ATB: Double-OT Causes Frank Martin’s Head to Explode, Harvard Acquits Itself Well, & Kilicli’s Beard…

Posted by rtmsf on December 9th, 2011

Tonight’s Lede. Thursday was a light night on our college basketball buffet, but there were at least two games that made sticking around the house and avoiding the hordes of hysterics downtown worthwhile. An early look at a team that some have been (wrongfully) calling the best Ivy League team of all-time versus the defending national champs was followed by a double-overtime slugfest in the heartland featuring teacher and student. The quality of basketball on this night was not the highest we’ve ever seen, but it was entertaining and it sure beat getting run over by nutty shoppers at CB2.

Your Watercooler Moment. Frank Martin’s Insanity Is No Match For His Mentor.

The above clip was the result of the play that more or less sealed the game for West Virginia in its key 85-80 double-overtime road victory “at” Kansas State tonight (actually in Wichita, but the place was purple). Frank Martin’s f-bombing eyeball act is a bit to Bobby Knight-ish for our tastes, but his ire may have been better directed in chastising the player(s) assigned guarding West Virginia’s superb forward, Kevin Jones, rather than running down his reserve guard, Angel Rodriguez. Even against a defense as tough as K-State’s, Jones made mincemeat of it. He went for his career-high 30 points using a variety of baby hooks, jumpers, drives and crafty maneuvers around the basket. He also grabbed 12 boards, blocked two shots, and hit the three to send the game to overtime as well as the post move to give WVU the lead for good in the second overtime. In other words, he spent 49 of 50 available minutes giving Frank Martin’s team and coaching staff nightmares. In proving that sometimes you just never know, Jones is bringing 21/12 to the table this season while shooting the ball at a 57% clip. Everybody knew he was good, but he’s putting up All-America type of numbers right now. Whether that is sustainable remains to be seen, what we can say with certainty is that this game between Bob Huggins as mentor and Frank Martin as pupil is a very good one — if this is what WVU’s admittance to the Big 12 will regularly look like, a street fight somewhere on the Plains, we’re on board.

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After the Buzzer: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2011

This Weekend’s Lede. All the Way Back. College basketball trickled out last week, but with a total of 232 games taking place between Friday and Sunday nights, it’s safe to say that the November fire hose of hoops has been turned on. Every Top 25 team except one (Memphis) played at least once over the weekend, and those schools went 30-2 playing mostly unranked teams that never had much of a chance. There were a couple of exceptions, of course, and we’ll be sure to get to those below. Regardless of the quality of the ball (and it mostly ranged from adequate to poor), how satisfying was it to see regular updates over the weekend bringing you scores, highlights and storylines from games that actually count? It was fantastic, and with all of the great events coming up in the next two weeks — Champions Classic, Coaches vs. Cancer, CBE, Legends, Maui, PNIT, the conference challenges — it’s a great time to be a college basketball fan.

Your Watercooler Moment.  This one is easy.

The Setting For Outdoor Basketball in San Diego Was Spectacular (credit: US Pacific Fleet)

It’s somewhat rare that a gimmicky game like the Carrier Classic could end up being so completely awesome, but you could tell when you heard the voices of the players, coaches, media and military personnel on Friday night that they all felt like they were in the midst of something special. Maybe it was the fact that it was Veterans Day, or that President Obama was there, or that the Coronado evening came through with a gorgeously orange sunset… we don’t care. What we do care about is that the setting and venue put college basketball on a pedestal (literally) for its unofficial opening night, and for a game that sometimes fails to promote itself in a manner commensurate with its passion, fanfare and excitement, the inaugural Carrier Classic was a big-time hit. Oh, and #1 North Carolina needs to work on its offensive rebounding…

Dunktastic. Is it possible that the best dunk of the entire season was on the opening weekend?  Goodness… Jeremy Lamb, who knew?

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NIT: Refresher at the Quarterfinal Round

Posted by rtmsf on March 23rd, 2011

Walker Carey is an RTC contributor.

Given all the media and fan attention on the NCAA Tournament, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there were 32 other teams (several pretty good ones) playing on (mostly) the off days.  The NIT is the grand-daddy of postseason basketball, so let’s get you briefly caught up on where that tournament is at the quarterfinal stage.

Alabama Bracket

The first two rounds in the Alabama Bracket have seen the top seeds advancing in each game, which sets up a quarterfinal game between top seeded Alabama and second seeded Miami (FL) Wednesday night. Alabama has used solid performances from guards Tony Mitchell and Trevor Releford, as well as from big man JaMychal Green to breeze past Coastal Carolina and New Mexico in home games. The Hurricanes have gotten solid guard play from Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott to earn victories over Florida Atlantic and Missouri State in Coral Gables. The quarterfinals will come down to whether Frank Haith’s team can find scoring options against one of the better defensive teams still playing basketball this season.  The winner advance to the semifinals in New York City.

Colorado Bracket

The first round of the Colorado Bracket gave us two of the biggest upsets of the tournament thus far. After getting their bubble burst on Selection Sunday, second seeded Saint Mary’s was upset at home by seventh seeded Kent State after blowing a 13-point lead. The first round also saw third seeded Colorado State lose at home to sixth seeded Fairfield. The Golden Flashes topped the Stags in the second round to advance to the quarterfinal. In the top half of the bracket, Colorado has used strong performances from standouts Alec Burks and Cory Higgins to easily defeat Texas Southern, California and Kent State in succession.  The Buffs are playing like a team with a chip on its shoulder, and will advance to NYC to await the winner of the Alabama-Miami (FL) game.

Boston College Bracket

The first round of the Boston College Bracket saw all the top seeds advance and do so fairly convincingly. However, things changed in the second round, as top seeded Boston College was blown out at home by fourth seeded Northwestern. The Wildcats used a balanced attack led by John Shurna and Michael Thompson to throttle the Eagles. Elsewhere in the second round, Washington State used a strong performance from star guard Klay Thompson to get past third seed Oklahoma State by a 74-64 margin. The second round results set up a quarterfinal matchup between fourth seed Northwestern and second seed Washington State. Considering that the game will be played in Pullman and Klay Thompson might be the best player in the NIT this year, Wazzu should advance to the semifinals in Madison Square Garden next week.

Virginia Tech Bracket

The first round of the Virginia Tech Bracket contained the top individual performance of the tournament thus far. College of Charleston guard Andrew Goudelock netted 39 points to lead the sixth seeded Cougars to an upset victory over three seed Dayton. The Cougars remained hot in the second round by knocking out star guard Norris Cole and the Cleveland State Vikings. The top half of the bracket saw top seed Virginia Tech and fourth seed Wichita State advance to the second round where the Hokies and Shockers battled in an overtime classic. In the end, Wichita State was able to ride a balanced scoring effort to defeat the Hokies and overcome Malcolm Delaney’s 30 points. Both the Cougars and the Shockers are on a roll heading into the quarterfinal Wednesday night, making it a tough game to predict, but if Goudelock catches fire for Bobby Cremins’ squad then College of Charleston will enjoy a trip to New York as the sole mid-major representative next week in Manhattan. 

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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 rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

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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Past Imperfect: Kicking in the Door

Posted by JWeill on February 17th, 2011

Past Imperfect is a series focusing on the history of the game. Every Thursday, RTC contributor JL Weill (@AgonicaBossEmail) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the swift rise and fall of Cleveland State’s Kevin Mackey.

The question is deceptively simple: how much is too much too fast? For Kevin Mackey, the answers to these and other questions came too late – years and years too late – to save him, and his program, from himself. For the coach of the outlaws, the misfits, the ones no one wanted, the coach with all the answers to basketball questions, there were no answers to the questions about life, about how to handle it all after you’ve tasted the big time, after you’re somebody.

Indiana had no answers for Mackey and his boys that night, that’s for sure. But that was by design. Mackey knew from experience that no one who’s anyone answers the polite knock at the door. They either don’t hear you or act like they don’t. They’ll look out the window and see you standing there with your hair all wrong and your clothes all wrong and your everything all wrong, and they’ll just shut the shades and stay quiet. Don’t let him in. He’s trouble.

So that’s why you don’t knock politely on the door. You kick the door down and tell them, show them, that what matters isn’t your hair or your clothes or anything you can see but that you are capable of kicking the door down. That’s what they pay attention to.

Kevin Mackey had been kicking doors down for a long time before he got noticed. First as a high school coach back in Boston, where he kicked to the tune of three straight championship seasons at Don Bosco. Then, level mastered, he moved on to Boston College, where scouring the dark corners of the Northeast for hidden gems he helped Tom Davis and then Gary Williams rattle some folks, too. B.C. is where Mackey showed he could bring in the kids no one else could, the Michael Adamses and John Bagleys.

Boston College can be a tough place to get noticed. Despite being a cradle of future winning coaches, it was always a place you had to scrap and claw and kick to get noticed. That was just fine for a guy like Mackey. The harder, the better. And every year they took another step. Had to overcome Rick Kuhn and Henry Hill and all that point shaving business and just kept fighting for everything they got. And because they fought a lot, they got a lot. Like a Big East regular-season title in ’81. Like the NCAA Sweet 16 the same year. With Mackey still bringing in the tough kids, the kids with nothing to lose, and Dr. Tom still coaching them, the Chestnut Hill gang almost made it all the way to the Final Four in ‘82, shocking Depaul and Kansas State and nearly taking out Houston. Williams came in and, with Mackey, kept the whole thing going forward. B.C. finished first in the Big East again. Only a man as big as Ralph Sampson could end the run, which Virginia did in the second round of the ’83 NCAA tournament.

Having been passed over for the B.C. job, now it was time for Mackey to knock down his own doors. He knew what he wanted to do, now he just needed a where to do it. How about Cleveland? Another place you have to make a lot of noise to get noticed. When Mackey took over the Cleveland State basketball program, it had never before won 20 games in a season. Came close a few times, but this just wasn’t the place you go to win 20 games in a season. Mackey the coach knew this, but he also knew exactly what he wanted to do. He wanted to run, and trap, and kick those barriers to the big time down. And he knew how’d he’d get there – the same way he’d gotten this far: by getting the guys with nothing to lose, making them believe they could kick through a wall and then letting them loose on all the walls of the world. So that’s exactly what Mackey did. He brought in kids who had less than nothing to lose.

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ATB: Some Kind of Kemba-ssance…

Posted by rtmsf on February 17th, 2011

The Lede.  Wednesday nights are always chock full of action from coast to coast, and there was no shortage of storylines across the hoops landscape this evening.  From Kemba blowing up to Tai’s rim-rattler to Jenkins’ late explosion to celebrating the first conference champions, it’s all here tonight.  Let’s jump right in…

Kemba Felt Great Tonight, As Did UConn Fans (H-C/J. Wolke)

Your Watercooler MomentThe Kemba-ssance.  Tonight you witnessed the reason why UConn should be a darkhorse pick to go to the Final Four.  This was the Kemba Walker who slashed, dashed, shot and fought his way to the Maui Invitational title three months ago.  This was the player who literally picked his team up, placed it squarely on his back, and carried it to bucket after bucket down the stretch using any means possible.  Such as… finding himself stuck in a spot 18 feet from the basket and nobody to pass to nor a decent look to shoot.  Instead, using the self-assist method, he simply rifled a pass to himself off the backboard, caught it, and laid it in the hole.  We’ve all tried this play in pickup ball, but you rarely see it in games outside of the And-1 Mixtape Tour because it’s simply too risky.  Nevertheless, Walker successfully executed the play, and several others with a high degree of difficulty, which reminds us all that when this player finds a groove, there’s nobody tougher in the country to contain off the bounce.  His 31/7/10 asst night on 13-23 shooting was his best all-around performance since before Christmas, and it makes us wonder if he’s found the lifeblood that made him so spectacular in November and December.  Even if Kemba plays well, the Huskies still need the others to step up consistently — players such as Alex Oriakhi (10/8) or the suddenly effective Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (23/6); but he sure can erase a whole bunch of mistakes, can’t he?  A quick note on Georgetown: the Hoyas’ eight-game winning streak came to an end tonight, but it wasn’t going to go on forever.  They’re still in good position to finish strong and get a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament.

That Backboard ThingTai Wesley Shatters Glass at Halftime.  It’s a shame that it wasn’t during the game, but USU’s Tai Wesley broke the backboard during halftime warmups this evening in a worthless game against NAIA team Montana-Western.  Luckily nobody was hurt, but arena officials managed to break a second one while trying to replace the first, resulting in a 45-minute delay of the game.  With breakaway rims and triple-reinforced stanchions, you hardly see these sorts of things at the D1 level anymore; still, we kinda wish it had happened during the game!

Tai Wesley, USU Halftime Legend (AP/J. Urquhart)

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Illinois, Tennessee, Cincinnati, Memphis & Duquesne.  All four of these teams either on or near the bubble with 24 days left until Selection Sunday helped themselves this evening.  The Illini are clearly the safest of the three (#7 seed in our latest RTC bracketology), but Bruce Weber’s team came into tonight having lost six of nine and really couldn’t stand another loss to a mediocre team like Michigan.  Tennessee is relatively safe (#8 seed), but the Vols needed a win in a big way after three Ls in a row.  You never know what to expect with this UT team, so even a simple home win over South Carolina shouldn’t be taken for granted.  Cincinnati and Memphis, on the other hand, are legitimately on the cut line (#12 seeds) and although the Tigers have never appeared to be an NCAA quality team this season, they’ve done just well enough to remain in the discussion.  Beating second-place UAB tonight to take over the top spot in Conference USA both amazes us and scares us at the same time.  Conversely, Cincy has at times appeared to be a decent candidate for an NCAA bid, but having lost three of four coming into tonight, the Bearcats really needed a nice win over a ranked team for its resume.  Mick Cronin’s team got that win over old rival Louisville tonight.  Duquesne is on the outside looking in in our latest bracket, but with a solid win tonight at UMass the Dukes got off a two-game schneid and are now 9-2 in the Atlantic 10 with a chance to make a strong finish.
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ATB: Wisconsin — Center of the Sporting Universe?

Posted by rtmsf on February 14th, 2011

The Lede.  Who knew that a medium-sized flyover state known more for its brats and cheese could become the center of the American sports universe, even if just for a bit?  But with the top ten seasons of both the Wisconsin Badger football and basketball teams (now including victories over #1 Ohio State in both sports), plus a little Super Bowl-winning team a couple hours to the northeast in Green Bay, a fair argument could be made, couldn’t it?  This too shall pass, but what will not is that Bo Ryan is an unbelievable coach and we should just go ahead and slot his teams into the top twenty every season regardless of the personnel he has returning.  Honestly, it’s getting a little ridiculous just how successful this guy is year after year.

Jordan Taylor: King of Madison, Wisconsin (Cap Times/A. Mertz)

Your Watercooler MomentUnbeaten Ohio State Goes Down.  When the nation’s #1 team dunks, bombs and outmuscles you in your house on its way to a fifteen-point lead in the second half, most teams wilt as quickly as those flowers you bought for your girlfriend surely will about 48 hours from now.  Wisconsin does not wilt.  In fact, the Badgers don’t even bend much, at least not in their Big 10 House of Horrors known as the Kohl Center.  Matching like with like, Bo Ryan’s team simply upped its resolve, made some stops and ripped off a 15-0 run of its own (ten points by Jordan Taylor) to tie the game at the 9:49 mark.  The last ten minutes of this game represented some of the most exciting basketball of the season, with each team taking turns showing how to score until Taylor (and his 24/4/7 assts) created some separation with his fifth three-pointer of the game at the 5:34 mark.  From that point on, it was clear that the Badgers were going to win the game and put an end to the Buckeyes’ unbeaten season, in much the same way that their football counterparts had last October 16 at Camp Randall Stadium.  When OSU cut the lead to two with just under a minute to go, it was the floppy-haired Mike Bruesewitz direct from central casting who shot-faked and nailed a ginormous three to effectively salt the game away and set the Kohl Center on fire.  At the end of the game, there was the obligatory RTC, as it was only the second time in history that the Badgers had knocked off a #1 team, and this particular OSU team was also the last remaining unbeaten.  Full and complete coverage of the court was achieved, as viewed in the video below.  Well done, Badgers.

This Weekend’s Quick Hits

  • Pitt Without Ashton Gibbs.  It was one thing to win the Backyard Brawl without Ashton Gibbs on the floor last Monday night; but to waltz into the Pavilion on ESPN Gameday and beat the Wildcats in their on-campus building where they had not lost in four years?  Very impressive work, Panthers.  We realize that Villanova played with Corey Stokes as well, but on this night it was Jamie Dixon’s team who was simply tougher than Jay Wright’s.  The physical play and three technical fouls as a result are characteristic of Pitt’s wheelhouse, and when push came to shove, it was the Panthers showing that they are indeed the Big East’s best team and a possible #1 seed next month.  Their toughest remaining game is a trip to Louisville, but would it surprise anyone if the Panthers ran the table the rest of the way to 17-1?
  • Norris Cole’s He-Man Game.  20/10 nights are damn impressive in the college game, but try doubling it.  Norris Cole became just the second player in the last fifteen seasons to drop a 40/20 in a single game — and the other was an athletic specimen you might have heard of named Blake Griffin (40/23 against Texas Tech in 2009).  Cole went for an absurd 41/20/9 assts against Youngstown State on Saturday, leaving us to wonder if he also ran the sound system, operated the scoring table and mopped up the soda residue and popcorn stains afterward.  Sheesh…  We know that Cole has had a handful (three, to be exact) of double-figure rebounding games this season, but how a 6’2, 170-pounder can pull down twenty makes no sense to us — he’s up for the Cousy Award as the best point guard in America, and with Cleveland State near the top of the Horizon League standings, let’s all hope that we get to see this kid play on the biggest stage this March.
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Morning Five: Groundhog Day Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 2nd, 2011

  1. Indiana’s Christian Watford broke his hand over the weekend against Michigan State and had surgery on it yesterday; he will be out indefinitely.  This is just another gut-punch to the stomachs of Indiana fans everywhere, as Watford, IU’s leading scorer, represents the third Hoosier starter to miss significant time (Maurice Creek and Verdell Jones III are the others).  This comes on the heels of what was the most promising week for Indiana basketball in quite some time — a win over Illinois and an overtime loss to Michigan State.  Say what you want about Tom Crean as a head coach (and we’ve said a lot), but it’s especially difficult to get wins in the Big Ten when you don’t have your full hand to play with.
  2. A couple of other significant players suffered injuries recently.  Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson sprained his ankle at practice on Tuesday and is considered uncertain for Thursday night’s game at Auburn.  According to this story, it was bad enough that he had a protective boot on and he left the arena after practice in crutches.  UT has won its last four games and part of the reason for their improved play has been Hopson, so if he isn’t at 100%, even a trip to Auburn could be troublesome.  Meanwhile, St. John’s announced that forward Justin Brownlee had suffered a fracture of his left thumb during Sunday’s huge Red Storm win over Duke, a game in which he had 20/9/6 assts.  He will wear a splint on the thumb, though, and is not expected to miss any time from practice nor games.
  3. Mike DeCourcy writes that Auburn’s Tony Barbee believes that the NBA will go back to the preps-to-pros route as a result of next summer’s collective bargaining agreement between the NBA Players Association and the owners.  He says that he’s been talking to “people” who seem to be in the know, but we question if those people are tied into the owners, management and David Stern — the group that will ultimately drive this decision.  We’re on record stating that both the preps-to-pros and the so-called “baseball rule” are bad for the game of college basketball, but the NBA’s self-interest will rule the day and ensure that names like John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Jared Sullinger have value and cachet behind them prior to entering the league as rookies.
  4. We thought this was an interesting article from the Cleveland State Cauldron lamenting that CSU basketball is a consistent winner in a town that traditionally has not had many of those, yet it still has significant trouble getting any kind of attention from anyone in the community at-large.  The Vikings are currently 20-3 overall and 9-2 in the Horizon League with second-place Valpo and traditional power Butler coming to town this weekend.  We agree, Cleveland… get out there and support this team.  They just might end up being one of the best mid-major stories of the year in all of college basketball again.
  5. In the inaugural year of this blog, we took SI writer Grant Wahl (who has since moved on to cover soccer) to task over his Magic Eight selections for leaving UNC off his list of teams that would win the title.   That season was 2007-08 and, if you recall, he was right.  Both Kansas and Memphis were on his list, but the Jayhawk obliteration of North Carolina in the national semifinals validated his concerns.  Consider our crow eaten.  After what sounds to be significant negotiations, Luke Winn has revitalized the Magic Eight this season, and his choices are a combination of obvious and bold, as such:  BYU, Duke, Georgetown, Kentucky, Ohio State, Texas, Tennessee and Washington.  As he acknowledges, leaving Kansas, Pittsburgh, UConn and SDSU out are rather huge gambles, but we’ll see how he does as things develop over the next month.
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Behind the Numbers: The Unimportance of Assists?

Posted by KCarpenter on January 19th, 2011

Pittsburgh, as Syracuse most recently learned, is a contender to win the national championship because they do one thing incredibly well and a lot of other things at a pretty high level. The one excellent thing they do is crash the offensive boards. They lead the nation in offensive rebounding rate, which is the driving force behind their current position as the most efficient offense in the country.  The Panthers do a lot of other things well– shooting, defensive rebounding, controlling turnovers– but nothing they do, in terms of advanced stats, really jumped out at me until I noticed that they are second in the nation in assists to field goals made. 69.8% of Pittsburgh’s field goals are assisted. This is interesting and pretty cool, but I began to wonder if it even mattered.

Assists are really weird, because in a way that’s not true of any other individual stat, they don’t really measure individual performance at all. To get a credited assist, the passer’s teammate has to knock down shots. Surround a healthy Kyrie Irving with four clones of someone who shoots as well as I do, and as crisp, creative, and well-timed as his passes are, he is not going to get too many assists, solely because, well, I am a terrible shooter.The box score for this game will show he got no assists. Did Kyrie have a bad game? Were his passes worse than usual?

Jamie Dixon's Team Moves the Ball Well

No, probably not, and that’s a tricky question. From close to the beginning of basketball box scores, assists have been tracked. In fact, in the early days of individual statistics, assists were really about the only thing tracked besides points and rebounds. Why do we even track assists? Maybe just because we always have. On some level, it’s easy to see what assists are supposed to do: assists are supposed to be a measure of play-making through passing. But as I mentioned, assists really aren’t all that great at measuring true ball movement because the statistic is hopelessly tangled up with field goal percentage. A team that makes more shots should generally have more assists. We don’t keep track of who made a great pass that led to a missed shot, and that really throws off our view of skilled passing and playmaking, which, after all, assists are supposed to measure.

There are more problems than that. We largely assume that assists are almost always positive. Passing is good. The problem is that sometimes it isn’t. Let’s suppose that we are on the fast-break, and I have the ball and my man beat. It would be easy for me to hit an uncontested layup. Instead, I drop the ball back to you, and you hit a slightly more difficult uncontested mid-range shot. I decreased the chance of us scoring with that pass, but got credited with the assist. That was a bad assist and these happen all the time. If you don’t believe me, watch Rajon Rondo “gun” for assists the next time you watch the Boston Celtics play.

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The Other 26: Week 9

Posted by KDoyle on January 14th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

The non-conference is often times a good barometer for determining how strong a team will be and how they will perform within their respective conferences during league play. There are times, of course, when a team will challenge themselves by scheduling many BCS opponents and tough mid-majors, and compile a poor OOC record. Despite the lackluster record, they still may be a quality team. In some instances, however, it simply takes teams longer to gel and come together—conference play is when they finally peak. Likewise, there are always a handful of squads that will play nothing but cupcakes with extra frosting on the top, and run up many wins throughout the first half of the year, only to flounder during conference play. After witnessing teams play several games against conference opponents, let’s take a look at who may be exceeding expectations based on a struggling OOC record, and who has fallen flat on their faces after soaring through the OOC:

Surprising

  • Binghamton (6-10, 3-0)—Although they have beaten three of the weaker teams in the America East, the Bearcats are out to a nice 3-0 start nevertheless and have one of the best pure scorers in the league in Greer Wright. If Binghamton can knock off Vermont and Maine—two of the top teams—then they will be taken as a serious threa
  • Hofstra (11-5, 5-0)—Any team with Charles Jenkins has a fighter’s chance. Jenkins has the Pride as the last unbeaten team in the CAA, but a crucial game looms with ODU this weekend.
  • Wagner (8-8, 4-1)—Don’t bet against the Hurley family. Dan and Bobby Hurley are both in their first year with the program, and have already brought in some great recruits and wins to go along with it.
  • Holy Cross (3-13, 2-0)—Gone are the days where the Crusaders would breeze through the Patriot League en route to the NCAA Tournament. Now, Milan Brown has the daunting task of building Holy Cross back into the mid-major power they once were. After a disastrous non-conference, HC has won their first two league games.

Falling

  • Cleveland State (15-3, 4-2)—The Vikings look to be a notch below the upper tier teams of the league. After winning their first 12 games, Cleveland State had a rough weekend this past losing to Butler and Valpo.
  • Loyola Chicago (10-8, 1-6)—Similar to Cleveland State, Loyola Chicago looked like they could be a force in the Horizon League, but have lost all their games to the top five teams in the Horizon. They began the year 7-0, and their first loss was only by two points to Butler
  • Northern Iowa (12-6, 3-3)—After defeating New Mexico to win the Las Vegas Classic, UNI looked like they would challenge Wichita State and Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. They are just 3-3 in their last six games, with the most disappointing loss coming in a lackluster effort against Indiana State where they lost 70-45
  • San Jose State (9-7, 1-4)—Adrian Oliver, a transfer from Washington, may be the best player in the WAC, but his Spartans have not been able to follow suit. San Jose State went 8-3 in the non-conference, but have gone onto lose four of their last five games.

Granted, conference play is still very young, and no team has even gone through the first go-around of games against their counterparts, so there still is ample time for many things to happen. With that being said, the preceding 10 teams certainly did stick out when analyzing their play in the non-conference and comparing it to their performance in their league.

The Other 26 Rankings

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The Other 26: Week 8

Posted by KDoyle on January 7th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

With the non-conference portion of many schedules coming to an end, it is time for schools that comprise some of the smaller Other 26 conferences to retreat to their small gyms and compete against teams on their own level. In a sense, for many of these smaller conference teams, the non-conference schedule is a mere preamble for league play. The leagues I am referring to—NEC, America East, MEAC, Patriot, etc.—are all destined for just one bid to the NCAA Tournament. In most years, there are usually about a dozen conferences that receive multiple bids, thus leaving 20 conferences with just the auto.

Being a keen fan, follower, and observer of Patriot League basketball, I have come to the unfortunate realization that this league—like many others—is destined for one bid to the Dance every year. What irks me more than anything, however, is when I hear the phrase: “Three games in March.” This expression may vary depending upon the league, but it is the one that is used when describing the Patriot League tournament. Because the PL is comprised of eight teams, in order to win the championship and attain the automatic bid a team must win those “three games in March.”

I do not necessarily disagree with this expression—it is the reality of the Patriot League and many other leagues alike—but it is very bothersome when this becomes a mentality for the fanbases of the teams. It becomes acceptable to lose a non-conference game or a regular season game within the league because these games “don’t matter.” Of course, this is not a universal belief, but it is something I have observed within Patriot League fan circles. I will always recall Herman Edwards’ press conference as the head coach of the New York Jets when he repeatedly said in a stern voice: “You play, to win, the GAME!” It is Herm’s mentality, not the “three games in March” business, that I am a fan of.

The Other 26 Rankings

Tidbits from the Rankings

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The Other 26: Week Five

Posted by rtmsf on December 18th, 2010

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

Oakland Had Reason to Celebrate (AP/W. Payne)

For about a four hour stretch on Tuesday evening, I was glued to my TV. Watching college basketball on the ESPN family of networks is a beautiful distraction during finals week. Somehow, watching Oakland shock Tennessee and then Drexel hand Louisville its first loss of the season was more appealing than writing a paper. To the average hoops fans, both of these games would be of little interest. I mean, the Summit League vs. the SEC and the CAA vs. the Big East? Call me crazy, but I greatly anticipated both of these matchups. Teams coming from obscurity that are comprised of players who were a mere afterthought when recruited excites me. When further investigating both Oakland and Drexel, it wasn’t inconceivable that an upset could happen. Oakland had just lost to Michigan State by a point, and Drexel had won six of seven games. The point being, there are many teams from the Other 26 conferences that when they catch a talented BCS team on an off night, can knock them off. This is, after all, the allure of the NCAA Tournament—watching the little guy win. Seeing the likes of Oakland and Drexel defeat the big kids on Tuesday night could be a preview of what is to come during March.

Tidbits from the Rankings:

  • Steady at the Top: Although UNLV lost to drop them in the rankings, San Diego State and BYU maintained their positions at one and two. A lot can happen this coming week though as both teams play three games each.
  • The Mountain West and Atlantic 10 lead the way in the rankings: #1 and #2 are from the MWC and #3 and #4 from the A-10.
  • There was not a whole lot of upward movement in the rankings, but two teams did have significant falls. UNLV, after losing two games, dropped five spots to number eight, and Virginia Commonwealth moved from #10 to #19 after Richmond beat them handily.
  • Cleveland State, at 12-0, is still outside of the top ten, but will have an opportunity to potentially crack it with a victory against West Virginia.
  • Two come and two go, again: Drexel and Southern Mississippi entered the top 20, while Dayton and Missouri State departed.
  • Breakdown: 4 (MWC), 4 (CAA) 3 (A10), 3 (CUSA), 2 (Horizon), 2 (WCC), 1 (MVC), 1 (WAC)

What team impressed the most?

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