20 Questions: Where Does Gonzaga Go After Last Season’s Highs and Lows?

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 22nd, 2013

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Throughout the preseason, RTC national columnists will answer the 20 most compelling questions heading into the 2013-14 season. Previous columns in this year’s series are located here.  

At certain moments last season, Gonzaga looked like a team that could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. It had all the necessary pieces: a great backcourt (Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell), a talented frontcourt (Elias Harris, Sam Dower, and Kelly Olynyk), a gritty defensive specialist (Mike Hart), and enough role players, it seemed, to bang with the sort of deep and athletic teams that had occasionally overwhelmed Mark Few’s teams of years past. The Bulldogs also had an impressive stack of non-conference wins to stick on their resume, victories over Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Davidson, Kansas State and Baylor (no, Baylor didn’t make the NCAAs, but that win sure looked good at the time!). It felt like this was the Gonzaga team that would, for the first time since Few replaced Dan Monson as head coach in 1999, roll on past the Sweet Sixteen. The 2012-13 Bulldogs, which had earned an NCAA #1 seed after obliterating the West Coast Conference competition – the Zags finished 16-0 in WCC play – seemed well-positioned to take the next step. Some believed Gonzaga had National Championship potential. Others were less optimistic. The consensus, though, was that this Gonzaga team was, for lack of a more descriptive word, good. Not just good like most of Few’s Gonzaga teams, but good enough to hang with the very best teams in the country.

One of the nation’s best backcourts is is led by Pangos, a two-time All-WCC honoree.

The subset of college hoops fans that believed Gonzaga was undeserving of its No. 1 seed were validated just two games into the NCAA Tournament when the Bulldogs fell to No. 9 seed and eventual Final Four participant Wichita State. In fact, charges that Gonzaga was overrated surfaced even before it lost to Wichita State; the Bulldogs’ narrow six-point win over Southern in the round of 64 was proof enough, for some, that Few’s team wasn’t a real national championship contender. Whenever you happened to jump off the bandwagon – if you jumped off it in the first place – there’s no denying that part of the reason Gonzaga lost to Wichita State had less to do with its own capabilities than it did an insanely well-timed shooting hot streak from the Shockers, who scored 23 points in nine possessions during a ridiculous second-half run. Maybe Gonzaga could have played better defense, and maybe a team like Louisville, whose swarming traps last season (0.83 points per possession) was some of the finest work on that end of the floor that any team has produced in the past decade, would have short-circuited the Shockers’ run. But when a team gets as hot as Wichita State did in that pivotal stretch, and three-point shots start dropping like free throws, you basically have no choice but to tip your cap and go home. In the moment, of course, the same old Gonzagian critiques flooded the national conversation: Just like I predicted! Gonzaga can’t play with the big boys! I knew it! Which, OK. Gonzaga was knocked out earlier than it should have been, but if we’re going to label last year’s Gonzaga team like the others that came before it – like the ones that stacked up easy regular season wins but weren’t prepared to handle the heat of the NCAA Tournament – can we at least acknowledge the circumstances surrounding the Bulldogs’ early NCAA Tournament exit? Is it really fair to paint Gonzaga with such broad strokes, if the team that bounced it from the NCAAs was, 1) a couple possessions away from beating eventual National Champion Louisville in the Final Four; and, 2) the beneficiary of a crazy run of long-range shooting? Introducing some nuance would be nice.

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The Other 26: Bracket-Busting, South and West Edition

Posted by IRenko on March 19th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC columnist and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Oh, well. What’s a royal ball? After all, I suppose it would be frightfully dull, and-and-and boring, and-and completely… Completely wonderful. – Cinderella

It’s time for college basketball’s annual ball, which means it’s time for America to fall in love with Cinderella all over again. There are 36 teams from the 26 non-power-conferences who have been invited to this year’s Big Dance, and while the slipper no longer fits for some of the more prominent of these schools, for the bulk of them, this is a rare opportunity to make a name for themselves on the grandest of stages.

This is the first of a two-part series taking a look at the NCAA Tournament prospects for all 36 teams hailing from The Other 26. We focus today on the TO26 teams in the South and West regions, grouping them into five rough categories, and, within each category, ordering them by their likelihood of advancing.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

  • Gonzaga (#1, West) — It’s been five years since a TO26 team reached the top seed line. In 2008, Memphis rode its #1 seed all the way to the brink of a national championship, and Zags fans are hoping for the same — and perhaps more — this year. Gonzaga has no glaring weaknesses. They are led by an athletic, skilled frontcourt, the centerpiece of which is NPOY candidate Kelly Olynyk. They get steady guard play from Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and David Stockton. If they’re to run into any trouble, it will likely be against a team that (1) sports a strong, athletic interior defense that can contain Olynyk, Elias Harris, and Sam Dower and pound the glass, and (2) can hit the three-point shot consistently, as Illinois did in beating them (Gonzaga’s defense allows a lot of three-point attempts). There are a fair number of teams that meet the first criteria in the West bracket, but not many with a lot offensive firepower from the three-point line or otherwise. In short, this is as good a shot as Gonzaga has ever had to make the Final Four. The eyes of the nation will be watching to see if they can make good on their promise.
  • Virginia Commonwealth (#5, South) – VCU is a popular sleeper pick for the Final Four, and there’s some merit to that notion, but here is the most important thing you need to know about them: They are 25-2 on the year (and 14-0 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate over 18 percent. And they are 1-6 (and 0-5 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate under 18 percent. The Rams’ first-round opponent, Akron, falls squarely in the former camp (20.8 percent), a problem for the Zips that will be exacerbated by the absence of their legally-troubled starting point guard, Alex Abreu. After that, things get a bit trickier for the Rams. Their two potential Third Round opponents, Michigan and South Dakota State, rank in the top 10 in the country in turnover rate. Those stats are perhaps somewhat inflated by the fact that both teams play in conferences that don’t feature a lot of pressure defenses, but if you’re looking for a point guard to lead you against such a defense, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Trey Burke or Nate Wolters. It’s true that Michigan has struggled lately in general, and that if you look ahead to a potential match-up with Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen, Havoc’s odds of success improve, but I’d caution against over-exuberance at the Rams’ chances given a potentially dicey Third Round contest.

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The Other 26: This Is Not Mark Few’s Best Team… Yet

Posted by IRenko on February 16th, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

After a 17-point win at St. Mary’s on Thursday night pushed Gonzaga’s record to 24-2 and cleared its biggest hurdle to a regular season record tainted with just two losses, some are wondering whether this is the best team that Mark Few has put together in his 14 years at the helm. It’s a fair question, given the way they’re playing. But the best ever? Sure, not since Adam Morrison was dragged off the court after a heartbreaking loss to UCLA ended his college career, have the Zags had a player with the combination of star power, All-American credentials, and curious hairstyle that Kelly Olynyk has brought this year. And, true, moreso than the Morrison-led team of 2006, this squad is a well-balanced offensive machine, with a multitude of frontcourt and backcourt options. They proved that on Thursday, when Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, who have deferred most of the scoring load this year to Olynyk and Elias Harris, dropped a combined 38 points on St. Mary’s.

This Gonzaga Team is Good, But Not Mark Few’s Best … Yet (James Snook / USA TODAY Sports)

This Gonzaga Team is Good, But Not Mark Few’s Best … Yet (James Snook / USA TODAY Sports)

But Few’s best team ever? They have a ways to go before they can claim such an honor. Take, for example, the 2004 team, which also dropped just two contests heading into the NCAA Tournament.  That squad was led by All-American senior guard Blake Stepp, and like Olynyk, he had lots of help. Junior Ronny Turiaf, sophomore Morrison, and senior Cory Violette shared the scoring load, with all four players averaging in double-digits. They coasted through league play undefeated, never winning a game by less than double digits, and ended the season on a 20-game win streak en route to a 2 seed in the Tournament, Gonzaga’s best ever. Their two pre-Tournament losses were to St. Joe’s and Stanford, both of which went on to earn 1 seeds that year. By contrast, this year’s Gonzaga team lost to Illinois, a bubble team, at home by 11 points.

Of course, this year’s squad could prove itself a superior to the 2004 team — or any team that Few has coached — if it can get past the Sweet Sixteen. Since Gonzaga burst onto the college hoops scene 14 years ago with a Cinderella run to the Elite Eight, they’ve yet to get reach the brink of a Final Four, much less a Final Four itself. The ballyhooed ’04 squad was upset by 10th-seeded Nevada in the second round, the ’05 team squandered a 3 seed with a second round loss to Texas Tech, and the ’06 Zags memorably collapsed against UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen (a game to which one cannot refer without remarking that it was perhaps the finest moment of Gus Johnson’s illustrious career). This Gonzaga team stacks up well with those predecessors, but unless it breaks through to the second game of the second weekend, it won’t prove to be their clear superior.

What’s undisputed, however, is that the Zags have been dominant enough to remain at the top of this year’s Top 10.  On to that, our Honor Roll, and this week’s games to watch  . . .

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Set Your DVR: Week Of 02.11.13

Posted by bmulvihill on February 11th, 2013

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Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

If we’ve learned anything so far this season, the rest of the season will be anything but predictable. Almost every conference is still up for grabs, so we are in for an exciting few weeks as we head towards March. The games this week provide us several battles at the top of each conference that will go a long way in determining who will stand alone at the end of the regular season. Let’s get to the breakdowns!

#18 Marquette at #16 Georgetown - 7:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN (****)

  • Six teams still have a legitimate shot at winning the Big East regular season title. Marquette currently sits on top of the standings with Syracuse and Georgetown only one game back. In their previous match-up this season, the Golden Eagles outlasted the Hoyas 49-48 on the strength of their rebounding and free throw shooting. The game was anything but pretty. While shooting was poor on both sides for that contest, the Hoyas have significantly improved their shooting during their current five game win streak. If Georgetown can combine better shooting with a defense that is holding Big East opponents to 42.3% eFG, they become a very difficult team to beat. The Golden Eagles have been living inside the three-point line. They are first in the Big East in two-point field goal percentage at 51.8%. The Hoyas length bothered Buzz Williams’ squad last time out so keep a close eye on how they are shooting on the road this time. However, because Marquette was steadfast in getting into the paint, they got fouled and went to the line. That was the difference in the game. If the Hoyas can play good defense without fouling and hit the boards, they can win the rematch in D.C.
Otto Porter Will Be on Every Gator's Mind In This One (AP/R. Sutton)

Otto Porter and the rest of the Hoyas have improved their shooting significantly during their five game win streak. (AP/R. Sutton)

#14 Kansas State at #13 Kansas - 9:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN (****)

  • Kansas was going to eventually lose at home. However, three straight losses and a game behind Kansas State in the Big 12 standings seemed pretty far-fetched even just 10 days ago. This is a big game for the Jayhawks as they look to tie Kansas State at the top of the Big 12 and avoid back-to-back home losses. Kansas stopped the Wildcats 59-55 in Manhattan a few weeks ago by locking down the interior on defense and preventing second-chance points. In their most recent loss to Oklahoma, the Jayhawks improved their two-point shooting considerably over the last several games hitting 51% of their attempts inside the arc. Look for Bill Self’s squad to continue to take the ball into the paint where they have a size advantage. For Kansas State to win, they need to hit the three-ball. Kansas has shown vulnerability to the three and the Wildcats must take advantage if they want to build on their lead in the Big 12.

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Assessing Gonzaga’s Long-Term Prospects

Posted by AMurawa on February 1st, 2013

Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday night’s game between Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.

Here’s a tip. Gonzaga is good. Real good. Also water is wet, basketballs are round, and Kelly Olynyk’s long hair and head band combination is a, well, “interesting” look. But with the Zags now 20-2 overall and 7-0 in the WCC after drilling Loyola Marymount on the road Thursday night, and with rankings (both computer and human) placing them in or near the top 10 nationally, just how good is Mark Few’s team compared with this year’s batch of nationally relevant teams, and just how good are they compared to teams in the school’s recent history?

Kelly Olynyk's Breakout Year Has Gonzaga As One Of The Nation's Elite Offensive Teams (USA Today Sports Images)

Kelly Olynyk’s Breakout Year Has Gonzaga As One Of The Nation’s Elite Offensive Teams (USA Today Sports Images)

The first question first: offensively, the Zags are at least in the same conversation as some of the elite offensive teams in the nation. Gonzaga is one of five teams in the country with an adjusted offensive efficiency at 120 or higher; the other four are Michigan, Florida, Indiana, and Creighton. And make no mistake, the Bulldogs are every bit as capable of putting the ball in the hoop in a variety of different ways as any of those teams. Olynyk’s breakout season has put him on the National Player of the Year radar, and at 7’0”, he’s an inside-outside threat who is a walking offensive mismatch. Senior Elias Harris has been on the national radar so long, he’s probably taken for granted at this point, but he’s having his best season of a remarkably consistent career; and paired with Olynyk, he is even more impressive. We’ll even just glance over guys like Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski (efficient, physical threats themselves) on our way to discussing a talented backcourt. Between Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell (who knocked in five of his six first-half attempts from deep), you have one of the better three-point shooting backcourt tandems this side of Hinkle Fieldhouse (sorry Zag fans, you probably didn’t want to read those two words so soon). Throw in a ton of depth (including playmaker David Stockton and all-glue-guy Mike Hart) and Few has no shortage of options.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Butler 64, #8 Gonzaga 63

Posted by WCarey on January 19th, 2013

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday night’s game between Gonzaga and Butler. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The Atmosphere At Hinkle Fieldhouse Was Sublime. With ESPN’s College GameDay broadcasting live from Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Butler fans definitely brought it all night long. Not only did the place fill up long before the opening tip, the place was loud long before the opening tip. The noise level only rose as the night went on, seemingly reaching new heights at different points in the game. The Butler faithful were dead set on letting Gonzaga know just how devoted and faithful they are. Gonzaga did not shoot one free throw without being under a copious amount of verbal harassment from the Butler fans. When Roosevelt Jones nailed the game-winning buzzer-beater, the fans spilled out onto the court and joined the team in what was essentially a mob. As the team made its way to the locker room, the fans stayed on the court to celebrate the hard-fought victory.
  2. Despite Defeat, Gonzaga Once Again Showed Its A Very Good Team. On a night where Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. combined to score just five points, the strength of the Gonzaga frontline was on display all night. Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk, and Sam Dower each turned in impressive performances going up against a player in Andrew Smith, who had essentially contained Cody Zeller earlier this season. Harris threw in 20 points and collected seven rebounds. Olynyk added 14 points and seven boards. Dower came off the bench and provided a great spark by scoring 20 points – 16 of which came in the first half. Not only did the Zags’ frontline perform well offensively, it also turned in a strong effort on the defensive side of the court. Smith, who entered the game averaging 12 points per game, was held to just seven points and was only able to get off five field goal attempts. While Gonzaga is surely not pleased in defeat, it should be pleased with the effort it got from its interior players.
  3. Never Count Butler Out. Ever. Butler has been college basketball’s darling for quite a few years now and there has been no indication of that changing any time soon. Earlier this season it was sophomore former walk-on Alex Barlow who hit a shot with 2.1 seconds left in overtime to top then number one Indiana. Against Gonzaga, Butler looked to sophomore guard Roosevelt Jones for the late-game heroics. After Butler turned the ball over trailing by one with just 3.5 seconds seconds to play, Jones intercepted the Gonzaga inbounds pass and raced into the lane putting up the game-winning shot a fraction of a second before the final buzzer sounded. Considering Butler’s history in close games against strong opponents, no one should be surprised with how the Bulldogs topped Gonzaga. Butler is a team that has adopted the calm and collected demeanor of its coach Brad Stevens and uses this approach no matter the situation. With Stevens at the controls and Butler playing as a team, there really is no situation this team cannot handle or conquer.

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Gonzaga’s WCC Dominance Hints at Elusive Postseason Success

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 18th, 2013

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Portland and Gonzaga in the City of Roses.

When star forward Elias Harris can go 1-of-9 in the first half, scoring only two points, and you still lead by 10 points, you’ve got it made. That’s because Gonzaga goes 10-deep as well as any team in the country. In the West Coast Conference, that’s borderline unfair. Riding a streak of 14 straight NCAA Tournament appearances and a stretch of 32 of 33 wins against Portland, the Bulldogs are again showing themselves as the class of the league, and look to be the best they’ve been since Adam Morrison called the Kennel home.

Kelly Olynyk is Making Waves For More Reasons Than His Haircut This Season

Kelly Olynyk is Making Waves For More Reasons Than His Haircut This Season

Playing the victim yet again, the Pilots tried to make it a game despite falling behind by 14 before making their second basket, getting as close as five points in the last two minutes. Freshman guard Oskars Reinfelds carried Portland back into contention, rallying his teammates with a stretch of six straight points to start a 24-15 run and adding a three-pointer later in the hot streak. But then Harris does what star players do, even when they are having off games, grabbing a loose ball from a block and ferociously slamming home an exclamation-point dunk to kill Portland’s rally. Then Memphis native Drew Barham capped the half with a three-pointer to stretch the lead to double digits again just before the clock expired.

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The Other 26: Cowboy-ing Up

Posted by IRenko on January 5th, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

College basketball has just four undefeated teams left. You can likely recite the identity of the first three:  Duke, Michigan, and Arizona, who occupy the top three spots in the AP rankings. But you may be surprised to learn that the fourth team is the Wyoming Cowboys. Larry Shyatt’s squad sits at 13-0 after a successful non-conference season that featured solid wins over Colorado, Illinois State, and Denver.

Leonard Washington Has Led Wyoming to a Surprising Undefeated Start (Troy Babbitt / US PRESSWIRE)

Leonard Washington Has Led Wyoming to a Surprising Undefeated Start (Troy Babbitt / US PRESSWIRE)

Last year, the Cowboys finished sixth in the MW. Then in the offseason, they graduated three of their five starters. So how have they managed to reel off 13 straight victories to start the year? Wyoming is very strong defensively, but they were just as good, if not better, last year. The biggest difference is a major improvement on offense, as their adjusted efficiency has gone from 0.99 points to 1.08 points per possession. That may not sound like a big difference, but when you realize that a single game is composed of dozens of possessions, it adds up to a substantially better offensive performance. This increased efficiency has been driven by the Cowboys’ ability to get to the free throw line and to convert on two-point opportunities. Senior forward Leonard Washington deserves the credit for leading the team in both respects. The 6’7″ tweener is shooting 63.7 percent on two-point field goals and draws 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes — one of the higher rates in the country.

The second significant factor in the Cowboys’ improvement is the offseason development of senior Derrious Gilmore and sophomore Larry Nance, Jr. (yes, the former NBA player’s son). Gilmore has rewarded Larry Shyatt’s decision to hand him the starting point guard spot by improving his per game averages from 3.1 points and 1.1 assists per contest to 11.8 points and 3.2 assists per game. He averages more than 32 minutes per game, second most to Washington. Nance, meanwhile, has gone from averaging 4.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest to 11.2 and 6.8, respectively.  He shoots over 60 percent on two-point attempts and 84.2 percent from the free throw line. Add in the contributions of returning starter and senior guard Luke Martinez (14.5 points, 42.2% 3FG) , and the Cowboys have a feature a surprising amount firepower.

Despite their undefeated mark, it remains an open question as to how good the Cowboys really are. Last year, they got off to 14-2 start during non-conference play but crumpled to a 6-8 record in the Mountain West. This year’s record is even more impressive to be sure and, as noted above, features some solid if unspectacular wins. But the strength of schedule is about to kick into a higher gear, as they enter conference play against a very deep and talented Mountain West. If they can maintain their offensive improvement through the rest of the year and continue to get contributions from a range of players, they may be Dancing for the first time since 2002 and just the second time in 25 years.

Let’s move on to this week’s Top 10, the performances that caught our eye this past week, and the games to watch in the week ahead.

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Set Your DVR: New Year’s Week Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 31st, 2012

setDVR

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

College hoops heads into 2013 with the opening of conference season in some of the major leagues set to begin . The slate of games scheduled for New Year’s Eve is not to be missed, as the Big East and Big Ten seasons both get underway. However, it is one final non-conference match-up that leads our breakdowns. Happy New Year!

Game of the Week

#16 Gonzaga at #21 Oklahoma State – 6:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN2 (*****)

After Spinning His Wheels For Most Of The Season, LeBryan Nash Raised The Roof In Stillwater. (AP)

Le’Bryan Nash and company look to stop Gonzaga’s winning ways against the Big 12. (AP)

  • A win against Oklahoma State today will make Gonzaga the best team in the Big 12. Obviously, Gonzaga is still in the West Coast Conference, but they are already 4-0 against Big 12 teams this season with wins against West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Baylor. Monday’s game against the Cowboys, however, is their first true road test against a Big 12 opponent. The other games have either been at home or on neutral courts. The Zags usually have a size advantage against their opponents, but Oklahoma State can match their size and even has that advantage at the guard position. The Pokes have four guards who contribute heavily to the offense that are 6’3″ or taller, including 6’7″ Le’Bryan Nash. With Bulldog guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr. measuring at 6’2″ and 6’1″, respectively, it will be very important to watch how Mark Few’s squad chooses to defend the perimeter size of the Cowboys. Much of that defensive pressure could actually fall on the Zags’ frontcourt. The Oklahoma State guards do most of their damage inside the three-point line because they are not much of a threat from the outside. Keep an eye on how this defensive responsibility affects Gonzaga’s offense inside. The Bulldogs will still need to pound the ball down low and get to the line because it’s their best chance of winning. If they can get to the line like Virginia Tech did against Oklahoma State, they can win this game in a tough road environment.
  • No team has shot over 50% eFG in a game against Oklahoma State this season, but the Cowboys face a Gonzaga team that is lethally efficient from two-point range. The GU frontcourt’s two-point shooting breaks down like this – Elias Harris shoots 58.8%, Kelly Olynyk shoots 72.3%, Sam Dower shoots 59.7%, and Przemek Karnowski shoots 65.3%. These player will put considerable pressure on Cowboys center Phillip Jurick and freshman forward Kamari Murphy. The key will be how OSU head coach Travis Ford uses his big guards on help defense to stop the Gonzaga low post attack. If Oklahoma State can figure this out, they will pick-up an important non-conference win as they head into Big 12 play.
  • Non-conference home losses are few and far between for Oklahoma State under Travis Ford. It’s hard to believe that Gonzaga can actually go 5-0 against the Big 12 this season, especially on the road in front of the Cowboy faithful at Gallagher-Iba Arena. This game will be extremely fun to watch, but the edge has to go to the Cowboys at home.

Other Games to Watch

#10 Cincinnati at #23 Pittsburgh – 12:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN2 (****)

  • Pittsburgh is a very flimsy 12-1. The only good team they’ve play this season is Michigan and they lost that game. We’ll know very quickly if Pitt is any good against a tough and tested Cincinnati squad. However, the Bearcats have shot the ball quite poorly over the last three games. They cannot afford to continue to do so if they expect to win this one, especially at the “Oakland Zoo” in Pittsburgh. The match-up between Tray Woodall and Cashmere Wright should be great to watch all night. Expect Cincy to get back on track and win this game, though, from behind the three-point line. However, if they are shooting bricks like they have been in the past few outings, Pitt will get a great win to start off the Big East season.

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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 7th, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

With a month to go in the non-conference season, we are starting to sort out the contenders from the pretenders. This weekend provides some additional match-ups that will give us a better indication of which teams we should watch out for come March. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Colorado at #10 Kansas  2:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

This Weekend Colorado Tries to Beat Kansas for the First Time Since 2003

  • You might call this game a renewal of a Big 12 rivalry but the reality is that it has been far from a “rivalry.” Kansas has not lost to Colorado since the 2002-03 season. While this will be the first time that CU plays Kansas as a member of the Pac-12, coach Tad Boyle is 0-3 against the Jayhawks since taking the helm in Boulder two seasons ago. The big question for the Buffaloes will be how they handle KU center Jeff Withey. A few weeks ago, CU was able to slow down another seven-footer in Isaiah Austin when they defeated Baylor. However, Withey is not a freshmen trying to fit himself into “The Pierre Jackson Show.” He’s a senior who has proven to be a dominant force on defense and a capable offensive threat. Withey also cleans up on the glass, particularly on the defensive end. Colorado needs to figure out how to grab some of those misses lest it become a long night. Keep an eye on the three-point shooting of Colorado guards Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie. Both are threats from deep and both need to be on target to have a chance to win this one.

Temple vs. #1 Duke  3:15 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN (****)

  • Last season, Temple beat Duke in Philadelphia on the backs of Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Khalif Wyatt. Hollis-Jefferson and Wyatt combined to go 15-22 from the field in a somewhat surprising upset of the Blue Devils. The Owls also did it without this season’s leading scorer, Scootie Penn. However, when you compare this Duke team to last season’s team, they are more balanced and more patient without Austin Rivers dominating the ball. The Blue Devils have scoring threats all over the floor and point guard Quinn Cook is proving to be an excellent distributor. Additionally, Mason Plumlee has been superb. The key for the Owls will be figuring out a way to stop Plumlee in the paint. Unfortunately for Temple, scoring can come from anywhere when playing the Blue Devils. They are too balanced and too battle tested at this point to drop one to the Owls this year.
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The Other 26: Week One

Posted by IRenko on December 1st, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Greetings, readers, and welcome back for another year of The Other 26, RTC’s weekly foray into the mid-major world, now securely ensconced on a microsite that shares its name. College hoops seemed to start earlier this year than it ever has, producing a November that was packed with much more action than the few preseason tournaments to which old geezers like me are accustomed. That means that there is quite a bit of ground to cover, and precious little time to waste. Let’s get right to it after the jump, with our first installment of the TO26 Top 10, a look back at which teams caught our eye with strong (and not so strong) starts, and a look forward to this week’s most compelling TO26 match-ups.

Looking Back:  Strong Starts

  • The Rest of the Mountain West – Coming into the season, UNLV and San Diego State received well-deserved hype and top 20 rankings.  But it’s clear that they’re going to have quite a bit of competition in conference play. New Mexico has barely shown the effects of losing their frontcourt tandem Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman. They have notched several solid wins en route to a 7-0 record, defeating UConn, George Mason, Davidson, and Mercer — all teams with realistic NCAA Tournament hopes. Fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years, and with a cast of strong returnees and transfers, Colorado State entered the season with reasonably high expectations. But their ability to adjust to new coach Larry Eustachy remained an open question. Well, question answered. The Rams are undefeated at 5-0, posting wins over strong mid-major teams Montana and Denver and pounding the Washington Huskies by 18 points on the road. But, wait! The MW’s depth does not end there. Leon Rice’s Boise State squad, which plays just one senior, is off to a 5-1 start and is coming off of a 13-point win over Creighton on the road. Meanwhile, Wyoming and Air Force are a combined 13-1 on the season.  Throw in competitive newcomers Nevada and Fresno State, and UNLV and San Diego State may not have an easy conference game all year.

Elias Harris Leads a Potent Gonzaga Frontcourt (US Presswire)

  • Gonzaga – Gonzaga came into the season with a Top 25 ranking, so they’ve not exactly snuck up on anyone. But they’ve nonetheless impressed, collecting wins over West Virginia, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Davidson by an average of more than 20 points. Throw in three more lopsided victories, and the Zags are sitting pretty at 7-0 and little sweat to show for it. Kelly Olynyk has emerged from his redshirt year as a genuine frontcourt force. Along with Elias Harris and Sam Dower, he gives the Bulldogs three skilled, athletic bigs. Throw in freshman post anchor Przemek Karnowski, and the Zags have four big men averaging nine or more points. While this frontcourt foursome has managed to outshine the heralded backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell on the offensive end, what’s been most impressive about Gonzaga’s start is its defense. Mark Few’s teams have steadily improved at that end of the floor over the past few years, and it could be the key that finally unlocks their door to the Final Four. Read the rest of this entry »
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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume III

Posted by jbaumgartner on November 26th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

  • I LOVED… Ohio State. Maybe I’m jumping on the bandwagon too early, but I grew to really enjoy this team by the end of last year and feel strongly that they have two unique pieces in Aaron Craft and DeShaun Thomas. An elite (albeit annoying, in my view) point guard and a versatile wing scorer are two of the more important components in the college game, and any team that possesses them has a chance to be a tough out.
  • I LOVED… as I do every year, trying to figure out how deep this Gonzaga team can go. Each season I really get a kick out of trying to imagine the Zags playing against good competition all year, eventually accepting the reality that they don’t, and then trying to piece together a mental image of what team will show up in March when they inevitably get hit in the mouth by a legit squad with good guards. Still, it’s hard not to like Mark Few’s lineup this season. Not many teams will shoot it better than Gary Bell, Jr. and Kevin Pangos, and even though Elias Harris is turning 32 or so next week, he’s an active presence on the glass to complement a VERY underrated Sam Dower. I guess the Zags can’t be a sleeper in the traditional sense, but this might be their best (and most well-balanced) team in a while.
  • I LOVED Tom Crean showing no shame with his stick of Wrigley’s finest. How can you not love this? If strict adherence to the five-second rule and the world’s weirdest/creepiest Tweet ever doesn’t appeal to this generation’s high-schoolers, I don’t know what does.

  • I LOVED… reading this Sports Illustrated article on Michigan’s Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. It seems like we get plenty of stories every year about father-son relationships gone bad, but this was a rather refreshing example of two kids that have really gone about things the right way and made it through the tougher parts of living in the shadows of their NBA All-Star dads. Read the rest of this entry »
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