So… About Those Spartans?

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2010

In case you hadn’t noticed, Michigan State’s 52-game non-conference homecourt winning streak ended with an icy thud tonight as a young, athletic Texas team went into the Breslin Center and dominated Tom Izzo’s team, 67-55.  Before we get to the “problems” that the Spartans have, let’s consider a little bit of historical context with this program before we pull the alarm bells at the firehouse.  Since the last time MSU entered the NCAAs as a #1 seed in the 2001-02 season, Izzo’s teams have been to nine NCAA Tournaments with an average seed of #6 coming into the Dance.  Remember, seeding is a general reflection of a team’s season resume, and the standard profile of a #6 seed is something in the neighborhood of a 25-9 team that finished third or fourth in the Big Ten — a solid  above-average major conference team but nothing special.  In six of those nine years, the Spartans overplayed their seed expectation by a total of ten wins, which essentially means that if Izzo’s team was expected by seed to make the Sweet Sixteen, he usually took them to the Final Four instead (in two other years, MSU performed exactly to its seed, and only in 2006 did the Spartans perform below its seed).

No Need For Frowns, Fellas (DFP/J. Gonzalez)

So what’s happening here?  Is this a situation where the “real” Michigan State is the one that sleepwalks through much of the season, vulnerable to several head-scratching games a year despite a surfeit of talent on the floor?  Or is the actual team the one that shows up seemingly every March and plows through NCAA Tournament opponents as if they were #16 seeds with multi-directional names?  We’ve seen this Izzo dog-and-pony show long enough to have become fully convinced that it’s the former.  He recruits numerous good but not great players (only two first-rounders since 2002) who buy into his system and win a lot of games, but nobody will ever confuse Kalin Lucas with John Wall or Durrell Summers with Evan Turner — and yet, those MSU players have been to Final Fours while the others have not.  It comes down to this.  We believe that Izzo is such a fantastic motivator and game coach that when the NCAA Tournament arrives, he elevates his players to the point where a #6 seed from a talent/resume perspective starts playing like a #1 or #2 seed, and before you know it, Sparty is again booking tickets at the Final Four.

That collective disgust you heard tonight was the college basketball community once again throwing its hands up in the air as MSU looked slow, tired and generally unathletic against the much more aggressive and high-flying Longhorns.  The Spartan goals sphinctered up to the point where they shot only 29% for the game and 19% from deep while committing six more turnovers than the younger ‘Horns, including several from Korie Lucious that nearly made Jay Bilas get up out of his analyst’s chair and deliver a tirade at the Final Four point guard himself.  And as for that legendary Michigan State defense?  Well, it guarded the foul line well (11-21) and not much else tonight, as UT’s big four of Jordan Hamilton, Gary Johnson, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph went for 59 points on an array of dribble-drives and ensuing layups/dunks that often made the Spartans look cemented into the hardwood.  To a casual observer of this game, it would be extremely difficult to explain to that person why Michigan State is still the better bet in March, but riddle us this:  will anyone out there go on record to say that the Spartans definitely will not make it to Houston in April?  Or that Rick Barnes’ Longhorns will?  Yeah, didn’t think so — to do so would be to deny what we know to be true, that Izzo will figure out a way to make the magic happen again.

Here’s the takeaway from tonight’s loss to Texas.  There’s nothing wrong with Michigan State — they are who they are and who they will continue to be — an above-average team with above-average players who will lose some games and cause everyone to doubt them again during the regular season before making another shocking and completely unexpected run in March.  Sure, it’s annoying because we tend to celebrate greatness and denigrate unpredictability, but there’s really nothing unpredictable about MSU’s modus operandi.  They do this almost every year.  All we can say is, fool us once…

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Set Your Tivo: 12.22.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 22nd, 2010

***** – 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 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Tonight you’ll catch three really good games (including two heavyweight Big 12/Big Ten clashes) if you sit down, relax, and watch ESPN2 all night. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#25 Texas @ #12 Michigan State – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Like It or Not, Izzo and the Spartans Need This One

It’s always fun when two name-brand programs go at it and this one is no exception. This is a big game for both teams but especially so for the homestanding Spartans. A loss here would drop Michigan State to 7-4 against D1 competition and once again ignite the questions about this team’s ability over the long haul, regardless of Tom Izzo’s history. Speaking of Mr. Izzo, he’s back after serving a one-game suspension for employing someone connected to a recruit at his basketball camp. Sparty had no problems against Prairie View A&M but Texas poses a stern test for State. The Longhorns look like a better team this year, playing with good chemistry and stronger defense. Both of these teams rank in the top 15 nationally in defensive efficiency with Texas in the top three in defensive effective field goal percentage. Rick Barnes has a cohesive unit this year that can score as well. With Jordan Hamilton draining threes and Cory Joseph taking over at the point, Texas may just be starting to hit their stride. The key matchups in this ballgame are Hamilton against Durrell Summers and Joseph versus Korie Lucious. When he’s on, Summers can match Hamilton shot for shot. Izzo has moved Lucious to the point many times while shifting Kalin Lucas off the ball. It is essential that each point guard control the ball and get others involved, plus we’re curious to see how the freshman Joseph reacts to the intense environment of the Breslin Center. Each team is deep and talented so the point guards cannot expect to be the stars of the show. The problem for Michigan State all season has been turnovers, something Texas will be eager to force. The Longhorns are deadly when they get out in transition and Michigan State just can’t afford another game chock full of giveaways. Pay attention to the three point line tonight. Michigan State is a very good three-point shooting team, the least we’d expect from what Izzo called a “pretty-boy jump shooting team” after their loss to Syracuse. However, Texas is very good at defending the arc and even better inside it, ranked seventh in two-point defense. The Spartans have three legitimate deep threats and will look to put Texas on notice early and often. On the other end, Michigan State is not good at defending the three. That’s a potentially lethal situation when you have a gunner like Hamilton on the other side. This would seem to be a great time for Michigan State to turn the corner and re-establish itself as a contender with a convincing win over a solid Texas team. We see this game as a closer contest however and Texas can put themselves on the map for good this year with a strong road win. Michigan State is the favorite at home and we’ll take the Spartans by single digits.

#10 Missouri vs. #21 Illinois (in St. Louis) – 9 pm on ESPN2 (****)

The annual Braggin’ Rights game between these two border state rivals is always a must-watch, especially when the teams are good as they are this season. Plus, don’t you love seeing that dividing line right in the middle of the arena separating black and gold from orange? Each team is in the top 25 for the first time in seven years but both programs are dealing with a bit of adversity. The Illini are coming off a brutal loss to Illinois-Chicago while Missouri lost freshman Phil Pressey to a broken hand and will welcome Michael Dixon back from suspension in his place. The story of this game will be pace, essentially who establishes their style of play. Everyone knows Missouri loves to get out and run but Illinois can control this game by protecting the ball against the aggressive Mizzou defense, running efficient half court sets and playing to their strength, defense. Ranked #18 in efficiency, the Illini defense needs to always have a man between Missouri and the basket to stop the ball, otherwise the Tigers will carve them up in both the half court and in transition. Illinois will have success if they force Missouri to play half court offense, taking time off the shot clock and limiting possessions. The most important player in this game is Demetri McCamey. The Illinois senior runs their offense and can shoot the lights out from three. He has to take advantage of Missouri jumping the passing lanes and make good passes to his teammates leading to open looks. Bruce Weber’s team has to take advantage of the mismatch on the perimeter when they have the ball. Illinois ranks #19 in three point shooting while the Tigers are #215 in defending the trey. Meanwhile, Missouri can exploit a weak spot in the Illinois defense inside with Ricardo Ratliffe. Illinois’ interior defense is ranked #118 and the Missouri big man should be able to get Mike Tisdale and/or Mike Davis into foul trouble. Missouri has a bunch of scorers on its roster but, remarkably, they don’t get to the foul line often. Illinois is even worse when it comes to free throw rate but they may get there more often against the foul-prone Tigers. Expect a very close game between two fierce rivals with the outcome in doubt late into the second half. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a determined and focused Illinois team rebound from the UIC loss by knocking off Missouri this evening.

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 20th, 2010

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

  • Finals week for most schools and that means a slow week in the Big 12.  For the most part, the conference sat idle from Sunday to Friday with a few non-conference cupcake tune-ups played here and there.
  • Saturday however, signaled a return to basketball with ten games and several intriguing matchups throughout the league.  Kansas State played in the only battle between ranked teams as the Wildcats took on Florida as part of the Orange Bowl Classic in Frank Martin’s hometown of Miami.  Unfortunately, the homecoming didn’t turn out the way Martin would have hoped with both teams playing an ugly brand of basketball and the Wildcats never put things together, scoring just 44 points in a 13-point loss to Billy Donovan’s Gators.
  • Another Big 12 contender, the Baylor Bears, struggled as well in their first game against any form of true competition.  The Bears took on the Gonzaga Bulldogs as part of The Showcase in Dallas.  The Bulldogs sit 6-5 with four losses to top 25 opponents, but were able to pull away from the #9 Bears  behind a 7-9 free throw shooting effort down the stretch.  The loss was the first on the season for the Bears and exposed some of the vulnerabilities that were expected for a new look Baylor squad with plenty of talent but an assortment of new faces.
  • The Texas Longhorns further solidified their top 25 ranking by heading on the road to a neutral site game that was hardly neutral when they played the North Carolina Tar Heels in Greensboro.  In a great game from start to finish, the Longhorns would receive a boost from freshman Cory Joseph, who stepped up and knocked down the game-winning basket with just 1.4 seconds left on the clock.  The game is another notch on the belt of a young Longhorn squad that has looked solid against good competition throughout the non-conference schedule.
  • Another true freshman stole the show in Lawrence with the much-anticipated debut of Josh Selby in a Kansas Jayhawk uniform.  The Jayhawks squared off against a USC team fresh off a win over fellow Big 12 team Texas.  The Trojans added a guard to their lineup themselves, as transfer Jio Fontan entered the lineup for the first time all year and helped the Trojans take the game down to the wire.  In the end, it was Selby knocking down a three pointer with just 26 seconds on the clock to go ahead by one and secure the Jayhawks’ 65th straight win in Allen Fieldhouse.
  • Another team emerging in the contender category would be the Texas A&M Aggies.  The Aggies took on the Arkansas Razorbacks as part of the The Showcase in Dallas and in a game that would feature a bench clearing brawl and extra five minutes of overtime, sophomore forward Khris Middleton would score 31 points and lead the Aggies to a nine-point win.  Mark Turgeon has the Aggies playing a tough brand of basketball and A&M more and more looks to have the weapons to compete with anyone in the league.
  • Elsewhere, Missouri would win a pair of games in impressive fashion against a pair of tune-up opponents.  Oklahoma State continues to position themselves as a middle-tier team with a very real shot at being the fifth, sixth or even seventh tournament team in the Big 12.  This is the role that many thought Colorado might fill, but the Cowboys seem to be better than expected.
  • Speaking of Colorado, the Buffaloes would improve their record with two easy wins as the group in Boulder continues to improve and find themselves as a team.  Iowa State would continue their run through the preseason extending their overall record to 10-2 as Scott Christopherson continues to fire at will.  While the troubles in Lubbock and Norman show no sign of letting up.
  • The news in Lincoln was good on the court with a win over Eastern Washington on Saturday, however Doc Sadler continues to struggle in keeping the talent happy, as Christian Standhardinger is the fourth player from the 2009 recruiting class to leave the Cornuskers.
  • At this point the Big 12 is what it always seems to be in mid December.  The contenders are separating themselves with big wins and marquee games against better competition.  The pretenders and bottom half of the conference is padding the win loss column in hopes that they can hang on for a bubble birth come March.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas (10-0) – The Jayhawks moved to 10-0 in a nailbiter against the USC Trojans.  The good news is the Jayhawks were not the only team in the conference to look sluggish after a long break and Josh Selby at face value looks like a player that can help some of the Jayhawk offensive weaknesses in a hurry.
  2. Texas A&M (10-1) – A&M has gone from a team that was surprising to a team that has some serious talent developing.   Khris Middleton, Nathan Walkup and David Loubeau are a trio of forwards that are physical, talented and leading the way from a scoring standpoint for Mark Turgeon.  This may prove to be too high for the Aggies as the season goes on, but in the world of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately power rankings, they look as good as anyone in the South.
  3. Missouri Tigers (10-1) – The Tigers weren’t tested in two fairly sizeable wins, but they are disposing teams in the manner you’d expect from a good team.  Mike Anderson’s team set a school record with a 116-point output on Saturday and they look like a group beginning to hit their stride.  This week’s Bragging Rights game against Illinois will be a great measuring stick to gauge improvement since the early loss to Georgetown.
  4. Texas (9-2) – Rick Barnes and Texas have an argument for a higher spot without question.  They’ve played a challenging schedule, for the most part they’ve played well, and they have a real opportunity to be a very difficult matchup as the players become comfortable in their roles.  A big opportunity this week for Texas comes in the form of a game against Tom Izzo and Michigan State.
  5. Kansas State (9-2) – Something just doesn’t seem right in Manhattan right now.  The Wildcats are still one of the toughest defensive teams in the conference and they’re going to make you earn every point, but on the offensive end, it isn’t clicking.  Curtis Kelly hasn’t stepped up to the level expected and Jacob Pullen is doing well, but it’s difficult for him to completely carry the team when he’s the focus of every opposing defense.  It’s hard to believe Frank Martin won’t get things going, but for now the Wildcats haven’t played to the level expected.
  6. Oklahoma State (10-1) – The Cowboys moved to 10-1 this week but they still lack a statement win.  The good news for Cowboy fans is that different players are stepping up at different times and they‘re beating teams in different ways.  They’re likely the seventh-best team in the conference in terms of talent, but they could cause some trouble in a wide open South.
  7. Baylor (7-1) – Everyone has been waiting for the Bears to play someone and in the first attempt to do that, they fell to Gonzaga in what was basically a home game.  Gonzaga was due for a win, but they still don’t look like the top 15 Bulldog squad that was expected this season and they managed to handle the Bears even with Steven Gray hobbled from back spasms.
  8. Iowa State (10-2) – Scott Christopherson continues to have a green light and the Cyclones continue to win.  Still there isn’t much in the way of competition against which to truly judge Iowa State.   With three relatively soft games remaining in the non-conference docket, it’s possible Iowa State could enter conference play with 13 wins already under their belt, yet still sit ill-prepared for the gauntlet that awaits in Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri in the North.
  9. Colorado (7-3) – Two games, two easy opponents, two comfortable wins.  Colorado was a team with high expectations early, but they fell flat and haven’t done enough to restore hope.  A solid opponent awaits this week in New Mexico and a chance for Tad Boyle to restore some of the lost faith.
  10. Nebraska (9-2) – Nebraska sits at 9-2, which is a good record.  Typically, they don’t do much to test themselves early, but the win over USC looks better and better every day.  This is still a team that doesn’t jump off the page, but they very well could battle Colorado and Iowa State for fourth in the North.  Still, at this point, it’s hard to see much that justifies the nod.
  11. Oklahoma (5-6) – After a two-game uptick, the Sooners fell to a decent Big East team in Cincinnati.  It’s enough to give them the edge over Tech for now, but it’s still not pretty in Norman.  Statistically speaking, they do very little that could be considered a strength, unless of course you want to give them credit for mediocre shooting.
  12. Texas Tech (5-6) – Texas Tech is on a three-game skid with the last two coming against mid-major talent.  Tech had the offensive talent returning, but they needed to improve defensively and on the boards.  Neither of those things have happened.

A Look Ahead

  • This week’s Big 12 slate takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday before a long holiday weekend.  All 12 teams play between the two nights with Kansas State kicking things off in a tough contest taking place at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.  In the Wildcats’ third game in Kansas City this year, K-State will play host to another ranked opponent in the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.  Coming off the loss in Miami, the Wildcats and their fans will be anxious to see if the offense can get back on track.
  • Another game to watch in the conference on Tuesday will pit the Oklahoma State Cowboys against Stanford in Stillwater.  The Cardinal hasn’t been particularly impressive, but it is a name opponent from a name conference and a chance to learn a little more about the Cowboys.
  • Wednesday night is a big night if you’re a Big 12 basketball fan.  The highlight of the night will likely take place in St. Louis, as the Missouri Tigers square off against the Illinois Fighting Illini in a matchup of two top 25 teams.  The game lost a little luster when the Illini fell flat against Illinois-Chicago this weekend, a loss that will drop them from top 15 status, but it’s a big game and a heated rivalry nonetheless.
  • The game just prior to Missouri and Illinois on ESPN2 will be another big opportunity for the Big 12, as Texas heads back out on the road for a big game against Michigan State.  The game is another example of the bold scheduling approach taken by Rick Barnes and a big time opportunity for the Longhorns to reassert themselves on the national stage.
  • Rounding out the night will be Kansas heading to Berkeley for a road game against a Pac-10 opponent.  The Jayhawks have had their struggles against the Pac-10 conference this year but have managed to slip by every challenger.
  • Another good one to keep an eye on will be New Mexico in Boulder against the Buffaloes. This is a game that Tad Boyle needs to start rebuilding some of the confidence and excitement that was lost after the stumble out of the gates in the early season.

Stats, Quotes and other Notables

  • 21 Points on 5-8 Shooting from three – Debut line for Kansas freshman Josh Selby.
  • 11 points in 11 minutes – The offensive drought that ultimately doomed the Kansas State Wildcats against the Florida Gators.
  • 4-22 from three – Just one example of the mediocrity taking place on the offensive end for the Oklahoma Sooners.
  • 7 Players Scoring in Double Figures – The Missouri Tigers are balanced, they showed that against Central Arkansas with this impressive stat.
  • “We were sleepwalking, [The scuffle] seemed like it really changed the game for us.” – Texas A&M head coach Mark Turgeon talks about his team coming to life after a rare bench-clearing scuffle at mid court against Arkansas.

Player of the Year Watch (No Specific Order)

  • Jacob Pullen – (16.3 PPG, 3.8 APG, 40% FG) Even: Pullen is doing everything he can, but the loss of Denis Clemente is clearly being felt.  From a numbers standpoint, Pullen is maintaining pace, but the Wildcats are looking like a team slightly lost offensively.
  • Marcus Morris – (16.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 62% FG) Even: Morris wasn’t great against USC, but he got a lift with the addition of Josh Selby. Morris still looks like a player that can sometimes score at will, it’s just a matter of getting the team chemistry back where it needs to be.
  • Alec Burks – (20.3 PPG, 51% FG) Even: Burks is slowly becoming a smarter player on the offensive end and his efforts on the defensive end aren’t going unnoticed.  Statistically it’s pretty much the same player, but he’s improving day to day.
  • Jordan Hamilton – (19.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG) Even: Texas could be turning a corner.  The players around him are doing more, but Hamilton is still the most explosive option for the Longhorns.
  • LaceDarius Dunn – (21.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.6, 2.2 SPG, 48% FG) Trending Up: Baylor loses to Gonzaga, but Dunn is looking like one of the more complete and impactful players for his team.
  • Marcus Denmon – (16.8 PPG, 1.9 SPG, 51% 3P%) Trending Up: He continues to be the best player on a VERY deep team.  Denmon is turning into the leader for the Tigers and he seems like a player that has even more to give.
  • Scott Christopherson – (16.5 PPG, 55% 3P%) New**: Christopherson’s chances are probably slim unless he can somehow lead the Cyclones to a surprisingly successful season and a top 3 finish in the North.  Still, he’s a player whose early-season efforts deserve a mention and he’ll be a thorn in everyone’s side in conference play.
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BGTD: Afternoon Games Analysis

Posted by jstevrtc on December 18th, 2010

Hello, Donnie. Get ready to see head coach Donnie Jones and his Knights of Central Florida in the next Top 25 that comes out in about 48 hours. They knocked off Miami (FL) earlier, 84-78, and are now 10-0. Understandably, your attention may immediately gravitate to Marcus Jordan (15.9 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 3.4 APG), given his famous papa, and he was outstanding tonight with 23 points. The name you also need to know is Keith Clanton (16.7 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.7 BPG), their star 6’8 sophomore forward. They’ll next put that undefeated record on the line at Massachusetts on Wednesday.

Save somethin’ for the second half (of the season), big fella. There’s not much else to say about Jared Sullinger, but it’s still fun talking about how ridiculously good he is. South Carolina isn’t exactly long, and they looked like a team feeling the effects of a post-finals week, pre-holiday road trip — they shot terribly (38.3% FG, 42.9% FT), didn’t take care of the ball (15 turnovers) and their defense in transition was non-existent — but 30/19 for the Ohio State big fella is still an outstanding performance. And when he’s hitting halftime buzzer-beating spinning jumpers off glass from near the hash marks, you know what kind of day you’re in for.

An Early Christmas? Perhaps a little post-finals malaise from Illinois? You might drop a clanger of a game every once in a while and get away with it, but 18-55 (32.7%) from the field and 4-17 (23.7%) from beyond the three-point arc wasn’t going to get the Illini by Illinois-Chicago today. The Flames (now 5-7) forced some late Illinois turnovers and UIC’s Darrin Williams took advantage of every late scoring chance he had in helping his team pull off the upset, but the story here was how the Flames removed Illinois’ bigs from the equation. The Illini starting front line had a combined 13 points on 5-16 shooting, and they only got five more points from big guys off the bench.

Making a Point. North Carolina will take the next step forward when Kendall Marshall eats up more of Larry Drew II’s minutes. Drew plays twice as much as Marshall on the average but Marshall has shown to be a better distributor of the basketball, is great at getting into the lane and finding an open teammate, and is a little more comfortable getting physical than Drew appears to be. What do you think, Tar Heel fans? Would you be comfortable with Marshall seeing more time at Drew’s expense? Despite Harrison Barnes’ clutch three to tie it at 76 (his first three of the game and only UNC’s third) Texas just stunned the Heels in Greensboro on Cory Joseph’s stick in the final seconds.

Orange Bawl. From here, Kansas State has officially removed itself from consideration as one of the elite teams in the nation that could conceivably contend for a national title. We probably gave them longer than most people, actually. Losing to Florida in the Gators’ home state (this was an Orange Bowl Classic affair) is no crime, but that the Wildcats can be goaded into some of the shots they took tonight (15-55 or 27.3% FG, and 3-19 or 15.8% from three) shows that they aren’t ready to be considered among the big boys at this time.

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Set Your Tivo: Weekend Review

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 17th, 2010

***** – 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 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

This is the last major weekend before conference play begins in earnest and it features a bunch of solid games but none that really jump out at you as must-watch. All in all it’s a pretty good set of games. Don’t forget about the two games in the Bahamas on Saturday (Richmond vs. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State). They’re not on television but are meaningful, especially the latter. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Texas vs. North Carolina (Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC) – 4 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

A Smaller Venue in Greenboro, But Still a Great Game

You may never see a game between two unranked teams have this much talent on the court as this one. Yes the Longhorns are ranked in both the AP and Coaches polls but they aren’t in our own top 25. Texas has played better this year on the strength of defense and better chemistry though a loss at USC was cause for concern. Still, Texas has a ton of talent and has the ability to turn this season into a successful one. Leading scorer Jordan Hamilton still has a so-so shot selection but he’s connecting on 41% of his treys, a positive sign for Rick Barnes. Freshman Tristan Thompson has also been a plus for the Longhorns, giving them an athletic post presence who can score and defend very well. When you look at this matchup with North Carolina however, Tyler Zeller (16/8) is going to have a significant height advantage inside. You may see Barnes turn to Matt Hill for a bigger defensive presence in the paint in an attempt to control UNC’s big man. Each team has had some issues at the point guard, especially North Carolina. The Tar Heels have seen better play from Larry Drew II (2:1 A/T ratio) but questions remain with the team averaging 15 turnovers per contest. With a talented freshman in waiting, Roy Williams has to make a decision on who should see the majority of time at the point as they head into ACC play. For Texas, Dogus Balbay has seen his minutes drop in favor of freshman Cory Joseph, a move that’s understandable from an offensive standpoint but questionable in the eyes of some who see the experienced Balbay as a team leader and an effective distributor, not to mention an outstanding defender. Texas is not a particularly great shooting team as a whole so the transition to Joseph could be more about transition opportunities and easy buckets plus Joseph is a much better shooter. As for North Carolina, getting Harrison Barnes going could be the key between middling outside the top 25 and being a consistently ranked team and #2 in the ACC. Barnes is still in a slump, shooting just 33% overall over his last five games including a dismal 5-24 (21%) from three. He’s still averaging double figures and has done a nice job rebounding but the Tar Heels need more out of their star freshman. To become a really good team, UNC needs John Henson to become a consistent third option. He rebounds very well but he’s in double figures one night and single digits the next. He may have a hard time with Thompson inside but Henson is able to stretch his game out a bit and that may open things up inside for the Tar Heels. This figures to be another close game, far different from last year’s Texas blowout. This time North Carolina has the crowd to their advantage and may come out on top by a few points. It’s a huge game for UNC, their last non-conference opportunity for a quality win. Texas still has games with Michigan State and Connecticut but this is a big game for them too in a quasi-road environment. We wouldn’t be surprised either way but a slight edge has to go to UNC in this game.

#5 Kansas State vs. Florida (BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, FL) – 3:30 pm Saturday on FSN (****)

This is the first of two key games for Kansas State, the second coming on Tuesday against UNLV. Winning one or both will certainly help the Wildcats grab a better seed in the NCAA Tournament come March. Against Florida, K-State will have to contend with the Gators’ trapping pressure defense, something that could be a problem given their propensity for turnovers and some point guard issues. Jacob Pullen has been the main distributor at four assists per game but he turns it over more than three times per game, the most on a team that averages 16 turnovers as a unit. Florida’s back court pressure could cause a lot of problems for Kansas State and plenty of extra possessions for the Gators. Pullen doing a lot of ball handling could also be a factor in his overall struggle relative to last season. He’s never been a great shooter, 40% overall from the floor for his career, but his three point shooting is down over six percent to 33% this season. It is true that other teams are trying to lock him up like Duke did, but Pullen has to work through this and become a better player in order to lift Kansas State to the next level where they can compete for a national championship. Frank Martin may go with Will Spradling at the point in order to take some pressure off Pullen. As for Florida, expect them to fire up three’s as usual (17 per game) even though the Gators shoot just 32% as a team. Billy Donovan loves the trey, yet another Rick Pitino protégé who sticks to the system no matter the personnel he has. Erving Walker has improved dramatically but Kenny Boynton still can’t find the range for Florida. Walker shoots 20% better than Boynton from deep yet Boynton has 15 more attempts this season. Kansas State should look to isolate Walker and aggressively defend him, keeping the ball out of his hands. Pullen and Rodney McGruder may have to match Walker’s deep shooting but Martin will be content with Boynton chucking shots up and hitting once in a while, requiring Kansas State to clear the boards well. Both teams rank high in offensive rebounding percentage so the Wildcats must put an emphasis on keeping Florida off the glass as that will lead to easy Gator put backs. Florida is #15 in two point percentage, largely a result of offensive rebounds and the play of Vernon Macklin inside. Macklin against Curtis Kelly will be a key matchup to watch in the low post as each player finishes well and can rebound the basketball effectively. Kansas State should not bank on outscoring Florida from the line considering their awful free throw shooting (55%) and Florida’s ability to keep opponents off the line, second in the nation in defensive free throw rate. Only three players on K-State’s roster shoot over 70% from the line and Pullen is the only one of those three who gets there often. Martin’s depth will take a hit if Wally Judge is out, dealing with personal issues, but we don’t think that will have a major impact on the game. Kansas State is still a very deep team, able to go eight or nine deep if necessary. This should be a terrific game that may come down to the very end. Ken Pomeroy predicts a two-point Florida win so this game is essentially a toss-up. We see it that way as well.

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The Week That Was: November 19-26

Posted by jstevrtc on November 27th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC Contributor


TWTW hopes everyone out there had a great Thanksgiving, gorging on turkey, stuffing and football. I truly hope you got enough football because this is a football free zone. No news about Tom Brady’s hair, Brett Favre’s retirement plans or Vince Young’s texting habits. There’s way too much hoops to discuss.

The week leading up to Thanksgiving is without a doubt one of my favorite weeks of the college basketball season. The Maui Invitational, Preseason NIT, the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic…need I say more? All of the preseason tournaments serve up must-see non-conference matchups, the likes of which you won’t see again until March. #10 Kentucky and #15 Washington staged a fine duel on Tuesday night in Maui. #1 Duke vs. #5 Kansas State might have disappointed for just over a half, but you still learned plenty about each squad.

Walker's Performance In Maui Still Has Hoopheads Buzzing

More than prime-time matchups, though, I love these tournaments because every year someone makes the leap from relative hoops obscurity to household name status. This year that player is Connecticut’s Kemba Walker. Now, Walker wasn’t exactly an unknown commodity prior to this week, but no one ever viewed him as the most formidable offensive player in the nation. 90 points in three nationally televised games and back-to-back wins over top-10 squads tends to raise your profile, though.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on November 23rd, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Pitt has a team capable of reaching that elusive Final Four

1. I had an opportunity to attend the consolation and championship games of the 2K Sports Classic last Friday and learned a great deal about the four teams participating- Pittsburgh, Texas, Illinois and Maryland. The Panthers were one of my preseason Final Four teams and did nothing to give me second thoughts on that prediction. Ashton Gibbs is a true playmaker at the end of the shot clock, Jamie Dixon has an incredibly deep frontcourt and the Panthers play heady, smart, hard-nosed basketball for 40 minutes. It’s possible we overrated Illinois a bit coming into the year. They lack a bruiser down low that can post up on the block and demand the basketball. Mike Tisdale’s the same player he’s been his entire career at Illinois, a capable mid-range jump shooter that lacks any sort of physicality and is often mired in foul trouble because opposing power forwards constantly out-muscle him. Maryland looks like a middle-of-the-pack ACC team that should sneak into the NCAA Tournament because Gary Williams always receives max effort from his teams and Jordan Williams is a force in the post, although he needs to avoid silly fouls and demand the basketball more often. The team that needed to convince me they were a contender after last season’s disaster is Texas. The Longhorns are a top-20 team with a duo of physical, lockdown defenders on the perimeter in Dogus Balbay and Cory Joseph, an athletic low-post presence in Tristan Thompson and an explosive scorer in Jordan Hamilton. A shortened rotation and accepted roles has helped Rick Barnes develop improved chemistry, as well.

2. The story of the first two weeks of college basketball might just be Minnesota. The Big Ten was the best conference coming into the season with Michigan State and Ohio State shaping up to be Final Four frontrunners, Purdue and Illinois mainstays in the polls and Wisconsin as solid as ever. Minnesota was a team that nobody could quite get a handle on, especially considering it was impossible to predict just how much the additions of Trevor Mbakwe and Al Nolen would help Tubby Smith.  After three statements wins in Puerto Rico over Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia, the Gophers appear to be yet another contender primed for a deep March run out of the absolutely loaded Big Ten. Al Nolen was superb in the championship game against West Virginia locking down the Mountaineer’s point guard duo of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant on defense and splitting the West Virginia defense with dribble penetration that either resulted in free throws (11-12 on the night) or open looks for sharpshooting teammate Blake Hoffarber. Where the Gophers have forged their identity, though, is inside with a plethora of size and length. Ralph Sampson, Colton Iverson, Mbakwe and big bodied Mo Walker provide Smith a frontline that can go toe-to-toe with any in the nation. Just wait till they get Devoe Joseph back.

3. The most crippling defeat for any team with NCAA Tournament aspirations could have come Monday afternoon at the Maui Invitational for Wichita State. The Shockers inability to contain Kemba Walker (29 second half points) cost them a chance to pick up a quality win over a Big East opponent and a shot at potential #1-seed Michigan State in the semifinals. Why is this so devastating? One, Wichita just blew their best chance for an RPI/SOS booster. The only other challenging non-conference game on the slate is a road trip to San Diego State, where it’s extremely unlikely the Shockers leave with a victory. Merely the addition of the Spartans on their schedule would improve Wichita’s power rating dramatically. Instead, it’s increasingly likely Gregg Marshall’s team will have to win the MVC Tournament. This task is very possible; after all, the Shockers are the prohibitive favorite, a senior-laden squad with talents like Toure Murry, David Kyles and J.T. Durley. Marshall’s goal in Maui was to pick up two quality wins for the resume in March. That chance has gone by the wayside.

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Ball Control And Offensive Boards Key Panthers’ Run In New York

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 22nd, 2010

Ray Floriani of College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the MAC and NEC, and makes additional contributions based on his analysis from action around the country.

Each of the four teams in the Coaches vs. Cancer ‘final four’ in New York left with something significant. Pittsburgh exited with the championship and an even better feeling of what they are all about. Texas left disappointed as runner-up but still encouraged they could take the #4-ranked team to the final possession with a limited rotation. Illinois showed resiliency coming back from a tough OT loss in the semis to post a nice consolation victory. Maryland, with a number of new faces, competed well both nights and received an encouraging two-day performance by sophomore center Jordan Williams.

First Semifinal

Pitt 49 48 41 22
Maryland 50 25 18 12

Possessions : 73

Off. Efficiency: Pitt 108, Maryland 96

The number that jumps off the page is offensive rebounding percentage. In raw numbers, Pitt owned the offensive glass 15-6 and the Panthers were beasts on the boards. Freshman forward/center Talib Zanna led the way with 12 rebounds but even junior guard Ashton Gibbs pulled down seven, which would have put him second on Maryland behind Williams’ eight caroms.

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RTC Live: Coaches vs. Cancer Semifinals

Posted by rtmsf on November 18th, 2010

Games #16-#17.  We’re back at Madison Square Garden for the second year of the 2kSports Coaches vs. Cancer semifinals.  You might recall that this is the spot in the season last year where Wes Johnson and Syracuse announced themselves as contenders for the crown with two convincing wins here.

#5 Pittsburgh vs. Maryland – 7 pm

Maryland may be 3-0 on the season, but there are some serious red flags waving for this team. The issue at hand? Point guard play, or lack thereof early in the season. For the first three games, Gary Williams has been starting senior Adrian Bowie at the point, but Bowie is not a prototypical point guard. He’s more of an off-guard that happens to be 6’1. He looked horrible in the opener against Seattle (seven turnovers, 12 minutes), and while he’s been better the last two games (eight assists, two turnovers), he’s not exactly the facilitator the Terps need. Two freshmen, Pe’Shon Howard (who hit the game-winner against the College of Charleston) and Terrell Stoglin, have been impressive at times, but their youth and inexperience has shone through as well. The Terps’ best offense early in the season has been pounding the ball into Jordan Williams or beating their opponent’s defense down the floor. Pitt has a much bigger and better front line (headlined by Gary McGhee, which makes for one of the most intriguing one-on-one matchups thus far this season) and a much better defense, so the question heading into this game is “can Maryland actually score?” For Pitt, watch Brad Wanamaker. I know Ashton Gibbs gets the accolades, but Wanamaker is ready to turn into one of the Big East’s best.

#16 Illinois vs. Texas – 9:30 pm

Illinois is underrated right now, in my opinion. I think the Illini have a shot of competing for the Big Ten title with Ohio State and Michigan State, that’s how good I expect them to be. Demetri McCamey is one of the least talked about superstars at the college level. He’s coming off of a season where he led the country in assists. My concern with McCamey? The theory that a knucklehead is always going to be a knucklehead, because heading into last season, McCamey had a reputation as, well, a knucklehead. The rest of Illinois’ lineup is talented. They are deep. They have some size as well, and while that size can be considered “soft”, their bigs (the Mikes, Tisdale and Davis) both shoot the ball well enough that it keeps the floor spread for McCamey’s penetration. Texas, on the other hand, is going to be an interesting team to follow this year. They have a supremely talented 1-2-3 punch in Cory Joseph, Jordan Hamilton, and Tristan Thompson, but those are two freshmen and a sophomore that wasn’t exactly known for his maturity or decision-making as a freshman. Do the Horns have a leader? Will Hamilton be the next Brandon Rush or the next Jeremy Hazell? Can Joseph run this team? Does Thompson have enough “want-to” to be a force on the block?  These and other questions will be answered tonight.

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Around The Blogosphere: Pe’Shon Nails A Dagger

Posted by nvr1983 on November 11th, 2010

We are still early in the season, but things are starting to kick into gear with our first huge shot of the (regular) season. Like we stated after opening night, if you are interested in participating in this feature and getting your site linked to contact us at

Game of the Night

  • Maryland 75, College of Charleston 74: “For 39 and a half minutes, there was no shortage of things I could’ve said about Maryland’s game against College of Charleston: the missed free throws, the turnovers, the sensational Andrew Goudelock, the fact that Maryland lost to College of Charleston in their second game, and so on. And then Pe’Shon Howard happened. And then I was left speechless.” (Testudo Times: Part 1 and Part 2)

Top 25

  • #4 Pittsburgh 97, Illinois-Chicago 54: “Pitt played nearly perfectly in every facet of the game. The team shot about 60% from the field, rebounded extremely well, and only turned the ball over six times. When the Panthers play that well, they will be nearly impossible to beat.” (SB Nation: Pittsburgh)
  • #16 Illinois 84, Toledo 45: “This was more like it. Illinois played its first complete game of the season on Wednesday with a 84-45 blowout of Toledo at Assembly Hall. All 11 Illini players that saw playing time scored, including walk-on Kevin Berardini.” (Chicago Breaking Sports)
  • #25 Texas 89, Louisiana Tech 58: “Through two games, this Texas team has looked as solid as anyone could have imagined. They are playing as a team, moving the ball, crisply on offense, and not settling for jump shot. On the other end, they’ve been able to win the rebounding battle in both games and held both opponents to under 40% from the floor. J’Covan [Brown] and [Jordan] Hamilton look like different players; [TristanThompson and [CoryJoseph have already been impactful; and [GaryJohnson and Dogus [Balbay] are leading by example. Heck, even Jai Lucas and [MattHill have provided some quality minutes. The competition takes a giant step up next week, but, again, through two games, I’m impressed.” (Burnt Orange Nation)
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