RTC Weekly Primer: Regular Season Championships and Potential Cinderellas

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 3rd, 2015

The bubble is everywhere. You can’t escape it. Pick any site that covers college basketball, and one word inevitably appears when you visit it: “bubble.” Blind résumés are all the rage; Joey Brackets has taken over our TV screens; coaches inevitably plead with the Selection Committee in postgame press conferences. The bubble consumes us all. But as we hit the home stretch of the regular season, it’s important to not lose sight of what’s going on outside of those 15-20 teams that comprise the globule of uncertainty. Sure, it’s nice to make the NCAA Tournament, but just getting there only to get blown out doesn’t compare to winning championships. Winning the NCAA Tournament is the ultimate goal for any Division I program. Reaching a Final Four is a close second. The third and most attainable in the hierarchy of goals, though, is to win a regular season conference championship.

These Guys Know Something About Conference Championships (USA Today Images)

These Guys Know Something About Conference Championships (USA Today Images)

Regular season championships have become criminally devalued. Conference tournaments get all the buzz and corresponding attention because it is through those that teams punch their tickets to the Big Dance. But anybody can get hot and make a three- or four-game run next week. True champions are crowned over the course of a couple of months of games. This year we enter the final week of the regular season already with three outright champions among the power leagues: Kentucky has locked up the SEC; Virginia clinched an outright ACC title on Monday night; and Villanova is your Big East champion. Kansas has already clinched at least a tie in the Big 12, and barring something unforeseen, Wisconsin and Arizona are on track to win their respective conferences too. There are a few others, however, that should garner some of your attention.

  • AAC. The watered-down AAC has been pretty poor this year but it could end up with as many as four NCAA Tournament teams. Two of that group — Tulsa and SMU — are in contention for an outright conference title. The Golden Hurricane have been the surprise package, sitting atop the standings at 14-2. SMU, the preseason favorite, sits a half-game back at 14-3. Tulsa hosts Cincinnati on Wednesday before the perfect scenario could play out in Dallas on Sunday: Tulsa at SMU. The winner will be the top seed in the AAC Tournament in Hartford, and if Tulsa falls to the Bearcats in the midweek, this weekend’s game will be for an outright title.

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Circle of March: Vol. I

Posted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2015

Welcome to the fourth annual Circle of March.

If you’ve been around with us for a while, you already know the premise behind this series; and if you’re not familiar with it, thanks for checking in! What we try to do with this series is to celebrate that March is now here and it’s time for postseason basketball to envelop our bodies and souls for the next five weeks until the sport crowns a new champion. As of today — the first Monday of Championship Fortnight — 333 of the nation’s 351 Division I men’s programs are eligible to win the 2015 National Championship. Those schools can be found somewhere on the below circle. Eighteen other schools are ineligible for the NCAA Tournament because they have low APR scores, are on a self-imposed probation, or are still transitioning into Division I. We have already removed those names and wish each of them the best of luck in making it onto the CoM in future seasons. Because we want every eligible team to get at least one day of run on the Circle, though, we have chosen not to formally remove any of the other already-eliminated schools until Tuesday’s Vol. II edition ahead of the start of conference tournament games. Bubble teams also won’t be removed until they’re officially disregarded by the NCAA Selection Committee in two weeks. It just seems nicer this way.

In previous years you might recall we added a game component to Volume I of the CoM (scroll through the last three Circles of March here). This year’s version is no different and so we’ve once again added a crossword puzzle element to it. See if you can locate the 10 names of coaches and players hidden within the Circle likely to make some noise in March (note: make sure to click on the image for a larger and clearer view). The first 15 people who tweet at us (@rushthecourt) or e-mail us (rushthecourt@yahoo.com) with the 10 correct hidden words will receive a free RTC t-shirt. For a bonus challenge, there are also four groupings of schools surreptitiously clustered in areas of the CoM that refer to the following: 1) the unbeaten national champions; 2) the schools currently riding a streak of two or more consecutive automatic bids; 3) the national champions with 10 or more losses; 4) the __________ (see if you can figure out the fourth cluster — it relates to NCAA Tournament appearances and Final Fours). Have fun!

Here is the 2015 Circle of March. Welcome to March Madness.


Maybe next year for this group.

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The RTC Podblast: Mountain West Tournament Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 12th, 2014

The regular season is over, Championship Week is here, and it’s now or never for all of the teams that have talked a rather big game but haven’t necessarily backed it up with their play on the court. To that end, we’re going to be rolling out nine RTC Podblasts this week, one to preview each of the seven power conference tournaments as well as the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West (to scroll through all that have been released, click here). In this, our Mountain West Tournament edition, RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) and Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) join us to discuss what appears to be a two-horse race in Las Vegas. The Big EastAACSEC and Big 12 Tournament pods were released on Monday, and the Big TenPac-12 and ACC Tourney previews came out yesterday. Today we finished off the series with the Atlantic 10 Tournament pod and this one. Enjoy!

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record.

  • 0:00-3:09 – San Diego State’s Place in the National Picture
  • 3:09-9:04 – Boise State, UNLV and the League as a Whole Disappoints in 2014
  • 9:04-11:48 – Mountain West Superlatives
  • 11:48-13:42 – The Inevitability of San Diego State-New Mexico, Part III
  • 13:42-16:14 – What to Expect In a Potential Aztec/Lobo Rubber Match
  • 16:14-18:15 – MW Tournament’s Impact on NCAA Tournament
  • 18:15-20:35 – San Diego State and New Mexico’s Chances For a NCAA Tournament Run
  • 20:35-22:12 – Best Parts of the MWC Tournament
  • 22:12-25:17 – Final Thoughts on a Week of Hoops in Vegas
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The RTC Podblast: Atlantic 10 Tournament Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 12th, 2014

The regular season is over, Championship Week is here, and it’s now or never for all of the teams that have talked a rather big game but haven’t necessarily backed it up with their play on the court. To that end, we’re going to be rolling out nine RTC Podblasts this week, one to preview each of the seven power conference tournaments as well as the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West (to scroll through all that have been released, click here). In this, our Atlantic 10 Tournament edition, RTC microwriter Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) joins us to discuss the week ahead in Brooklyn. The Big EastAACSEC and Big 12 Tournament pods were released on Monday, and the Big TenPac-12 and ACC Tourney previews came out yesterday. Today we’ll finish off the series with this blast and the Mountain West releasing a bit later. Enjoy!

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record.

  • 0:00-4:33 – Measuring the True Talents of Saint Louis
  • 4:33-6:35 – Which Team Is Actually the Best?
  • 6:35-8:50 – Surprise Teams in the A-10
  • 8:50-10:58 – LaSalle Falls Victim to Sweet Sixteen Hangover Season
  • 10:58-14:23 – First Team and POY Discussion
  • 14:23-21:00 – Teams Outside the Top Two That Can Make a Run
  • 21:00-21:01 – What the A-10 Bubble Teams Need to Do
  • 23:01-25:03 – A-10 Loses Teams and Keeps on Ticking
  • 25:03-26:26 – Dayton’s Potentially Curious NCAA Tournament Situation
  • 26:26-29:35 – Final A-10 Tournament Thoughts
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Circle of March, Vol. V

Posted by rtmsf on March 7th, 2014

With four days of Championship Fortnight now behind us, we have breached the magical 300-team mark. As of this morning, some 298 teams are unofficially still alive for the 2014 national championship, represented below on the Circle of March. Nine tournaments are in varying stages of progress at this point, with the CAA and SoCon tipping off today. Yesterday we removed only 11 teams from the CoM, but with nearly every league finishing up its regular season this weekend and a number of tourneys picking up fast and furiously, we’ll get below 200 in no time. Note: In order to respect the integrity of the regular season, we will not remove teams until their schedules are finished regardless of their current status (i.e., as of today, six Ivy League teams cannot win the conference’s automatic bid).

circlemarch_3_6 Teams Eliminated From National Title Contention (03.06.14)

  • Monmouth
  • East Tennessee State
  • Tennessee Tech
  • Drake
  • Fairfield
  • USC Upstate
  • Portland
  • Bradley
  • Southeast Missouri State
  • Marist
  • Santa Clara
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Conference Tournament Primer: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 6th, 2014

Day four of Championship Fortnight means three more conferences tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the next two weeks of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s conference tournaments. Today, the MAAC, MVC and WCC get started.

Dates: March 6, 8-10
Site: MassMutual Center (Springfield, MA)


What to expect: The highest seed has not won this tournament since 2010, but that could change this year with Iona atop the league standings. The offensive-minded Gaels have advanced to the Big Dance in each of the last two seasons – including as an at-large bid in 2012 – and look poised to make a return, winning 13 of their final 14 games and playing steady, efficient basketball along the way. The one loss in that span was to Manhattan, the Gaels’ most likely challenger in Springfield. George Beamon’s 20 points per game leads the Jaspers offensively, but it is on the defensive end where Steve Masiello’s squad has the distinct advantage – center Rhamel Brown is a long, game-changer in the paint who boasts the highest block rate in the country. If Manhattan and Iona meet up in the conference championship on Monday night, it will be must-watch television. And don’t ignore Canisius, either — the team’s electrifying point guard, Billy Baron, averages more than 25 points per outing and is capable of catching fire at any moment.

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The RTC Podblast: Other 26 Conference Tourney Preview Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 4th, 2014

Welcome to March Madness. With the tip-off of the opening round games of the Patriot League Tournament on Monday night — hey, Colgate and Lafayette — Championship Fortnight is already here. To prep ourselves for all of the action among the nation’s Other 26 leagues, the RTC Podblast crew welcomed O26 microwriters Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) and Adam Stillman (@adamstillman87) to walk us through some of the top storylines to follow both this week and next. The guys had a good discussion about whether Wichita State will ultimately #cheerfortheears at Arch Madness, which tourneys might produce the most interesting match-ups, and named some players to keep an eye on as we ultimately head toward the NCAA Tournament. Among other things. If you’re at all interested in the non-power leagues, definitely give this preview a listen!

We’re going to be dropping podcasts/podblasts like crazy over the next five weeks of action, so make sure to subscribe to the show on iTunes so that you’ll get all of the episodes immediately downloaded to your listening device.

  • 0:00-4:03 – #cheerfortheears – Three Games Left
  • 4:03-8:55 – Top Five O26 Teams
  • 8:55-10:25 – Conference Tournaments To Be Excited About
  • 10:25-12:03 – Another Year, Another WCC Championship for Gonzaga?
  • 12:03-13:42 – Leagues Primed For Some Conference Tournaments Upsets
  • 13:42-15:38 – Championship Match-Ups to Hope For
  • 15:38-17:33 – Potential Bid Stealers
  • 17:33-19:34 – Future Cinderellas
  • 19:34-21:55 – Players the Nation Will Fall in Love With
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SEC Tournament’s Semi-Permanent Move to Nashville Good For Some Schools

Posted by rtmsf on October 15th, 2013

According to reports from sources within the SEC, the league will announce today that it plans on making Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena the semi-permanent home of the SEC men’s basketball tournament. Why is it semi-permanent? Because the conference has already awarded several upcoming years to Atlanta (2014, 2020), Saint Louis (2017) and Tampa (2018), to go along with previously-established plans for Nashville to host in 2015, 2016 and 2019. What today’s announcement changes is that the Music City will also host the league’s marquee basketball event for a six-year run from 2021-26, meaning that nine of the next 13 SEC Tournaments will take place on the banks of the Cumberland River. Semi-permanent, indeed.

Ole Miss Won Its 2013 Title In Front of a Sparse Crowd

Ole Miss Won Its 2013 Title In Front of a Sparse Crowd

SEC commissioner Mike Slive mentioned last spring that the conference was exploring the notion of holding the SEC Tournament at a “primary” location in much the same way that Atlanta hosts the annual SEC Championship in football, and Hoover, Alabama, hosts baseball’s version of the SEC Tournament. Athletic directors and league officials at the time pointed to the sustained success of those events as the driver toward consolidation of the event in a single, primary venue, but the league’s dirty little basketball secret remained unspoken among public officials. Unlike SEC football, whose cultural hegemony vacuums up year-round fan and media attention in the deep South from College Station eastward all the way to Columbia, SEC basketball outside of a few select schools remains mostly an afterthought. Nashville as the primary SEC Tourney site makes sense not only because the city really embraces the event and provides a superb downtown “fun zone” that allows fans a great weekend experience, but also because it’s a relatively easy driving trip for the few schools’ fans that will show up because they at least marginally care about basketball (we’re talking about Kentucky, Missouri, Vanderbilt, and sometimes Tennessee and Arkansas here).

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Morning Five: 05.11.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 11th, 2012

  1. One of the last remaining longtime traditions in Division I college basketball will stay intact with the news released Thursday that the venerable Ivy League will keep its automatic NCAA Tournament bid reserved for its regular season champion. The league had been bouncing around the idea of adding a conference tournament (as every other D-I league has now done) in pursuit of the marquee ESPN broadcast slot during Championship Week and obvious revenue boost. Reasonable minds prevailed this time — after all, the Ivies aren’t exactly hurting for dollars — but Dartmouth was so angry about the decision that the boys from East Hanover are reportedly contemplating a move to replace Butler in the Horizon League.
  2. The NCAA is a tradition-rich organization, but in recent years we have to give them credit for exploring ways to make the NCAA Tournament on its 75th anniversary more fan-friendly. Their latest idea to move both the D-II and D-III championships to the same location as the Final Four (Atlanta in 2013) is a good one. The Sunday between the Final Four and National Championship game is a long, empty one for college basketball junkies, so adding another element of competitive hoops to help fill the time will without question be a success. On the same topic, if you’re interested in leading the direction of the NCAA Tournament for years to come, they’re now accepting applications for the VP of the men’s and women’s tournaments. We’re sure that they’ll get a surplus of strong candidates, but if you care about the future of the best event in all of sports (and we know you do), get creative and throw an app their way.
  3. We’re written about this topic so many times that we’re frankly just exhausted thinking about it any more. But on Thursday the NBA Player’s Association responded to NBA commissioner David Stern’s prior comments about the NBA Draft eligibility rule — colloquially known as the 1-and-done rule — and in summation, they want something in return for raising the age to 20 years old. In other breaking news, water is wet, the sun shines, and gay North Carolinians still can’t marry each other. Snark aside, the NBAPA seeks an increased rookie pay scale and some kind of incentive system for players who stay in school longer, with the argument being that 18- and 19-year olds are giving up two prime wage-earning years if they’re not allowed to play on bad teams mired in the draft lottery. The reasons are obvious why such an increase is good for the NBA, for college basketball, and for the players themselves, but if you’re really interested, here’s our missive on the topic from a couple of years ago.
  4. We all heard a couple of nights ago about the NCAA taking a closer look at the eligibility of Nerlens Noel before he heads off to Kentucky later this summer, another stark example of a player with a coterie of followers surrounding him that may or may not have his collegiate eligibility at the forefront of their minds. In a well-argued piece, Jeff Borzello at CBSSports.com writes that the NCAA/Noel situation is simply another in a long and ongoing string of inquiries that the governing organization must deal with in an era where so many people handling/helping/assisting/counseling/advising elite prospects are difficult to track. “Nearly every high-major recruit could fit in that category,” he writes, and fans of schools who recruit elite players really should give up the persecution act and recognize that the system of AAU basketball combined with a 1-and-done mentality has created this particular, unfortunate reality.
  5. The NCAA released its attendance figures for the 2011-12 season yesterday, and there were a few notable tidbits from last season’s action. John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats set a new record for total attendance in a single season (including home, road, and neutral games), with 885,953 fans watching the team over its 40 games. This total defeated a 23-year old record by 1989 Syracuse, when 855,053 fans over 38 games watched the Orangemen led by Sherman Douglas and Derrick Coleman rumble to an Elite Eight finish. The usual suspects remained as the top home crowds (#1 Kentucky, #2 Syracuse, #3 Louisville, #4 UNC), but the biggest year-over-year increase last season belonged to Creighton, who, with All-American sophomore Doug McDermott as a draw, added over 3,000 more fans per contest at home in 2011-12. For all the numbers, check out the NCAA’s report here.
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Welcome to Championship Fortnight: 14 Days of Elimination Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on February 27th, 2012

Unbelievably, even though the calendar reads February 27 and March is still a full 60 hours away, Championship Fortnight begins tonight in Lexington, Virginia, and High Point, North Carolina. The Big South Tournament opening round tips off this evening with two games hosted at VMI and High Point versus Radford and Gardner-Webb, respectively. Tomorrow night the Horizon League Tournament will tip off with games at Butler, Detroit, Youngstown State, and Milwaukee. In all, 16 different conferences will begin their tournaments this week, but only four will crown their champions by next Sunday — the Big South, the OVC, the Atlantic Sun, and the Missouri Valley. The full schedule of each round through next Sunday is below.

If you buy into the theory that (almost) every team has a shot to win it all through its conference tournament’s automatic bid, over the next 14 days we’ll whittle down roughly 321 contenders to the ballyhooed 31 AQs along with the chosen 37 at-larges. Even if you don’t care about that, it’s still worth noting that we start elimination-style, win-or-g0-home basketball as of tonight. No matter the month, that’s always a good thing.

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Championship Fortnight: Introducing the Circle of March

Posted by rtmsf on March 1st, 2011

Conference tournaments start tonight, as both the Big South Conference and Horizon League tip things off with opening round postseason action.  As of right now, there are approximately 325 teams still “alive” for the 2011 national championship.  Each of their names is somewhere below in the Circle of March, as we’re calling it.  When a team is formally eliminated, either through a loss in their mid-major conference tourney, a discharge by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, or a subsequent defeat in the NCAAs, we’ll remove its name from our circle.  On April 4, there will only be one team left from amidst this chaos — see if you can find which one. 

To celebrate the start of the postseason, we’ve also put together a nice little chart to help you follow along.  The next thirteen days — a/k/a Championship Fortnight – will without question be wild as teams play their way in and out of the NCAA Tournament picture and correspondingly exhibit the heartache and unadulterated joy that goes along with the beauty of March Madness. 


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Backdoor Cuts: Vol. XII

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2010

Backdoor Cuts is a weekly college basketball discussion between RTC correspondents Dave Zeitlin, Steve Moore and Mike Walsh that occasionally touches on relevant subjects. This week the guys debate the merit of conference tournaments — and you can guess where the Ivy Leaguer stands.

DAVE ZEITLIN: Let me start by saying that I love everything about March. The weather is better. The food is tastier. People are friendlier. Even this German kid is less annoying. Such is the power of college basketball. From the first day of the conference tournaments until the final lyric of One Shining Moment (which is, as you probably guessed, “one shining moment”), wall-to-wall college hoops takes a hold of you and doesn’t let go until your eyes are bloodshot, your voice is hoarse and all your dreams are of Digger Phelps’ ties. And if I just made watching college basketball sound creepy, that wasn’t my intention. Everything about March Madness is perfect. Well, almost everything…

You guys may disagree, but I think conference tournaments need to be changed. More specifically, I find it unfair that automatic NCAA bids go to conference tourney champs as opposed to the winners of the regular season. Did I just pour a bucket of cold water over my gooey-gushy first paragraph? Maybe.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still delighted to watch the final few minutes of any conference championship game and get even more excited when there’s an upset involved. It just doesn’t make sense that a team that gets hot over a few days gets rewarded over the team that already proved it’s the best in the conference over the regular season. Read this recent column by Jeff Goodman if you disagree. Or read this disgustingly pretentious column I wrote in college. You’ll come around.

Every Game Counts?

Now, you guys may be thinking I’m just saying all this because I’m an Ivy Leaguer and the Ivy League is the only conference in America that doesn’t have a tournament. I guess that’s part of it. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the value of league play with so many titles coming down to a thrilling regular season finale between Penn and Princeton. But even now, as Penn has floundered to the bottom of the league standings, I wouldn’t feel right about my Quakers having a chance to go dancing just by going on a three-game winning streak. I mean, come on, they have 20 losses. I love the idea that every team can win a national championship, but don’t you think the regular season should hold just a little value?

I’m not saying get rid of tournaments. I just think there should be some compromises. Make it so it’s a privilege (not a right) to play in the conference tournament, kind of like the way it is in Division II or III. Sorry but if you’re in the bottom half of your league, you don’t deserve the chance to steal a bid from a 25-win team just so you can play in Dayton on Tuesday. And how about home games and byes for top seeds in every league?

All that said, I have no problem with the big-conference tournaments (other than the fact I can never tell which of the NCAA locks are actually trying). The Big East Tournament at the Garden, especially, has given me many great memories over the years. And any team that runs the table against the nation’s giants over the course of a few days (remember Georgia?) deserves a bid in my mind. So by all means, keep the money pouring in for those leagues. It’s just the one-bid conferences (where revenue isn’t as much of an issue) that seem to be doing a disservice to the NCAA Tournament — and mostly their own teams.

So what do you guys think? At the very least can we agree that the changes I suggested would be much better than that heinous 96-team NCAA tournament proposal?

MIKE WALSH: First off, let me go on record as saying that I’d rather be strangled with one of Digger Phelps’ aforementioned ties while he was still wearing it than see the tournament expanded to 96 teams. In a world where everyone gets a trophy just for trying, I think a little disappointment is good for the teams whose bubbles burst each year. Sorry, Rhode Island, better luck next year! And let’s be honest with ourselves, stretching the field to 96 teams is just another way to get more power conference schools in the Big Dance – or would we have to call it the Bigger Dance? And who doesn’t want to see Rutgers get in? Those kids try so hard…

This concludes the soap box portion of the show.

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