Rushed Reactions: #6 Butler 56, #11 Texas 48

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 19th, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kellen Dunham and the Bulldogs came up big when it mattered most. (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

Kellen Dunham and the Bulldogs came up big when it mattered most. (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Once again, Butler overcame adversity.  After former head coach Brandon Miller left the team just before the season started, Butler responded by going 8-1 out of the gate, including wins over Georgetown and North Carolina. After Andrew Chrabascz went down for four games in mid-February, Butler responded by going 3-1 and maintaining its strong NCAA Tournament profile. And today, after the Bulldogs blew their early lead – and second-leading scorer Roosevelt Jones went down with a leg injury – the team fought back, regained the lead and held off Texas. This group takes hit after hit and continues to respond, time and time again.
  2. Chris Holtmann knows what he’s doing. The interim-turned-permanent head coach seemed hell-bent on maximizing Butler’s final few possessions, calling a series of timeouts around the final media break that seemed to pay off; Kellen Dunham and Kameron Woods knocked down a couple huge shots and put the Bulldogs up for good. Holtmann’s defensive game plan – backing off Texas’ shooters and committing extra help in the post – was similarly excellent. Forget about the fact that he wasn’t even supposed have this job – the 43-year old knows know what he’s doing on the sidelines.
  3. Maybe Texas was what its record reflected. “It is what it is. We are who we are,” Texas head coach Rick Barnes said after the game. That pretty much sums it up for the Longhorns, which lost yet another close game and again failed to live up to expectations (they were Vegas favorites today). Barnes’ club struggled to hit jump shots and was never really able to maximize its massive frontcourt advantage, especially on the offensive end. At some point, you just have to accept that if it looks like a rat and smells like a rat… well, you get the picture. At 20-14, Texas was not necessarily “better than its record shows.” It might have just been a middling team all along.

Star of the Game: Kellen Dunham (20 points, 8-of-11 FT). The sharp-shooting junior carried the Bulldogs when Jones went out and then carried them again when it mattered most, earning numerous trips to the free throw line – including a three-point foul midway through the second half – and hitting the dagger triple to give Butler its decisive final advantage.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Evening

Posted by RTC Staff on March 19th, 2015

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And here we are. For those of us who grew up from around 1985 to 2001, the mathebracketal beauty of a 64-team field is what the NCAA Tournament is all about. Today and tomorrow are a mixture of so many highs and lows that it’s impossible to keep track of it all. We won’t be able to do that, but we can at least get you ready. Here’s a preview on each of today’s evening games. Enjoy the Madness.

#1 Villanova vs. #16 Lafayette — East Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) — 6:50 PM ET on TBS.

Villanova should take care of Lafayette, its Philadelphia area counterpart. (Mark Jordan / City of Basketball Love)

Villanova should take care of Lafayette, its Philadelphia area counterpart. (Mark Jordan/City of Basketball Love)

After leading Lafayette back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000, Fran O’Hanlon now gets the pleasure of facing his alma mater in the Round of 64. Problem is, there won’t be anything pleasurable about it. Villanova enters the Dance hotter than arguably any team outside of Kentucky, ripping off 15-straight wins to end season and drubbing opponents by nearly 17-points per game in that span. The Big East champs boast the fourth-most offense efficient in college basketball, while their defense has allowed over one point per possession just five times since January 19. The Leopards might actually wind up exceeding that mark – their offense is really good, and no other team in the tournament shoots as well from long distance (41.4% 3PT) – but their Patriot League-worst defense simply won’t be able to stop the Wildcats on the other end. Darrun Hilliard (37.8% 3PT), Josh Hart (46.8% 3PT) and the rest of Villanova’s motion attack should have a field-day from behind the arc against O’Hanlon’s zone, and Lafayette doesn’t really have the athletes to stop their dribble-penetration. Leopards’ forward Seth Hinrichs (13.1, 5.8) is a legitimate stretch-four and could have his moments on the offensive end, but barring some strange Pennsylvania voodoo, expect Jay Wright’s bunch to light up the scoreboard and win going away.

The RTC Certified Pick: Villanova

#8 Cincinnati vs. #9 Purdue – Midwest Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 7:10 PM ET on CBS.

Just like in the Butler/Texas match-up, the lower seed is the favorite in this one. Purdue, making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012, is a two-point favorite in this match-up of contrasting styles. The Boilermakers are led into action by junior center A.J. Hammons and Big Ten defensive player of the year, junior Raphael Davis. Purdue’s biggest advantage on any given night is its size. Matt Painter has two seven-footers at his disposal in Hammons and freshman big man Isaac Haas. While Purdue averages a respectable 70 points per game, Cincinnati struggles in that category as it puts up just 62.4 a game. The Bearcats do get strong production from junior forward Octavius Ellis, who leads the team in both scoring at 10 points per game and rebounding at 7.3 boards per game. Expect this game to be a low-scoring grinder that will likely be close until the final buzzer. That being said, Cincinnati’s offensive issues will be too much to overcome and Purdue will move onto the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Purdue

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Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: #1 Villanova (32-2, 16-2 Big East). For as good as Virginia has been this season, Villanova enters the NCAA Tournament as hot and seemingly infallible as any team outside of Kentucky. The Big East champion Wildcats are currently riding a 15-game winning streak, including 11 victories by double-figures and two drubbings – an 89-61 win over Providence and 105-68 beat-down of St. John’s – against current Tournament participants. They boast the fourth-most efficient offense in the country thanks to a balanced lineup that sees six different players average between nine and 14 points per game, and have a true inside presence and rim protector in 6’11” big man Daniel Ochefu (9.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG). And even though Jay Wright’s team relies heavily on perimeter shooting, it happens to be one of the best three-point shooting teams in America at 38.9 percent. To boot, Villanova’s defense holds opponents to well under one point per possession.

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Should They Falter: #2 Virginia (30-3, 16-2 ACC). Virginia could have been a #1 seed and very well might play like one if Justin Anderson (12.3 PPG) rounds into form over the coming days and weeks. Since the 6’6″ wing went down with a broken hand in February, the Cavaliers’ offense has sorely missed his outside shooting (46.9% 3FG) and ability to get to the rim. The junior returned (in a limited capacity) for the ACC Tournament, however, and could be in better basketball shape by this weekend. Either way, the regular season ACC champs should be fine in the early-going, since their defense is borderline impenetrable. No team in the country – not even Kentucky – touts better adjusted defensive efficiency numbers than Tony Bennett’s guys, a product of his pack-line system which thrives on eliminating access to the paint and forcing tough shots from perimeter. Outside of Villanova, it’s hard to envision many teams in the East mustering enough offensive production to topple the Wahoos – especially if Anderson again finds his footing. Read the rest of this entry »

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Xavier: The Forgotten Big East Team

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 13th, 2015

Heading into yesterday’s Big East clash with Butler, Xavier sported a pedestrian 19-12 record with a handful of bad losses. In a league with a number of Tournament-bound teams, the Musketeers had been shockingly average. Chris Mack‘s group can look fantastic on one end, utilizing a highly efficient offense, but horrific on the other, often undone by a woeful defense. While other Big East schools this season were busy receiving recognition for their strong play, defensive prowess or prodigious talent, Mack’s team just kept humming along. There was no string of eight consecutive victories, no NBA-ready players, no Top 25 ranking.

Jalen Reynolds (left) and Xavier showed tremendous fight in their upset victory over Butler. Will the same hold true against Georgetown tonight?

Jalen Reynolds (left) and Xavier showed tremendous fight in their upset victory over Butler. Will the same hold true against Georgetown tonight? (AP)

So when Xavier drew a matchup against regional rival Butler, one of the best defensive teams in the country, the natural conclusion was that defense would triumph. For a while, yesterday’s game felt like it was heading that way. Butler played with the lead for the majority of the game, but Xavier’s offense found its groove down the stretch, throwing a wrench in a highly-anticipated Butler-Georgetown semifinal. “I’ve told these guys that everybody’s been talking about the Butler-Georgetown matchup in the semifinals, and that was a little disrespectful because [Butler] had to play us first. Then you can deal with the semifinal matchup,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. Read the rest of this entry »

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Championship Week Primer: Bid-Stealers and Teams to Watch

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 10th, 2015

Championship Week is upon us. And while some mid-majors have already locked up their spots in the Big Dance, it’s time for the major conference tournaments to get under way. Here’s a brief look at each of those upcoming tournaments with a description of one team in each that is primed to use the postseason as the catalyst for a run and one potential bid-stealer.

AAC

SMU is Flying Under the Radar Somewhat (USA Today Images)

SMU is Somewhat Flying Under the Radar (USA Today Images)

  • Team to Watch: SMU – This one might seem obvious as SMU is the top seed and the best team in the conference. But such is the state of the AAC that the Mustangs are really the only team with a shot to make some noise in March. Temple is an NCAA Tournament team but isn’t anything special, and the same could be said for Cincinnati and Tulsa, if either cracks the field of 68.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: UConn – Hey, we’ve certainly seen the Huskies get hot before. There haven’t been many indications that Kevin Ollie’s team can put together a run, but its draw is favorable — SMU is on the opposite side of the bracket — so a Sunday date with the Mustangs with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line is a distinct possibility.

ACC

  • Team to Watch: North Carolina – The Tar Heels have amazingly lost six of their last 10 games en route to a fifth-place finish in the ACC. But since an ugly loss to NC State a couple weeks ago, they’ve looked decent and are capable of exploding at any time. North Carolina has elite athleticism and a guard in Marcus Paige who is one of college basketball’s best when he’s locked in. The Heels — playing in front of the always-friendly Greensboro crowd — should be favored against Louisville in the quarterfinals before meeting a Virginia team that could still be at less than full strength.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: Miami – Miami isn’t a bid-stealer, per se, because the Hurricanes don’t have to win the ACC Tournament to earn entry into the Dance. They probably only need two victories but they’ve been given an intriguing road as the #6 seed. Provided the Hurricanes win their Wednesday game against Wake Forest or Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and then potentially Duke await. Miami has already gone toe-to-toe with both this year in their buildings, and even beat Duke at Cameron. If Jim Larranaga’s team were to pull off those two upsets, anything could happen in the championship game.

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Weekly Big East Postseason Outlook

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 9th, 2015

Regular season Big East play has finished and it appears that six of the 10 conference members will secure bids for the NCAA Tournament next weekend. The league might not be top-heavy this season, but nobody can argue with its overall strength and nightly competitiveness. Only the Big 12 is in position to match the Big East in terms of 60 percent of its members making the Tournament. That said, there are still some potential shifts ahead with respect to postseason seeding and the Big East Tournament will serve as the deciding factor.

Villanova (29-2, 16-2)

  • Up Next: Thursday vs. Marquette/Seton Hall
    RPI: #3 SOS: #45
  • On Track For: NCAA, No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Provided that the Wildcats win out, they will be a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAAs, likely sliding in behind Kentucky and either Duke or Virginia on the overall strength curve. This would represent a major feat for a program that continues to raise the bar and maintain a national spotlight on the Big East as a whole. Winning the Big East Tournament this week will be no easy task, however, and the parity between the assembled teams cannot be emphasized enough. Villanova will be the favorite to win the crown, but Georgetown, Butler, Providence and St. John’s will all be strongly in the mix.
This guys has had a lot to smile about this season. (Getty)

This guys has had a lot to smile about this season. (Getty)

Butler (20-8, 12-6)

  • Up Next: Thursday vs. Xavier
    RPI: #25 SOS: #41
  • On Track For: NCAA, No. 5 or No. 6 seed. The injury to Andrew Chrabascz undoubtedly set it back, but Butler remained competitive and recently trumped Providence on its home floor. The absolute best case scenario would be a #4 seed if the Bulldogs were to win the conference tournament, but the more likely seeding is a #5. Depending on its NCAA draw, Butler makes for a fantastic sleeper pick as the Bulldogs have largely flown under the radar this season.

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Is This Finally the Year for Villanova?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 3rd, 2015

Save for one or two uncharacteristically poor seasons, Villanova has been on the college basketball map nearly every year in the last decade. And being on the map doesn’t mean an above average team that wiggles its way into the NCAA Tournament every year; rather, the Wildcats have finished with 20 or more wins in 10 of their last 11 seasons. Still, for reasons unknown to most everyone around the program, Jay Wright‘s team has fallen short of expectations in every season since its magical 2009 Final Four run. One year the issue was a lack of team chemistry in the backcourt; the next year it was supposedly a lack of size. For one reason or another, Villanova has simply been unable to progress past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Is this finally the year for Jay Wright and Villanova? (Getty)

Is this finally the year for Jay Wright’s Villanova Squad? (Getty)

Many initially questioned whether Villanova would be adequately challenged in the new Big East. While the league has had a great season and is likely to place six teams in the NCAA Tournament, the concerns remain. Just how good is Villanova? As of Tuesday morning, Jay Wright’s team is 27-2 and just three wins away from tying the school record for single-season wins. The Wildcats are 10-1 against the RPI top 50, 6-1 against the RPI top 25, and have just two road losses to top 100 teams. According to KenPom, Villanova ranks third in the country in offensive efficiency and is one of five teams to rank among the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (17th). With Wisconsin and Gonzaga’s losses over the weekend, the team ranks 4th in the AP poll and is firmly on the cusp of landing a No. 1 seed for the first time since the 2005-06 season. And yet, many have failed to take notice. Is public dismissal of the team based on its general lack of NBA-caliber players? Or the falsely-held notion that the Big East is not as good as it once was? Read the rest of this entry »

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Weekly Big East Postseason Outlook

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 27th, 2015

With just a little over a week remaining in conference play, most Big East teams have started rounding into postseason form. For Villanova, that means pushing toward an NCAA Tournament #1 seed. For others like St. John’s and Xavier, it means staying on the right side of the bubble. As we approach March, we’ll run down the status of each Big East team’s postseason prospects in this weekly look. The league appears to have six solid NCAA candidates as of today, with the remainder still clinging to the discussion for NIT bids.

Villanova (26-2, 13-2)

Jay Wright's crew is deep, balanced, experienced and poised for a long overdue tournament run. (Getty)

Jay Wright’s crew is deep, balanced, experienced and poised for a long overdue tournament run. (Getty)

  • Up Next: Saturday at Xavier
    RPI: 4 SOS: 41
  • On Track For: NCAA, No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Villanova continued its march of dominance, clinching the Big East title and running over its opponents in the process. The Wildcats have now won their last nine games and are in decent position for a top seed if any of the other contenders falter. This team is deep, balanced, experienced and poised for a long overdue NCAA Tournament run.

Butler (20-8, 10-5)

  • Up Next: Saturday at DePaul
    RPI: 25 SOS: 34
  • On Track For: NCAA, No. 4 or No. 5 seed. Just when Butler looked like it was entering a slump following its scramble at Creighton and blowout loss at Xavier, the Bulldogs snapped back into form on Wednesday night. The loss of Andrew Chrabascz (4-6 weeks) has left open holes in areas where Butler has been strong: rebounding, interior defense and inside scoring. Expect the Bulldogs to fall a few spots in seeding before Chrabascz returns, hopefully in time for the bulk of the postseason.

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Seton Hall’s Problems Start at the Very Top

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 19th, 2015

Ask most people and they will tell you that strong leadership is a prerequisite to success in nearly every organization. There are countless examples of human beings responding positively to great leadership, especially in the sports world. It is simply human nature. People want to believe they are part of something greater than themselves. It is a big reason why coaches like Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Kentucky’s John Calipari have such a fantastic ability to get the most from their players. They command respect and require that personal agendas and egos are set aside for the good of the organization. If you do not want to commit to the process and live up to their necessary standards, you are shown the door. Duke junior Rasheed Sulaimon found that out the hard way last month. It is understandable, however, that not every team will have such strong leadership. Exceptional leaders like Krzyzewski and Calipari are rare. But when a complete void in leadership exists, problems can quickly spiral out of control.

Kevin Willard (USA Today Images)

Kevin Willard is Feeling the Heat as This Season Gets Away From Him (USA Today Images)

A little over five weeks ago, the Seton Hall men’s basketball team was riding high after Sterling Gibbs swished a three in the final seconds that allowed his team to come out on top of a pesky Creighton squad that had outplayed the Pirates for most of the game. The win moved the team to 13-3 overall and 3-1 in Big East play, enabling it to stay in the Top 25 after entering at No. 19 the previous Monday. Barring a complete collapse, an NCAA Tournament berth appeared inevitable; after all, Seton Hall’s hot start had also included a résumé-building win over previously unbeaten Villanova, the undisputed king of the new Big East.

Fast forward to the present and Seton Hall is in the midst of a monumental collapse where it appears the only way to gain entry into the NCAA Tournament would be to win the Big East Tournament next month. Once projected as high as a No. 4 or No. 5 seed by reputable bracketologists at CBS and ESPN, the Hall has lost eight of its last 10 games (including five straight) to fall to 5-9 in Big East play with no end to the death spiral in sight. The ugliest moment came on Monday night in a loss to that same Villanova team. The Wildcats blew out the Pirates by a score of 80-54 and Gibbs was ejected after punching a defenseless Ryan Arcidiacono — who was on the floor going after a loose ball at the time — square in the forehead. Swift consequences came quickly for Gibbs, who was suspended for two games by Seton Hall on Tuesday afternoon. Once a candidate for Big East Player of the Year, the junior guard will sit out games at St. John’s this Saturday and home versus Creighton the next weekend. Monday night’s antics were just another symptom of the deeper problem at Seton Hall, which brings us back to leadership.

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RTC Weekly Primer: At Long Last, It’s Basketball Season

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 3rd, 2015

It’s basketball season. At long last, it’s basketball season. It’s a shame that the general sports-loving public takes so long to realize that’s the case, but regardless of their failures and inadequacies, it’s time to look ahead. Football is finally and definitively over, and it’s time for the roundball and the hardwood floor to take center stage on the American sports landscape. The Super Bowl was awesome — one of the greatest of all-time, and a phenomenal advertisement for the competitiveness of the NFL — but as always, it was a bit anti-climactic. After two weeks of buildup, it’s all over; and just like that, there is a major void on the sports scene.

There's No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

There’s No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

College basketball must fill that void. For the dedicated fans, it undoubtedly will. But a frequently posed question in recent years has been whether college basketball has become a “niche sport”? According to a recent Harris poll, the game has indeed declined in popularity. Currently only three percent of American sports fans identify college hoops as their go-to game — down from five percent in 2011, and 10 percent in 1989 — and only a seismic shift in popularity could see the sport return to its peak levels in the 1980s and 1990s. Does that matter? For those who attach themselves to the overall health and growth of the game, yeah, it does. But at least in the short run from now until April 6, no poll will inhibit the joy we derive from the on-court action of college basketball. “Niche” can be viewed as a demeaning word when it is used in this context, but niche is fine so long as it can produce compelling games like Duke-Virginia in Charlottesville on Saturday and atmospheres like Kansas-Iowa State in Allen Fieldhouse last night.

Three for the Money

  • West Virginia at Oklahoma | Tuesday, 8:00 PM EST, ESPN2. After an explosive Big Monday of important (if not competitive) games, it’s a rather slow work week in the world of college hoops. But before we jump ahead to the weekend’s action, let’s not lose sight of this one on Tuesday night in Norman. It’s time to focus on the season that West Virginia is putting together. All of a sudden, the Mountaineers at 6-2 appear to be the biggest threat to Kansas in the Big 12 race. Bob Huggins has done a spectacular job in rebuilding this team after a couple of down years. He has possibly the conference’s best player in senior Juwan Staten but his true value with this year’s group has been molding them into a new identity featuring pressure defense all over the floor. Four West Virginia players rank among the nation’s top 100 in steal percentage, and the team prides itself on turning opponents over and getting out in transition. Tonight’s game could go either way. Oklahoma could get sucked into West Virginia’s traps and come out on the wrong end of a helter-skelter contest; or the Sooners could constantly be in attack mode, using the fast tempo and a raucous home crowd to play right into their hands.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. VII

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 13th, 2015

The Big East Weekend Wrap covers news and notes from the previous weekend’s games.

The Big East marched along last week, continuing its ascent up the rankings of the power conferences. It reached the #1 ranking for overall conference RPI for a bit before bowing to the Big 12 (only slightly), and the conference now stands at second overall with a sizable gap between itself and the rest. Even more impressively, the Big East has the highest average RPI among its conference members thanks to DePaul’s 3-0 start. As of this writing, the league lists nine of its 10 members among the top 100. Below is a list of four key takeaways from the last weekend’s action.

LaDontae Henton

LaDontae Henton’s Team Has a Legitimate Case to Rank Among the League’s Top Three Teams

Providence makes its push for the top of the standings. As I wrote in an earlier article, Providence has a legitimate case as a top three team in the Big East even though the Friars had largely fallen off the radar in non-conference play. They made a strong push last week, picking up a road win at Butler and then defeating Georgetown in overtime. Neither result was necessarily pretty — the Friars won both by a combined seven points — but the pair of wins catapulted Providence to the top of the league standings with a 3-1 record. Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton continue to carry the load on the offensive end, with Dunn doing a much better job of staying out of foul trouble and remaining on the floor. The duo lead the conference in assists and points per game, respectively.

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The RTC Podcast: Conference Openers Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 7th, 2015

Happy New Year, everyone, and welcome back to the RTC Podcast. After a bit of a hiatus for the holidays, the guys returned in earnest this week with Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) jumping on to help us evaluate the non-conference part of the season and look ahead to conference play. With three remaining unbeatens, a slew of one-loss teams, and a national narrative that is trending toward Kentucky and everyone else, we focused on the turning point of the season that is represented by the beginnings of conference play. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts. The full rundown is below.

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record, and feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-9:19 – Seton Hall & the Big East
  • 9:19-13:54 – Other Surprise Teams
  • 13:54-29:45 – Early Week Results (Notre Dame-UNC, Oklahoma-Texas, Ole Miss-Kentucky)
  • 29:45-33:47 – Survivor Update
  • 33:47-37:07 – UCLA Struggles
  • 37:07-39:55 – Most Entertaining Conference
  • 39:55-52:14 – You, Me and the AP (Georgetown & Gonzaga)
  • 52:14-57:05 – Week Preview
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