ATB: Upset Wednesday

Posted by rtmsf on January 29th, 2009

afterbuzzer1The Lead. There were seven ranked teams playing conference road games tonight, and only three of them survived.  One of the survivors, the Greatest Team of All-Time, did so by a sliver.  It’s a rough life playing on the road in the conference, and did anyone else notice that the calendar is turning to February very soon?  The shortest month of the year is when all those gaudy 20-2 records suffer scrutiny, as great teams start to hit their stride, and merely good ones begin taking their lumps.  We have a sneaky suspicion that it began tonight – let’s lock in for the ride.

Game of the NightWake Forest 70, Duke 68. This game was everything that was anticipated, and a little more.  Sick dunks, clutch shooting, and some tremendous hustle and defense were the markers on both ends of the court.  Oh, and one really bad call.  Call us crazy, but we’re not sure how you call a travel on Duke when a player is lying beneath him on a rebound, but the call was moot (Wake still would have possession on the inevitable and ensuing jump ball).  Still, as we watched this game, we had much the same sentiment we had two weeks ago when Wake “upset” North Carolina, which was, Wake appears to have the superior talent on the floor.  Now, the Deacs certainly showed signs of youth and inexperience in the last few minutes (missed FTs, poor decision-making) when Duke fought back to tie the game, but we never once thought Duke might actually win the game (ok, one time, and that was when James Johnson failed to hustle after the rebound after Jon Scheyer missed what would have been the go-ahead three – but no others).  Wake’s defense was once again spectacular, harassing the Duke shooters into 33% from the field (and 18% from three), including nine blocks and ten steals.  But the fact of the matter is that Duke plays every possession and Wake tends to take some off (both mentally and physically), and that’s why the Deacs didn’t run away with it in the second half.  Wake got dub-dubs from Al-Farouq Aminu (15/10, including a filthy follow flush, below) and James Johnson (13/11) to help pick up for Jeff Teague (11 pts on 4-14 FGs), who Duke swarmed all over the court.  Duke got good nights from their only two consistent scorers, Kyle Singler (22/12) and Gerald Henderson (20/8, including a nasty flush in his own right, also below), but Scheyer struggled (2-10 FGs) and there was no other production for the Blue Devils.  Wake has now won five of its last six home games against Duke, and definitely gotten a huge leg up on the ACC regular season race with wins over Duke, UNC and Clemson so far.  One final note:

HEY WAKE FANS!  This delayed rushing the court nonsense has to end.  You’re a top five team.  You’re a national title contender.  Act like it.

Life On the Road is Tough.

  • Villanova 67, Pittsburgh 57. Just another night in the Big East, right?  Playing in the last college basketball game in the Spectrum (site of the greatest NCAA Tournament game of all-time), VU’s Reggie Redding channeled Christian Laettner and went 10-10 from the line for 18 pts.  It also helped that Villanova was able to get DeJuan Blair in foul trouble and limit his effectiveness in the form of 7 pts in only twenty minutes of action.  This game, along with the Louisville loss two weeks ago, showed just how vulnerable the Panthers are when Blair is not on the floor – in the four games this season where he has had 4+ fouls, Pitt has been outscored by 4 total points and is just 2-2 in those contests.  In all other games, they’re +324 total points and 16-0.  No other player in America has such a huge impact.
  • Providence 100, Syracuse 94. In what was a wild game at the Dunk (luckily Jonathan Xavier wasn’t out on supervised release), Providence nailed ten threes against the SU zone and held on down the stretch for a victory that now puts the Friars in a tie for third-place in the Big East.  Who saw that coming?  Syracuse nailed twelve threes on its own but simply could not get necessary stops at any point in the second half against the PC shooters, particularly Sharaud Curry (22 pts) and Marshon Brooks (17 pts).  Syracuse, who has now lost four of its last five games in this rugged league, was led by Jonny Flynn’s 35 and Eric Devendorf’s 27, but Paul Harris didn’t bring much (8/6) and Arinze Onuaku was ineffective in fifteen minutes based on recent swelling in his knees.  If PC can get to nine wins in this league (and they should, with 2 games against Rutgers and one against S. Florida), they should be in good shape for an NCAA invitation.  Cuse has now lost four of five and has five more tough games upcoming – they need to win a couple of those to stay in the middle of the pack of the league.
  • Cincinnati 65, Georgetown 57. Georgetown has now officially fallen apart.  Was it really only thirty days ago that the Hoyas went into UConn and eviscerated the Huskies with such precision?  Now they’re 3-5 in the Big East with a road trip to league leader Marquette this weekend.  And possibly even worse news – Dajuan Summers turned his ankle tonight and may not be available for a couple of games down the line.  Georgetown already had a minuscule bench – how are the Hoyas to be expected to replace their best wing scorer?  Cincy might be making a Providence-type run of its own now, after having won four of their last five games to move to 4-4 in the conference.  But the bigger story of this game is of course what has happened to Georgetown, and can they recover?
  • UNC 80, Florida St. 77. It looked as if UNC was going to take its third loss of the season tonight in Tallahassee, but Ty Lawson’s running floater from THREE (see below) made sure that wasn’t going to happen.  FSU stormed back in the second half behind Toney Douglas’ 24 (32 for the game), but the Noles couldn’t take advantage of a poor shooting night from UNC (38%) and a single-figure scoring night from Tyler Hansbrough (first time in 56 games).   We’re becoming more and more convinced that this UNC team is the same team as last season.  In Deon Thompson and Tyler Zeller, they have two one more scoring option, but their defense is still marginal at best for a supposedly “great” team, and it’s not going to surprise us when these Heels drop 2-3 more games this conference season because of it.  Wasn’t tonight, though.

Other Scores of Meandering Interest.

  • Ohio St. 72, Michigan 54. Is it safe to now say that Michigan has officially come back to earth? – this loss to OSU is four of their last five.
  • Louisville 80, South Florida 54. Louisville is really starting to play like the team we thought they’d be back in October.  A second half 22-3 run finished off USF, behind 16 from Edgar Sosa (averaging 13 ppg in his last three).
  • Memphis 85, East Carolina 64. The Tigers won their 48th in a row against CUSA competition behind Antonio Anderson’s 28/8 assts.
  • Davidson 92, Chattanoooga 70. Stephen Curry had 32/5/8 assts in another easy win for the Wildcats.
  • St. Joseph’s 68, Richmond 58. Watch out, but with tonight’s road win, SJU is now 5-0 in the A10.  And Ahmad Nivins (15/14) is a beast.
  • Kansas 68, Nebraska 62. Kansas got itself in an early 13-pt hole but was able to rally back and stay unbeaten in the Big 12.
  • Xavier 69, Charlotte 47. XU improved to 6-0 in the A10 behind a dominant performance from their defense, holding Charlotte to 31% shooting.
  • Florida 83, Georgia 57. Nick Calathes had a triple double (20/13/10 assts) in another game on the Dennis Felton death watch.
  • LSU 79, Tennessee 73. We think that Tennessee is pretty much garbage this year, and the fact that LSU can go into Knoxville (after losing to Xavier at home) confirms it.
  • Northern Iowa 59, Illinois St. 55. NIU continues to roll right along in the MVC (now 9-1).
  • Northwestern 77, Indiana 75. IU continues to get so very close to winning one of these games, but they can’t seem to get over the hump (now losing ten in a row).
  • Connecticut 71, Depaul 49. Not every Big East road team lost tonight.  Depaul is an abomination, and Jerry Wainwright should be fired for this (0-8) disaster.
  • Kansas St. 88, Missouri 72. Mizzou had been rolling (4 Ws in a row), so this was a minor shocker.  We guess 12-22 from three will do that, though (KSU).
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Set Your Tivos: 01.20.09-01.22.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 20th, 2009

Set Your TivosIn light of the weak set of games this week, we’re bringing you a midweek (Tuesday-Thursday) Set Your Tivos before the weekend edition (Friday night’s games are awful so go out and do something that night).

Tuesday (01.20.09)
– Ohio State at #24 Illinois, 7 PM on ESPN and Illinois has been one of the most surprising teams in the first half of the college basketball season. Bruce Weber‘s team came into the season without a single vote in either major poll and now they sit in the top 25. Although they are only 3-2 in the Big Ten this year, the Fighting Illini have shown everyone that they will contend for the conference title this year with their performance in the early season. All three of their losses this year have been against respectable competition: Clemson (by 2 points), at Michigan (avenged last week), and at Michigan State (by 6). On the other hand, Ohio State has been disappointing since the loss of David Lighty and has went 6-3 since his injury after starting 7-0 including a win over Notre Dame.

Illinois’s strength this year has been their balanced scoring attack with 4 players averaging between 11.3 and 11.8 PPG. They are led by Dmeteri McCamey (11.8 PPG and 4.9 APG) at the point and Mike Davis (11.3 PPG and 7.3 RPG) on the inside. They are a potential Sweet 16 team if Kentucky transfer Alex Legion can become more consistent and play like he did against Michigan State (15 points on 6/13 FG).

The key to this game will be Weber’s ability to limit Evan Turner, who is averaging 15.9 PPG and 7.0 RPG this season. While Thad Matta has two other players (Jon Diebler and William Buford) who average double figures along with the highly touted B.J. Mullens, Turner is the most consistent scorer that Matta has. If Weber can get Davis to slow down Turner, Illinois should be able to pull this one out.

Wednesday (01.21.09)
– #21 Villanova at #3 UConn, 7 PM on ESPN and Yet another ridiculous Big East battle. Even though I am fairly certain that UConn and Pittsburgh are the best teams in the conference (unless Louisville keeps playing at this level), I have a feeling that the regular season title will be determined by which team wins its other conference games. Quite frankly (sorry Stephen A.), Villanova shouldn’t beat UConn in Storrs if the Huskies play up to their potential.

Calhoun’s talented, but enigmatic backcourt of A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson, and Kemba Walker will have to contend with Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, and Corey Stokes. The match-up is pretty close, but I’d give the edge to the Huskies here unless Reynolds goes off. On the inside, the Huskies also have the advantage, but will need to contain Dante Cunningham, who comes in averaging 17.4 PPG and 7.4 RPG. If they can prevent him from having a monster game, UConn will have a decided edge on the inside. One of Jim Calhoun‘s on-going challenges will be getting Stanley Robinson to play consistently after his unusual sabatical. If Calhoun can get consistent play out of Robinson to go along with the surprisingly consistent Hasheem Thabeet (except for the Gonzaga game) and the explosive slasher Jeff Adrien, he might just find himself in Detroit in April.

– #9 Clemson at #6 UNC, 9 PM on ESPN and Will Clemson ever win a game at Chapel Hill? The Tigers’ losing streak in Chapel Hill currently stands at a NCAA record 53 games dating back to their first visit there on January 15, 1926. After Saturday’s loss to current #1 Wake Forest, Clemson will be looking to rebound and avoid their annual ACC slide. Unfortunately for Clemson, UNC is probably stronger than them at every position and has the previously mentioned home court edge.

Oliver Purnell will also need solid play out of his 9-deep rotation (all averaging over 13.2 MPG), which is led by Trevor Booker and K.C. Rivers. Booker will likely be matched up against reigning POY Tyler Hansbrough. It will be a tough match-up for Booker and even matching Hansbrough will likely mean a 54th consecutive loss for Tigers at Chapel Hill. Clemson’s best hope is to use their depth and pressure defense to rattle Ty Lawson, who has been playing well this year except for the Tar Heels two losses (9 assists and 8 TOs in those games).

Roy Williams will need to focus on keeping his stars out of foul trouble because the Tigers are one of the few teams in the country that can match UNC’s depth although not necessarily with the same quality that the Tar Heels have. Even though this is a conference match-up against a top 10 team UNC should be able to handle the Tigers relatively easily particularly if Wayne Ellington continues his hot shooting from the 2nd half of the Miami game.

Thursday (01.22.09)
– West Virginia at No. 14 Georgetown, 7 PM on ESPN and After losing consecutive games to UConn and Marquette, the Mountaineers feasted on a break in their schedule with back-to-back wins over Marshall and USF. Unfortunately for Bob Huggins, if West Virginia wants to make the NCAA tournament they will have to start stealing a few wins against the upper tier teams in the conference. On the other sideline, John Thompson III will need to focus on his team’s energy level after a hard-fought win against Syracuse and a tough loss at Duke on Saturday.

This game will likely come down to whether Huggins can find somebody inside to battle Greg Monroe and DaJuan Summers. The Mountaineers match-up well on the outside with Alex Ruoff and Darryl Bryant going up against Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, but Da’Sean Butler will have his hands full against Monroe and Summers assuming Monroe can stay out of foul trouble and the “fans behind the bench” keep quiet. I expect the Hoyas to pull away in this one midway through the second half after struggling to find their focus in the first half.

– #18 Purdue at #20 Minnesota, 7 PM on ESPN2 and This one looks like it will be a battle of teams fighting for a #2 seed in the Big Ten tournament (the Spartans look like a strong #1 in the conference). The Boilermakers have rebounded well from an 0-2 start in the Big Ten and have won 3 straight. Matt Painter‘s club relies on its own Big Three (sorry Boston fans) of E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, and JaJuan Johnson. If Hummel is back to 100%, they are one of the better trios in the Big Ten. Purdue’s problem is the big drop-off after that as their 4th leading scorer averages 8.0 PPG (respectable) on 34.1% FG (not so respectable).

Tubby Smith will be looking for his club to bounce back after a bad loss at Northwestern on Sunday. Lawrence Westbrook is the unquestioned star of this team, but we’re more curious about Ralph Sampson III (yes, that’s his son). I’m expecting this one to be a hard-fought game, but I think Purdue will be able to pull this one out against the Gophers, who I believe may be getting too much credit by the media for their win against the suddenly resurgent Louisville Cardinals earlier in the year.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.17.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 16th, 2009

Set Your Tivos

Game of the Day #1

#12 Georgetown at #2 Duke on CBS at 1:30 PM

John Thompson III might want to think about asking the AD at Georgetown for a new schedule maker. I can understand wanting to get your team ready for the tournament, but this is ridiculous. Coming off a brutal start to their Big East schedule (Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Notre Dame, and Syracuse), the Hoyas get a respite by heading out of conference with a leisurely trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium where the Blue Devils have a 67-game home non-conference winning streak. Normally a trip to Cameron would be a major focus of any team’s season, but with the Hoyas’ recent schedule it will be interesting to see if they have anything left in the tank.

This has the potential to be an entertaining game with great matchups all over the floor. The most interesting matchup will be Greg Monroe against Kyle Singler. While Monroe has more potential and will be a higher NBA Draft pick, Singler is quite talented too and plays at a high level more consistently. I’m not sure how Duke will open up because I don’t think Brian Zoubek has a chance against Monroe, but with Monroe’s tendency to coast it might not be such a big issue for stretches of the game. The matchup will be made more interesting by the fact that Duke was the front-runner for Monroe (the #1 high school recruit at times last year) for most of the recruiting season before committing to Georgetown. If Monroe had joined Singler in the middle, Coach K could have had a legitimate title contender.

If Coach K decides to put Zoubek on Monroe, Singler will end up playing against DaJuan Summers who has really stepped up his game this year (15.1 PPG on 53.8% FG and 44.4% 3FG). Either way, it should be an interesting match-up on the inside. Singler probably has the most complete game of any of the 4 bigs in the starting lineup, but Zoubek is still the weakest link of the Duke starting lineup despite his tremendous improvement since he has been at Duke.  Singler’s ability to shoot from outside brings up another intriguing aspect of this game about whether Monroe can come out and defend Singler if necessary. The Hoyas might be best served to put Summers on Singler to keep Monroe out of foul trouble because they will need Monroe to play 30+ minutes if they hope to pull off the upset in Cameron. In the end, it might be the battle on the inside and who controls the boards that will determine outcome of the game despite the talented guards on both sides.

The backcourts also provide some interesting match-ups: Nolan Smith vs. Chris Wright, Jon Scheyer vs. Jessie Sapp, and Gerald Henderson vs. Austin Freeman. All of these are intriguing match-ups with solid players who are capable of taking over a game at any time. Keep an eye on Henderson in this one since he’s the one world-class athlete on the Duke team and he has stepped it up recently including taking over the 2nd half of the game against FSU last Saturday.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by nvr1983 on January 14th, 2009

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Give me an honest answer. What do you think is a more impressive accomplishment? Winning the Big East regular season title, winning the Big East Tournament, or reaching the Final Four?

Me? I’m going with the Big East regular season title. Every single time you step on the court in this league, it is a dogfight. It’s ridiculous what these teams go through. Take a look at the next six days for Syracuse: they head to DC on Wednesday to take on Georgetown, return back to Syracuse to face Notre Dame on Saturday, then travel to Pittsburgh to face the Panthers for Big Monday. Three games against top 15 teams in the span of six days culminating in a date with the #1 team in the country. And that isn’t an uncommon occurrence this year. Every team does it at least once (Running the Gauntlet, we’ve gone over this kiddies). The only conference that can match a run like that is the ACC, and that would have to mean one of Wake Forest, Clemson, Duke, or UNC plays the all of the other three. Tennessee playing Kentucky, Florida, and Arkansas in the span of a week just isn’t quite the same thing.

What I love about this year’s version of the Big East is the unpredictability. I could legitimately see four different teams winning the regular season title and three others that, if they get hot, could reel off six or seven straight wins and end up on top. Before league play started, it was UConn. Then they lost to Georgetown on opening night, and the Hoyas became the team to beat. Then Pitt rolled through DC to become the new and current favorite. Who is next? Pitt plays Louisville and Syracuse this week. If one of those two knocks off the Panthers, are they the favorite of the week?

The more I think about it, winning the Big East tourney title may be a tougher feat than reaching a Final Four as well. For the first time, all 16 teams will be headed to Madison Square Garden to participate in the conference tournament, which just so happens to be the number of teams that play in each regional in the NCAA’s.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.14.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 14th, 2009

Set Your Tivos

Game of the Night
#8 Syracuse at #12 Georgetown, 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and It’s hard to believe that these two powerhouses are only the 3rd and 4th highest ranked teams in their own conference. [Calm down ACC folks. I realize that you have 4 teams ranked ahead of Georgetown, but the ACC doesn’t even come close to the Big East in terms of depth. Look for the next ACC team in the top 25. There are none.] Looking at these teams, I still have a hard time believing that the Orangemen can compete with Pittsburgh, UConn, or Georgetown if all of those teams are playing up to their potential. However, Jim Boeheim has his team playing solid basketball and is one miracle 60-footer away from being undefeated (or at least being in OT to stay undefeated). Syracuse has been able to do this despite the distraction created by the suspension of Eric Devendorf for assaulting a female student as noted extensively here at RTC. Boehiem has been able to do this thanks to solid play from Jonny Flynn (seen below getting away with the most blatant charge that wasn’t called that you will ever see) and Devendorf (when not interacting with the co-eds) on the perimeter and Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku on the inside. The embarrassingly weak early schedule (SOS: 56th in the nation) has certainly helped the Orangemen have a gaudy record.

Tonight the Orangemen will face their first true test against the Hoyas on the road. Unlike Syracuse, Georgetown has already faced a difficult schedule (SOS: #2 in the nation behind only 6-10 Oregon) including 3 brutal games in the Big East (road games at Connecticut and Notre Dame and at home against Pittsburgh). While the Hoyas lack the depth inside (or thugs according to JT2), they will have the most talented player on the court playing for them on the inside in Greg Monroe who has shown glimpses of brilliance this year. Having seen him in person at the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving Break, I can definitely see why he has NBA scouts drooling, but at times he appears too passive at times to dominate games. While neither Harris nor Onuaku can match Monroe’s talent, it will be interesting to see if he can match their intensity the entire game. The other key match-up will be how DaJuan Summers, Chris Wright, and Austin Freeman do against Flynn and Devendorf on the perimeter although I’m not sure how John Thompson III will utilize Summers if Boeheim opts for his patented 2-3 zone. I’m not sure what to make of his experiments with man-to-man, but I would venture that he will go with the more familiar now that he is finally playing some solid teams. I’m guessing that Georgetown has too much talent, the home court, and experience from playing actually competition to lose this game. Syracuse should be able to keep it close until the final 5 minutes when the Hoyas should pull away.

Others to Watch
#2 Duke at Georgia Tech, 7 PM on ESPN and This has trap game written all over it. Duke just came off a win at FSU, which has shocked Duke several times this year, and the Blue Devils have a nationally televised showcase at Cameron against the aforementioned Hoyas on Saturday. Georgia Tech is mediocre enough (9-6) that the Blue Devils may overlook them, but just talented enough that they could shock Duke particularly since the game will be played at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The key thing to watch here will be how the Yellow Jacket bigs–Gani Lawal (16.8 PPG and 10.0 RPG) and Alade Aminu (13.5 PPG and 9.4 RPG)–do since interior play will continue to be Duke’s Achilles’ heel (except when they go 3 for their first 27 from 3-point range). If Lawal and Aminu can dominate inside against Kyle Singler and Brian Zoubek, Paul Hewett just may be able to pull out the win.

#3 Wake Forest at Boston College, 9 PM on ESPN Full Court and RTC will be at this game (look for the male equivalent of Erin Andrews typing away on his keyboard) to bring you the latest scoop on Wake Forest, the most intriguing team in college basketball. Even after the Demon Deacons win at BYU to end the Cougars nation-leading 53 game home winning streak, there remained a healthy skepticism of Dino Gaudio‘s young squad. However, after they held off everyone’s national title favorite UNC people have really started to come around on this team (I don’t think their rise of 1-2 spots in the polls reflects the magnitude of the change in perception). On the other hand, Boston College may be the most confusing team in the nation. After pulling off one of the bigger upsets of the season (and ending the media’s speculation of an undefeated season for UNC), the Eagles followed it up with a loss at home against Harvard and then to Miami. While the loss to Miami (preseason #17) is excusable, the loss to the Crimson isn’t. Wake will try avoid a letdown similar to the one BC had by relying on Jeff Teague, James Johnson, and Al-Farouq Aminu. Teague will likely be guarded very closely after his explosion against UNC. Wake also hopes to get a big contribution out of Chas McFarland, who was last seen outsprinting Ty Lawson down the court for a crucial lay-up on Saturday. If the Eagles are going to rebound for their back-to-back defeats, they will need a huge game out Tyrese Rice along with solid contributions out of Joe Trapani and Corey Raji. Much like the Duke-Georgia Tech game, this is one to watch to see if the favorite is looking ahead to their next game, which is also a monster match-up for Wake (against undefeated Clemson).

#21 Baylor at Texas A&M, 9:30 PM on ESPN2 and A match-up of two lightly regarded teams with impressive records (13-2 and 14-2, respectively). These two teams are my pick to compete with Kansas for the #3 spot in the Big 12 this year. Baylor appears to have recovered from the Dave Bliss fiasco and comes into the game with a top 25 ranking. They have done this with their entire starting 5 averaging double figures, but the unquestioned leader of this team is Curtis Jerrells who will need to have a big game tonight to get a win on the road. Looking through their results so far, I’m having a hard time finding any good wins. A win at College Station would mean a big jump for the Bears in the eyes of the voters. I think a lot of people forget just how good Texas A&M was last year. They were one blown call against UCLA away from potentially forcing OT in the Sweet 16. The Aggies will rely on a balanced attack with Josh Carter, Donald Sloan, Bryan Davis, and Chinemelu Elonu to try and defend their home court.

#24 Michigan at Illinois, 8:30 PM on The Big Ten Network: It looks like a year after his program looked like it was going implode after the Eric Gordon recruiting disaster, Bruce Weber has his team headed in the right direction. Tonight he will try to avenge one of the Fighting Illini’s 2 losses (the other was by 2-points to undefeated Clemson). This should be a close game as the Wolverines won by 10 at Ann Arbor a little over a week ago. Outside of the big guys from each team (Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims for Michigan and Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey for Illinois), my player to watch tonight is Alex Legion, who has shown signs of becoming a big-time scorer since his mid-season addition to Illinois after his transfer from Kentucky.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2008

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference. 

There are a lot of people out there that will call themselves college basketball experts, myself included (although I may be the only one to think that way). And these so-called experts keep telling you how good the Big East is this year. Once again, myself included.

If the Big East is so good, then where are all the marquee wins?

The Big East only has three really good wins – Notre Dame beating Texas in Maui, Syracuse beating Kansas in a de facto home game, and Georgetown beating Memphis at home. Even in those three, Georgetown won at home and Kansas is, well, not all that good right now.

It isn’t like they aren’t getting the chances either. West Virginia and Villanova lost to Davidson and Texas in the Jimmy V Classic. Marquette lost to Tennessee. So did Georgetown. Seton Hall lost to Memphis. Cincinnati lost to Xavier. Notre Dame lost to Ohio State and UNC.

As far as I’m concerned there are two schools of thought on this. One is that the Big East is actually even better than we expected. As a result, they are beating good teams, which in turn knocks those teams down in the rankings. Case in point, Wisconsin. The Badgers have two losses on the season (UConn and Marquette) which is part of the reason they aren’t ranked. Along those same lines, when lesser teams actually do get an upset of the Big East teams, they end up getting ranked too high.

The other is that the Big East is just a really big conference chock full of pretty good, but not great, teams. Look at the facts – UConn and Pitt are undefeated, but Pitt hasn’t played anyone and UConn has been so inconsistent; Villanova, Louisville, Georgetown, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Marquette all have fatal flaws as a team; Syracuse has been playing well, but struggles to keep their focus at times and will most likely be losing Eric Devendorf for the season.

So what does this mean? Are the ACC and the Big XII creeping up? No, not just yet. Let me ask you this question – if a healthy West Virginia team (Alex Ruoff and Joe Mazzula sat) beat Davidson and a healthy Luke Harangody helped knock off UNC and/or OSU, who we even be having this conversation?

Probably not. Now that is done, let’s get on to the good stuff.

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ATB: An A10 Kind of Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on December 14th, 2008

A10 Weekend. The A10 used three televised games on Saturday to announce its presence to America, knocking off an SEC, Big East and Big 12 team in the process (two of which were effectively road games).  With the relative weakness of the Pac-10 and SEC this year, the A10 could make a run at a legitimate four NCAA bids this season.  Today’s results could go a long way in the Tourney Committee’s minds toward that end.   Great weekend for the Atlantic 10.

  • Temple 88, Tennessee 72. Every outlet in America is making the “Merry Christmas” joke, so we’ll refrain here, but suffice it to say that Temple’s Dionte Christmas stole Bruce Pearl’s cookies and blew up his sled with an explosive game where it seemed as if every shot he threw at the rim was flushing straight through.  More importantly, Temple exposed Tennessee’s defense for what it is – simply not good enough to sustain any kind of legitimate run in March.  The Owls shot a blistering 55%, led by Xmas’ 35 on seven threes, and it often appeared as if the Vol players had little interest in covering him.  The roof nearly came off the place when he hit three trifectas in a row during a personal 1:30 run to blow open the game.  Temple, who had not defeated a top 10 team since John Chaney was still on campus, celebrated with a spirited RTC, to which, we say – deserved.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 3rd, 2008

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Some of the Big East elite stumbled this week. Notre Dame, Louisville, Georgetown, West Virginia, Marquette, and Cincinnati all picked up their first loss of the season since the last time we checked in with RTC. Should Big East fans be worried? Was all that talk about the Big East being the best conference ever nothing but talk? In a word … maybe? Look, the bottom line is that each one of the aforementioned teams that suffered their first loss got beat by a good team. I mean, Notre Dame losing by 15 to UNC when Luke Harangody in is the early stages of pneumonia is not the same as losing by 18 to Maryland (sorry to all Spartan fans – I know Roe and Suton were hurt and Morgan was being a punk in foul trouble, just trying to make a point). Even the Louisville loss, which is inexcusable for a team of their talent (probably why Pitino apologized), was to a Western Kentucky team that looks to be hitting their stride (they have won three straight games against Southern Illinois, the ‘Ville, and Georgia, and lost one game without leading scorer AJ Slaughter in his first game back). Let’s look at it like this – Tennessee, UNC, and Dayton are all going to be NCAA tourney teams. Western Kentucky, Florida State, and Kentucky are all going to garner attention as bubble teams. While this is a startling number of losses to occur in the span of one week, it is not like UConns are losing to Delaware States, and it doesn’t change the fact that there are a number of Big East teams (UConn, Pitt, Syracuse, Villanova) that are rolling through competent competition.

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #1 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2008

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference. 

Predicted Order of Finish (from the coach’s pre-season poll, released at Big East media day):

  1. Connecticut (9)
  2. Louisville (3)
  3. Pitt (3)
  4. Notre Dame (1)
  5. Villanova
  6. Marquette
  7. Georgetown
  8. Syracuse
  9. West Virginia
  10. Providence
  11. Cincinnati
  12. Rutgers
  13. Seton Hall
  14. St john’s
  15. DePaul
  16. South Florida


WYN2K. You hear that? You know what that is? That’s the sound of RTC stealing my thunder.  I’m not much of a statistician myself, but just by looking at that pre-season poll I can tell you this – the Big East is loaded.  If you live outside of Big East country, then you are probably sick of hearing about how good the conference is, year in and year out. But facts are facts. Four teams are legitimate Final Four threats. Another six teams are, depending on who you ask, expected to be a part of the 65 team field. Three more teams have an outside shot at punching a ticket to the dance if they can catch a few breaks (transfers getting cleared, freshman getting eligible, etc.).  So in this day and age of college basketball, where “early entry,” “parity,” and “mid-major” have become household terms, how did one conference manage to stockpile so many good teams? Well, as you can see, the Big East is HUGE. There are sixteen teams spanning from Rhode Island to Wisconsin to Florida and everywhere in between. When you have that many teams in one conference, there are bound to be years where there are a lot of good teams, especially when so many of the schools have a rich basketball tradition.  This just happens to be one of those years where the Big East got lucky. Last season, 32 players were named to an All-Big East team (1st, 2nd, honorable mention, all-rookie), and only two of those players (WVU’s Joe Alexander and Syracuse’s Donte Greene) declared for the draft with eligibility remaining. Would Pittsburgh be as good as expected if Sam Young left? What about UConn without Hasheem Thabeet? Those two, and a number of other players, probably would be on NBA rosters right now if they left, but for whatever reason (a loaded draft class last year, smarts enough to know they weren’t ready, boosters offered them more than what they would get paid on a rookie’s salary) they decided to head back to campus.

So without further ado, here is your conference breakdown:

Cellar Dwellars.  DePaul, St. John’s, South Florida, Rutgers

  • There are some talented players on these teams. Sophomore Dar Tucker of DePaul is a poster waiting to happen. South Florida’s Dominique Jones scored 17.1 ppg as a freshman. St. John’s has senior Anthony Mason Jr. and sophomore Justin Burrell to carry the load. But with the depth of the Big East this year combined with the loss of some talented seniors, none of these three teams really look like they have a shot at doing much. Rutgers might have the best shot of the group to make some noise, as Fred Hill has landed back-to-back talented freshman classes. Don’t be surprised if you hear the names Gregory Echenique and Mike Rosario (RU’s first Mickey D’s all-american) quite often during the season.

We Should Have Bribed The NCAA.  Cincinnati (NIT), Seton Hall (NIT)

  • Both the Pirates and the Bearcats are awaiting the NCAA’s word on whether or not they will have some key players in their rotation. After struggling with the remnants of the Cincy program in the wake of Bob Huggins, Mick Cronin finally has the program heading in the right direction. He brings back Deonta Vaughn, who is one of the most explosive scorers in the country, and gets former Texas forward Mike Williams back from an Achilles injury. Adding two talented freshman in Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright only helped matters. But Wright tore up his knee in the first week of practice, meaning that Vaughn is, once again, their only real backcourt threat and that they must rely heavily on their front line, which could be bolstered by the addition of 7’2” center John Riek. The Sudanese refugee, who was considered one of the best prospects in the country two years ago but has battled knee problems, is dealing with eligibility issues but could be in uniform by December. 
  • Seton Hall’s situation is a little different. The Pirates lose leading scorer Brian Laing (18.6 ppg) but return a solid nucleus of Eugene Harvey, Jeremy Hazell and John Garcia. Bobby Gonzalez had also hoped to add transfers Herb Pope (New Mexico St.) and Keon Lawrence (Missouri) without having to wait the mandatory one year for a transfer by having each kid apply for the NCAA’s hardship waiver. Pope’s been denied, Lawrence’s application will wait until after the first semester, and freshman Melvyn Oliver is still waiting to be cleared academically, meaning the Pirates currently have only eight scholarship players.

Pretenders or Contenders?  Providence (NIT), West Virginia (NCAA #7)

  • I know what you’re thinking. Providence? Really, Rob? They haven’t been good since the days of Ryan Gomes and Donnie MacGrath (and even then, good might have been pushing it). But the Friars have the horses to sneak up on some people this year. They were as balanced as any team in the Big East last year, with six guys (five returners) that averaged at least 8.7 ppg.  PG Sharaud Curry, arguably their best player, is back from a stress fracture in his foot and they have added Keno Davis, last year’s national COY at Drake, as the head coach. Davis should have some success in his first year with the Friars if they follow the same spread floor style that was so successful at Drake. One key reason for that is big man Geoff McDermott, who is adept at playing on the perimeter and is a stat stuffer (10 ppg, 8 rpg, 5 apg, 1 spg, and 1.5 bpg). Remember, this Providence team, who battled the injury bug all year, swept UConn and beat Temple and Arkansas last seaso. The talent’s there, but consistency and healthy players will be the key to their season.
  • The Mountaineers are a different story. They really came on towards the end of the season, thanks in (very) large part to the emergence of Joe Alexander, who was probably the best player in the conference (maybe the country) for the last month-plus of the season and is now a forward with the Bucks. Left are a bunch of very good role players that fit into Huggy Bear’s system and play hard. Guys like Joe Mazzula, Alex Ruoff and Da’Sean Butler. There are two major questions for the Mountaineers – who is going to play in the post and who is going to fill to void of “go-to guy” with Alexander gone. Freshman Devin Ebanks may be able to fill Alexander’s shoes with time, but the rest of the Mountaineers front line will be small (especially for the Big East) and inexperienced.

Worst of the Rest.  Syracuse (NCAA #7), Georgetown (NCAA #7), Marquette (NCAA #6), Villanova (NCAA #5)

  • I’ll be completely honest with you. I’m a UConn fan. I hate Syracuse. Despise them. I even hate the color orange. I didn’t even rank them in my top 25. Call it being biased, call it homerism, call it what you like. But I’ve had an epiphany – this team is really talented. Jonny Flynn is one of the best point guards in the country. Eric Devendorf is a very talented combo guard. Andy Rautins can flat out stroke the three. Paul Harris is a linebacker playing basketball. Arinze Onuake is a beast on the block. And this year, they actually have a deep bench filled with role players and hustle guys. They’re not quite in the top four, but Boeheim has himself his most talented team since Melo.
  • Georgetown lost a lot of very important players to graduation (Roy Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace, Patrick Ewing Jr) and transfers (Jeremiah Rivers, Vernon Macklin). They are left with just four guys who were in their rotation last year – guards Chris Wright, Jessie Sapp, Austin Freeman and forward DaJuan Summers. They do add a great recruiting class, headlined by big men Greg Monroe and Henry Sims, but it will still be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Hoyas. Part of the reason is that John Thompson III may have to change up his style of play from the Princeton Offense. Hibbert, Wallace, and Ewing were perfectly suited to a slowed down game, where as Sapp and Wright are quick guards that can make plays in the open floor.
  • Marquette has a new coach, but they will be the same team. By now, you must know about their three great guards – Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews – who, when combined with Maurice Acker and David Cubillan, make up one of the deepest, most explosive backcourts in the country. But, much like Villanova and West Virginia, Marquette needs someone to step up inside. It’s great when you have a bunch of guards that can score and make plays, but will Dominic James 40” vert help him against the likes of Luke Harangody or DeJuan Blair? Dwight Burke is going to have to make some big strides as a senior, or else the Golden Eagles will have to rely on a freshman and two JuCo transfers inside.
  • Remember that Villanova team from a few years back? The one with Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye, Allan Ray and Mike Nardi? Well this ‘Nova team is going to be similar to that squad. Led by scoring machine Scottie Reynolds, ‘Nova has one of the best backcourts in the conference. But the key to their success this year will be the front court. Dante Cunningham, an athletic, 6’9 PF, has proven himself as a capable frontcourt player in the Big East, but the rest of the Wildcats frontline will need to step up if Jay Wright’s club wants to crack the top four.

Crème de la Crème.  Notre Dame (NCAA #5), Pittsburgh (NCAA #3), Louisville (NCAA #2), UConn (NCAA #1)

  • Notre Dame returns basically the entire team that finished tied for second in the Big East, including reigning Big East player of the year Luke Harangody. While I can’t help but comment on his resemblance to a pot-bellied pig, you can’t argue with his production last year (23 ppg and 11 rpg in conference). While he is built like one of Charlie Weis’ lineman, he is actually incredibly nimble and has great feet and balance, which is one of the reasons he is able to scorer against bigger, more athletic defenders. Surrounding him will be shooters Ryan Ayers and Kyle McAlarney (who was a 1st team all-conference performer), as well as Tory Jackson, who is one of the more underrated PGs in the league. Notre Dame is going to be a fun team to watch if you like games with a lot of scoring and a lot of threes.
  • Pitt is going to be a typical Pitt team, with a lot of big, strong, tough kids that are going to play rugged, in your face defense. Sam Young, who developed a deadly jumper out to around the three point line, and DeJuan Blair, a 6’7 270-lb mammoth inside, provide one of the toughest frontcourts to match up with in the country. The biggest questions for Pitt surround their backcourt. When will Levance Fields return from foot surgery, and will he be healthy? Can anyone on this team replace the three point shooting of Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin?
  • Louisville, along with Pitt, is probably going to be the toughest defensive team in the conference. It starts with their backcourt, where they have five guys (Edgar Sosa, Andre McGee, Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles, Reginald Delk) that will really get after you on the perimeter. Earl Clark and Terrence Williams (who is coming off a torn meniscus and should be out another month or so) are both athletic, versatile players. T-Wills is more of a perimeter player and is the Cardinals best creator offensively, averaging more than 4.5 apg last year. Clark is more of a combo forward that will get his points off of fast breaks and cutting to the basket. Louisville loses their entire front line from last year, but they bring in a solid recruiting class, the star of which is Samardo Samuels, probably the best post recruit in America this year.
  • Last, but certainly not least, is UConn. The Huskies probably won’t be at full strength until December, as AJ Price is coming off of a torn ACL and freshman Ater Majok and junior Stanley Robinson (who was last seen on a poster) are both going to be made eligible (hopefully) after the first semester ends. Regardless, UConn is loaded with talent. 7’3” junior and shot blocking machine Hasheem Thabeet returns, as does Jeff Adrien, the Huskies leading scorer and rebounder. Price will be joined in the backcourt by talented but troubled junior Jerome Dyson and Mickey D’s all-american Kemba Walker. UConn’s biggest question mark right now – can they win a big game? They were 8-8 on the road or on a neutral court last year, and are 0-3 in the Big East and NCAA tournaments the last two years.

RPI Boosters.  The Big East RPI is going to be high enough, but here are some of the must-see non-conference match-ups (ignoring the possible match-ups in pre-season tournaments):

  • Wisconsin @ Marquette  (12.06.08)
  • Villanova vs. Texas and Davidson vs. West Virginia in NYC at Jimmy V  (12.09.08)
  • Cincinnati vs. Xavier  (12.13.08)
  • Memphis @ Georgetown  (12.13.08)
  • Marquette @ Tennessee  (12.16.08)
  • Gonzaga vs. UConn in Seattle  (12.20.08)
  • Syracuse @ Memphis  (12.20.08)
  • Kentucky @ Louisville  (01.04.09)
  • Georgetown @ Duke  (01.17.09)
  • Notre Dame @ UCLA  (02.07.09)

65 Team Era.  The Big East earned its chops as a basketball conference in the 80s, and that tradition persists to this very day despite the expansion of the league to it’s current sixteen-team iteration.  Last year the league earned eight bids to the NCAAs, and it’s difficult to envision a future scenario where the conference would ever get less than six bids again.  This obviously will skew their future numbers on a whole scale, but their stats to date are nothing to sneeze at (206-126, .620, 11 F4s, 4 titles).  With the power at the top of this year’s league, we could potentially see another 1985 F4 on the horizon (3/4 of the F4 were Big East teams – Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s). 

Final Thought.  The Big East is wide open this year. Every night is going to be a dog fight. One thing you can be sure of, however, is that any team from this league that makes it to the postseason is going to be battle-tested.

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Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #13 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 29th, 2008

Shamelessly cribbing from last spring’s very clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present to you the Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we gear up toward the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube. 

#13 – Where Hoya Paranoia Happens

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