With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our SEC correspondent, Gerald Smith. This season he will be covering the NCAA Basketball with zeal, nerd-culture references and a fistful of silliness at halftimeadjustment.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@fakegimel).
One Big, Mostly-Happy Conference: After several years of divisional lopsidedness in conference scheduling and tournament seeding – to the dismay of programs like Alabama — the SEC has merged the West and East divisions for basketball. A 16-game conference schedule, consisting of the same pairings within and across old divisions, remains for the 2011-12 season. Starting with this year’s SEC Tournament, teams will be seeded and awarded first-round byes by their overall conference record. The most vocal dissenter against peace, conference unity and love was Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury. He argued unsuccessfully that divisional championships create excitement for the fans. MSU athletics must have sold some awesome merchandise for Coach Stansbury’s six SEC West Division championships.
Too Much of a Good Thing? - Stansbury also argued that a united 12-team conference won’t produce a true champion unless each team plays a full 22-game home and away conference schedule. In July’s coaches’ conference call, some SEC coaches (South Carolina’s DarrinHorn & LSU’s TrentJohnson) agreed, but wonder if such a schedule is feasible. Other coaches (Kentucky’s John Calipari & Alabama’s Anthony Grant) believe that teams should worry more about strengthening their non-conference scheduling and RPI ratings. Increasing the schedule to at least 18 games would placate athletic directors and the SEC’s broadcast partners, but would add further scheduling imbalance and hysteria.In meetings, the decision to increase the number of conference games was postponed until after the 2011-12 season. The SEC coaches will meet again later in August to debate their options.
Missouri Newbies - Two coaches previously employed in the Show-Me State join the SEC during this period of conference remodeling. As an assistant under former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, new Arkansas coach Mike Anderson became very familiar with the “40 Minutes of Hell” system (and Coach Richardson’s snakeskin boot collection). After stops with UAB and Missouri, Anderson returned to Fayetteville to replace John Pelphrey.
Caught lying to cover-up his impermissible BBQ — mmmm… impermissible BBQ… *gurgle noise* — Tennessee was forced to fire Bruce Pearl. Missouri State’s CuonzoMartin was hired to fill Pearl’s vacated orange blazer. With his athletic director resigning and additional NCAA penalties applied to his program, Martin may long for his past days in Springfield.
A major growth spurt led to a similar shoot up the 2011 high school rankings for Kentucky's Anthony Davis. (Sam Forencich/USA Basketball)
***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
It’s a light night across the college basketball landscape but two teams will look to increase their NCAA chances with a win tonight. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
Tennessee @ South Carolina – 7 pm on ESPN (***)
Hopson Should Have a Big Night Tonight
The Volunteers are likely in the NCAA Tournament with their quality wins against the second-ranked schedule, but it would be in their best interest to win at least one of their final two games. It’s possible that Tennessee could lose both and fall to 7-9 in SEC play heading into the conference tournament and therefore need at least a win or two. After tonight, the Vols host Kentucky in the regular season finale on Sunday.
Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.
A Look Back
Interestingly, Kentuckycoach John Calipari cursed at Terrence Jones repeatedly during a time-out in Kentucky’s 66-68 loss to Alabama, and ESPN got the whole thing, audio not included. While it was largely a non-issue until Calipari issued an apology, it was later discussed on “Around the Horn,” perhaps the most boring show in sports, and “Pardon the Interruption.” While some have blown it out of proportion, others have regarded the whole situation as silly, saying that Calipari had no need to apologize. That’s just coachspeak.
I have to appreciate what Coach Cal did. His apology was completely unrequested and unforced, but he felt the need to say something and in this day and age of so much coarse language, unrepentant vitriol and media-induced faux-apologies, it is refreshing to see someone who realizes that he did something inappropriate giving a sincere apology without any pressure to do so simply because his conscience told him to do it.
More news from Vols camp involves Tennessee’s Renaldo Woolridge shooting his own music video at a bar and he not paying for the time that he was there filming, an action that could theoretically constitute an NCAA violation. However, Woolridge was cleared of wrongdoing after an internal investigation into the matter. Tennessee isn’t exactly in the good graces of the NCAA right now, so this figures to be one less headache from the higher-ups.
To follow up on Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury’s comment last week that he doesn’t feel there is that much difference between the SEC East and West, the East is now 82-29 to the West’s 64-49 and is winning by an average margin of 9.2 points per game to the West’s 3.5. Furthermore, the East is now 9-3 in head to head matchups against the West.
Kentucky (15-4, 3-2) Kentucky continues to have trouble on the road. All four of the Wildcats’ losses have come at road or neutral sites, and while the Alabama loss doesn’t look good, they took care of business at South Carolina to get a good win in a tough environment.
Vanderbilt (14-4, 2-2) Vanderbilt went 2-0 this week with an 84-74 win over Mississippi and a good win over West Coast Conference leaderSaint Mary’s. A great week for the Commodores, but not quite enough yet to knock Kentucky off its perch at the top of the power rankings.
Florida (15-4, 4-1) I want to say that Florida is looking good at 4-1 in conference, especially after pasting Arkansas 75-43, but they only shot 28.3 percent from the field including 5-26 from three… against Auburn, and the game was tied with under two minutes to play. Starting guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton combined to go just 6-28 from the field. Not a good sign. Auburn is probably the only BCS conference team in the country against whom you can shoot 28.3 percent and still win. Step it up Gators.
Georgia (14-4, 3-2) The Bulldogs posted a two-point loss to the ever-enigmatic Tennessee Volunteers and then pasted the mess that is Mississippi State. 1-1 against the two most disappointing teams in the SEC is nothing to get overly excited about, but nothing to panic over yet either as Joe Lunardi has Georgia in the NCAA Tournament in his latest bracketology.
South Carolina (12-6, 3-2) The Gamecocks continue to be a feisty bunch getting a win over Arkansas and then forcing Kentucky to flinch by closing what was an 18-point second half deficit to just five with 1:16 to play. And can I just say right now, Bruce Ellington is not the next Devan Downey. Bruce is his own man, and though he posts near identical stats to Downey, when all is said and done, he will be the better player. Coach Darrin Horn is putting things together in Columbia and his recruiting Ellington is just one piece of the puzzle.
Alabama (12-7, 4-1) Alabama is certainly moving up after getting a nice win against Kentucky, but that loss to St. Peter’s might be too much for the selection committee to bear and right now, Joe Lunardi agrees. Despite Alabama’s recent winning ways, it’s going to take some kind of a special conference season to make the NCAAs.
Tennessee (12-7, 2-2) The win at Georgia is nice. The loss to Connecticut is acceptable, but a win would have really helped to get the Volunteers’ minds back in the right place now that conference play is heating up. The Volunteers did hold Kemba Walker to a season-low 16 points. There’s something to be said for that I guess when you consider some of the teams Connecticut has played this year.
Arkansas (12-4, 2-3) Conference play started well for the Razorbacks, but then they had to face a couple of SEC East teams. This week, the Hogs posted a seven-point loss to South Carolina and an embarrassing thirty-two point loss to Florida in a game that was not entirely dissimilar to their ugly loss to Texas just prior to conference play. It was tough to watch folks.
Mississippi State (10-8, 2-2) With or without Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost, this team continues to disappoint. There is plenty of talent here between Sidney, Bost, Kodi Augustus and Ravern Johnson, but the Bulldogs still posted an embarrassing 86-64 loss to Georgia in their only game last week.
Mississippi (13-7, 1-4) Hey, look who got a conference win, and on the road, no less. Of course it was at LSU, but if you’re Mississippi, you’re just repeating to yourself, “ A win is a win.”
LSU (10-9, 2-2) The Tigers shot only 32.9 percent and were outrebounded 31-17 at home by Mississippi. That doesn’t bode well for upcoming games against Tennessee and Alabama. Of course both of those teams have shown they can beat or lose to any team in the nation, so maybe LSU goes 2-0 this week.
Auburn (7-10, 0-5) Five straight losses is never fun. Getting close against Florida after playing your best defense all year is a heartbreaker. I’m rooting for the Tigers to get at least one win this week against Arkansas or South Carolina.
A Look Ahead
Florida @ Georgia, January 25. Neither of these two teams shoot well, so this could get ugly, but both of these teams have some good wins, so there is potential for this to be a fun competitive game.
Georgia @ Kentucky, January 29. This is the payback game. I don’t expect to see the Wildcats come out as flat as they did against Georgia in Athens, but the one thing that gives Kentucky trouble more than anything else is a team with a quality big man. Georgia just so happens to have one such big man in Trey Thompkins.
***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
This is the last major weekend before conference play begins in earnest and it features a bunch of solid games but none that really jump out at you as must-watch. All in all it’s a pretty good set of games. Don’t forget about the two games in the Bahamas on Saturday (Richmond vs. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State). They’re not on television but are meaningful, especially the latter. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
Texas vs. North Carolina (Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC) – 4 pm Saturday on CBS (****)
A Smaller Venue in Greenboro, But Still a Great Game
You may never see a game between two unranked teams have this much talent on the court as this one. Yes the Longhorns are ranked in both the AP and Coaches polls but they aren’t in our own top 25. Texas has played better this year on the strength of defense and better chemistry though a loss at USC was cause for concern. Still, Texas has a ton of talent and has the ability to turn this season into a successful one. Leading scorer Jordan Hamilton still has a so-so shot selection but he’s connecting on 41% of his treys, a positive sign for Rick Barnes. Freshman Tristan Thompson has also been a plus for the Longhorns, giving them an athletic post presence who can score and defend very well. When you look at this matchup with North Carolina however, Tyler Zeller (16/8) is going to have a significant height advantage inside. You may see Barnes turn to Matt Hill for a bigger defensive presence in the paint in an attempt to control UNC’s big man. Each team has had some issues at the point guard, especially North Carolina. The Tar Heels have seen better play from Larry Drew II (2:1 A/T ratio) but questions remain with the team averaging 15 turnovers per contest. With a talented freshman in waiting, Roy Williams has to make a decision on who should see the majority of time at the point as they head into ACC play. For Texas, Dogus Balbay has seen his minutes drop in favor of freshman Cory Joseph, a move that’s understandable from an offensive standpoint but questionable in the eyes of some who see the experienced Balbay as a team leader and an effective distributor, not to mention an outstanding defender. Texas is not a particularly great shooting team as a whole so the transition to Joseph could be more about transition opportunities and easy buckets plus Joseph is a much better shooter. As for North Carolina, getting Harrison Barnes going could be the key between middling outside the top 25 and being a consistently ranked team and #2 in the ACC. Barnes is still in a slump, shooting just 33% overall over his last five games including a dismal 5-24 (21%) from three. He’s still averaging double figures and has done a nice job rebounding but the Tar Heels need more out of their star freshman. To become a really good team, UNC needs John Henson to become a consistent third option. He rebounds very well but he’s in double figures one night and single digits the next. He may have a hard time with Thompson inside but Henson is able to stretch his game out a bit and that may open things up inside for the Tar Heels. This figures to be another close game, far different from last year’s Texas blowout. This time North Carolina has the crowd to their advantage and may come out on top by a few points. It’s a huge game for UNC, their last non-conference opportunity for a quality win. Texas still has games with Michigan State and Connecticut but this is a big game for them too in a quasi-road environment. We wouldn’t be surprised either way but a slight edge has to go to UNC in this game.
#5 Kansas State vs. Florida (BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, FL) – 3:30 pm Saturday on FSN (****)
This is the first of two key games for Kansas State, the second coming on Tuesday against UNLV. Winning one or both will certainly help the Wildcats grab a better seed in the NCAA Tournament come March. Against Florida, K-State will have to contend with the Gators’ trapping pressure defense, something that could be a problem given their propensity for turnovers and some point guard issues. Jacob Pullen has been the main distributor at four assists per game but he turns it over more than three times per game, the most on a team that averages 16 turnovers as a unit. Florida’s back court pressure could cause a lot of problems for Kansas State and plenty of extra possessions for the Gators. Pullen doing a lot of ball handling could also be a factor in his overall struggle relative to last season. He’s never been a great shooter, 40% overall from the floor for his career, but his three point shooting is down over six percent to 33% this season. It is true that other teams are trying to lock him up like Duke did, but Pullen has to work through this and become a better player in order to lift Kansas State to the next level where they can compete for a national championship. Frank Martin may go with Will Spradling at the point in order to take some pressure off Pullen. As for Florida, expect them to fire up three’s as usual (17 per game) even though the Gators shoot just 32% as a team. Billy Donovan loves the trey, yet another Rick Pitino protégé who sticks to the system no matter the personnel he has. Erving Walker has improved dramatically but Kenny Boynton still can’t find the range for Florida. Walker shoots 20% better than Boynton from deep yet Boynton has 15 more attempts this season. Kansas State should look to isolate Walker and aggressively defend him, keeping the ball out of his hands. Pullen and Rodney McGruder may have to match Walker’s deep shooting but Martin will be content with Boynton chucking shots up and hitting once in a while, requiring Kansas State to clear the boards well. Both teams rank high in offensive rebounding percentage so the Wildcats must put an emphasis on keeping Florida off the glass as that will lead to easy Gator put backs. Florida is #15 in two point percentage, largely a result of offensive rebounds and the play of Vernon Macklin inside. Macklin against Curtis Kelly will be a key matchup to watch in the low post as each player finishes well and can rebound the basketball effectively. Kansas State should not bank on outscoring Florida from the line considering their awful free throw shooting (55%) and Florida’s ability to keep opponents off the line, second in the nation in defensive free throw rate. Only three players on K-State’s roster shoot over 70% from the line and Pullen is the only one of those three who gets there often. Martin’s depth will take a hit if Wally Judge is out, dealing with personal issues, but we don’t think that will have a major impact on the game. Kansas State is still a very deep team, able to go eight or nine deep if necessary. This should be a terrific game that may come down to the very end. Ken Pomeroy predicts a two-point Florida win so this game is essentially a toss-up. We see it that way as well.
As part of our attempt to continue to provide you with the best independent college basketball information on the Internet we will periodically bring you information from conference media calls. Today’s entry comes from the SEC, which amazingly was not affected what could have been a massive conference shake-up.
Ed. Note: The conference call actually took place on Monday, but I had an ophthalmologist appointment and I’m pretty sure that they used just about the entire bottle of eye drops to dilate my eyes so I’m just starting to see straight again. The below entries are my some of the key points the coaches made, but are not direct quotes. If you want to listen to the coaches speak directly, click on the link next to their name.
Anthony Grant (Alabama) – Audio
- Defense: Last year their defense gave them a chance to be in every game that they played, but they had to have that solid defense because their offense was not always there.
- Returning players: Senario Hillman one of elite athletes in the SEC and can guard multiple positions. He will need to improve shot selection and decision-making, but is making strides. JaMychal Green adds size and strength to the frontcourt, which is as good as any team in the SEC. Should improve with an extra year of experience. Tony Mitchell had a very good freshman year and being named to SEC All-Freshman team was an accomplishment. Grant is looking for the players to make a jump between their first and second year in the Alabama program.
Tony Barbee (Auburn) – Audio / Key Quotes
- Lack of Experience: Starting over is exciting because you get to mold a new group of players. It will be hard to judge what he has until he sees the team together in the Fall.
- Plan: Focus on defense because they could be “offensively challenged” because they don’t know what they have outside of Frankie Sullivan. Given their lack of size on the inside they might have to focus on their offense around the 3-point line.
John Pelphrey (Arkansas) – Audio
- Frontcourt: They have Marshawn Powell on the inside, but will need to develop more on the inside to help support him.
- APR: We’re all working very hard. We want to see these young men improve in the classroom and on the court. He isn’t sure statistics over the short-term can adequately reflect the academic performance of a program, but is open to more long-term measures.
- Andre Clark: Aware of the transfer to TCU and does talk with players who have transferred if they contact him about an issue.
Billy Donovan (Florida) – Audio
- Backcourt: Didn’t know what to expect coming into last season having lost Nick Calathes. Irving Walker played his freshman year at 2 guard spot. Kenny Boynton came in with huge reputation out of high school, but you’re never sure with them making the jump. Limited depth in the backcourt meant those two played more minutes than they probably should have, which meant they couldn’t do some of the stuff they would have otherwise done such as press. Coming into this year with the experience should be helpful for those two coming into this season. Still some issues with depth in the backcourt this year although they are adding freshmen Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather to the backcourt.
- Alex Tyus: First UF player to put his name in the NBA Draft and return to UF. It was Alex’s decision. He worked out with a couple of NBA teams and listened to what NBA had to say about where he might go. No pressure from UF to come back. Donovan feels that process is only going to help the Gators going forward.
- Patric Young: Very physical and aggressive player, but needs some work on the inside. In the near term he will bring energy and a great rebounding presence to the Gators.
Mark Fox (Georgia) – Audio
- Marcus Thornton: Really big boost after picking him up following his release from his letter of intent from Clemson. Gives Georgia a lot of options because of his versatility.
- Trey Thompkins: Had discussion with family and got info from NBA. Felt it wasn’t appropriate. Only would be able to work out for 1 or 2 days due to final exams and the new NBA Draft withdrawal deadlines.
- Turnovers: Feels they will take better care of the ball and they should also be able to create more turnovers on the defensive end, which should create more easy baskets.
Marquette lost freshman forward Jeronne Maymon today when coach Buzz Williams announced that he was transferring from the school after just nine games, leaving the Golden Eagles with a mere nine scholarship players. Or are they? According to Maymon’s father, it was news to him and his son is “loving every minute of being” at Marquette. Stay tuned on this one.
Food for thought: Seth Davis reminds us that Kansas guard Xavier Henry is pretty solid in his own right, while the rest of us have become a sticky hot wet mess over Kentucky’s John Wall.
If you didn’t read John Stevens’ report from the Crosstown Shootout on Sunday night, grab yourself a cup of joe, relax, and let yourself be taken away to a college basketball nirvana.
Roy’s ejectee Brian King was interviewed by Dane Huffman at WRAL Sports yesterday, and he unequivocally states that he was not intoxicated and that he did nothing to warrant the ire that the UNC coach projected at him after he heckled Deon Thompson. We gave our opinion on this yesterday, and yeah, this pretty much confirms what we thought. Roy’s knowing smirk at the end of his press conference interview is telling — he’s the teflon don and he knows it.
Paul Jordan of Wildcat Blue Blog is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.
Predicted Order of Finish:
South Carolina (10-6)
Mississippi State (10-6)
John Wall (G), Kentucky
Devan Downey (G), South Carolina
Tyler Smith (F), Tennessee
Patrick Patterson (F), Kentucky
Jarvis Varnado (F), Mississippi State
6th Man.Terrico White (G), Mississippi
Impact Newcomer.John Wall (G), Kentucky
What You Need to Know. After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 16 years, the Kentucky Wildcats are poised to regain their role at the top of the SEC, having added the number one recruiting class and top coach John Calipari. This year looks to be a year of redemption and resurgence not only for UK but for the whole SEC which placed just three teams in the NCAA last year. Tennessee, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are very strong, experienced teams in the East that should go dancing. Mississippi State hopes to win the West behind Jarvis Varnado and Mississippi and Arkansas look to be much improved and can give any team in the SEC fits.
Predicted Champion.Kentucky (NCAA Seed: #1). Kentucky returns Patrick Patterson and the core group of the team that won 22 games last season. The main loss for UK was junior Jodie Meeks who went to the NBA, but in his place, UK added the number one recruiting class and hired head coach John Calipari. Obviously, Calipari faces the task of instilling a new offense with six new faces, but the Cats are so deep that freshman Daniel Orton, a top 25 player, will have to battle for significant playing time. The Wildcats achilles heel last year was at point guard and UK added two of the top four freshman points in John Wall and Eric Bledsoe. Talent and depth alone make this a top 10 team and if Calipari can install his DDMO effectively, this is a legitimate Final Four team.
There’s news coming out of Tuscaloosa tonight that doesn’t involve Nick Saban (although Utah’s demolition of the Tide a month ago may have led to this unrelated breaking news). No, the crimsontided stepchild of Alabama’s athletics program is the one driving the needle tonight – Mark Gottfried’s Philip Pearson’s basketball program. Er, formerly Mark Gottfried’s basketball program.
Gottfried, who played at Alabama, said he quit during a meeting with athletic director Mal Moore. “It has been a wonderful decade for me and my family, and I love the University of Alabama, but I feel that it is in the best interests of everyone involved,” Gottfried said in a statement released by the university. Gottfried’s teams have missed the NCAA tournament the last two years, and the coach was criticized over the recent departure of point guard Ronald Steele, a preseason first-team AP All-American pick two years ago, who later was hit by injuries. The school blamed Steele’s departure on a recent injury, but Steele said there was more to his decision than that.
There’s absolutely more to it than this. A generation ago, a coach in the SEC with the success of Mark Gottfried could have stayed for thirty years and eventually had a practice facility named after him (Dale Brown comes to mind). No longer. Today in the era of million-dollar salaries and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately performance evaluations, even in the football-centric SEC (minus Vandy, Kentucky and Arkansas), “good enough” is no longer good enough. Just last year, LSU canned John Brady, an Xs & Os charlatan who two years prior had parlayed a couple of great recruits into a very unlikely Final Four run. They replaced him with a well-respected rising star in coaching, Trent Johnson (at $1.2M per, reportedly, of course). At South Carolina, Dave Odom was invited to retire after he had taken the Gamecocks to two NIT titles and an NCAA Tournament in the last five years. Darrin Horn already has matched the win total (14) of Odom’s last season with virtually the same roster. Over in Athens at Georgia, Dennis Felton is currently walking the Bataan death march with his 310th most efficient offense and is expected to be replaced at the end of this season even after his unprecedented run in the SEC Tournament last year.
This Used to be Good Enough at Bama
A sea change in philosophy is moving through the SEC in basketball. Mark Gottfried is a competent head coach. He recruits fairly well, his players generally stay out of trouble and graduate, and he occasionally had a good enough team to make a little noise in March, but nobody would ever have confused him for Hank Iba. That used to be good enough for a football school like Alabama. Or LSU. Or South Carolina. But times are changing, and those schools have seen how all-inclusive athletic prowess can build a national “brand” such as at Florida, Ohio St. and Texas that benefits the entire athletic program (and school at-large). Basketball is a key component of that equation, and therefore it doesn’t surprise us in the least that Gottfried is now gone (before he got a chance to make a late-season run and “save” his job).
Memo to VCU’s Anthony Grant, you might want to answer any calls that come from The 205 this spring.
Since the ATB writers have been in a self-induced coma as a result of last week’s NYE festivities (hey, it’s hard living in your mom’s basement), rather than rehashing a bunch of stale games from Wed-Sun, we thought it’d make more sense to just hit some highlights and trends of things we’re watching as the haze continues to wear off from our vision and the strange burning sensations subside.
Some News & Notes.
Is Tubby Smith on the short list of coaches looking at Arizona? Maybe the Tubbster realized that, yes, those icicles on your c#&k really do stay there for six months of the year, and as such, Tucson is looking pretty tasty.
Former Hoosier and UAB carpetbagger Armon Bassett ended up transferring to Ohio U. He will be eligible after next fall’s quarter.
Kyle Whelliston is awesome. Seriously. The Mid-Majority founder and resident subversive in the college hoops world discovered a clear trend showing that the BCS teams are playing each other more often during the out-of-conference slate, and the mid-majors less. He thinks this is good for the mids, but we’re not so sure. The mids really need those opportunities to shine that beating S. Florida and Oregon St. UCLA and Duke provide.
The Big East is insane this year. In just the last three weeks, we’ve seen UConn look like the most likely hurdle for North Carolina through its clutch win in Seattle vs. Gonzaga. Then we jumped on the Georgetown bandwagon after the Hoyas proceeded to go up to Storrs and thump those Huskies behind a balanced offensive attack and its standard sticky defense. Only for our mis/pre-conceptions to be challenged again when Pittsburgh chose to use this weekend’s matchup in DC at Georgetown to manhandle (manhandle? try superman-handle… the Panthers had more o-rebs - 18 – than the Hoyas had total – 17) the same team that looked so fantastic against UConn five days prior. We really don’t know what to make of this league with these performances. Given the way things have gone so far, Pitt should now be in position to get its bell rung by UConn in Western Pa. We just don’t know. One thing we think we can say without too much hedging is that UConn, Georgetown, Pitt, and possibly Notre Dame, Syracuse and Louisville (if those three ever get it completely going), are the best top six to a conference we’ve ever seen. It’s likely that all six of those teams would win the SEC and compete with UCLA for the Pac-10 crown. In 1995, the ACC had a really strong top four, but nothing like this group. As for Georgetown, we noted after the UConn game that their lack of strong bench production could end up biting them in the arse down the stretch, and it was absolutely exhibited here (2 pts). This will ultimately be the Hoyas’ downfall, as their 29-game homecourt winning streak was snapped when Pitt went on a 17-4 run to blow open a 40-40 tie game. As much as we love Greg Monroe, he was schooled by the savvier Dejuan Blair, who dropped 20/17 on the bigger player.
Monday update: Notre Dame 73, Georgetown 67. Notre Dame defeated Georgetown at home tonight, keeping their 44-game homecourt (and 19-game conference) winning streak alive. This occurred a mere two days after the Irish laid a leprechaun egg against St. John’s in NYC. Just like that, Georgetown is now 1-2 in the conference, when one week ago tonight they looked like the team to beat. Wow.
Is the SEC surging? It’s probably too little, too late, for the SEC to save its sinking sunk RPI in time to matter much come Selection Sunday, but the last few days of games showed that the league may have some fight left in it, following up on Arkansas’ upset of Oklahoma and pulling off a few key wins in games that its teams would have lost in November or early December. Consider the following scores:
South Carolina 85, Baylor 84. SC is one of the definite surprise teams of this season, proving once again that Dave Odom has been the luckiest man alive to have bilked multiple schools of millions of dollars by passing himself off as a legitimate head coach. Getting a win over a ranked team in a true road game is something the SEC hadn’t done all year. Until Friday night. Shooting 54% and putting all five starters in double-figures helps.
Florida 68, NC State 66. We probably shouldn’t be giving too much love to a team that allowed its marginal ACC opponent to shoot 59% on its home floor, but hey, an intersectional win is a win! Nick Calathes saved the day with 24 of his 34, including the go-ahead jumper with 11 seconds left, coming in the second half.
Alabama 88, Georgia Tech 77. Bama will be as good as Ronald Steele is and he was excellent on this night (23/10), echoing memories of his healthy first two years in Tuscaloosa. Ga Tech appears to once again be going nowhere fast.
Mississippi St. 82, Houston 65. MSU simply took control of this game, holding an 8-2 Houston team to 28% shooting in the process.
Vanderbilt 78, Massachusetts 48. Wow, a complete obliteration of UMass in Amherst by a team that had really shown next-to-nothing so far this year. Derek Kellogg has lost that team.
Louisville 74, Kentucky 71. Yeah, it’s an L for the SEC, but Kentucky has been playing better ball lately and took Louisville to the brink before Pitino whipping boy Edgar Sosa dropped a 25-foot three to win the game with 2.6 seconds remaining. There may not be a better inside/outside duo than UK’s Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson (50/18 in this game).
Most Impressive Win of the Weekend.Wake Forest 94, BYU 87. It was televised to all of six people in America on The Mountain network, but Wake going into the viper’s pit known as the Marriott Center in Provo where the Cougars had won their last 53 games against all comers was very impressive. This was especially so given that Wake was teetering in the mid-second half before their assassin Jeff Teague (30/4/4) and muscle man James Johnson (22/15) took over the game, as the tired BYU players starting coming up short on their shots. What’s the difference between this Wake team and some others (most notably, the Chris Paul teams) in the recent past? This Deacon squad plays defense. Whether it’s by design or simply the absurd athleticism that three potential lottery picks in the starting lineup (Teague/Johnson/Aminu) provide, their length and size bothers teams, and as a result, the Deacs are currently the fifth most efficient defensive team in America. The UNC-Wake game next Sunday in Winston-Salem looms large to see just how good this Deacon team can be.
What Has Happened to the Zags?Utah 66, Gonzaga 65. It’s almost as if that loss to UConn two weeks ago took all the wind out of the sails of the Zags. Since that game, they’ve lost at home to Portland St. and now away at Utah in a game they had multiple chances to win. Next they’re at Tennessee on Wednesday before WCC play starts. Meanwhile, conference foe St. Mary’s is cruising along at 14-1, although against admittedly lesser competition. As for the Zags, there is top ten talent on this team, and they need to stop feeling sorry for themselves because they lost a heartbreaking game. Jeremy Pargo in particular needs to get his team’s attention and back on the right track, and Austin Daye needs to improve his shot selection (a 6’11 guy shouldn’t be shooting 44% from the field); otherwise, America’s favorite “underdog” from the Pacific Northwest will once again disappoint in March.
USC is the Most Confounding Team in America.USC 83, Oregon 62 & Oregon St. 62, USC 58 (OT). USC once again has several future NBA Draft picks on its roster, but as has been a trend in recent years for the Trojans, they are just as likely to shock you with an efficient evisceration of an opponent as they are to simply not show up for the engagement at all. Case in point was the Oregon two-fer last weekend. On Friday night, the Trojans went into Oregon’s Macarthur Court (one of the tougher venues in the Pac-10, even in a year when Oregon is clearly down) and completely humiliated the Ducks with a +21-pt second half (probably its best half of the year). Then, riding that wave of success, USC visited Oregon St. on Sunday – remember, the Beavers went 0-18 in the Pac-10 last season – and managed to hand OSU its first conference victory in 683 days. If anyone can explain this team, let us know.
Some Other Scores That Caught Our Eye.
UNLV 56, Louisville 55. Of course, this was prior to the victory over their nemesis on Sunday, but the Louisville bugaboo of poor shooting (29.6%), weak guard play and a seeming lack of focus allowed UNLV (w/o Wink Adams) to come east and steal a victory. After this game, Edgar Sosa reportedly was asked to transfer by Coach Pitino – he responded with his best game in two years against Kentucky (18 pts).
Marquette 79, Villanova 72. Someone send us an email when you can figure out just how good either of these teams actually are. Both are two-loss guard-oriented teams that have similar RPI profiles (#29 and #30), capable of a major upset at any time, but not quite strong enough to reach the top tier of the Big East.
Arizona St. 90, Stanford 60. Has a BCS team ever defeated another BCS team by 45 points at home, only to lose by 30 points in the next week to another BCS team at home? That’s a 75-pt difference for you mathemagicians out there. Stanford followed up this blasting with another home win against Arizona on Sunday, so maybe the Cardinal just had a bad game against Herb Sendek’s team.
Xavier 84, Virginia 70. XU really needed to win this road game against an ACC team (even a likely bottom-dweller) to convince folks that their rough two game stretch against Duke and Butler last month is behind them.
Illinois St. 86, Creighton 64. ISU stamped itself as the team to beat in the MVC with this big home win on Saturday. Now 14-0, the Redbirds used a huge second half to blow the game open led by Osiris Eldridge’s 20/9.
Michigan 74, Illinois 64. This was a big win for John Beilein’s UM squad, because the Illini have been playing extremely well of late. Amazingly, after only two games, only Wisconsin and Michigan St. are unbeaten (2-0) in the Big Ten race.
Duke 69, Virginia Tech 44. A 13-point second half will not get it done in Cameron. Although Duke is #2 now, we still don’t believe in them in the long term. Only five points came off of their bench in this game.
California 81, Arizona St. 71. If this keeps up, Mike Montgomery will have to be in the conversation for NCOY. Two days after demolishing Stanford, Arizona St. got outhustled and outplayed in the second half (Cal shot 68% behind Jerome Randle’s 26/10 assts). This was two nights after putting away Arizona, 69-55. Monty has this program competing way ahead of schedule.
On Tap Tuesday. check our now-daily Set Your Tivos feature for the games to watch tomorrow.
A few news and notes to cover on the penultimate day of the season…
Louisville forward Earl Clark parlayed his scintillating NCAA numbers (15/8/7 blks) into a decision to go pro – no word on whether he’ll hire an agent. He joins teammate Derrick Caracter, who apparently declared his intentions last week.
Arizona freshman and surefire lottery pick Jerryd Bayless also declared his intention to go pro. He averaged 20/4 assts last season, and never got a chance to play for the coach who recruited him, Lute Olson.
Another one-and-done, Indiana’s Eric Gordon, is also leaving school for the NBA Draft. This surprises absolutely nobody, and leaves IU in rough shape for next season (although Armon Basssett reportedly wants to speak with Crean about rejoining the Hoosiers).
Not Knight. Texas assistant coach Ken McDonald will take over as the head man at Western Kentucky next season. The speculation re: Knight was fun while it lasted.
Another HOF induction for Dick Vitale – this time the National Collegiate Basketball HOF. As much as we rail this guy, we really have no problem with this. His influence on the sport (both good and bad) has been immeasurable.
Finally, we’re still reeling from that sicknasty dunk that CDR threw on Kevin Love yesterday. Some enterprising souls have already put it up on Youtube – somehow the foreign announcers makes it even more exciting.
We haven’t broken out one of these in a while, but there’s no time like the present…
The Lopez Bros. say adios to Stanford, merely three days after losing their Sweet Sixteen game to Texas.
Western Kentucky head coach Darrin Horn is reportedly the choice to take over for the embattled G. David Odom at South Carolina, making Horn the second WKU coach in the last five years to leave for an SEC school (Dennis Felton – Georgia). Update: apparently Odom isn’t leaving SC after all – in fact, he’s getting a new 10-year contract!
Not that anyone expected otherwise, but Midwest Region MOP Stephen Curry is staying in school at Davidson for at least another year.
The IU implosion continues in the aftermath of the Kelvin Sanctions saga – starters Armon Bassett and Jamarcus Ellis have been kicked off of the team. Just guessing, but methinks this miiiight have been purposeful.
And former McD’s AA Taylor King (rotflmao) is transferring out from under the iron fist of Coach K at Duke – word is that Villanova or Gonzaga is his likely destination.
Sean Sutton is reportedly getting forced out at Oklahoma St. - it’s been no secret around here that we thought he was doing a horrid job, we guess that the benefactors at OSU agreed.
WYN2K. The Sun Belt is a league that has seen better days in the eyes of the basketball world. In the 80s and early 90s, the conference was a top ten league that regularly sent multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament (10 times from 1980-95), peaking at four bids in 1986. Since 1995, however, the league has been exclusively a one-bid conference, as its corresponding seed average has dropped from a #10.9 (1985 to present), to a #12.6 (1995 to present), to a #13.8 seed in the last five years. In other words, the Sun Belt is trending downward (and league officials know it). What was once a proud mid-major league is now clearly a low-major (albeit near the top of that heap), despite its relatively robust 167-208 (.445) record against OOC opponents in the last three years. Some of this may be attributable to a loss of league identity, as the conference expanded away from its mid-South roots and has swelled to thirteen schools that span three time zones in locations that often have very little in common with each other (i.e., Boca Raton, FL, Bowling Green, KY, and Denver, CO).
Predicted Champion.Western Kentucky (#13 seed NCAA). Darrin Horn’s Hilltoppers have been a bit of a hard luck team over the past few seasons, averaging 20.5 wins over his four year tenure and winning one regular season championship, but having no NCAA appearances to show for it. Guards Courtney Lee, Tyrone Brazelton and TyRogers comprise a returning perimeter corps that is among the most experienced and talented in the league, and three other significant contributors return from a 22-11 (12-6) team. If WKU is to slip up, it will probably be because of its sometimes porous defense that has a tendency to give up easy baskets (allowing an eFG% of 52.6% – #272 nationally) and foul a lot (43.2 FTAs given up per game – #284 nationally). We believe this is the year that the Toppers get it done. Check the nasty follow dunk from C-Lee below.
Others Considered. Should WKU falter, the next best teams we see are Louisiana-Monroe and Florida Atlantic. Monroe returns all five starters from an 11-7 team that lost in overtime in the conference finals against North Texas last year. They were nearly unbeatable at home (14-0) and seemed to win all the close games (5-0 in games decided by <6 pts in conference) last year. Because of this, they were considered one of the “luckiest” teams in America last year (#10 via Pomeroy), earning 2.7 wins more than expected by their overall profile. Notwithstanding their luck, we’re just not comfortable picking a team that has nobody taller than 6’8 on their roster. Florida Atlantic is another team that returns substantial experience including the league’s best big man Carlos Monroe, a burly 6’8, 245 lb. beast who shot nearly 60% from the field and pulled down over a quarter (25.8%, #18 nationally) of his team’s defensive boards last year. The Owls also finished strong, winning six of their last seven games and pestering WKU in a tough quarterfinal matchup in the conference tourney before bowing out. New Orleans is also intriguing simply because the Privateers have a new coach in former Cal assistant and Bob Knight disciple Joe Pasternack, but they also have the league’s best player in Bo McCalebb, a Wooden Award candidate who averaged mind-numbing numbers last year (25 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.0 spg). Did we mention that he was the team’s leading rebounder as a 6’0 guard? There are three other starters returning from a 9-9 team that was #4 nationally in 3fg% (41.4%), #5 nationally in stl% (7.1%) and #11 nationally in to% (17.0%). The Privateers shoot well, take care of the ball, and have a fantastic player – if any team was going to make a huge improvement with a new coach, it would be this team. Quick note: last year’s regular season and tourney champs simply lost too much to be considered as a contender this year – South Alabama lost three starters and its head coach, John Pelphrey, while North Texas lost its top two scorers.
Games to Watch. The top of this league should be exciting to watch this year, as there are several excellent players (Courtney Lee, Bo McCalebb, Carlos Monroe) who could singlehandedly influence the conference race. With the unbalanced schedule in this league, New Orleans appears to be the most likely beneficiary (only three games against the other three, two at home).
RPI Booster Games. Given its location (spanning 2000+ miles from Denver to Miami), the Sun Belt takes on a full complement of SEC and Big 12 teams every year. Last year the league was 2-30 (.063) against BCS teams (WKU 70, Georgia 67; Ark-Little Rock 67, Minnesota 66), and there are a similar amount of games scheduled this year. Here are some highlights.
Louisiana-Monroe @ Kansas (11.09.07)
Florida Atlantic @ Boston College (11.12.07)
South Alabama @ Mississippi (11.13.07)
New Orleans @ NC State (11.18.07)
WKU @ Gonzaga (11.22.07)
Nebraska @ WKU (12.05.07)
Middle Tennessee St. @ Memphis (12.05.07)
Mississippi St. @ South Alabama (12.15.07)
WKU @ Southern Illinois (12.22.07)
Louisiana-Monroe @ Arkansas (12.29.07)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. We’re a long way removed from the Sun Belt’s glory years, so none this year.
Neat-o Stat. Joe Scott is returning to Colorado to take over as head coach at Denver, just a few clicks down the road from where he revitalized the Air Force program in the early 2000s. What should we make of this guy? Using the Princeton offense that he learned under Pete Carril in the 80s as a player and 90s as an assistant, he successfully built the Air Force Academy into a Mountain West champion and NCAA Tournament team in 2004. So how do we explain how he went back to Princeton in 2005 and orchestrated two (out of three) terrible seasons and an overall record of 18-24 in the Ivy League (2-12 in 2007) during his time there? He has yeoman’s work ahead of him, as Denver ranked in the bottom five teams nationally in defensive efficiency (#330) and four other defensive statistics, as well as in the bottom dozen two-point fg% (42.8%) teams in America. Work on layup drills, perhaps?
64/65-Team Era. The Sun Belt is 11-32 (.256) in the NCAA Tourney during this era, but due to the severe drop in league cachet over the last ten to fifteen years, those numbers are somewhat skewed for present consideration, especially when you consider that the league’s last NCAA victory was in 1995 (#8 WKU defeated #9 Michigan 82-76). Despite ten trips to the second round (most trips: WKU with 4), only one team has broken through to the Sweet 16, Ralph Willard’s #7 Western Kentucky squad in 1993. In fact, that Hilltopper team was an overtime loss away (Florida St. 81, WKU 78) from meeting Rick Pitino’s Kentucky team in the elite eight.
Final Thought. We’d love to be able to say that the Sun Belt contains solid mid-major material at the top, but recent history belies that position as only once in the last four years has a Sun Belt team so much as tested its first round NCAA opponent (2005: Louisville 68, Louisiana-Lafayette 62). The other three years the Sun Belt team got blitzed by an average of 16.7 pts, and we’re not sure we see a way for this league to turn things around. It’s uncertain if there’s been any talk to this effect, but perhaps going the WAC/Mountain West route and drafting a few more teams, only to split into two leagues, is the way to re-focus itself.