Ten Questions to Consider: Welcome to Conference Play!

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 30th, 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, conference play gets underway all across the country. Here are 10 questions for a busy weekend of conference games.

Is Arizona Turning the Corner on This Season (USA Today Images)?

  1. Can Arizona State beat Arizona? Arizona State is winless in seven trips to the McKale Center since 2011, and a defensive efficiency that ranks outside of the top 100 this year certainly gives Bobby Hurley reason for concern. Still, in their one true road game at Kansas, the Sun Devils won despite allowing the Jayhawks to shoot a robust 62.1 percent inside the arc. While Arizona State ranks second in the nation in free throw rate, the Pac-12 last year logged the lowest such metric among all 32 conferences during conference play.
  2. Is TCU’s Big 12 opener a must-win game? TCU opens conference play against Oklahoma this afternoon, and that game is followed by a trip to Baylor and a home game against Kansas. TCU could potentially be looking at an 0-3 start with a back-to-back at Texas and Oklahoma looming. The Horned Frogs’ non-conference perfection could very quickly turn into a conference disaster given the next couple weeks’ schedule. TCU should expect to see Sooners’ wunderkind Trae Young put up huge numbers — the freshman is averaging 31.4 PPG and 10.8 APG in his last eight games — but they must also find a way to slow down the accompanying pair of Christian James and Brady Manek. The duo have combined for 30 or more points in each of Oklahoma’s last four games.
  3. What must Villanova do to avenge a pair of losses to Butler from last season? Villanova was 14-0 last season before losing at Butler. While Jalen Brunson had games of 23 and 24 points against the Bulldogs, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo only combined to score a measly 14 points in 120 minutes of action. After scoring just 20 or more points once last season, Bridges has reached that mark six times this season and he will need to do so again to ensure a Villanova victory.
  4. Duke vs. Florida State: Which strength wins out? Duke comes into this weekend’s game against the Seminoles ranked as the most efficient offense in college basketball. The Blue Devils match up against a Florida State defense that ranks among the top 20 in efficiency, opponents’ effective field goal percentage and three-point defense. In two games against the Seminoles last season, Duke guard Grayson Allen contributed only 11 total points in a split of the two games.  Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Questions to Consider: Mid-December Blues

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 16th, 2017

With temperatures dropping across the country, nothing beats staying in and watching college basketball all weekend long. Here are 10 things to watch this weekend.

Butler (USA Today Images)

  1. Which Paul Jorgensen shows up for Butler? In Butler’s two losses this season, Paul Jorgensen scored a total of two points on 1-of-9 shooting. In Butler’s eight wins, Jorgensen scored 10 or more points seven times. If Butler expects to beat Purdue at the Crossroads Classic today, they will need Jorgensen to contribute offensively.
  2. Will Wichita State grab another win against a Big 12 opponent? Wichita State has already gone on the road and beaten Baylor and Oklahoma State in “Big 12 action”; this weekend the Shockers will get Oklahoma at home. Wichita State will be up against the nation’s leading scorer, Trae Young, who has scored 28 or more points in each of his last six games.
  3. Is Georgetown ANY good? Jokes about Georgetown’s dead-last non-conference schedule have been flying around all season long. Saturday’s game against Syracuse is the first Georgetown opponent to have a KenPom rating in the top 200 and only the second in the top 300. Good luck, Hoyas. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 11.14.17 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 14th, 2017

morning5

  1. R.J. Barrett‘s commitment to Duke seems to be a case of the rich getting richer as Mike Krzyzewski continues to rack to highly-rated recruits. It was not that long ago that it seemed like John Calipari was luring almost every top recruit to Kentucky, but over the past few years Krzyzewski has certainly held his own. In Barrett, Duke gets its third straight #1 recruit following Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley III. Barrett, a 6’7″ small forward who recently reclassified from the class of 2019 to the class of 2018, chose Duke over Oregon and Kentucky. Although there are still several top recruits who have not committed it looks like the Blue Devils have a good shot at finishing the year with the #1 recruiting class as they already have commitments two other top-10 recruits (Cam Reddish and Tre Jones).
  2. Darius Garland committing to Vanderbilt might not draw the same level of attention as Barrett’s commitment to Duke, but it is more surprising. As RTC alumnus Chris Johnson notes Garland, a five-star recruit, is taking an unconventional route bypassing the traditional powerhouses. Garland had been considering Indiana, Kentucky, and UCLA, but ultimately decided to stay in his home state. It’s unclear if Garland’s commitment will help Bryce Drew lure in any more recruits, but it cannot hurt.
  3. Like most people we were surprised by BYU junior guard Nick Emery announcement that he was withdrawing from school this year. Like most people we originally assumed it was the result of an investigation into whether he may have received impermissible benefits, but according to Emery the reason for him withdrawing was the stress from a divorce although some find that hard to believe. Whatever the reason, it is a big loss as the Cougars will be hard-pressed to replace the talent of a player who averaged 16.3 points per game as a freshman (his numbers were down slightly across the board as a sophomore).
  4. On Friday, Oklahoma State announced that preseason first-team All-Big 12 guard Jeffrey Carroll would be held out amid eligibility concerns. Carroll, who averaged 17.6 points (on 53.7% shooting) and 6.6 rebounds per game last season, could return as early as next week although we are never sure how long these investigations will take especially with the FBI involved. Getting Carroll back would be a huge lift for the Cowboys particularly with a game against Texas A&M looming on November 20.
  5. We usually are not interested in stories about athletes not qualifying academically since all the stories tend to be similar (player bounced around from school to school, etc), but the story of Stanford freshman Kezie Okpala caught our eye. Okpala, a top-50 recruit in the class of 2017, was ruled ineligible because of a grade he received in an AP Calculus class in his last semester of high school. We aren’t sure what Stanford’s policy is in accepting high school credits or what the rest of Okpala’s academic transcript looks like, but it seems absurd that someone taking AP calculus could fail to qualify academically (albeit by the standards of one of the top universities in the world) while the vast majority of players will never take a math class that challenging in college much less high school. More than anything it speaks to the absurdity of the NCAA or any other governing body determining academic eligibility when schools vary so widely in their academic requirements.
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Where 2017-18 Happens: Reason #5 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 6th, 2017

As RTC heads into its 11th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 10. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#5 – Where Unbeaten No More Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 preseasons.

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O26 Early Impressions: Takeaways From First 10 Days

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 21st, 2016

With Feast Week now upon us and two weekends of college hoops in the books, let’s take a step back and reflect on what we’ve learned, which teams have impressed, and why Florida Gulf Coast’s loss at Michigan State was unforgettable… for all the wrong reasons.

Saint Mary's center Jock Landale has been nothing short of excellent. (USATSI)

To this point, Saint Mary’s center Jock Landale has been nothing short of excellent. (USATSI)

The West Coast Conference looks even better than expected. We ranked Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s #1 and #2 in our preseason Power 13, respectively, with Brigham Young also cracking the list. Each has lived up to—perhaps even exceeded—expectations in the early going. In their first major test, the Zags crushed San Diego State by 21 points, holding the Aztecs to 0.69 points per possession and receiving major contributions from freshman big man Zach Collins (16 points on 6-for-7 FG). The Gaels, to their credit, blitzed a talented Nevada team in their opener before earning a huge, resume-bolstering road win at Dayton two games later. The Cougars began their season with a double-digit victory over Ivy League favorite Princeton. As for potential WCC Player of the Year candidates? There may wind up being too many to count. Along with Gonzaga’s cast of contenders, BYU forward Eric Mika (21.0 PPG, 11.0 RPG), back from his two year LDS mission, has looked downright dominant on both ends of the floor through three games. Likewise, Saint Mary’s center Jock Landale (20.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG)—who averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game in 2015-16—has been an offensive revelation for Randy Bennett, in addition to hyper-efficient point guard Emmett Naar (9.0 PPG, 9.7 APG). Strap in for a heavyweight battle atop the WCC.

Rhode Island is the real deal. Sure, the Rams (4-1) lost handily to #1 Duke in Sunday’s Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship game, but they looked like they belonged, and they only got there by grinding out a 76-71 victory over #24 Cincinnati one day earlier. E.C. Matthews (19.5 PPG) appears to be his old self after missing last season with a knee injury, while forward Hassan Martin (4.3 BPG)—who blocked seven shots against Duke—looks well on his way to repeating as Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year. Rhode Island has the grit, the talent, and (finally) the offensive punch to reach its first NCAA Tournament since 1999. The season’s first 10 days have only reaffirmed that.

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Previewing Tight Races in the Mid-Majors: Part I

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on November 2nd, 2016

In this NCAA Basketball preview season, we are bombarded with lists. One common list is that of the trendy mid-major ready to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting college hoops world. Unfortunately, some of these high-quality teams find themselves in the same conference staring each other down for scarce March Madness bids. No mid-major is ever guaranteed an invitation to the Field of 68, of course, no matter how impressive it looks in November and December. Just ask the 2015-16 iterations of Monmouth and St. Mary’s about that. In this preseason post we will analyze several mid-major conference races that should be two-horse races, with details on each team, why they will (or not), and a bonus sleeper who isn’t yet in the conversation. Part I covering the WCC and Atlantic 10 will publish today. Part II on the Ivy League and MAAC will release later this week.

West Coast Conference—Saint Mary’s vs. Gonzaga

It's always fun when these two guys get their teams together

It’s always fun when these two guys get their teams together. (AP)

St. Mary’s

  • Who they are: Randy Bennett’s team came out of absolutely nowhere last year to become an offensive juggernaut, and the Gaels return every important piece from that 29-6 team. All six returning perimeter players are above average three-point shooters, with junior Aussie guard Emmett Naar looking an awful lot like the next Matthew Dellavedova and Joe Rahon acting as a capable secondary playmaker. On the inside, Dane Pineau is ruthlessly efficient and productive, and his backup Jock Landale is no slouch either. The Gaels play at a glacial pace and they don’t beat themselves.
  • Why they will win: This is going to be one of the most efficient offenses in college basketball once again. Last year’s team went 29-6 and last year’s team is essentially this year’s team with another year of experience. The Gaels could be second weekend good.
  • Why they will lose: If we learned anything last year, it is that St. Mary’s has no margin for error with Gonzaga also in the conference. The defense has to be good enough to compete and the outside shots have to fall. Otherwise, the Gaels may be on the outside looking in once again.

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Keeping the Big 12 Expansion Doors Open

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 20th, 2016

For a little while on Monday, it seemed like the Big 12 might actually expand after months of indecisiveness. As we all know now, the league’s press conference ended up being a whole lot of nothing as commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced an extension of the status quo (until it comes up again this winter and we do this dance all over again). The will-they/won’t-they is frustrating enough for college football fans with their sport driving the decisions (or lack thereof), but it’s also exasperating on the basketball side as we’re merely along for the ride. If there’s any solace we can take from the seemingly seasonal Big 12 expansion talks, it is that the programs mentioned most frequently each have considerable basketball juice to bring to the table. Football may steer the ship in terms of overall revenue potential, but the hoops programs at BYU, Cincinnati and Connecticut would certainly make basketball even more competitive than it already is, with invested fan bases and strong histories in tow. Let’s take a closer look at each.

BYU

Jimmer Fredette Was a Household Name at BYU Several Years Ago (Jack Dempsey/AP)

Jimmer Fredette Was a Household Name at BYU Several Years Ago (Jack Dempsey/AP)

  • The Lowdown: The Cougars may not be as nationally relevant as they were when NPOY Jimmer Fredette was rewriting the school’s record books twice a week, but there’s still a lot to like about this program. Head coach Dave Rose has led BYU to NCAA Tournament appearances in eight of his 11 seasons at the helm, although they’ve only advanced to the Round of 32 twice and the Sweet Sixteen once in those chances. They play a very entertaining brand of offensive basketball, pushing tempo, valuing possessions, and knocking down threes. That might suggest a finesse style in the vein of Hoiberg-era Iowa State, but they also crash the defensive glass with complete abandon, ranking among the upper echelon in defensive rebounding rate on an annual basis.

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With such a high level of success and an entertaining blueprint to match, the Cougars have transformed the Marriott Center into a fortress, losing just four conference games there over the last three seasons. BYU regularly ranks among the top 15 schools in attendance, topping every current Big 12 program other than Kansas.

  • Recent Big 12 Meetings: The Cougars are incredibly tough to beat at home, but Iowa State did just that in November 2014, winning a 90-88 thriller in Provo. Just five days later, though, BYU exacted revenge on the Big 12 with an 86-82 win over Texas in Kansas City. Going back even further than that, BYU also lost to Iowa State in Ames in 2013 and dropped a pair of games to Baylor that same year — once in Waco and then in New York in the NIT semifinals. Read the rest of this entry »
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Lock Your Doors: Potential Bid Thieves

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 4th, 2016

No two words strike fear into the hearts of college basketball’s bubble-dwelling teams like “bid thieves.” The aptly named conference tournament crashers have a ripple effect on the rest of the landscape, impacting teams from leagues far beyond their own. When a team with no legitimate at-large aspirations wills their way into the field, another program’s season is suddenly viewed through a dramatically sadder lens (such is life in the NIT). A bid thief, like any good bandit, is sneaky and unsuspecting. If we all knew who they were at the outset of the conference tournaments, they wouldn’t be very effective thieves. Still, there are signs and symbols to look for. First and foremost, the pool of suspects all hail from a conference that has a team that owns a resume strong enough to merit an at-large bid. That means the potential bid thief population comprises second tier mid-major clubs and the also-rans of power conferences. From that group, at least one or two teams will almost definitely rise and dash the hopes of those on the bubble. Let’s take a closer look to see if we can spot some a caper before they become one.

Northern Iowa is peaking at just the right time. (Getty)

Northern Iowa is peaking at the right time. (Getty)

Northern Iowa

The Panthers are the perfect place to start, as they boast a textbook bid thief background. UNI has beaten North Carolina, Stephen F. Austin, Iowa State, and Wichita State. Sounds like the beginning of an at-large case? Not exactly. Ben Jacobson’s club also had a stretch this season where they lost 10 of 15, including duds against Missouri State (KenPom #241) and Loyola (KenPom #185). They’ve been utterly inconsistent throughout the season, despite the aforementioned flashes of impressiveness. If the team that’s 4-1 against the KenPom top 50 shows up to Arch Madness, the Panthers are absolutely a threat to knock off Wichita State and steal the Missouri Valley Conference’s automatic bid. UNI has won eight of its last nine (which includes a victory in Wichita), so everything could be breaking right for this thief to emerge in St. Louis.

Iona

If Monmouth fails to win the MAAC tournament, the Hawks would find themselves squarely on the bubble, even with that tidy list of non-conference wins (most notably UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, and Georgetown). The MAAC tournament will be far from a cakewalk for Monmouth, with second seeded Iona looming as its toughest test. The Gaels and Hawks split the season series, each winning on the other’s home floor. Monmouth came out on top in a wild, 200+ total point, trash-talking, slap-fight-inspiring battle in mid-January, while Iona returned the favor by beating Monmouth by 16 in a less remarkable affair. If the basketball gods are good to us, we’ll see these two square off again in Albany. Both play at a breakneck pace (each are in the top 30 nationally in possessions per game), as Iona is able to run with Monmouth in a way most teams can’t. They also may have the best player you don’t know about. Iona senior AJ English is averaging 22 points, five rebounds, and six assists per game and has multiple 40+ point games this season. An English-dominated conference tournament could mean a two-bid MAAC – a scary proposition for bubble teams everywhere else.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 01.12.16 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 12th, 2016

morning5

  1. The big news over the weekend was UNLV‘s decision to fire Dave Rice resigning at UNLV. On one hand the news isn’t exactly showing as Rice had brought in good recruiting classes, but failed to produce the type of success you would hope to have at what should really be the premier program in the Mountain West. On the other hand, the decision to fire a coach (everybody knows this was forced) in early January without a major scandal is quite unusual. In the end, Rice’s 98-54 record simply was not good enough or more specifically his 38-28 record after starting his time with a 51-19 record. The big question is who will take over after Todd Simon‘s stint as interim coach. One name that we have seen floated out there is former NBA coach Mike Brown, which would certainly fit the criteria of being a (fairly) big name with experience coaching superstars that might appeal to recruits. He also might be as good as UNLV can get because despite what some in the fan base might think it probably isn’t any better than a top 30 or 40 coaching position.
  2. Last week couldn’t end soon enough for Arizona as they not only lost both of their games (UCLA and USC), but they also lost Allonzo Trier for 4-6 weeks after he broke a bone in his right hand in Saturday’s quadruple-overtime loss to USC. Trier, who led the team in scoring at 14.8 points per game, is the third significant player for the Wildcats to miss time this year as Kaleb Tarczewski recently returned from injury and Ray Smith is out for the season after tear in his ACL in October. Despite this latest injury, Arizona still has the potential to win the Pac-12, but their road just got much tougher. The bigger question will be whether Trier will be healthy and back to form when March rolls around.
  3. Much of the talk about the economics of college sports has focused in on the pay of coaches, but as The Washington Post points out the salaries of “Power 5” conference commissioners (or more specifically the increase in salaries) might be even more noteworthy. While the average pay of $2.58 million might not seem like that much compared to the money that some coaches make, the increase in their pay over the past 14 years by 258% is more notable as well as many of the nice perks they get with the job. We can understand the rationale that they have more on their plate now with conference realignment and their own cable networks, but it is still a pretty cush job. The one thing that we would love to see included in an analysis like this is what CEOs of organizations with similar revenue figures make.
  4. The announcement that Larry Krystkowiak was putting a temporary halt to the UtahBYU series because of concern that it was becoming too intense has been widely criticized as an overreaction to incidents that happened in two of the past three meetings. To be fair, both of the incidents were the result of actions by BYU players (Nick Emery this past year and Erik Mika two years earlier), but we are not sure that the potential risks of further incidents happening is high enough to put a hold on one of the best rivalries in college basketball. For now, Utah has canceled the 2016 game and there has been no public talk about restarting the rivalry after that. We are not sure why the schools couldn’t at least do something like what Cincinnati and Xavier did after their famous “Zip ‘Em Up” game where they played on a neutral court for two years. We’ll admit that even that seems a little ridiculous, but it’s better than suspending the rivalry.
  5. One of the major criticisms of the college coaching ranks is how underrepresented minorities are in comparison to what you see on the court/field. As a result, a group of minority coaches (National Association for Coaching Equity and Development) is pushing for an “Eddie Robinson Rule,” which would be similar to the NFL’s “Rooney Rule, that would require all universities to interview a minority candidate for any coaching or leadership opening. While this seems good in theory as we have seen in the NFL this can often be simply paid lip service and it’s unclear how much impact it would have without adequate enforcement.
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Blame the System for Utah Bailing on the BYU Rivalry

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 7th, 2016

In a joint statement last night, Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak and athletic director Dr. Chris Hill casually let it leak that the school will break its existing contract with BYU in backing out of next season’s meeting in Provo. That’s bad enough, but the pair made matters worse by claiming the decision was a result of escalating intensity in the rivalry that creates “the potential for serious injury.” The curious timing and Krystkowiak’s sudden concern for everyone’s safety made the excuse look especially flimsy — but thankfully, Twitter was quick to call out Utah’s shenanigans. Yet amid all the well-deserved scorn that was heaped the school’s administrators, there is one thing they deserve credit for. That is being brave enough to do what every other Power 5 coach and athletic director wishes they could do — find a defensible way to stop playing quality mid-major opponents on the road.

It's Inexcusable That Such a Great Basketball Rivalry is Ending (USAT Images)

It’s Inexcusable That Such a Great Basketball Rivalry is Ending (USAT Images)

Do not be deceived — that is what this decision boils down to. BYU has a long history of accusations levied against it for playing dirty in basketball and other sports. But despite the various incidents cited in Utah’s statements, this isn’t about player safety. It isn’t about animosity between the two programs (although it certainly exists). It isn’t because either program has done anything worth cancelling one of the country’s most entertaining hoops rivalries. It is because Utah, now headstrong and comfortable with its status in the much-richer Pac-12, has nothing to gain from playing a very good BYU team in Provo next season. The actual reasons for this maneuver are so transparent to be almost offensive, and the statements from both men were so patronizing in blaming BYU that it is easy to see why Cougars’ head coach Dave Rice was so fired up about the decision. In the end, the cost to Utah will only be $80,000 in a guarantee fee, a few bad days of publicity and some lingering bad blood with its rival down the road. All of which will seem like a small price to pay when next season’s game with BYU is replaced with a home game against an overmatched Big Sky team and Utah mops the floor with them.

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