Set Your Tivo: 01.07-01.09

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 7th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The first big hoops weekend of 2011 features many important games across the land. Here are five key games followed by a host of others. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Cleveland State @ Butler – 7 pm Friday on ESPNU (****)

With Butler’s loss at Milwaukee on Monday, folks in the Horizon League used to the Bulldogs’ dominance are excited that this may be the year someone else takes the title. Cleveland State leads the league by a game over Detroit and Wright State while holding a one and a half game lead over Butler heading into tonight’s game. Should the Vikings win on the road tonight and plow through the rest of their Horizon schedule, expect to see Cleveland State win the league. Obviously we’re a long way off from that but CSU is currently in a nice position. Butler’s problems have been on the defensive end. The Bulldogs have given up an average of 73.6 PPG in their losses while their defensive efficiency has dropped significantly from their top five ranking of a year ago.

The Bulldogs Need Mack Back On Track Tonight, And From Now On

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Set Your Tivo: 12.31.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 31st, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

A really good schedule awaits college basketball fans today on your New Year’s Eve. The Battle of the Bluegrass gets things going right away with an early noon tip, a game tailor made for Gus Johnson. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#12 Kentucky @ Louisville — 12 pm on CBS (*****)

Louisville will be shorthanded in this game but is favored according to the Vegas odds. The Cardinals, still without Jared Swopshire, will also be missing the services of Rakeem Buckles and Mike Marra this afternoon. Still, this is a game you must watch with Gus Johnson on the call. It is a unique rivalry that doesn’t get enough press and has only heated up with the addition of John Calipari and the switch of Rick Pitino from Kentucky blue to Louisville red. It started almost 100 years ago in 1913 but the teams have only met 41 times prior to today with Kentucky holding a 27-14 edge. These teams did not meet for 24 years from 1959 until an elite eight NCAA Tournament game on March 26, 1983. They have met every year since then with UK leading 18-11 in the modern era. One interesting fact is that Kentucky has never failed to win at least two games in a row after winning one throughout the entire history of this series. With the Wildcats on a one game winning streak entering the game today, that statistic, though ultimately meaningless, would suggest a UK win. Expect this game to feature a lot of threes, a big part of each team’s offense. Kentucky actually has five guys who can knock down a triple, much more than the average team. Doron Lamb and Preston Knowles are the big shooters for their respective teams with Lamb being the better of the two so far this year. The freshman has connected on 54% of his treys including a seven for eight performance against Winthrop, a large part of Kentucky’s #13 three point percentage. Knowles is Louisville’s leading scorer and a good defender who teams with Peyton Siva to really disrupt opponents on the defensive end. That will be a big factor against Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight, averaging almost four turnovers per game. Rick Pitino loves the zone press so expect a lot of trapping and aggressive on-ball defense from the Cardinals, trying to get Knight out of a rhythm and make him turnover-prone. As a whole, Kentucky takes remarkably good care of the ball with only 11 turnovers as a team. Calipari needs a good point guard to run his dribble drive offense and Knight is often the key to their success. He had an awful game in a loss to Connecticut and fouled out after committing six turnovers in UK’s loss to North Carolina. In the front court, Kentucky has the best player on the floor in Terrence Jones. The 6’8 freshman can score from almost anywhere on the floor and uses his superior athleticism effectively to create space. Another T.J., Terrence Jennings, has to have a good game defensively for Louisville. He’s a good shot blocker and must neutralize Jones inside. Despite their reliance on the three pointer, the Cardinals get a lot of points inside as well, the seventh best two point shooting team in the country. With Buckles out however, Louisville may turn even more towards the trey in order to win. Kentucky lacks a true scoring center as Josh Harrellson rebounds well but doesn’t look to score much, attempting just four field goals per game. Expect Kyle Kuric to step up in the absence of Marra and Buckles. He’s played more minutes lately and scored 25 points against Morgan State on Monday. Quite simply, this game is going to be a war. The fans hate each other, the coaches do too and even the players got into it right away last year. Most rivalry games are close and despite Louisville’s personnel issues, we expect this one to be as well. However, depth could rear its ugly head if the Cardinals get into foul trouble. Louisville fouls a lot and Pitino has to ensure that doesn’t become an issue. Even though they’re on the road, Kentucky is the better team and has to get the edge here. Take the Wildcats and the points today.

#13 Minnesota @ #18 Michigan State – 4 pm on Big Ten Network (****)

A critical game for both teams, the loser will face some tough questions going forward. With a loss today, Minnesota faces the real possibility of starting Big Ten play at 1-3 with a game at Ohio State next Sunday and Indiana in between. Michigan State would drop to 8-5 overall with a loss today, making Monday’s game at Northwestern a huge one for the Spartans. For Tom Izzo’s team, the three point line is critical in this matchup. Minnesota doesn’t defend it well at all (#260) and the Spartans shoot 40% behind a trio of capable long range bombers. Durrell Summers leads Michigan State in scoring and is arguably their best shooter from deep while Kalin Lucas and Korie Lucious can also knock down the trifecta. Tubby Smith likes to play a zone but that may hurt the Gophers in this matchup. Unless Minnesota extends their defense beyond the line, Michigan State can easily shoot right over it. Of course when you extend a zone there will be holes inside. Minnesota’s big men must lay down the law in the paint and force MSU to beat them from the outside. A strong defensive game will really limit the Spartans offensively and turn this into a rebounding battle, one Minnesota should feel confident in their ability to win. Michigan State has not been a vintage Izzo team in terms of defense and rebounding, a bad sign against a tall and talented Minnesota team. Trevor Mbakwe could be deadly against the Spartans today with his quickness and long arms around the tin. With Mbakwe inside and Blake Hoffarber outside, the Gophers will keep Michigan State on their toes all game long. Al Nolen must play better for Minnesota. Wisconsin shut him down on Tuesday night held the Minnesota offense in check en route to a victory. Turnovers will again be the story for the Spartans, averaging 16 per game. Extra possessions only enhance the Gophers chances. Michigan State looked awful against Syracuse and the Gopher bigs are even taller than Syracuse’s. Despite the KenPom prediction and the Vegas odds, we’re going against the grain and feel this game will come right down to the very end. This is anyone’s ballgame in East Lansing this afternoon.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.28.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 28th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Monday was a good night for Pennsylvania as Pittsburgh handed Connecticut its first loss and Penn State knocked off Indiana on the road. Conference play rolls on today with two key Big Ten matchups in the upper Midwest. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#11 Purdue @ Michigan – 2 pm on Big Ten Network (***)

Purdue Handled Michigan Last Season (Mich Daily/T. Sharman)

This Tuesday matinee is a great opportunity for Michigan to put itself back on the Big Ten map. The Wolverines are 9-2 against D1 competition and had a very close loss to a top five Syracuse squad. This game pits two guard heavy teams against one another, though Purdue has JaJuan Johnson in the paint. Michigan is vulnerable inside making Jordan Morgan and Evan Smotrycz important players for John Beilein this afternoon. They have to defend Johnson well but more importantly they must grab rebounds. Purdue is not a tremendous rebounding team and neither team shoots all that well so there are going to be plenty of chances for the Wolverines to pick up extra possessions. Michigan is #210 in offensive rebounding percentage and they’ll have to do a much better job than that in order to score inside. As was the case with his West Virginia teams, Beilein loves the three ball. Michigan launches an average of 24 treys per game but connects on just a third of them. Still, the three pointer is the great equalizer in college basketball and when you shoot that often, a lot of shots are going to go through the net. The problem for Michigan is that Purdue ranks #4 in the nation in three point defense and third in defensive efficiency. It’s going to be difficult for the Wolverines to score but Darius Morris will try to make things happen. Michigan’s dynamic guard is averaging 16 PPG and almost eight assists as well while shooting over 50% from the floor. He needs to have a good game and set the table for others like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Zack Novak, a tremendous rebounder for his position and size. Hardaway is shooting just 30% from deep and must get going for Michigan to take the next step up and into the middle of the Big Ten pack. For Purdue, Matt Painter has hinted he’d like to go big but expect a lot of four guard sets with Lewis Jackson and E’Twaun Moore running the show. Outside of Johnson, Purdue’s bigs have averaged just over four PPG and six RPG in 25 minutes of play combined, clearly not getting it done. In order to win, Michigan has to shoot the ball well, control the boards and play solid defense. Beilein loves his 1-3-1 zone and it can work wonders against a team that doesn’t see it often. Expect him to use it in this game and adjust if Johnson does damage underneath the basket. Smotrycz is a key player because he can pull Johnson away from the basket, possessing the capability of knocking down a triple here and there. If the Wolverines can get Johnson into foul trouble early, they’ll have a great chance to pull the upset at home. Purdue is the better team but this should be a very close game today in Ann Arbor.

#13 Minnesota @ #14 Wisconsin – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

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Set Your Tivo: 12.15.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 15th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

We told you last night’s games would be very interesting and boy were they ever. Louisville and Tennessee were upset victims at home but neither upset was shocking given the matchups we discussed in this space yesterday, plus both teams were due for a letdown. Tonight’s slate is not good at all so don’t expect much action this evening.  All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Akron @ #19 Minnesota – 8:30 pm on Big Ten Network (*)

Akron was blasted by Temple in their last game and really struggles offensively. The Zips don’t stand much of a chance in this game so one strategy may be to live or die by the three as Minnesota’s opponents get a lot of points courtesy of the trifecta. However, Akron is not a good three point shooting team to begin with, #221 in the country, but taking a page out of Virginia’s playbook could make this game somewhat competitive, at least for a while. The Cavaliers bombed away from the arc in a stunning second half turnaround against the Golden Gophers en route to a surprising win at the Barn. Akron’s Brett McClanahan and Darryl Roberts are the biggest threats but McClanahan is just seven for his last 23 (30%) from deep. The senior Roberts shoots it well at 42% and also connects 92% of the time at the foul line. Minnesota will look to take advantage with their superior size and skill inside led by Trevor Mbakwe (14/10). Mbakwe is shooting 61% overall, scoring in double figures each game so far and is clearly the most athletic of the Minnesota big men. Akron opponents get 58% of their scoring from two point range so expect Tubby Smith to exploit this early and often to build up a lead. Minnesota also has an outside threat with Blake Hoffarber at 41% from three, now hot after a little slump to start the season. Akron is also a poor rebounding team with only one major contributor taller than 6’8, center Zeke Marshall. Even without point guard Al Nolen (probably won’t play), Minnesota is too deep and too talented for Akron to compete with. The Gophers should win this game easily.

Auburn @ South Florida– 9 pm on ESPNU (*)

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ATB: ACC Takes Early Lead 1-0

Posted by rtmsf on November 30th, 2010

We’re Back.  These After the Buzzers dropped off a little bit over the long holiday weekend, and for that we apologize.  Still, we’re working through some ideas as to how we want to set them up, so if you have any suggestions for improvement or additions/deletions, we’re all ears.  So long as it doesn’t take us all night to do and it sounds reasonably interesting, we’ll consider it.  Hit us up in the comments.

The Minnesota Defense Wasn't Tight Tonight (MST/R. Tsong-Taatarii)

Your Watercooler MomentACC 1, Big Ten 0.  Don’t be fooled by the fact that Minnesota was without defensive stalwart Al Nolen tonight — the Gophers still came into this home game as a fifteen-point Vegas favorite, and Tony Bennett’s Virginia team hadn’t exactly shown any signs of breaking through after a 1-2 trip to Maui last week.  A 39-18 second-half run by the Wahoos fueled by 77% three-point shooting  (10-13) erased a ten-point halftime deficit and had Tubby Smith fuming after the game about his team’s shoddy defense.  So what is the teachable moment here?  Perhaps that Minny wasn’t quite as good as their 6-0 record with wins over a UNC team in disarray and a West Virginia team still finding itself would have led us to believe?  Or that ACC teams just find ways to win these ACC/Big Ten Challenge games year after dastardly year?  Well, that’s certainly true, and the Big Ten now finds itself in a serious hole going into Day Two of the event considering that this game was a supposed lock for the midwestern league.  In looking at the remaining ten games, Ohio State on the road (@ FSU) and Illinois/Northwestern at home (vs. UNC and Georgia Tech, respectively) become must-wins, with the hope that Iowa and/or Michigan can break through versus Wake Forest or Clemson on the road.  If we were laying odds at this point as to which league will win this challenge, we’d go heavily on the ACC — that’s how important the Minnesota loss tonight at home was.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • Jacob Pullen’s 241st Trey.  With Pullen’s second three of the evening tonight in an easy win against D2 Emporia State, Pullen became the all-time leader in made threes at the school.  He already has 1,618 points in his career and is well on his way to becoming the all-time leading scorer at the school (he needs to average 17.8 PPG the rest of the way, assuming 28 more games).  Here’s the question, though — is Pullen the greatest player in program history?  The greatest guard?  Mitch Richmond and Rolando Blackman were awfully good players at K-State, but Pullen could eclipse both of them with a first-team all-American type of a season and a deep Tournament run.
  • LaceDarius Dunn’s Return.  In two games back from suspension against admittedly weak competition, LD has averaged 22 PPG, 5 RPG, 4 APG, and 4 SPG while shooting 10-19 from deep.  We know that Dunn can bomb away, but only seven of his shots have been from within the circle; he may want to mix it up a little more as we get into the heart of the season.
  • Blake Hoffarber’s Jumper.  He shoots them in volume like JJ Redick once did down on Tobacco Road, but every time he puts one up, we think it’s going in.  He’s been somewhat “off” so far this year, but after a 5-11 performance tonight, he’s still at 38.7% on the season.  Of course, this is down from last year’s nearly-automatic 46.7% from deep, but we figure he’ll catch fire soon enough.
  • 8-0 Before December.  There are only thirty D1 teams remaining with a flawless record, but did you know that Cleveland State has already racked up eight wins before November is out?  The Vikings have mostly feasted on a steady diet of mid-level teams, but with a win already against Iona (who beat Richmond), CSU may be looking at a strong season in the Horizon League.
  • Wichita State’s Balance.  One of the most effective shooting teams that you’ll find, Gregg Marshall’s Shockers utilize a cadre of ten players who average between 14-25 minutes per game, nine of whom tally at least four points per contest.  Even though WSU came out of Maui with a 2-1 record, it was the Shockers who arguably played tournament champion UConn the toughest among their three wins.

… and Misses.

  • Those Ridiculous-Looking McDonald’s Stairs at The Barn.  Minnesota’s Williams Arena is a grand old barn, the fourth oldest building currently in use in Division 1 basketball.  And we certainly understand that sponsorships will happen and must happen, even at grand old barns.  But those McDonald’s stairs in the camera view on each side of the scoring table look ridiculous and are embarrassing for a program of this stature.  Maybe it would be ok if the “M”  used was the same configuration as the Gophers’ “M,” but it’s not.  Please, please get rid of this travesty.
  • USC Basketball.  With four losses to the likes of Rider, Bradley, Nebraska and TCU already under its belt, Kevin O’Neill’s team is already in serious trouble this season.  The Trojans have games coming against #20 Texas, #4 Kansas and #15 Tennessee in the next three weeks, and even with Jio Fontan returning on Dec. 18 for the KU game, we’re not sure that this dysfunctional unit will recover.

Tweet of the Night.  Yeah, this is more or less what we thought too when told that TCU was becoming the seventeenth Big East basketball school.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.29.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 29th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivobut we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Some folks may be going through college basketball withdrawal today as the Thanksgiving tournaments have ended and the action is extremely light tonight. Fear not however, great games make a comeback tomorrow. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Virginia @ #16 Minnesota – 7 pm on ESPN2 (**)

Blake Hoffarber Has Been Up/Down This Season

Minnesota is still riding high after their tournament win in Puerto Rico as they open the ACC-Big Ten Challenge against the Virginia Cavaliers this evening. The Golden Gophers are dealing with some injuries tonight as starting point guard Al Nolen (foot) and Rodney Williams (ankle) are unlikely to play. Coach Tubby Smith still has plenty of weapons to turn to and may get Devoe Joseph back from suspension tonight. Smith has said he’s undecided but there’s a chance that Joseph could make his first appearance of the season against Virginia. The Cavaliers went 1-2 in Maui, defeating Oklahoma while losing to Washington and Wichita State. They’re 3-3 overall and are expected to finish near the bottom of the ACC this season. Tony Bennett’s team has been, well, unlike a typical Tony Bennett team so far. Virginia has struggled on the defensive end, ranking #135 in efficiency. They’ve given up an average of 70 PPG and are #330 in defensive effective FG%. UVA doesn’t force turnovers due to Bennett’s deliberate, slow pace and have been terrible at defending the three. Virginia is almost dead last in defensive three point percentage, allowing opponents to shoot 47% from behind the arc. As you might expect, Virginia’s opponents get the largest percentage of their points from the three point line, #1 in the nation. To put this in perspective, Bennett’s last team at Washington State (2008-09) finished #6 in the country in defensive efficiency. Minnesota will look to take advantage of this weakness with Blake Hoffarber, who broke out of his early slump with 24 points on 10-16 shooting against North Dakota State on Wednesday. With Nolen out and the status of Joseph still up in the air, Hoffarber is more than capable of running the offense (2.82 assist/turnover ratio). The Gophers should dominate this game in the low post with plenty of scoring and good rebounding behind Trevor Mbakwe (14/9, 69% FG) and Ralph Sampson III (13/7, 3 blocks), but Virginia has a star of its own in 6’8 Mike Scott. The senior forward is averaging 17/9, Virginia’s only player in double figures so far this season. He’ll have his hands full with Minnesota’s stellar frontcourt but the Cavaliers are counting on him to keep them competitive tonight. 6’9 Will Sherrill can stretch the defense and he’ll need to do a lot of that by pulling Mbakwe and Colton Iverson away from the basket where they can’t get into a comfort zone. Minnesota may struggle a bit to start the game with the uncertainty of their rotation but expect a steady diet of Hoffarber from deep along with dishes to Mbakwe and Sampson III. That will allow Minnesota to pull away and win this one comfortably.

USC @ TCU – 8 pm on The Mtn. (**)

This clash between Pac-10 and Mountain West schools features a USC team coming off a bad loss at Nebraska on Saturday and a TCU club playing second fiddle to the school’s football team in the hunt for a BCS national championship. Expect this to be a low scoring game as both teams struggle offensively, each ranking outside the top 100 in offensive efficiency. The Trojans are a much better defensive club, though you wouldn’t know it based on their performance against Nebraska (50% FG for the Cornhuskers). USC still ranks #29 in defensive efficiency and #7 in opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage, essentially controlling the defensive glass. Kevin O’Neill has two totally different players leading the team with his 5’7 point guard Maurice Jones (13/4/4) and 6’10 F/C Nikola Vucevic (16/11), each having a great start to the season. As you might imagine, Jones struggles shooting the trey due to his height. He still finds a way to score and get others involved making the freshman a nice piece to build around in the coming years. Vucevic is an experienced junior who teams with Alex Stepheson to create a better than average frontcourt. Stepheson, a transfer from North Carolina, had 14/9 against Nebraska and is shooting 56% from the floor this year. The Horned Frogs of TCU are led by another small point guard, 5’9 Hank Thorns. He’s averaging seven assists per game while grabbing four rebounds, pretty good for a guard of his height. TCU’s leading scorer is Ronnie Moss (16 PPG), a threat from behind the arc against a Trojan defense that ranks #237 against the trey. It’s been a struggle for TCU when it comes to rebounding the basketball as they’re really undersized. They’ve been outrebounded in all but two of their games, averaging only 31 RPG. TCU is #300 in offensive rebound percentage and #293 in two point percentage defense. Put those two stats together and you have a recipe ripe for putbacks for scores off missed shots. USC will look to take advantage of that behind Stepheson and Vucevic. The Trojans should get the ball inside early and often to utilize their size and rebounding strength in this matchup. The Trojans must get to the free throw line more often as they rank poorly in that area and only attempted two free throws against Nebraska. A more aggressive style would cure this problem but with a very slow tempo (#262), don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Well played games from Moss, Thorns or J.R. Cadot will keep TCU in this game to the end. USC is the better team but the Horned Frogs are at home so we see this as a toss-up game that may come down to the last few possessions.

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After the Buzzer: Huskies, Saints And Silverswords

Posted by jstevrtc on November 25th, 2010

Your Watercooler Moment. If you actually find yourself anywhere near a watercooler on Thursday and you’re hoping to avoid discussing this “football” thing that’s evidently popular on this holiday (yeah, we don’t get it, either), there was definitely ample material in the way of college basketball on Thanksgiving Eve to keep the conversation lively. Alaska and Hawaii always make their presence felt in the basketball world this time of year, and on Wednesday we had an unlikely champion crowned in Maui and the beginning of the festivities in the Great Alaska. And that snickering you hear — assuming it’s not still coming from Kemba Walker – might be coming from a couple of non-Division I schools that made turkeys out of a couple of bigger foes.

Today’s Quick Hits…

  • My Name Is Walker. During the ESPN broadcast, commentators Bill Raftery and Jay Bilas both rhetorically asked, “How do you guard him?” Absolutely none of Wichita State, Michigan State, or Kentucky had the answer. Give him space, he drills jumpers. Body him, and he blows by you into the paint, which means you’re in trouble. Just as noteworthy as his scoring ability is that Kemba Walker smiles just as big after making a pass that results in a bucket as he does after hitting a shot himself, as his six assists against the Wildcats prove

Walker And His Teammates Bring Back Some Sun, and Increased Hope, Back to Storrs

  • Ha Ha, Chaminade You Are. There’s only one good thing about seventh place: it’s not eighth. When you’re D-II Chaminade and you knock off a Big 12 opponent in your own tournament, though, it’s a life-altering result. Oklahoma outshot Chaminade from the field and both teams hit six treys, yet the Silverswords were able to pull this off. Head coach Matt Mahar, seen crying with his father after the game, told reporters in the post-game press conference, “For our university and our team, this is something we’ll never forget.”
  • Our Who of the Wha? That’s Our Lady of the Lake University, or OLLU. It’s a small Catholic college in San Antonio, home to around 2,600 young higher-education-seeking souls. They’re called the Saints. And now they own a victory over D-I Texas State from the Southland Conference on Wednesday. According to Mid-Majority, for reasons you should already know, when a school from the “other 25″ conferences beats a school from one of the power six conferences, it’s a Red Line Upset. When a D-II or D-III school knocks off a D-I school in a non-exhibition, it’s a Black Line Upset. When an NAIA school like OLLU does it to a D-I school…well, they don’t even have a name for that. The “It’s just Texas State” argument doesn’t even come close to holding water, here. This win by the Saints is the biggest story of the night that you won’t hear about.

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

A Look Back:

  • Hot Start: According to Ken Pomeroy’s early season rankings, which are open to a lot of fluctuation, the Big Ten doesn’t have a single team ranked outside the top 100. The Big Ten and the Big 12 are the only conferences that can claim such a feat. With a 36-5 record out of the gate, the Big 10 has made a huge impression whether you go by Pomeroy’s advanced stats or simply wins and losses.
  • Team of the Week: Minnesota: All the Golden Gophers did last week was go to a neutral site and beat Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia. Those last two wins are going to be critical if Tubby Smith’s team finds itself on the bubble come Selection Sunday. Though after two wins like that, maybe it is time to consider the fact that the Gophers might actually compete for the Big Ten title. Marquette transfer Trevor Mbakwe has been a revelation in the post this season and is averaging 14.0 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game. Ralph Sampson III has improved his game as well. Teams also have to contend with Blake Hoffarber and Al Nolen. At 5-0 this team is off to a roaring start.
  • Player of the Week: Demetri McCamey, G, Illinois: While Illinois lost a game at Madison Square Garden, it certainly wasn’t McCamey’s fault. He was the best player on the court for the Illini in both games. Against Maryland, he was absolutely deadly, as he scored 20 points on just nine shots and dished out seven assists.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Jared Sullinger, C, Ohio State: The highly recruited freshman has made his mark during the opening of the season. In Ohio State’s three games thus far he’s averaged 18.7 points per game and 10.7 rebounds per game. That includes a 26 point, 10 board performance in the Buckeyes’ victory over Florida.

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (3-0) – This team isn’t just Sullinger, currently five Buckeyes are averaging at least 10 points. The rotation, which was very short last season, has been loosened a bit by Thad Matta and eight players have played at least 10 minutes per game this season. William Buford, essentially Evan Turner’s replacement at point guard, has performed very well averaging 13.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game.
  2. Michigan State (3-0) – The Spartans took it easy before heading off to the Maui Invitational this week. They’ll take on Connecticut and one other high-profile program during the week, so it should be a good test. An 82-73 victory over South Carolina was the team’s warmup for the tournament.
  3. Minnesota (5-0) – See the Team of the Week section, but the Gophers are rolling.
  4. Illinois (4-1) – Give the Illini credit as they went to New York and played two very competitive games against Texas, losing in overtime, and Maryland. Demetri McCamey showed more athleticism than in the past and looks prepared to carry this team. Brandon Paul is also giving this team a spark off the bench and averaging 11.8 points per game. Interior defense might be this team’s Achilles’ heel and freshman Jereme Richmond, just 7.8 points per game, should be looking to do more on the offensive end.
  5. Purdue (3-0) – The record might suggest that Purdue is going to be just fine without Robbie Hummel, but Oakland was the first decent team that the Boilermakers played and they led by just four points at the break. E’Twaun Moore has picked up the slack on offense averaging 20.3 points per game. JaJuan Johnson is averaging almost a double-double with 15.7 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game. Purdue is in the Chicago Invitational Challenge this week and a possible game against Richmond might be a good early season test.
  6. Wisconsin (2-1) – Credit the Badgers for playing a tough road game at UNLV, but the loss isn’t the result that Bo Ryan wanted. Freshman Josh Gasser is starting for Wisconsin and averaging 11.7 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game. The Badgers are already dictating tempo, averaging 64 possessions per game through the first three games.
  7. Northwestern (3-0) – The Wildcats survived a strange trip to Texas-Pan American then came home and crushed Arkansas-Pine Bluff and now are taking 10 days off before playing against Creighton. Bill Carmody will have the team working on defense, because the offense is just fine. John Shurna is averaging 22.7 points per game and Drew Crawford is averaging 20.7. Another worry is that the minutes for point guard Michael Thompson are already starting to build up. He averaged 35.0 minutes per game as Northwestern took down three very easy teams.
  8. Indiana (4-0) – The Hoosiers, like the Wildcats, really haven’t played anyone yet, so it’s hard to judge this team. The trio of Christian Watford, with 17.8 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game, Verdel Jones III, 14.3 points per game, and Maurice Creek, 12.0 points per game, is going to help Indiana put a lot of points on the board. This team does have a bad habit of letting bad teams hang around, so that’s something to watch moving forward.
  9. Penn State (4-0) – Talor Battle has a competent wingman in Jeff Brooks it appears and the Nittany Lions might be more dangerous than people expect. Senior forward Brooks is averaging 17 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as Penn State has racked up four easy home victories thus far. To his credit, Battle has continued his outstanding play and is averaging 16.3 points per game even though he’s shooting just 26.9 percent from beyond the arc.
  10. Michigan (3-0) – Three terrible opponents has resulted in three home victories for the Wolverines. Things though are about to get much tougher, as Michigan takes on Syracuse in the Legends Classic on Friday.  After averaging just 4.4 points per game last season, sophomore guard Darius Morris is averaging 14.7 points per game and 8.3 assists per game this season. Freshman Tim Hardaway, Jr., has made an immediate impact as well, averaging 14.3 points per game.
  11. Iowa (2-2) – The Hawkeyes lost to South Dakota State in their season opener, but have since righted the ship. Iowa got a victory over a decent Alabama squad in the Paradise Jam Tournament on Saturday.

A Look Ahead

Two big games for the conference include the Spartans taking on Michigan State in Maui and Michigan tipping off against Syracuse in Atlantic City, but the conference is otherwise quiet until the ACC-Big 10 challenge comes.

  • Nov. 23 – Michigan State vs. Connecticut in the Maui Invitational, Lahaina, HI
  • Nov. 23 – Ohio State vs. Morehead St., Columbus, Ohio
  • Nov. 26 – Penn State vs. Ole Miss, Oxford, Miss.
  • Nov. 26 – Michigan vs. Syracuse, Legends Classic, Atlantic City, NJ
  • Nov. 26-27 – Purdue vs. Southern Illinois and someone else, Chicago Invitational Challenge, Hoffman Estates, Ill.
  • Nov. 28 – Northwestern vs. Creighton, Evanston, Ill.

Fun With Efficiency Margin

There’s not much in this space right now, but once conference play begins expect to see tempo-free efficiency margins for in conference play in the Big Ten. Last season Wisconsin won the efficiency crown. We’ll see if the Badgers can repeat or if another team takes the title.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on November 23rd, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Pitt has a team capable of reaching that elusive Final Four

1. I had an opportunity to attend the consolation and championship games of the 2K Sports Classic last Friday and learned a great deal about the four teams participating- Pittsburgh, Texas, Illinois and Maryland. The Panthers were one of my preseason Final Four teams and did nothing to give me second thoughts on that prediction. Ashton Gibbs is a true playmaker at the end of the shot clock, Jamie Dixon has an incredibly deep frontcourt and the Panthers play heady, smart, hard-nosed basketball for 40 minutes. It’s possible we overrated Illinois a bit coming into the year. They lack a bruiser down low that can post up on the block and demand the basketball. Mike Tisdale’s the same player he’s been his entire career at Illinois, a capable mid-range jump shooter that lacks any sort of physicality and is often mired in foul trouble because opposing power forwards constantly out-muscle him. Maryland looks like a middle-of-the-pack ACC team that should sneak into the NCAA Tournament because Gary Williams always receives max effort from his teams and Jordan Williams is a force in the post, although he needs to avoid silly fouls and demand the basketball more often. The team that needed to convince me they were a contender after last season’s disaster is Texas. The Longhorns are a top-20 team with a duo of physical, lockdown defenders on the perimeter in Dogus Balbay and Cory Joseph, an athletic low-post presence in Tristan Thompson and an explosive scorer in Jordan Hamilton. A shortened rotation and accepted roles has helped Rick Barnes develop improved chemistry, as well.

2. The story of the first two weeks of college basketball might just be Minnesota. The Big Ten was the best conference coming into the season with Michigan State and Ohio State shaping up to be Final Four frontrunners, Purdue and Illinois mainstays in the polls and Wisconsin as solid as ever. Minnesota was a team that nobody could quite get a handle on, especially considering it was impossible to predict just how much the additions of Trevor Mbakwe and Al Nolen would help Tubby Smith.  After three statements wins in Puerto Rico over Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia, the Gophers appear to be yet another contender primed for a deep March run out of the absolutely loaded Big Ten. Al Nolen was superb in the championship game against West Virginia locking down the Mountaineer’s point guard duo of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant on defense and splitting the West Virginia defense with dribble penetration that either resulted in free throws (11-12 on the night) or open looks for sharpshooting teammate Blake Hoffarber. Where the Gophers have forged their identity, though, is inside with a plethora of size and length. Ralph Sampson, Colton Iverson, Mbakwe and big bodied Mo Walker provide Smith a frontline that can go toe-to-toe with any in the nation. Just wait till they get Devoe Joseph back.

3. The most crippling defeat for any team with NCAA Tournament aspirations could have come Monday afternoon at the Maui Invitational for Wichita State. The Shockers inability to contain Kemba Walker (29 second half points) cost them a chance to pick up a quality win over a Big East opponent and a shot at potential #1-seed Michigan State in the semifinals. Why is this so devastating? One, Wichita just blew their best chance for an RPI/SOS booster. The only other challenging non-conference game on the slate is a road trip to San Diego State, where it’s extremely unlikely the Shockers leave with a victory. Merely the addition of the Spartans on their schedule would improve Wichita’s power rating dramatically. Instead, it’s increasingly likely Gregg Marshall’s team will have to win the MVC Tournament. This task is very possible; after all, the Shockers are the prohibitive favorite, a senior-laden squad with talents like Toure Murry, David Kyles and J.T. Durley. Marshall’s goal in Maui was to pick up two quality wins for the resume in March. That chance has gone by the wayside.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.21.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 21st, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

All of these games are from tournaments played on a neutral floor. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Puerto Rico Tip-Off Third Place Game: #17 North Carolina vs. Vanderbilt — 5:30 pm on ESPN2 (***)

After losing to an upstart Minnesota team on Friday, North Carolina and Harrison Barnes are trying to avoid going 1-2 in this tournament. The star freshman couldn’t get anything to fall against the Golden Gophers as he shot a dreadful 0-12 from the floor. Vanderbilt is one of those teams that always seems to exceed expectations, mostly because of their underrated head coach Kevin Stallings. The Commodores had a strong second half against West Virginia in their last game but fell just short of a berth in the championship game of this event. John Jenkins shot it well from long range but was only 1-8 inside the arc. He figures to have more trouble penetrating and finishing against the taller UNC front court so you have to imagine he’ll play to his strength and shoot quite a few threes yet again. This should be a closer game than some might imagine, mainly because both teams are playing their third game in four days and Stallings always gets his club to fight hard even when they aren’t as talented. Vanderbilt seems to be doing a lot of work on figuring out its rotation as the minute distribution has been fairly balanced and spread out amongst many players. For UNC, Larry Drew II needs to take better care of the ball and get others more involved. His assists are down a bit to start the year but that could also be due to freshman Kendall Marshall earning some quality minutes at the point. North Carolina should win this game but it won’t be easy. Vanderbilt is going to surprise some people this year whether it’s this evening or later in the season.

Paradise Jam Semifinal: Old Dominion vs. Clemson — 6 pm on Fox College Sports (***)

Games like this, where contrasting styles go head to head, are always fun. In this case, the up-tempo Clemson Tigers meet an Old Dominion team that would like nothing more than to turn this game into a slow defensive struggle. Each team got a fairly easy draw in their first round game with Clemson knocking off Long Beach State and ODU taking care of St. Peter’s, though the Monarchs had some trouble closing them out. Blaine Taylor’s team has tall guards and wings who can really get after it on defense by using their length against smaller guards. That’s exactly what they’ll see in Clemson’s Andre Young and Demontez Stitt. Both are talented players but it’s going to be hard for them to get anything going against a stout Monarch defense that ranked tenth last year in defensive efficiency and is 20th so far this year. A great matchup should occur on the wing between each team’s leading scorer, Ben Finney for ODU and Tanner Smith for Clemson. Both are listed at 6’5/220 and have enjoyed solid starts to the season. The teams are evenly matched inside height-wise as they each have two important players that stand at 6’8. You’d have to favor Devin Booker and Jerai Grant for Clemson against ODU’s Frank Hassell and Keyon Carter. One statistic to watch is rebounding, where Old Dominion should enjoy an advantage. Clemson is definitely the more athletic team and probably the more talented one as well but we like the Monarchs to advance to the Paradise Jam finals in a close, low-scoring affair.

Charleston Classic Championship Game: #18 Georgetown vs. NC State — 7:30 pm on ESPNU (****)

NC State received some bad news late Saturday as ESPN.com’s Andy Katz reported that senior forward Tracy Smith will miss three weeks with a knee injury suffered on Thursday against East Carolina. The Wolfpack had no problem against a decent George Mason squad as they placed five players in double figures in a balanced effort, but Georgetown is a different animal. Smith could really have helped NC State expose a suspect Georgetown front court but now they’ll have to turn to others to make up for the loss. The most likely candidate to see his minutes and production increase is stud freshman C.J. Leslie. He scored 21 points in an opening night win over Tennessee Tech and figures to be a main contributor for Sidney Lowe this season. NC State is a very young team, even more so now without Smith in the lineup. That youth, including another freshman star Ryan Harrow, will be tested by the experienced, strong and versatile Georgetown back court trio of Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark. Clark has been a pleasant surprise for John Thompson III as he’s increased his production quite a bit from last year. Georgetown’s offense is predicated almost exclusively on the backcourt this season, a far cry from historical Georgetown teams dominated by front court strength. The Hoyas are relatively thin yet again with the three guards all logging over 30 minutes a game. Georgetown has tall players on the roster but they’re very inexperienced and rather ineffective except for Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson. Look for NC State to take advantage inside early even without Smith and maybe jump out to a lead, but we expect the experienced Hoya back court to assert itself down the stretch as they did against Old Dominion and pull this one out.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.19.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 19th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

All five of these games come from tournaments. Here are your brackets: Puerto Rico Tip Off, 2K Sports Classic and the Paradise Jam. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Vanderbilt vs. West Virginia – 12:30 pm on ESPNU (***)

This is a really good under the radar game between two teams that were overlooked in the preseason discussion that went on in their respective conferences. Vanderbilt struggled a bit against a physical and plodding Nebraska team in a low scoring affair on Thursday. Today they’ll face another, even more physical (and talented) team in West Virginia. Vandy’s John Jenkins needs to get going in terms of shooting the three. Jenkins, one of the better shooters in the nation, has averaged 16 points in Vanderbilt’s first two games but he’s just 1-11 from three. Kevin Stallings needs a big game out of his star, as well as Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsley (triple-double against Presbyterian). The Commodores need to shoot it well and adjust to the pace and physicality of West Virginia in order to come out victorious. For Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers, they should take a page out of Nebraska’s playbook. If they can get Vanderbilt into a tough grind it out game, they stand a good chance of winning. WVU is obviously much more talented than Nebraska so the same type of game with better players should cause a lot of problems for Vandy. John Flowers has been a pleasant surprise so far while Kevin Jones has yet to really get his game going. Huggins is going to need production out of Deniz Kilicli, who fouled out in only six minutes of action against Davidson. These teams will likely be in the NCAA Tournament but a quality non-conference neutral court win will help whoever comes out on top today with seeding come March.

Texas vs. #5 Pittsburgh – 7:30 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Texas is loaded with talent and has played up to their potential so far this year. It seems when the pressure is off a bit, Texas and Rick Barnes excel. They won a terrific battle with Illinois on Thursday night with tough defense and big shots down the stretch. Though he only scored five points, Dogus Balbay was the story for Texas. The senior held Illinois star Demetri McCamey in check at the end of regulation and into overtime which forced the younger Illini players into very poor shot selection and eventually cost them the game. As a unit, the Longhorns limited Illinois to 38% shooting, held their own on the boards and blocked ten Illini shots. They’re going to need another superb defensive effort to knock off a physical Pittsburgh team that loves to grind games out. The Panthers killed Maryland on the boards, 43-25, to make up for a weaker than usual Pitt defense that allowed the Terps to shoot 48% from the floor. Texas will have a chance to win if Balbay can repeat his second half performance against McCamey and lock down Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs is the creator and leader for Jamie Dixon so shutting him down should significantly hamper the Pitt offense. The Panthers will counter that with excellent passing wings and big men like Gilbert Brown and Talib Zanna who are smart basketball players that always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Texas has been very efficient on defense so far this season, a nice improvement from last year’s dysfunctional group. If their defense continues to hold firm, this game could come right down to the wire. If that’s the case, players like Tristan Thompson are going to have to step up from the free throw line. Thompson had a great game everywhere else but his free throw shooting was abysmal. For Pitt, Gary McGhee and the aforementioned Brown must control Thompson and Jordan Hamilton in order to win comfortably. Pittsburgh is very good but Texas is a much better team than last year. We have a feeling this game could be another tight one at Madison Square Garden.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.18.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 18th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Tonight’s SYT games come from the 2K Sports Classic in New York City and the Puerto Rico Tipoff in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Maryland vs. #5 Pittsburgh — 7 pm on ESPN2 (***)

Ashton Gibbs Has Been Nothing Short of Spectacular This Season

Maryland would have been here regardless but a shaky effort against College of Charleston last week has to give Terp fans some second thoughts about their team this season. It doesn’t get any easier against Pittsburgh this evening in the Big Apple. Pe’Shon Howard’s heroics bailed the Terps out against Charleston but they’re going to need solid contributions from many more players in order to compete with Pitt. After a bit of a rusty start against Rhode Island, the Panthers have obliterated their cupcake opponents on the backs of leading scorers Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker. Pittsburgh is an incredibly deep team, with the rotation sometimes dipping into the ninth or tenth man on the roster. Jamie Dixon has an outstanding rebounding team which will present major problems for Maryland. The Terrapin front court, led by Jordan Williams, is really good and can hang with Pitt on the glass. The problem lies in the backcourt where Pitt’s guards and wings are tremendous rebounders for their size. Maryland has a couple good rebounding guards but this is where the depth of the Panther lineup will really flex its muscle. Dixon can rotate fresh players in and out all night and still have enough manpower to control the boards. Pitt is the second ranked offensive rebounding team so far in the young season. The other glaring issue for Maryland is turnovers. The Terps have had problems handling the ball so far, averaging 20 turnovers per contest. By contrast, Pittsburgh controls the ball well with Gibbs and Travon Woodall off the bench and is fairly successful at getting steals. If the Panthers are prone to one thing it’s three point shooting. Unfortunately for Maryland, they are not a particularly good three point shooting team to begin with so they’ll need an above average shooting performance from their guards to take advantage of this. Even so, it’s hard to see Maryland having enough to win this one. You know Gary Williams will have his troops ready and playing hard but the depth, talent and coaching of Pittsburgh should be too much for Maryland to overcome in Madison Square Garden, Pitt’s second home.

Western Kentucky vs. Minnesota — 7:30 pm on ESPN3.com (***)

This game from the Puerto Rico Tip Off is intriguing because it features a mid-major sleeper and a major conference sleeper picked by some to win this tournament. Last Friday, Western Kentucky went into Philadelphia and absolutely demolished St. Joe’s by 28 points led by 31/9 on 11-15 FG from Sergio Kerusch off the bench. WKU has shot the lights out in their two games this year, averaging 56% from the floor. Remarkably, that’s better than their percentage from the free throw line (52%). The Hilltoppers now face some stiffer competition in Puerto Rico this weekend. Minnesota is 2-0 but didn’t exactly blow the doors off either of their opponents. The Golden Gophers haven’t shot it well from the arc or the free throw line in the early going but are making up for it in the paint. The trio of Ralph Sampson III, Trevor Mbakwe and Colton Iverson is going to be extremely difficult for the undersized Hilltoppers to handle. Ken McDonald’s team has only one contributor tall enough to match Minnesota inside and that is Cliff Dixon. He won’t be able to do it alone so barring foul trouble, expect Minnesota to dominate this game in the paint. Western Kentucky needs to make up for that on the wing as their three leading scorers, including Oklahoma transfer Juan Pattillo, are all 6’5 or 6’6 and play off the ball. On defense they may even be drawn inside to help guard Minnesota’s formidable front line. Any foul trouble for these players would only make it tougher for WKU. Minnesota needs to get Blake Hoffarber going from deep. The dead-eye senior shooter has struggled thus far, hitting only 4-13 from the three-point line. He’s made up for that by getting others involved, dishing out 13 assists in his first two games. Just like their opponent, Minnesota also struggles from the free throw line. This is a hard game to predict because if the Hilltopper wings get hot early they may be able to sustain that late into the second half. Minnesota needs to establish the paint early and get some WKU players into foul trouble. Western Kentucky may stay within reach for most of the game but Minnesota should be able to pull away and win comfortably.

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