Three Up, Three Down in the Big East

Posted by George Hershey on November 21st, 2014

The Big East has gotten off to a strong start this season, having lost only one game among all 10 teams and heading into next week with tests which will help determine how it stacks up against some of the nation’s best. Here are three positives and three negatives from the opening week in Big East basketball.

Three Up

Blueitt has produced from the get go for the Musketeers (Frank Victores/USA Today Sports)

Trevon Blueitt has produced from the get go for the Musketeers
(Frank Victores/USA Today Sports)

  1. Xavier Freshmen – Chris Mack brought in a highly-ranked group of freshmen to restock the Musketeers, and they have produced from the get-go. In Tuesday night’s win over Long Beach State, Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura led the team in scoring, with 20 and 17 points, respectively. Both shot the ball well from three, combining to connect five times, and Bluiett especially had a phenomenal game, stuffing the stat sheet with eight rebounds and five assists to boot. With a strong group of experienced players led by Matt Stainbrook and Myles Davis, Mack does not need his freshmen to lead every night, but their demonstrated ability to score in bunches is helpful for any team over the course of a season.
  2. DePaul Transfers – This DePaul team is not your typical DePaul team. That might be said nearly every preseason, but after a couple of games, it appears that this could be the team that finally breaks through. Oliver Purnell returns two sophomore studs in Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV, but he also brought in four transfers to turn the program around. Myke HenryAaron Simpson, and the injured Rashaun Stimage have returned home to Chicago, and Darrick Wood arrives by way of junior college in Kansas. In Tuesday’s win over Drake, Henry contributed 13 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Simpson and Wood both contributed five points each. Stimage and Henry are athletic bigs which will pair nicely with big-bodied Hamilton, while Simpson and Wood can handle the ball and provide a spark off the bench when Garrett needs a break. Purnell needs smart players who buy into the system, and all signs point to his group of newbies doing just that. Read the rest of this entry »
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Mountain West Quarterfinal Roundup

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 14th, 2014

Wednesday was a busy day at the Thomas and Mack, with eight quarterfinalists battling for Friday reservations in the MW Tournament semis. Like they have all season, San Diego State and New Mexico found a way to distance themselves from the rest of the league on Thursday, but UNLV and Boise State were forced to work a little harder for their spot in the semifinals. Here are a few thoughts from each of the four MW quarterfinals:

San Diego State-Utah State

No surprises in the opener today. Five days after securing the conference regular season title, San Diego State made clear their intentions to double-dip with a MW Tournament crown, waxing Utah State 73-39. Balance and unselfishness were the themes of the day for the Aztecs, as SDSU had seven different players contribute six or more points, while 19 of their 24 field goals were assisted. Xavier Thames’ season high seven assists paced SDSU in that category. It was a solid day for the Mountain West Player of the Year (who also chipped in 15 points), who also added a season-high seven assists. Steve Fisher obviously hasn’t invented the concept of a scoring point guard here, but the tidbit is a subtle reminder of just how reliant the Aztecs are on their point guard to score the ball. San Diego State’s slow-tempo offense is also built around offensive rebounding and opportunistic finishing, and only three teams assist on a fewer percentage of field goals than the Aztecs. It’s an unconventional offensive formula, but at least on this day, Steve Fisher’s offense kept pace with their spirit-crushing defense.

X(avier) has marked the spot all season long for the Aztecs. On Thursday, the Mountain West Player of the Year contributed 15 points and seven assists in a rout of Utah State. (AP)

X(avier) has marked the spot all season long for the Aztecs. On Thursday, the Mountain West Player of the Year contributed 15 points and seven assists in a rout of Utah State. (AP)

Utah State wasn’t supposed to beat San Diego State, but they also weren’t supposed to lose by 33. It’s been that kind of season for Stew Morrill’s club, who has underachieved significantly in their first go-around in the Mountain West. Unfortunately for the folks up in Logan, the departure of four senior starters means that things may get worse before they get better, but the decades of consistency under Morrill should eventually translate into Mountain West success. As for the possible continuation of this season, the CBI or CIT may come calling for the 18-14 Aggies, but there is no guarantee that the man in charge is ready to accept a bid. When asked about postseason plans after today’s demolition, Morrill’s rhetorical question said it all about this Utah State season — “who the hell are we to think we might go to the postseason?” Read the rest of this entry »

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Four Questions Previewing the Mountain West Tournament

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Bennet Hayes on March 12th, 2014

RTC Mountain West correspondent Andrew Murawa and national columnist Bennet Hayes will both be in Las Vegas this week for coverage of the Mountain West Tournament. San Diego State and New Mexico appear to be on a crash course for a third and final meeting in the tournament final, but there are plenty of questions worth asking before play kicks off on Wednesday afternoon. Murawa and Hayes weigh in below on four of the most pressing.

Which is the most dangerous team outside of New Mexico and San Diego State?

Could "Khem Kong" And A Raucous Thomas And Mack Center Crowd Propel UNLV To An Unexpected Mountain West Tournament Run?

Could “Khem Kong” And A Raucous Thomas And Mack Center Crowd Propel UNLV To An Unexpected Mountain West Tournament Run?

AM:  UNLVWell, I jumped the gun and got my answers in first, so while Bennet gets stuck having to make a case for someone besides UNLV, I get to tell you why the Runnin’ Rebels – you know, the team playing the Mountain West tournament on its own home floor – has the best chance to win this thing. And honestly, even if they weren’t playing at the Thomas & Mack, the Rebels would still be my pick, even if they’re still something of a longshot compared to the two favorites. They’ve been inconsistent all year, and that isn’t going to change, but in Bryce Dejean-Jones and Deville Smith, they’ve got offensive firepower, and in Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith, they’ve got the hard-working defensive grinders in place. This team should have been better than it was this year and the conference tournament would be a good place for Dave Rice’s crew to turn things around. For what it’s worth, UNLV has won the MW tournament three times at the Thomas & Mack, but the most recent is six years ago; maybe they’re due?

BH: Boise StateIn all likelihood, to win the Mountain West title this week, you will have to beat both New Mexico and San Diego State. No team was able to accomplish that feat in the regular season, but if there’s a team in Vegas capable of doing it, it’s the Broncos. They split with New Mexico in the regular season (winning in Boise) and lost two games to the Aztecs by a total of five points, so don’t let their 9-9 conference record fool you – this team can compete with anyone in the MW. Of course, they’ve proven capable of losing to almost anyone in the conference as well (see: Saturday against Air Force), but Las Vegas offers Boise a chance at a clean slate. Four wins in Vegas would go a long ways towards erasing the disappointment of a season that began with high hopes.

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College Basketball by the Tweets: Tony Romo, #cheerfortheears, Deonte Burton, and More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on March 11th, 2014

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent who writes the column College Basketball By the Tweets, a look at the world of college hoops through the prism of everyone’s favorite social media platform. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

Mr. Buffett may lose points for looking like a fair weather fan, counting his money in Omaha and only coming out to play when the Bluejays are on the verge of making a deep NCAA Tournament run, but any billionaire willing to be photographed with stickers on his face is cool in my book.

Joel Embiid Out For Big 12 Tournament

Like Syracuse in 2012 (Fab Melo) and Cincinnati in 2000 (Kenyon Martin), Final Four contender Kansas has lost an important big man at the worst possible time. Joel Embiid, ruled out of the Big 12 Tournament with his NCAA Tournament status unknown because of a stress fracture in his back, has offered up a handful of angles as to what it all means for Kansas. To the hot sports takes!

#cheerfortheears Reaches Its Appropriate Climax

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The RTC Mountain West Superlatives

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 10th, 2014

Not only did the Mountain West regular season title come down to the final moments of the season, but the Player of the Year race was held in the balance until late Saturday night. Below, one man’s opinion on the best in the Mountain West.

Player of the Year

Xavier Thames, Senior, San Diego State – With 12 minutes left in the conference regular season and New Mexico up 16 at Viejas Arena, Cameron Bairstow looked like he had a hammer-lock on the POY award. A 26-7 run later, the Aztecs were conference champions and now Thames is the pick as the league’s MVP. But don’t believe for a second that this is a rash, spur-of-the-moment decision based largely on recentness; this was just a race that was neck and neck all season long, and Thames was the one to nose the finish. Bairstow winds up leading the conference in scoring, averaging better than three points a game more than Thames, but the Aztec point guard was not only his team’s leading scorer (16.9 PPG), but he was also their lead playmaker (3.0 APG), their most important defender on a top-ten defense nationally, and their rock down the stretch of close games. Down the stretch Saturday night, as Bairstow was held to a single point over the final 12 minutes of the game, Thames scored 10 points, as well as collecting two steals, two assists and a rebound in leading his team to a win. Bairstow had an excellent year, and the improvement in his game deserves plenty of recognition, but he also played with two other guys who deserve strong consideration for a first-team all-conference spot. For Thames, he was the Aztecs’ main guy and the one most responsible for their regular season conference title.

In Helping His Team Cut Down the Nets On Saturday Night, Xavier Thames Earned the RTC Mountain West Player of the Year (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

In Helping His Team Cut Down the Nets On Saturday Night, Xavier Thames Earned the RTC Mountain West Player of the Year. (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

Coach of the Year

Steve Fisher, San Diego State – This one doesn’t require nearly as much of an explanation. Fisher took a team that was picked by the media to finish fourth in the conference (full disclosure, RTC picked them 2nd), a team that had to replace four of its six leading scorers, including all-conference types Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, and turned this Aztec team into a national top ten team. At times it seemed like he was doing it with smoke and mirrors, but facts remain: 27-3; losses only at home to Arizona and on the road to Wyoming and New Mexico; regular season conference championship; and a likely top-four protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. Sounds like a Coach of the Year to me.

All-Conference

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What’s Trending: Deonte Burton’s Dunk of the Year, Jim Harbaugh, Senior Night, and More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on March 7th, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) is your weekly host.

Deonte Burton Dunk

Nevada’s Deonte Burton undoubtedly delivered the dunk of the year in college hoops. You’d probably seen it at least 15 times in the past 36 hours, but another binge watch is good for the soul.

The reaction from Twitter was swift…

burton dunk

Russdiculous

The latest chapter in the fantastic college career of Mr. Russell Smith was written Wednesday night, as the Cardinals’ senior guard scored 22 second half points (including six three-pointers) in a win over SMU.  Here’s to hoping the graphic below is used at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday.

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How San Diego State Makes the Most of Its Talent

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 10th, 2014

I’ve written plenty about San Diego State this season. And while most of it has been glowing, there have been a lot of “yeah… but” moments. Yeah, they’re great defensively; yeah they’re athletic and long; yeah they’re well-coached; but then I would harp on some of their perceived weaknesses. After watching them wear down and put away a solid Nevada team on Saturday night at Viejas Arena for their 20th consecutive win, today there will be no mention of those weaknesses. Because one of the things that makes this Aztecs team so great is that they play to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. The story of this team is that they find a way to do what they want to do, while not letting their opponent do what they want to do. They’re like an unwelcome visitor reclining on your couch and cracking a beer; they get comfortable and prevent you from doing same.

In Front Of Just Another Raucous Viejas Arena Crowd, San Diego State Ran Off Its 20th Consecutive Win

In Front Of Just Another Raucous Viejas Arena Crowd, San Diego State Ran Off Its 20th Consecutive Win

Before every game, Steve Fisher puts up a list of keys to success on the white board in the locker room. Some of them are basic and general: rebound the ball, limit turnovers, etc. Some are more involved, such as a goal to generate at least one 8-0 run per half, or to make more free throws than the other team takes. But each of these gives a window into the priorities for this squad. Most of it begins on the defensive end, like that goal for runs, something Fisher plans for. “It comes with staying with it and not allowing them to get an easy basket, not making a foolish turnover or giving them a second chance to end a run, and eventually you’re going to have a chance to get one of those,” said Fisher Saturday night. “That’s the earmark of any real good team; you play even for awhile and then all of a sudden you have a spurt.” They didn’t get one of those spurts in either half on Saturday night, coming up just short with a pair of 7-0 runs instead. There was one right at the end of the first half where the Aztecs responded to the Wolf Pack taking a one-point lead by forcing three turnovers over the course of four possessions, all of which resulted in transition opportunities. In the second half they widened a seven-point margin to a 14-point lead on the back of another turnover and getting to the line. On Wednesday night against Boise State, it was a 15-0 run, marked not only by forced turnovers, but also by good, solid, lockdown defense.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 4th, 2014

It’s the first week in February, and we’re basically halfway through the conference season (believe it or not). So for the most part this week, our Mountain West check-in will be a review of the season to this point combined with  look forward, while just touching on a handful of stories from this past week.

First, the conference race. San Diego State remains atop the standings without a blemish in conference play. They’re ranked fifth in the nation and in the RTC25 and in strong contention for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But New Mexico has just one conference loss and still has two games with the Aztecs remaining on its schedule. A game back of those two, you’ll find the surprise team of conference play – Nevada – sitting at 7-2. How this makes any sense is still unclear as the Wolf Pack were terrible in non-conference play and have looked every bit of their record in conference; they can no longer be regarded as fluky. Despite Nevada’s successful run in conference play, the line for serious contention for at-large consideration in this conference is drawn right between the Lobos and the Wolf Pack. Right now New Mexico looks like a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team; whereas everybody south of the #2 spot in the conference probably needs to win the Mountain West Tournament to get a bid.

Steve Fisher, San Diego State

Steve Fisher Has His Aztecs Atop The Mountain West Standings And Again Inside the National Top Five. (Gus Ruelas/AP)

As for awards, Coach of the Year is the easy one – Steve Fisher is not only the heavy favorite to win the MW Coach of the Year award, but he’s probably the favorite nationally as well. Despite a less than favorable finish in our ranking of Mountain West coaches last week, Nevada’s David Carter really does deserve at least some consideration.

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Big East M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 31st, 2014

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. Creighton and Villanova have shot up the rankings this season with great guard play and effective outside shooting. ESPN‘s John Gasaway wrote an article recently looking at the teams with the highest percentage of attempts that come from behind the arc. Creighton takes 43.1 percent of its shots from deep, but Gasaway points out how effective they have become at shooting two-pointers (54.8 percent of their twos in conference action) and how their defense is also much improved (surrendering 1.02 points per possession). Villanova has a similar profile in all three aspects. They take 42.7 percent of their shots from three, making 54 percent of their twos and allowing 1.04 points per possession. It’s interesting just how similar the two best teams in the league are and we will probably see a much closer game the second time these teams meet in Omaha. 
  2. Former Ohio State walk-on and current Grantland writer Mark Titus may not have the most accurate power rankings out there, but he definitely has the funniest. Titus likes to make jokes, but he is also very smart about basketball and makes compelling points along the way. This week he has Creighton Doug McDermott in his eighth national spot. Although he jokes about McDermott and his impressive recent play, he has a great quote about Creighton as a team, saying, “The Bluejays have become appointment viewing. If their shooting outburst against Villanova wasn’t enough to convince you of this, McDermott’s heroic effort should cement their status. No matter who they’re playing, you can turn on a Creighton game and be pretty sure you’re going to be thoroughly entertained for two hours.” The team’s ability to go off at any time and McDermott’s NPOY-level play has truly made this team a can’t-miss viewing appointment. 
  3. Buzz Williams must have been listening to all the Marquette writers and fans this week. With articles from Cracked Sidewalks, Anonymous Eagle, and Paint Touches all calling for the underclassmen to get more playing time, Williams put JaJuan Johnson and Deonte Burton into the starting lineup in last night’s impressive win, with John Dawson coming off the bench early. All three played at least 10 minutes while Burton led the trio with nine points and six rebounds. The key with the freshman is to remain aggressive while staying under control and understanding the situation. They showed their confidence attacking the rim and being pesky on defense, but also forced a few unnecessary shots. It seems like Williams likes the energy and production they bring which should help them get more comfortable with the college game in preparation for next season.
  4. Seton Hall has its first McDonald’s All-American since Andre Barrett and Eddie Griffin arrived in 2000. Coney Island native Isaiah Whitehead was named to the team on Wednesday as he finishes up an outstanding high school career. Zach Braziller at the New York Post talked to Whitehead after the announcement, as he follows in the footsteps of Lincoln High School legends Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson. This is a great honor for Whitehead and his arrival next year should excite Seton Hall fans as he leads a stellar class of New York and New Jersey local products.
  5. With the losses of Brandon Austin, Kris Nunn, and Rodney Bullock, Providence guard Josh Fortune has had to consistently play almost the entire game throughout conference play. He has played at least 30 minutes in all but one game, and even played 50 (!) against St. John’s. While Fortune has played a key role for the Friars as Bryce Cotton’s backcourt mate, he has had to focus on basketball while his mother is stationed 6,000 miles away as a colonel in the Army. Kevin McNamara writes about life off the court and how Fortune has to deal with the intermittent communication with his mother. Fortunately for head coach Ed Cooley, Fortune has stepped up and been a consistent producer all season, helping Providence battle for what appeared to be an unlikely NCAA Tournament berth.
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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 21st, 2014

With New Mexico taking a home loss to UNLV this week and Nevada slipping back to reality a bit, San Diego State is all alone in the driver’s seat, the last remaining undefeated team in conference play. Now with a 15-game winning streak, the Aztecs have earned their way into the #11 spot in the latest RTC Top 25. Beyond Steve Fisher’s club, however, there are a lot of question marks. The Lobos are the clear #2 team in the conference, but questions remain about their long-term NCAA Tournament aspirations. Our resident bracketologist has them firmly in the field, but future home losses to middling teams are not recommended.

Team of the Week

Boise State Got Back On Track This Week, In Part Due With A Home Win Over Utah State (Devin Ferrell, The Arbiter)

Boise State Got Back On Track This Week, In Part Due With A Home Win Over Utah State. (Devin Ferrell, The Arbiter)

Boise State – The Broncos bounced back from a pair of losses with a very good week. They went on the road and handed Nevada its first loss of the season, and anytime you can get a road win in conference play – no matter what conference you’re in, but especially in this one – you’re doing something right. Then on Saturday they handled Utah State and have seemingly righted the ship, at least for now. Derrick Marks led the way with 20 points per game this week, but it was a full-team affair, with Ryan Watkins helping the Broncos control the paint and Anthony Drmic being his usual solid self. And there was even one more Bronco who made a big and surprising contribution this week, who we’ll get to shortly.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 14th, 2014

Go home Mountain West, you’re drunk! How else to explain looking at the standings two weeks in and seeing Nevada – they of the eight non-conference losses, including to such luminaries as Pacific, Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, and New Orleans – alone atop the conference standings? How about Boise State and UNLV, two teams expected to contend for NCAA Tournament bids prior to the season, sitting back at 1-2? How about the worst team in the conference, San Jose State, giving New Mexico everything the Lobos can handle? How about the conference, home of terrific home court advantages up and down the West, sporting just a combined 10-9 record in league play so far? How about a San Diego State team in a rebuilding year with a work-in-progress offense carrying the banner for the conference with a top 15 ranking in the most recent RTC Top 25? Face it. Not a lot in this conference makes a ton of sense this year. And it is fascinating.

Deonte Burton Has Led A Wolf Pack Resurgence In Conference Play (US Presswire)

Deonte Burton Has Led A Wolf Pack Resurgence In Conference Play. (US Presswire)

Team of the Week

Nevada – This team was – not to put too fine a point on it – awful in the non-conference. They didn’t share they ball, they couldn’t rebound, they couldn’t defend. Less patient athletic directors may have begun their next coaching searches before Christmas. Now, while we’ve still no reason to suspect that the Wolf Pack are actually going to challenge for the conference title, much less an NCAA Tournament bid, these guys have turned into a real team. You actually want to find a way to watch them just to see what’s going on. They’ve got an NBA talent in Deonte Burton; they’ve got newcomer A.J. West providing some toughness up front; and they’ve got a handful of talented ancillary parts. And with sophomore Marqueze Coleman now back from injury, they’re starting to get back to whole. And – get this – they’re actually allowing less than a point per possession in four conference games. Maybe you can believe in this team, at least for a little while.

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A College Basketball Resolution For 2014: Get To Know Nevada’s Deonte Burton

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 9th, 2014

There’s a chance, Mr. or Mrs. Diehard college hoops fan, that you don’t know who Deonte Burton is. No, we aren’t talking about the Marquette swingman (although that might also be a conversation worth having, after he authored this late entry for the dunk of 2013). The Deonte Burton you need to know had produced a trio of productive individual campaigns before this 2013-14 season, but here in his final go-around, both the volume and efficiency of that production has exploded. Finding a national spotlight can be difficult when you are starring on a mediocre team in a self-proclaimed “little city” (even if it may be the “biggest little city in the world”), but it’s time for folks outside of Reno to start taking note of Nevada’s explosive senior. And if the surprising Wolfpack’s newfound winning ways somehow manage to keep up? There will be no choice but to appreciate the player at the center of the surge.

He Has Been Brilliant All Season, But Deonte Burton Put On A Special Show Wednesday Night At The Thomas And Mack Center- Even By His Lofty Standards

He Has Been Brilliant All Season, But Deonte Burton Put On A Special Show Wednesday Night At The Thomas And Mack Center- Even By His Lofty Standards

After a 74-71 victory over UNLV in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, Nevada is suddenly alone atop the Mountain West at 3-0. The quick start marks a drastic reversal of fortune for a team that won just three conference games all of last season, and entered 2014 with an entirely underwhelming 5-8 overall record. Wins over San Jose State (on the road) and Wyoming set the stage for the Wolfpack’s victory in the battle for the Silver State, but this latest triumph was far from guaranteed early. UNLV built an 11-point lead late in the first half, but in those critical pre-intermission minutes when second-half momentum is always on the line, Burton snatched all that impetus the Rebels had previously held. In the span of 80 seconds, three consecutive contested, step-back Burton jumpers found the bottom of the net, and the Wolfpack headed to the locker room down just two. It was as acute a pivot point in momentum as you will find, and it propelled Nevada to an 11-0 run out of the locker room. This spurt created some permanent separation, as the UNLV deficit wouldn’t shrink to below six again until the meaningless final seconds.

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