ATB: Madness Ensues During Four Classic Conference Tournament Finishes Monday Night

Posted by EJacoby on March 6th, 2012

Last Night’s Lede – Not a single power conference team played on Monday night and there were only 12 total games played, yet it ended up being one of the best nights of the entire season. Why’s that? Because it was the first full night of Championship Week, in which all games taking place from here on out will come during postseason tournaments. Monday saw four conference tournament finals take place – two at 7:00 PM ET, two at 9:00 PM ET – on ESPN or ESPN2, and each game came down to the final possession. The four championships were decided by 13 total points and included three overtime sessions. There was also important action taking place in other mid-major tournaments, so let’s jump right into it…

Your Watercooler MomentVCU Returns to the Tournament

Brad Burgess and VCU Shot Their Way Back to the Big Dance (Washington Examiner/L. Alvarez)

Last year’s unbelievable Cinderella story has guaranteed itself a place in the Big Dance once again this year. Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams were squarely on the bubble heading into Monday night’s CAA Tournament final, as was their opponent, Drexel. A hard-fought game in which VCU led by double-digits for much of the game wound up being close at the end and came down to the final possession when Drexel guard Frantz Massenat’s three for the tie hit the back iron. VCU earned itself an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and there’s not a single team in the bracket that wants to face Shaka Smart’s team in the first game next week. The Rams got 16 points, five assists, four rebounds, and five steals from Darius Theus while their star Brad Burgess had just six points. Drexel, which had just eight assists compared to 18 turnovers, now must sweat it out on Selection Sunday with a very strong conference showing but some weak overall profile numbers such as the #226 strength of schedule that won’t be pleasing to the NCAA Tourney committee. Don’t be shocked, though, if Drexel ends up making it so that you’ll see both of these teams playing again next week.

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ATB: Friday Night Lights With Jack Cooley, Harvard, and Plenty of Conference Tourney Action…

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Friday night is usually reserved for the likes of the Ivy League and the MAAC, but that’s not the case during Championship Fortnight. With eight mid-major conference tournaments in action and 22 more teams eliminated from national title contention tonight, there were plenty of reasons to stay interested. Furthermore, we were treated with some compelling Ivy action as well as another look at one of the surprise teams of not only the Big East but also the entire country this year. Let’s jump into it…

Your Watercooler Moment. Cooley Than You.

Jack Cooley Is One of the Big East's Biggest Surprises This Year (US Presswire)

Just four days after Jack Cooley’s worst game of the year — a two-point, zero-rebound outing at Georgetown — the junior center returned to the lineup with a vengeance tonight, going for a 27/17 masterpiece on 10-15 shooting from the field to lock his team into a double-bye at next week’s Big East Tournament. The fact that we just wrote the previous sentence — that Notre Dame finished in the top four of the Big East standings and received a double-bye — is nothing less than phenomenal and a testament to the vast improvement of Cooley and several of his teammates this season. After losing its top three players to graduation (Ben Hansbrough, Carleton Scott) and injury (Tim Abromaitis), nobody expected the youthful Irish to do much of anything this year. Instead, Mike Brey’s team is now locked into the #3 seed in next week’s conference tournament and owns the only victory of the season over the Syracuse juggernaut. We’re not completely sold on the Irish making a deep run into March Madness, but the fact of the matter is that Mike Brey is one of the most underrated coaches in the country given that he’s pushed his team to six straight 20-win seasons and will make the NCAAs for the fifth time in six seasons.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Harvard Keeps Hope Alive. It’s seemed a foregone conclusion for months that Harvard would win the Ivy League’s automatic bid this season and earn its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in over six decades. After last weekend’s home loss to Penn, however, the Crimson and Quakers were locked in a tie with two defeats each in the loss column. The Ivy doesn’t do artificial tiebreakers — like last year’s Harvard-Princeton classic, they decide their ties on the court. With alumnus Jeremy Lin watching from the stands in Morningside Heights tonight, Harvard barely survived Columbia in a nail-biting game that went to overtime. Penn kept the pace with an easier win over Brown, but HU will travel next to Cornell while the Quakers still have a home game against Yale before its rivalry game at Princeton on Tuesday. With one more win Saturday, the Crimson are at least guaranteed a berth in the Ivy playoff game again, but they probably do not want to tempt the basketball gods by losing that one.
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CAA First Place Showdown: Everybody’s a Winner

Posted by IRenko on January 9th, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC correspondent.

On Saturday night, the only two undefeated teams in the CAA faced off in a battle for first place, as Georgia State visited George Mason.  Only one team could, and did, emerge victorious, as Mason held off the Panthers for a 61-58 win.  But given the gulf that separated these two teams coming into the season, the result was a meaningful “win” for the coaches of both teams, each of whom has had something to prove during the early part of the CAA season.

At the start of this season, George Mason and Georgia State had little in common.  Mason won 27 games last year, won the CAA regular season championship, and earned a #8 seed in the NCAA Tournament.  Georgia State went 12-19, finished in the bottom half of the CAA, and had its season promptly ended in the CAA Tournament — by George Mason.  Mason has been a perennial CAA contender over the last several years and pulled off a miracle run to the Final Four in 2006.  Georgia State has been a perennial also-ran since joining the CAA in 2005 and hasn’t played a single national postseason game of any kind.  Mason, returning three starters from last year’s squad, was picked to finish second in the conference this year.  Georgia State was picked to finish second to last.

Mike Morrison and George Mason Edged Georgia State for First Place, but the Panthers are "Gonna Be Around to Stay for a While"

About the only thing the Patriots and the Panthers shared was an offseason coaching change.  But the circumstances of the two coaching changes were considerably different, one resulting from success, the other from futility.  Jim Larranaga, who built the Mason program and led the Patriots on their improbable Final Four run in 2006, left for the higher profile of the ACC, landing a coaching job at Miami.  Mason, in turn, landed a coach with a high profile ACC pedigree and his own Final Four experience to replace him:  Paul Hewitt, who took Georgia Tech to the Final Four in 2003.  Georgia State’s coaching change was the result of four subpar seasons turned in by Rod Barnes.  To replace him, the Panthers went deep into the Summit League, where they found Ron Hunter, who had been coaching at IUPUI since well before it was a Division I program.

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Don’t Doubt Shaka: Can VCU Make Another Run?

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2011

I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Sunday’s BB&T Classic.

New year, new team.  Somebody tell the press. “Half the questions from the media, even now, December 4, are about last year” said VCU coach Shaka Smart after Sunday’s 75-60 win over George Washington in the first game of the BB&T Classic.  “In our mind, last year’s over, and it’s not gonna win us any games this year.”

Way Too Early to Count Out Shaka Smart's VCU Rams

Fair enough, Coach.  But while VCU can’t carry over any wins from last season, what it has replicated is the same style of play that took the Rams on their historic run to the Final Four.  Just like last year, this year’s team relies on a frenetic, turnover-generating defense with heavy ball pressure.  And just like last year, the offense is not built around a super-efficient field goal percentage.  Rather, the Rams will try to beat you with second-chance points and three-point shots.

Despite losing four starters to graduation, VCU showed on Sunday just how effectively the current team can execute this approach.  Against a GW squad undergoing its own transition — from coach Karl Hobbs to coach Mike Lonergan — VCU generated 17 turnovers and turned them into 21 points.  They torched the Colonials from the three-point line on 12-24 shooting.  And while GW did a better job of keeping the Rams off the offensive glass in the second half, VCU built a 17-point first half lead on the strength of a 39% offensive rebounding rate.

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Where 2011-12 Happens: Reason #27 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 7th, 2011

Another preseason preview gives us reason to roll out the 2011-12 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season 100% guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. We’ve captured the most compelling moments from the 2010-11 season, many of which will bring back the goosebumps and some of which will leave you shaking your head in frustration. For the complete list of this year’s reasons, click here. Enjoy!

#27 – Where So Nice, He Had To Do It Twice Happens

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11 seasons.

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RTC Live: VCU vs. Old Dominion

Posted by rtmsf on March 7th, 2011

Game #170.  Let’s hand out a bid, shall we?  It should be a mammoth battle tonight in the CAA, as two very good teams square off in Richmond.

Most everyone expected George Mason, the Colonial Athletic Association’s regular season champ, to be playing for a spot in the NCAA field when the league’s postseason tournament began. But that’s why they play the games. With a home advantage at the Richmond Coliseum, Virginia Commonwealth stole GMU’s thunder behind a hail of three-point buckets and a shifting defense the Patriots just couldn’t solve.  The No. 2 seed in the tourney, Old Dominion, showed why it went 14-4 in the conference by punishing Hofstra in the other semifinal behind 21 points from center Frank Hassell.  Now the upstarts and the last heavyweight left will battle for the CAA’s automatic berth in the Field of 68 on Monday night in the CAA Championship. The two split in the regular season, with each winning on the road. That bodes well for Old Dominion. But don’t look past the suddenly confident VCU Rams, who enjoy a raucous home-court advantage and All-Conference talent to boot.  Join us tonight, live, from Richmond Coliseum at 7 p.m. ET.

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That’s Debatable: Small Conference Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 4th, 2011

That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude.  Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people.  We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season.  We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at

This Week’s Topic: Many of the small conferences are starting their tournaments this week.  Which one do you find the most compelling in terms of the possibility of upsets and/or creating chaos for the NCAA Selection Committee in a little over a week?  Also, pick a relatively unknown team that you’d like to see make a run through their conference tourney so that America will get to watch them play on the big stage in March Madness. 

Walker Carey, RTC contributor.

I think the Horizon League Tournament is the small conference tournament that is the most compelling in terms of creating chaos for the NCAA Selection Committee. In my mind, Butler, Cleveland State, and Milwaukee are the only teams that have the capability of winning the tournament. If Butler loses (which is very possible), it will be very interesting to see how the committee will view the Bulldogs’ resume. I tend to believe that Cleveland State will win the Horizon League championship because they have the best player in the league on their team in senior guard Norris Cole. I would enjoy to see the Vikings make a run to the Horizon League championship and shake things up in the tournament like they did when they were a #13 seed and upset #4 seed Wake Forest two seasons ago. With Cole, I think this is very possible for Gary Waters’ Cleveland State squad.

John Stevens, RTC editor.

I’ll take the Colonial. You’ve got six 20-win teams out of twelve, and you’ve got to figure George Mason has a bid locked up with Old Dominion looking good, as well. Let’s say someone like Drexel (a 20-9 team with a resume that includes a win at Louisville, mind you) gets hot and wins this thing. Could we be looking at a four-bid year for the Colonial, with James Madison or VCU sneaking in as a function of the soft bubble this year? And how can you not root for William & Mary, a team that’s never been to the NCAA Tournament, after the fantastic case they made for at-large inclusion last year? As far as a team I’d like to see make a run, I’ll go with Morehead State. It wouldn’t be much of a run, of course, since as a 2-seed they earned that weird double-bye in the OVC Tournament and only need to win two games (same situation as 1-seed Murray State) to claim the title. But the world needs to see Kenneth Faried play at this level one more time. He and the Eagles won a preliminary round game in 2009 before getting cooked by 1-seed Louisville, and two NCAA Tournament games for the Fabulous Faried just doesn’t seem like enough.

Danny Spewak, RTC contributor.

Vermont won the America East Conference by one game and rightfully earned the top seed in the tournament by avoiding slip-ups against the league’s lower-tier teams. You’ll want to keep an eye on this tourney, though, because Vermont hasn’t exactly faired well against the top of the AE.  Second-seeded Boston University swept Vermont this year, including an overtime win Sunday. And the third seed, Maine, routed the Catamounts on their home floor back in January. The Black Bears, a preseason favorite, have since collapsed and lost seven of eight games to finish the season. Regardless, either team could still pose a threat to Vermont’s NCAA tourney hopes at some point during the next week.  For sympathy’s sake, I’d like to see Weber State win the Big Sky this March and pluck a spot in the Big Dance. How can you not feel bad for this program? Two years ago, the Wildcats ripped through the league with a 15-1 record but slipped to the NIT. Last year, Anthony Johnson’s legendary performance helped Montana stun the regular season champs again. Finally, 2010-11 appeared to be “The Year,” with two-time POY Damian Lillard returning for his senior year. Naturally, he broke his foot and played just 10 games this year, and he’ll now wait on the status of a medical redshirt. It’d be nice to see the third-seeded Wildcats win three games for their tragic hero. 

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O26 Primers: CAA, MAAC, SoCon and WCC Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 4th, 2011

RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.

As we near the weekend, more of the higher profile Other 26 conferences are beginning their postseason tournaments. In the east, the CAA, MAAC, and Southern Conference all get going with matinee affairs between Georgia State and UNC-Wilmington in the CAA and UNC-Greensboro and Davidson in the SoCon. Out west, the West Coast Conference kicks off their first round in what looks to be a very competitive tournament with St. Mary’s recent struggles and the resurgence of Gonzaga.

Colonial Athletic Association

The Favorite: Behind Cam Long and Ryan Pearson, George Mason has dominated the CAA and is the clear favorite to win the league. Old Dominion will be a tough challenger for the Patriots though.

Dark Horse: There have been many instances throughout the year that Virginia Commonwealth looks to be just as good as George Mason, but ending the year losing four straight games in the CAA will not instill confidence in many people. The Rams’ ability and talent is clearly there, and if they can string some wins together they can win the CAA championship.

Who’s Hot: George Mason winning 14 straight CAA games makes them easily the hottest CAA team.

Player to Watch: One of the most decorated players in Hofstra basketball history, Charles Jenkins is the best player to don a CAA uniform this year. The senior from Queens, NY is averaging 23.2 points per game.

First-Round Upset: William & Mary over James Madison. After having a very successful 2009-10 season, the Tribe has largely struggled this year, but is entering the CAA tournament having win two of three games. They have also split the season series with JMU this season winning the last game 73-67 and losing the first one 84-79.

How’d They Fare? Old Dominion, as a #11 seed, defeated Notre Dame 51-50 and then fell to Baylor in the second round.

Interesting Fact: The last time the CAA sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament was in 2007 when Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion went; it appears as if the CAA will be a multi-bid conference this year.

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ATB: Marshon Madness

Posted by rtmsf on February 24th, 2011

The Lede.  It’s Wednesday night, so that of course meant a lot of action around the country tonight.  From a new conference scoring record to a ridiculous banked buzzer-beater to an unfortunate injury to a star player, it’s all here tonight.  We have to jump in, though, with a performance by a guy who doesn’t get much in the way of pub, but who has put together an outstanding season for his school in the toughest environment in the country.

Feet Set, Shoulders Square... (ProJo/R. Perez)

Your Watercooler MomentMarshon’s Moment.  It’s been a trying year for Marshon Brooks and his Providence Friars.  In any number of other leagues, PC might have been good enough to finish in the top third and make a legitimate run at the NCAA Tournament.  Not so in the Big East.  The Friars have struggled through a 3-12 conference season after a solid 11-2 non-conference slate which was short on quality wins but long on confidence.  In many ways, tonight’s one-point loss to Notre Dame, 94-93, was a microcosm of a year that has included a number of close losses to good teams.  Senior Marshon Brooks did his best to change that fortune tonight, dropping a historic 52-point night on the Irish, including an absurd 35 points in the second half, to give his team a realistic chance to pull off the upset.  The victory didn’t happen, but Brooks’ performance was one for the ages, representing the best scoring output in a Big East regular season game EVER.  Considering the number and quality of players who have come through this league, it’s fairly amazing that Brooks now owns this record.  His he-man sized performance matches Lamar guard Mike James’ surprising 52-point effort back in early January (remember him? — he’s only scored 131 points since!) for the best scoring night of 2010-11, and without question tonight at the Dunk will be an evening that the fans and players in attendance will never forget.  For a team going nowhere fast this season, sometimes it’s moments of individual glory such as these that give a team something to hang its hat on.

Your Watercooler Moment, Pt. IIJosh Gasser, I-Banker.  Josh Gasser, a freshman guard on the Wisconsin Badgers, ended up with the ball in his hands after his teammate and star player, Jordan Taylor, was double-teamed on the last possession.  Down two, he fired away from long range, banking the ball into the basket and causing a fit of Badger mayhem at center court after the ball fell through the net.  Sometimes it’s just your year, and sometimes it’s not.  The home team, Michigan, has taken much more of the latter than the former, losing multiple close games that have put John Beilein’s Wolverines squarely on the thin side of the bubble.  Bo Ryan’s team, on the other hand, continues to win games to pressure Purdue and Ohio State in the Big Ten race; with the nation’s most efficient offense and the occasional stroke of luck as performed by Gasser tonight, the Badgers are going to be a major headache for teams that face them this postseason.

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ATB: Super Tuesday For Some Middies

Posted by rtmsf on February 9th, 2011

The Lede.  The second night of Rivalry Week continued, but frankly those games were rather boring.  The juiciest matchups occur on Wednesday night when a few old, bitter rivals re-acquaint themselves with each other.  We thought that this gave us a chance to explore some of the lesser-known teams who played on Tuesday and are having excellent second halves this year.

Another Mason Miracle in Store in 2011?

Your Watercooler MomentCelebrating Surprise Teams in the Mid-Major World: George Mason, Princeton and Xavier.  Tonight gave us a good opportunity to discuss three teams that people didn’t necessarily expect to be playing so well at this point in this season, but each continues to win games.  First, how about Jim Larranaga’s George Mason Patriots?  Could it be Mason Madness all over again?  With a win tonight at UNC-Wilmington, 78-63, GMU won its tenth CAA game in a row and has started the whispering around Fairfax about another big-time March run for the small school in northern Virginia.  Their remaining big CAA game is a week from tonight at 11-2 VCU.  A little up the coast in New Jersey, the Princeton Tigers defeated their rival Penn tonight, 62-59, in overtime, the Ivy League school’s seventh win in a row and fifth in the conference.  The Tigers’ key win, of course, was last Friday over expected Ivy champion Harvard, but with that win and the Penn victory, Sydney Johnson’s team is off to a 5-0 start for the second consecutive year.  The caveat is that all five of their Ivy wins have come at home, but with no Cornell juggernaut to compete with, Princeton is well-positioned to make a run at the Ivy title for the first time since 2004.  The last name, Xavier, may surprise you.  After all, the Musketeers are always good, right?  But having lost stars Jordan Crawford and Jason Love from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team and a rough non-conference slate, not many folks expected XU to once again rise to the top of the Atlantic 10.  Yet here they are, sitting at 8-1 in league play and going into a hostile environment tonight in Athens, Georgia, and coming out with a big-time win over a power conference team.  Tu Holloway has been outstanding, and his 18-point second half ensured that the Musketeers of two months ago who lost to every good team they played is no longer wearing the same uniform.  These three teams may not get a lot of press the final month of the season, but they’re definitely worth keeping an eye on the rest of the way.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Clemson as the Fourth ACC Team.  The Tigers have gotten virtually no attention this season at all, but Brad Brownell has done a tremendous job in his first season in South Carolina and Clemson could be well-positioned to finish behind Duke, UNC and possibly Florida State as the fourth NCAA team from the conference.  The Tigers have been outstanding at home this season, going 5-0 in conference play and appearing a different team in the friendly confines of Littlejohn Coliseum.  The key has been offensive balance, as Brownell is getting between 8.0 and 13.7 PPG from six players, led by seniors Demontez Stitt and Jerai Wright (12.8).
  • Kentucky at Home.  The Wildcats are simply a different team than they are on the road this season, and it’s in large part due to how the Wildcats’ role players play much more comfortably in Rupp Arena.  The crystal-clear case in point is DeAndre Liggins, a guard who averages 11/4/4 APG and shoots 46% at home and contributes 5/3 and shoots 26% on the road.  Tonight he was arguably John Calipari’s most effective Cat, going for 19/5/3 assts/5 stls in a complete floor game where he missed only a single field goal and free throw on the evening.  In SEC play, UK is 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 20.0 points, but on the road they are only 1-4 with a margin of -0.8 points.  If the Cats can get just a little better production from the likes of Liggins and company, they would be a much better team.

… and Misses.

  • MVC Leaders.  Does anyone want to win this conference this year?  After Missouri State ran out to a 9-1 record, the Bears lost two games last week; meanwhile, UNI won eight games in a row to get to 9-3 before dropping a game over the weekend to Drake and tonight against Evansville.  Wichita State moved to the forefront with an 11-2 record only to get dropped by a weak Southern Illinois team tonight.  With five games left, Wichita and Missouri State appear to be in the best position to win the league, and the two teams will play each other on the last day of the regular season three weeks from now.

Tweet of the Night.  It was a light night on Twitter, but Wolken brings up a good point that will much discussed in the early offseason not that long from now about the NBA lockout and its (possible) impact on students leaving school early.


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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume IX

Posted by jbaumgartner on January 31st, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous week of college basketball. This week, Jesse kicks Purdue while they’re down and questions Peyton Siva’s true motives, but applauds Bob Huggins and — as all human beings with ears indeed should — Gus Johnson’s all-too-short turn at the desk.

The Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…..a coach thumbing his nose at the politically-correct answer. West Virginia coach Bobby Huggins had an interesting development recently when forward Dan Jennings just walked away from the bench during a game. Now, you could just say the kid’s off the team. Or that it’s “unfortunate” and you’re “dealing with it internally” — that’s one of my favorite coach-speak phrases. But no, Huggins gets rolling and says: “The truth of the matter is that he’s been a non-entity. We started him to try and get some other guys motivated and he did work hard in practice for a while, but look at his career stats.” Ouch. If leaving the team didn’t hurt enough, that one should sting Jennings for a while.

Huggins Did Not Mince Words When Answering Questions About Jennings. Anyone Surprised?

I LOVED…..The great diversity of POY candidates this season. You have Jimmer “When I don’t score 40 it’s an off night” Fredette on a solid BYU team. The Mountain West competition might not be great, but man that J is pure. Then there’s a classic NYC guard in Kemba Walker, who has made UConn perhaps the biggest surprise of the season. And finally Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, who keeps coming to play in the big games and leads the nation’s No. 1 squad. We have the shooter, the slasher and the post player — all on intriguing teams, all very different, and all still very much in the mix to be named top dog. My pick? If UConn is a top-15 team after the Big East season, it’ll be tough to beat Kemba.

I LOVED……Roy Williams’ rabbit ears. You can have your own opinion on Williams, but you can’t deny that he’s a bit sensitive to criticism on occasion. Recently it was some unhappy callers on his radio show who prompted this response at a press conference: “Don’t call me next week and say how good we are; keep your [darn] phone calls to yourself.” Could he stay mad at the fans for long, though? Wait for it…..wait for it…..just a few days later: “Do I wish that I would have just let it go and not said a word?” Williams said. “You’re darn right I do. I wish I had not said one word. I wish that I would have just kept swallowing it. I hate that I said that.” And all of Tar Heel Nation lived happily ever after.

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ATB: Notre Dame Sets Pitt on Fire With Its Burn Offense

Posted by rtmsf on January 25th, 2011

The Lede.  On paper it didn’t appear to be much of a Big Monday, but Notre Dame’s visit to Pittsburgh tonight changed all that.  The lesson from the last eight days in the Big East might just be that nobody is safe in this exceptional basketball conference.

Hansbrough and Co. Silenced the Oakland Zoo Tonight (PPG/M. Freed)

Your Watercooler MomentNotre Dame Burns Pitt.  Perhaps Notre Dame caught the Pitt Panthers in a post-celebratory Steelers hangover tonight, or perhaps the Irish are just a very good team that has had the Panthers’ number the last two seasons.  Whatever the case, Notre Dame’s win this evening at the Peterson Events Center, a venue where Pittsburgh has only lost eleven games over the last nine years, is the kind of win that can catapult a team to great things.  Pitt, ranked #2 in the AP poll and #3 in the RTC poll that came out earlier today, was stymied by the same offensive strategy the Irish employed last season on its way to two wins versus the Panthers.  Notre Dame calls it the “burn,” as it is designed to slow down the Panther attack and force its defense to play 35 full seconds and respond accordingly.  It almost sounds counterintuitive, right — slow down Pitt and force them to defend?  Yet this year’s version of Panthers are actually an incredibly efficient offensive team (#1 according to Pomeroy), and while defense and rebounding are always a Jamie Dixon staple, the best way to defeat Pitt this year is to limit their offensive possessions.  The fewer they have, the less opportunities they’ll have to score.  Notre Dame slowed the pace down to an unrelenting crawl, ultimately topping out at a Division I season-low of 48 possessions (for context, an average Wisconsin game has 58 possessions, or ten more than tonight’s molasses-induced game at Pitt).  The game’s slow tempo and Notre Dame’s patience never allowed Pitt to ignite a major run that would set the Oakland Zoo on fire, so that in the last nine minutes of the game the margin was close enough for Ben Hansbrough to do his work off the bounce (13 of his 19 points in that period).  Psycho-T’s little brother utilized simple ball-screens to come off for several open jumpers and forays to the rim for easy layups down the stretch.  Pitt couldn’t seem to figure it out, and as a result, the Panthers lost for only the second time in 53 games at home (but its third in a row to ND).  Carleton Scott’s timely three-point shooting throughout the game (5-6) was also instrumental for in  the big upset.  With the win, the Irish, who have already lost road games in the Big East to Syracuse, St. John’s, and Marquette, may want to consider running the burn more often — with four winnable games on the immediate horizon, Mike Brey’s team could be sitting at a strong 10-3 going into the last dash of the Big East schedule.  No matter how the rest of the season turns out for Mike Brey, this was a season-defining win the Irish should be proud of.  Now that both Pitt and Kansas’ long home court winning streaks have come to an end this season, is Duke next?  The Devils host dangerous BC at home Thursday night.

Tonight’s Quick Hits...

  • Did Kansas State Save Its Season? Well, it’s a start.  What we do know is that if Frank Martin’s team couldn’t see the gigantic eight-ball in front of them coming into tonight, then they had some serious 3D shades on.  A loss tonight would have dropped K-State to 1-5 in the Big 12 with a trip to Lawrence pending next weekend.  This was as close to a must-win as we’ve seen this season for a team at this point in the year.  The game tonight was ugly, boring and in many ways comical in the two teams’ ineptitude, but it was a key win for Kansas State regardless.  Who knows, maybe now the Wildcats will start putting things together, but the truth is that this team has every earmark of a season-long disappointment rather than a late bloomer.
  • Charles Jenkins Rallies Hofstra.  When you’re the best player in the CAA, as Charles Jenkins is, you’re going to have some games where you’re asked to carry your team to a victory where your team otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance.  With sixteen minutes remaining and Hofstra down fourteen points tonight in Hempstead, Jenkins turned on his scoring abilities and dropped seventeen points in a variety of ways to bring his team back, sending the game to overtime at 79-all.  He then scored six more of his team’s thirteen in the overtime period to lock up a key win that keeps the Pride in a tie for first place in the CAA with VCU at 8-1.  Jenkins 35/3/5 assts/2 stls wasn’t his most impressive performance of the season — he dropped 40/5/6 assts on Binghamton in December — but it was right on cue tonight.  Jenkins is having a phenomenal year — 24/4/5 APG while shooting 56% overall and 45% from distance — we really hope that he finds his way into the NCAA Tournament so that some first round BCS opponent will sweat bullets trying to figure him out.

and Misses.

  • And Lots of Them.  As in misses.  Tonight in the craptacular second half of the Big Monday slate in Manhattan, preseason All-American guards Jacob Pullen and LaceDarius Dunn combined to brick their way to 8-30 from the field and 5-15 from three.  Their poor performances tonight are indicative of the struggles that both teams have had with the burden of big-time expectations this year.  Baylor is still seeking its first quality win of the 2010-11 season while K-State is hoping those Washington State and Virginia Tech wins back in the first few weeks of the season wear well into the late winter.

Tweet of the Night.  Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

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