***** – 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 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
#4 Villanova @ #5 West Virginia – 7 pm on ESPN (*****)
WVU Has Been Celebrating a Lot Lately (AP/David Smith)
Depending on how this game plays out, we could be looking at some major Tournament seeding implications in this one tonight. Before Villanova’s last game against Georgetown, they had won eleven in a row, but gave up over 100 points to the Hoyas and now must face a West Virginia team that has a six-game winning streak of their own. The Mountaineers now stand at 19-3 and would get a huge boost in the rankings with a clutch home win over Villanova. These teams have only met once the last two seasons, but West Virginia led virtually the entire game in last year’s 93-72 blowout victory in Morgantown. As shown by their 90 points in a double-digit loss to Georgetown, Villanova can score with anybody. They are ranked second in points per game and third in offensive efficiency, but what is killing them is their 64th ranked defense (according to Pomeroy). West Virginia averages less than 74 points per game, but they are right behind the Wildcats in offensive efficiency and have a top 25 defense to complement it. WVU only surrenders 61.5 points per game, and hasn’t given up 75 points in a single game since January 1. In Villanova’s loss to the Hoyas, Scottie Reynolds scored 24 points, but it was on 6-17 shooting. If he is having an off night, look for him to distribute the ball more in this game, but it may not be enough against a tough Mountaineer team at home (and their crowd).
#1 Kansas @ #14 Texas – 9 pm on ESPN (****)
Texas is still going to make the NCAA tournament, but their situation is getting more desperate with every passing week. Following their 17-0 start, they have lost four of the last six games, perhaps none worse than the loss at Oklahoma in which they never led and trailed by as much as 20 points in the second half. Kansas has won eight straight games, but has been in a recent funk with two overtimes and trouble putting teams away in each of their last three games. Both of these teams can put a lot of points on the board, as they also rank among the nation’s leaders in points and rebounds per game, while Kansas also ranks fourth in assists per game. Due mainly to their earlier performances, both teams also rank highly in defensive efficiency, but Texas has now given up 80+ points in four of their last five. Perhaps the most intriguing matchup tonight is between big men Dexter Pittman and Cole Aldrich. Pittman shoots over 68% from the field, while Aldrich averages a double-double (12/10). To be honest, Aldrich has been a bit of a disappointment this year with decreases in points and rebounds per game, as well as a drop off in minutes and field goal percentage. He couldn’t keep his stamina at the end of the Colorado game, and only scored eight points against Nebraska, but the Jayhawks will need him if they want to keep pace with their high-scoring opponent in Austin.
RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every week as the season progresses.
This week’s Scribbles column will look ahead to a couple months down the road in Indianapolis, where 65 deserving teams will be whittled down to just four, and to that blissful Monday night in April when one lucky group will be dancing at mid-court to the tune of One Shining Moment. In my estimation, there are ten squads with a promising-to-slight chance of hoisting a 2010 National Champions banner during their home opener next season. I’m here to tell you those ten teams, why they have hopes of winning a national title, what’s holding them back, and the most realistic scenario as I see it come late March or beginning of April. These teams are ranked in reverse order from 10-1 with the #1 school holding the best cards in their deck.
Why they can win it all: Their floor leader and senior stalwart Jon Scheyer is the steadiest distributor in all of college basketball, evident from his incredibly stellar 3.28 A/T ratio and a 5.6 APG mark that ranks third in the ACC and 23d in the nation. Scheyer is also a deadly shooter coming off screens when he has time to square his body to the basket, nailing a career-high 39% from deep to go along with 44% from the floor overall. Duke is also a tremendous free-throw shooting team as a whole and Coach K has the ability to play a group of Scheyer-Kyle Singler-Nolan Smith-Mason Plumlee-Lance Thomas that doesn’t feature one player under 70% from the charity stripe. Duke also features a ton more size in the paint than during previous flameouts in the NCAA Tournament. When Singler plays small forward, Coach K can rotate Miles and Mason Plumlee, the glue guy Thomas, rebounding force Brian Zoubek and even Ryan Kelly at two positions with no player under 6’8. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more efficient backcourt in the nation than Scheyer and Smith. And it’s widely known that exceptional guard play is the ultimate key to winning in March.
What Makes Duke 2010 Different than Duke 2006-09?
Why they won’t win it all: Depth could certainly be an issue for the Blue Devils’ chances of raising their first banner since 2001. Andre Dawkins has fallen almost entirely out of the rotation and Coach K has started to limit Mason Plumlee’s minutes during important games. Also, Brian Zoubek’s tendency to immediately step into foul trouble limits his availability. It wouldn’t shock me to see Duke play Scheyer, Smith and Singler 40 minutes per game during their time in the NCAA Tournament. That could cause those key players, who rely primarily on their jump shot, to lose their legs and start throwing up bricks. Kyle Singler isn’t quite the superstar he was last season, either. Singler’s numbers are down across the board — scoring, rebounding, FG%, 3pt% — and he’s been dealing with a nagging wrist injury that may not improve in the weeks and months ahead. Duke also lacks the athleticism of teams like Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Texas. They could struggle with quicker guards like John Wall and athletic rebounders of the Damion James mold.
Likely scenario: I see Duke reaching the Sweet 16 as a #2 seed where they fall to a more athletic, quick group of guards that can explode to the rim and draw fouls. Duke may have height, but most of that height just isn’t a threat offensively by any stretch of the imagination. Eventually getting into a jump shooting contest could be the Blue Devils’ downfall if two of Smith, Scheyer and Singler go cold.
9. West Virginia
Why they can win it all:Da’Sean Butler is one of the best players in the nation when the chips are on the table. If the Mountaineers need a big shot to keep their season alive, Butler will demand the basketball and more than likely deliver. He’s downed Marquette and Louisville on game-deciding jumpers and led the second half charge against Ohio State. West Virginia is also supremely athletic and Bob Huggins’ teams always crash the boards with a tremendous ferocity. No contender can match the height across the board that West Virginia touts other than Kentucky. Huggins has experimented with lineups in which all of his players are 6’6 or taller, including 6’9 Devin Ebanks acting as a point-forward and 6’7 Da’Sean Butler capable of posting up smaller two-guards. Sophomore Kevin Jones is an incredible talent and a rebounding machine (7.7 RPG) that hits 55% of his shots from the floor and 44% from deep. West Virginia has the luxury of any of their forwards being able to step out and drain a mid-range jumper, from Ebanks to Jones to Wellington Smith to John Flowers every once in a full moon.
Ebanks is the X-factor for West Virginia
Why they won’t win it all: Let’s face it: Bob Huggins doesn’t have exactly the best track record when it comes to NCAA Tournament success. Huggins hasn’t reached the Elite 8 since 1995-96 with Cincinnati and only one Sweet 16 in the last ten years. In 2000 and 2002, his Bearcats lost just four games all season and yet didn’t reach the second weekend of March both times. Most also question whether the Mountaineers can hit outside shots on a consistent basis. They’ve struggled mightily in the first half of Big East games and can’t afford to fall behind against elite competition in March like they did against Dayton last season. Point guard play is a prudent question for West Virginia, as well. Joe Mazzulla is a quality perimeter defender and a capable distributor, but he’ll never be the offensive threat he was two seasons ago due to that shoulder injury. Darryl Bryant can certainly catch a hot streak shooting-wise, but in all honestly he’s more suited as an undersized two-guard. Bryant is averaging just 3.6 APG in 25+ MPG of action.
Likely scenario: I’m still fairly high on this team. I love Butler at the end of games and Ebanks can do anything for Huggins — from score to rebound to run the point — and Kevin Jones is one of the most underappreciated players in the Big East. In the end, I see a clankfest from outside ultimately costing West Virginia their season. And for all their rebounding history, the Mountaineers are in the mid-60s in the nation. The Elite Eight seems like a proper place for their season to conclude.
Why they can win it all: No team boasts better perimeter defenders than Texas. Anyone that watched Dogus Balbay completely shut down James Anderson in the second half Monday night knows he’s the best perimeter defender in the nation, even stronger than Purdue’s Chris Kramer. Avery Bradley came in with the reputation as an elite defender and he’s certainly lived up to that billing. Even J’Covan Brown off the bench is a capable defensive player and Justin Mason is a plus defender. When Dexter Pittman stays out of foul trouble, Texas boasts a legitimate shot-blocking presence that can negate quick guards on the rare occasion they slip past Balbay or Bradley. Texas is also the deepest team in the nation and Rick Barnes has the capability of playing 10 or 11 men on any night if he feels the need. The preserved minutes could pay dividends in the form of fresh players come March. Damion James should also be on a mission come March as a senior. He’s never reached a Final Four during his Longhorns career and came back for a fourth year in Austin to accomplish that very feat.
Game of the Weekend.#2 Kansas 81, #13 Kansas State 79 (OT). First, props to the K-State fans for stepping up on Gameday. They created an environment for this one that was as electric as any place we’ve seen this season. There’s no doubt their players felt the love, too. They needed to. If you think these teams thought this was just another game, think again. Sherron Collins was so amped up that he was dehydrated BEFORE the game started. Jacob Pullen was seen on two different occasions dry-heaving into a trash can at the KSU bench. If Kansas could manage a win in such surroundings, they’d be the presumptive #1 on Monday and would certainly deserve it. The first narrative hook came early when Bill Self yanked Cole Aldrich (18/11/3 blks) and evidently reminded him on how to use his size to eat up space on the inside, because he began to hit layup after layup and pull rebound after rebound. KSU stayed close even with Aldrich’s elevated play, but as the Wildcats’ shot selection began to fail them, KU built a five-point lead. This was quickly erased as Jacob Pullen began to get more touches, and KU’s halftime lead was a mere point. The Jayhawks managed to build it back to eight early in the second half, but KSU remedied that by settling for layups instead of bad looks from three, and by hitting the offensive glass HARD. After regulation time couldn’t decide it, and a neck-and-neck overtime, it’s only fitting that this game should be effectively decided by an incredible play by a big time player. With KU up by a point and thirteen seconds left, Sherron Collins — battling dehydration and muscle spasms the entire night — drove to the hole knowing he was going to take contact, knowing there was little chance he was going to land in any way except on his back, and banked in a lay-up for a three-point play. The Wildcats’ body language told the story. He couldn’t convert the free throw, but after a Cole Aldrich offensive board and two Brady Morningstar free throws (which proved to be vital, after Jacob Pullen drilled a long three at the buzzer), it was done. There were a few moments of celebration by the Jayhawks, but soon after, what you saw was more solemn pride and relief. True, there isn’t much difference between the one-loss teams at the top of the polls. But you can’t really have a three-way tie for #1, and the way the wins and losses have fallen — and after seeing what Kansas went through to win in Manhattan — the Jayhawks deserve the top position for now.
Collins and KU Will be Back at #1 (KC Star/Rich Sugg)
Finally, No Obama Jinx.#11 Georgetown 89, #7 Duke 77. Well, at least Duke shot 84.6% from the free throw line. And that’s because you can’t guard free throws. If you look at the numbers on this one, you might simply assume that the Hoyas “out-defended” the Blue Devils, since they held Duke to a 37% shooting day, including 31% (9-29) from three-point range. All due respect to the Hoyas, because that statement is formally true — in this case, though, it’s not profound. This wasn’t the Duke defense to which we’ve grown accustomed. If you were looking for that in this game, you saw it on maybe one of every five Georgetown possessions. Even more importantly, John Thompson III instructed his squad to be as selective with their shots as the admissions committees are with applicants at these schools. As a result, Georgetown took 16 fewer shots in this game than the Devils — but hit 72% of them (33-46), an unfathomable number against anyone, let alone Duke. All but maybe two of Georgetown’s attempts from behind the three-point arc were good looks, and they hit six of them (46%). What was it that forced Duke out of their usual game plan? Was it just Georgetown’s economical approach? The excellence of Greg Monroe (21/5/5)? The presence of Barack Obama and Joe Biden on the front row? RTC Live in the building? Hard to say. Maybe it was the fact that this wasn’t Cameron Indoor, since Duke has dropped four of the five true road games it’s played this year.
Welcome back, everyone! Boom Goes the Dynamite returns for the fourth weekend of the year with a blockbuster Saturday of games that are so good that we’re getting them up today as a reminder to join us tomorrow afternoon. With noon-to-night coverage and the fact that most of the country is completely frozen over again, we expect that you’ll be right there with us on the couch, eating a bunch of bad food and breaking down zone offenses. We hope to see you then!
Here are the games we plan on keeping an eye on…
12 PM: La Salle at #15 Temple on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com
12 PM: Marquette at #19 Connecticut on Big East Network HD and ESPN Full Court
12 PM: Louisville at #9 West Virginia on ESPN and ESPN360.com
1 PM: #7 Duke at #11 Georgetown on CBS – RTC Live
2 PM: #4 Syracuse at DePaul on Big East Network and ESPN Full Court
2 PM: Indiana at Illinois on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com
3 PM: FSU at Boston College on Raycom and ESPN Full Court
3 PM: #25 Northern Iowa at Missouri State
4 PM: Baylor at #6 Texas on Big 12 Network and ESPN Full Court
4 PM: #23 Vanderbilt at #1 Kentucky on ESPN and ESPN360.com A 4 PM: Arkansas at #20 Mississippi on SEC Network and ESPN Full Court
6 PM: Notre Dame at Rutgers on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com
6 PM: New Mexico at TCU on CBS College Sports
7 PM: #2 Kansas at #13 Kansas State on ESPN and ESPN360.com
7 PM: Georgia at South Carolina on Fox Sports (regional) and ESPN Full Court
7 PM: Northwestern at #5 Michigan State on Big Ten Network
8 PM: Providence at Cincinnati on ESPN U
9 PM: Utah at #10 BYU on Mountain Network
9:30 PM: #8 Gonzaga at San Francisco on Fox Sports (regional)- RTC Live
We will be dividing the day into three shifts with nvr1983 starting things off then rtmsf will handle the afternoon games before John Stevens takes you into the night with late night coverage of all the day’s big games.
10:50 AM: Apparently ESPN forgot to pay the electricity bill as the lights just went out on Jason Williams. (As a college basketball fan, I refuse to call him Jay. Jason Williams was a great player. Jay Williams crashed his motorcycle.)
11:00 AM: Dear College Students of America, This is how you show up for a College GameDay. I don’t want to call anybody out, but the Kansas State fans are crushing what I saw when I went to GameDay at UNC last year. To be fair, a game against in-state rival Kansas is much, much more important than a disappointing Miami team. This seems more like a College Football GameDay and that’s what we need for the basketball version too. Right now the pressure is on Illinois, Kentucky, Washington, Syracuse, and Duke to match this atmosphere when GameDay comes to town later this year.
11:10 AM: Does anybody have a link to where we can buy one of those Frank Martin t-shirts?
11:15 AM: According to the Kansas State website, the previous record for College Basketball GameDay attendance was 6,700 at Clemson last year before they played Duke. I haven’t heard an official number for today. Bramlage Coliseum holds 12,528 and I would think they are well over half full.
11:20 AM: Is Coach K advocating for abolishing the requirement for players to spend one year in college or wanting them to stay in school for more than one semester, which is all they really have to do to be eligible to play in their freshman year? It sounds more like the former. Jay Bilas is right that this issue is more a NBA/business issue.
11:22 AM: If you’re wondering who Hubert Davis and Digger Phelps are going to pick to win the Kansas-Kansas State game, their clothes might be a pretty good clue. Hubert is wearing a purple shirt and a purple tie. Digger is wearing a purple shirt and a purple tie and he he has a purple highlighter. . .
Big Monday, Not So Much. And this is why they play the games. On paper, the two ESPN games tonight looked like tremendous matchups with the potential of both going down to the wire. Didn’t really work out that way, though. Perhaps better luck tomorrow night…
It had an 80s Feel at the Dome Tonight (The Post-Standard/Gloria Wright)
#4 Syracuse 73, #7 Georgetown 56. It may not have been a classic, but the first matchup between the Cuse and Georgetown in twenty years with both teams residing in the top ten was certainly interesting. The Hoyas denigrated the Syracuse zone from the tip, jumping out to a 14-0 lead behind four threes and a layup that had the 25,000+ upstaters wondering when Jim Boeheim’s team was going to show up. The answer wasn’t long in coming, as Syracuse shook off the early doldrums and put together a 30-15 run of their own to take the lead before the half ended. From that point it was all downhill for JT3’s team, as the well with which the Hoyas had hit early jumpers ran dry throughout the rest of the game. The biggest problem for the Hoyas was that two of their primary scoring options — their star point guard, Chris Wright, and center, Greg Monroe — were completely ineffective tonight on the offensive end, scoring only fifteen points on 7-17 shooting (0-6 from three). Considering that Georgetown gets so much of its scoring from its starters (92%), they simply cannot afford off nights from these players (note: the Hoya bench contributed zero points tonight). As for Syracuse, their offense is incredibly efficient — in 15 of the Orange’s 21 games this year, they’ve shot over 50% from the field, and tonight was no exception (53%). They know what they’re good at and they force other teams to deal with it — most cannot, which means they better hope they’re having a strong shooting night against the confounding SU zone. Good luck with that. In terms of the Big East race, does this mean that Syracuse and Villanova are clearly the teams to beat? Hard to say because VU has had a very weak conference schedule to date, but we can state without equivocation that Syracuse is in the top tier of contenders.
#2 Kansas 84, Missouri 65. When Kansas plays team defense like they did tonight against rival Missouri, there is nobody in America who can beat them. Not Kentucky, not Texas, not Villanova, not Duke, not Syracuse. It’s a testament to just how dominant their D was tonight that the Jayhawks could turn the ball over twenty-three times (vs. four for Missouri) and still have absolutely no trouble with the Tigers, whom they held to 28% shooting. Imagine what it would have looked like if they’d been more careful with the ball. The KU defense of course starts and ends with Cole Aldrich inside, and he was spectacular, nearly earning a trip-dub with 12/16/7 blks. Marcus Morris continues to come on strong with a 17/9 night in his fifth straight game of double figures as well. Mike Anderson’s Tigers never got into any kind of offensive groove after an opening 8-3 run, as there was often a sense that Kansas had a sixth defender on the floor to get out on the Missouri shooters. Since the loss at Tennessee three weekends ago, the Jayhawks have yet to play another tough road game, but they’ll have their hands full with Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente on Saturday night in the Little Apple. It says here that the brief issues of focus that KU had, in part because of Aldrich’s family matters, are put behind them and will be tough to beat more than once the rest of the year.
Other Games of National Interest.
Western Carolina 100, Charleston 90. A wild offensive-minded game in the SoCon tonight, with Western Carolina giving Charleston its first loss in league play. Both teams put five players each in double figures, with the Catamounts hitting eleven threes and shooting 59% from the field while Charleston nailed a scorching nineteen treys on 57% shooting. The SoCon is more than likely a one-bid league this year, but with WCU possessing the scalps of Louisville and Charleston holding UNC’s, keep an eye on one of these two as a possible first-round darkhorse in March.
We’re a little past the halfway point of the 2009-10 season now, and we wanted to make sure that we had given the players who had performed at an elite level their due and propers with a little love from the crew here at RTC. Here is our 2009-10 Midseason All-America Team.
First Team (** unanimous)
John Wall** (G), Kentucky (17.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 6.8 APG, 2.1 SPG) – Wall has been the most electrifying and clutch player in America so far this season.
Wes Johnson** (F), Syracuse (17.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.8 BPG) – Johnson does it all for Jim Boeheim’s team, proving the cranky old man right.
Luke Harangody** (F), Notre Dame (24.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG) – the nation’s scoring leader isn’t just a bomber; he’s also in the top five in overall efficiency.
Damion James (F), Texas (17.3 PPG, 11.0 RPG) – James is the clear leader of a Texas roster brimming with talented players.
Evan Turner (F), Ohio State (18.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 5.5 APG) –Mr. Triple-Double (two this year) missed a month and still made it onto the first team.
Sherron Collins (G), Kansas (16.3 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.3 SPG) – Collins has proved his worth in late-game situations where he’s taken charge.
Cole Aldrich (C), Kansas (10.8 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 3.4 BPG) – Aldrich doesn’t get enough touches, but his impact on the game is invaluable to the Kansas attack.
Jon Scheyer (G), Duke (19.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 5.8 APG, 4.0 A:TO ratio) – Scheyer has proven he can handle Duke’s point guard duties exceptionally well.
Scottie Reynolds (G), Villanova (18.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.5 SPG) – Big Shot continues to improve, leading Villanova to 17-1.
Al-Farouq Aminu (F), Wake Forest (17.3 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG) – the Leap that we all expected from Aminu in year two has happened.
Da’Sean Butler (F), West Virginia (15.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.4 APG) – Butler’s superb numbers get crowded out by the other talented forwards in the Big East.
Quincy Pondexter (F), Washington (20.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.4 SPG) – it’s been a disappointing first half for UW, but not because of Pondexter.
Jarvis Varnado (F), Mississippi State (14.1 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 5.3 BPG) – the nation’s most feared interior presence continues to erase possessions for the opponent.
Patrick Patterson (F), Kentucky (16.3 PPG, 7.9 RPG on 63% FG) – Patterson is not as hyped as Wall or fellow big man DeMarcus Cousins, but he’s more efficient than both.
Jimmer Fredette (G), BYU (19.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.6 SPG) – Fredette’s elevated production has helped BYU get off to a fantastic 19-1 start.
Big 12 Home Teams No Longer Unbeatable. We saw the stat floating around on one of the ESPN360 feeds for the first time over the weekend, and by the early part of this week it was ubiquitous. Undoubtedly last week somebody in the Big 12’s stats department realized that the league’s home teams had only lost a single game all season (Northern Iowa’s victory at Iowa State in early December) and began marketing it as unassailable proof of the conference’s superiority. It’s a manufactured statistic, but anytime people start repeating such a meme it takes on a life of its own. By last night, after Kansas State and Colorado’s home wins to move the league to 114-1 on the year in their own buildings, you might have thought from listening to the announcers on the night’s games that we were in the midst of an epic realignment of the balance of power of the sport. Sigh… such is the 24-hour national news cycle. At any rate, tonight’s three games featured three really good Big 12 teams going on the road to a conference rival, and collectively those three teams — #1 Texas, #3 Kansas, Missouri — made mincemeat of that stat. Let’s not speak of it again.
#1 Texas 90, Iowa State 83. Texas’ freshman crew continues to impress, as they combined for 46/11/7 assts in UT’s 16th consecutive win to start the season. This game was close for about a half, but UT came out and wrested control of the game in the second half behind Avery Bradley’s scoring (16 of his 24 in the 2d) and if this kid is going to keep playing like his last two games (22-28 from the floor, 7-7 from three), then Kansas’ Xavier Henry is going to have some serious competition for Big 12 FrOY this season. Up next to stay unbeaten: rival Texas A&M at home.
#3 Kansas 84, Nebraska 72. Kansas found itself down double-figures very early on the road in this one, but the Jayhawks were able to stay composed and use their superior depth and experience to pull away from pesky Nebraska late behind turnovers and strong interior play. Cole Aldrich didn’t have a huge game (6/9/3 blks), but he didn’t need to, because Marcus Morris came off the bench to provide 19/7, including several timely plays during they key stretch where KU pulled away. Kansas doesn’t utilize the three-point shot to a great degree, but the Jayhawks hit thirteen tonight, including 4-5 from Sherron Collins (22/5 assts).
Missouri 94, Texas Tech 89 (OT). Mizzou used its fullcourt press to force 18 Red Raider turnovers and get a great game from Marcus Denmon off the bench (20/6) to win a key road game in Lubbock tonight. The Tigers very nearly blew it, though, letting an 11-pt lead slip away in the final four minutes of regulation and allowing the game to be sent to overtime on two FTs by Tech’s John Roberson. Then in the overtime period, it was Texas Tech’s Nick Okorie who had two FTs to give his team the lead, only to miss both of them with 20.4 seconds remaining and allowing Mizzou to hang on.
Clemson, You Simply Cannot RTC in This Situation!! #19 Clemson 83, #13 North Carolina 64. Surprisingly, this was over very early. Clemson came out and jumped on UNC with two large Trevor Booker-sized feet, and for the rest of the game the Tar Heels were one big turnover machine (25 total). Closest UNC came in the second half was 12. Booker’s 24/9/4 assts led Clemson to only their fifth win in sixteen tries against the Tar Heels, and their first since 2004. Message to Clemson fans: we at RTC agree that this was an important win and dealing with UNC has caused you some recent frustration. But you were FAVORED in this game, and UNC was only six spots ahead of you in the rankings. We hope you enjoy the win, because you deserved it. But this version of Gathering at the Paw (which we thought was a football tradition only) does not meet our criteria as a valid RTC. You simply cannot RTC when you’re the favored team!
Jamie Dixon, COY. #20 Pittsburgh 67, #15 Connecticut 57. On Tuesday night we saw Evan Turner inject himself right back into the Player of the Year race with his late-game tour-de-force in stealing that win at Purdue. Wednesday night gave us all a good look at a man who is likely the favorite for Coach of the Year (we just got some mean looks from people in Lexington) at this point — a certain Jamie Dixon of the University of Pittsburgh. Going to Hartford and playing Connecticut is a tough task for anyone, but getting UConn coming off a loss makes that trip even more treacherous. The Panthers didn’t care. They started the game by streaking to an early ten-point lead, immediately putting UConn on the defensive. The Panthers then led by 32-39 at the half and, even though they shot a tepid 39% from the field (23-59, and 4-12 from three-point range), held off the Huskies for the first part of the second half, causing the Hartford crowd to grow restless. Just like you knew they would, Connecticut then made their run, a 10-0 stretch that gave UConn a one point lead at 47-46. It was back-and-forth until the 5:00 mark, at which point Pitt took a lead (52-51) that they would not relinquish for the remainder. The stats show that Pittsburgh was able to hold off UConn by outrebounding them 26-13 in the second half and by hitting 17-20 at the free throw line. We say, however, that it was the intrinsic toughness of this Panthers squad that earned them this victory. To outwork UConn on the glass (both offensive and defensive) in their own building, to drive the lane and take contact with abandon in the way they did…that takes guts. And that’s a product of what Dixon has instilled in this team. If you’ve heard his players do interviews over the last couple of weeks, you’ve noticed that these Pittsburgh kids love talking about how great the chemistry is on their team and how much they’ve bought into Dixon’s mindset and vision for their squad. Everyone knows you have to have quality players (the “Jimmies and Joes”) to be competetive at all, especially in a cut-throat conference like the Big East. But team chemistry is the ultimate catalyst for success. Coaches can go whole seasons without having their players “buy into” what they’re trying to teach. Dixon has achieved this with a team that lost 60% of its scoring from last year and had been forgotten about by just about everyone up until they started their current seven-game win streak, the last three coming on the road in-conference against Syracuse, Cincinnati, and Connecticut. The Huskies now find themselves going out of conference to Michigan this Sunday, needing a win to stay ranked…and relevant.
There are some REALLY good games on tonight and many of them will be somewhere on the tube, so we figured tonight we’d step up with a special edition of our weekend live-blogging feature. To start off, we’ll be checking on Boston College at Duke (ESPN), Pittsburgh at Connecticut (ESPN2), and Cincinnati at St. John’s (ESPN-U), and we’ll branch out to other networks as well throughout the night. We want to know what you’re watching, as well. Keep hitting that refresh button and we’ll see you in the comments section. It’ll all start off momentarily…
7:03 pm ET: Wow, where to start? This is a ridiculous night of hoops. SO many games on, which is why we’re here. The first thing I notice is the wardrobe symmetry between play-by-play man Rece Davis (?!?) and Bobby Knight. Both in the v-neck sweaters. Is it good when Bobby Knight is influencing your wardrobe choices? I guess Rece can make it work.
7:07: Yeesh. Not exactly a good trip for Nolan Smith. A missed dunk and then a missed 10-foot jumper from almost behind the backboard. Meanwhile, over on the Big Ten Network, Minnesota is keeping up with Michigan State early; MSU has a 24-21 lead at the under-4 TVTO. I’m especially fired up for this UConn-Pitt game. Can Pitt continue this ascent after being basically forgotten about in the early part of this season? Up on the Huskies early in Storrs…
7:20: UConn looks like a YMCA club team. They’re straight up on defense, if you can call it that. At this point they seem severely uninterested. Pitt has guys moving on offense without the ball, talking on defense, etc. That’s how you build an early ten point lead on a team in their own house.
7:23: Maybe that Jerome Dyson dunk will get UConn going. UConn’s strategy is obvious, and that’s to run Pitt into the ground. UConn scored on four straight possessions so it looks like they’ve finally shown up mentally. But what’s this? Interesting score…South Florida up at home on West Virginia 23-12 over on ESPN 360 with about 7:00 left in the first. Virginia has an early lead on Georgia Tech and BC just got a NICE dunk by Reggie Jackson to go up one on Duke.
Each week RTC will posit a That’s Debatable question or topic that is relevant to the world of college basketball. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes serious, we’ll post the thoughts from our core editing crew (in 200 words or less), but we’ll also be expanding to include our contributors and correspondents as appropriate throughout the season. We also invite you, the readers, to join us as we mull over some of the questions facing the game today. Feel free to send us your takes and/or leave them in the comments below.
This Week’s Topic: It was Upset Weekend in college basketball, as more than half the ranked teams took a loss. What was your favorite part of the weekend?
nvr1983 – editor/contributor
Without question the best part of the weekend was watching depleted Tennessee “shock the world” on Sunday afternoon against #1 Kansas while most of the country was focused in on the awful NFL wildcard games (ok, the Green Bay-Buzzsaw game was pretty entertaining). Although Tennessee has managed to continue to disgrace itself (first Lane Kiffin’s football players now Bruce Pearl’s carful of idiots) the university can take some pride in Bruce Pearl’s six scholarship players and the handful of walk-ons that did suit up and play. While the upset showed us some of Kansas’s weaknesses that most people saw in their narrow victory at home over Cornell, the game was more important for what it showed us about the Volunteers, which may be an appropriate name for a team using so many walk-ons. Right now there might not be a more difficult to read team in the nation. And isn’t that part of what we love about college sports?
john stevens – editor/contributor
Are you kidding me with this? My favorite part of the weekend? Did you not readabout how I met Ashley Judd while on my assignment in Lexington for Kentucky/Georgia? Please. The woman shook my hand, looked me straight in the eye and spoke to me. What, you expected me to write something about Tennessee/Kansas? Get over yourself. Fine, if you need more of a basketball answer, for me the best part of Upset Weekend was playing the waiting game. Weekends like the one we just had occur once or maybe twice in a season. One of the coolest things about it is wondering what the next upset’s going to be as you move through the day. After a couple of early ones, you start wondering if you might have a true Upset Weekend on your hands, and then it happens. Teams just start falling, one after the other, in exciting games that often have incredible finishes. The trend spreads across the country like a virus and, as the upsets get bigger, the phone calls and text messages and tweets from friends and fellow hoop-lovers really start cranking up. That’s why this version of Upset Weekend was special: it ended with the biggest surprise of them all, with everyone watching. Hmmm. I wonder if Ashley enjoyed Upset Weekend…
Injured center Gregory Echinique announced that he is transferring from the Rutgers program, and one possible destination for the talented big man from Venezuela is Tom Crean’s Indiana program.
From last week, CBS/FSN announcer Tim Brando apparently (allegedly?) got into a bizarre email exchange with a Kentucky fan over his comments regarding DeMarcus Cousins’ elbow in the UK-Louisville game. It doesn’t seem real, but whoever wrote it trashes the SEC and the “limited knowledge” of Kentucky fans outside of their own team.
Midnight Madness on October 1 as well as a shortened regular season could come to fruition if the NCAA Board of Directors proposals are approved this week in Atlanta. Another key proposal is the elimination of the hire-the-AAU-coach loophole to get a top prospect to attend your school, which is a fantastic piece of legislation if you ask us.
BONUS: Late-breaking news but DePaul’s Jerry Wainwrightwill be removed as head coach today, according to Andy Katz. Wainwright seems like a good guy, and he’s had coaching success at the mid-major level, but he could never get it going there in Chicago.
Upset Weekend. Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. It was a great weekend of college basketball, with over 175 games of juicy goodness, starting with Friday evening’s Sunshine State battle of A-Sun foes Jacksonville and Stetson, and ending with tonight’s Civil War game in Eugene between the Ducks and Beavers. If you didn’t get enough hoops over the last 54 hours, then you probably need your head checked (our appt. is Tuesday morning). But let’s not get too excited about this weekend just yet. By our count, there were ten upsets involving ranked teams, and a host of others barely survived. But this is something we all knew was coming. It’s called life on the road in conference play (note: we realize, of course, Kansas was on the road in non-conference play), and it’s what makes the next ten weeks so much more fun than the previous ten. No longer will teams be able to play Holy Names and Penn Central and St. Augustanus to pick up easy Ws. No, they now have to face conference foes — the family — and like your nutty Grandma at the holiday dinner table, the family can be harsh in its brutal honesty. If your team has a weakness, the family will find it and exploit it. If your team has multiple question marks, your days of skating by with superior athletes and a friendly home crowd are over. If your team has been using smoke and mirrors to get it done this year, well, the seven years of bad luck are about to begin. This phenomenon happens every single year, and every single year we all get all fluttery and hyperbolic talking about the early upsets, but the fact of the matter is that there are no dominant teams in the 1-and-done era and truthfully the real surprise would be if we didn’t have great weekends of parity like this one.
Hopson Crushed It on Aldrich (credit: Saul Young)
Now, About That Kansas Thing. #15 Tennessee 76, #1 Kansas 68. This was going to be one of the tougher games of the season for Kansas regardless of the Tennessee personnel issues, but you can almost imagine Bill Self fretting about his team’s focus when he found out that 40% of the Vol offense would not be available for this game. There’s no question that Kansas has elite talent, but they’re not robots, and it’s understandable that all the news about the UT players might have led to a bit of a letdown. Bill Self referred to his team’s lack of aggressiveness as manifested in the worrisome fact that KU’s all-american center Cole Aldrich (7/18/4 blks) only took five shots in 30 minutes despite a considerable size advantage inside. Repeated post-ups in the halfcourt offense resulted in few touches for Aldrich, as Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor in particular were more interested in chucking threes and calling their own number throughout (20 and 11 shots, respectively). Tennessee, to its credit in using just six scholarship players and several walk-ons, kept hustling and scrapping for loose balls and hitting big shot after big shot every time it seemed that the superior KU talent was surging. Skylar McBee’s step-through three from the left side as the shot clock expired and UT up three very late was the stuff of legend (see below), and we doubt the walk-on marksman will be buying his own meals in Knoxville for many a year after he graduates.
In a game where the odds were repeatedly stacked against the Vols — the missing players, the foul trouble of Wayne Chism and JP Prince, the horrid FT shooting (15-29) — Pearl’s team was able to take to heart what has always made the colorful coach such an interesting guy. He sees himself as an underdog, but his teams only seem to take on that scrappy mentality when they are actually sitting behind the eight-ball. Tennessee always comes strong when they’re not expected to win — the game at Memphis in 2008, the wins over the national champion Gators in 2006 and 2007 — but it’s the games where they’re considered the heavy favorite that give Pearl’s teams trouble (last year’s two blowout Ls against struggling Kentucky come to mind). You could very reasonably argue that in the Vols’ two wins this week with six scholarship players (vs. Charlotte and the Jayhawks), they’ve looked better than they did when they went ten deep. The problem is that the underdog role can only be embraced and milked for so long, and there’s still an entire sixteen-game SEC slate ahead of them. Today was a tremendous, mood-lifting sort of win for the UT basketball program, but it won’t mean much if the Vols finish at 8-8 in the SEC East. Still, Bruce Pearl’s charges should be incredibly proud of themselves and by all means should stay away from rental cars and various weaponry after this big win (Pearl didn’t mention that, but he did mention complacency in his postgame speech below). Final thought: Scotty Hopson (17/4). Kid looked like a superstar today; his dunk over Aldrich was ridiculous. Keep it coming, young fella.
RTC Meets Ashley Judd. RTC editor John Stevens got to meet Kentucky Superfan Ashley Judd after Saturday’s Georgia game, and given that this may be a once-in-a-lifetime event, it deserves its own space. Here’s John:
I have to include the fact that I got to meet Kentucky alumna Ashley Judd at this game…and by “meet,” I mean shake her hand, stand beside her with my recorder (one of about 30 total) in her face, ask her a question, and smile dumbly at her like a mental patient who knows it’s almost pill time. Let me tell you something, folks. I don’t usually get star-struck (when you’ve sat behind Goodman, Bozich, DeCourcy, and Forde in a media room, hell, you’re ready for anything, heh), but when Ashley Judd looks you dead in the eye? Ballgame. Good night, everybody. Yes, she’s very attractive. But it’s not just that. She’s got that “star quality,” meaning that when she’s looking at you and talking, it’s morphine. You are tractor-beamed, and you’re very aware of it when your time is over. This is not something she’s trying to do, it’s something with which you’re born or you aren’t. They say politicians have this ability, too, though I doubt I’d feel the same effect if I were standing in front of, say, Strom Thurmond. As for my question, because she had been asked every possible hoops-related question by the 30 or so reporters around her, I asked her how that frenzy in the media room compared to the scene on a Hollywood red carpet. She replied like someone who, though she was glad her Wildcats escaped, was even happier to be home, even if temporarily. She smiled, thought for a second, and said with relish, “This is better! This is the blue carpet!”
Ashley is Happy to See RTC There
Moving On… Obviously, there were a bunch of other upsets this weekend beyond #1 Kansas going down, but we don’t have time to discuss them all so here are some of the key takeaways as we see them.
If you’re pretty much anywhere east of the Mississippi today, you’re cold. At least you are if you bother to venture outside. We’ve entered the pale and gray days of January, of course, which around here means it’s time to implement our favorite cure for our Seasonal Affective Disorder — college hoops. We’re not kidding, either. Nothing gets us through these days like watching (or attending) some fine college basketball, and what’s even better is interacting with other people out there doing the same thing. Not only will we be live blogging today’s slate of basketball games, but we’ve also got some of our correspondents attending games and cranking up the RTC Live from courtside (schedule at top left). So keep checking this space, get that refresh-button finger warmed up, and let’s hear what you’re thinking in the comments section, because it’s another BGTD for your Saturday. We’ll be back around noon to get things going. As the mercury plummets outside, this one’s not only fun for us…it’s necessary!
12:35pm: Great timing! As soon as we decided to light this candle, the internet connection tenders its resignation. But we’re back up now, it looks like.
12:37: The first thing I should mention is that we have someone courtside at UConn vs Georgetown for RTC Live, so while I might say a few things about that one, for now I’ll be focusing more on some of the other games happening. A link to the RTC Live for GU/UConn is above left, or just click here. UConn is currently spanking the Hoyas, 36-21.
12:44: Right now, St. John’s is looking pretty confident at Louisville, up 26-22. Man, that’s all Rick Pitino needs right now. A home loss in a Big East game. St. John’s is very patient on offense and the only threes they’ve taken have been virtually wide open, which is why they’ve hit 50% of them so far. Just under 3 minutes to go in the first half there.