So apparently the concept of amateurism still has some supporters in the college basketball world, and it probably won’t surprise you that one of its most ardent proponents is a head coach who has never shied from giving his honest opinion. Venerable Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheimtold the Post-Standard yesterday that the notion of paying student-athletes is “really the most idiotic suggestion of all time.” His tirade on the subject is well worth the read, and we highly suggest that you trudge through the entire thing this morning. Over the course of several minutes, Boeheim managed to come dangerously close to a Jim Calhoun-esque “not a dime back” moment when discussing his salary; he lobbed a grenade at Chris Webber’s illicit behavior while at Michigan; and he closed things out with an avuncular comment about people “just crying for a cause” [presumably Jay Bilas, whom Boeheim respects, is one of those whiners]. If you read nothing else today, read Boeheim’s diatribe.
Midnight Madness is still a couple weeks away at most schools, but no program’s fans in America take it more seriously than those at Kentucky. With tickets for Big Blue Madness set to release Saturday morning in Lexington, UK fans anticipating the “best recruiting class in 20 years” [according to Rick Pitino] have already built a tent city numbering 650+ domiciles outside the UK ticket office. Fans began lining up on Wednesday morning, some 72 hours prior to sale of the tickets (which are free, actually), and rumors are running rampant about the names of the star-studded lineup that John Calipari will have performing at Rupp Arena this year. For most fans, though, the only performers that will matter are the ones named Randle, Harrison (x2), Johnson, Young and Lee. Everyone in the college basketball world is anxious to see what this group can do.
If you need a head start thinking about the Wildcats, The Dagger‘s Jeff Eisenberg has us covered with a highlight post (along with translations) of John Calipari‘s recent Q&A with reporters (posted in its entirety on CoachCal.com). Eisenberg picked out what he calls the four most significant quotes from the head coach, and it’s clear that he’s well-versed not only in coachspeak but also in Caliparispeak. The most compelling quotes from our perspective were the first, where Calipari tried to explain/excuse last year’s disastrous season, and the third, where he skirts around the notion that Julius Randle could become a bigger version of the national championship team’s heart and soul, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. No matter how this year’s team turns out, Calipari’s mood is a lot different from the one we all witnessed last October when he was contemplating how to run his system without a reliable point guard.
Some tough luck out of the Colorado State program, as redshirt senior Jesse Carr, projected to be the team’s best returning player after losing all five starters, re-injured the ACL in his left knee on Monday this week. Given that he had already received a waiver from the NCAA to suit up for a sixth year, this injury effectively ends his college basketball career. Two seasons ago Carr contributed a nice all-around floor game of 7/3/3 APG as CSU earned its first bid to the NCAA Tournament in nine seasons. Now, head coach Larry Eustachy must try to make do with few experienced returnees, although Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year Jon Octeus is a fine place to start the rebuild.
Speaking of knee injuries, NBA superstar Dwyane Wade made some interesting comments on Wednesday about his ongoing joint issues. Specifically, he blames surgery that he had on his meniscus while at Marquette in 2002 for hampering his professional career. As he put it, the push at the time was simply to get him back on the basketball court as soon as possible: “the way you approach things was different.” His medical team didn’t take a long-term approach to his career, and he believes that removal of the entire meniscus 11 years ago has strongly contributed to the myriad problems that he’s had with the knee ever since. While we’re sure that every successful athlete thinks that they could be even better if XYZ had not happened, the fact remains that Wade has already had a HOF career with three world championships to his name. As Ball Don’t Lie‘s Eric Freeman writes, there’s no guarantee that a longer view of the injury would have resulted in an equally fulfilling career because so many other variables would have then been brought into play. And that’s true with any regret. Well said.
Louisville notched wins against Memphis, Missouri and Kentucky in their nonconference schedule, and their only blemish before New Year’s Day came against Duke in the Bahamas with an injured Gorgui Dieng on the bench. After dropping three straight losses in Big East play, the Cardinals won their last 10 games through the Big East Tournament, going 6-1 against the league’s top six teams since their January loss to Georgetown.
Rick Pitino enters the Tournament with a deep rotation (credit Brad Penner/USA TODAY)
Region: Midwest Seed: No. 1 Record: 29-5 (14-4 Big East) Matchup: v. North Carolina A&T in Lexington
Key Player: Gorgui Dieng erases mistakes on the defensive end and facilitates the offense in the half court when opponents key on Louisville’s guards. He’s one of very few Cardinals who didn’t play out of his mind in the Big East Tournament, and he’s the player Rick Pitino can least afford to have struggle in the Big Dance. His unique skillset makes him as much, if not more, indispensible than Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Dieng’s defense is almost always a known quantity, but it’s when he is forcing tightly packed defenses to respect his jump shot that Dieng makes Louisville’s set offense dynamic enough to sustain itself.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report from The MW Tournament in Las Vegas Wednesday afternoon.
Despite a Thomas & Mack Arena that would have been optimistically called half-full at the opening tip, there was plenty of buzz in the arena for a much-anticipated event. However, just two minutes into the first game between UNLV and Air Force, we were hit smack in the face with a low to match the high of tip-off. After grabbing a defensive rebound, Michael Lyons turned to head up court, had his pocket picked from behind by Bryce Dejean-Jones, and then collided with Katin Reinhardt at midcourt. He crumpled to the floor, immediately grabbed for his knee and did not get up. Several minutes later he was helped off the court by the trainers and was unable to put any weight on his leg, leaving little doubt that the Falcons would have to fight an uphill battle without their best player. The unfortunate injury to a team’s senior leader called immediately to mind the 2011 semifinals where, in the same game that Jimmer Fredette went off for 52, New Mexico’s senior point guard Dairese Gary tore his ACL early in the second half with his team having played BYU to a draw to that point. While Dave Pilipovich tried many different combinations of players from the Lyons injury forward (he played 12 different players in the first half), there was little doubt about the outcome.
Michael Lyons’ Excellent Collegiate Career Ended Too Early On Wednesday Afternoon (David Zalubowski/AP)
However, as UNLV continues to try to figure out their roles in anticipation of the NCAA Tournament, the Rebels got to spend the rest of the game in a glorified scrimmage working on stuff. One of the biggest changes was a new starting lineup featuring both Mike Moser (at the four) and Anthony Bennett (at the five). For the Rebels to live up to their vast potential, Dave Rice has to find a way to get production out of both of these guys – and preferably at the same time. Bennett’s first half minutes were limited by foul trouble (and stupid fouls, at that), but if UNLV is going to come up with a last-minute solution for these two, it probably involves that combination. They’ve tried Moser at the three plenty of times and his inability to consistently knock down the long jumper, take anyone off the dribble or rebound effectively out there has basically put an end to that experiment. But today there were promising signs, albeit against a seriously outmanned opponent. Against an Air Force team that only played one guy taller than 6’6″ in the second half, Bennett scored 19 points after the break and was spectacular at times, while Moser grabbed 10 defensive boards and looked as comfortable as he has all season with Bennett. The primary strategy in the half-court seemed to be starting with Moser and Bennett on opposite blocks, allowing them to set screens for each other and both be in position to crash the glass. Occasionally, one would float out to the three-point line – Bennett up top, where he hit a couple, and Moser to the corner, where he hit one – but against a smaller team, each was able to work effectively inside. Bigger tests await, but the Rebels continue to work on ironing out their offense. Also credit sophomore center Khem Birch for taking to his new role – coming off the bench – without missing a beat. In 19 minutes, Birch made all four of his field goal attempts, grabbed eight boards and blocked three shots.
This weekend marks the end of the decade-long Bracketbuster era — or experiment, depending on your perspective. Sadly, if appropriately, it looks like the event will go out with more of a whimper than a bang. Not a single game features a top 25 team, resulting in little hype for this year’s slate. But for true mid-major basketball fans, no top 25 ranking, or lack thereof, is going to dissuade them from devouring the late season, inter-conference action among the country’s best, under-the-radar-until-March teams. Here’s a preview of the five Bracketbuster games we’re most looking forward to, followed by an updated Top 10, our weekly honor roll, and the most compelling non-Bracketbuster games of the coming week.
Can Matthew Dellavedova And His Prominent Mouthpiece Lead the Gaels to a Much-Needed Win Over Creighton? (Las Vegas Sun / Sam Morris)
Creighton at St. Mary’s (6 pm, ESPN) — Both teams enter what is perhaps the premier Bracketbuster matchup with a great deal to prove. Creighton’s hot 17-1 start has given way to a rough 5-5 stretch, as the depth of the MVC has taken its toll. In four of those five losses, Creighton’s once unstoppable offense slowed to a pace of less than a point per possession. An at-large Tournamentbid remains a safe bet, even with a loss to St. Mary’s, but the Bluejays are no doubt looking to this game to reignite their offense and their season. St. Mary’s, on the other hand, is in desperate need of a quality win for its Tournament resume. Having been swept by Gonzaga, Saturday’s matchup is a virtual must-win for the Gaels. Both teams have highly efficient offenses that rely heavily on the three-point shot. Whichever defense can step up its game may emerge with the win.
Ohio at Belmont (10 pm, ESPN) – This should be a really entertaining game between two teams who love to run and gun. But for the colors of their jerseys, it may be hard to tell the two apart, as the Bobcats and Bruins have remarkably similar statistical profiles. Both are high-possession squads that shoot more than 40 percent of their field goals from three-point range and rank in the top 20 nationally in forcing turnovers. Both have high effective field goal percentages, but rebound poorly and allow their opponents to shoot far more free throws than they do. Toss in a great point guard matchup between seniors D.J. Cooper and Kerron Johnson, and you have the ingredients for a great nightcap to the day’s action.
South Dakota State at Murray State (8 pm, ESPN2) – Neither team is as good as it was last season, but both returned their star player. And it’s their matchup at the point guard spot, with Nate Wolters squaring off against Isaiah Canaan, that makes this a must-see game. The two players are the heartbeats of their respective team’s offenses. Each uses roughly 30 percent of all possessions, ranking them in the top 50 in the country. Wolters has been on a particularly nasty tear of late, averaging more than 33 points over his last five games, though two of his 30-plus efforts in that stretch were in defeat. Canaan, meanwhile, is coming off his own 35-point outburst in a win over Morehead State.
Detroit at Wichita State (4 pm, ESPN2) — Wichita State has bounced back from a recent three-game swoon with a four-game win streak that includes two close victories over Illinois State and Indiana State this past week. They’ll be the favorites against Detroit, but his game has definite upset potential. Detroit is on the upswing, winning six of their last seven, and developing a potent offensive attack with a multitude of options, from Ray McCallum’s attacking ability to Jason Calliste’s three-point shot to Nick Minnerath’s versatile inside-out game to Doug Anderson’s physical interior play. The Titans will try to push the tempo, while the Shockers will try to slow things down and pound the ball inside to their big men Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, who may find success against Detroit’s mediocre interior defense.
Denver at Northern Iowa (8 pm, ESPN3) — After a rough 4-6 start to MVC play, Northern Iowa has righted the ship and fought its way back to where we thought it would always be — at the top of the league standings, just a step behind Wichita State and Creighton. They face a Denver team that has flown a bit under the radar, recovering from a slow start to the season to win 13 of their last 14 games. A trip to Cedar Falls will be a test of just how far the Pioneers have come. Expect a low-possession, halfcourt-oriented game, with a steady barrage of three-point shots. The Panthers have a balanced attack, with five players averaging between 9 and 13 points. Denver will turn primarily to Chris Udofia, the versatile forward who is the hub of their Princeton offense.
And now on to our updated Top 10 rankings, weekly honor roll, and the (other) games we’re keeping an eye on …
Daniel Evans (@bracketexpert) is RTC’s new resident bracketologist. According to Bracket Matrix, he ranks as one of the top several bracketologists among those who have produced brackets for more than three years, including two seasons with perfect bracket projections. He updates the field daily on his site, Bracketology Expert, and will be producing a weekly bracket update here at RTC on Fridays. RTC Bubble Watch will publish on Sunday nights and Thursday afternoons for the rest of the season.
New in This Update:
The top seed line might finally be taking shape again. Duke, Indiana, Florida, and Miami (FL) appear to have put a touch of separation between themselves and the trailing pack. The one team to watch out for is Michigan State. The Spartans destroyed Michigan on Tuesday night and moved into their highest seed position of the year (#2 seed).
Creighton is driving me nuts. The Bluejays are now a #10 seed. At one point this year, I had Creighton as a #5 seed. Although it is hard to see them missing the field, Creighton has at least made it a possibility with its recent poor play.
Colorado State is the team on the rise this week. The Rams won a big game on Wednesday night against San Diego State, which dropped the Aztecs from the #5 seed they were at before the game. Illinois, who had barely been in the field a couple of weeks ago, is also rising fast now that the Illini are no longer five games under .500 in the Big Ten.
If there’s one team nobody can agree on, it is Virginia. The Cavaliers’ RPI is finally becoming stronger (now in the top 80). This team has six wins against the RPI top 100, which would usually be enough to get in during a season where the bubble is so weak. The problem is that the Cavaliers also have six bad losses, including three to the awful CAA.
Kentucky’s resume completely resets after Nerlens Noel’s ACL injury. If the Wildcats struggle down the stretch, they will not make the NCAA Tournament.
Selection Committee chair Mike Bobinski held a teleconference on Wednesday and made a great point about putting First Four teams in Dayton (or close to Dayton) for potential Second/Third Round games. In my brackets going forward, I will try do that as well. Look for those teams to be in Dayton, Kansas City, Auburn Hills, or Lexington on Selection Sunday.
I’m not sure what to do with Saint Mary’s just yet. The Gaels’ resume screams NIT right now and considering the only chances it had for a great win is now in the rear view mirror (0 for 2 vs. Gonzaga), the overall profile is not going to improve. However, everyone should keep in mind that the Selection Committee put Iona in last season’s field based off of the eye test and not on those Gaels’ overall profile. Could it happen again for another set of Gaels?
In the bracket below, Indiana and Duke would play in the Final Four. I realize this is against my actual S-curve order, but at this point I think you could throw all four No. 1 seeds in a hat and pick them one through four. I’ll wait for a little more of the season to play out before I put an extra half hour into changing out the regional pairings so that the best two teams won’t play until the national title game.
LAST FOUR IN: Boise State, Indiana State, California, Saint Mary’s FIRST FOUR OUT: Virginia, Stanford, Temple, St. John’s
NOTE: Projected conference champions (or auto bid winners) are in capital letters.
Jonathan Reed is an RTC Correspondent. He can be reached found on Big Sky Basketball or on twitter @bigskybball. He filed this report after last night’s Colorado-Colorado State game in Boulder.
When Spencer Dinwiddie called Colorado State the “little brother” earlier in the week, he knew he would have to back up those comments on the court. He sure did that last night in Boulder. Dinwiddie finished with a career high 29 points on 8-10 shooting, and at times he was the Colorado offense, particularly in the second half when they got bogged down. Dinwiddie said after the game that his comment was, “an analogy used… I didn’t mean it in a disrespectful manner.” Still, Tad Boyle followed that up with, “I gotta talk to Spencer a little bit about that… [We] have to be a little smarter about how we talk to the media.” [He did say it with a smile on his face]. Whatever extra motivation that Dinwiddie’s comment might have given Colorado State, it was more than balanced out by the great crowd and atmosphere.
Spencer Dinwiddie Backed Up His Commentary Last Night (Daily Camera)
With both teams now relevant in college basketball — each went to the NCAA Tournament last season and is likely to return this year — the rivalry brought out even more passion and intensity than normal. The crowd was a record for the Coors Event Center, with an announced attendance of 11,708 people (capacity is supposedly 11,064), and they were outstanding all evening long. They brought energy for 40 minutes, even breaking out a “Little Brother” chant in the first half. Everything that makes college basketball great in a live environment was on display.
And so it begins? The NCAA has fairly or unfairly taken a beating in recent months over its handling of just about everything from its use of player likenesses to academic scandals to jewelry purchases to replacement refs (ok, maybe not the last one). For the most part, the federal and state governments have kept their noses out of it, preferring to let the NCAA as a private organization operate under its own auspices. But with billions of dollars flowing through the nation’s top athletic universities via lucrative sports media deals, and a general sentiment held by the public that the NCAA fosters an environment of exploiting its student-athletes, California governor Jerry Brown on Thursday signed a bill called the “Student-Athlete Bill of Rights.” This new law, which by virtue of their size will only impact the four Pac-12 schools located in the Golden State, will require greater protections for the players at those schools in terms of medical coverage, scholarship guarantees, and due process. The law is the first of its kind in the nation, and other states are no doubt watching closely to determine if they want to follow suit. We’ll have more on this interesting and important topic later today.
Luke Winn has been in his Brooklyn-based math lab crunching the numbers in anticipation of the new college basketball season, and as always, his insights answer questions that most people didn’t even know they had. In his latest piece at SI.com, Winn explores the “exploitable gap” in balancing the scheduling of non-conference games for the purpose of maximum RPI juice while not particularly taxing the team in its bottom line (taking losses). He finds two case studies of “Scheduleball” to illustrate his point — Pittsburgh under Jamie Dixon, and Colorado State under Tim Miles — with each showing how the formula of scheduling top 50 and top 100 opponents and avoiding games against teams in the bottom 100 of the RPI is a key recipe for success. There are other ways to manipulate schedules to your RPI advantage, of course, but as Winn clearly argues, as long as the formula continues to use winning percentage as a proxy for schedule strength, there will continue to be flaws in the RPI system.
While we continue on the theme of smart people doing smart things, the US Supreme Court will reconvene for its October term on Capitol Hill next week. One of the most controversial cases that it will consider next month has gotten the notice of many head coaches around the game because the issue involves the holistic approach of using race as a factor in college admissions decisions. While the cynics out there might believe that the self-interested coaches are merely trying to protect their own players in their defense of affirmative action, the truth is that athletes are usually admitted through other loopholes anyway. But their interest in the law (last upheld by SCOTUS in 2003) is to ensure a diverse campus environment that their players will find welcoming beyond the basketball court. This can play a huge role in recruiting, especially when often dealing with athletes largely from minority communities. Oral arguments will occur on October 10 with a decision due next spring.
Alabama head coach Anthony Grant has gradually improved his Crimson Tide program since arriving in Tuscaloosa just over three years ago. His first team struggled, but he followed that up with an NIT runner-up finish in 2010-11 and an NCAA appearance in 2011-12, the school’s first since 2006. His teams get after it defensively and there’s no reason to believe given this recruiting and coaching abilities that the Tide will drop off from the NCAA level anytime soon. His bosses have noticed, as Grant was rewarded this week with a one-year extension through the 2018-19 season and a raise to $1.9 million per year (ahem, still well below Nick Saban’s $5.6 million per year deal). With many of the traditional “SEC West” basketball programs still in transition, Grant has a golden opportunity over the next five years to turn Alabama into the top program in that geographic slice of the conference.
We’ll finish with something from earlier this week on Ken Pomeroy‘s site. According to the stats guru, there were only 17 games last season where a team had less than a one percent chance of winning at any point during the game and came back to do so. The only game most of us were likely to have watched finished at #8 on his list — the early February Duke vs. North Carolina game in Chapel Hill — also known as the Austin Rivers shot game. With UNC up 10 points and 2:38 remaining on the clock, Pomeroy’s win probability states that the Blue Devils at that point only had a 0.62% chance to win the game. For those of us more accustomed to Vegas-style odds to make sense of the world, that converts to a 1-in-162 chance. And yet, “Duke would have just five possessions left and went 3, 3, 2, 2, 3 to finish.” And remember, that game represents only the eighth least likely comeback — get over there to read about the 16 others.
Last night the college basketball world was hijacked by announcements from Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel about where they would he headed next season. The news from Muhammad’s camp leaked before he could announce that he was headed to UCLA while the news out of the Noel camp was a little bit of misdirection as initial reports suggested he was headed to Georgetown when in fact he was headed to Kentucky. While the decision by Noel may help decide next year’s national championship, Muhammad’s arrival in Westwood could help save Ben Howland’s job as he should make the Bruins one of the best teams out west the moment he steps foot on campus. Of course, if they are not…
Let’s give it up for Gary Parrish, a voice of supreme reason. When Muhammad announced for UCLA last night, many college basketball fans around the country had trouble understanding why a top prospect would choose a program coming off a rough season where fan support is lukewarm at best rather than one of the more rabidly supported programs located in Lexington or Durham. But, as Parrish notes (and notwithstanding that two of the top 10 or so players in the NBA are Howland guys), the answer at least partially lies in the powerful influence that the major shoe companies have on elite prospects behind the scenes. Muhammad is an adidas guy and UCLA is an adidas program. But before anyone starts singing sour notes about this obvious example of subtle coercion, Parrish notes that it happens every single year with a number of top prospects. There’s perhaps no greater an example than NPOY and Final Four MOP Anthony Davis — a Nike kid who ended up at a Nike school just one recruiting season ago. If Parrish is reading this, we’d love to see a list of these ‘coincidences,’ from say, the last decade or so.
We wrote Tuesday that Baylorhad successfully played a compelling game of risk/reward in building its men’s basketball program to an elite level. The assumption underlying that thesis was that the NCAA would accept Baylor’s self-imposed penalties for exceeding mandated limits on phone calls and text messages to recruits from 2007-10 — the standard “probation” of recruiting restrictions as to time/place, loss of scholarships, etc. Sure enough, the NCAA did just that on Wednesday, accepting Baylor’s penalties and tacitly agreeing with our contention that the ends (recruiting enough studs to achieve two Elite Eights in three seasons) more than justify the means.
So let’s get this straight… Colorado State reportedly offered its open head coaching job to former Oregon head man Ernie Kent earlier this week, but it was nixed by an unknown high-ranking school administrator. So the back-up plan became to hire the guy who was once photographed partying with students while at Iowa State? We don’t know what the real story is here, and no disrespect at all is intended to Larry Eustachy (who has clearly turned his life around by doing well at Southern Miss), but goodness, something doesn’t smell right in Fort Collins. For what it’s worth, Kent says he was never offered the job by CSU and therefore it could not have been rescinded, but he also clearly wants to get back into coaching and it wouldn’t help his prospects to cause a ruckus over this situation.
Not every Pac-12 schools got good news on Wednesday. Well, Arizonagot both good and bad news, with Sean Miller’s program announcing that two players were transferring in and two others were leaving after the semester. The headliner is that Josiah Turner, a former top 10 recruit from the class of 2011, is leaving Tucson for a destination unknown — his freshman season was marred by suspensions and inconsistent play at the point guard slot. Junior center Kyryl Natyazhko is also leaving Arizona, choosing to head back to Europe to pursue professional opportunities there. The good news it that the Wildcats will welcome Duquesne transfer TJ McConnell, a rising junior who averaged 11 points, six assists and four rebounds per game last season, and Matt Corcheck, a junior college transfer who will have three years of eligibility remaining. With Turner, Alex Oriakhi, Trey Ziegler and several others transferring this offseason, it’s a good year to have an extra scholarship lying around unused.
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.
These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen (and maybe beyond).
Joe Ragland Point Guard Play Will be Key to the Shockers' Sweet Sixteen Chances
Wichita State (#5, South) – I’m a great fan of the Shockers, who finished the season atop our TO26 top 15 rankings. They have a balanced lineup that can do it all. Inside scoring presence? Garrett Stutz. Steady point guard play? Joe Ragland. Attacking guard? Toure’ Murry. Blue-collar enforcer? Carl Hall. Three-point marksmen? Ragland, Ben Smith, and David Kyles. And they back it up with a solid, steady defense. If this team has a weakness, it’s the lack of a single go-to player, which can come in handy in crunch time in March.
The key for the Shockers’ getting to the regionals may be slowing their games into halfcourt contests. They have a tough first-round draw against VCU and its frenetic defensive style. It will be a challenge to maintain calm amidst the storm that the Rams will bring – Murry in particular can play undisciplined — but if I had to make a call, I’d say that the Shockers will rise to the challenge and get the ball into the lane, where VCU is vulnerable. In the next round, Wichita State would likely face an Indiana team with a fast-paced offense, but somewhat softer defense that is susceptible to dribble penetration. Again, if the Shockers can slow things down and turn it into more of a halfcourt game, they could be on their way to the Sweet Sixteen.
Memphis (#8, West) – No team has a more legitimate grievance about its seed than the Tigers. They have steadily, but markedly, improved ever since a nearly two-hour closed door team meeting following a loss at Georgetown on December 22. Few have taken notice because it came mostly against C-USA competition, but during this stretch, the Tigers have gone 19-3, with their three losses coming by a combined total of 6 points. Oh, and freshman standout Adonis Thomas just returned to the lineup.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences, and a Pac-12 microsite staffer.
A Look Back
After a 39-10 start to the season, highlighted by UNLV’s 7-0 start and win over the nation’s then #1 team, North Carolina, the Mountain West was getting some love around the country. As a result, this week’s 10-4 record, with all four losses coming as a part of the MW/MVC Challenge, including a 19-point loss for those same Runnin’ Rebels to Wichita State, had to seem as something of a step back for the conference. The MW/MVC Challenge technically ended in a 4-4 tie (I say technically, because Boise State’s 44-point thrashing of Drake on Wednesday night was not included as a part of the challenge) after the Mountain West had won eight of the nine games in last year’s inter-conference battle. Aside from the UNLV game, San Diego State also took a tough loss on Wednesday night, blowing a 17-point first half lead in a loss to Creighton, although the Aztecs did bounce back with a hard-fought win over Cal on Sunday.
Team of the Week
Larry Shyatt Has Wyoming Pointing Forward (Star-Tribune, Tim Kupsick)
Wyoming – Larry Shyatt’s Cowboys aren’t the best team in the Mountain West. They may not even be in the top half of the conference. And certainly their 8-1 record is built entirely on wins from the bottom half of Division I. But given that we’re talking about a team that was an absolute mess last season, a team that lost to South Dakota and UC Irvine, North Florida, and Northern Colorado, this 8-1 record (and a six-game winning streak for the first time in nine seasons) truly shows serious progress. Last year the Cowboys were a turnover waiting to happen, giving away the ball on 21% of their possessions, good for #236 in the nation. Thus far this year, led by point guard JayDee Luster who has turned the ball over just five times against 37 assists, the Cowboys are #35 in the nation in turnover percentage, giving it away on 17% of their possessions. Last year the Cowboys allowed their opponents to shoot an 52.9% eFG from the field; this year that number is just 40%. Last year, Wyoming allowed its opponents to grab 33.7% of their offensive rebound opportunities; this year that number is down to just 28%. In short, under Shyatt the Cowboys have made significant progress in a short time, and while those numbers will almost certainly worsen once they get into conference play and compete against better athletes, this program is certainly on the right track.
Player of the Week
Hank Thorns, Sr, TCU – In lieu of giving credit to the entire Horned Frog team for their 2-0 week and 6-2 start to the season, we’ll give the nod to Thorns over a host of worthy contenders across the conference (apologies to Mike Moser, Chase Tapley, Drew Wiley and Wes Eikmeier). Thorns has led his Horned Frogs in assists in each of their eight games this season, and Saturday at Evansville he absolutely refused to let his team go home a loser. Thorns hit a three with 20 seconds left in regulation to tie the game up and send it to overtime, then hit the game-tying and game-winning baskets – the last with just two seconds remaining – to give TCU the win.
Tonight’s Lede. Big Ten Does It Again. Day two of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge finished in the same way as the first — with a Big Ten beatdown. The midwestern-based conference rode wins from Michigan State and Minnesota at home along with Penn State and Indiana on the road, to notch another 4-2 night and win the event convincingly, 8-4. Four of those eight victories this year came on ACC hardwood, showing that Big Ten teams can pick up victories in hostile environments regardless of location. It’s difficult to draw too much from late November events like these, but the eye and sniff test in watching pieces of the twelve games over the last two nights is highly suggestive that the Big Ten appears to go seven or eight teams deep this year for NCAA Tournament consideration, while the ACC looks to be in the neighborhood of five or six. As our columnist Evan Jacoby wrote in Night Line last night, the Big Ten has unquestionably earned the right to hold the mantle as the top conference in college basketball a few weeks into the season. The ACC appears to be in the mid-pack, perhaps as high as third but also maybe the worst of the five power conferences (the Pac-12 has some work to do to earn our good graces again).
Your Watercooler Moment. Double Overtime in the Thunderdome.
How Jacked Up Does the ThunderDome Look? (h/t @amurawa)
That’s right, we’re passing on the #4 North Carolina vs. #7 Wisconsin snoozer in favor of a high-intensity, mid-major game that went two overtimes and featured enough twists, turns and amazing plays to outdo the entire ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Luckily, our man Andrew Murawa was there for all 50 minutes of the action. Here’s his report (and some highlights from the UCSB side here).
Montana traveled to Colorado State on Friday night in a game that did not garner much national intrigue (the Rams beat the Grizzlies, 64-58). Neither team made the NCAA Tournament last season and they will be fighting tooth and nail to make it this season. Montana is predicted second in the Big Sky heading into the season, and Colorado State is projected as the fourth best team in the Mountain West. However, the game did feature of the best young mid-major coaches in all of college basketball.
Tim Miles Has CSU Moving in the Right Direction (AP/L. Boomerang)
Colorado State is coached by Tim Miles, who at age 45 is beginning his fifth season in Fort Collins. He began his Division I coaching career at North Dakota State, where as head coach of the transitional team (they are now Division I), he took NDSU into then #12 Wisconsin and won (2006), and then into #8 Marquette and won (in 2007). He left after a 20-win season, and two years later the players he recruited went to the NCAA Tournament.
His CSU career started somewhat rocky, as the Rams went winless in his initial Mountain West campaign. They have improved every year, however, and they were a bubble team last year after going 19-13 in a Mountain West Conference that included powerhouse teams at BYU and San Diego State. He is an energetic and charismatic guy (example: I talked to him after the game and told him I went to North Dakota, a rival of NDSU. He responded with, “Did you lose a bet?”). His players enjoy playing for him, and he has a player’s style. Wes Eikmeier, CSU’s leading scorer, took a couple of questionable shots late in the game, and Miles responded by saying he was comfortable with those shots because if Eikmeier felt like he could make them, then he should take them. That’s what players love to hear. He will get Colorado State to the Tournament either this year or next year, and then larger schools could come calling.