Pac-12 M5: 10.18.12 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 18th, 2012

  1. The USA Today Preseason Poll came out yesterday, sign #217 that actual games are quickly approaching. As expected, both Arizona and UCLA were ranked in the Top 15, but the Wildcats ranked two spots ahead of the Bruins came as a surprise to most. It appears that more and more of the voters/national media are under the impression that Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson will miss significant time in 2012-13 due to the current NCAA investigation. Following Arizona and UCLA at #11 and #13, respectively, is Stanford, who comes in at #37 in the “Also Receiving Votes” category. The Cardinal certainly have the talent to be there, but seeing no California or Colorado along with those two was interesting. Be sure to check back later today as Kevin will break down the Pac-12’s involvement in the poll.
  2. One of the top Class of 2013 power forwards will take an official visit Arizona this weekend. Aaron Gordon, out of Archbishop Mitty High School (CA), will attend the Washington-Arizona football game on Saturday before taking in the Red-Blue game Sunday afternoon. The younger brother of former UCLA and New Mexico star Drew Gordon, Aaron’s athleticism makes him the most sought after player on the west coast. He is most comfortable at the four, but can also score from the wing if needed. Gordon won’t announce his college decision until spring, but it looks as if he has narrowed down his choices to Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Kansas, and Kentucky. He will take an official visit to Lexington sometime later in the year.
  3. Shabazz Muhammad. Kyle Anderson. Adria Gasol? The latter might not be as well-known as the rest of the Bruin freshmen class, but being the brother of Pau and Marc, he certainly draws interest. Gasol will walk on with UCLA this season, but it is unlikely that he sees any meaningful minutes in his first year with the program. The Dagger’s Jeff Eisenberg describes him as appearing “lost on the court” and “shows a serious lack of basketball fundamentals.” So, not exactly words that ooze Pac-12 basketball player, but he will be a fun story to follow throughout the winter.
  4. Yesterday we told you power forward Marcus Lee would be choosing between California and Kentucky in the morning, and unfortunately for Pac-12 fans, the Deer Valley High School (CA) prospect is headed to the Bluegrass State. We knew things didn’t look good when Lee decided to forgo his visit to California this weekend after attending Big Blue Madness last Friday. Lee is the fifth member of John Calipari’s 2013 recruiting class, joining the likes of the number one point guard in the nation along with the top two shooting guards.
  5. We’re back to the gridiron tonight with a sure to be entertaining Thursday night affair between Oregon and Arizona State, and that means it is time for Drew and I to renew our prognosticating battle. Drew has come all the way back to tie our competition up through seven weeks of play, so every game is even more important from here on out. Last week’s results leave both of us at 39-15. Below are this week’s picks, with our predicted scores for our game of the week in bold.
    Game Connor’s Pick Drew’s Pick
    Oregon at Arizona State Oregon 49-21 Oregon 47-31
    Stanford at California California Stanford
    Colorado at USC USC USC
    Washington at Arizona Arizona Arizona
    Utah at Oregon State Oregon State Oregon State
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RTC Summer School: Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on August 14th, 2012

Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Up next: the Mountain West.

Drew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. You can also find his musings on Twitter @amurawa.

Three Summer Storylines

  • Tectonic Movement Continues. For the second straight year, the landscape of the MW shifts. Last year it was BYU and Utah heading off to greener pastures with Boise State landing in their place. This year TCU is on its way out the door with Fresno State and Nevada on their way in. And next year Boise State and San Diego State will depart with San Jose State and Utah State coming in. All in all, this will still be a good basketball conference even after all these moving parts settle, but the loss of a rapidly improving Aztec program will be tough for MW fans to take. TCU and Boise State certainly aren’t major losses on the basketball side, but the strength of their football programs could have provided stability for the conference and the potential for improved programs on the hardwood. Between the four newcomers, each of Fresno State, Nevada and Utah State have had good runs over the course of a handful of years, but they’ll all need to prove their ability to compete with more established programs like UNLV and New Mexico, while SJSU figures to step directly into the basement of the conference.

  • The Mtn. Crumbles. On May 31, The Mtn., the Mountain West’s television network, went dark, ceasing all operations after six years. Now, say what you will about the network, a channel that eschewed HD programming, struggled with distribution and had issues with their on-air talent, but the shuttering of its doors leaves some questions for MW hoops fans. In the era of The Mtn., if you wanted to follow MW hoops, it was easy to do so. Now, it remains to be seen exactly how much exposure teams from this conference will get during the year. Sure, the MW still has deals in place to get games shown on NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network, but what about that Air Force/Boise State game on some random February Wednesday? Should you want to watch that game and you’re not in Idaho or Colorado, odds are pretty good you’re going to be out of luck.
  • Continued Success? For all the uncertainty about the membership of the conference, the last three years have been something of the golden age of Mountain West basketball. In the past three seasons, the MW has received 11 NCAA Tournament berths. Two years ago there were dual Sweet Sixteen appearances by BYU and SDSU. We’ve had Jimmer and Kawhi grab national headlines, while other guys like Dairese Gary and Darington Hobson, Billy White and Drew Gordon, D.J. Gay and Hank Thorns, Andy Ogide and Malcolm Thomas have kept us all entertained. But, even with all of those players now gone, there is still plenty to be excited about in the conference. San Diego State and UNLV lead the way again, with both expected to start the season in the preseason Top 25. New Mexico and Colorado State, who joined the Aztecs and Rebels in the Big Dance last year, both should be in the hunt for another tourney bid, while Nevada could be a sleeper in its first season in the conference. And, as always, we could be in for another surprise or two.

Reader’s Take #1

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Bidding Them Farewell: Paying Homage to the Undrafted College Seniors

Posted by EJacoby on July 2nd, 2012

The NBA Draft is only two rounds long, so it’s quite difficult to crack the top 60 eligible draftees into the league in a given year. It’s even more challenging for graduating seniors, who not only compete with younger collegians but also foreign prospects from around the world who possess greater ‘upside’ in the minds of NBA evaluators. Constantly in search of the next hidden gem, general managers tend to overlook the players they’ve watched over the past four seasons in college. Only four seniors were picked in the first round during last Thursday’s draft, and while another 17 made it into the second there was still a large pool of graduates who didn’t hear their names called. There were far more than 21 impactful seniors in college basketball last season, and we’re here to honor the careers of those who didn’t get selected. We won’t forget the contributions of these following players, and with hard work and a little luck they should have a strong chance of cracking an NBA roster in the future.

Kevin Jones had a brilliant college career but wasn’t recognized on draft night (Getty Images)

  • Kevin Jones, West Virginia – A career that included a trip to the Final Four as a sophomore and leading the Big East in scoring and rebounding as a senior wasn’t enough to merit consideration by the NBA. Jones averaged 19.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks last season on 50.9% shooting from the field and 78.0% shooting from the line while also making a three-pointer per game. He also led the conference in Offensive Rating, this all coming on a squad with little offensive help elsewhere.
  • William Buford, Ohio State – Buford was a McDonald’s All-American guard with prototypical 6’6″ size who averaged double figures every season at Ohio State, making two Sweet Sixteens and a Final Four. He shoots it well and has shown a strong tendency to fit into an offensive scheme with other talented scorers, but his inability to take over games perhaps made him overlooked by scouts.
  • Scott Machado, Iona – Machado led the country in assists last season (9.9 per game) while also reaching career highs in points, rebounds, steals, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage as the leader of an at-large NCAA Tournament team. Even in a weak point guard draft, no team pulled the trigger on Machado, but he’ll have a great chance to dazzle in Summer League as one of the more polished floor leaders. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 05.25.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on May 25th, 2012

  1. Money was a big story in the Pac-12 this week. First and foremost, USA Today unveiled an estimate of the worth of the Pac-12 television deals this week. Navigate Research, a Chicago-based firm that has done multimedia rights valuations for other schools and conferences figures that all told, between the conference’s deals with ESPN and Fox and their ready-to-launch Pac-12 Network, each school in the conference should expect upwards of $30 million a year over the life of their 12-year agreement. About $21 million per school is guaranteed by the deal with ESPN and Fox, with the remainder of the total based on the success of the new conference networks. While the Big Ten Network generated $79.2 million worth of profit in 2011, they have to split those profits with Fox, their partner in that venture, while the Pac-12 will own their network outright.
  2. Based on that kind of income, it is easy to see why Larry Scott earned almost $1.9 million in salary and bonuses in his first full year as Pac-12 commissioner. That figure makes Scott the highest paid conference commissioner in the land and means that he earned more than three times the compensation of previous Pac-12 commissioner Tom Hansen in his final full year. Given the wonders that Scott has done with the Pac-12’s finances, image and future prospects, I would guess that most Pac-12 fans see this as money well spent for the conference.
  3. Former UCLA forward Reeves Nelson has hired a lawyer and intends to sue Sports Illustrated and writer George Dohrmann for $10 million, claiming the article published by the magazine in March was guilty of defamation, false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit claims that many of the stories in the article about Nelson were either false or drastically overstated. The lawsuit includes statements from 18 current or former players at UCLA that refute anecdotes in the article. For instance, former Bruin player Tyler Honeycutt states that the memorable tale of Nelson urinating on his clothes and bed was completely false, while recent UCLA graduate Tyler Trapani refutes the story about Nelson stepping on his chest during a practice drill. Bruin transfer and recent New Mexico big man Drew Gordon denies the claim that Nelson gave Gordon a black eye during a fight (and even denies ever having a fight with Nelson), while Alex Schrempf claims that the story that Nelson purposely in injured him by intentionally hacking him from behind is false as well. Seems like this is about the get very, very interesting as Dorhmann and SI attempt to defend themselves against this lawsuit.
  4. Washington State’s coaching staff is back at full strength again, as head coach Ken Bone hired Ray Lopes to take Jeff Hironaka’s spot on the bench. Hironaka was reassigned (read: demoted) to director of player development , and Lopes, who was most recently an assistant at Idaho, will fill his spot. Lopes is no stranger to Pullman, having coached under Kelvin Sampson on the Palouse in 1993-94, before following Sampson to Oklahoma before winding up as a head coach at Fresno State for a three-year stint. However, at both of those stops, Lopes ran afoul of the NCAA, first getting mixed up in the impermissible phone call saga with Sampson at Oklahoma, then continuing the practice in Fresno, eventually winding up with a three-year show-cause penalty for 457 impermissible phone calls while at Fresno State.
  5. Finally, after plenty of speculation that this would come to pass, Colorado redshirt sophomore point guard Shannon Sharpe will be transferring out of the program in order to play closer to his home in southern California. Sharpe’s career at Colorado goes down as a disappointment, after injuring his knee in his first practice with the Buffaloes. All told, he scored 99 points in just a hair over 600 minutes in his career in Boulder. He will have a year of eligibility remaining when he plays again at a lower-tier school (Big West schools like Cal State Fullerton or UC Irvine or perhaps Loyola Marymount or Pepperdine of the WCC would look like good landing spots where he could make an impact), although there is a possibility that he could apply for a waiver on having to sit out a year since both of his parents died of heart failure while he was in high school and he is returning home to take care of the family home.
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Baby Bruins v.2: Comparing UCLA’s Situation Now to Top-Ranked Class of 2008

Posted by EJacoby on April 25th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

With the news on Monday that top unsigned big man Tony Parker is headed to UCLA next season, the Bruins now have a super-stacked recruiting class for next year that should give Ben Howland’s squad a great chance to become elite right away. Recall that last week we discussed that bringing in an elite recruiting class doesn’t necessarily result in program success, with one of the highlight examples being Ben Howland’s #1 class of 2008 Bruins. That UCLA team brought in the top recruiting class and also had some returning veteran talent, but the team badly failed to meet expectations (some of the roots of UCLA’s transgressions were recently highlighted in a popular Sports Illustrated article in late February). Fair or unfair, the 2012 class and next year’s team is going to have to deal with comparisons to those 2008 Baby Bruins, at least until it starts to win. This time around, though, their coach’s job is on the line too. Let’s take a quick look at how the two classes and situations match up, and why UCLA fans should have no reason to expect a repeat performance this time around.

Now That Tony Parker Signed with UCLA, the Bruins Have Huge Expectations Again (Photo: Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Back in 2008, UCLA was coming off of three straight Final Four appearances, one of the best runs of team success of the past decade for any program. Bringing in the top recruiting class that offseason was no surprise, and that group of freshmen was expected to continue the long tradition of winning in Westwood. Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee, and Drew Gordon were part of a group of five top-50 recruits who were quickly dubbed the Baby Bruins, players who “were famous before they played a game,” as the SI report claims. The freshmen also got to play alongside some returning veterans, most notably senior All-American Darren Collison. But UCLA was unable to win with this group right away that season nor during the next four years. Instead of stacking up Ws and bringing home banners like the previous groups led by Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo and Kevin Love, the Baby Bruins never made the Sweet Sixteen in four years and failed to make the NCAA Tournament twice. The disastrous chemistry on the team throughout this period led to players fighting and transferring, and it all ended up in far more losses than anyone expected. UCLA entered this offseason really in need of a talent (and attitude) infusion.

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ATB: Big Dance Day One Roundup — Two Upsets, Top Four Seeds Roll, Defending Champs Are Gone…

Posted by EJacoby on March 16th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede – It’s madness, baby!!! The real start of the NCAA Tournament arrived on Thursday afternoon, as did the collective drop of productivity from employees across the country. March Madness brings the best sick days, mobile apps, and computer split screens out of us, in the pursuit of tracking our brackets and following our favorite teams throughout the day. This Thursday is always special; the mark of the most exciting postseason in sports, and this year was no different. Despite the lack of buzzer-beaters and major upsets, day one was still a fantastic day of college basketball with plenty of key storylines. More fascinating finishes and thrilling games are surely on the way, but let’s take a look at all the action from the first half of the round of 64…

Your Watercooler Moment. #12 VCU Pulls Another Shaka.

Wichita State Was Devastated After Shaka Smart's Boys Pulled Another Upset (US Presswire)

It was just last year when Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams pulled off one of the all-time great Cinderella runs in NCAA Tournament history, winning five games as a #11 seed to go from the First Four to the Final Four in the 2011 Big Dance. In 2012, things were expected to be different — VCU is no longer a sleeper, the Rams were stuck with an even worse seed, and they had to take on a fellow strong mid-major team with Sweet Sixteen aspirations of their own. But the VCU boys did it again, or at least completed stage one of another improbable run. The #12 seed Rams defeated #5 Wichita State in a thrilling game, 62-59, for the biggest upset of day one. VCU jumped to a quick advantage and led by nine at halftime, but a late run by the Shockers gave WSU the lead with about two minutes to play. Bradford Burgess, the lone returning starter from last year’s Final Four team, answered with the biggest shot of the night — a three from the corner that would give VCU a lead that it did not relinquish. Joe Ragland and Toure’ Murry did their best to keep Wichita State’s dreams alive, but VCU was not to be denied on this day. Burgess finished with 16 points, five boards, four assists, and two steals in the win, which sends VCU to a date with #4 Indiana on Saturday.

Also Worth Chatting About. #16 UNC Asheville Nearly Makes History. #16 seeds were 0-108 all-time in the NCAA Tournament coming into Thursday, but nobody told the Bulldogs, a senior-laden team that was fired up to take on a reeling Orange team after word that their center Fab Melo would be ineligible for the Tournament. Without Melo, Syracuse was completely out of sorts, though the player’s absence was no excuse for the rest of the team to play so poorly on both ends. ‘Cuse survived and will move on to Saturday while putting this game behind them, but the story was UNC Asheville’s incredible effort to nearly win this game. The Bulldogs led by four points at halftime and hung tough for the entire 40 minutes despite leading scorer Matt Dickey only shooting 1-13 with five points! Asheville got 18 points from J.P. Primm and all of the team box score statistics were very similar in this game, but Syracuse’s late-game execution proved to be too much. Plenty of fans and media members will say that poor officiating was a large factor in the outcome, as UNCA may have gotten jobbed on several calls in the final four minutes. There was one undoubtedly awful call against Asheville that should have resulted in a Syracuse turnover, but blaming the loss on the referees is not something coach Eddie Biedenbach would do. It was a valiant effort by the Bulldogs that just came short, ending in a seven point win for Cuse. The Orange survive to play #8 Kansas State in the next round on Saturday.

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Rushed Reaction: #5 New Mexico 75, #12 Long Beach State 68

Posted by rtmsf on March 15th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Steve Alford Can Coach. Dan Monson went with some trickery during what could have potentially been the game-winning play down the stretch, using a play called “Iowa” to try to get a late three — it’s named after the Hawkeye State because Monson said in the press conference afterward that he had stolen it from Alford while the Lobo coach was at Iowa. When another coach is stealing your plays and admitting to it, that’s a pretty good indication of coaching acumen alone, but it was also obvious in how New Mexico handled the 1-3-1 zone that Long Beach threw at them. Monson said that they did that because the Lobos hadn’t seen much of it before, but they consistently handled it and found the open man in the creases of the zone (most notably, when Kendall Williams nailed a huge three from the wing to give New Mexico its lead back). 
  2. New Mexico’s Unsung Heroes. Drew Gordon had the best numbers on the winning team with an 18/13 performance, but it was some of the other Lobos who made the bigger plays down the stretch to ensure that New Mexico advanced to the next round. We’ll discuss Kendall Williams below, but the players who kept making big plays when the Lobos needed them were the unsung guys, also including the freshman Hugh Greenwood (12/4/4 assts) and Demetrius Walker (11/4). For New Mexico to advance any further in this Tournament, they will need to have that sort of consistent performance from players other than Gordon inside.
  3. Casper the Ghost. We said at the half when Ware had only scored seven points that we felt he’d need to triple his scoring output for Long Beach State to win the game. He ended up with 17 points on 5-19 from the field, and his last several possessions were an unmitigated disaster. First, he missed a layup on a drive, then he missed a much-needed three from the corner. He then got lucky after a turnover led to a loose ball to put him on the line for two free throws (he made them), but then another missed layup finished his team off in the final 30 seconds. Ware had a tremendous career at LBSU, and you hate to see a guy go out like that, but Dan Monson’s team wasn’t going to win without him playing better.

Star of the Game. Kendall Williams, New Mexico. Williams ended up with 16 points and five assists in the game, but it was his defense on Casper Ware late that really frustrated the talented 49er guard, in addition to some timely buckets on the other end. With just under five minutes to go, Long Beach had just taken a one-point lead and had all the momentum — Williams’ response was to nail a wing three to give his team back the lead. He followed that up with a couple of foul shots a minute later, and a layup in the last 90 seconds that created a four-point cushion when Long Beach was surging again.

Quotable. Williams, when asked about his game-changing three with just under five minutes to go being the biggest shot of his career: “Hopefully I’ll have some bigger ones on Saturday.”

Sights & Sounds. Long Beach State’s Casper Wareshows how much it hurts to walk off the court for the last time in your uniform.

What’s Next? New Mexico advances to face #4 Louisville on Saturday in an interesting matchup that will be played above the rim by both teams. Both teams like to mix up defenses, with the Lobos effectively using a 1-3-1 against Long Beach today. We’d have to believe that this will be a tough, low-scoring affair with the key matchup being Peyton Siva vs. Kendall Williams.

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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by AMurawa on March 12th, 2012

Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), South (11 AM), Midwest (2 PM), West (4 PM). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Andrew breaking down the West Region here.

West Region

Favorite: Michigan State, #1, 27-7. This is the fourth time in the Tom Izzo era that Michigan State has earned a #1 seed. The previous three times (1999, 2000, and 2001), they advanced at least to the Final Four, winning the national title in 2000. Led by likely All-American senior forward Draymond Green, this is, almost without question, the best Spartan team since those teams at the turn of the century. They do have to go forward without injured freshman Branden Dawson, out for the year with a torn ACL, but senior Brandon Wood stepped into his starting spot and he shot the ball well in the Big Ten Tournament this weekend. You can say that there are more talented teams in this region (Missouri and Marquette come to mind), but beating Izzo in March is always easier said than done.

Draymond Green And Michigan State Are The Team To Beat In The West Region (AP)

Should They Falter: Missouri, #2, 30-4. While the Spartans are the favorite, the Tigers are a solid 1-A. The Selection Committee had Mizzou as the #8 overall seed, but they have been excellent all season long behind the most efficient offense in the nation. The Tigers are undersized (only two players taller than 6’6” are in the rotation) and lack depth (they only play seven guys), but head coach Frank Haith gets every last drop out of the guys who do play. And with guards like Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Phil Pressey, and Michael Dixon, they have enough talent on the perimeter to cause plenty of trouble.

Grossly Overseeded: BYU, #14 (First Four), 26-8. I don’t have a whole lot of problems with any of the seeding this year; I think the Selection Committee by and large did a pretty good job. But I’m not sure why BYU is in the tournament. Their lone quality win of the season is over Gonzaga, a team who doesn’t have much in the way of quality wins itself. I would rather have seen a team like Drexel or Oral Roberts (teams admittedly without a ton of big wins either) get the Cougars’ spot. The Dragons and Golden Eagles both had better records against top 50 RPI teams, and both excelled in their conference regular season. I will even take Iona, their First Four opponent, over the Cougs despite a complete lack of quality wins on the Gaels’ resume. The committee gave Iona credit for scheduling a tough non-conference slate, and their strength of schedule out of conference even exceeds BYU’s.

Grossly Underseeded: Missouri, #2, 30-4. I’m having trouble working up a whole lot of outrage about anything in the bracket, but Missouri should not have dropped to the #8 overall seed. To me, they were right in the conversation with Kansas for the #5 overall seed (and I might have given Missouri the edge, although the committee docked them for a relatively tame non-conference schedule). The only difference for the Tigers in terms of their placement in the bracket is that had they earned the #5 overall seed, they would have been dropped in the St. Louis regional instead of being shipped West. But the good news is that they still are in the bracket with the lowest #1 seed. It all works out.

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Bracket Prep: Louisville, New Mexico, Ohio, & Mississippi Valley State

Posted by EJacoby on March 11th, 2012

As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket. In this post, we have your Big East, Mountain West, MAC, and SWAC conference champions. Here’s what you need to know about these recent bid winners.

Louisville

Peyton Siva was Named Big East Tournament MVP (AP Photo/F. Franklin)

  • Big East Champion (26-9, 14-8)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #18/#20/#18
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +11.5
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #4-#5

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Louisville might be one of the toughest teams in America to project for the NCAA Tournament, by virtue of the fact that they’ve had such a schizophrenic season full of ups and downs. After winning 11 games in a row to start the season, the Cardinals then dropped five of seven. Then, after going on another hot streak to win six Big East games in a row, Louisville dropped four of its final six regular season contests before its most recent four-game surge to win the Big East Tournament. So which team should we expect to show up next week? The story will be told in the type of opponent that Rick Pitino‘s team draws.
  2. Louisville has almost no offensive firepower to speak of — six players average between nine and 14 points per game, but they can’t shoot straight (48% from two; 31% from three) and have trouble avoiding long scoring droughts — rather, the Cardinals have won 26 games through its exceptionally tough defense (ranked #2 in defensive efficiency). They cause over 15 turnovers per game and force teams into tough shots both on the interior and beyond the three-point line. In the Cardinals’ last 10 games, their opponent has only reached 60 points three times. It’s somewhat instructive, though, that Louisville went 6-4 in those games because they broke the 60-point barrier only four times themselves.
  3. We’d suggest that you be careful in presuming that a Big East Tournament champion is poised to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament just because they’re the Big East champion. Marquette was the only solid offensive team that the Cards defeated this week, and they’re likely to face teams that can really cause them some problems in the first two rounds. As a potential #4 or #5 seed, Louisville could be matched up against a dangerous team like Long Beach State (and Casper Ware) in the first game and a team like Creighton (and Doug McDermott) in the next round. While Pitino’s defense is likely to keep the Cards in either game, they’ll have significant trouble scoring enough points down the stretch to pull out a victory, while the other teams have players who can make plays. For that reason, this is a team that you’ll want to think carefully about putting deep into your bracket — the Cardinals can be successful playing other offensively-challenged teams, but those teams tend to not play very far into March and will be few and far between.

New Mexico

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Mountain West Tournament Diary: Championship Saturday

Posted by AMurawa on March 10th, 2012

Saturday night’s Mountain West Championship game between San Diego State and New Mexico provided plenty of great storylines: the two regular season co-champions meeting in a rubber match; the two-time defending tournament champion Aztecs against a Lobo team that hadn’t won this tournament since 2005, when Ritchie McKay was still the head coach; and the battle between the top two candidates for the conference Player of the Year, the winner, Jamaal Franklin and the jilted, Drew Gordon.

Gordon had made no bones about the fact all week that he felt he deserved the individual honor and that other awards, such as Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth-Man of the Year, should have wound up in Lobo hands, and he played with a chip on his shoulder all weekend, averaging 15.3 points and 10.7 boards in the tournament on his way to the Most Outstanding Player award. But the win on Saturday night was a total team affair. Tony Snell got things off on the right track, scoring the first five points of the game and turning in his third straight double-digit scoring game after slumping through February. Freshman point guard Hugh Greenwood continued his do-whatever-it-takes style and contributed ten boards and a couple threes. And bench players Phillip McDonald, Demetrius Walker, and Cameron Bairstow all made major contributions. McDonald, who has lost minutes this season as Snell and Walker have stepped up, came off the pine and had a three, an assist, a rebound and drew a charge, all in his first couple minutes of action. Bairstow battled on the boards and at one point scored six straight points for the Lobos. And Walker, despite not making a field goal, provided energy and hit clutch free throws down the stretch to preserve the victory.

Drew Gordon, New Mexico

Drew Gordon, The Tournament's Most Outstanding Player, Is Mobbed By New Mexico Fans

But more than anything else, this win was about the New Mexico defense. They held San Diego State to 0.86 points per possession (the number was quite a bit lower than that until Chase Tapley went nuts late) and at times in the second half just completely froze the Aztecs out in the paint. Kendall Williams took San Diego State point Xavier Thames completely out of rhythm and Snell helped frustrate James Rahon into an 0-for-8 shooting night. Franklin, meanwhile, was hounded into six-of-14 shooting and six turnovers. And, despite wrapping up their semifinal game late in the evening on Friday night, the Lobos never showed fatigue and kept competing (and hard) right to the final whistle. They were consistently first to loose balls and always scrapping and making multiple attempts at rebounds.

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Mountain West Tournament Diary: Semifinal Friday

Posted by AMurawa on March 10th, 2012

Less than two minutes into the nightcap on semifinal Friday night, New Mexico found itself in a hole, down 12-0 to UNLV on the Rebels’ home court, a place where UNLV had not lost since last year’s Mountain West Tournament. Not only were they clicking on all cylinders (they had gotten threes from Chace Stanback and Anthony Marshall and a couple of old-fashioned three-point plays from Oscar Bellfield), but the Lobos looked awful, struggling to do simple things like catch the ball. But the Lobos responded. “They gave us a good punch in the face right there to start the game,” said head coach Steve Alford. “But there’s a lot of game left.  They scored 17 points in the first three minutes of the half, then only scored 17 points the last 17 minutes of the half.  After that initial barrage of points, we settled down and played extremely good defense.” The Lobos packed their defense in, dared the Rebels to hit threes against them, and that dare paid off. UNLV started three-for-three from deep in the first four minutes, then made just five of their 21 attempts over the final 36 minutes. UNM didn’t try to force anything defensively (in fact, they forced just three turnovers on the night), but made the Rebels have to score over them.

Demetrius Walker, New Mexico

Demetrius Walker Helped The Lobos Climb Out Of An Early Hole (AP)

More importantly, however, the Lobos dominated the Rebels inside. Led by RTC MW Player of the Year Drew Gordon (who hit eight of 10 field goal attempts on his way to 19 points and 13 boards), New Mexico grabbed 85% of their defensive rebound opportunities and 26.9% on the offensive end, while outscoring the Rebels in the paint, 30-18. Senior Brice Massamba was generally solid for UNLV, scoring six points and adding nine rebounds before fouling out after 34 minutes, but the rest of their frontcourt was largely absent. Mike Moser had solid stretches at the start and at the end of the game, but was largely invisible in the middle three-quarters of the game, winding up with just three rebounds and 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Senior Chace Stanback hit a three on the first offensive possession of each half, but beyond that produced almost literally nothing (one point, one rebound and one assist the rest of the game), a concern as the Rebels head to the NCAA Tournament next week.

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Mountain West Tournament Diary: Quarterfinal Thursday

Posted by AMurawa on March 9th, 2012

Game of the Day

On Monday, San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin was named the Mountain West Player of the Year (nevermind the fact that we at RTC gave Drew Gordon the nod) after a blazing conclusion to the regular season. On the first day of postseason play in the conference, Franklin reminded everybody just how good he can be.

With the shot clock turned off and Boise State having run back to tie their quarterfinal game with the Mountain West regular season champion, the Aztecs called a timeout and set up a play that everybody in the Thomas & Mack Center knew was headed Franklin’s way. The Broncos tried to deny him the ball, but San Diego State point guard Xavier Thames got him the ball, and then, as Franklin is known to do repeatedly in practices, he counted down the final seconds on the clock and threw up a prayer at the buzzer, this time over the hands of two Boise State defenders. And the prayer was answered, as the ball settled softly into the net, advancing the Aztecs to Friday night’s semifinal.

Head coach Steve Fisher painted the picture of Franklin playing the part of a kid on a playground or in his back yard, knocking down imaginary game winners against a clock of his own making. During practices, the Aztecs have a period of spot shooting and, according to Fisher at the end of that session, “Jamaal waits and waits and waits and he shoots one as the clock hits zero.  If he makes it, he falls down,” mimicking a buzzer-beating celebration. All the practice has paid off for Franklin, as twice now this year, he has scored game-winners as time expired. “Everyone in the gym knew who the last shot was going to,” said Boise State freshman guard Derrick Marks, fighting through tears. “So, Xavier Thames passed the ball, I was supposed to go double and he just made an incredible shot.” Franklin commended the Boise State defense, saying it was a “very tough look. X did a great job giving me the ball because they denied me all the way out to basically halfcourt.  My first object was to get to the rim, but they kind of double‑teamed me and I just shot the three.”

San Diego State was in that dogfight down the stretch in part because they helped a game Boise State get back in the game. The Aztecs were up 11 with under six minutes left, but down the stretch they missed layups, missed free throws and turned the ball over three times, the most memorable one coming when Chase Tapley turned it over in the backcourt, leading directly to the game-tying layup for the Broncos on a nice dish from freshman Anthony Drmic to sophomore Thomas Bropleh. Tapley was, however, a hero most of the day for the Lobos, at one point scoring 10 out of 12 San Diego State points and contributing 20 points (including four threes) and numerous under-the-radar plays.

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