Another intriguing “opening” day of college hoops, as mostly everybody who didn’t play yesterday played today.
Story of the Day. Manny Harris Records Michigan’s Second Ever Triple Double. These triple-double things are spreading among Big Ten players, as Michigan guard Manny Harris today dropped 18/13/10 assts in 29 minutes in a 97-50 shellacking of D2 Northern Michigan. Does it matter that Harris had his historic night (Gary Grant in 1987 was UM’s only other) against a non-D1 school? Not to us — Harris is a tremendous player and a dime is a dime. Passing the ball should always be rewarded, and Harris did his best today to make his teammates happy. DeShawn Sims could only muster a dub-dub (22/10), but his biggest crime was one of omission, as in, zero assists — share the wealth a little bit, DeShawn! Harris’ achievement joins fellow Big Ten-er Evan Turner as the second player with a trip-dub in the last week, as the Ohio State star recorded his first on Monday. These Big Ten guys can play a little bit, which is once again why we expect the league to do some great things this year. Other than Turner and Harris, who’s next? Talor Battle? Robbie Hummel? Kalin Lucas?
photo credit: AP/Mike Ding
Upset of the Day. Cornell 71, Alabama 67. Another day, another SEC team embarrasses itself at home. Did anyone in Alabama care? Probably not. Don’t get us wrong here – Cornell is a fantastic Ivy League team with all five starters returning and gobs of game experience under their collective belt. And Alabama is dealing with a new coach, a new system and a fanbase that is on its best day mildly interested in basketball, to put it nicely. But an SEC team with two top 25-type players in its lineup should never lose this game at home (sorry, Goodman, but we disagree with you here). This is not to take anything at all away from Cornell, who completely deserved the win today and will assuredly push everyone on its schedule this year, BCS team or not. The Big Red shot 10-18 from three, and when Bama made a run to cut a 15-pt second half lead to two, Ryan Wittman (23/3), Louis Dale (13/4/5 assts) and Jeff Foote (17/7/3 blks) held steady down the stretch. When Anthony Grant gets this thing going later this year, and we honestly believe he will, this win alone will probably be worth an additional seed line for Cornell. Its first win over an SEC school since 1973 (!!) is quite simply a huge boon for this program, and the forty-plus excited comments on Cornell Sports Blog seems to confirm it. Congrats, fellas.
RTC Live. We were privileged to provide online coverage for four of the top mid-major programs in America today. Here are a couple of recaps.
Three more Coaches vs. Cancer games tonight, and exactly zero of them were good games. Here’s how bad it was. The three favorites — UNC, Syracuse and California — were collectively favored by 80 points in Vegas, and all three easily covered the spread. Still, that doesn’t mean that the games weren’t interesting. RTC Live was at Cal for the second time in three nights, and we were rewarded with some of the excellent long-range shooting that the Bears have become noted for. Let’s take a look at each game.
Rautins Gets His Revenge.Syracuse 100, Robert Morris 60. A sterling performance and total effort for the Orange tonight against a Colonials team that returned three starters from the NEC champions of a year ago. Andy Rautins, two nights after missing all six of his shot attempts and rolling his left ankle, drained seven treys on ten attempts against Robert Morris in the triple-digit Syracuse scoring output, just two three-balls shy of Gerry McNamara’s school record. Overall, Syracuse shot 13/26 from downtown after a 2/17 performance against Albany, including two from Mookie Jones, James Southerland and, most importantly, Wesley Johnson. Big man Arinze Onuaku had a field day in the paint against the outmanned Colonials (7-8 FG) and Rick Jackson (4-5 FG, 10 pts, 5 reb) continues to improve. As far as the ever-changing point guard competition, both Scoop Jardine (6 pts, 9 asst, 2 stl, 3 TO) and freshman Brandon Triche (4-5 FG, 4-4 FT, 12 pts, 7 asst, 1 TO) contributed stellar efforts. Coach Jim Boeheim even elected to play both points on the floor at the same time when Rautins took a breather, a trend you could very well see extend further into the season. Overall, Syracuse fans have to be pleased with impressive back-to-back efforts to begin the year after the stunning Le Moyne loss during the exhibition season. They’ll battle California in the semifinals of what should be a memorable 2K Sports Classic in NYC next weekend.
Heels Win a Glorified Scrimmage. North Carolina 89, NC Central 42.The only question unanswered during the waning minutes of NC Central’s death march into Chapel Hill Wednesday night was whether Carolina could cover their 45.5-point spread. Although the 18 turnovers (including four from starting PG Larry Drew II) against this competition is still eye-opening, the Heels pretty much put an exclamation point on this one. The highlights: Tyler Zeller (who looks like Roy Williams’ most complete player in the early going) went 6-6 from the floor and added five boards, freshman backup point guard Dexter Strickland drained three treys, while elder statesmen Marcus Ginyard (17 pts, 3 reb, 3 asst, 3 stl, 7-10 FG) and Deon Thompson (13 pts, 6 reb, 5-9 FG) both chipped in on the cakewalk. Carolina invites Valparaiso to the Dean Dome before battling Ohio State in the 2K Sports Classic semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
Cal Shakes off Detroit in Second Half. California 95, Detroit 61. Cal’s big three of Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson outscored Detroit by themselves (62 pts on 17-32 FG, 7-14 3FG and 21-22 FT), using a strong second-half surge to put away the pesky Titans from Detroit tonight. It was clear after Monday night’s game that Randle was not pleased with his play, and tonight he started off quickly with 16 first half points to lead Cal until his teammates (most notably Christopher and Robertson) heated up. Cal’s defensive energy was significantly better than Monday night, holding Detroit to 35.7% shooting for the game, although often the Titans forced up bad shots making it easy for the Bear defense. And despite actually being smaller that the Titans inside the paint for much of the game, Cal dominated the boards (41-25). Our observation is that Detroit had some talent on the floor, especially the raw but capable Eli Holman (the IU transfer who threw a potted plant at or near Tom Crean 2 years ago), but it’s clear that the players haven’t quite figured out how to play together yet. As for Cal, it’ll be very interesting to see how they handle the trip to New York and the long Syracuse zone defense. You’d initially think that a great three-point shooting team would have an advantage against a zone, but it’s doubtful the Bears have seen such an athletic zone before.
On Tap Thursday (all times ET). Two games tomorrow night — one is in the CvC and the other is something called the Glenn Wilkes Classic.
James Madison @ Ohio State (BTN) - 7pm. This is worth watching just to see what Evan Turner can do again.
Georgia State @ NC State – 7pm. And the Sidney Lowe Watch begins.
Welcome back to RTC’s THIRD season covering college basketball with one of our old standbys, the nightly After the Buzzer feature. If you’re new here, the purpose of these nightly updates is to go a little deeper than game recaps. We’ll talk about the key games and storylines of each night of the regular season so that you can join the watercooler crew with some knowledge to throw around the next morning. Tonight we got the season underway with four opening round subregional games in the 2kSports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. None of the four favorites were every seriously threatened, but there were quite a few good storylines tonight.
Isiah’s debut. #4 North Carolina 88, Florida International 72. For a team picked last in their Sun Belt division and has just eight scholarship players on its roster, Isiah Thomas had his Florida International Golden Panthers putting up a respectable fight against the top-five Tar Heels in his much-anticipated coaching debut. The bright spots for the powder blues in the first post-Tyler Hansbrough era contest: Deon Thompson appears to be in for a fine year in the post, totaling 20 points and 10 boards on 7/11 FG while frontcourt mate Ed Davis used a slew of putbacks and easy buckets to complete his own double-double: 13/11/4 blks on 5/8 FG. The other big question mark heading into the season was whether Larry Drew could provide steady point guard play for UNC, and the sophomore put in a solid performance with 6/2 A:TO in 21 minutes, including a Lawson-esque coast-to-coast layup in the first half and a few pretty dishes to Thompson and John Henson for jams. The bad news: Even with the incredible turnover and rustiness of a season opener, Roy Williams cannot be pleased with a 26-turnover performance from his team against a Sun Belt foe (the most in any game coached by Williams at UNC), especially backup point guard Dexter Strickland’s five turnovers in 11 minutes. Also worth noting is Williams opting to go with a more experienced starting five with Thompson, Drew, Davis, Marcus Ginyard and William Graves getting the nod and Henson, Strickland, Tyler Zeller, Leslie McDonald and the Wear twins coming off the pine. This group is absurdly deep up front and, due to the high-impact departures, shouldn’t be expected to look like a world-beater in early November. They don’t.
Boeheim gets win #800. #25 Syracuse 75, Albany 43. Coming off their embarrassing defeat in an exhibition contest at the hands of D2 Le Moyne, Syracuse needed to come out in their first actual game of the 2009-10 season and make a statement. Their 2-3 zone defense confused the Albany Great Danes all night and was the primary factor in garnering a 75-43 victory for Jim Boeheim’s 800th win, putting him on an esteemed list with only two other active coaches — Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Calhoun. Syracuse’s defense and superb athleticism forced Albany into 32 turnovers and only 27% shooting in a primarily ugly game that lacked much flow. Syracuse shot just 2/17 from outside themselves including a clunker from three-point specialist Andy Rautins (0/6, 0/4 3pt) who left the game midway through the 2nd half with a sprained ankle (3am update: doesn’t sound too serious, but he was wearing a walking boot after the game). The good: Scoop Jardine coupled a productive preseason into another stellar performance at the point tonight, totaling 12 points and 4 assists on 5/7 shooting with just one turnover while his main competition, Brandon Triche, had some moments but mainly struggled with six turnovers. Syracuse looks extremely athletic with Wes Johnson (who features a sick one-handed posterization on an unsuspecting Great Dane) around the perimeter and Rick Jackson swatting shots down low.
First Weekend Storylines. Like most of you guys, we figure we watched approximately 38 hours of basketball last weekend over the first four days of the NCAA Tournament. Since we were in Vegas taking advantage of the sportsbooks’ multiple huge-screen tvs, we pretty much saw pieces of every game on the dance card. Here are some of our thoughts and observations based on the sensory overload (speaking of sensory, that chick making bedroom eyes at the burger in the McDonald’s commercial is ridiculously difficult to remove from the internal hard drive).
Coach K, Your Filet o’ Sole Has Arrived. From our point of view, at least in terms of the elite teams of each conference, there was never any question that the Big East was much stronger than that of the ACC this year. The fact that anyone was even questioning this seemed odd. This year, the Big East had six teams (of seven bids) with a reasonable shot to make a run at the F4 – UConn, Pitt, Syracuse, Louisville, Villanova and Marquette, and the first five of that group is still standing (the most ever by a single conference in the Sweets, btw); the ACC had three (of seven bids) - Duke, UNC and Wake Forest, but only the twin towers of Tobacco Road royalty are left dancing. The simple fact of the matter is that the ACC’s middle – comprised of Clemson, Florida St., Maryland, BC and Virginia Tech (NIT) - were only “solid” teams that had significant weaknesses due to personnel or other issues. Conversely, the equivalent caliber teams from the Big East (with the notable exception of WVU) were left out of the Big Dance. This group includes Providence, Cincinnati, Georgetown and Notre Dame, and there shouldn’t be any dissent as to the fact that each of these teams would have competed for the middle of the ACC with the above group and several would have also earned bids on the basis of the occasional upset (see: Maryland and BC). Sitting where we are now, with five Big East teams a mere two wins away from the F4, it wouldn’t shock us to see all four slots filled by a BE team. This is still an unlikely scenario, but keep in mind that only Villanova is considered an underdog to reach the next round (Syracuse is a pick’em against Oklahoma), and all five of these teams are more than capable.
#1 Seeds. UConn looked absolutely dominant in its two games, and while not much can be discerned from a 56-pt dismantling of Chattanooga, the 92-66 beatdown of a Texas A&M team that was coming on strong must be viewed with awe. The Huskies will get the best team in the Big Ten next – Purdue - but we have trouble believing that the Boilers will challenge Jim Calhoun’s team at this point. Suddenly a #1/#2 matchup against Memphis in the regional finals looks very appealing. UNC bombed Radford in its first round game before riding a partisan crowd’s energy and Ty Lawson’s toe to a breakaway win over LSU in the second round, 84-70. The Heels should put away Gonzaga easily in the next round (we doubt Heytvelt will dominate Hansbrough this time around), but a regional final against either Oklahoma or Syracuse could present all kinds of problems for the Tar Heels. Louisville and Pittsburgh both struggled to put opponents away in both their first and second round games. Both of these teams sometimes have trouble scoring, and we have to wonder when a prolonged scoring drought against a good team will be enough to end their run to the title. Pitt should have a relatively easy go of it with its next game against Xavier, but we’re looking at Louisville’s next game against Arizona and wondering what might happen if the trio of Budinger, Wise and Hill are all making shots.
Six OTs. Syracuse 127, Connecticut 117 (6OT). Every once in a while there’s a game where as you’re watching it you just know something amazing is going to happen. Maybe it’s the bounce the players have on the court or the electricity in the air of the crowd. Maybe it’s the way a seven-foot-three giant outhustles a guy half his size for a loose ball on the floor, or the way a shooter comes hard off a curl to drill a 28-footer like it was a floater in the lane. It’s unclear how you know what you know, but you know that you’re witnessing something special, and you’re not alone – everyone in the joint can sense it, and the fans watching from home feel it too. There are only a few games in our personal history that we can remember having that sensation. The Laettner game was one – we realized it when UK started nailing threes all over the place to erase the 12-pt Duke lead in the blink of an eye. The Arizona-Gonzaga second round game in 2003 was another. Tonight’s Syracuse-UConn game was the latest.
Games like this, you don’t just watch. All the senses are engaged. You breathe them. You taste them. Even better, these games breathe you. They inhale the collective emotions and anxieties of everyone in the building, and like a living organism, emit a beautiful poetry of synaptic orgasmica. The final game time was just shy of four hours (an absurd length for a hoops game), but the second half and OTs felt like about fifteen minutes. It’s like nestling up with a loved one or stumbling across your favorite movie on TNT. Time no longer matters. That’s how you know. Our Big East correspondent, Rob Dauster, was live-blogging this game from his Blackberry inside MSG tonight, and reading through his posts is like reading the wild scribblings of a man reaching hoops nirvana (and exhaustion). There was one post that he made that absolutely crystallized this game for everyone tonight – “Every single person is standing in this gym.“ Because that’s what it comes down to: the crowd, the players, the gym – all in unison, all making magic happen. For what it’s worth, Rob, every single person at home was standing too.
Now let’s get to the game itself. Obviously, we’ve been saying all year that Syracuse has F4 talent. The problem has been that they haven’t been able to maximize that talent, but the Orange are now showing signs that they’re starting to figure it out. This SU team has a swagger that we haven’t seen since the G-Mac days, but the key difference is that Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, Paul Harris, Arinze Onuaku and Andy Rautins are far more talented than McNamara’s last two teams. We fully expect the Orange to have nothing left in the tank for WVU tomorrow night, but we’d be utterly shocked if this team laid an egg in next week’s NCAAs. The Cuse plays hard, and we just have a sneaky suspicion this year that they’re going to make some noise in this year’s Tourney (Flynn’s Charles Smith impression notwithstanding).
As for UConn, they had three possessions in the first five OTs to win the game, and each time they dribbled the ball around and forced up some horrible shot. Even the play that gave them the tie to send it to OT before Devendorf’s absurd three at the end of regulation was off of a broken play. This is indicative of the same problem that has plagued this group of Huskies since they got to Storrs – they’re just not clutch. Here we are discussing a group of juniors that spent several weeks at #1 this year, and they’ve yet to win a postseason game. Not one! Husky fans are going to get angry at us and declare that they were able to win some meaningless game against Gonzaga or whoever during the regular season… but they’re UConn, an elite program, and they should know better than that. Legacies are built in March (that’s how Calhoun built his), and this group of players remains suspect until they prove once and for all that they can play championship level basketball in tournament formats. We’re still waiting on it.
After 70 Mins of Action, Syracuse Moves On (photo credit: NYT)
There are so many games today, we thought it would be worth a quick look at the afternoon sessions that have already concluded to see what’s going on out there, especially as it relates to BubbleLand.
Reminder: keep in mind that RTC Live’s correspondents are simul-blogging from both the Atlantic 10 and WAC today, so be sure to check those guys out.
Minnesota - Classic bubble team at this point with a 10-9 Big Ten record, 6-6 in their last twelve games, 9-9 against the RPI top 100, RPI in the low 40s and no bad losses. A win against Michigan St. on Friday leaves no doubt. A loss… and Minny is playing with fire.
Virginia Tech - Their game against Miami today had all the markings of a knockout game, with both teams holding identical conference records and similar RPIs. How do you justify a team getting put in that has lost six of eight, though? VT still needs to beat Carolina tomorrow.
Baylor - The Bears aren’t sniffing the bubble, but they’re looking very interesting as a possibility of this year’s Georgia. We referred to this in last night’s ATB – they simply outworked Kansas for this one. If they can survive the OU-Mizzou winner, they can cut down the nets in this thing.
Kentucky – Maybe the news that Patrick Patterson is returning next season inspired the Cats, but they’ll have their work cut out tomorrow against LSU. They need that game and more this weekend.
Michigan - this easy win over Iowa probably puts Michigan safely in. Their high-level numbers look exceptionally similar to Minnesotas, but where UM’s profile takes off is six wins against the RPI Top 50, including Duke and UCLA.
Kansas - Obviously, not in terms of the bubble, but KU probably dropped a seed line today. Whereas previous to this afternoon, they were talked about as a 2/3 on the S-curve, this may have dropped the Jayhawks to a 3/4.
Clemson - It’s really not good to lose to the last-place team in the conference in the first round of the ACC Tourney. Clemson is an NCAA team, but with four Ls in their last five games, they’ve swooned themselves into possibly an 8/9 seed range.
UAB - Believe it or not, UAB is still in the conversation with today’s one-point win over Southern Miss. The Blazers’ RPI is in the low 40s, but they’re 0-5 against the top 50. If the Blazers can get to the Memphis game on Saturday and just give the Tigers a good run on national tv, that might be enough.
Providence - Providence shot 2-17 from three and 33% overall in an ugly game that, had they won, may have been enough to get them into the NCAAs. Given their 70+ RPI, the question for the Friars is whether an overall 11-9 Big East record is sufficient when they played the top four seeds six times.
Arizona - Chase Budinger’s 3-15 shooting sunk the Wildcats, who should be feeling rather nervous about extending their 24-season streak of NCAA appearances right now. They’ve now lost five of six, and if they do make it in, they’re starting at a double-digit seed.
Kansas St. - Denis Clemente picked the wrong afternoon to go ice cold (4-20). The Cats had a nice second half of the season to get itself on the bubble, but they really, really could have used what was a winnable game against Texas today. Our gut says they’re going to end up on the outside looking in.
Miami (FL) - The Hurricanes aren’t dead, but they’re on life support. They needed this game just as much as Virginia Tech did, and they soiled the bed with a flat 35% shooting performance with no player reaching double figures.
Northwestern - The Cats gave a nice run at their first-ever NCAA bid, but 8-11 in the Big Ten and a 70ish RPI isn’t going to get it done. They really needed a solid run in Indy to make this happen. The NIT will be a nice consolation, though.
Redefining The Zone. Texas Tech 88, Texas A&M 83. Mike Singletary set a new career-high tonight in Texas Tech’s first round Big 12 Tournament game against Texas A&M… in the last ten minutes of the game. That’s right, Singletary caught lightning in his shooting hand, as he exploded for 29 straight points (9-10 FG; 8-10 FT) in the last quarter of the game (previous career high: 25) as he brought his team back from a 21-pt second half deficit. His performance was the second-longest such conflagration of consecutive points, ranking only behind (you know this one, right?) Bill Mlkvy from Temple fifty-eight years ago, who threw up an ungodly 54 in a row in a game against Wilkes. Courtesy of ESPN FC, we got to see the second half of this one, and we’re glad we did. Singletary didn’t look particularly quick or athletic or smooth – he just hit nearly everything he threw up at the rim. Oh, and did we mention that he didn’t even start the game tonight – maybe Pat Knight should just play him in the final ten minutes of the game from now on. Texas A&M, on the other hand, may have just watched its NCAA dreams die with their second-half gag (Mark Turgeon, double-team the guy torching your defense!!!) tonight. Probably not, though – the Aggies’ RPI is still strong, and they did finish hot down the stretch.
Other Important Bubble Games.
Providence 83, Depaul 74. PC allowed the Blue Demons to hang around in this one, and by virtue of playing the 0-18 team, they probably didn’t help their RPI or SOS any… but a win is a win, and with the win comes the opportunity to play #1 seed Louisville in the Big East quarters tomorrow. The good news for the Friars is that Louisville is lifetime 1-3 in this tournament, but the bad news is that the only team that has beaten them all three times has been Pittsburgh.
Baylor 65, Nebraska 49. NU probably didn’t have much of a case for an NCAA bid, but this loss solidifies their exclusion. The more important question is whether Baylor can salvage their extremely disappointing season by going on a run to win the Big 12 title. They will play #1 seed Kansas tomorrow, and although highly unlikely, KU is still a rather young team and could be vulnerable.
Oklahoma St. 81, Iowa St. 67. OSU will get a chance to renew bedlam with Oklahoma tomorrow based on their handling of ISU tonight. The Pokes were already in solid RPI position, but this win ensures their bid. Now it’s a question of seeding, and with two hard-fought Ls to Oklahoma already, will the third time be the charm?
West Virginia 74, Notre Dame 62. ND meekly slithered into the night (NIT) with their loss to WVU today. The Irish really needed a strong run into the late rounds of the Big East Tournament, and instead they couldn’t out-physical a team that thrives on that style of play today. Alex Ruoff had 25 pts and Devin Ebanks had 7/18 in the winning effort; the Mountaineers will get Pittsburgh tomorrow in what is sure to be a slugfest.
14 Down, 51 To Go...
#13 – Robert Morris (24-10, 15-3 NEC). Dallas Green instantly became a NEC legend tonight as his shot from the baseline after scooping a loose ball off the floor was the game-winner that sent RMU to it’s sixth NCAA Tournament, but its first since 1992. It was his only basket of the game, and even his coach said “oh no” when the ball scooted to his direction. Much-maligned Mezie Nwigwe scored three points in eighteen minutes of play.
RMU Begins Celebrating (Gene Puskar/AP)
Projected Seed: #14
Something to Remember: Although it didn’t show tonight (4-14), the Colonials are a strong three-point shooting team, averaging 39.1% throughout the season. They hit nine against Miami (FL) in an 8-pt road loss.
#14 – Portland St. (23-9, 11-5 Big Sky). PSU nearly let their second consecutive Big Sky title get away from them tonight, as they allowed upstart Montana St. to come back from ten pts down late to tie the game. But it was Julius Thomas’ dunk with 3.5 seconds remaining that gave the Vikings the lead back and a strong defensive effort on the ensuing MSU possession ensured that Jeremiah Dominguez and company will make a return appearance in the Big Dance.
Projected Seed: #14
STR: Beware. This team is an experienced squad that lost by one point at Pac-10 champion Washington and beat Gonzaga by seven. #1 Kansas ripped them last season, but they should have a higher seed this time around, and if they can catch a somewhat limited offensive opponent, they have a chance to pull the upset.
Other QnD Tourney Updates.
A10. St. Louis, St. Joseph’s, Duquesne and Richmond all advanced to the quarterfinals tomorrow. RTC Live is there with College Chalktalk live-blogging all of the action. The best game of the day Thursday will likely be the streaking Richmond Spiders (6 of 7) taking on Dayton.
Big 12. The only other game not covered so far was Texas’ win against Colorado. There are some juicy matchups in Oklahoma City tomorrow, but we’re most looking forward to the third incarnation of Bedlam – OU vs. OSU in a true neutral venue. OSU just might do this one.
Big East. Marquette had an easy time with St. John’s and Syracuse got into a bunchastuff with Seton Hall before finally pulling away late. We’re going to say it right here, right now. Tomorrow’s quarterfinal round is the greatest collection of teams in a conference tournament’s quarterfinals round EVER. There are four teams with realistic F4 chances and seven teams with legitimate S16 possibilities. Providence is the only weak link, and they managed to beat a #1 team this season. All of the games are worth watching (damn you, Dauster), but we’re most excited about the Marquette-Villanova game at 2:30 EDT so we can see how to parse these two teams.
Big West. Two minor upsets with UC Davis and UC Riverside today, but this league is completely wide open. Don’t be surprised if an eight-seed wins this thing.
CUSA. Over in the Retread Conference, Rice (Ben Braun), S. Miss (Larry Eustachy), Tulane and Houston (Tom Penders) all advanced today. The best game tomorrow is the Houston-UTEP matchup.
MEAC. No upsets in this league tonight, as all the higher seeds but one (who will play tomorrow) advanced to the semifinals.
Mountain West. In the opening round game, Air Force knocked off Colorado St. Tomorrow keep an eye on UNLV-San Diego St., a game with potential bubble implications depending on how deep the winner of this one goes.
Pac-10. Stanford and Wazzu advanced to the quarterfinals tonight. Several good games in the quarters tomorrow, but we’re most interested to see how UCLA responds after its loss a couple of weeks ago to Wazzu, who they’ll play again tomorrow night.
SWAC. The top two seeds in the SWAC advanced tonight. Two other quarterfinal games continue tomorrow.
ACC. The first round matchup of Miami (FL) and Virginia Tech holds the most interest, as both teams have been slumping down the stretch, but have enough talent to turn things around in short order.
Big 10. The first round begins tomorrow, and clearly the best game here is the Northwestern-Minnesota game. Neither team will get in from winning this one, but they will assuredly be out if they lose it.
MAC. The MAC continues with its quarters after a day off as well. No idea which game to keep an eye on here. None whatsoever.
SEC. None of the first round games are very good, but if you must pick one, go with Kentucky’s attempt to win 4-in-4 to keep the NCAA streak alive, starting with Ole Miss.
Southland. The quarterfinals begin, and Stephen F. Austin is the favorite.
WAC. The WAC is picking back up after a day off in its quarterfinal round. Remember that RTC Live will be there for the Utah St. vs. Fresno St. game, which should be the most interesting game of this round.
From 850 the Buzz, apparently the usage of the word “unanimous” is a little ambiguous at the ACC offices in Greensboro these days, depending on who the player is they’re trying to promote (FSU’s Toney Douglas vs. UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough).
Now… on to the three dance tickets punched tonight.
# 10 – North Dakota St. (26-6, 16-2). NDSU is going to get a lot of national attention in the next week by virtue of the fact that this was their first eligible year in D1, and several players including star guard Ben Woodside redshirted their freshmen seasons to have the shot at the NCAAs they’re enjoying tonight, but remember that our very own John Stevens was all over this story before anybody – way back in mid-December when Woodside ripped the nets apart for 60 big ones. Tonight it looked as if their long-sought-after dream was dead, as the Summit League regular season champs found themselves down ten points with nine minutes remaining in the title game. Slow and steady, the Bison worked itself back into the game, and after Oakland’s Keith Benson tied the game with a dunk with 0:12 remaining, the ball was put into Woodside’s hands and the rest is history, 66-64.
Projected Seed: #13
Something to Remember: NDSU has the fifth most efficient offense in the country, and it’s predicated on great shooting and ballhandling. The Bison are #5 in three-point shooting at 41% and they are #11 in fewest turnovers per game. Whichever #4 or #5 seed gets this team had best bring their defense.
#11 – Cleveland St. (25-10, 12-6). Bubble teams all over America were cursing Gary Waters’ Cleveland St. Vikings tonight, as their Horizon League automatic bid earned over at-large lock Butler took one of the 34 available spots away from some hopeful team. Was it Creighton? Florida? St. Mary’s? We’ll never know for sure, but CSU held Butler stars Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward to a combined 21/12, and in so doing was able to make just enough plays on the defensive end down the stretch to get the upset win over Butler, 57-54 in their house. RTC Live had the liveblog coverage here, but if you were lucky enough to see the television coverage, you saw a team in Cleveland St. that wanted this game just a smidge more than their HL counterparts. The Vikings’ NCAA bid is their first since 1986.
Projected Seed: #14
STR: Cleveland St. played Kansas St. and West Virginia tough in losses earlier this year, and of course they beat Syracuse on the ridiculous 75-footer, so this is a team that won’t be intimidated as an underdog in the first round of the NCAAs.
#12 – Western Kentucky (24-8, 15-3). WKU started this Sun Belt title game on an 11-0 run, but South Alabama wasn’t going to just give the Hilltoppers the game so easily, as the Jags fought back to tie and even briefly take the lead in this one for a period in the mid-second half. But WKU, led by AJ Slaughter’s 18 pts and Stephffon Pettigrew’s 15/7, was not going to be denied, and Ken McDonald should be commended for the excellent job he’s done with a team that lost its star backcourt of Courtney Lee and Tyrone Brazelton (not to mention head coach Darrin Horn). Western Kentucky earned its 21st trip to the NCAA Tournament and its second in a row tonight.
Projected Seed: #11
STR: This is an unpredictable team. Although they finished the season winning eleven of their last twelve games, earlier in the season the Toppers lost by 28 to Murray St., 32 to Evansville and 28 to Mississippi St. They also defeated Louisville by 12. This is probably why WKU ranks #265 in Pomeroy’s consistency statistic.
QnD Conf Tourney Updates.
Big East. Did you hear that the sixteen-team Big East Tourney started today? Georgetown and Cincinnati must not have gotten that memo, because neither team showed up for its own funeral, losing first-round games to the dregs – St. John’s and Depaul, respectively. Yes, Depaul, the same team that was 0-18 in the regular season. At least Seton Hall managed to beat S. Florida and Notre Dame kept its disappointing season alive for another day.
MAC. The MAC first round was today, and there were no major upsets. CMU, Kent, Ohio and Akron all advanced.
MEAC. The MEAC also began today, and the two higher seeds Hampton and FAMU advanced.
WAC. Another opening round, where Fresno St. “upset” the higher seeded Hawaii.
For Tomorrow’s Viewing Pleasure. We’re starting to get serious now. The Big Sky and NEC hold its title games Wednesday, and the A10, Big 12, Big West, CUSA, Mountain West, Pac-10 and SWAC get it started. We’re rapidly approaching bracket nirvana.
Four More Automatic Bids Tonight. We’re combining this feature tonight because every game of interest involved a conference tournament final. The CAA, MAAC, SoCon and WCC all crowned champions tonight, and only one of the four would be considered a surprise. The other three will all be very tough outs for whichever team(s) have to face up against them in the first round of the NCAAs next week.
#6 – VCU (24-9, 14-4) – Anthony Grant’s VCU Rams rode a home crowd to a 71-50 obliteration of George Mason for its second CAA championship in the last three seasons. You already know Eric Maynor from his game-winner over Duke in 2007′s first round; also keep in mind his 6’9 frontcourt mate Larry Sanders (not the host of a dated HBO show), who dominated GMU with 18/20/7 blks tonight – this talented duo will make any higher seed nervous on Selection Sunday.
Projected Seed: #10
Something to Remember: VCU wasn’t a good road team this year, going 7-6 compared to 11-3 two years ago when the Rams last made the Dance, but they were 2-1 against the RPI top fifty (an 11-pt loss against Oklahoma).
This is Why We Love Championship Week (photo credit: AP/Steve Helber)
#7 – Chattanooga (18-16, 11-9) – This is exactly why conferences are moving away from penalizing high seeds from playing on opponents’ home floors in conference tournaments – instead of having a Davidson in the NCAAs with a chance to win a game or two, the SoCon will send Chattanooga to become cannon fodder for a #1 seed. Chattanooga came into the SoCon Tourney three days ago as a team with a losing record – tonight they left it with more than a winning record; they also got a ticket to the Big Dance by virtue of their 80-69 win over College of Charleston (who may have still been feeling the effects of knocking out Davidson yesterday). The Mocs used a 20-0 run bridging the half to build a commanding lead that left CofC shellshocked.
Projected Seed: #16
Something to Remember: Chattanooga started the season 2-8, and has one of the worst defensive efficiency ratings in the nation (#296). Take the over.
#8 – Gonzaga (26-5, 14-0) – The Zags made quick work of a St. Mary’s team that still looks a little lost while Patty Mills tries to return to form from his wrist injury, defeating the Gaels 83-58. Six players reached double figures for the Zags, led by Josh Heytvelt’s 17/6. Gonzaga won its nineteenth in twenty tries, with the only defeat coming at the hands of a red-hot Memphis team in February. It’s definitely difficult to ascertain whether the ‘potential Zags’ have crossed over into actualization, but if things are clicking and they continue to play strong defense (#5 nationally), the Zags are a darkhorse for the Final Four.
Projected Seed: #4
Something to Remember: The Zags are the #1 team in America in 2-pt defense (38.9%), but when the Zags struggle (and lose), they also have a tendency for poor shooting – Memphis, Arizona, Utah and Portland St. all held them under 43% shooting from the field.
#9 – Siena (26-7, 16-2) – Siena was the best team in the MAAC, and after what the Saints did to Vandy in last year’s first round of the NCAAs, nobody is going to want to see Fran McCaffery’s team in their pod. Tonight they held off a good Niagara team that had given them one of their two conference losses behind Kenny Hasbrouck, who shook off a 1-10 first half to score 17 second-half points on his way to 19/6/3 stls. This is a dangerous team – they return the bulk of last year’s squad, and they were competitive early in the season in losses at Kansas, Tennessee and Pittsburgh.
Projected Seed: #9
Something to Remember: Sienais an offensively balanced team, with six players averaging between 8-15 ppg, and all six of those players having at least one game of 20+ this year. Who do you stop?
QnD Conf Tourney Update.
The Big East, MAC, MEAC and WAC begin their tourneys tomorrow, but there are three more auto-bids in store.
Game of the Night.Penn St. 64, Illinois 63. It was nice to see a team turn the tables on Illinois after they had pulled off a furious comeback win in the last five minutes against Northwestern. PSU was down ten pts with five minutes remaining, but the Lions stormed back and when Talor Battle’s feathery soft leaner dropped through with 0.3 remaining on the clock, the “white house” of fans went wild and quickly RTC’d the court. Now, THAT is how you RTC, friends! Quick, no hesitation, straight to the middle of the floor. Immediate bedlam. We have two clips here – the first will show the tv version of the winning shot by Battle (scroll ahead to the 6:00 mark); the second is a user-generated clip of the RTC. Enjoy. (btw, PSU is IN if they win at Iowa this weekend)
The Rest of Tonight’s Key Games.
UCLA 79, Oregon St. 54. The Bruins kept their Pac-10 title hopes alive with a blowout win over Oregon St. tonight. If they beat Oregon this weekend and Washington loses to Wazzu, then they’ll both be tied at 12-6, where the Bruins would presumably win the tiebreaker. What’s up with Josh Shipp’s line tonight? 27 pts, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 blocks, 0 steals, 0 turnovers, 0 fouls, 1 block. He really didn’t do anything other than shoot tonight, did he?
Villanova 97, Providence 80. Villanova picked up its second strong win of the week as it continues to make its case for the coveted double-bye in the Big East Tournament. Scottie Reynolds had 23/4/4 stls as Nova finished off a perfect home slate. Providence has a #69 RPI but finished at 10-8 in the Big East – what to do with the Friars?
USC 80, Oregon 66. USC shot 59% behind Demar DeRozan’s 19 pts and Taj Gibson’s 18 pts as the long nightmare continues for Ernie Kent’s Oregon team. USC is a classic bubble team, sporting a mid-40s RPI and what will likely be a 9-9 Pac-10 record come Saturday night.
California 83, Arizona 77. Arizona really didn’t need to lose another home game, but they’ve fallen apart the last two weeks. Tonight’s loss to Cal was their fourth in a row, and they absolutely need to get the game against Stanford this weekend to turn this around. Cal’s Jerome Randle had eight threes on his way to 31 pts.
Temple 68, St. Joseph’s 59. This Big Five matchup had A10 ramifications as Temple moved into a two-way tie for the #3 seed in the conference (tied with Dayton), as well as kept their bubble chances alive.
Tennessee 86, South Carolina 70. Tough home loss for SC, while Tennessee captured the top seed in the East Divison of the SEC behind Tyler Smith’s 22/6/7 assts. The Vols are coming on lately, having won at Florida and SC in their last two games.
Stanford 74, Arizona St. 64. ASU is slumping lately, having lost their last three games. James Harden had 22, but was only 2-10 from three, and it doesn’t appear if either of the Arizona teams have much interest in playing deep into March at this point.
QnD Conf Tourney Update. Tomorrow the America East, CAA, MAAC, SoCon and WCC begin. Here’s what happened tonight.
A-Sun. The two higher seeds, #3 Belmont and #4 Lipscomb advanced, meaning the top four seeds will be in the semis starting tomorrow.
Big South. VMI will play Radford (the top two seeds) on Saturday for possibly the first NCAA automatic bid this year.
MVC. Indiana St. and Wichita St. advanced to the quarters.
NEC. The top three seeds (Robt. Morris, Mt. St. Mary’s, Sacred Heart) + Quinnipiac advanced to the semis on Sunday.
Running Late. Apologies to the twelve loyal readers of this nightly update, but we ran into some other issues that got into the way of a fully fleshed-out post tonight. So we’re just going to do some quick takes and leave it at that. We’ll be back stronger tomorrow night.
Northwestern 64, Purdue 61. It’s really quite the shame that NW didn’t get the Illinois and Michigan games; otherwise, the Cats would be a serious bubble team. Did you know that NW has never made the Big Dance? Not once.
Louisville 95, Seton Hall 78. There is no more talented dynamic duo than T-Will (14/12) and Earl Clark (27/14), but does UL have consistent enough guard play to win it all?
NC State 74, Boston College 69. BC is as tough of a team to figure as anybody this year – they should probably make sure to beat Ga Tech on Saturday to feel safe.
UNC 86, Virginia Tech 78. Another season, another 17-12 Va Tech team. Hansbrough with 22/15.
Georgia Tech 78, Miami (FL) 68. Another major disappointment in the ACC. Does 7-9 with a 40-something RPI get it done this year?
Pittsburgh 90, Marquette 75. The Marquette exposure tour continues. We thought Dejuan Blair (23/9) was seriously going to Shaq-truct the basket stanchion on one thunderous dunk (start at the 0:29 point).
Georgia 90, Kentucky 85. Completely unacceptable loss for Billy Gillispie at home at this point in the season. Georgia hit 11-16 from long range.
Vanderbilt 75, LSU 67. LSU was unbeaten at home in the SEC before tonight. AJ Ogilvy dropped 33/10 on the Tigers, who were clearly looking ahead to next week’s SEC Tourney after clinching the top seed last weekend.
Memphis 69, Houston 60. For about a half-second, we thought Houston might have a chance in this one. That’ll be 57 in a row in CreampuffUSA for the Tigers.
Mississippi St. 80, Florida 71. Another devastating loss for an SEC bubble team. Is anyone else wondering if the Donovan magic was based solely on his O4s – Noah, Green, Horford and Brewer?
Minnesota 51, Wisconsin 46. Huge bubble win for the Gophers to sweep the season series against the Badgers. If it comes down to these two teams, Minny will have the advantage.
Texas A&M 72, Colorado 66. With five straight Big 12 wins to get to 8-7, TAMU is getting in.
Missouri 73, Oklahoma 64. Mizzou finished its home slate 18-0 and “held” Blake Griffin to 16/21 in setting up a shot at sharing the Big 12 regular season title with a win this weekend (+ another KU loss).
Texas Tech 84, Kansas 65. No explaining this one, but KU is still a team we really like in two weeks.
QnD Conf Tourney Update.
A-Sun. Only one game where #2 seed ETSU advanced to the semis.
Patriot. All four quarters were at home sites tonight. #1 American, #2 Holy Cross and #4 Army advanced. The upset was #6 Colgate knocking off #3 Navy in OT. The semis will be Sunday and our RTC correspondent Rob Dauster will be at American to liveblog the game between Am.U. and Colgate.
Sun Belt. Five games at campus sites also. Higher seeds North Texas, MTSU, S. Alabama and Denver all advanced. The only (mild) upset was Florida Intl. over La-Lafayette. The quarters continue on Sunday.
Upcoming: The MVC gets started with its opening round tomorrow night, and the NEC and A-Sun have their entire quarterfinal rounds tomorrow. The Big South will have its semifinals, and all of the top four seeds are still alive. Should be fun.
Story of the Night. Tonight was an absolute bloodbath for bubble teams hoping to finish strong to entice the fickle eye of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee next week. No fewer than four teams that couldn’t afford another L took it on the chin tonight, and after Notre Dame last night, we don’t want to hear the word “Georgetown” again this year.
JT3 Has No More Excuses. St. John’s 59, Georgetown 56 (OT). #1 SOS? Don’t care. Toughest conference in America? Doesn’t matter. Georgetown had every chance in the world to finish strong with games against St. John’s and Depaul this week, and they couldn’t even get that done, which is a microcosm of their season. The Hoyas went down in particularly frosty fashion, blowing a 15-pt lead with just over ten minutes to go in the game and putting the ball through the net just one more time from the field during that stretch. At 15-13 and now 6-11 in the Big East, we don’t want to hear about this team again unless they win five games in a row next week in New York. Biggest disappointment of the year.
Take OSU Off the Bubble. Oklahoma St. 77, Kansas St. 71. Oklahoma St. heads into its battle against Blake Griffin and rival Oklahoma this weekend riding a six-game winning streak and a progressively stronger NCAA Tournament resume. With a current RPI of #31 and a shot at a first-round bye in the Big 12 Tourney, OSU is looking more and more like a lock for the Big Dance. Byron Eaton led the Pokes with 25 pts, including 15-15 from the line. K-State, on the other hand, needed this one; the Cats have a much worse RPI (#72) but their bigger problem is that they managed to lose in the out-of-conference slate to teams like Kentucky, Iowa and Oregon of all teams. They picked it up in the Big 12 season, but we’re not sure that 9-7 (if they beat Colorado on Saturday) will be good enough. K-State will need a run in the Big 12 Tourney to get back into the serious bubble conversation.
Did USF Burst Cincy’s Bubble? S. Florida 70, Cincinnati 59. Cincy was primed to finish with a surprising 10-8 Big East record if they could have only won their last two games of the year against USF (tonight) and Seton Hall (this weekend). With a #53 RPI and now facing at best a 9-9 record, it appears that the Bearcats will have some work to do next week in NYC. USF’s Dominique Jones dropped thirty on Mick Cronin’s team, who couldn’t throw it in the Gulf of Mexico for most of the night (37%). The Bearcats have now lost four of five.
The Terps are Staggering.Wake Forest 65, Maryland 63. Maryland continued their frustrating run of playing extremely well against top opponents but faltering late. The Terps led by seven points at the half, and even had a six point lead with about 8 minutes left in the second half thanks to a trio of threes from Dave Neal on senior night. But in the end, Wake’s athleticism, length, and size advantage were just too much. The stats really speak for themselves. The Demon Deacons out-rebounded Maryland 46-27 including 18 offensive rebounds that resulted in a ton of second-chance points. Wake Forest’s length on defense gave Maryland fits, especially Landon Milbourne who had just two points while being guarded by either Al-Farouq Aminu or James Johnson all night. The lack of production of Milbourne made Maryland almost entirely reliant on Greivis Vasquez offensively with the exception of Neal who had 19 points and was 5-6 from downtown. Vasquez looked like he was pressing, especially in the second half where he forced too many bad shots and finished 7-24 from the field. Not all is lost for the Terps however. A win probably would have put them on the inside looking out, but now they have to win Saturday at Virginia if they want to finish .500 in the ACC and remain in the bubble conversation, and a win the ACC tournament wouldn’t hurt either. Wake was led by Jeff Teague’s 17 pts, but he should have been awarded ten for this particular Teague-bag.
A Closer Look at Two Contenders.
Duke 84, Florida St. 81. We’ll hand it to Duke – without Gerald Henderson, they would have lost tonight’s game against Florida St. “G” has averaged 23/6/4 assts in the last five Duke games, all wins, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that if Duke is going to do anything in March this year, it will largely be because of the skills and athleticism of their newfound star. Normally this time of year we’d be talking about how FSU really needed this win to bolster its bubble argument, but not this year – we think the Seminoles are in. Their RPI is #16 and the worst they can finish in the ACC is 9-7, so Nole fans should rest easy. This is a good team that could make the Sweet Sixteen with the right matchups.
Michigan St. 64, Indiana 59. This game is an exhibition as to why we cannot get on board with Michigan St. as a F4 team this year. They simply don’t click well enough for our liking, especially against teams they should be dominating. All due respect to Tom Crean’s Hoosiers, but Northwestern decimated IU in Bloomington, and MSU has three times the talent that NW does (we’ll ignore that one of MSU’s three B10 losses was to NW). But that goes to our point, MSU shouldn’t be losing to Northwestern; they shouldn’t be getting beaten by Penn St.; and they shouldn’t be barely defeating IU. Maybe it’s a problem with focus or motivation, but there’s something not exactly “right” with this team, and we’re tired of hearing about the injuries/illnesses/etc. We’ll be happy to retract our opinion of Izzo’s boys prove us wrong in a few weeks.
Other Games of Interest Tonight.
New Mexico 77, Utah 71. The Mountain West has been crazy this year. New Mexico rode its homecourt advantage and Tony Danridge’s 29/5 assts to a victory over Utah, forcing the Utes into a two-way tie for first place in the conference for at least one night (until BYU plays tomorrow night). There’s some really good ball in this conference this year – let’s hope the MWC gets at least three teams into the NCAAs.
Syracuse 70, Rutgers 40. At least one Big East team took care of business tonight. Syracuse shook off a no-doz first half where the Orange actually trailed at the half 20-19 to blow up on Rutgers in the second half, winning going away behind Jonny Flynn’s 18/9.
Gonzaga 90, USC Upstate 40. Why does this game even exist?
Ohio St. 60, Iowa 58. The Buckeyes really needed this win, and they got it in Iowa City tonight. Evan Turner’s 22/9 assts led OSU, but his missed FT left the door open for Iowa to take and miss a three that would have won the game (and possibly knocked OSU off the bubble).
Clemson 75, Virginia 57. Clemson pulled away in the second half behind its own personal dunk contest (six in that half) to keep the pace with Wake Forest for the #3 seed in the ACC standings, who the Tigers will play this weekend in the final regular season game for both teams.
QnD Conf Tourney Update.
Big South. No upsets. The four higher seeds all advanced, including Seth Curry’s (30/6 assts) Liberty squad. Liberty will play VMI and UNC-A will play top seed Radford on Thursday.
Horizon. Cleveland St., UIC, Wright St. and Milwaukee all advanced, and will play each other Friday (respectively) for the right to play Butler and Green Bay in the semis.
OVC. The top four seeds all advanced to the semis, where Austin Peay will play Murray St. and UT-Marting will play Morehead St. Friday night in Nashville.