mann has also turned into a nice point guard, and between he and Green, head coach Johnny Dawkins doesn’t have a whole lot of question marks in the backcourt for next season. The problem for the Cardinal has been the interior game. They are one of the worst rebounding teams (and that despite Fields’ second-best in the Pac-10 8.7 rpg) and are the worst shotblocking team in the Pac-10, with only 45 blocks on the season. Dawkins does have some help coming, however, with four forwards already signed in next year’s recruiting class.

Oregon State – In Craig Robinson’s first season, the Beavers took a major step forward. Certainly another seven-win improvement this season would have been more than anyone could have hoped for, but given the return of much of their roster and the decrease in the overall talent level in the Pac-10, expectations had to be higher than a mere repeat of last season for the Beavers. And yet, that’s where they’re at now. At this point in 2008-09, the Beavers were 12-13 and 6-8 in the conference. The only difference this year is one additional non-conference loss. Junior guard Calvin Haynes is the OSU leading scorer with 13.2 ppg this year; last year he averaged 13.0. Senior center Roeland Schaftenaar’s point totals have dropped slightly, while senior swingman Seth Tarver’s are up slightly. In all, it is looking like a huge uptick from Robinson season one to season two followed by a season worth of reruns.

Washington State – Not a lot of fun being a Washington-state sports fan these days. The Sonics are something called a Thunder these days and they play in tornado country somewhere, the Seahawks are at the bottom of the barrel, college football is just about non-existent and their college basketball programs, which were at one point a combined 20-3 this season, have now combined to go 14-17 since then. For the Cougs, sophomore wing Klay Thompson’s production has taken a bit of a dive in conference play (he just scored 10 combined points in a homestand against the Southern California schools), although he is still averaging almost 21 ppg this season. But with freshman point Reggie Moore and sophomore bruiser DeAngelo Casto to pair up with Thompson, head coach Ken Bone has a young nucleus around which to build.

Oregon – There are two more Pac-10 conference games that will be played at McArthur Court. While some of Oregon’s early-season non-conference games will be played there next season, the Ducks homestand against the Washington schools the final week of the Pac-10 season will close the books on the meaningful games played in that phenomenal building. Some sparkling, brand new beauty of an abomination will “replace” it, but the best atmosphere in the Pac-10 is going away. That’s what I’ll remember from this Duck season. Beyond that, head coach Ernie Kent totters toward a termination, the roster is full of guys with talent who aren’t able to string it together for more than a weekend or two, and Tajuan Porter just missed another wild three. But none of it matters. They’re closing Mac Court.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on December 31st, 2009

Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference.

Boy, that was a rough non-conference season, huh? Everybody and their mom jumped on the Pac-10 for underachieving, and there is certainly some merit to that. The teams that were expected to compete for Top 10 spots sometimes looked like they shouldn’t be ranked at all. As a whole, the conference won very few quality games and for the most part waltzed through laughably easy opponents. Then, of course, there were the downright embarrassing losses that began to pile up one after another.

But don’t think for a second that there aren’t dangerous teams in the Pac-10 Conference. We expected California and Washington to be good, but the past few weeks have seen the impressive rise of Arizona State and USC, who now look like at-large bid candidates. And for as dreadful as we all made UCLA out to be, their losses came against good teams and the Bruins are still hovering around .500. In fact, they’re the only sub-.500 team in the Pac-10, so how bad could the conference really be?

Things will get sorted out as conference play begins tonight, and as the weeks go on the cream will likely rise to the top. Let’s catch up on how everyone has been doing, and analyze their chances at winning the league as we get started with play within the ‘family.’

Player of the Week: Quincy Pondexter, Washington – The 6’6 forward scored 47 points in two wins this week to get the #16 Huskies on track heading into Pac-10 play, and is looking like one of the clear frontrunners for conference Player of the Year. Without a third scoring option to complement he and Isaiah Thomas, Washington will need everything Pondexter’s got if they’re going to win the conference.

Power Rankings

#16 Washington (9-2): You have to wonder about the Huskies heading into their conference opener tonight. They’ve played just two games away from home, their two biggest wins are against Wright State and Texas A&M and they still haven’t found a suitable offensive weapon save Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas. They’re talented enough to win the league, sure, but without really challenging themselves in the non-conference it’s tough to know exactly what Washington is all about.

Arizona State (10-3): Similarly, the Sun Devils have played away from home just three times and dropped two of those games. Those losses to Duke and BYU came against good squads, but otherwise their schedule has been soft as cotton candy. They’re riding a three-game winning streak that began with a big win over hot San Diego State, but that is literally Arizona State’s only win of substance. WARNING: leading scorer Derek Glasser has gone cold in the past month after a very hot start.

California (8-4): The Golden Bears have rallied after a surprisingly rough start to win four out of their last five games; the one loss coming in a valiant effort against #1 Kansas and the four wins each coming by 19 points or more. With the return of 6’6 forward Theo Robertson – Cal was 3-3 during his absense – there’s another wing threat to keep defenders honest and give stars Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle a chance to do what they do. Heading into the conference schedule tonight, Cal still has a great chance at winning the Pac-10.

Washington State (10-2): It looked like the Cougars were a fluke thanks to an easy schedule, but they just kept on winning so you’ve got to give them credit for winning the games they should. Still – and this is a definite theme for the Pac-10 so far – they literally have no quality wins unless you count last Tuesday’s overtime victory over a struggling LSU (I don’t).

USC (8-4): Without a doubt, the Trojans are the most dangerous team in the entire conference right now. It looked like USC was off to a terrible season with a 2-4 start, but they’re now riding a six-game winning streak that includes three quality, double-digit wins over Tennessee, St. Mary’s and UNLV. Senior guard Mike Gerrity has become the team’s leading scorer in just four games and lit a fire under the Trojans, who now boast a potent scoring attack to balance one of the conference’s stingiest defenses.

Stanford (6-6): The Cardinal have faltered a little bit, dropping three of their last four games to Oklahoma State, Northwestern and Texas Tech. Shoot, at least they played somebody! You’ve gotta give Stanford credit for a tougher schedule than most. Senior forward Landry Fields leads the conference in scoring and has put up 20 points in each of the last eight games. Watch for Stanford to shock some Pac-10 opponents this season.

Oregon (8-4): The Ducks open their conference season tonight in what is actually one of the most compelling matchups in the Pac-10 against Washington State. Neither team boasts a difficult non-conference schedule and we’ll get to see whether either of them is for real when they face off. Oregon rides a four-game winning streak that featured nary a quality win, so facing the 10-2 Cougars will be a good barometer for the progress of both teams. Leading scorer Tajuan Porter has battled an ankle injury but may finally be getting back into a rhythm after a recent five 3-pointer effort.

Oregon State (6-5): In all truthfulness, this should be a 9-2 Beaver team. I know what you’re thinking, their offense is such a jumbled mess that they might as well just punt on most possessions. But their defense is stellar, even against excellent opposition, and if they get freshman guard Roberto Nelson back (currently ineligible) then Oregon State will be dangerous down the stretch. Still, there was that home loss to Sacramento State; shudder…

Arizona (6-6): You just don’t know what to do with Arizona. Heading into the conference opener against streaking USC tonight, the Wildcats have suffered several losses to good teams – which is more than most of the Pac-10 can say – but still don’t have a defining win and just gave up a 49-point effort to BYU’s Jimmer Fredette. On the other hand, point guard Nic Wise is playing like a conference MVP contender and he makes ‘Zona dangerous on any given night. Then again, a one-point home win over Lipscomb (in overtime!) doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

UCLA (5-7): The head-scratching continues in Westwood as Bruin faithful try to digest exactly what is going on. Yes, UCLA’s losses have all come against quality teams, but the Bruins hardly put up a fight in any of them. They get a tough opener tonight hosting Arizona State. Let’s see if Malcolm Lee and his merry band of underachievers can put up a better fight in the conference season.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on December 12th, 2009

checkinginon

Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Big West conferences.

Player of the WeekNic Wise (Arizona) – The 5-foot-10 warrior has willed the Wildcats to a few victories this season and posted 19.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists this week with a loss to Oklahoma and a win over 7-2 Louisiana Tech that could point Arizona in the right direction going into a tough stretch of the schedule. Some players score more points, but no player means more to his team than Wise does. He absolutely belongs in the Pac-10’s elite class of point guards with Jerome Randle and Isaiah Thomas.

Power Rankings

  • #16 Washington (6-2) – The Huskies finally got a double-figure performance from highly touted freshman guard Abdul Gaddy when he scored 11 in a win over Cal State Northridge, but he didn’t do much in a tough 74-66 loss against #13 Georgetown today.
  • California (6-3) – The preseason favorite to win the conference is still a damn good team, with losses to three quality opponents and one of the few victories in the lopsided Pac-10/Big-12 Challenge. The Golden Bears righted the ship this week with two blowout wins and have ten days between now and their next game, a true challenge on the road against the #1 Jayhawks. The conference’s deepest squad boasts four players in double figures and a likely Pac-10 Player of the Year candidate in point guard Jerome Randle.
  • Washington State (7-2) – The Cougars rebounded from consecutive losses with a win over Idaho this week. No secret here, but Washington State’s chances almost solely depend on guard Klay Thompson, who is currently balling out loud. The sophomore scores 25.8 per game, but posted just 18.5 in losses to Gonzaga and Kansas State.

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ATB: Don’t You EVER Give Up…

Posted by rtmsf on December 9th, 2009

atb

Jimmy V Classic.  As someone whose family and loved ones have been seriously impacted by cancer, this is always one of our favorite events of the season.  We vividly remember the night at the ESPYs in March 1993 when Jim Valvano gave his inspirational speech, and even sixteen years later, it continues to stand the test of time.  “Don’t Give Up, Don’t Ever Give Up” became a mantra for people of our generation, and the positive effects that the Jimmy V Foundation has produced over the years gives Valvano a lasting legacy that many of his fellow coaches, many of whom were more successful at coaching basketball, will never know.  As long as this site exists, we’ll do this every year, and we’ll do it for the Green Bay Packers, Coach!

And now, on to the games…  RTC Live was in the building.

  • #13 Georgetown 72, #20 Butler 65.  Georgetown got 25 points and 14 rebounds from Greg Monroe as the Hoyas dominated Butler on the inside, outrebounding the Bulldogs 43-30. Perhaps Monroe’s biggest impact came on the defensive end, as he helped force Matt Howard into one of the worst games  of his career as he finished 1-9 from the floor while looking intimidated in the post before fouling out. Georgetown jumped out to a 52-35 second-half lead, which Butler couldn’t bounce back from. Austin Freeman was 4-5 from deep in adding 18 points for the Hoyas, who picked up a must-needed statement win. Butler, who got 24 and 8 boards from Gordon Hayward, is not the top 10 team that many predicted they would be during the preseason right now, but this is still an impressive win nonetheless. For Butler to be in position to earn an at-large bid should it come to that, they are now probably going to have to beat both Ohio State and Xavier in coming weeks.
  • Indiana 74, Pittsburgh 64.  Indiana picked up their first relevant win over a BCS team (beating Iowa last year doesn’t count) in the Tom Crean era as they thoroughly outplayed Pitt in MSG tonight. Indiana go 20 from Verdell Jones and 18 from Christian Watford as they finally broke through for a good win after losing three heartbreakers this season. The Hoosiers are going to be a dangerous team, as they do have some talented youngsters (we didn’t even get a good feel for Maurice Creek tonight), but IU may still be a year away from really being able to compete and make a run at the NCAA Tournament. Pitt, on the other hand, didn’t look like Pitt. They struggled defensively, they were beat up inside, and they settled for tough, deep jumpers. If Ashton Gibbs hadn’t been hitting from three (he had 25 on 8-25 shooting, 5-15 from three), this one could have been ugly (although, uglier than being down 17 to Indiana in this stage of their rebuild is tough to do).

Not an Upset of the Night Illinois 79, #24 Vanderbilt 68. Yes, Vandy was the ranked team, but Illinois was ranked as recently as last week and these teams are roughly even in our eyes.  A very nice intersectional matchup nonetheless.  The Illini shot a lights-out 59% from the field and ran out to a 9-0 early lead that put Vandy behind the eight-ball from the beginning.  Illinois guard Demetri McCamey lit up the Commodore defense for 8-10 from the field and 23/5 assts, while DJ Richardson added 16/3/3 assts in the win.  The Illinois defense has been somewhat maligned thus far this season, but they did a good job tonight of limiting AJ Ogilvy’s (8/3) touches and forced Jermaine Beal into a 4-14 shooting night.

Some Mid-Major Revenge (Some Not).  There were a few good opportunities for mid-majors to take down BCS teams tonight, and the little guys got a split this evening among the four games up for grabs.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2009

checkinginon

Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports.com is the RTC correspondent for the Big West and Pac-10 Conferences.

Sometimes it’s not so painful to watch a once proud and mighty warrior fall from grace, as it is bizarre.  You may be able to accept that nothing lasts forever, and that eventually the tide must turn. But it’s one thing to have a rebuilding year, and quite another to be a national laughingstock.  Yet, that term best describes the way that Pac-10 teams have performed so far in this early season. It also describes the way that the conference’s flagship program, the UCLA Bruins, has performed so far in this early season.  The Pac-10, we knew, was a conference in decline. But few predicted that the decline would be so far, so fast.

The conference’s two Top 25 teams have each suffered losses to unranked, seemingly-lesser teams.  The conference was soundly beaten in this week’s Big 12/Pac-10 Challenge, losing each of Thursday night’s three games. In fact, until late Friday, the Pac-10 Conference has not won a single game since Monday night, when Arizona State defeated 0-5 Arkansas-Pine Bluff.  Obviously it’s early in the season, and this is a conference that will play its best basketball later in the season, but the Pac-10 was considered mediocre among the power conferences this season and has instead looked dreadful, while the two teams that did possess national potential are obviously flawed and UCLA continues to trip all over itself. It’ll take a lot for the Pac-10 to rebuild its reputation this season, so let’s take a look at what’s transpired thus far.

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