Game #121. RTC Live visits Tulsa this evening for what should be a key Conference USA battle.
We are expecting a good game tonight in this high-stakes bout between the UTEP Miners (17-4, 5-1) and the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes (10-10, 3-3). For Tulsa, this is a revenge game. They were defeated 69-59 by the Miners in the conference opener on January 5, and they would love nothing more than to upset the C-USA standings, and hopefully right the ship with a win tonight. UTEP has a little more than just pride on the line. They are currently tied atop the conference standings with Memphis; I’m sure they would love for things to stay that way. It will also be a matchup between the conferences two biggest stars. Tulsa is led by leading scorer Justin Hurtt, who is averaging 20.7 points per game, while UTEP is led by Randy Culpepper; the returning Conference USA Player Of The Year.
The week is here, long at last. Going into the season, BYU and San Diego State were projected to be strong, but this strong? Just to give you an idea of where these two juggernauts stood before the season, the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll had San Diego State receiving 73 votes and BYU 55 votes in the top 25 poll. In Zach Hayes’ Bracketology—a bracket that, in my mind, is very accurate for his latest edition—he had SDSU as a six seed and BYU a seven. Clearly, each team has exceeded many of the critics and so called experts expectations. Who would have thought that the teams would combine to have a 38-1 record at this stage of the season? Not even Steve Fisher or Dave Rose would have thought that.
In the grand scheme of things, the tilt in Provo, Utah, next week will not have an impact on whether or not either team will make the NCAA Tournament—it is a foregone conclusion that both are in—but this may be San Diego State’s biggest roadblock between them having an undefeated regular season or not. Can the magic carpet ride that San Diego State has been flying on continue, or will Jimmer Fredette and Co. take the air right out from under them? It will all go down on Wednesday evening in Provo.
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season. We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Week’s Topic: We’re a couple of weeks into conference play and early results are in on some of the contenders and pretenders. Which conference race have you found the most compelling so far and why?
Tom Wolfmeyer, RTC contributor
The most compelling conference race this year is in the SEC. The reason is that out of the twelve conference teams, only Auburn is so ridiculously bad so as to not cause problems for another conference team on a given night. And hell, even the Tigers beat Florida State (y’know, the team that defeated Duke last week). It’s a veritable trainwreck of a league this year, but what’s the adage? You can’t take your eyes away from it, because you have no idea what will happen. Which Tennessee team will show up — the one that beat Pitt and Villanova or the one that lost to Oakland and Charlotte? Will Mississippi State gets its act together or will Renardo Sidney start throwing haymakers on some fans during a timeout? Will Kentucky figure out how to play on the road or will they self-destruct due to selfish m*****f***** play? Consider that the SEC East, by far the better division, has South Carolina at the top of its standings at 3-1. South Carolina! Three of the teams from this division projected to make the Tournament are 2-2 already. On the other side, Alabama and LSU are on top. This isn’t football, folks — those two teams have been largely terrible for the better part of the last three or four years. Yes, this year’s most compelling league is the SEC, if for no other reason that nothing would surprise us about this basketball quagmire of a conference.
JL Weill, RTC contributor
Another year, another dog fight in the Missouri Valley. No unbeatens in the conference and all five teams with three losses or fewer have a chance. And as with most so-called mid-major conference teams, there isn’t a lot of meat on the pre-conference menus for any of the contenders. Wichita State beat Virginia and LSU, but they already have two losses in the MVC. Last year’s NCAA Tournament darling Northern Iowa took out Indiana and Iowa State but has three losses to conference foes. The firing squad effect means that the team that finally emerges from the pack will be battle-hardened for the conference and postseason tournaments. It also means that there’s a good chance that for the fifth year in a row only one team from the MVC will make it to the NCAAs. While the conference has four teams in the RPI top 100, only one of them is in the top 40 — Missouri State — and Cuonzo Martin’s Bears haven’t beaten anyone of note. Finding an at-large berth from the MVC, even with an expanded field, could be tough. Wins are at a premium, and it’s a multi-horse race. Gotta love it.
Kevin Doyle, RTC contributor
It is anyone’s best guess as to what team will be the last one standing in the Atlantic 10. Throughout much of the non-conference slate, the Temple Owls and Richmond Spiders emerged as the frontrunners. Bill Clark and the Duquesne Dukes quickly knocked Temple off of their pedestal, while Richmond lost a heartbreaker to Bucknell at the buzzer in their final OOC game. Now, it is the school from Pittsburgh along with Xavier who are the lone squads undefeated in the A10. There are, however, five schools that are 3-1 in the conference who are nipping at the heels of the two leaders. You’d be foolish to think that the two teams up front won’t fall at some point in the coming weeks. Even Dayton—the lone .500 team in conference—has a supreme amount of talent and is fully capable of going on a run. But, losses at UMass and Xavier have set them back in the conference. Unlike many of the BCS conferences—although, the Pac-10 and ACC sure are weak this year—the Atlantic 10 is likely to only receive two bids to the NCAA Tournament this year. Ranging from 2-2 Dayton all the way up to 4-0 Xavier and Duquesne, there are a total of eight teams that are vying for an Atlantic 10 championship and that coveted automatic berth.
Our conference correspondents around the world of college hoops get you caught up on the week that was in their conference check-ins. For the full articles, click the links or point your mouse to the “Conference Check-Ins” dropdown tab at the top of the page.
ACC:Duke (15-0, 2-0) dominated UAB before getting the job done against Maryland. Duke’s two close wins to start conference play might be cause for concern, but no one has waltzed through their schedule so far. The Blue Devils are going to lose a couple of games this year, probably on the road when threes aren’t falling–and the other team is shooting well. But wins are wins, and it’s very important to know how to win close games as well as blowouts.” (Matt Patton)
Big Ten (The conference names will be hyperlinked to live posts): “The Big Ten powers continued to dominate this week, as Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State are a combined 10-0 in conference. The other teams though are starting to look very vulnerable. Michigan State’s loss at Penn State revealed some problems with the Spartans’ attack, while Minnesota doesn’t seem to have the firepower to hang with the top teams in the conference. And where is Wisconsin going to be when this all shakes out? The Badgers are the conference’s biggest enigma.” (John Templon)
Big 12: “Outside of conference play, there were two more games of note. Saturday, Texas dropped one at home to the ninth ranked Connecticut Huskies late in overtime by just a point. Right now, the sense is that the Longhorns have solved the concerns from a year ago, but this Longhorn team actually sits at a worse record than the team that collapsed so epically last season.” (Owen Kemp)
Missouri Valley: “The Missouri Valley Conference has been known historically as a guard-oriented league, but several teams are relying on their frontcourt players to lead them along: Missouri State’s front line of Kyle Weems and Will Creekmore, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Kenny Lawson, and Gregory Echenique, and Southern Illinois’ Gene Teague, Mamadou Seck and Carlton Fay are examples of players that are carrying their teams that are not necessarily guards.” (Patrick Marshall)
Conference USA: “It took three overtimes to decide the winner of UTEP at UAB on Saturday afternoon. In a nationally televised game, the Blazers and Miners went back and forth with UAB coming away with a much-needed 100-97 win in their conference opener. The Blazers had been beaten by more than 20 points earlier in the week by No. 1 Duke. Before that, the team had won five in a row. As for the Miners, they had been winners of ten of their last eleven until Saturday’s loss.” (Stephen Coulter)
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the college basketball season is nearly half over. It is not all bad though, with conference play beginning we are just another step closer to Championship Week, Selection Sunday, and, of course, the NCAA Tournament. During this time of the year, the Other 26 and BCS largely go their separate ways, only to be reunited just two months later on the biggest stage of them all. As it is every year, the non-conference is nothing more than a tease of what is to come later. What are five major things that we learned during the first half of the year?
The top three teams in the Mountain West (SDSU, UNLV, BYU) will all be a force in the NCAA Tournament.
Gonzaga and Butler are not as dominant as they have been in past years, but both seem poised to perform well in their conference play as they drastically improved in the latter half of the non-conference schedule.
Temple and Richmond can go toe-to-toe with the big boys. In one week, the Owls defeated Maryland and then Georgetown, and then just weeks later they were points away from beating Villanova. As for the Spiders, they have beaten four of five BCS teams they played against.
Don’t sleep on Conference USA. Although the league probably will receive only two bids—maybe three—Central Florida, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, UAB and UTEP are pretty darn good.
The Mountain West and Atlantic 10 will combine to have more teams in the NCAA Tournament than the ACC and SEC. Okay that is a bit of a reach, but don’t be surprised if this is close to happening. Right now, the only lock in the ACC is Duke, obviously. As for the SEC, it is only Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The MWC will almost certainly have SDSU, BYU, and UNLV, and the Atlantic 10 is a bit of a crapshoot at the top. Over the last three years, however, the A10 has sent three years to the Dance in each year—food for thought.
We missed it last night, so let’s get you caught up on the last couple day of conference look-ins…
Atlantic 10. How does the A-10 compare to the other conference? With 65% of the conference teams’ out of conference schedule completed, the conference-wide out of conference record stands at 71-52, for a winning percentage of 0.577.
Big East. I’m willing to bet that there are a lot of people around the country that haven’t heard the name Marshon Brooks before because, you know, he plays for Providence. But it’s about time you start noticing this young man. In the past two weeks, there may not be a player in the country in more of a groove that Brooks.
Conference USA. Gary Flowers is garnering Player of the Year consideration after scoring the final 12 points in Southern Mississippi’s big win over California on Sunday. The biggest basket was a turnaround jumper with three seconds left that lifted the Golden Eagles past the Golden Bears 80-78.
WAC. Utah State is the only league member in the RPI Top 100 (#29) and just one of two schools along with Louisiana Tech (#130) in the Top 150. To further illustrate the tough times the league is encountering this season, the longest current winning streak in the league is two, by Fresno State and Utah State.
WCC. Gaels coach Randy Bennett has said his goal with transfer forward Rob Jones is to turn him into a scoring leader, and Jones may have gotten the message this week with lines of 24 and 11 against UC Riverside following a 17 and 11 outing against Denver.
Big 12: The lone winner from the Big 12 on the day was from Colorado, who will soon be departing for the Pac-10. Tad Boyle’s team looked like a group turning a corner in a 26-point win over Oregon State. The Beavers are far from a good team, but Colorado might just be getting closer to being the team that many expected.
Colonial: One: That’s the number of free throws Richmond attempted against Old Dominion in ODU’s 77-70 victory December 1. Conversely, the Monarchs attempted 20 shots from the charity stripe, hitting 15 of them. This is more than likely a statistical anomaly, but even so, it speaks to Old Dominion’s discipline and ability to limit the number of ways its opponents can score.
Conference USA: What a start it has been for Donnie Jones’s Knights. UCF is out to a 7-0 start after beating in-state foe Florida 57-54 last Wednesday in Orlando. Jones, a first-year coach, defeated his old boss, Billy Donovan, in his first signature win since taking over the program.
Horizon League: Fans unfamiliar with the Horizon League would assume that Butler is the team to find at #1 in this week’s Mid-Major Top 25. They’d be wrong. Butler has given way to Norris Cole and Cleveland State, who are all the rage as they take no prisoners.
Missouri Valley: The Missouri Valley Conference is still showing signs that it has not risen up to a multiple bid conference once again. Over the past two weeks, the losses against the Power Six conferences have continued to mount— Purdue, St. Johns, Notre Dame and Connecticut, to name a few. The Valley is 3-11 against the power conference teams.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and an occasional contributor.
Just a few hours ago, the Mountain West Conference was being left for dead. BYU was on its way to football independence and a WAC address for the rest of its sports, Boise State was potentially considering changing its mind about a move to the MWC, and we were contemplating a landscape in college athletics without the MWC, inarguably the most successful football non-BCS conference and also one of the most successful non-BCS basketball conferences. But MWC commissioner Craig Thompson was able to get quick agreements from Fresno State and Nevada to leave the WAC and join the MWC possibly beginning in 2011, although it could be pushed back to 2012 for financial considerations.
Thompson May Have Just Saved His League
The status of BYU is still somewhat in doubt as no official announcement regarding their future has been made. As of now, according to Thompson, “BYU is a member of the Mountain West Conference.” Given that the WAC is now comprised of just six teams, it is possible that BYU may reconsider and remain in the MWC as if nothing happened. Certainly the MWC would take them back without a second thought. Or, if BYU is still set on independence for its football program, it may look into the WCC as a potential home for it non-football teams.
Earlier in the day, it had been reported that all the schools in the WAC had last week signed a five-year agreement to remain in the WAC with a $5 million buyout penalty for leaving, and, as it turns out, it was BYU who instigated the buyout, hoping it was assuring a safe landing place for the Cougar non-football sports when they left the MWC. However, it turns out that Nevada never signed the agreement, although they did verbally agree to it, so they will have to pay some sort of exit fee, with the $5 million being the ceiling. However, if the WAC ceases to exist (a distinct possibility), it is possible that both Fresno State, who apparently signed the agreement, and Nevada will not have to pay the buyout penalty at all. If they wind up having to pay fees to the WAC for leaving, the MWC will aid those schools in paying their buyout penalties. According to Thompson, “We’re not going to bankrupt them to come into the Mountain West Conference.”
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and an occasional contributor.
The Who, What, When, Where and Why
Just when you thought we were done with conference realignment talk, at least for the summer, out of nowhere comes a stunner that rocks the Mountain West Conference and could set in motion a new chain of events that could leave us without what had turned into arguably the best non-BCS conference in the nation. No official announcement has been made, but as of mid-day on Wednesday, it seemed that BYU would leave the MWC beginning in 2011, play football as an independent and join up with the WAC for all other sports. The Salt Lake Tribune has reported the move as a “done deal,” pending approval by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the owner of the school. However, the Mountain West, fighting for its life, immediately responded by officially inviting Fresno State and Nevada to join the conference, invitations which, if accepted, would pretty much cripple the WAC before BYU even arrived, and perhaps forcing BYU to reconsider the wisdom of such a move.
Maybe BYU Can After All?
BYU has been displeased with the television revenues associated with the Mountain West Conference and their dedicated cable television network, The Mountain, estimated to be somewhere around $2 million last season for football only. Comparatively, Utah, which just received and accepted in June an invitation to join the Pac-10, is expected to take home somewhere north of $15 million a season in football television revenues when it begins play in that league in 2011. BYU was apparently shocked that it was passed over when the Pac-10 expanded, and shocked again when the Big 12 passed on inviting the school as well, so it began exploring the possibility of taking the matter into its own hands.
BYU already has its own television network, and athletic director Tom Holmoe notes that it has its own state-of-the-art broadcast facility and equipment, including their own HD production truck. “There is nothing better than that west of the Mississippi. Nothing. For broadcasting,” said Holmoe at a meeting with reports on the BYU campus on July 16, according to Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune. “And it is first class. The things that we can do with that, the opportunities and possibilities. Nobody in the country has that ability.” Aside from the prospect of broadcasting their own games, BYU is reportedly in negotiations with ESPN for its football rights.
Is the Mountain West Kaput?
The invitations issued by the MWC to Fresno State and Nevada make a lot of sense in not only strengthening the MWC but also perhaps killing the BYU defection before it starts. The specifics of these invitations still need to be sorted out, as the MWC has a couple of things going against it: (1) the remaining WAC schools reportedly signed an agreement just last week that imposes a $5 million buyout penalty on any school leaving the conference in the next five years; and, (2) the WAC has a television contract with ESPN that may be more attractive (if presently slightly less financially rewarding) than The Mountain. It is unknown at this time whether the MWC in the interest of self-preservation has attempted to sweeten the pot for Fresno State and Nevada by potentially ponying up some cash to pay their buyout fees or if other machinations are in the works. It had been reported earlier in the day that Fresno State and Nevada had already declined offers to join the MWC.
Over the course of the next month until the NBA Draft on June 24, RTC will be rolling out comprehensive profiles of the 30-35 collegians we feel have the best chance to hear their names called by David Stern in the first round that night. There won’t be any particular order to the list, but you can scroll back through all the finished profiles by clicking here.
Player Name: Hassan Whiteside
NBA Position: Center
Projected Draft Range: Mid First Round
Overview: Hassan Whiteside surprised a lot of people when he spurned several SEC schools to play his college basketball at Marshall University, but his attendance at a comparatively small school didn’t mean the NBA scouts wouldn’t find him. They didn’t need to search very hard. Whiteside’s impact on the Conference USA landscape was immediate, posting a 14 point/17 rebound/9 block performance against eventual NCAA second-rounders Ohio University early in the season. He’d end up with three triple-doubles on the year — the first three ever for Marshall — all with blocks as the third statistic. His 12 other double-doubles helped propel the Thundering Herd to an overall 24-10 record and 11-5 in a very competitive CUSA. His 182 blocked shots was tops in the nation, averaging out to an amazing 5.4 BPG. And even though he was only there for the one year, he ended up as the all-time leader in blocked shots at Marshall. Mind you, we don’t mean for a freshman — that’s for a career.
Defensively, he's ready. And it's funner to learn offense. (C. Jackson/Herald-Disptach)
Will Translate to the NBA: Obviously his shot-swatting prowess is his biggest asset, and will be the primary reason for any early minutes he gets in the league, but he’s no single-note player. He’s not just a tall, thin, awkward shot-blocking specialist. He’s good at using his size to get in position for grabbing boards, and shows a knack for peeling off more than his share of offensive rebounds. He has better hops than most players his size, and he gets off the floor quickly. Hassan is one of those players who, when you see him play, you can tell how much fun he’s having and that will endear him to teammates and fans. And he knows what it takes to be a professional athlete; his father played five seasons of professional football in the NFL and CFL.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences and an occasional contributor.
There was plenty of news that came out of this week’s Big East spring meetings: elimination of the double-bye in the Big East basketball tournament and the approved use of high-definition monitors for football replays (consider me amazed that this wasn’t the norm already), but there was also the underlying issue of the looming Big Ten expansion and how that will affect the Big East.
The most interesting line of the week came from rookie Big East commissioner John Marinatto, who said he is playing the Bud Fox to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s Gordon Gekko (two characters from the 1987 movie Wall Street). “I feel like I’m Bud Fox and he’s Gordon Gekko,” Marinatto said. “He’s always honest and helpful with me. He’s brilliant and creative — just like Gordon Gekko — he knew all the corners to cut. He understands the landscape.” While the quote comes across as mostly complimentary towards Delany, it also underlines the fact that this is a high-stakes business situation, and begs the question as to whether greed is indeed good for the NCAA and its conferences.
Greed is Good?
But, despite Marinatto’s respect for his sparring partner here, he also made it clear that with all that is at stake for the Big East, they are not just sitting idly by and waiting to see what the Big Ten is going to do. When the Big East lost Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC in 2004 and 2005, the Big East was able to respond by adding all-sport schools Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida and basketball-only schools DePaul and Marquette to create a new and improved version of the conference, one that morphed into arguably the best basketball conference in the country. But with the Big Ten rumored to be interested in current Big East schools like Connecticut, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse (amongst others), once again they are on the defensive. “I look at this situation as another threat certainly,” Marinatto said. “It would be irresponsible not to be concerned about it. We’re trying to position ourselves as best we can. In my mind, you always play out what it is you might do, but we certainly can’t do that in a public forum.”