NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.19.2011

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 19th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

East

  • George Mason took out a fizzling Villanova in the first round, and continues to carve its own identity separate from the 2006 Final Four squad. The Wildcats’ season is over, and considering it lost 11 of its last 16 games, including its final six, perhaps it’s for the best.
  • The blistering performance Marquette put on Xavier Friday night sent a big message to its doubters. The Golden Eagles shot 57% on their end, and put the clamps on star Musketeer Tu Holloway. Next for Buzz Williams‘ team is Syracuse, a team Marquette beat earlier this season.
  • The Tar Heels broke out in the second half to pull away from Long Island. The high-scoring final outcome, 102-87, didn’t take long to become a polarizing talking point between tempo-free stat-heads (UNC gave up 0.89 points per possession) and traditional analysts (87 points allowed to a lower-tier mid-major)
  • Syracuse stuck to its game plan of feeding Rick Jackson and polished off Indiana State. The game ended at 12:41 AM local time in Cleveland (more on this later), and set up an intra-conference battle with Marquette on Sunday (this too).
  • For Lorenzo Romar and company, winning away from home has been a large concern, but it shook off the stigma, if only for one night, in their win against Georgia. Is it open season on Bulldogs head coach Mark Fox?
  • West Virginia may mix in a 1-3-1 look on defense today when the Mountaineers clash against Kentucky. The game is a rematch of last season’s regional final in Syracuse, when WVU bested John Calipari‘s team in the Carrier Dome.

Southeast

  • The Southeast region has a full slate on Saturday, including a battle between Florida and UCLA. Though the rosters have turned over, UCLA can exact revenge from elimination at the hands of the Gators in the 2006 and 2007 Final Fours.
  • Gonzaga faces the same question posed to the 35 teams on BYU‘s schedule to this point – how do you stop Jimmer Fredette? It seems like there’s nothing out of the realm of possibility from 30 feet in for Fredette, so Gonzaga’s defenders need to be on high alert.
  • Free throw proficiency has been a major factor to Wisconsin‘s success this  season, which is on the line in Saturday’s game against Kansas State. The Wildcats need to show patience in defending Wisconsin’s attack, and play smart defense.
  • Butler guard Ronald Nored had to swallow his pride and accept a late-season move from a starting to role to a contributor off the bench. Will he provide a spark against the top-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers?
  • For all the attention Jacob Pullen receives (and deservedly so), Rodney McGruder is one of Frank Martin‘s more underrated players. Six-foot-four guards who average six boards a game don’t fall out of the sky.

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Morning Five: 03.18.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 18th, 2011

  1. It will probably get lost in the hysteria surround the ridiculous set of games yesterday, but we found the decision by Fresno State‘s Greg Smith to declare for the NBA Draft on the  opening day of the NCAA Tournament to be interesting. It looks like the uncertain status of current coach Steve Cleveland played a significant role in his decision, but we have no idea about why he declared today instead of waiting until the NCAA Tournament was over or at least in between game days. We have seen Smith’s name mentioned as a prospect, but we have yet to see a mock draft that actually has him getting drafted.
  2. On a somewhat related front the NCAA announced that it had upheld its suspension of Perry Jones for five games for receiving impermissible benefits if he were to return next season. Whatever you think of the NCAA’s decision it is unlikely to carry much weight as we suspect that we have already seen the last of Jones in a Baylor uniform.
  3. Most of the injury news surrounding the NCAA Tournament has been about Duke‘s Kyrie Irving (and rightly so), but one other injured player worth keeping an eye on is FSU‘s Chris Singleton. While Singleton lacks Irving’s offensive acumen he is still a potential lottery pick and is FSU’s anchor. He is still a game-time decision against Texas A&M, but if he returns he would instantly make the Seminoles a very dangerous team.
  4. It looks like Texas Tech is very close to agreeing to a deal with Billy Gillispie. Although most fans remember him for him turbulent time at Kentucky it is worth noting that he was very successful at Texas A&M (which is why he got the Kentucky job in the first place). According to reports Gillispie could be offered the job as early as Monday. For his sake, if he accepts the job we highly recommend that he sign an actual contract this time.
  5. We have plenty of NCAA Tournament coverage on the site today, but we wanted to pass along this video that we received from Denver showing the wild Morehead State celebration. It’s what March Madness is all about. . . unless you are a Louisville fan. . .

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.14.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with all the chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.  We hope to have these up each morning starting Tuesday, March 15, but don’t kill us if it sometimes slips to the early afternoon.

East

Southeast

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Bracket Prep: Southwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2011

Throughout Monday, we’ll be releasing our Bracket Prep analyses of each of the four NCAA Tournament regions.  The order will be as follows — please check back throughout the day for all four (all times eastern).

  • West – 9 am
  • Southeast – 11 am
  • Southwest – 1 pm
  • East – 3 pm

Region: SOUTHWEST

Favorite: #1 Kansas (32-2, 14-2 Big 12). When the Kansas that showed up on Saturday afternoon in Kansas City is the team we get, the Jayhawks are the favorite not only in this region but in the entire NCAA Tournament.  The problem is that isn’t always the team that plays (witness the near-miss against Oklahoma State on Thursday).

Should They Falter: #2 Notre Dame (26-6, 14-4 Big East). Many observers had the Irish pegged as the fourth #1 seed over Duke given their sterling numbers on paper, so we know they’re capable.  Quite possibly playing as well as anyone the past two months, Mike Brey’s team is well-positioned in its bottom half of the bracket to make a run at the Final Four.

Grossly Overseeded: #11 USC or VCU (19-14, 10-8 Pac-10; 23-11, 12-6 CAA). It’s questionable whether either of these two First Four teams should even be playing in this Tournament, and for them to get an #11 seed slot instead of a #12 or #13 is equally irresponsible.  Before playing near home and making a run to the CAA finals, VCU had lost four of five games; USC had been playing better of late, but the Trojans also went through a Pac-10 stretch where they lost seven of ten (remember, we’re talking about the Pac-10 here, not the Big East).  The #12 seed in this region, Richmond, is better than both of these two teams, and they’re also playing like it.

Grossly Underseeded: #6 Georgetown (21-10, 10-8 Big East).  We’re hearing that Georgetown’s straw that stirs the drink, Chris Wright, will play in the NCAA Tournament, and if he’s near 100%, the Hoyas are much better than a #6 seed.  If not, or if he’s closer to 50% productivity, then JT3′s team is very much overseeded.  Guess we’ll find out on Friday which is which.

Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): #12 Richmond (27-7, 13-3 A-10).  The Spiders received a favorable #5/#12 matchup in playing Vanderbilt, a BCS team that will not wow you with its athleticism.  They also defend the three very well, holding teams this year to 30.1%, an important consideration with Commodore sharpshooters John Jenkins (40.8%) and Jeffery Taylor (36.4%) very capable.  #4 Louisville in the second round would be difficult, but the Cards are a star-less team that sometimes drops a stinker against an inferior team (see: Providence, Drexel).

Final Four Sleeper (#4 seed or lower): #6 Georgetown (21-10, 10-8 Big East). Again, it completely and totally depends on the health of point guard Chris Wright.  If he can go, the Hoyas are quite capable of knocking out #3 Purdue, #2 Notre Dame and, under certain circumstances, #1 Kansas.  Their offense is so much more effective with Wright leading the charge that Georgetown has only broken sixty points in one game since his injury.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.11.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 11th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

One auto bid and a host of major conference games are on tap today, two days out from Selection Sunday. The afternoon session features plenty of bubble teams making their closing arguments to the Selection Committee. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

SEC Quarterfinals (at Atlanta, GA): Georgia vs. Alabama – 1 pm on ESPN FullCourt (***)

We’ve heard all kinds of things about this game from an elimination game to a play-in game. Whatever it may be, one team will be looking better than the other by the time it’s over. Alabama beat Georgia in the regular season finale six days ago and now they meet again in another game with major NCAA implications. RTC’s resident bracketologist had Georgia in and Alabama the first team on the “out” list as of last night while Joe Lunardi over at ESPN has the Bulldogs as the last team in the field and the Crimson Tide in the same position as RTC. This game will be played almost exclusively in the paint as neither team shoots it well from deep. Both teams rank in the top 20 in interior defense but Georgia has to avoid turnovers to win. Alabama thrives on giveaways despite their slower tempo, ranked #28 in defensive turnover percentage. Georgia committed 16 turnovers in the loss to the Tide last week and lost the game despite out-shooting Alabama from the floor. Senario Hillman leads Alabama in steals and will look to harass the Georgia guards all game long. The battle in the paint between Trey Thompkins and JaMychal Green could determine the outcome of the game if the Bulldogs don’t turn it over often.

Big Ten Quarterfinals (at Indianapolis, IN): Michigan vs. Illinois – 2:30 pm on ESPN (***)

Illinois is generally considered to be in the field of 68 but Michigan could really use a win. The Wolverines are likely in as of now but a loss here and other results around the country could make it a very close call on Sunday. The Illini won the only meeting of the regular season, a two point win in Champaign on February 16. Michigan protects the ball very well but rebounding and defense did them in against Illinois in that game. John Beilein would love to play this game in the half court where his team can probe and dissect the Illinois defense, although the Illini rank tenth in three point defense and Michigan fires up almost 23 triples per game. With two dynamic playmakers in Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr, Michigan can break a team down off the dribble of spot up for a three. This is a game they definitely can win but a better effort on the glass is needed. Michigan ranks near the bottom of D1 in offensive rebounding percentage (that will happen when you shoot so many threes) and was out-rebounded in the loss to Illinois last month.

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ACC Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC. With conference tournament action set to tip from Greensboro on Thursday, get set for March Madness with RTC’s regular season wrap-up and postseason outlook.

Postseason Preview

North Carolina is hot.  It took almost all of the regular season, but the Tar Heels are finally living up to preseason hype.  UNC  should definitely be favored to win the ACC Tournament, but I wouldn’t bet on them.  I think the Heels are due for one more hiccup before the Big Dance.  They’ve flirted with disaster a couple of times and are coming off a huge win against Duke.  It’s tough to keep a young team focused, and this team starts two freshmen and two sophomores.  I also expect Duke to be playing with real purpose after the beatdown in Chapel Hill as it fights for a top seed.

As far as the bubble is concerned, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Boston College all need wins.  I don’t think any of them are safe at this point (which is the unfortunate part of Clemson clinching the bye).  Unfortunately, Clemson and Boston College will probably meet in the second round in a de facto “win and in” game.

Besides interesting bubble match-ups, look out for Duke and Maryland in the second round.  Maryland has been down this year, but the Terps never back down from a fight (especially one with Duke).  Also keep an eye on the semifinals when Boston College or Clemson will probably meet North Carolina.  The Tigers and Eagles both played North Carolina incredibly close in Chapel Hill, and both would really benefit from the resume boost.

The most exciting conference tourney prospect is a rubber match between Duke and North Carolina in the tournament finals.  These two teams are far and away the best teams in the conference, and both are in the conversation for a number one seed.  Oh yeah, and who wouldn’t want a third game of one of the best rivalries in sports.

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ATB: Panic in Provo?

Posted by nvr1983 on March 3rd, 2011


The Lede. The obvious story here is BYU falling apart at home against New Mexico in the aftermath of the suspension of Brandon Davies for the season. While most of the Twitter-verse if flipping out over the game and many are questioning the wisdom of BYU in suspending Davies for violating the Honor Code for what appears to be consensual premarital sex with his girlfriend, there are two things worth pointing out from this game: (1) It wasn’t just that the Cougars got dominated on the inside. They got dominated everywhere on the court. (2) The Lobos appear to be the perfect foil for the Cougars as BYU is 0-4 against them in the past two seasons and 26-1 against the rest of the Mountain West Conference. While the loss of Davies obviously hurts the Cougars — who were paper thin on the inside before his suspension — their play tonight revealed a team that was sloppy and distracted rather than one that was just short-handed. The loss may drop the Cougars out of contention for a #1 seed, but if they can regain their focus, which will be difficult with the coming media circus, they should be in good shape for the NCAA Tournament.

Jimmer needs to rally the troops

UNC and Duke win to set up the biggest game ever! Ok. Not really, but we all know that ESPN and CBS will be hyping up Saturday’s prime time match-up as if it was. To be fair, it is for the ACC regular season title, which nobody thought would be up for grabs at the start of December. Since that time, a lot has changed. Duke lost Kyrie Irving, the heart and soul of its team, no matter what Coach K tries to tell you. UNC has seen the emergence of Harrison Barnes, who might not be quite the player that he was expected to be when he was named the first AP Preseason freshman All-American ever, but in the past month he has played solid basketball and you would be hard-pressed to another player who has hit as many clutch shots this season, freshman or otherwise. His latest addition to the resume was a cold-blooded three in the closing moments against FSU in Tallahassee that proved to be the game-winner when the Seminoles were unable to get off a shot at the end. While neither team was particularly impressive today –particularly the Blue Devils, who struggled to wake up against Clemson after the traditional Senior Night festivities honoring Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler – it’s an intriguing match-up, as UNC will hold an edge on the inside, particularly with the recent solid play of John Henson (double-doubles in seven of the last 10 games) and the continued development of Kendall Marshall (eight assists tonight), while the Blue Devils have the stars (Smith and Singler) and the experience.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.02.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 2nd, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Every night is big this time of year for different reasons. Four Big East teams fight for a bye in the conference tournament while one bubble team will try to make a huge statement on the road at Duke. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#15 Connecticut @ West Virginia – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Huggins and the 'Eers End the Year With Not One, But Two Home Games, Starting With UConn

After West Virginia lost at Syracuse two weeks ago, there was some talk out there about them slipping towards the bubble. The Mountaineers have won twice since then (including a win over Notre Dame) and have locked up a bid even if they drop their final two home games. With a double-bye in the Big East Tournament out of reach for both teams, the focus now turns towards NCAA seeding and getting a single bye past the first day of the conference tournament. These teams are part of a four-way tie with Cincinnati and Marquette (also playing each other tonight) for seventh place at 9-7. They’re remarkably similar on paper; each has some shooting struggles, but they defend well, plus both dominate the offensive glass yet have a hard time clearing the defensive boards. This game will come down to offensive rebounding and whoever shows up with the most intensity on defense.

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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 1st, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

Hold onto your seats, Hokie fans, you’re on the right side of the bubble after a statement win against Duke this week.  Virginia Tech’s win was just what the doctor ordered, but the Hokies are far from a lock (for everyone but Dickie V).  The Hokies won despite a very poor night from star Malcolm Delaney, who did hit a huge three late but was otherwise ineffective.  Jeff Allen picked up any slack Delaney left, finishing with 18 points and 15 boards.  But the real credit goes to Virginia Tech’s defense, which held Duke to under 40% from the field.  Kyle Singler helped those numbers a lot with one of the worst 22 and 12 lines you’ll ever see.  Singler has been in a real shooting slump (he’s 8-36 from beyond the arc in his last nine games).  He got plenty of open looks against the Hokies but just couldn’t convert anything from outside 15 feet.  Singler played very well when he was taking shorter jump shots and getting into the lane and drawing contact, but the set jumper just isn’t there.  Duke fans need to hope this is part of his yearly slump because this team is much less dangerous without Singler as an outside threat.  Virginia Tech also stymied Seth Curry, who only played 15 minutes because of foul trouble, but managed to finish with no points and a crucial turnover on Duke’s last possession (where he tried to do too much).  I think Curry was just a little too emotionally wound up before the game: in case you don’t know the back story, Curry’s father, Dell Curry, was one of the best players in Virginia Tech history (the first Hokie to have his jersey retired).  Regardless of shooting slumps and emotional windings, this was a huge win for Virginia Tech, which was starting to drift towards the wrong side of the bubble.

Major indirect benefactor of the upset in Blacksburg: North Carolina.  Now if the Tar Heels can beat Duke in Chapel Hill this weekend, they share the regular season ACC title and grab the top seed in the conference tournament.  Ironically second-seed could be the desired seed depending on how the rest of the field works out because I think any sane coach would rather face Florida State (set to be the three seed currently) without Chris Singleton than Virginia Tech (lined up to be the fourth seed right now).

Team of the Week: Virginia Tech in a runaway.  Not too much more to be said, but the Hokies would probably be looking at an 11-seed if Selection Sunday was today (at least if Andy Glockner or Bracketology101 was seeding the bracket**).  That’s obviously better than not being in the field, but far from “lock” status.  To ensure a bid, I still think Virginia Tech needs to win out the regular season or win one game in the conference tournament (against a decent team).  Still that’s totally doable.  Between a couple of solid wins and a tough nonconference schedule, things should be looking up in Blacksburg.

**By the way, if you don’t follow Andy Glockner (@aglock) on Twitter, you should.  He’s one of the most responsive sports writers in the business and does a tremendous job with Bubble Watch at SI.com.  In addition to responsive, thoughtful analysis, you should expect a wealth of tweets on Team Bubble Watch (Marquette), Fulham, the Knicks and the New York Giants.  Most of you probably already knew this, but just in case anyone is new to Twitter, I thought I’d pass along the tip.  [ed note. - agreed]

Bizarro Team of the Week: Georgia Tech has lost its last eight conference games.  Next up: Wake Forest.  Looks like the ultimate place for the Demon Deacons to pick up a second conference win to me.  The frustrating thing about the Yellow Jackets is their talent to performance ratio.  Really Iman Shumpert, Glen Rice and Brian Oliver should make a much better team.  Truthfully, Mfon Udofia isn’t bad either, and Daniel Miller is developing.  The team needs a point guard and more consistency in the post.

Player of the Week: John Henson.  He’s been in double digit rebounding eight of his last nine games and double digit scoring in seven of his last nine.  Oh yeah, and he averaged six and a half blocks this week.  Most importantly, Henson hasn’t missed a free throw in three games (six for six).  The free throw stat is probably a mirage, but the rebounding and blocks are very real.  Henson is a huge defensive presence on North Carolina’s front line.  With Chris Singleton injured, I think he’s close to a lock for ACC defensive player of the year (at least he should be).  North Carolina has the second-ranked defense according to Ken Pomeroy, and Henson’s length deserves a lot of credit.

Power Rankings

1.  Duke (26-3, 12-2) barely edges out the Tar Heels this week.  The Blue Devils crushed Temple (a top 25 foe) at home this week before the loss to desperate Virginia Tech.  The game at North Carolina should be great.  I think Duke is marginally better, but the Dean Dome is going to be huge for North Carolina.  Mason Plumlee, especially has looked much better for Duke recently.  He’s quietly shooting almost 60% from the field (albeit on mainly dunks), and nearly averaging double digit rebounds.  He’ll be crucial in dealing with North Carolina’s length Saturday night.

2.  North Carolina (22-6, 12-2) can claim the top seed in the ACC Tournament with a win over Duke Saturday.  This team plays really well in spurts (cliche alert: it’s a game of runs), but there are still problems.  I think Roy Williams needs to trim his lineup down a little bit: the constant substitutions kill offensive flow for the Heels, especially early in a half.  Kendall Marshall still has a tendency to force things sometimes, but he makes the Tar Heels absolutely lethal in transition.  Look for Duke to try and force him to score.

3.  Virginia Tech (19-8, 9-5) isn’t out of the woods yet.  Don’t test the selection committee!

4.  Florida State (20-8, 10-4) is playing surprisingly well without Chris Singleton.  Yes, they got spanked at College Park this week, but really Leonard Hamilton has to be thrilled with the way his squad has adapted without its best defender and primary scoring option.  One possible wrench in the above plan for North Carolina stealing the top spot from under Duke is Florida State knocking off the Tar Heels in Tallahassee.  Without Singleton it will be difficult, but if North Carolina’s offense vaguely resembles what it trotted out against Boston College, Florida State is in the gold.

5.  Clemson (19-9, 8-6) needs a decent run in the ACC Tournament if it wants to make the Big Dance.  Though if Duke is willing to help another bubble team out Wednesday, that would help too.  Clemson’s other game is against Virginia Tech (bubble on bubble brawl), which is a must-win for both teams.  Regardless of what ends up happening, Brad Brownell has done a tremendous job with this team.  Give him a couple of years, and Clemson will be back on the right side of the bubble.  This is a team most people picked much lower in the preseason.

6.  Maryland (18-11, 7-7) is probably out of the bubble picture after its loss to North Carolina, which is really a shame.  The Terps are clearly good enough to be a tournament team, they just couldn’t win games (somewhat of an oxymoron, I know).  Maryland closes out the season with games at Miami and against Virginia.  But Terrell Stoglin has really improved.  He’s averaging over twenty points a game over his last six games (with three games of at least 25 points).  Between him and Jordan Williams (who should come back, as he’s a little slow and undersized for the next level), they’ll be really good.  Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if Maryland gets a decent draw and goes to the finals of the ACC Tournament this year (which would probably draw a bid to the Big Dance in the process, assuming the run included a win over North Carolina or Duke).

7.  Boston College (17-11, 7-7) lost to Miami this week.  That’s no way to sell an already lacking mediocre resume to the committee.  Reggie Jackson is a tremendous player; Joe Trapani makes a great right-hand man; and Corey Raji is one of the most undervalued offensive players in the ACC this year.  But for whatever reason, Boston College struggles to bring a consistent product to the floor.  One thing the Eagles really need to do during the offseason is try and get students excited about the team.  Boston College has good players, a good coach in Steve Donahue, and is probably just on the wrong side of the bubble: how can it not attract students to the games?

8.  Miami (17-12, 5-9) completed its season sweep of Boston College before losing to Florida State.  If Reggie Johnson can stay out of foul trouble, the Hurricanes are a very difficult team to beat.  They still need to make the transition from “tough out” to “favorite”, but I like Johnson, Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott a lot.

9.  Virginia (14-14, 5-9) picked up a win against Georgia Tech on the road before falling to a Boston College team desperate to improve its resume.  This week looks like another split week between a very winnable game against NC State and a tough one at Maryland.

10. NC State (15-13, 5-9) lost to North Carolina before beating Georgia Tech.  State fans still react negatively when Sidney Lowe chooses to play Javier Gonzalez over Ryan Harrow.  Credit the upperclassmen for a great game against Georgia Tech though: Tracy Smith and Scott Wood combined for 38 points on 20 field goals.  That’s efficiency.

11. Georgia Tech (11-17, 3-11) should just count down the days till the end of the season.

12. Wake Forest (8-21, 1-13) shoots free throws pretty well (second in the ACC at 73.6%).  Everything else?  Not so much.  Actually, the youth is promising, so there’s that, too.

A Look Ahead

  • Tuesday Bubble Struggle: Boston College at Virginia Tech (9:00PM, ESPNU) – The Hokies fight to stay on the right side of the bubble while Boston College faces a win-or-go-to-the-NIT (probably) game.  Should be fun to watch.  Keep an eye on Reggie Jackson and Malcolm Delaney.
  • Wednesday Upset Watch: North Carolina at Florida State (7:00PM, ESPN) – Can the Chris Singleton-less Seminoles knock off the streaking Tar Heels?  It’s possible, especially if the Tar Heels are missing shots from the outside.  The question is whether Florida State has any way to keep John Henson and Tyler Zeller off the boards.
  • Primetime Saturday: Virginia Tech at Clemson (12:00PM, ESPN2) – Another battle for the bubble showcasing Virginia Tech.  I’m not sure Clemson is cut out for the Big Dance this year, but a win here keeps them in the conversation.
  • Rivalry Rematch: Duke at North Carolina (Saturday, 8:00PM, CBS) – For the first time in the rivalry’s storied history, it’s coming to primetime.  This really should be a pick ‘em game.  Neither team can afford to get off to a slow start.  UNC needs to keep Duke cold from the perimeter, and Duke needs to not look soft inside.  My pick: Duke in a very close one on the back of Nolan Smith.
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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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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 23rd, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

A lot has happened the past two weeks, so let’s tackle it in chronological order and we’ll sum things up at the end.

  • Duke and North Carolina lived up to the hype.  Last year just didn’t feel right with the games being lopsided.  Kendall Marshall is probably the best passer from halfcourt I’ve ever seen.  He’s not fast, but he pushes the ball up the court just as fast as Ty Lawson or Raymond Felton but he dishes from halfcourt instead of right around the basket.  Marshall looked terrific in the first half against Duke, killing the Blue Devils on long rebounds which turned into quick points in transition and in halfcourt sets.  Duke finally managed to neutralize him by playing the passing lanes in the second half and forcing him to score first and pass second.  The other Carolina player that impressed me is John Henson.  I’ve never been huge on Henson: he’s always struck me as a soft player that you should just back down.  Why face up against him and allow him to use his length to alter your shot when you can back him down?  But the more games I watch, the more shots I see Henson affect.  The infusion of Kendall Marshall’s lobs has also made Henson much more dangerous on the offensive end.  On Duke’s side of the rivalry, Seth Curry deserves some props for his recent play.  Curry has been outstanding lately, becoming a legitimate third option and giving Nolan Smith some valuable time to work off the ball.  This Duke team definitely has flaws, but if it plays like it did in the second half against Carolina, there aren’t many teams in the country that could keep pace.

Bubble Trouble: With only Duke and North Carolina representing the ACC in the “lock” category–though I’m inclined to put Florida State in assuming it wins two of its remaining four games (11-5 in the ACC with a win over Duke has to be enough, right?)–there are a lot of teams still working towards at-large bids.  Perennial bubbler Virginia Tech leads the way, closely followed by Clemson, Boston College and Maryland.  Only the Seminoles and Hokies managed a winning record during the last two weeks.  Here’s a recap of those on the Bubble:

  • Florida State went 3-0 against arguably the worst teams in the conference.
  • Virginia Tech went 2-1, slaughtering Georgia Tech and beating Maryland at home, allowing Virginia to complete the sweep on the season before dispatching Wake Forest.
  • Clemson beat Boston College (a huge game, bubble-wise), barely lost in Chapel Hill, inexplicably lost at NC State before beating Miami on the road.
  • Boston College lost at Clemson, beat Maryland and barely lost at North Carolina.
  • Maryland slaughtered Longwood in a meaningless nonconference game, lost at Boston College, lost at Virginia Tech and barely beat NC State at home.

Add all of that up and you get Florida State sitting at 9-3 in ACC play, Virginia Tech and Clemson suffering horrible losses, Boston College avoiding marquee wins and Maryland continuing to avoid any wins that might be described as decent.  Ouch.  Not a good week for the ACC bubble.  Past Florida State, I think all of these teams need a significant ACC Tournament run (Maryland and Boston College might need to win the whole thing at this point).  Conceivably, the ACC could have three teams in the tournament if no one steps up down the stretch.  That’s pathetic for a conference that prides itself on basketball greatness (or really any major conference aside from the Pac-10 or SEC).

As for injuries, Chris Singleton hurt his foot in the game against Virginia.  You can’t overstate Singleton’s importance for the Seminoles: he’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the country and he’s their primary scoring option.  His versatility allows him to shut down the opposing team’s best player at the two, three or four.  This gives the selection committee a lot to think about with Florida State.  Without Singleton, this is a very different team.  At the same time, a favorable schedule will mean it probably closes out the season at 11-5 in conference play.  Personally, I think the Seminoles will squeak by barring a collapse of epic proportions, but the injury certainly opens the door for a lot more questions.  Kyrie Irving is back in the news after a couple of optimistic tweets about his injury: from Saturday: “Rehab going really well…I’m getting that feeling back!!! Yessir”; from Monday: “I’m definitely op(toe)mistic!!”.  Jeff Goodman of FoxSports.com later tweeted: “Getting mixed reports on whether he [Irving] will return. Tough to say yet.”  Essentially, no one knows anything (largely because Duke has been so quiet in the matter), but things are sounding much more optimistic.

Player of the Week: Nolan Smith has been tremendous in ACC play.  Currently, he’s averaging almost 22 points per game with more than five assists and just under five rebounds.  He’s on pace to be the only player ever to lead the ACC in scoring and assists for a season.  Against North Carolina, he had 34 (22 in the second half), good for his season high.  He also put up 18, 22 and 28 points in wins at Miami, at Virginia and against Georgia Tech.  Smith puts up gaudy tempo-free numbers too, posting the fifth-highest offensive rating among players used in more than 28% of their team’s possessions.  You might recognize a couple of household names right below him: Jimmer Fredette (8) and Kemba Walker (9).  I suspect we won’t see a unanimous national player of the year like last year, but Smith has certainly put himself in that top group (that should probably include Arizona’s Derrick Williams too).

Team of the Week: Duke.  I just can’t give the award to a Florida State team that beat Georgia Tech, Virginia (at home) and Wake, so that leaves the Blue Devils.  Ever since the St. John’s beating (which doesn’t look nearly as bad now), Duke has played at a much higher level–especially on the defensive end.  Duke did get off to a very shaky start against North Carolina, but good teams make adjustments and win games (which Mike Krzyzewski did).  My one concern with this team right now is its consistent struggle stopping penetration.  That’s going to be crucial during the NCAA Tournament.  Mason and Miles Plumlee need to be better at coming to help stop the drive (and I don’t mean by committing stupid reaching fouls).  But other than that, Duke is one of the best teams in the country with the top spot in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings to prove it.  Side note: the Blue Devils also sport top rankings in both polls, though their current resume lags behind Pittsburgh and Ohio State.

Bizarro Team of the Week: Maryland.  Frankly, the Terps are trying to steal the season’s award out from under Wake Forest’s feet.  Watching a Maryland game is one of the most frustrating things you can do: there’s clearly a good deal of talent on the roster, but they fold in the second half of every game.  It’s unbelievable.  Only two of Maryland’s losses have come by double digits (against Virginia Tech and Duke), but the Terps don’t have anything resembling a good win (best two are against Penn State and College of Charleston).  Jordan Williams can’t do everything, but I could’ve sworn Gary Williams would have found a way to win close games by now.

Power Rankings

1.  Duke (25-2, 12-1) is in a real battle for a one-seed with Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Texas, Kansas and the winner of BYU and San Diego State.  With only four to go around, two of these teams are going to make very dangerous two seeds.  I think Duke is in control of its own destiny in that if the Blue Devils win out, I think they’re a lock for the top line (wins against Temple, Virginia Tech and at North Carolina plus whoever they face in the conference tournament would dramatically improver its resume).  I think Duke can probably get away with losing at North Carolina, provided that’s the only slip-up.  Any more than that and Duke will need some major help from the other contenders.

2.  North Carolina (20-6, 10-2) showed it’s not quite all the way back to contender status after coughing up a huge first half lead at Duke.  But I think the Tar Heels have a great shot to get revenge when Duke comes to Chapel Hill if they play with the same tenacity.  The UNC that barely beat Clemson and coasted to a home win over Wake can’t show up, though.

3.  Florida State (19-7, 9-3) needs to keep winning.  I think 2-2 is enough in these last four games, but it definitely couldn’t hurt to steal one either at Maryland or home against North Carolina.  Derwin Kitchen is going to be the key player for the Seminoles moving forward without Singleton.

4.  Virginia Tech (18-8, 8-5) needs to learn to win games it’s supposed to.  The Hokies had no business losing to Virginia to start ACC play, and they had no business losing to them last week.  Those are the games that force Seth Greenberg to sit through sweaty and heartbreaking Selection Sundays.  A win against Duke could help make up for the bad losses.

5.  Clemson (18-9, 7-6) took a feather from Virginia Tech’s cap by losing at NC State last week.  Brad Brownell has done a great job in his first year, but the Tigers will be on the wrong side of the bubble with any more losses like that.  I think the final game against Virginia Tech will be as big as any game for the Tigers this season.  Clemson has a similar problem to other ACC bubble teams: no real marquee wins.  No offense to College of Charleston and Florida State, but the Tigers need to find another one before exiting the ACC Tournament.

6.  Boston College (16-10, 6-6) is close to cooked between too many bad losses and just not that many good wins (Texas A&M can only carry you so far).  This roster looks better on paper than in person right now, although Reggie Jackson is one of the best players in the conference.

7.  Maryland (17-10, 6-6) is a team with tons of potential, but very little execution.  If Jordan Williams doesn’t declare for the draft, though, look out for the Terps next year.

8.  Virginia (13-13, 4-8) would’ve been a much scarier team without Mike Scott’s injury.  This team will never be the most fun to watch, but Tony Bennett looks like he’s got the program moving in the right direction.  And they did sweep Virginia Tech.

9.  NC State (14-12, 4-8) is one of my biggest disappointments of the season.  I thought the Wolfpack had the talent to compete for second in the ACC with Florida State, Virginia Tech and North Carolina.  I still do.  But for whatever reason, Sidney Lowe can’t capitalize.  This team shows flashes of brilliance that make you wonder what might have been.  I don’t blame Lowe entirely, but someone has to be held accountable for his thus far underachieving tenure.

10. Miami (16-11, 4-8) have had all of its conference games decided by seven points or less, except for two double-digit losses to Duke (by ten and eleven points).  Miami’s record looks far worse than it should, which is why I think they could be very dangerous come the ACC tournament and next season.  Durand Scott, Malcolm Grant and Reggie Johnson are only getting better.

11. Georgia Tech (11-15, 3-9) has three conference wins including one against North Carolina and one against Virginia Tech?  The Yellow Jackets have talent, but right now it doesn’t fit together.  The biggest problem is a total inability to win away from home (literally zero road wins this season).

12. Wake Forest (8-20, 1-12) is officially the worst major conference team, according to Ken Pomeroy (number 249 as I write this).  The good news is things can only go up from here.  The big problem with the Deacs right now is defense.  When they hold opponents under a point per possession, they generally win (only one loss comes with a defensive efficiency rating of less than 100, and that’s a 99.1 against Gonzaga).  This team is still very young.

A Look Ahead

Wednesday, February 23:

  • Temple at Duke (7:00 PM, ESPN2) – Duke gets a shot at another top 25 opponent when the Owls come to Cameron Wednesday night in Coach K’s annual “strong mid-major we could see in the NCAA’s” game.  Look out for Lavoy Allen and Ramone Moore, who are both outstanding players in the A-10.
  • Florida State at Maryland (9:00 PM, ACC Network) – This game features the country’s fourth and 11th best defenses according to Ken Pomeroy in what is probably Maryland’s last gasp for an at-large (interestingly enough the ACC has defenses ranked 2, 3, 4, 11 and 18 in Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Maryland and Clemson).

Saturday, February 26:

  • Duke at Virginia Tech (9:00 PM, ESPN) – This is a huge chance for the Hokies to pick up a marquee win and close to seal their trip to the Big Dance.  Jeff Allen will be key, as he should be able to have his way with Duke’s often soft interior.  The best match-up will definitely be Nolan Smith and Malcolm Delaney (who is right behind Smith in scoring and assists).

Sunday, February 27:

  • Maryland at North Carolina (7:45 PM, FSN) – In another match-up featuring excellent defense, Maryland takes on North Carolina.  The most interesting part of this game will be to watch Jordan Williams take on Tyler Zeller and John Henson.  North Carolina’s bigs have looked soft, and Williams is liable to put up a monster night.
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The Week That Was: Feb. 8-14

Posted by jstevrtc on February 15th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor.

Introduction

What a weekend. We’re still reeling from the Saturday’s chaos in Madison. It’s always a bittersweet day when the final undefeated team in the nation suffers its first loss. Do you think the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers pop champagne and toast themselves every year once that game clock hits 0:00 and their legacy is preserved for one more year? Sure, they aren’t the ’72 Dolphins, but we easily could picture Bobby Knight smirking to himself and lighting a cigar after Ohio State’s loss at Wisconsin. 

What We Learned

Taylor May Be the Most Talk-About Player In America Right Now

Ohio State wasn’t an invincible juggernaut and we already knew that. OSU endured close calls earlier the season against Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern. It wasn’t a matter of if Ohio State would suffer its first loss, it was a matter of when some team would rise up and topple the Buckeyes. Cue the Wisconsin Badgers. Jordan Taylor exploded in the second half scoring 21 of his 27 points to lead Wisconsin to a come from behind win and an all-time RTC. But here at TWTW, we’re not as interested in single game scenarios; we focus on the big picture. So in their win, did the Badgers show the nation a blueprint for beating the Buckeyes? The main quality a team needs in order to emulate what the Badgers did against OSU is offensive efficiency. Ohio State is the #12 team in the nation at forcing turnovers, causing them on 25% of opponents’ possessions. Wisconsin values the ball more than any other team in the NCAA, turning it over on just 13.6% of its possessions, and on Saturday the Badgers had just eight turnovers. Of course it doesn’t take a genius to point out that fewer turnovers increases your win probability. But what’s harder to duplicate is the Badgers’ enigmatic guard. Taylor pretty much single-handedly propelled Wisconsin to the upset. Few clubs have a guard capable of putting up that many points that quickly. So while opposing coaches can point to Saturday’s outcome merely as proof that OSU is beatable, it’s difficult to emulate the Badgers’ winning formula. Here’s the best recipe for beating a highly ranked Ohio State squad: schedule the game in Madison. Neither the OSU football nor basketball teams are invulnerable to the powers of Bucky Badger.

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