Morning Five: 11.16.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 16th, 2015


  1. Everybody likes to hype the start of the college basketball season, but the reality is that most of the opening weekend games are boring match-ups (at least on paper). As some prominent programs found out this weekend, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will coast to easy wins even in guarantee games. Andrew Gripshover has a solid recap of a strange opening night. The most notable upsets (to our knowledge all “guarantee games”) were William & Mary winning at North Carolina State, Western Illinois winning at Wisconsin, Monmouth winning at UCLA, Sacramento State winning at Arizona State, North Florida winning at Illinois, and Chattanooga at Georgia. [Ed. Note: Radford also beat Georgetown at home, which was not technically a guarantee game, but was still embarrassing for the Hoyas.] We wouldn’t read too much into any of these games for three reasons: its still early in the season, these are 18- to 22-year-olds, and we didn’t think any of those teams would be that good anyways.
  2. Rhode Island‘s hopes of contending for an Atlantic-10 title this season took a massive blow when E.C. Matthews suffered a season-ending right knee injury during Friday’s win over American. Matthews, who was considered a legit Atlantic-10 Player of the Year candidate and a possible late 2nd round NBA Draft pick, averaged 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season. The extent of the injury is not known yet (or at least has not been publicly revealed), but we would expect them to release that information sometime this week.
  3. Matthews was not the only significant player to suffer an injury on Friday as NC State’s Terry Henderson tore ligaments in his right ankle and is expected to miss six to eight weeks. Henderson, who sat out last season after transferring from West Virginia, averaged 11.7 points per game as a sophomore and was expected to help replace Trevor Lacey. Now without Henderson, the Wolfpack will probably have to rely on freshman Maverick Rowan until Henderson returns to the lineup. Fortunately for NC State, Henderson’s expected return should be around the start of ACC play and their non-conference schedule isn’t exactly challenging to put it lightly.
  4. Over the past few years there has been growing debate around the idea of playing games on aircraft carriers, but it turns out playing games on land can have its own dangers as Gonzaga and Pittsburgh found out during their game in Okinawa, Japan. The game, which is part of the annual Armed Forces Classic, had to be called off with Pittsburgh leading Gonzaga 37-35 at half after several players had fallen on a slippery floor including Pittsburgh’s James Robinson who had to leave the game after a fall that left blood streaming down the right side of his face. While it was disappointing for all involved especially since this was intended to a treat for the members of our military it was clearly the right call. Unlike the aircraft carriers, which are inherently exposed to the elements, this is a somewhat unexpected situation even in a humid location. We aren’t sure what the solution is to this problem outside of trying to get these games in traditional arenas, which would decrease the aesthetic appeal of the games.
  5. One of the problems with prepping a column to be posted in the morning is that sometimes the news changes almost as soon as you get the post up. That was the case with Friday’s Morning Five, which discussed the case of Central Florida freshman Tacko Fall. Perhaps it was just coincidence (or maybe Mark Emmert read our post), but the NCAA reversed course and ruled that Fall was eligible to play immediately. Fall’s case drew attention for several reasons including his height (7’6″), background (moved to the US as a junior after growing up in Senegal), and apparent high academic achievement. Fall had 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 14 minutes yesterday against Davidson. We aren’t sure what kind of impact Fall will have this year, but it is nice to see the NCAA make the right decision even if it took a long time to get to that decision.
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Morning Five: 2015 Tip-Off Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 13th, 2015


  1. With the start of the college basketball season upon us, we figured it would be a good time to bring back the Morning Five. We apologize for the infrequent nature of these posts the past few months, but we had to deal with a variety of things the past few months (all good). Now that the season is starting we are planning on doing these posts at least a few times a week. If you have not been on the site in a while we encourage you to check out the great work that our microsites have been doing. And if you are in the mood to try something different this season (and potentially win tickets to one of the NCAA Regionals this year), we encourage you to enter into our Survivor Pool. Unlike some other sites, we are not being investigated by any Attorney Generals, you don’t have to pay any money to enter, and we don’t use insider information to try to win our own event.
  2. We often talk about college sports being essentially separate entities from the educational institutions that they represent, but there are many instances in which they are intertwined. One excellent example of this is the WashingtonTexas game that is being played in Shanghai. Many will view this as a way for the basketball teams to grow their brand and possibly even that of the conferences, but the schools also view it as an opportunity to promote their schools as educational options for people overseas. Financially it makes sense for schools to go after individuals who might pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition money instead of hoping to sell a bunch of $20 t-shirts.
  3. Although the season is officially starting tonight there are a handful of notable players who are still in NCAA eligibility limbo. The most significant of these is Cheick Diallo, the highly touted Kansas freshman. We won’t claim to have any inside information/knowledge about the case, but Sam Mellinger’s column on the situation and his proposed solution is a worthwhile read while we wait for the NCAA to hand down a decision. As Mellinger notes the blame here shouldn’t fall as much on the NCAA as it should on the member institutions that allowed it to have this type of unregulated power.
  4. Diallo appears content to wait for the NCAA to make a decision, but two other players (I guess they are technically just students now) have received negative rulings from the NCAA and in a somewhat unique move appear to be ready to call the NCAA on it by threatening lawsuits. Parties representing Central Florida freshman center Tacko Fall and St. John’s freshman Marcus LoVett have both reportedly looked into filing lawsuits against the NCAA. This might sound interesting on paper, but we doubt it will end up doing either athlete much good in the near-future because of the glacial pace that the NCAA and the court systems that deal with its cases move at for these type of things.
  5. Finally, we have been off long enough that we never addressed the Louisville prostitution scandal and it looked like we might be able to avoid the topic since the administration at Louisville obviously doesn’t care about how poorly the situation reflects on the school, but we probably could have figured that out with the way they have handled numerous other things. Now it appears that the school may end up having to deal with the NCAA as Katina Powell, the individual who allegedly supplied the program with the prostitutes, will meet with the NCAA next week in reaction to the high likelihood that she will face criminal charges. Given the way the NCAA usually deals with these things we doubt that they will do anything to the program, but it will be interesting to see if Rick Pitino ever decides that it would be best to move on rather than have to deal with this scandal for the foreseeable future.
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AAC Non-Conference Report Cards: Part I

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 2nd, 2015

Conference play in the AAC began this week, which means it’s time for us to a look back at a non-conference portion of the schedule that — based on the results — nearly every team in the conference would prefer not to look back upon. The conference has just two wins over ranked opponents, zero teams ranked in the Top 25, and a KenPom rating that has it battling the West Coast Conference and the Missouri Valley Conference just to stay among the top 10. There were some bright spots and some teams may look back on the non-conference portion of their schedule favorably, but most of these schools will not be taking these grades home to post on the refrigerator. It is worth noting that the grades for teams like UConn, Cincinnati, and Memphis are incomplete because all three programs still have massive non-conference games to play in January. Those games considered in the observations. Part 2 will come a bit later over the weekend.

UConn's Ryan Boatright Will Be A Key Player To Watch In Tonight's Contest

Ryan Boatright And The Huskies Have Plenty of Work Left To Do Out Of Conference

Central Florida: D+ 

The Golden Knights were actually done with the non-conference part of their schedule since December 22nd, so they have had a lot of time to think of lies to tell their parents when they take home this report card. The team’s best win was a five-point home win against a Detroit team battling to stay at .500 and before that win the team lost three straight games, including a blowout loss to Florida State and an embarrassing loss to a bad University of Illinois-Chicago team. The only reason this team avoids the F and earned a plus is because coach Donnie Jones may have the two best freshmen in the conference in B.J. Taylor and Adonys Henriquez. Unfortunately, they may not be enough to save Jones’ job when UCF inevitably misses the NCAA Tournament again.

Cincinnati: C 

The Bearcats are the proud owners of one of the conference’s only two wins over ranked opponents thanks to its 71-62 overtime win over San Diego State at home but the rest of their resume is rather blah. Even if you are willing to overlook the home curb-stomping they received from VCU because it was the first game the team had played without coach Mick Cronin (which is a totally viable reason in my book), the team doesn’t have any other quality wins. And while none of their losses are bad per se, most Bearcats’ fans would have liked to see the team beat either Mississippi or Nebraska, especially considering both teams may be on the bubble with the Bearcats in February. They can still give their grade a bump into the B- territory by beating Xavier in February, and they may need to if they want to be on the right side of the bubble.

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Where 2014-15 Happens: Reason #17 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 29th, 2014

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish 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 November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here

#17 – Where Dunks of the Year Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-13 and 2013-14 preseasons.

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AAC M5: 02.14.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 14th, 2014


  1. It has been a roller-coaster freshman campaign for talented Memphis big man Dominic Woodson. The 6-foot-10 and 300-pound center has a lot of talent and moves extremely well for a man his size, but there have been plenty of not-so-subtle hints that Woodson hasn’t quite figured out the whole maturity thing and still has a lot to learn. Yesterday, coach Josh Pastner let it be known that Woodson has been suspended from the team indefinitely for cussing from the bench during the team’s win over Central Florida. Pastner kicked him off the bench during the second half of the game and while it seems petty to suspend a player for curse words, it’s not hard to understand that cussing is just part of the problem for Woodson. It seems unlikely that Woodson will be suspended for the rest of the season, although he doesn’t play a lot to begin with, but it does sound like Pastner is sending a serious message for his big man to clean up his act. Hopefully Woodson receives the message loud and clear because if his behavior doesn’t show marked improvement Pastner probably won’t put up with much more.
  2. In contrast, Tigers’ freshman Kuran Iverson is handling the transition to college basketball much better than Woodson. Iverson might have been even more highly touted than Woodson coming out of high school in Hartford, Connecticut and yet he is playing less than 10 minutes per game and has yet to make a real difference for the team this season. Iverson gets a chance to return home this weekend as Memphis travels to player UConn and he said that he will have plenty of family in attendance, which is understandable since the XL Center is apparently just “two minutes from his house”. Unfortunately (primarily for sportswriters), the traditional storyline about a hometown player returning to wreak havoc on the nearby team that spurned him doesn’t quite fit in this situation as Iverson didn’t really want to go to UConn and the Huskies never seemed seriously interested in Iverson either. Hopefully he does get a chance to play in front of his friends and family and his attitude seems positive, so hopefully the playing time will come down the road as well.
  3. Four players from the conference — Memphis’ Joe Jackson, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Louisville’s Russ Smith, and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick — were named to the Naismith Trophy Midseason Top 30 list yesterday. The folks picking this list got it right, at least in regards to the AAC, as those four have easily been the conference’s four best players and it’s not really close. When I first started to think of anyone who got snubbed, I was quickly surprised to realize just how far these four have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Jackson’s statistics don’t quite measure up to the other three’s numbers, but he has arguably meant more to his team than anyone other than Kilpatrick and so he deserves to be on the list just as much as the other guys. That said, when you look at the combination of value to the team and all-around numbers, it is clear that Kilpatrick has the best chance of any of these players to actually win the award. He probably won’t, because there are far more high-profile candidates having fantastic seasons, but he is the only one with a real shot at winning the award.
  4. Louisville wanted to play Thursday’s game against Temple in Philadelphia. But the Owls, hoping to maximize fan turnout against one of the conference’s best teams, decided to postpone the game until Friday evening due to weather conditions. Cardinals’ coach Rick Pitino is anxious to get back on the court because his team hasn’t played in nearly 10 days and a Courier-Journal reporter didn’t help matters when he told Pitino that teams coming off a six-day layoff or more in the American Athletic Conference are 0-8 in their first game back. Pitino did point out that the extra day would help guard Wayne Blackshear shake the cobwebs from his concussion, but it’s still obvious that the Cardinals aren’t pumped to spend another full day in Philly. Both sides have a point in the matter, but it’s Temple’s home game so ultimately it’s their call. And frankly, it all seems to be much ado about nothing because the Owls are terrible and will need more than help from the weather to beat the Cardinals.
  5. Now that has caught on, am I allowed to pat myself on the back for mentioning that the best AAC teams feasting on the terrible AAC teams is a big reason why the conference has as many ranked teams as any other conference in the country? Parrish deserves more credit since I just mentioned it in passing and he actually fleshed out the argument and used numbers to back it up but he illustrates the point well — the bottom half of the American is awful and it’s helping the other teams in the conference. Parrish does give credit where credit is due by pointing out that SMU and Cincinnati are much better than anyone expected and that is another reason why so many of the conference’s teams are ranked. But folks picking NCAA Tournament winners should be wary of pumping up the AAC because the teams that will make the tournament will undeniably have inflated win totals thanks to consistently dominating the conference’s worst teams.
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Ranking the AAC Coaching Gigs

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

Last week, Sports On Earth‘s Will Leitch let everyone know that he had so much fun putting together his top 25 coaching jobs in college football that he wanted to repeat the process for college basketball. Similarly, we here at the microsite had so much fun reading and debating his list that we figured we would get even more granular and rank the 10 AAC coaching jobs from most to least desirable. For the most part, we used the same rules and criteria as Leitch did, and we took a little bit more time to explain our reasoning for the order. Enjoy!

Pitino Has Louisville Easily on Top of This Group (Getty Images).

Pitino Has Louisville Easily on Top of This Group (Getty Images).

  1. Louisville — It seems mildly unfair to even include the Cardinals in this list since they are merely squatting in the AAC for a single season, but they are technically in the conference as of now, so they lead the group and it isn’t particularly close. Louisville has great tradition, new facilities, and the most profitable basketball program in the entire country. The fan base is generous ($20 million in donations from alumni), and loyal (the Cardinals average more than 20,000 fans per game), and the notion of working for a renowned athletic director like Tom Jurich is probably pretty appealing. The Louisville job is not only the best job in the conference, it is also one of the top 10 jobs in the entire country and that’s not at all debatable. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 11.13.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 13th, 2013


  1. Houston’s prospects this season received a boost yesterday after the NCAA cleared sophomore Danrad “Chicken” Knowles to play immediately. A top-60 recruit who signed in the Cougars’ landmark 2012 class with Danuel House, Knowles sat out last season after being declared academically ineligible. As a 6’10” face-up forward, he was noted by recruiting services for his athleticism and offensive versatility, and those attributes should make an immediate impact for a Houston team that lacks elite talent. Knowles could quickly work his way into a complementary starting role this season alongside House, TaShawn Thomas and L.J. Rose.
  2. After two quiet games, the Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore writes that UConn is waiting for DeAndre Daniels to reprise his breakout performance from late last season. Daniels went scoreless and collected only one rebound in 18 minutes against Yale on Monday, and it seems his early shooting struggles have poisoned every facet of his game. Kevin Ollie expressed little sympathy for a 6’9” player with NBA-caliber talent: “He has just got to play. He can’t worry about scoring. Use your length, use your energy… we can’t wait for anybody on this team.” Ollie added, “You want [Daniels] to keep his head up, but at the end of the day, you can’t baby him.”
  3. Addressing newly implemented officiating rules, Eddie Jordan used the word “farce” at least three times while describing the current state of college basketball in an interview after Rutgers’ 79-76 loss to UAB on Monday. Rather than objecting specifically to the way his team’s loss was officated, Jordan reportedly took issue with the changes in style of play imposed by the new guidelines, and said he wondered whether fans would lose interest in college hoops as a result. Fouls weren’t the most pressing concern for Jordan’s Scarlet Knights after a frustrating road loss in which they were significantly outrebounded by their first opponent with decent size. Rutgers suffered a minus-27 margin on the boards against UAB, and Jerry Carino of New Jersey Hoops Haven notes that the Knights have been outrebounded 42-25 on the offensive glass through two games.
  4. Louisville point guard Chris Jones quietly orchestrated his second consecutive game without a turnover in the Cardinals’ 97-69 win over Hofstra last night. While the return of Chane Behanan and Luke Hancock set the tone and Russ Smith stole the show by lightin up Hofstra’s zone for 30 points, Cardinal Authority’s Jody Demling pointed out that in his first two games with the team, Jones has accumulated 12 assists and zero turnovers in 55 minutes. He put together the best game of his short Louisville career against the hapless CAA visitors, chipping in 20 points (on 54 percent shooting) and four steals to go with his seven assists. As a team, the Cardinals have forced 43 turnovers while committing only eight themselves this season.
  5. Central Florida will face its first major challenge when the Knights host Florida State tonight, particularly on the offensive end. Orlando Sentinel writer Paul Tenorio points out that after carving up overmatched Division II Tampa in their season opener, Isaiah Sykes and UCF’s other guards face a much stiffer test breaking down the Seminoles’ interior defense. “Florida State is going to be a tougher team to drive it on… those gaps close quick when you get there,” said head coach Donnie Jones, who acknowledged “we’ve got to really make the extra pass in this game, much more so than we did in the Tampa game.” Jones said that breaking the press and defending in accordance with the new hand-checking rules were also points of emphasis in UCF’s preparation for the Seminoles.
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AAC Team Previews: Central Florida Knights

Posted by CD Bradley on November 4th, 2013

Our team preview style has been heavily cribbed from the microsite writers over in the Pac-12. We love them and assume they would take our attempt at loose imitation as flattery and not plagiarism. 

Central Florida

Strengths: Experience and flexibility. The Knights’ starting lineup is made up of five returnees, all of whom averaged at least 20 minutes per game for a 20-win team last season. Their best player, 6’6” Isaiah Sykes, led the team in scoring, assists and steals and was second in rebounding last season, and can play four positions. Their center by default, 6’7” Kasey Wilson, led Conference USA in three-point shooting last season, making 42-of-84 from long range. That versatility could cause match-up problems for some teams and put the Knights in numerous advantageous scoring positions.

Isaiah Sykes, the do-everything wing for Central Florida, will have to do even more this season. (

Isaiah Sykes, the do-everything wing for Central Florida, will have to do even more this season. (

Weaknesses: Defense and rebounding. Even with all the returning players, UCF has one big loss to overcome: center Keith Clanton, the school’s all-time leading rebounder, who pulled down nearly a quarter of the team’s rebounds last season and nearly half its blocks. But even with him, the team still allowed opponents to shoot 49.4 percent on two-point attempts (good for #239 in the country, according to and to grab 33.1 percent of rebounds on the defensive end (#229 nationally). Without Clanton, a team that allowed foes to make too many close shots and rebound too many of the few they missed is going to have some major problems. Unless 6’8” JuCo star Eugene McCrory can make a big difference at the defensive end, the Knights don’t look to have many answers.

Schedule: The non-conference slate offers only one real opportunity for a marquee win, and it’s very early on when Florida State visits Orlando on November 13. Otherwise it’s possible the Knights won’t face another top 100 RPI team before conference play (although it’s not necessarily their fault that a road game at Miami (FL) the week before Thanksgiving won’t feature Shane Larkin). AAC play starts with a bang, with preseason favorite Louisville visiting Orlando on New Year’s Eve. The conference slate is front-loaded, though, as they close with at Houston, Rutgers, at SMU, at Temple and Houston.

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Evaluating AAC Non-Conference Schedules: The Bad and the Ugly…

Posted by CD Bradley on October 30th, 2013

We looked at the best of the AAC non-conference schedules in Part I, after explaining a bit of what makes for a good non-conference schedule. This season, there’s quite a bit more bad than good, which could drag down the collective RPIs of AAC members and ultimately lead to lower NCAA Tournament seeds come March.

Larry Brown's SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.

Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.

The Bad

  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats return the favor of a visit last season from MW favorite New Mexico with a road trip of their own to The Pit. They also will play former Big East rival and mid-level ACC squad Pitt at Madison Square Garden. Then… well, there’s the rivalry game with Xavier, which seems poised to finish in the bottom half of a newly constituted (read: relatively weaker) Big East; N.C. State, clearly headed toward the bottom of the ACC, and Conference USA also-ran MTSU. That trio might end up in the RPI top 100; it’s highly unlikely any other team on the schedule will come close.
  • Louisville: If the defending champs can escape Rupp Arena with a win, all will be forgiven by both their fans and the committee, as a road win against Kentucky is perhaps the highest quality victory available in college basketball this year. Southern Miss, which finished with an RPI of #30 last season, is favored to win Conference USA. They face a potential Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off final against North Carolina at the Mohegan Sun. They need the Tar Heels to be there, because the rest of their foes are middling teams in weak leagues, with Charleston the most likely to crack the top 100, and several – we’re looking at you, Hofstra and UMKC – seeming likely to end up north of #300.

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AAC M5: 10.29.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on October 29th, 2013


  1. Following up on last week’s release of ESPN Insider‘s preseason projections by Dan Hanner, analytics icon Ken Pomeroy dropped his own preseason rankings over the weekend. Like Hanner, Pomeroy has high expectations for the American in its first season; he has it ranked as the fourth-best conference in the nation, behind the Big Ten, Big East, and ACC. He also has defending national champions Louisville as his preseason #1, joined by Connecticut (#11) and Memphis (#16) in the top 20.
  2. Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Monday that Kevin Ware has resumed individual instruction and could begin practicing with the team by the end of the week. “He’s healed. He’s healed,” Pitino told reporters Monday afternoon. “His leg is as good as your leg or my leg.” Ware, of course, became a national celebrity after gruesomely breaking his leg during last year’s Elite Eight game against Duke, then urging his teammates to win the game while still laying on the court. “I don’t think he’s going to be bothered too much psychologically,” Pitino said. “He wants to get out there and play. I think he’ll be OK. He is dunking the ball with relative ease, and that tells you right there.” Ware’s return to the court will be a boon to a Cardinal team with a deep but short backcourt; Ware’s length and defensive prowess will be key to the team’s success this season.
  3. Also during Monday’s press conference, Pitino reiterated that junior power forward Chane Benhanan remains suspended indefinitely, but is making progress toward returning. “I have no idea when he’s coming back, but I’m really, really pleased because this is incorporating a lot of changes in his life that need to be made,” Pitino said. “One was discipline. Another was being on time or being early, I should say. Another was respecting everything you do in the right way because there are consequences and your team is suffering without you. Your team has high expectations, and you let them down.” We’re sure it is merely a coincidence that Pitino announced he has named sophomore Montrezl Harrell, who just so happens to share a position with Behanan, as a team co-captain, joining seniors Russ Smith and Luke Hancock with the responsibility. Harrell appears to be the first sophomore named a captain in Pitino’s Louisville tenure.
  4. Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs bring back all five starters from last year’s team, but several newcomers might play just as big a role on this year’s squad. Brown has high hopes for junior college big man Yanick Moreira. “I love him because he comes to practice every day and he wants to get better,” Brown said of the 6’11” Moreira, who averaged 18.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game last season at South Plains College. “He loves to play. I’ve got to figure out the best way to use him. He’ll immediately be able to protect the rim and rebound.” Moreira looks likely to be the Mustangs’ starting center, one of three newcomers supplanting incumbents in the starting lineup. How Brown blends the returning players and newcomers, and how he balances playing time and egos, might be the biggest challenge facing the Hall of Famer in his second season in Dallas.
  5. Central Florida must figure out how to manage a step up in competition level without its best player of a year ago, Keith Clanton. Coach Donnie Jones has high hopes that three freshman might be able to help fill that void, even if it’s not immediately. None of the three – point guard Brandon Goodwin, wing Steven Haney, and big man Justin McBride – is expected to open the year in the starting lineup, but getting contributions from them will be crucial if the Knights are to remain competitive in their new league. “They’re hard workers, they’ve got great attitudes,” Jones said. “They’ve been a joy to coach, they love to play, and I think if you have those characteristics, you always have a chance to get better.”
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ATB: Hoosiers Slip at the Barn, Late Season UT Tournament Push Redux, and Memphis Folds at Xavier…

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 27th, 2013


Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

Tonight’s Lede. Big Boys Stumble. At various stages of this season, Indiana and Florida have been called the best team in the country. Both efficiency statistics and on-court observations confirmed the hype. Over weeks of grueling competition the season has spotlighted weaknesses on both outfits – Florida can’t win on the road, Indiana tightens up in the second halves of close games. Top teams get picked apart endlessly; it’s part of the reason why this sport, and its subjective polls, are so fun to talk about. With both going down on Tuesday night, I won’t even begin to imagine what will be said Wednesday morning about these teams. Some of the talk may be more optimistic than I’m leading on. Equally possible is a scathing revival of the “No Best Team” debate, and the attendant tirades about the quality and quantity of NBA talent in this year’s draft class. We, of course, will leave that for other people. Don’t worry: These upsets receive plenty of love in the space below. But if you expect a mainstream screed on the state of college basketball, on the evils of the one-and-done system, the ultimate vanity of the regular season, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Your Watercooler Moment. Don’t Rue IU.

It hurts to lose in any context. Even No. 1 Indiana can't avoid the occasional road defeat (AP).

It hurts to lose in any context. Even No. 1 Indiana can’t avoid the occasional road defeat (AP).

The rare multi-week placeholder of the number one ranking in the AP Poll lost Tuesday night. We should have seen this coming; the top spot in the rankings has been a dangerously ephemeral place since Duke fell from its No. 1 perch around the turn of the New Year. Indiana’s reign felt* like the most sustainable thing since, with not only the star power of Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo mounting a strong case for their team’s unquestioned dominance. The results on the court were piling up quite nicely, too – the Hoosiers withstood a devastating last-second loss at Illinois, perilous road trips to Ohio State and Michigan State, all while keeping that coveted numerical distinction. What IU was doing in the Big Ten – living and thriving on the road, what every team has tried and failed to do at time or another – was remarkable. It was also too good to be true. In this historically fierce Big Ten, was there anyone who reasonably believed Indiana could rip off eight straight wins, including trips to Minnesota and Michigan, to finish the season as a Kentucky 2012-like favorite heading into the NCAA Tournament? The Gophers ended that conversation Tuesday night at the Barn. Indiana lost one in a number of tricky Big Ten road games, and now, inevitably, the No. 1 debate will rage on for another week. This feels like a perfect juncture to salute the Hoosiers for an inspiring run of dominance unseen in any other league by any other team this season. After braving the road rigors of Big Ten country, Indiana, despite Tuesday night’s loss, can at least claim to have lived up to its preseason front-runner status. Reputational merits aside, the Hoosiers made a fine go at keeping No. 1 locked up in B-town. And given their body of work to date, they just might keep it (*see what I did there?) through next week.

Also Worth Chatting About.Deja Vols.

A big resume win was what Tennessee needed, and that's exactly what it got Tuesday night in beating Florida (AP).

A big resume win was what Tennessee needed, and that’s exactly what it got Tuesday night in beating Florida (AP).

This is not a new story. Last season, Tennessee won eight out of nine games to finish 10-6 in the SEC race. The Volunteers, powered by then-freshman wunderkind Jarnell Stokes, pushed hard for an at-large bid, and if not for an overtime loss to Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament, their late surge would have given the selection committee a long and hard decision to make. UT is pressing yet again as the conference season plays out, and it might just be in better position to leave Selection Sunday with more than an NIT one-seed this time around. Because when you snag the biggest kid on the SEC block, as the Volunteers did in Knoxville Tuesday night by beating Florida, the resume-changing potential is boundless. Tennessee is in the discussion now, no doubt, and the way Cuonzo Martin’s team is playing lately, and the soft tail end of the SEC schedule (at Georgia and Auburn, home against Missouri), things are looking up in Knoxville. The late-season Tournament surge is on, the Volunteers are playing their best basketball of the season, and in a year where the SEC boasts two decent teams and not much else, UT has a place in the at-large jumble. It also helps when the aforementioned Gators, the best NCAA chip available in this league, cannot, under any circumstance, beat quality teams on the road. The Gators’ road hiccups are of no big concern to UT. Right now, the Vols have their sights set on the prize they fell just short of last season. Their bubble stock is on the rise, that’s for sure – which is a lot more than you can say about most bubble-dwellers these days.

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The Other 26: It’s Nate Wolters’ World, and We’re Just Living In It

Posted by IRenko on February 9th, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

It wasn’t that long ago when we were musing in this space about whether an early December ankle injury was hindering Nate Wolters’ performance. After missing two games, Wolters registered three straight games with a sub-100 offensive rating (per Ken Pomeroy), decidedly mediocre performances by Wolters’ high standards. But those would be the only three games this year where Wolters fell below that mark, as he emerged from his funk with a 28-point performance in a big win over New Mexico. Since then, Wolters has been as productive as ever. But none of us could have expected what happened on Thursday night. Wolters exploded for an incredible 53-point performance.

Nate Wolters Owned the Court on Thursday Night (South Dakota State Athletics)

Nate Wolters Owned the Court on Thursday Night (South Dakota State Athletics)

Wolters shot 17-of-28 from the floor, including 9-of-14 from three-point range. He added 10 points from the free throw line. He outscored the entire opposing team, IPFW, in the second half, 38-37. He scored in every which way — step back threes, drives through the lane, catch-and-shoot threes, drives along the baseline, threes off ball screens, pull-up jumpers … you name it, he did it.

Wolters is now averaging 22.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. He commits just 2.3 turnovers a game despite using more than 30 percent of the Jackrabbits’ possessions. He shoots over 80 percent from the free throw line and over 40 percent from the three-point line. And perhaps most important of all, he has led his team on an eight-game winning streak that has buried an uneven start to the conference season and put the Jackrabbits in a first-place tie with Western Illinois. If you’ve yet to catch the Wolters show, fret not as there are some high-profile opportunities in the coming weeks. Next Saturday, the Jackrabbits welcome Western Illinois to Brookings, and you can bet that the joint will be jumping. And a week later, Wolters will take his talents to Murray, Kentucky to square off against Isaiah Canaan and the Racers in a premier Bracketbuster matchup.

On to this week’s Top 10, our Honor Roll, and the games to watch this week …

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