Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 30th, 2010

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

The WAC finished up non-conference play and no team did better than the Hawai’i in closing out its non-conference season.  Playing shorthanded, the Warriors hung tough with the ACC’s Florida State and then picked up wins over Utah (just its tenth in 57 tries) and a short-handed Mississippi State team from the SEC (playing without Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey).  New Mexico State lost by 20 to St. Mary’s and Nevada lost by 30 at Washington and by four at Portland while Boise State also lost by nine at Portland.

Player of the Week: San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver was named the Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 20-26.  Oliver scored a career-high 42 points in just 25 minutes of play in a 95-62 win over Puget Sound. The 42 points broke the 30-year old San Jose State single-game scoring record of 40 points. Oliver also broke the SJSU single-game mark for the most points in a half with 30, besting his own mark of 25 which he set last season. He also set a San Jose State record for most consecutive three-point baskets made in a game with seven and tied the school record for most threes made in a single game.  Oliver out-scored Puget Sound by himself in the first half of the contest, 30-29.  In the game, Oliver tallied 42 points on 12-of-15 (80 percent) shooting from the field. He hit 7-of-9 (77.8 percent) shots from three-point range and was 11-of-13 (84.6 percent) from the free throw line. He also recorded three rebounds, four assists, one block and one steal.

Top 10 Scorers Heading Into Conference Play:

  1. Adrian Oliver (SJSU) – 25.8 PPG
  2. Robert Arnold (BSU) – 16.2 PPG
  3. DeAndre Brown (LTU) – 16.1 PPG
  4. Justin Graham (SJSU) – 16.1 PPG
  5. Olu Ashaolu (LTU) – 15.4 PPG
  6. Zane Johnson (UH) – 14.4 PPG
  7. Tai Wesley (USU) – 13.8 PPG
  8. La’Shard Anderson (BSU) – 13.5 PPG
  9. Malik Story (NEV) – 13.3 PPG
  10. Dario Hunt (NEV) – 13.1 PPG

Top 10 Rebounders Heading Into Conference Play:

  1. Dario Hunt (NEV) – 10.2 RPG
  2. Olu Ashaolu (LTU) – 9.1
  3. Brady Jardine (USU) – 8.6
  4. Tai Wesley (USU) – 8.3
  5. Wil Carter (SJSU) – 7.9
  6. Joaquim Vander (UH) – 7.1
  7. Shawn Henderson (UI) – 6.4
  8. Matt Ballard (SJSU) – 6.2
  9. Brandon Wiley (UI) – 6.0
  10. Greg Smith (FSU) – 6.0

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (11-2)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. Hawai’i, 12/31 vs. San Jose State

Utah State heads into conference play as the only WAC team in the RPI Top 100 (56th) but has dropped over 20 spots in the last two weeks despite not losing any games.  Utah State sports the league’s best record at 11-2, however, they haven’t exactly played a murderer’s row schedule-wise.  Believe it or not, their best win (based on RPI) is a win over 4-8 Long Beach State and four of their last five victories have come against teams with RPIs higher than 230 including last week’s pastings of Western Michigan and Troy.  The UtAgs open up conference play at home versus a resurgent Hawai’i squad on Wednesday night and then host San Jose State, also a team playing well, on Friday night.  Tai Wesley is one of just three WAC players currently in the Top 10 in both scoring and rebounding in the league.

2. Hawai’i (7-2)

Up Next: 12/29 at Utah State, 12/31 at Nevada

Home cooking has aided the sparkling record (8-1 in games in the islands) but regardless, nobody expected such a record, especially early on with a mostly brand new team.  The Warriors head into conference play as one of the hotter teams in the league with solid wins over Utah and Mississippi State in the very competitive Diamond Head Classic (won by Butler).  Forward Bill Amis remains sidelined but seemingly should be back soon and guard Hiram Thompson is also hurting but still playing major minutes and performing effectively. Counting Amis, Gib Arnold‘s squad has five players scoring in double figures and boasting a 45% overall shooting percentage, plus 40% on three-pointers — this is not last year’s UH roster. Hawaii is also holding opponents to 37% shooting. But 213 turnovers in 12 games needs roundball liposuction.  UH opens up at Utah State and at Nevada so we’ll know very quickly how much momentum they generated from their 5th place showing at the Diamond Head Classic.

3. Louisiana Tech (9-5)

Up Next: 12/29 at Boise State, 12/31 at Idaho

Louisiana Tech, 8-5 against Division I teams, their best win is against 6-5 Houston (RPI 216).  They’ve played one game against a team with an RPI in the Top 100 and that was against Texas (10-2, RPI 26) to start the season.  The Bulldogs have two players in the Top 10 in the league in scoring, DeAndre Brown (3rd) and Olu Ashaolu (5th) and two of the Top 12 rebounders in the league, Olu Ashaolu (2nd) and Brandon Gibson (12th).  The Bulldogs are 3rd in the league in scoring averaging 71.3 points per game and they are third in the league in field goal percentage defense with opponents hitting 41.4 percent of their shots.  The Bulldogs open up conference play at Boise State and at Idaho.

4. San Jose State (8-3)

Up Next: 12/29 at Fresno State, 12/31 at Utah State

The split for the Spartans is 4-1 at home and 4-2 roadin’ it, the best away record in the league so far.  SJSU leads the conference in scoring offense (yes, pick yourself up off the floor) at 75.9 points per game and star backcourter Adrian Oliver is coming off a 42 point performance. It a backcourt-led team with Justin Graham averaging 16.1 points a game on 51% overall shooting and 58% with his 33 trey attempts. But frontcourters Wil Carter and Matt Ballard must do better than 37% and 24% shooting respectively or such deficiencies may prove harmful especially when matched up against the bigs of Utah State and New Mexico State.  SJSU meets Fresno State in Fresno on Wednesday and then heads to Logan for a New Year’s Eve matchup with Utah State on Friday.

5. Boise State (7-5)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. Louisiana Tech, 12/31 vs. New Mexico State

The Broncos dropped their final non-conference game of the season at Portland but head into conference play with a chance to make an early statement with home games versus Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State.  The Broncos are one of the four surprise teams in the league thus far.  While their record is just 6-5 and they’ve lost five of their last six games, first year head coach Leon Rice has them playing competitive ball.  They lost by just three against UNLV (11-2, RPI 13) in Vegas and by nine at Portland (10-3, RPI 36).  The Broncos are the league’s second best scoring team (74.9 PPG) and the third best scoring defense team (64.0 PPG).

6. Idaho (6-5)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. New Mexico State, 12/31 vs. Louisiana Tech

Idaho looks to get off to a good start in conference play against the outpost schools, New Mexico State and LA Tech.  Idaho head into league play as the lowest scoring team in the league averaging just 64.4 points per game but are second in the league in assists per game (13.4) and are the second best three point shooting team in the league (38.5 percent).  The Vandals are allowing just 66.0 points per game.  Not surprisingly the Vandals do not have a player in the Top 15 in scoring, however, they have three of the top 15 rebounders in the league in Shawn Henderson (7th), Brandon Wiley (9th) and Luiz Toldeo (15th).

7. New Mexico State (6-8)

Up Next: 12/29 at Idaho, 12/31 at Boise State

The Aggies’ struggles have come because of a spate of injuries that at one point had wiped out four of their five projected starters, Troy Gillenwater, Hamidu Rahman, Gordo Castillo and Wendell McKines.  Castillo is back on the court but McKines has not played all season due to the broken foot, Gillenwater has not played since the first half of the New Mexico game in Albuquerque on December 11th and Rahman has not played since the December 13th game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.  The Aggies have played eight games against teams in the Top 125 RPI but have lost all eight.  The four wins have come against Louisiana twice (1-8, RPI 309), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-11, RPI 279) and Pacific (5-5, RPI 126).  Head Coach Marvin Menzies believes that two of the remaining three players who are out with injury could see action in the next couple of games.  Under Menzies, the Aggies have tied for the regular season title (’07/’08), reached the conference tournament semifinals (’08/’09) and won the conference tournament (’09/’10) in his first three seasons and has led the Aggies to a 32-16 record in conference play.  The Aggies have just one player in the Top 15 in scoring, Christian Kabongo (11.5 PPG, 13th) and just one Top 15 rebounder, Tyrone Watson (5.6 RPG, 11th).  The Aggies open up on the road making the Idaho swing first in Moscow then to Boise.

8. Fresno State (4-6)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. San Jose State, 01/03 vs. Nevada

The Bulldogs are actually in the positive at home with a 3-2 record but the road hasn’t been so hospitable at 1-4. Taking heed of the admonition that a child shall lead them, frosh backcourter Kevin Olekaibe tops the squad in scoring at 10.7 a contest. The Greg Smith Funk remains ongoing as he is mired at 9.7 points per game along with 6.3 boards each time out. Point guard Steven Shepp just returned from academic exile and should help with the assist-to-turnover ratio. Believe it or not, Steve Cleveland‘s team lacks a familiar name in the top 15 point producers in the WAC, indicating just how much Paul George and to a lesser extent Sylvester Seay are missed offensively.  League play commences with San Jose State coming to town on Wednesday, followed by Nevada on Monday.

9. Nevada (3-10)

Up Next: 12/31 vs. Hawai’i, 01/03 at Fresno State

Nevada’s struggles have come because they lost 83 percent of their scoring through the NBA Draft and graduation.  They have really struggled to find consistency and their two Division I wins have come against Montana (6-4, RPI 140) and Portland State (6-5, RPI 247).  Nevada opens up conference play versus resurgent Hawai’i and then heads to Fresno to take on Fresno State.

A Look Ahead

The league did not look good in non-conference play so the WAC will revert back to a one-bid league.  It’s the swan song for Boise State as it completes its farewell tour in the WAC before jumping to the Mountain West next season.  Everyone is 0-0 starting tonight and with the change in format to the conference tournament, finishing in the top four in the league assures playing no more than three games in three days (just two games if you’re the first or second place finisher) whereas a bottom four finish means a trip to the Big Dance will require winning a four-game in four days gauntlet.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 9th, 2010

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

The top six teams in the WAC are 34-13.  The other three are a miserable 5-18 and two of those five victories are over non-Division-I teams.  New Mexico State and Nevada, two teams accustomed to playing in the top third of the league are currently on a combined 13-game losing streak.  The Wolf Pack are losers of seven straight, while the Aggies are losers of six straight.  Both teams had schedules that, if they had navigated them with an above-average winning record, could have lent themselves to a potential at-large berth.  However, as they limp toward the middle of December, their combined record of 3-13 has guaranteed the necessity of winning the WAC Tournament to receive an NCAA bid.  None of the other teams have done enough to warrant at-large consideration, despite the solid records.  Utah State has come up short in both of its resume-boosters (BYU and Georgetown), meaning that the league will likely go back to being a one-bid league this season after seeing both Aggies dance last season.

Player of the Week:

San Jose State’s Justin Graham earned his first career Player of the Week honors after back-to-back 20-plus point outings, also a career first.  Graham posted 20 points with a career-high 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals in a 72-63 loss at UT-San Antonio. Graham led the Spartans with 21 points, a team-high five assists and four steals, plus six rebounds in 37 minutes of play in an 85-70 road win at UC Irvine.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (6-2)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. CS-Bakersfield

The cream has risen to the top so to speak as the Aggies have won four of five defeating in-state rival Utah 79-62, holding off Northeastern 56-54, and escaping Denver 61-53 before losing 68-51 to nationally ranked Georgetown.  The Aggies rebounded from the loss by pounding Long Beach State 81-53.  Brady Jardine has led Utah State in rebounding in five of their eight games so far and enjoyed career-highs in points and rebounds against Utah before backing it up with a 15-point, 13-rebound performance against Northeastern.  The UtAgs are experiencing a rare statistical oddity, as opponents are outshooting the Aggies from the three point line so far this season, hitting 36.4 percent to Utah State’s 36.0 percent.  The Roadrunners from Bakersfield invade Logan for what should be another victory for Utah State.

2. Boise State (6-1)

Up Next: 12/08 at UNLV, 12/12 at Drake

The Broncos tasted their first defeat under head coach Leon Rice, as they were tripped up by Long Beach State 69-66, losing a 12-point lead with 9:22 left in the game.  While their success has come at the defensive end, holding opponents to just 55.0 points per game while scoring 72.0 points per game themselves, in the loss to LBSU they allowed 48 second half points to the 49ers.  Despite holding a 7.0 rebound per game advantage on their opponents, just twice in their first six games has their leading rebounder been in double-digits in the category.  The Broncos are rebounding from every position, and no player is averaging more than 4.9 rebounds per game.  Things will get significantly more difficult in the next week as the Broncos take to the road to face nationally ranked UNLV followed by Drake and Utah.

3. Louisiana Tech (7-3)

Up Next: 12/11 at McNeese State, 12/14 at Houston Baptist

A little luster was taken off the fast start by the Bulldogs after they lost 74-65 to Arkansas-Little Rock last Friday after holding a 29-22 lead at halftime.  The Bulldogs held UALR to just 14.8 percent shooting (4-27) in the first half but allowed 70 percent shooting in the second half (16-23).  Foul trouble was a problem for the Bulldogs as they had two players foul out, Brandon Gibson and Olu Ashaolu and two other players with four fouls.  The Bulldogs defeated SMU 69-64 and Louisiana-Monroe 67-58 before falling to in-state foe Northwestern State 85-78.  Ashaolu recorded 22 points and DeAndre Brown exploded for a career-high 31, but 50 percent shooting by the Demons was too much for the Bulldogs to overcome.  The two teams combined to hit 15 of 21 three-pointers in the second, which also saw 40 free throws and 102 combined points.

4. Hawai’i (5-2)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. Hawai’i-Pacific

Hawai’i posted another victory over a team from the state of Arkansas, as they dispatched Arkansas-Pine Bluff 70-63, but has lost the two games off the islands. First, they dropped from the ranks of the unbeatens with a 54-53 to Cal Poly on a disputed last-second Mustang basket.  They followed that up with a 78-57 loss to BYU in Salt Lake City.  The Warriors lost senior big man Bill Amis to a stress fracture during the week leading up to Thanksgiving, and he will remain out for around five weeks.  His absence wasn’t noticed as much, given the strong work of Vander Joaquim (16 rebounds) against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but the stability provided by Amis was certainly missed in the two losses.  The Warriors return to the friendly confines of the islands, as they’ll host Hawai’i-Pacific and Chicago State before a very tough Christmas test sees them participate in their holiday Diamond Head Classic which will feature No. 11 Baylor, Mississippi State, Washington State, Florida State, Butler, Utah and San Diego battling over Christmas week. Believe it or not (based on recent history), the Rainbow lead the WAC in field goal shooting at 47%, rank second in field goal percentage defense at 40% and is cruising in three-point shooting with a 38% mark. On the boards, UH tops the conference with a +9.1 figure.

5. San Jose State (5-2)

Up Next: 12/10 vs. Santa Clara, 12/12 vs. Eastern Washington

The Spartans have lost two of their last three as they dropped an 82-77 decision at CS-Bakersfield, then won 80-77 at home against UC-Riverside behind a 35 point night from Adrian Oliver, but fell 72-63 to future WAC member UT-San Antonio.  A trip down to Orange County most recently resulted in an 85-70 victory over Big West Conference foe UC Irvine. Friday brings Santa Clara coming over from crosstown for a rivalry game.  SJSU leads the WAC in scoring offense at 74.4 points per game and free throw percentage at 79%.  Oliver is averaging 24.9 PPG but needs to get more help from his teammates as Justin Graham at 15.0 PPG and Keith Shamburger at 11.1 PPG are the only other two in double-figures scoring per game. Frontcourt newcomer Wil Carter is tops in rebounding at 9.7 per contest.  It’s all west coast teams from here until the start of conference play and the Spartans will have two of their next three at home.

6. Idaho (5-3)

Up Next: 12/11 at Seattle

Don’t look now, but the Vandals have won four in a row, currently the longest winning streak in the WAC.  Idaho became the third WAC team to beat Eastern Washington this year, as they rebounded from their pasting at the hands of Montana to hand Eastern Washington a 70-60 loss.  Deremy Geiger scored 24 points for Idaho in becoming the sixth different Vandal to lead the team in scoring.  Idaho swept the Basketball Traveler’s Classic in Moscow (casual readers, calm down – that’s Moscow, Idaho) as their victims included North Dakota (63-42), Monmouth (69-66) and Eastern Michigan (75-60).  The Vandals travel to Seattle on Saturday, where they’ll try to improve their record to 4-0 over Cameron Dollar’s Redhawks.

7. Fresno State (2-5)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. Pepperdine

The Bulldogs dropped games against Washington State (66-55), Utah (76-63) and Colorado State (87-74) before picking up their first win over a Division-I team, prevailing 74-70 at San Diego.  The Bulldogs trailed WSU by just four points with a shade over four minutes remaining but could not draw any closer before falling by 11.  The game against Utah was a rout all the way.  The Bulldogs trailed by 11 at halftime and by 24 with 12:00 left in the game.  Greg Smith had just nine points and five rebounds in 35 minutes of play against the Utes.   For a team known for offensive prowess, the Bulldogs rank last in both scoring offense at 64.3 points per contest and free throw percentage with a jaw-dropping 57.8%. Yes, you read that correctly. Smith is shooting a very respectable 57% to date but has only 33 attempts in six games and is averaging 8.8 PPG.  That has to change — within the context of a team effort — for the Bulldogs to turn it around.  The ‘Dogs will try to make it two in a row over the West Coast Conference as Pepperdine comes in on Saturday.  It’s just Fresno State’s third home game of the season and starts a five-game homestead that will take them into conference play.

8. New Mexico State (2-6)

Up Next: 12/11 at New Mexico, 12/13 vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Things aren’t getting much better for New Mexico State, as they were swept by their I-10 rivals and lit up by UTEP guard Randy Culpepper who scored 32 points in his Battle of I-10 swan song.  The Aggies also lost starting center Hamidu Rahman to a calf injury in practice and has missed two consecutive games.  His status is day-to-day (aren’t we all?).  The Aggies lost the first half of their rivalry series with in-state rival New Mexico in overtime 84-78, rallying from an early 17-point hole in the first half.  New Mexico has now won six straight in the series and with a trip to The Pit looming on Saturday, it’s not looking good for the Aggies; New Mexico State has not won in Albuquerque since 2002.  The Aggies can take some solace in some improvement in their play.  The Aggies played both rivals without sRahman (9.2 PPG/5.3 RPG) and were in the game right down to the wire.  There is still no news on the potential return of preseason All-WAC forward Wendell McKines from his ankle injury.  McKines has been sidelined the entire season after suffering the broken ankle in the first week of practice.

9. Nevada (1-7)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. San Francisco State

The struggles also continue for the Wolf Pack, as they were handed an 82-65 loss by South Dakota State on the road and then lost 82-70 to rival UNLV and 64-61 at Houston.  No Pack player played more than 26 minutes in the loss against South Dakota State. Head coach David Carter emptied the bench, with 12 different players seeing action and 11 of the 12 seeing at least ten minutes of action.  Nevada shot 48.9 percent (23-47) but could not overcome 23 points from the Jackrabbits’ Jordan Dykstra, who finished 8-12 from the field, 2-3 from behind the three-point line and 5-7 from the free throw stripe.  A poor first half doomed Nevada against UNLV as 20.8 percent shooting gave way to a 21-point halftime deficit.  Nevada led Houston at halftime by a single point, but UH scored the second half’s first basket and never relinquished the lead, sending the young Pack to its seventh consecutive loss.  Nevada could potentially lose four of their final five with Arizona State, Portland State, Washington and Portland on tap before WAC play begins.  One reason for Nevada’s struggles? According to Ken Pomeroy, they are the nation’s least experienced basketball team (via Reno Gazette-Journal’s Chris Murray). Another issue could simply be a few whiffs on the recruiting trail As this blog post notes, recruiting top-flight talent to Nevada hasn’t been a concern in ten years, but Carter has his work cut out for him on couches across the region.

A Look Ahead

The WAC’s competition level takes a step down with teams wrapping up finals and preparing for the last of non-conference play.  WAC play starts the final week of December this season, the earliest start in recent memory.  The likes of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, San Francisco State, Houston Baptist, Eastern Washington, Hawai’i-Pacific, CS-Bakersfield litter the schedule in the coming week.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.04-12.05

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 4th, 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.

The biggest hoops weekend of the year thus far features a blueblood clash, a national championship rematch, a good mid-major battle, a key top 25 Battle in Seattle and a bunch of other quality matchups. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#14 Kentucky @ North Carolina – 12:30 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

The UNC-Kentucky Game Is Always Special

Two of the three members of the 2,000 win club meet in Chapel Hill with the Tar Heels holding a 21-11 edge in this series. Even better, Gus Johnson is calling this game for CBS in its first nationally televised game of the season. North Carolina has won five of the last six meetings and could really use a quality win after starting the year 0-3 against major conference opponents. The story for North Carolina will be turnovers. Roy Williams must be going crazy over his backcourt, which committed 14 of UNC’s 18 turnovers in a loss to Illinois on Tuesday. Carolina ranks #217 in turnover percentage but Kentucky, surprisingly is just #305 in forcing turnovers. That could help North Carolina’s confidence in a home game where the place will be sold out and the fans really fired up. If Harrison Barnes can break out of his slump, North Carolina has a really good chance to win this game. Tyler Zeller and John Henson have been the only reason UNC has been competitive. With everyone else on the team having a hard time, Zeller and Henson have combined to average 26 points and 18 rebounds per game. They’ll face a different kind of challenge against Kentucky star freshman Terrence Jones. The 6’8 Jones has been on a tear to start the season, averaging 21/10 while blocking over two shots a game and stretching his game to the perimeter as well. It’ll be interesting to see whether Roy Williams puts Henson or Barnes on Jones defensively as neither comes close to Jones’ strength and athleticism for his size. A better strategy might be to let Jones get his points and focus the defense elsewhere, specifically on getting turnovers from Brandon Knight. The freshman point guard has played well for John Calipari, but his 4.5 turnovers can be a major problem against an up-tempo team like North Carolina. UNC ranks #19 in tempo which is the quickest pace Kentucky has seen since Washington in Maui. Against the Huskies, Knight had eight turnovers and no assists, though he did score 24 points. North Carolina’s guards must be ready defensively against a Kentucky team that shoots 41% from long range, good for #25 in the nation. The Tar Heels have not been good defending the trey, ranking #185. This matchup could tip the balance of this game towards UK if UNC doesn’t defend well. North Carolina gets 61% of its points from inside the arc, something to watch against Kentucky’s tough interior defense which ranks #8 in block percentage. Expect a fun to watch game with a lot of talent on the floor and intensity on the sidelines and in the stands. It’s hard to predict a winner here because UK has the edge overall but UNC is at home where they enjoy a nice advantage. Best to call this one a toss-up.

#1 Duke vs. Butler (IZOD Center, East Rutherford, NJ) – 3:15 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)

The rematch of last year’s epic title game doesn’t have nearly the same feel. Duke is better than last year while Butler has had a rough start to the season with point guard Ronald Nored suffering a concussion against Siena. He’s day-to-day according to Brad Stevens and may miss this game. Butler’s do-everything star from last year’s team, Gordon Hayward, is gone too, averaging just two points a game in less than ten minutes for the Utah Jazz. The Bulldogs were shredded by Louisville and upset by Evansville at home last week, two disappointing losses for a team that came in with high expectations again this year. Look for Duke’s shooters to dominate this game as Butler really struggles on offense and is mediocre defensively inside the three-point line. Butler ranks #171 in two point defense and is one of the worst teams at blocking shots, #312. Duke’s opponents get most of their points inside the arc but Butler is just #246 in two point percentage. Leading scorer and rebounder Matt Howard is making 55% of his shots but as a whole the team is just at 43.5%. Shelvin Mack is back too and has done a nice job distributing the ball, especially with Nored out. Howard’s foul problems are still there but he has yet to foul out of a game this season. Going up against the athletic Mason Plumlee and company inside, it would be naïve to think Howard won’t have foul problems in this game given his history. Duke is the top ranked team in offensive efficiency and should be able to pile up the points against Butler. Kyrie Irving, coming off his spectacular 31-point performance against Michigan State, makes his return to his home state of New Jersey and will surely be ready to play well in front of the home folks. Duke simply has too much for Butler this time around. While it’s sure to be nostalgic for most college basketball fans, don’t expect this game to be close especially if Nored is still out.

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More Notes From the Mountain West and WAC Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, they will both post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for last night’s semifinals.

Mountain West Semis

  • The difference between these four teams when they are playing at their peak is not a whole lot. New Mexico and BYU have been more consistent over the course of the season, but all four of these teams are highly talented and very evenly matched.
  • Even before tonight I felt pretty fortunate to have picked the MWC out of the hat to cover this year. After tonight, the MWC could start a new religion and I would be the first convert.
  • I overheard Danny Ainge talking with Steve Lappas during the break between games say that this iteration of this tournament was as good as any in the country over the last few years. At this point, I’m not inclined to disagree.

San Diego State 72, New Mexico 69.

  • Darington Hobson was the MWC Player of the Year, but San Diego State took some advantage of him defensively, especially in the first half when he was unable to control either Kawhi Leonard or Billy White. Further, in the postgame press conference, Aztec point guard D.J. Gay seemed to imply that they were more concerned about Dairese Gary than they were about Hobson, saying that they in the last sequence they were trying to force Gary to give the ball up to Hobson.
  • Speaking of Gary, when the Lobos found themselves down 11 early, it was he who sparked the team’s run back to eventually take the lead in the first half. But as important as Gary is to the Lobos hopes, it is the combination of Gary and Hobson, each of whom have point skills, that make the Lobos so tough.
  • Kawhi Leonard was the MWC Freshman of the Year, a first-team All-MWC selection and my choice as the MWC Defensive Player of the Year, and yet he is only beginning to scratch the surface of his talent. Tonight he added three threes (after shooting just 19% from three on the season), took on Hobson one-on-one defensively, and yanked down 12 rebounds, including a serious man’s rebound in the final seconds, just before knocking down two free throws to extend the final margin.
  • It was apparent in the postgame press conference just how much coach Steve Fisher loves his squad. At times it seemed like he almost had to control himself from gushing over his squad. Check this: “I told our team at halftime, this is big-time, high-level major college basketball. We played about as well as we can play and we’re one point behind. That’s what they’re telling their team, that San Diego State can’t play better. But we can. We have to. And we did.” And, on D.J. Gay: “I said to our team and the media that I thought D.J. Gay was our most important player. He had seven assists, no turnovers. Guards like crazy. Helps everybody else out and wins.” On Billy White: “He’s a really talented player and a terrific young guy. So I’m proud. I’m so happy for Billy today to have him come home and play as well as he did. He was sensational. When we went out before the game, I grabbed him and told him ‘Make your mom proud.’ Afterward I said, ‘You made everyone proud.’”
  • San Diego State’s freshman guard Chase Tapley and New Mexico’s sophomore post A.J. Hardeman may not get all the press that some of their teammates get, but both had key contributions. Hardeman wound up with 12 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, while Tapley, playing with a broken left hand which has cost him his starting position, knocked down three of his four attempts from three-point range.

UNLV 70, BYU 66.

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