It’s OV-UH.Villanova 77, Notre Dame 60. Unless Mike Brey’s Irish win four games in four days to get to the Big East finals, we don’t want to hear another word about this team’s NCAA Tournament chances. Sorry, but when you’re playing for your postseason life in an arena when you’ve won something like 48 of your last 50 games and you get ripped a new one in the second half by a team that has much less on the line, you’ve lost your standing to make your case. Villanova’s defense held the Irish to 39% shooting for the game, especially during a key 12-0 run in the middle of the second half that effectively salted the game away. Although ND’s Ryan Ayers blew up for seven threes and 25 pts, Villanova shadowed and harassed Kyle McAlarney and Tory Jackson into a combined 3-15 evening, while committing a season-low five turnovers on its end of the court. Scottie Reynolds added 23/6/5 assts on 8-12 shooting, including six threes. Villanova has surprised us all season long, and the Wildcats are now in a position to earn a top-four double-bye at the Big East Tourney should they beat Providence on Thursday and Marquette loses its final two games at Pitt and vs. Syracuse. How have they done it? Nova doesn’t particularly excel at any one thing offensively or defensively, but they don’t have a huge weakness either. The difference between this year and last has been the emergence of Dante Cunningham, who has given Villanova a legitimate post threat for the first time since Curtis Sumpter was buzzing around the Main Line. With wins over Pitt, Marquette, Syracuse and closes losses to Louisville and UConn, the Cats have proven they can play with just about anybody.
What Happened to Baylor?Texas 73, Baylor 57. Texas beat Baylor for the 24th consecutive time tonight behind 16 from Dexter Pittman off the bench and 14 pts each from AJ Abrams and Justin Mason. Baylor couldn’t throw it in the ocean, shooting 32% including a miserable 3-17 performance from Curtis Jerrells. Texas got a necessary win to move to 9-6 in the Big 12 race, with a game at Kansas this weekend to finish off the regular season. UT looks like a one-and-done team this year, but what happened to Baylor, a preseason top 25 team that, coming into conference play, looked every bit as good as the NCAA Tournament team from last season. While the Baylor defense is marginally worse than it was last year, we don’t think that’s the reason. Rather, somewhere along the way, the Bears forgot how to put the ball in the hole. In eight of their last eleven games, Baylor has shot 41% or less, and not coincidentally, they lost seven of those games. In the two games where they managed to hit 50%+, they won. The other factor is that the face of the Bear program, Jerrells, is slumping. In that same 11-game period, Jerrells has had three games of single figures and shot 30% from the field – without his production, Baylor has been a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 team.
One Other Monday Game of Interest.
Davidson 90, Elon 78. Stephen Curry had 25/5/4 stls tonight as he passed the 2,500 pt mark for his career. Now it’s on to the SoCon Tourney next weekend, and Curry’s team probably needs to win it.
1:00pm. Welcome back to another day of BGTD. There are only 2o games today, but there are five of particular interest that we’ll be tracking. Villanova @ Syracuse and Illinois @ Ohio St. at 1pm, Wisconsin at Michigan St. @ 3pm, Wake Forest @ Duke at 7:45pm, and Arizona at Arizona St. at 10pm. Pretty strong day. Let’s get it started in upstate NY…
1:02pm. Before we get going, we want to touch on this story from the LA Times yesterday that UCLA has stopped recruiting local 6’11 prep star Renardo Sidney even though by mid-last week the Bruins were still considered the front-runner. Certainly UCLA could use a big man with guard skills such as those that Sidney has, so what gives? Color us jaded, but all we could think of when we heard that UCLA so abruptly dropped Sidney was this story written by Gregg Doyel about a Pac-10 recruit who was charging $10k per on-campus visit a few years ago. Did Sidney finally give UCLA his price? Was there a package deal that Ben Howland wasn’t willing to stomach? Not surprisingly, USC (of OJ Mayo, Daniel Hackett and Reggie Bush) is now considered the leader. Let’s see what happens later today when Sidney announces his college choice at 4pm PDT.
1:13pm. Villanova looks fantastic thus far, with seven scores in eight possessions, including three threes from Dwayne Anderson. If you’re still reflecting on yesterda’s wild Saturday, here’s Andy Katz’s article focusing on how quickly things can change.
1:23pm. Nova is getting whatever it wants offensively, and the Syracuse crowd still looks asleep (the players aren’t much better). Uh-oh alert – Clemson is already down double-figures at Georgia Tech – remember the Tigers lost a road game last weekend at bottom-feeder Virginia.
1:45pm. Cuse is coming back here just before the half, now down 2, behind Devendorf, Rautins and Flynn. Clemson is also back in the game, after getting down by as much as 15 to Ga Tech. Illinois appears like they’ll hit their total from the Illini’s last game vs. OSU in the first half (up 26-24 with 2:30 left).
2:00pm. Nova goes into the half with a six-pt lead, 46-40. Neither one of these teams is playing much defense – both sides are shooting 55% from the field. The key difference is that Villanova has been able to get to the line eight more times than the home team. Clemson fought back to tie things up at Georgia Tech, and Xavier is ripping GW 36-20 at halftime.
2:05pm. Seth Davis just got on board the RTC train with the Duke Swoon at halftime of the Syracuse-Nova game, predicting that the Devils will be the highest ranked team to lose early next month. Not sure if Duke will lose tonight, but there are two things in Wake’s favor… 1) Duke will play man-to-man, which helps Wake penetrate to the rim; and 2) Wake has shown this year a propensity to take ranked teams seriously, home or away. The Deacs get into trouble when they’re playing teams they don’t respect.
Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.
It is time to stop talking about the Big East as the best conference in college hoops. In the current installment of Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology, the Big East is getting seven teams in. That’s one fewer than the ACC and one more than the Pac-10. In fact, if we are talking in terms of percentage of league members to get a bid, the Big East slides all the way down to fourth as the Big Televen sends five teams.
Of course, if you look a little deeper, things could turn around pretty quickly. Cincinnati and Georgetown are Lunardi’s first two teams out while Providence is his sixth team out. He also has teams like Kansas State, Arizona, USC, and Boston College currently in the field. Maybe I’m a Big East homer (I don’t think I am) and maybe I just don’t know enough about the other teams and conferences (believe me, not true), but I find it tough to believe that those four teams are going to continue to win at the rate they currently are.
My question is why has the Big East gone from the “toughest conference in the history of conferences” to one with only the fourth highest percentage of teams into the dance this season?
I’m not sure why everyone complains about February. Sure the NFL season is over, but at least we don’t need to hear about steroids, holdouts, and whether or not both feet were in bounds. There isn’t a blockbuster “Game of the Year” match-up today, but there are several solid games for the hoops aficionado. So just settle into your favorite spot on the couch and dig in. In the spirit of promoting healthy habits, we suggest that you try to have some vegetables today so use some ketchup on your food today.
#20 Syracuse at #16 Villanova at Noon on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The appetizer for a great day of basketball. This isn’t necessarily a must win for either team, but a win today would probably boost their NCAA seed by at least a spot on Selection Sunday. Both teams have virtually assured themselves a NCAA bid (particularly with Syracuse’s relatively easy remaining schedule in the Big East). One of the more interesting aspects of this game is that if the Orangemen lose, there is a decent chance that they will drop out of the top 25 leaving the Big East with only 5 teams in the top 25 after having as many as 9 teams earlier this season. Anyways, back to the game. Watch the match-up at point guard featuring Jonny Flynn against Scottie Reynolds. The winner of that match-up will likely win the game barring an explosion by either Eric Devendorf or Dante Cunningham.
Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Cincinnati at Georgetown at Noon on The Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Georgetown is killing me this year. I saw them play in Orlando against Tennessee in the Old Spice Classic. They lost that game, but it was pretty clear to me that day that they had the talent to make it to the Sweet 16 at the very least. I never imagined that they might be in a position at this point in the season that they might not make the NCAA tournament. To be fair, at that time I was also operating under the assumption that Tennessee was good. The Hoyas were able to break their 5-game losing streak against Rutgers and will need to beat the Bearcats if they want to get some momentum heading into their game against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. If John Thompson III is able to figured out a way to keep Deonta Vaughn in check, the Hoyas should be able to ride Greg Monroe and DaJuan Summer to a victory.
Notre Dame at #12 UCLA at 1 PM on CBS: The Irish are desperate for a victory having lost 6 straight games. They will have to end their losing streak in one of the rare non-conference match-ups this month. Everybody knows Luke Harangody is going to get his (25.3 PPG and 13.2 RPG), but Notre Dame will need Kyle McAlarney to break out of his prolonged shooting slump and get a great game out of Tory Jackson, who will be matched up against the Bruins veteran PG, Darren Collison. Look for UCLA to pull away in the 2nd half behind Collison, Josh Shipp, and Jrue Holiday.
Miami (FL) at #3 Duke at 1:30 PM on Raycom, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: I’m fully expecting Duke to come back strong at home after the massacre at Littlejohn on Wednesday night, which is something that rtmsf actually predicted before the game (sort of), but nobody picked up on until after the game. (Ok, nobody has really picked up on it yet.) On the other hand, Miami was on the right side of the other blowout upset beating Wake Forest by 27. Look for Kyle Singler to rebound with a strong game after a weak “effort” against Clemson that was plagued by foul trouble. Coach K will likely use Gerald Henderson, the only Blue Devil who showed up against Clemson, on Jack McClinton in an attempt to slow down the mercurial Miami star. If Singler and Henderson can contain or at least equal Dwayne Collins and McClinton, respectively, the Blue Devils should return to their winning ways. Well at least until UNC invades Cameron on Wednesday night.
#17 Texas at Nebraska at 2 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Texas will be looking to rebound after back-to-back losses on the road. Today, they return to Austin to take on the Cornhuskers. Look for A.J. Abrams and Damion James to have big games as Rick Barnes‘s squad will definitely be motivated in this one after falling 3.5 back of conference leader Oklahoma. If Abrams and James have big games that should be enough to hold off Nebraska’s balanced attack.
Michigan at #1 UConn at 6 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This is a game that the Huskies should be able to win fairly convincingly particularly with the game in Gampel Pavillion, but as this year has taught us never expect too much out of the #1 ranked team in the country. A Michigan win would obviously do wonders for their NCAA tournament chances, but it will tough particularly with John Beilein‘s recent changes in his rotations including bringing DeShawn Sims off the bench in their 71-51 win over Penn State in their last game. The new lineup, which is still led by Manny Harris, may provide some match-up problems for UConn and their big men. I expect UConn to pull this one especially with the recent play of Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, but Michigan could give them problems and Beilein certainly knows all about the Huskies dating back to his days as the coach at West Virginia.
Charleston at Davidson at 6 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Most people will tune in just to watch Stephen Curry, but this could actually be a realtively close game (a rarity for the Wildcats in the weak Southern Conference). When these teams met earlier this season, the Wildcats escaped with a 4-point win on the road after Charleston had a chance to tie it with a 3 with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game. This is particularly meaningful as the Wildcats haven’t lost a Southern Conference game since January 20, 2007 (a 43-game winning streak). As an added bonus, you can see Bobby Cremins (former head coach of Georgia Tech) try to come up with a scheme to guard Curry. Cremins is one of the few coaches in the country who has had a player who was at Curry’s level or even above that as he coached Kenny Anderson (along with Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver aka “Lethal Weapon 3”) to the NCAA Final 4 in 1991.
Florida State at #10 Clemson at 7 PM on NESN and Fox Sports: I’m actually more interested in this game than the others for my own selfish reason since I’ll be doing another RTC Live when Clemson comes to Boston College on Tuesday night. It will be interesting to see if the Tigers have returned to Earth after their beatdown the hated Blue Devils just a few days ago. Oliver Purnell‘s squad had better be ready because the Seminoles are a fairly dangerous team (ask Roy Williams, who needed a Ty Lawson 3 at the buzzer to pull out a win against FSU). This is a classic letdown game so it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on it especially if Toney Douglas gets hot or if either Trevor Booker or K.C. Rivers isn’t on his game after the celebrations following the Duke win.
#19 Minnesota at Ohio State at 8 PM on The Big Ten Network: Minnesota will be licking its wounds after getting crushed by Michigan State at the Breslin Center earlier this week. Unfortunately for Tubby Smith, the Gophers have to head to Columbus to take on a Buckeye team that just knocked off Purdue. If Evan Turner is hot, the Buckeyes could make a move into the top 25 with a win here knocking the Gophers out in the process.
#23 Arizona State at Oregon State at 8:30 PM on Fox Sports: James Harden and the Sun Devils will be looking to complete the Oregon sweep against Craig Robinson‘s Beavers. [Ed. Note: Isn’t Robinson related to some famous guy? I thought I heard something about it on the news.] The Beavers, who were undefeated following Barack Obama‘s Inauguration, finally lost to Arizona ending Oregon State’s hopes of riding Obama-mania to an undefeated term. If the Sun Devils can contain Calvin Haynes, they should hand the Beavers a second consecutive defeat.
No, Mr. President. I’m not Reggie Love.
#15 Memphis at #18 Gonzaga at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Spokane is the site of ESPN GameDay today and it features a match-up of two highly regarded programs that hit rough patches this season, but have rebounded well. Gonzaga appears to have used their victory over Tennessee in Knoxville as a catalyst for their resurgence (Patty Mills‘s injury didn’t hurt either). Memphis, on the other hand, appears to have found its rhythm again with John Calipari‘s decision to move freshman Tyreke Evans from shooting guard to point guard (the kid is lost when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands). Evans has responded with his best play of the season and the Tigers have not lost since the move. Interestingly, both teams dominance in their leagues means that this is a huge game for each in terms of NCAA seeding. A win today would probably be worth 2 seeds on Selection Sunday assuming both teams are able to run the table for the rest of the regular season. Despite the fact that both teams have pretty balanced scoring attacks (4 starters in double figures for each team), the key to this game will likely be the PG match-up of Evans versus Jeremy Pargo. If the more experienced Pargo can outplay Evans, the Bulldogs should be able to run away with this one. If he isn’t, we could be in for a hard-fought game.
Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.
Remember all that talk about the Big East getting nine, maybe ten, teams into the dance? It seems like a long time ago now, as it is a legitimate possibility the league only gets seven teams in. The three teams in danger of missing out are Georgetown, Notre Dame and Providence.
The Irish are in the worst position right now. They are currently sitting at 12-8 and 3-6 in the Big East, but they are just 2-7 against the RPI’s top 50. Their RPI is 77 and their SOS is 49, which aren’t great. But the Irish still play four teams in the RPI top 20, and three more in the top 70, which means the Irish have plenty of chances to up their RPI rating.
Providence could also be in trouble. Their RPI is 63 and their SOS is 42. Their record is a little better than the Irish (14-7, 6-3), but they have struggled against the best teams (1-5 vs. RPI top 50, but 3-2 against 51-100). They, too, will get plenty of chances to improve their resume as they have five more games against the top 20.
Georgetown looks to be the safest right now. They have an RPI of 20, have played the toughest schedule in the country (and second toughest in Big East play to West Virginia). They are just 3-5 against the RPI top 50, but they do own wins against Memphis and at UConn. All Georgetown needs to keep in mind is Arizona last year. The Wildcats finished 16-14, 8-10 in the Pac-10 (good for 7th), but got into the dance as a 10 seed based on their tough scheduling (#2 in SOS).
The bottom line is that it is tough to rule out anyone near the bubble in the Big East. With so many quality teams in the league, all it would take for a Cincinnati or a St. John’s is a great finish to the season, and a run to the quarters or the semis of the Big East Tourney.
After last night’s relatively weak slate of games, we’re back to normal tonight with a great set of games.
Game of the Day #3 Duke at #10 Clemson at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Our second top 10 match-up of the week. Once again the road team is the higher ranked team, but I feel like this time they are also the favorites coming in to the game. All of you know about Duke by now thanks to their frequent appearances on national TV so I will keep it brief. Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson have emerged as their two most consistent players. Usually that is enough to get them by most teams even if they only get minimal support from the rest of the team. However, when that happens against quality teams the result isn’t always that good (even if they come really really close). The key for the Blue Devils in this game and for the rest of the season will be the play of Brian Zoubek (go ahead and snicker Duke haters) and Nolan Smith. Zoubek merely needs to be a mediocre 7-footer and Coach K and the rest of the Blue Devils staff will be happy. Smith, who replaced Greg Paulus in the starting lineup, has to improve his decision-making. He must have one of the worst assist-to-turnover ratios (1.03 to 1) of any starting PG on a top team in the nation. On the other side of the ball, Clemson may be the most under-appreciated team in the country. I’m not sure if it is the Tigers’ recent history of falling apart down the stretch, but I never hear anybody mentioning them as a team that could make a run in March despite the fact that they probably have the most reasonable losses of any team in the country (Wake Forest and at UNC). The key for Oliver Purnell‘s team will be to have Trevor Booker dominate on the inside. I doubt that Duke will let him play against Zoubek so he will probably have to do it against Singler, which could make for an interesting match-up. If Booker can win that match-up, Clemson will have a shot. After that they will need a strong game out of K.C. Rivers and hope to contain Duke’s outside shooters (particularly Jon Scheyer). I think Clemson will keep it close until midway through the 2nd half when Duke will go on a run and pull away to win by about a dozen.
Worth Watching West Virginia at #20 Syracuse at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Mountaineers are a a perfect example of why it is so hard to read Big East teams. They are only 4-4 in the conference, but all 4 of those losses were to top 10 teams (UConn, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Marquette). Likewise, Syracuse comes in having lost 3 straight and 4 of 5, but 3 of those losses have been on the road (Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and Providence) and the other to one of the hottest teams (Louisville) in the country. The Orangemen should be able to break their recent skid if they can contain Da’Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff, but a lot of that will have to do with whether or not they will have their full compliment of players available. Mookie Jones is done for the year with a hip injury, but someone will have to step up as Jim Boeheim can’t expect to get 62 points from Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf every game (and even that didn’t work in their last game).
#19 Minnesota at #14 Michigan State at 8:30 PM on The Big Ten Network: What is going on with the Spartans? Tom Izzo‘s team has lost back-to-back games at the Breslin Center to pretty weak competition (Northwestern and Penn State). Just two weeks ago everyone was talking about this team as a potential Final 4 contender with the return of Goran Suton. Unfortunately for Izzo, the Spartans will be without Raymar Morgan, who is out with “walking pneumonia”. To turn things around, the Spartans will need improved play out of Kalin Lucas, who still boasts an impressive 3.09 to 1 assist to TO ratio, but most of that is from his early season play. They will have to do it against a Gopher team that held Illinois to a ridiculous 36 points in their last game. Keep an eye on Al Nolen and Ralph Sampson III in this one for the Gophers as they will be matched up against Lucas and Suton respectively.
#6 Wake Forest at Miami (FL) at 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Wake needs to develop some consistency if they want to be a national championship contender. We know that they can beat the big boys as they knocked off UNC, Clemson, and Duke in a three week stretch. The question is why they can’t maintain that level of play when they go up against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech (both losses). Dino Gaudio will need to figure this out if he wants to get this team up to the level of Duke and UNC at the end of the season. Maybe it’s just a focus thing, which hopefully shouldn’t be an issue in March. Either way, this trip to Miami should be a nice challenge for the Demon Deacons. Jeff Teague will be matched up against Jack McClinton and Al-Farouq Aminu will be up against Dwayne Collins. I think Miami may be able to hold its own in those match-ups. Unfortunately for Frank Haith, the Hurricanes run into depth problems after their top 2 while the Demon Deacons run much deeper. Perhaps Haith should look into giving more PT to his ridiculously athletic freshman DeQuan Jones.
#16 Villanova at Providence at 8 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: Villanova finally got the signature win we were asking for by beating Pittsburgh last week in the last college basketball game at the Spectrum. This time they will have to do it on the road against a Friar team that was playing well before they ran into the UConn buzzsaw. Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds will need to have solid games if Jay Wright‘s crew is going to pull out a rare Big East road win against a Providence team that is actually above them in the Big East standings. Providence will need a solid effort out of its 8-deep rotation including Weyinmi Efejuku and Jonathan Kale to defend its home court tonight.
Keep an Eye On Notre Dame at Cincinnati at 7:30 PM on ESPN360.com: Mike Brey needs Kyle McAlarney to snap out of his funk and start helping Luke Harangody out or the Fighting Irish might be looking at trip to the NIT this year. This is a game Notre Dame needs to win if they expect to make the NCAA tournament.
Tennessee at Arkansas at 8 PM on Raycom, Fox Sports South, and ESPN360.com: Can freshman Scotty Hopson be the one to reenergize the Vols who have struggled to play up their pre-season #8 ranking? Bruce Pearl might want to give him some more PT against the confusing Arkansas team that beat Texas and Oklahoma (the Sooners only loss), but is just 1-5 in the SEC.
Texas A&M at #2 Oklahoma at 9 PM on The Big 12 Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Watch this one for Blake Griffin, who will be your national Player of the Year barring some freak injury or sketchy voting. I guess the Aggies played Oklahoma close at College Station so this could be a decent game, but since it is in Norman I doubt it will be that close after the half unless the Sooners are already looking ahead to Texas and Kansas two weeks from now.
USC at #12 UCLA at 10:30 PM on Fox Sports:Ben Howland‘s will be going for a sweep of the California Pac-10 teams at Pauley Pavilion against their cross-town rivals. The Trojans are my pick for secretly good team that nobody is talking about, but could make a run in March. Watch this one for the battle of the freshmen: DeMar DeRozan and Jrue Holiday. They won’t be matched up against each other, but it should be fun to see Josh Shipp guard DeRozan. As an added bonus, you might get to see Lil’ Romeo (ok, maybe not).
Tonight features the biggest game of the week (possibly the biggest game of the season so far.) No, I’m not talking about the Allen at Savannah State game. Instead, I’ll be focusing on a small game in North Carolina that you may have seen advertised a time or two on ESPN.
Game of the Night
#1 Duke at #4 Wake Forest at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: It will be interesting to see how the young Demon Deacons respond in their first game since their surprising loss at home against Virginia Tech. The Winston-Salem crowd will definitely be amped up for a visit from Duke (ranked #1 for the first time in 2 years). This game provides interesting match-ups all over the floor, but the two to watch are Nolan Smith versus Jeff Teague and Kyle Singler versus Al-Farouq Aminu. Teague will likely have a big advantage unless Coach K puts Smith on Ishmael Smith and puts Gerald Henderson on Teague. Singler versus Aminu will come down to a battle of Singler’s versatility and toughness going against Aminu’s athleticism and raw talent. I have a feeling that Singler will get the better of Aminu this time, but that could change when they meet later this year. I’m assuming that Smith/Singler and Teague/Aminu will basically neutralize each other so they can will probably be decided by whether or not Dino Gaudio can find a way to slow Henderson, who has been making a case for All-ACC honors with his play the last two weeks. In the end, I don’t think Gaudio will find an answer for Henderson and Duke will survive to stay at #1. Well at least until February 11th when Tyler Hansbrough and UNC come into Cameron (aka “The Most Important Game Ever” -ESPN).
Other Games Worth Watching
#3 Pittsburgh at #21 Villanova at 7 PM on ESPNU:Jay Wright‘s team is in a similar situation to what Marquette faced on Monday night. Like the Golden Eagles on Monday, the Wildcats have a relatively high ranking, but do not have a marquee win yet. Although Villanova gets this game at home while Marquette had to travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame, the Wildcats’ task is significantly harder. To knock off Pittsburgh (ranked 3rd in the nation, but quite possibly only the 3rd best team in their own conference right now), Villanova will need big games out of their stars, Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds, as well as solid performances out of their “Two Coreys”, Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher, to be in a position to beat the Panthers. Even then, the Wildcats will have to find a way to limit Sam Young and DeJuan Blair on the inside and hope that Reynolds can outplay Levance Fields. Even though Villanova has the home court, I’m going with Pittsburgh here because Villanova has not proven that they can win a big game yet (and they have had plenty of opportunities).
Hopefully Jay Wright’s “Two Coreys” will be more successful
#6 UNC at FSU at 9 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: The Tar Heels really shouldn’t have any problem in this game, but to be honest they shouldn’t have much trouble against all but the top 5-10 teams in the country if they are playing well. This game just feels like one where UNC is ready for a letdown. After going through a rough stretch at the beginning of 2009 where they lost 2 of 3 and were temporarily in last place in the ACC, the Tar Heels have rebounded and are coming off a 24-point victory over then #9 Clemson. They’re finally starting to resemble the team that people thought they could be earlier this season. The Seminoles come in with a solid 16-4 record with all of their losses coming against respectable opposition (ok, maybe not Northwestern). The Seminoles are certainly capable of pulling off an upset in Tallahassee (see their close losses versus #1 Duke and #3 Pittsburgh this year), but to get over the hump and actually win one Leonard Hamilton will need someone other than Toney Douglas to have a big game. Douglas averages more than twice as much as any of his teammates. An unbalanced scoring attack might get FSU wins over teams like Florida and Virginia, but it won’t work against a team that has 5 players in double figures including national POY candidate Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington (finally found his stroke), and Ty Lawson (playing much better this year). UNC will win this game, but I have a feeling it will be much closer than people expect.
After my trip to Chapel Hill last weekend where rtmsf handled all of the duties for Boom Goes the Dynamite while I mingled with ESPN personalities and college basketball stars, I will be in charge of today’s edition while rtmsf does relationship stuff with his significant other. Pretty weak if you ask me. . .
11:00 AM: Although we are a men’s college basketball site, we feel that it’s appropriate to mention the passing of Kay Yow, the former NC State coach, to breast cancer (or more precisely complications related to breast cancer). We can’t really do justice to her impact on the women’s game so it’s probably better just to refer you to a chronology of her life.
11:10 AM: The Notre Dame GameDay crowd looks a lot larger than what I saw last weekend at UNC. I am not sure if it is just a bunch of camera tricks by the GameDay crew, but they definitely have more signs. It may be that UConn is much, much better than Miami was last week or that the UNC crowd may be a bit jaded, but the Chapel Hill crowd was not as into the GameDay experience as I expected them to be.
11:45 AM: Digger Phelps has been doing a good job of working the crowd, which he also did last week at Chapel Hill (even off camera), taking the homer pick of Luke Harangody as his choice of tough player after the other analysts picked Blake Griffin, Tyler Hansbrough, and Stephen Curry to boos. As expected the crowd went wild with Digger’s pick. A little later in the show, the crowd gave the stereotypical college crowd response to a Duke segment by chanting “overrated”. Not surprisingly, the analysts all defend Duke. Appropriately enough, Bobby Knight calls out the Notre Dame students by questioning their education. It looks like he is getting more comfortable with his role on ESPN.
11:50 AM: Another awful half-court shot. Where does ESPN find these guys? He deserved to be embarrassed like that on national TV for popping his collar. Someone should tell him that hasn’t been cool since. . .actually it has never been cool. Congrats on the airball.
Noon: Wow. All of the GameDay guys except Knight picked LSU to beat #13 Xavier. I guess it’s in Baton Rouge, but Xavier is definitely the better team. Least surprising pick of the day: Digger picks Notre Dame. Knight abstains from picking a team.
12:15 PM: Duke is off to a good start against Maryland after Jon Scheyer opens the game with two 3s. What’s going on with Brian Zoubek? He actually looks like a legitimate center today. I have seen him play several times this year and he certainly has improved from last year, but he has never played like this. If he can do this even for spurts this year, Duke might have a legitimate chance to win the title this year instead of their usual great regular season and flop in March.
12:20 PM: Villanova is tied at 10 with USF 6 minutes into the game. Dante Cunningham has 8 of Villanova’s 10 points. I don’t have much else to say about this game since I don’t have ESPN360 available since I am out of town. If anybody has this game on TV, let me know if anything interesting happens.
1:00 PM: Duke goes into halftime with a 25-point lead despite having one of the ugliest possessions I have ever seen to end the half. Do you remember when the Duke-Maryland games used to be the best games of the season? I still remember trying to figure out where I could go to watch the game on TV my freshman year of college. (My school didn’t believe in providing cable to dorm rooms.) Meanwhile in Tampa, Villanova is struggling against USF (tied at 32 at halftime).
In 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 ESPN360.com: 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 ESPN360.com: 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 ESPN360.com: 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 PMon ESPN and ESPN360.com: 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 ESPN360.com: 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.
In our attempt to provide you with the best college basketball coverage on the Internet, RTC is starting the “Boom goes the dynamite!” project. Yes, it’s a blatant rip-off of Deadspin’s Hugh Johnson Project for college football, but we have found someone who does something similar for college basketball, which is a vastly superior sport. This will be an evolving project so you may see a complete different format next week or even tomorrow as we figure out how to make this better. One thing you may notice is that my coverage of the games on TV may be a little spotty at times, but that’s partially a result of there being 5 early games being broadcast on my TV and the fact that the RTC East Coast HQ only has one television. [We’re the fiscally responsible RTC office.]
For those of you who are totally confused by the title, it’s a reference to one of the greatest sports news videos of all-time featuring Brian Collins, then a freshman at Ball State, trying his hand at broadcast journalism. The hilarious result:
For our opening weekend, we’ll primarily be covering top 25 games (due to our lack of resources) unless something notable happens in another game.
Noon Games #11 Clemson def. NC State, 63-51: NC State was able to keep this game close for 25 minutes (tied at 33 at that point) before Clemson went on a 24-10 run to blow the game wide open. A pretty ugly game overall with NC State shooting 31.5% from the field and having only one player (Courtney Fells) scoring in double digits with 10 points. Trevor Booker was the only good player on the court with 23 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 blocks. Not much else to say here since the game was at Littlejohn Coliseum and I don’t think NC State is that good (all of their most impressive games this year have ended in losses). If you want to know what we think of the Tigers, check back with us after the 17th when they play Wake Forest.
#21 Louisville def. #17 Villanova, : After the Cardinals led by as much as 11 points in the 2nd half, Villanova came storming back to cut it just 3 point game with just under 6 minutes left. Louisville was hurt by its inability to connect from long range (3-for-25) and Samardo Samuels (15 points and 4 rebounds) fouling out with 4:43 left. For the next 2 minutes, the game continue at a frenetic pace before Dante Cunningham (a game-high 21 points) hit a 15-footer from the corner to give Villanova their first lead all day at 58-57 with 3:06 left. Rick Pitino immediately called a timeout to tell his entire team they could transfer calm down his team. The final 3 minutes were “highlighted” by both team’s inability to hit shots until Terrence Williams (12 points, 15 rebounds, and 6 assists) made a driving lay-up with 12 seconds left that must have bounced around the rim for 2-3 seconds. After that huge basket, Louisville tried to double-team Scottie Reynolds on the inbounds, but Villanova was able to find a streaking Corey Fisher who found himself with a 2-on-1 and dished it to Antonio Pena (solid with 14 points and 8 rebounds) who was fouled with 4.9 seconds left. Pena missed both FTs, but Louisville was unable to handle the rebound and Villanova got the ball back with 4 seconds left. They ran a good play coming out of a timeout finding Cunningham underneath for a contested layup, but he missed that and his teammates missed 2 more tips giving the Cardinals a hard-fought road win.
#15 Marquette def. #22 West Virginia, 73-55: This game was a lot closer than the final score indicates. The Golden Eagles only led 51-48 with 7:55 left then went on a 22-7 run to close it out. Jerel McNeal was the best player on the court with 26 points and 7 rebounds. The Golden Eagles also had a big edge at the FT line going a Duke-like 24-for-27 from the line compared to the Mountaineers 6-for-10. Bob Huggins will have 2 easy games (Marshall and USF at home) to get the Mountaineers playing well again before returning to the Big East gauntlet with games against Georgetown and Pittsburgh.
#25 Tennessee def. Georgia, 86-77: This was a game of big runs. Fortunately for Bruce Pearl, his team had the last one. The Volunteers, who will likely be out of the top 25 in the next poll, had to come through down the stretch after the Bulldogs took the lead 74-73 with 3:17 left. Tyler Smith led the Vols to victory with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Bruce Pearl will need his team to step it up as their next 7 games are tough (by SEC standards). After coming into the season as the heavy favorites to win the SEC, the Vols have failed to live up to expectations and will likely face a tough challenge from an underrated Arkansas team.
1 PM & 2 PM Games #2 Duke def. FSU, 66-58: You’ll have a hard time finding a stranger game. After the ugliest first half you will ever see, Duke led 19-14 at break. After that the Blue Devils came out on fire in the 2nd half opening up a 46-21 lead with 12:48 left. Then FSU came back to cut it to 50-40 with 6 minutes to go. Duke held on to win, but FSU earned a lot of respect with that near comeback. Gerald Henderson led Duke win a career-high 25 points. Jay Bilas was correct in pointing out that this year’s Duke team has a lot higher ceiling than last year’s team because of Henderson’s development. Teams should watch out for the Seminoles who played #1 Pittsburgh tough earlier this year. Am I the only one who heard the douchebag behind the ESPN announcers yelling “The Cameron Crazies suck!” and “We want Paulus!”? I guess when you go to a school with girls as hot as they have at FSU you shouldn’t expect to have the most intelligent crowds.
#6 Oklahoma def. Kansas State, 61-53:Blake Griffin is a beast. That’s about all there is to say about this game. Griffin put up 29 points and 15 rebounds. I would have liked to have seen the #6 team in the country win this game by more, but it’s a conference road game so I guess the Sooners still have to be happy. It’s too bad we couldn’t see Griffin matched up against Michael Beasley, who is having fun coming off the bench in Miami this winter. Monday will be the big test for Oklahoma as Texas comes up to Norman in a match-up that will help determine the best team in the Big 12.
#8 Michigan State def. Kansas, 75-62: After a slow start the Spartans opened up a big lead (37-18 at half) and continued to hold it for most of the 2nd half, but the Jayhawks showed a lot of poise at coming back to make it a close game. Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan helped the Spartans counter a strong game from Sherron Collins (25 points and 8 assists, but 8 turnovers).
#10 Georgetown def. Providence, 82-75: Georgetown had to rally to win this game as they trailed by as many as 9 in the first half. After a quiet first half, Greg Monroe ended up having the type of solid all-around game that makes NBA scouts drool (13 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals, and 2 blocks).
#13 Notre Dame def. Seton Hall, 88-79: This was actually a tie game with 8 minutes left, but the Fighting Irish were able to pull out another win at the Joyce Center. Luke Harangody had a rough day from the field (8-for-24) but ended up with 30 points and 16 rebounds to lead Notre Dame to the win.
#16 Arizona State def. Oregon, 76-58: Not much to say here except that it’s amazing how far Oregon’s program has fallen. A solid if unspectacular game from Pac-10 POY candidate James Harden (19 points).
#20 Butler def. Detroit, 54-50: Butler came out flat in this one falling behind 26-22 at half to a team that came into the game 4-10. The scarier thing is that they were at home for this too. Matt Howard was the only player in double figures with 15 points. If there was ever a time you should have your ranking drop because of a win, this would be it. If I voted in the BlogPoll, I would kick Butler out of the top 25 for this “win”.
#23 Baylor def. Texas Tech, 73-61: Nice win for Baylor here as they were led by Kevin Rogers with his 14 points and 14 rebounds. They look like a solid #3 in the Big 12 after Texas and Oklahoma.