ATB: El Busto on Blockbuster Monday

Posted by rtmsf on February 9th, 2010

Not a Blockbuster Night — More Like Netflix.  Back in October, we wrote that tonight’s two featured games between West Virginia-Villanova and Kansas-Texas were two of the top twenty games of the year on the schedule.  At the time, we thought there was a good chance that the first game would feature the best two teams in the Big East, while the second game could involve the top two teams in the whole country.  As it turned out, the Big East game did in fact involve two of the top teams in the conference (but probably not the best, Syracuse), but the Big 12 game only got half of the equation right — the #1 Kansas part.  Still, the slate tonight held four of the top 14 teams in the latest polls, and we anticipated a great evening of college basketball ahead of us.  That assumption was wrong, as both games tonight were rather ugly affairs involving poor shooting and a bunch of turnovers.  All we can hope is that the rest of Rivalry Week looks nothing like tonight’s tandem of busts.

Scottie and Nova Move to the Top of the Big East (AP/David Smith)

  • #5 Villanova 82, #4 West Virginia 75.  Villanova and Scottie Reynolds continue to win games where on paper they appear to be at a disadvantage.  Tonight the Wildcats ran out to a quick lead in Morgantown behind a hot Corey Fisher, but it was (who else?) Scottie Reynolds who broke out with 19 of his 21 points (along with 4 rebs/5 assts/3 stls) in the second half to ensure that the Cats moved to 10-1 in the Big East race (tied at first with Syracuse).  To win at WVU, you need to do several things very well on both ends of the court, and Villanova did most of them, such as hitting 57% of their FGs, missing only three foul shots and going +10 on the boards.  Perhaps more importantly, VU also held Da’Sean Butler to a mere 13 points on 2-12 shooting, easily his worst game in over a month and a far cry from the 43 he dropped on Jay Wright’s team last season in a beatdown of the Wildcats.  Now that both Syracuse and Villanova have gone into Morgantown and gotten wins this year, we’re confident in stating that those are without question the best two teams in this league.  WVU and Georgetown are on the next tier, and then there’s a mess of about 4-6 teams that are largely equal but not serious threats this season.  The top of this league is better than any other conference by far, though.

Kansas Continues to Roll (AP/Harry Cabluck)

  • #1 Kansas 80, #14 Texas 68.  The second game of the night was even uglier and less exciting than the first.  After a good start for the home team to lead 14-8, Kansas went on a ridiculous 22-0 run over ten minutes to effectively put the game away very early.  It was a comedy of errors for the Horns as Kansas repeatedly stole the ball for easy runouts and three-pointers, and even though the halftime lead was only ten points, nobody in the building (including the Texas players) gave a sense that they were going to come back and win the game.  KU punched Texas in the mouth and the Longhorns didn’t like the sight of their own blood.  How bad was it for UT?  The two Kansas all-americans Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich combined to shoot 5-23 and yet this game was never in question after the second tv timeout.  Let that sink in for a moment… As for Texas, we’re starting to believe that this team is finished for the season.  There appear to be underlying problems that probably relate to definition of roles and teamwork, because the Horns appear to be a bunch of individuals playing out there.  Damion James had his typically strong night with 24/10 and J’Covan Brown had a strong second half (26 pts), but only three other Longhorns even scored tonight (Gary Johnson, Avery Bradley and Dexter Pittman combined for 16 points)!  With all of the individual talent on Rick Barnes’ team, that’s simply inexcusable.  Kansas moves to 9-0 in the Big 12 and Texas drops to 5-4, two teams clearly headed in opposite directions.

Other Games of National Interest.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles… (With a Wednesday Twist)

Posted by zhayes9 on February 3rd, 2010

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

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

10. Duke

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

What Makes Duke 2010 Different than Duke 2006-09?

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

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

9. West Virginia

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

Ebanks is the X-factor for West Virginia

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

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

8. Texas

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

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ATB: UConn Remains Relevant and Other Assorted Thoughts

Posted by rtmsf on January 25th, 2010

This Weekend’s Big Games.  This wasn’t an exceptional weekend of games, but there were three that, at least on paper, held significant hope.  Two of the three turned out pretty well, but the third was a disappointment.  Let’s see if you can figure out which.

Good to See Ya Back, UConn...

  • #22 Connecticut 88, #1 Texas 74.  If you haven’t beaten a ranked team all year long, then what better place to start than to take out the team on top.  True, Texas was a lame-duck #1, having lost to Kansas State earlier in the week, but let’s not quibble.  For the Huskies, this wasn’t exactly a great time for a possible NCAA Tournament top seed to show up in town; so far this year, UConn had underachieved their way to an anemic 12-6, dropped three of their last four, fallen out of the AP Top 25, and their coach — a man known for his toughness as much as his two titles — was going to miss his second straight game because his doctors told him to get away from basketball for a while.  It’s not a matter of talent on the team, that’s never been questioned.  It just hasn’t been there for UConn; they’ve shown nothing close to the confidence and will to win that they’ve possessed for so long.  Sure, Texas had lost on Monday and was probably going to lose the top spot in the polls, but they were still a potential #1 seed come March, and the K-State loss wasn’t exactly a shocker.  After a half, this looked exactly like the game everyone expected.  Connecticut was listless and turnover-prone.  Texas looked like so many fine teams coming off a loss — angry, and wanting someone to pay.  The Huskies were down 42-34 at the break and showed no signs of a likely second-half charge.  And then — they found something.  Hard to say what it could have been — did they suddenly realize how talented they were?  Did they rally around a “Let’s do it for Coach Calhoun!” mentality?  If you’re a Connecticut fan, do you even care?  Because a different Connecticut team came out of the locker room.  Suddenly, you saw UConn players getting down in defensive stances instead of standing straight up.  They seemed three times as quick and hundred times as interested as their first half doppelgangers.  Like it so often is, defense was the trigger.  Runs of 13-0 and 9-0 paced the Huskies to a second half that saw them outscore the ‘Horns by 22, shut down Dexter Pittman, and frustrate Texas into a game total of 30 fouls.  The offense flowed through Jerome Dyson, whose 32 points (on 12-32 shooting) often came courtesy of Kemba Walker’s 10 assists (not that his 19 points and six steals didn’t help) on possessions started by one of Stanley Robinson’s (17/12) 12 rebounds.  For Texas, Damion James’ 23/7 and Avery Bradley’s 15 points simply couldn’t match whatever transfused into Connecticut at halftime.  Lots of questions, now, mostly on the UConn side.  We know Texas hasn’t peaked already, but what of Connecticut?  Can they continue to summon whatever it was that visited them at halftime of this game?  If they can, the Big East just got even more interesting than it was 48 hours ago.
  • #6 Duke 60, #16 Clemson 47.  This was what you call a defensive lockdown by the Devils.  Taking a page from the way they played Gonzaga earlier this season, Duke allowed do-it-all Clemson forward Trevor Booker to go to work (22/6), but other than Demontez Stitt’s 10-point effort, the rest of the Clemson starters had a grand total of one field goal.  The openings just weren’t there, and with no three-point shooters on the court to help instigate a prolonged run, the Tigers couldn’t get enough consecutive buckets to ever threaten Duke in the second half.  Nolan Smith (22/3) continues to play impressive basketball, as he shot 8-13 yesterday and is showing an aura of confidence that well suits a player shooting lights-out this season (49% FG, 51% 3FG).  It was his nine points during an 11-2 Duke run early in the second half that broke open the game and quieted the combustible Littlejohn faithful.  If you want to know one reason of many that Duke is playing so well this year, look no further than how well the Duke backcourt holds onto the ball.  The trio of Jon Scheyer, Andre Dawkins and Smith all rank among the top 315 players in the country in turnover percentage, with each turning it over less than 15% of the time.  As an example of this, Duke had twelve TOs yesterday in a hostile road environment against a team in Clemson that ranks in the top in forcing them — the Duke backcourt only had three.  We still have concerns about the Duke players wearing down over the course of the season, as both Kyle Singler and Scheyer played the full forty minutes and Smith logged thirty-seven.  But for now, Duke has avoided the injury bug and Coach K is very good at providing his players spot rest during games when needed.  As for Clemson, it’s back to the drawing board for Oliver Purnell’s team.  The Tigers are going to have to figure out how to find more offense beyond the consistently good play of Trevor Booker and the occasional good night from Demontez Stitt and Tanner Smith.

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by jstevrtc on January 15th, 2010

Patrick Sellars is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

Power Rankings:

  1. Texas (16-0, 2-0) – Right now the Longhorns are the best team in the nation, and Avery Bradley is playing at the level he needs to if UT wants to win the National Championship.
  2. Kansas (15-1, 1-0) – I was very surprised by the loss to Tennessee, but it isn’t enough for me to think that the Jayhawks still can’t win the Big 12, or the National Championship for that matter.
  3. Kansas State (14-2, 1-1) – The top three teams in the Big 12 have stayed pretty consistent this season. Denis Clemente was lights out in the first half against Texas A&M, and if he can continue to shoot the three like that KSU will be insanely dangerous.
  4. Missouri (14-3, 2-0) – So far, Mike Anderson and his Missouri Tigers are silencing everyone that doubted Mizzou could get back to playing at an elite level with the loss of their “Big Three”.
  5. Texas A&M (12-4, 1-1) – Picking the fifth best team in this conference is very difficult right now. I give the edge to the Aggies because of what they’ve been able to do in non-conference games, and I also think that Donald Sloan is one of the most underrated players in the nation.
  6. Baylor (13-2, 1-1) – Flukes happen, and I truly believe it was a fluke that Colorado beat Baylor on Wednesday night in Boulder. I’m not saying that the Buffaloes are a bad team, but I think Baylor can play at a much higher level.
  7. Oklahoma State (13-3, 1-1) – If I can say one thing about Oklahoma State, it’s that they have not surprised me at all this season. As of today, they are on the bubble like everybody thought they would be and their offense is totally reliant on James Anderson.
  8. Oklahoma (10-6, 1-1)Willie Warren can lead this team to an NCAA birth, but he has to play at the highest of his abilities. Tiny Gallon is finding his stride, and that’s everything but good news for the rest of the Big 12.
  9. Texas Tech (12-4, 0-2) – I cannot explain what happened in Stillwater on Saturday. That will probably be the low point for Texas Tech basketball this season, however they are slowly slipping out of the national picture and the only way to get people talking about you is to win some games.
  10. Colorado (10-6, 1-1) – I didn’t think the Buffaloes would get a conference win this early. Maybe Colorado is going to be a tougher team than everyone thought.
  11. Iowa State (11-5, 0-1) – Cyclones fans had every reason to be excited about this season, but so far it’s more of the same.
  12. Nebraska (12-5, 0-2) – Could we see a winless Big 12 season in Lincoln? It’s possible, but improbable. The Cornhuskers will have chances to beat Iowa State and Colorado at home.

Team of the Week — Missouri Tigers.  Beating Kansas State at home would have meant nothing if they lost to Texas Tech later in the week, but Mizzou pulled it off and are looking at Top 25 candidacy.

Player of the Week — Avery Bradley, G, Texas.  What a start to this youngster’s Big 12 career. 29 points in a big win over Colorado, and then a much-needed 24 in UT’s nailbiter against Iowa State. He also had a combined 15 rebounds and 9 assists in those two games.

Top Stories:

  • Home Court Advantage — One major theme in the conference this season is that, in conference games, winning on the road is a very tough task. Road wins in the Big 12 have been few and hard to come by, and any team that steals a road win should be feeling very good about themselves. So far only 4 road teams have won in conference games.
  • Kansas Falls — Don’t worry Jayhawks fans, I wouldn’t sweat this loss to Tennessee. First off, it’s the nonconference schedule, which has no effect on KU’s first goal (to win the Big 12 Regular Season Title), and I think it will light a fire under this Kansas team. I still believe Kansas will be in the Final Four at the end of this season.

This Week’s Predictions:

  • Texas A&M at Texas (Saturday January 16th, ESPNU 6:00 PM ET) — This should be another easy win for the Longhorns, but the Aggies should stick around for a while. UT has too much depth, and TAMU just can’t matchup with the likes of Dexter Pittman and Damion JamesWinner: Texas
  • Texas Tech at Kansas (Saturday January 16th, 1:45 PM ET) — Its too bad that a Texas Tech team with a lot of promise coming into the season is going to have to start 0-3 in the conference.  Sherron Collins and company are way too much for the Red Raiders to handle.  Winner: Kansas
  • Missouri at Oklahoma (Saturday January 16th, ESPN2 1:00 PM ET) — Although Mizzou may look like the better team on paper, winning on the road is not their strong suit. I think the Sooners will get their first big win of the year Saturday in Norman.  Winner: Oklahoma
  • Kansas State at Colorado (Saturday January 16th, 4:00 PM ET) — This is going to be a much closer game than people think. Colorado fans have been looking for something to cheer about for a long time, and with the chance to knock off a top 15 opponent after defeating a ranked team at home earlier in the week, I think the CU fans will come out strong. However, Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen are not going to let the Wildcats fall subject to this trap game and KSU will pull out a very close one in Boulder.  Winner: Kansas State
  • Iowa State at Nebraska (Saturday January 16th, 8:00 PM ET) — The Cornhuskers are just not a very good basketball team, and Iowa State has Craig Brackins. Brackins should be able to do major damage in the post, and the Cyclones will notch their first conference victory.  Winner: Iowa State
  • Texas at Kansas State (Monday January 18th, ESPN 9:00 PM ET) — This is a tremendous matchup for a Monday night basketball game. Most likely we will have a battle between two Top 10 teams. A very experienced Texas team with a conditioned coach versus a Kansas State team that many think is overachieving.  In the end, I think the play of Avery Bradley will win this game for UT. Pittman and James will do their regular work inside, but Bradley’s outside shooting will dictate how many double teams the big men see. I predict Bradley will have a great game and Texas will march on, still undefeated.  Winner: Texas
  • Oklahoma at Texas A&M (Tuesday January 19th, 8:00 PM ET) — I am starting to believe in the Sooners, which is probably a bad idea because I think they might implode and end up making me look like an idiot. When I look at the talent on that team, and the fact they’re led by Jeff Capel, I see Sweet Sixteen. However, OU is the surprise team in this conference because they are underachieving, and I think they will drop this game to TAMU.  Winner: Texas A&M
  • Baylor at Kansas (Wednesday January 20th, ESPN2 9:00 PM ET) — I think Baylor has what it takes to pull an upset in this game, however I don’t think they will use that talent well enough to actually execute a victory. I could make it simpler: Kansas doesn’t lose at home.  Winner: Kansas
  • Colorado at Oklahoma State (Wednesday January 20th, ESPNU 9:00 PM ET) — If you truly enjoy college basketball there are a lot of things intriguing about this game. Two of them are NBA prospects Cory Higgins and James Anderson. Another is the fact that both teams are dying to make the postseason, and these games can end up being the best (see Texas A&M vs. Baylor 2008).  Winner: Oklahoma State
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NCAA Closes Recruiting Loophole — Sort Of

Posted by jstevrtc on January 14th, 2010

According to this report from CBS Sports, earlier today the NCAA passed legislation regarding a subject they’ve been talking about tackling for years, specifically that of basketball programs hiring “anyone associated with a basketball recruit for a two-year period before or after the player enrolls at the school.”  Gone, therefore, are the days when a coach could entice a prized recruit to play at his program by also offering up a job as an assistant coach or administrative assistant (fill in whatever title you wish) to the recruit’s high school or AAU coach, or to a family member.

Don’t be fooled — this tactic is as much in practice today as it was in the past.  A piece by the inestimable Andy Katz published at ESPN.com back in September brought up the matter of Louisville’s Rick Pitino hiring an assistant coach from star recruit Marquis Teague’s high school team as an assistant at the U of L program, and that many people are questioning the timing.  At the beginning of the article he cites several examples of programs hiring associates/family members to help land recruits: during Bob Huggins’ one year at Kansas State, the program hired UNC-Charlotte assistant Dalonte Hill (Michael Beasley’s AAU coach); Beasley decided to get out of his initial commitment to Charlotte and head to K-State soon after.  Danny Manning’s father was on Kansas’ staff during the Danny and the Miracles title year, and Mario Chalmers’ father was a staff member on their championship team from two years ago.  John Calipari hired Milt Wagner to his staff right around the time that his son, prized prepster DaJuan Wagner, had signed with Memphis.  It’s true, in each of these situations, there were reasons to hire the associate/family member other than their relation to the star player, and many of them were in their positions before and after the player came or left.  The point is, though, that shady or not, this stuff happens.  We know why it happens.  And the NCAA has now attempted to do something about it.

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ATB: Can We Stop Discussing Big 12 Home Teams Now?

Posted by rtmsf on January 14th, 2010

Big 12 Home Teams No Longer Unbeatable.  We saw the stat floating around on one of the ESPN360 feeds for the first time over the weekend, and by the early part of this week it was ubiquitous.  Undoubtedly last week somebody in the Big 12′s stats department realized that the league’s home teams had only lost a single game all season (Northern Iowa’s victory at Iowa State in early December) and began marketing it as unassailable proof of the conference’s superiority.  It’s a manufactured statistic, but anytime people start repeating such a meme it takes on a life of its own.  By last night, after Kansas State and Colorado’s home wins to move the league to 114-1 on the year in their own buildings, you might have thought from listening to the announcers on the night’s games that we were in the midst of an epic realignment of the balance of power of the sport.  Sigh…  such is the 24-hour national news cycle.  At any rate, tonight’s three games featured three really good Big 12 teams going on the road to a conference rival, and collectively those three teams — #1 Texas, #3 Kansas,  Missouri — made mincemeat of that stat.  Let’s not speak of it again.

  • #1 Texas 90, Iowa State 83.  Texas’ freshman crew continues to impress, as they combined for 46/11/7 assts in UT’s 16th consecutive win to start the season.  This game was close for about a half, but UT came out and wrested control of the game in the second half behind Avery Bradley’s scoring (16 of his 24 in the 2d) and if this kid is going to keep playing like his last two games (22-28 from the floor, 7-7 from three), then Kansas’ Xavier Henry is going to have some serious competition for Big 12 FrOY this season.  Up next to stay unbeaten: rival Texas A&M at home.
  • #3 Kansas 84, Nebraska 72.  Kansas found itself down double-figures very early on the road in this one, but the Jayhawks were able to stay composed and use their superior depth and experience to pull away from pesky Nebraska late behind turnovers and strong interior play.  Cole Aldrich didn’t have a huge game (6/9/3 blks), but he didn’t need to, because Marcus Morris came off the bench to provide 19/7, including several timely plays during they key stretch where KU pulled away.  Kansas doesn’t utilize the three-point shot to a great degree, but the Jayhawks hit thirteen tonight, including 4-5 from Sherron Collins (22/5 assts).
  • Missouri 94, Texas Tech 89 (OT).  Mizzou used its fullcourt press to force 18 Red Raider turnovers and get a great game from Marcus Denmon off the bench (20/6) to win a key road game in Lubbock tonight.  The Tigers very nearly blew it, though, letting an 11-pt lead slip away in the final four minutes of regulation and allowing the game to be sent to overtime on two FTs by Tech’s John Roberson.  Then in the overtime period, it was Texas Tech’s Nick Okorie who had two FTs to give his team the lead, only to miss both of them with 20.4 seconds remaining and allowing Mizzou to hang on.

Clemson, You Simply Cannot RTC in This Situation!! #19 Clemson 83, #13 North Carolina 64.  Surprisingly, this was over very early.  Clemson came out and jumped on UNC with two large Trevor Booker-sized feet, and for the rest of the game the Tar Heels were one big turnover machine (25 total).  Closest UNC came in the second half was 12.  Booker’s 24/9/4 assts led Clemson to only their fifth win in sixteen tries against the Tar Heels, and their first since 2004.  Message to Clemson fans: we at RTC agree that this was an important win and dealing with UNC has caused you some recent frustration.  But you were FAVORED in this game, and UNC was only six spots ahead of you in the rankings.  We hope you enjoy the win, because you deserved it.  But this version of Gathering at the Paw (which we thought was a football tradition only) does not meet our criteria as a valid RTC.  You simply cannot RTC when you’re the favored team!

Jamie Dixon, COY#20 Pittsburgh 67, #15 Connecticut 57.  On Tuesday night we saw Evan Turner inject himself right back into the Player of the Year race with his late-game tour-de-force in stealing that win at Purdue.  Wednesday night gave us all a good look at a man who is likely the favorite for Coach of the Year (we just got some mean looks from people in Lexington) at this point — a certain Jamie Dixon of the University of Pittsburgh.  Going to Hartford and playing Connecticut is a tough task for anyone, but getting UConn coming off a loss makes that trip even more treacherous.  The Panthers didn’t care.  They started the game by streaking to an early ten-point lead, immediately putting UConn on the defensive.  The Panthers then led by 32-39 at the half and, even though they shot a tepid 39% from the field (23-59, and 4-12 from three-point range), held off the Huskies for the first part of the second half, causing the Hartford crowd to grow restless.  Just like you knew they would, Connecticut then made their run, a 10-0 stretch that gave UConn a one point lead at 47-46.  It was back-and-forth until the 5:00 mark, at which point Pitt took a lead (52-51) that they would not relinquish for the remainder.  The stats show that Pittsburgh was able to hold off UConn by outrebounding them 26-13 in the second half and by hitting 17-20 at the free throw line.  We say, however, that it was the intrinsic toughness of this Panthers squad that earned them this victory.  To outwork UConn on the glass (both offensive and defensive) in their own building, to drive the lane and take contact with abandon in the way they did…that takes guts.  And that’s a product of what Dixon has instilled in this team.  If you’ve heard his players do interviews over the last couple of weeks, you’ve noticed that these Pittsburgh kids love talking about how great the chemistry is on their team and how much they’ve bought into Dixon’s mindset and vision for their squad.  Everyone knows you have to have quality players (the “Jimmies and Joes”) to be competetive at all, especially in a cut-throat conference like the Big East.  But team chemistry is the ultimate catalyst for success.  Coaches can go whole seasons without having their players “buy into” what they’re trying to teach.  Dixon has achieved this with a team that lost 60% of its scoring from last year and had been forgotten about by just about everyone up until they started their current seven-game win streak, the last three coming on the road in-conference against Syracuse, Cincinnati, and Connecticut.  The Huskies now find themselves going out of conference to Michigan this Sunday, needing a win to stay ranked…and relevant.

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Boom Goes The Dynamite: Wednesday 1.13.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on January 13th, 2010

There are some REALLY good games on tonight and many of them will be somewhere on the tube, so we figured tonight we’d step up with a special edition of our weekend live-blogging feature.  To start off, we’ll be checking on Boston College at Duke (ESPN), Pittsburgh at Connecticut (ESPN2), and Cincinnati at St. John’s (ESPN-U), and we’ll branch out to other networks as well throughout the night.  We want to know what you’re watching, as well.  Keep hitting that refresh button and we’ll see you in the comments section.  It’ll all start off momentarily…

7:03 pm ET: Wow, where to start?  This is a ridiculous night of hoops.  SO many games on, which is why we’re here.  The first thing I notice is the wardrobe symmetry between play-by-play man Rece Davis (?!?) and Bobby Knight.  Both in the v-neck sweaters.  Is it good when Bobby Knight is influencing your wardrobe choices?  I guess Rece can make it work.

7:07: Yeesh.  Not exactly a good trip for Nolan Smith.  A missed dunk and then a missed 10-foot jumper from almost behind the backboard.  Meanwhile, over on the Big Ten Network, Minnesota is keeping up with Michigan State early; MSU has a 24-21 lead at the under-4 TVTO.  I’m especially fired up for this UConn-Pitt game.  Can Pitt continue this ascent after being basically forgotten about in the early part of this season?  Up on the Huskies early in Storrs…

7:20: UConn looks like a YMCA club team.  They’re straight up on defense, if you can call it that.  At this point they seem severely uninterested.  Pitt has guys moving on offense without the ball, talking on defense, etc.  That’s how you build an early ten point lead on a team in their own house.

7:23: Maybe that Jerome Dyson dunk will get UConn going.  UConn’s strategy is obvious, and that’s to run Pitt into the ground.  UConn scored on four straight possessions so it looks like they’ve finally shown up mentally.  But what’s this?  Interesting score…South Florida up at home on West Virginia 23-12 over on ESPN 360 with about 7:00 left in the first.  Virginia has an early lead on Georgia Tech and BC just got a NICE dunk by Reggie Jackson to go up one on Duke.

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by rtmsf on December 31st, 2009

Patrick Sellars is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

Power Rankings

  1. Texas (12-0) – Last Week the Longhorns beat Michigan State pretty handily. I’m going to side with the Rush the Court Top 25 and say that right now Texas is the best team in the country.
  2. Kansas (12-0) – The Jayhawks have a pretty tough three game stretch coming up: at Temple, vs. Cornell, and at Tennessee. If KU takes care of those teams they could reclaim the top spot.
  3. Kansas State (12-1) – Jacob Pullen is one of the best guards in the country that isn’t getting nearly enough recognition.
  4. Oklahoma State (11-1) – I don’t know if I really believe that the Cowboys are the fourth best team in the conference, but they take this spot by default because all the teams above them lost.
  5. Texas A&M (9-3) – The loss to Washington was expected, but the loss of  Derrick Roland to a broken leg was not. Hopefully he can regain his eligibility and come back strong next season.
  6. Texas Tech (10-2) – The Red Raiders became the second Big 12 team to lose to New Mexico (Texas A&M also lost to the Lobos) Tuesday night.
  7. Missouri (10-3) – The Tigers get a big jump after taking care of Illinois on a neutral court. Kim English is playing very good basketball right now.
  8. Baylor (10-1) – I’m still skeptical of the Bears because they really haven’t had any tough competition since Thanksgiving, but they took care of Arkansas easily.
  9. Nebraska (10-3) – The Cornhuskers get to move up because of their impressive win over Tulsa.  This team has set themselves up for an NIT bid if they can finish in the top nine in the conference.
  10. Iowa State (9-3) – I’m waiting for this team to get hot, because when they do they are going to be an exciting team to watch. They have two huge home games coming up against Houston on 1/3, and Duke on 1/6.
  11. Oklahoma (8-4) – I thought this Sooner team was supposed to compete for the conference title.
  12. Colorado (8-4) – I like Alec Burks, and I think he can be a very good player in conference play, but I don’t see Colorado ever getting out of the cellar.

Team of the Week: Missouri Tigers – In a quiet week, Missouri beat their interstate rivals Illinois pretty handily. The Big 12 is looking very strong right now, and its teams like the Tigers that are helping make it the best conference in the nation.

Player of the Week: Cole Aldrich (C), Kansas – The reason I’m giving it to Aldrich is because of his rebounding. This past week he had 10 rebounds against California and 14 against Belmont. Aldrich isn’t putting up Player of the Year numbers like some thought he would, but to his credit he has only registered 30 minutes in a game twice this season.

Top Stories

  • Derrick Roland. I feel terrible for this kid who broke his leg against Washington ending a season in which the Aggies were probably headed for the NCAA Tournament. Now the Aggies are left without their star player and they’re in trouble of missing the Tournament if they can’t find someone to pick up the slack left by Roland.
  • New Top Team. Texas overtook Kansas for the top spot in the Big 12 Power Rankings. Right now the Longhorns are playing like a national championship caliber team. Their frontcourt is the best in the nation, and their young guards are slowly getting better. Avery Bradley is key to this teams hopes of winning a national championship.

This Week’s Predictions (* indicates “Game to Watch”, # indicates “Upset Watch”)

  • Texas – vs. TX-AM CC 1/2 (W), at Arkansas 1/5 (W) – The Longhorns are probably remembering their loss to Arkansas last season, and they don’t want that to happen again.
  • Kansas – at Temple 1/2 (W)*, vs. Cornell 1/6 (W) – These are two tough games that the Jayhawks really want to win. You can’t sleep on either of these teams, especially Temple, who beat Tennessee at home last season.
  • Kansas State – vs South Dakota 1/3 (W) – Kansas State will get one more cupcake before conference play begins on January 9th.
  • Oklahoma State – at Rhode Island 1/2 (L) #, vs. Coppin State 1/5 (W) – Rhode Island is 10-1, and I think they will be too much for James Anderson and the Cowboys.
  • Texas A&M – vs. Northwestern State 1/2 (W), vs North Dakota 1/5 (W) – The Aggies will get to play some easy games in order to adjust to life without Derrick Roland.
  • Texas Tech – vs UTEP 1/3 (L) # – The Miners now have Derrick Caracter, and I think that makes them too much of a match for the Red Raiders.
  • Missouri – vs. UMKC 12/30 (W), vs. Georgia 1/2 (W), vs. Savannah State 1/6 (W) – The Tigers need to beat Georgia if they want to keep their NCAA hopes alive, barring a tremendous Big 12 finish.
  • Baylor – at Arkansas 12/30 (L), at South Carolina 1/2 (L), vs Morgan State (W) – I don’t believe that Baylor will be a good team in conference play, and I think they’ll prove it this week when they lose to two mediocre SEC teams on the road.
  • Nebraska – vs. Maryland Eastern Shore 1/2 (W), vs. Southeastern Lousiana 1/5 (W) – Two cupcake opponents should give the Cornhuskers a respectable record going into conference play.
  • Iowa State – vs. Houston 1/3 (W), vs. Duke 1/6 (L)* – I could see the Cyclones putting up a good fight against the Blue Devils, but ultimately Duke has too much talent for this Iowa State team.
  • Oklahoma – at Gonzaga 12/22 (L)*, vs Maryland-Eastern Shore ¼ (W)- The Sooners could make a statement against Gonzaga if they pull off a win, but they probably won’t.
  • Colorado – at Tulsa 1/2 (L), vs Miami (OH) 1/5 (W) – Tulsa will prove to be too much on the inside for Colorado to handle.
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on December 29th, 2009

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

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

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

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ATB: Texas the New Florida?

Posted by rtmsf on December 22nd, 2009

Damion James Makes an Early Case for POY. #2 Texas 79, #9 Michigan State 68. Four days and two games against top ten opponents for Rick Barnes. No sweat, right? Texas passed yet another difficult test prior to the winter break by imposing their hellacious perimeter defense into 22 Michigan State turnovers and allowing the future Big 12 all-time rebounder Damion James to put up 23/13 on 10-18 FG in a statement victory at home. The dynamic defensive duo of Dogus Balbay and lengthy freshman Avery Bradley confused star point guard Kalin Lucas (3-11 FG and 2:6 A:TO ratio) all night while also forcing guards Chris Allen and Korie Lucious into a combined nine turnovers of their own. In a key stretch late in the second half, reserve forward Gary Johnson drained a difficult shot and forced two consecutive Michigan State miscues around the halfcourt line that were converted into easy buckets. But the real story is the utter dominance of Damion James. He’s now been clearly the best player on the floor against two national title participants in a matter of four days, making a case ahead of Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Craig Brackins for the favorite to win Big 12 POY (and perhaps more). Texas also received four treys from freshman Jordan Hamilton and did most of their damage with center Dexter Pittman on the bench with foul trouble. One could certainly make a case for the Longhorns as the #1 team in the land. They play Kansas, right?

Texas is Good Enough to Do the Florida Twin-Title Thing

Down to Seven Unbeatens. Arkansas 66, Missouri State 62 (OT). The undefeated run came to a bitter end in Fayetteville for Missouri State as the enigma that is the Arkansas basketball team edged the Bears in overtime. Regulation ended in crazy fashion with a wide-open Caleb Patterson layup at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. With 18 seconds left in the extra frame, three-point mastermind Rotnei Clarke nailed a clutch trey and then sealed the game with two free throws afterwards. Missouri State struggled from the field all night, shooting just 32% from three and 31% overall in a rare positive showing for the Razorback defense. Kyle Weems led the way for the Bears with 24 points.

Cal Challenges Kansas for a Half. #1 Kansas 84, California 69. Maybe the Pac-10 is improving?  The much-maligned league got three wins over BCS conference teams in the same evening; and considering that coming into tonight’s games, the league was a combined 6-20 against the other five power conferences this season, three more wins in a single night is something to be excited about.  This was not one of those three wins.  For about twenty-five minutes tonight, though, Cal hung right there with the nation’s #1 team on its home court, but eventually the superior talent of KU won out, as the Jayhawks hit a scorching 73% for the second half and used a 15-3 run to open some distance and ultimately put the game away.  All five Kansas starters scored in double figures, led by Sherron Collins’ 17/5 and Cole Aldrich’s 10/10/5 blks.  Patrick Christopher had 21 for the Bears, picking up for the struggling star Jerome Randle (3-15 FG), who had trouble finding open looks against the Jayhawk defense (including seven turnovers).

Texas Tech Loses More Than a Game. #19 Washington 73, Texas A&M 64. UW got 25/13/3 blks from Quincy Pondexter, who is putting up all-america numbers this year, but more importantly the Huskies’ defense was superb, holding A&M to 30% shooting and handling the Aggies on the boards (+10).  The overarching story of this game, though, was the terrible injury that TAMU guard Derrick Roland suffered when he came down awkwardly and broke his leg after jumping under the basket in the second half.  Those who saw it live compared it to the gruesome broken leg that Joe Theismann once endured on national television a generation ago.  If you’re the type of person who does not handle seeing injuries well, you probably shouldn’t make the jump today (we put the video up, but you don’t have to watch it; seriously, it’s bad).

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ATB: Snow Problem, Plenty of Hoops…

Posted by rtmsf on December 20th, 2009

The Debacle in Hinkle#17 Butler 69, Xavier 68. The story over the weekend was the bizarre and (some say) unconscionable ending to the Butler-Xavier game on Saturday afternoon.  If you somehow missed it, check out our post on the subject from last night.  We pretty much agree that the referee crew followed the rules as they’re written, but that the rules as they’re written pretty much suck in a situation such as this.  RTC Live was there, and as our correspondent wrote at the time:

That would be one ballsy crew to take a full second OFF the clock against a visitor down by 1 point.  HUGE controversy WOW…. I have been doing bball for years and I cannot believe that they just did that?!?!?!?!?!”

Ballsy they were, but also correct by the letter of the law.  Unfortunately for Xavier and Chris Mack, the Musketeers were left holding the bag when a timing error led them to believe they’d have a final shot to win the game.  The NCAA needs to step up and immediately clarify this rule, including what kind of stopwatch can and cannot be used to estimate the time so that we’re not faced with an equally ridiculous ending on a much bigger stage later this year.

Jerry’s Joint#2 Texas 103, #10 UNC 90.  The featured game of the weekend at Jerry’s World known as the new-and-improved-to-a-ridiculous-degree Cowboys Stadium showed why many people are very high on Rick Barnes’ Texas team to cut down the nets in April.  UT put four players in the 20+ points column, including huge dub-dubs from seniors Damion James (25/15) and Dexter Pittman (23/15) to go along with Avery Bradley’s 20/4 assts/3 stls and J’Covan Brown’s 21/5/3 assts.  Showing the depth that Barnes now has at his disposal, much ballyhooed transfer Jai Lucas (recently eligible) only played six minutes and recorded zero points.  He’d start for most of the teams in the Top 25 from day one.  UNC’s Ed Davis was the only Carolina player who seemed comfortable with the waves of Texas players inside, as he blew up for 21/9/4 blks for one of his best performances of the year.  Texas will get another test on Tuesday of this week as Michigan State visits Austin, while UNC will head back home for a few easier games prior to the start of the ACC in early January.  We’re still worried about UNC’s point guard play, but we’d imagine that Texas is going to make a lot of pretty good teams look bad over the course of this season.  That team is loaded!

The JumboTron Dwarfs the Court (AP/Tony Gutierrez)

Gonz-awfulness#7 Duke 76, #15 Gonzaga 41.  In a game all too reminiscent of other early-season blowouts that Duke has administered on overrated teams, the Devils completely overwhelmed the Zags defensively to, as Mark Few put it after the game, “woodshed” his team on Saturday afternoon at MSG.  Duke’s defense held Gonzaga to a mere fifteen FGs for the game, 28% shooting, a single three-pointer and a quarter-century team low of 41 points.  Despite all the hype for the Duke bigs coming into the season, it’s been the backcourt play of Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith, combining for 36 PPG, 7 RPG, and 10 APG that has truly driven this team to have the look as one of the best teams in America this year.  Scheyer’s ridiculous A:TO ratio of 5.8 to 1 actually went down after two TOs in this one, but his 20/5/8 assts more than made up for the miscue.  Smith added 24/3/3 assts, and we’re going to spare talking about the Gonzaga awfulness since not a single Zag got into double figures on the day.

Shot of the WeekendCornell 91, Davidson 88 (OT). Ryan Wittman’s 30-footer at the buzzer in overtime gave the Big Red its eighth win of the year and a shot at a Big East team (St. John’s) on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.  Lost in the heroics and glee of Wittman’s shot was the fact that it wouldn’t have even been possible had Louis Dale not hit a driving layup with 0.7 seconds remaining in regulation.  Cornell’s only two losses this year were against Big East teams (Seton Hall and Syracuse), so this will likely be the Ivy League favorite’s best chance to get a huge win this season (Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse is not realistic).  We haven’t been able to locate a video of this shot yet, but if you see one, let us know.

SEC Sucktitude. A week ago, we were ready to start believing that the SEC is much-improved this year.  Then the SEC East craps itself on Saturday and Sunday.  We’re reserving judgment for now, which of course means we really think this league is terrible and deserves only one bid (ok, not really).

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 12.19.09

Posted by jstevrtc on December 19th, 2009

Welcome back!  Another weekend means another edition of everyone’s favorite college basketball live blog.  Assuming they all actually happen (there was, like, a huge snowstorm, you see), there are actually some pretty darn good games happening today (Michigan at Kansas, anyone?  Maybe a little Xavier at Butler?), and since we know you’ll be watching, and we know we’ll be watching…why not watch with us?  We’ll be commenting all day, but we want to know what your thoughts are on the games as they’re being played.  So keep checking this space and hitting that refresh button, and let’s have your comments as well.  It’ll start at noon and go all day long, so I suggest you grab some hot chocolate (or your beverage of choice), turn on your favorite game, and join us.  Keep checking back every few minutes!

12:03 pm: So here we go.  Starting off with Michigan at Kansas on ESPN as our principle (and as of right now, only noteworthy) game.  This is a good but perplexing Michigan team.  Their four losses are Marquette, Alabama, Boston College, and at Utah.  Michigan was a tournament team last year and returned those two stars in Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, which would make me think they should have at least won a couple of those.  BC is tough, but Michigan has to defend the home floor against a team like that if they want to be taken seriously.  Quite a tall order they’ve got today.  As I type this, Michigan’s last three shots have been threes, none of which went down.  Meanwhile, Kansas has been getting the ball inside every trip down.

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