One Man’s Opinion: Contenders After One Month

Posted by zhayes9 on December 6th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

After engulfing myself in a nightly binge of college basketball over the first month of the season- taking in games from the Big Apple to the Little Apple and from Cancun to Maui- here is one man’s evaluation on some of the top teams in the country and where they stand heading into the final weeks of non-conference play:

Kyrie Irving has surpassed expectations thus far

Duke- It’s going to take a near perfect effort to beat Duke this season. Being able to lure Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler back to campus coinciding with a severe down year in the ACC was truly the perfect storm of circumstance. One chance a team may have to dethrone Duke is if they lure Mason Plumlee into two early fouls, keep them in the halfcourt and the Blue Devils become three-happy, but Duke does have five players who can catch fire from deep at any time. Kyrie Irving has surpassed any and all expectations during the first month of the season. His court awareness is reminiscent of a 10-year NBA veteran rather than an 18-year old college freshman. His use of the hesitation dribble, ability to split screens, explode to the basket and display innate court awareness has vaulted Irving to stardom. What makes Duke so lethal is that they have a plethora of options that can explode for 25 points on any given night, just as Plumlee did against Marquette or Singler against Oregon or Irving against Michigan State.  There’s three potential lottery picks on this team, but selfishness is never an issue and they flow together seamlessly on the court. I have a hard time pointing out exactly where Duke slips up this season; after all, they don’t face a currently ranked team the rest of the slate.

Ohio State- Here’s the one team I feel would have a good shot at knocking off Duke on a neutral floor right now. They can come close to matching the Blue Devils at every position on the floor if William Buford runs the point. Jared Sullinger has been overrated a bit in the early going. Most of his production has come off easy dunks and layups and I haven’t seen an array of post moves quite yet, although I trust that they exist in his arsenal. It’s his fellow freshmen that should be receiving more attention. DeShaun Thomas is scoring 13 PPG in just over 17 MPG of play and shooting 56% from the floor. I’ve also been wildly impressed with the headiness and intelligence of Aaron Craft at the point. He’s compiled a near 2/1 assist/turnover ratio in the early going and has done a fantastic job finding shooters Diebler and Lighty off screens or Sullinger in low post position. David Lighty is this team’s MVP. He’s a lockdown defender and has really improved his outside jumper, while Buford may have the best mid-range game in the Big Ten. One should always anticipate Tom Izzo’s team to improve as the season wears on, but the Buckeyes have to be the odds-on favorite to win this conference as of now.

Pittsburgh- I know it’s horribly cliché when talking about Pittsburgh, but “tough” is the first word that comes to mind. Jamie Dixon’s teams are never outworked and currently lead all of college basketball is offensive rebounding percentage. Pitt seemingly has an assembly line of big men they can trot off the bench to give Gary McGhee, Nasir Robinson and Talib Zanna breathers. Dixon loves to run Ashton Gibbs off screens for open looks and the junior sharpshooter is connecting better than ever, although he still lacks true point guard skills. Although the rotation will eventually be trimmed down, Dixon has the luxury of digging 10-deep into his bench that Big East rivals like Georgetown and Connecticut simply do not have. McGhee is the type of bruiser inside that every team would love to throw out there for 20 MPG. He gives Pitt’s offense extra shot opportunities and shuts down opposing big men inside. Pitt doesn’t necessarily have the star power of other Final Four contenders, but their toughness and execution as a unit may be enough to carry them to Houston.

Kansas- I think we all need to take a moment to applaud the job Bill Self has done in Lawrence. This program lost two lottery picks and an All-American and have taken maybe one step back. This is a credit to the tremendous depth Self has compiled at Kansas and his staff’s ability to develop players. When Josh Selby is eligible on December 18, this team becomes Final Four good. He could be lumped into the same category as Irving, Walker and McCamey come March. I’ve been wildly impressed with how well the Jayhawks know their roles. The Morris brothers complement each other with Marcus as the inside-outside scoring threat (18.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 65% FG, 9/15 from deep) and Markieff perfectly content with doing the dirty work on the boards and in the paint. In and out of Self’s doghouse during his tenure at Kansas, Tyshawn Taylor has done a quietly solid job filling in for Selby at the point distributing the basketball.  A player who also flies under the radar is Brady Morningstar. Most just view him as a spot-up shooter, but he’s a valuable cog for Self ushering the fast break and setting up teammates for open looks.

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Morning Five: 12.06.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on December 6th, 2010

  1. Twelve is evidently enough for the Big Ten, for now. The conference’s higher-ups announced at their winter meeting that as a result of a lengthy study, after the addition of Nebraska next season, they do not “expect to be proactively seeking new members.” That’s fine, but we propose that if a conference’s membership changes through expansion/contraction so that its name subsequently becomes inaccurate by +/-2, they must change the name of the conference. In a few months, none of the four “numbered” conferences — Pac-10, Big 12, Big Ten, Atlantic 10 – will actually contain the number of teams their name indicates. The Big Ten and the A-10 have gotten away with this weirdness for a while, and now they’re all doing it. Get creative!
  2. Because Purdue doesn’t have enough injury problems, news arrived late on Sunday that sophomore guard John Hart will miss a month with a stress fracture in his foot. Hart was averaging 17 minutes a game over the Boilermakers’ eight games this season, contributing 8.4 PPG. So that’s Hart with a bad foot, D.J. Byrd with a questionable shoulder, and some kid named Hummel out with a knee. Are we just lipsticking the pig by wondering if the minutes logged by Purdue’s reserves right now will translate to valuable experience later on in the season when (almost) everyone’s healthy? Matt Painter has nine players on his roster who play at least ten minutes a game right now, and you never know who could rise up and give you a boost come tournament time.
  3. We’re on the lookout today for a statement from the NCAA as to whether or not they will consider the “new information” Kentucky has asked to submit in the ongoing eligibility saga of Enes Kanter. The case currently stands in appeal, and that appeal was heard last week. But after the Cam Newton decision came down, UK requested the chance to submit previously unconsidered information to the NCAA. If the NCAA agrees to consider it, the case goes back to square one, almost as if it were a new hearing. If they refuse, the case remains in appeal, and the appeals committee could render a final decision at any time. Got it? Whether it’s today or later in the week, we’ll have something up as events warrant, so just keep checking back here, or our Twitter feed.
  4. Just seven games in, a specific problem for Bob HugginsWest Virginia squad is already evident, according to Jack Bogaczyk of the Charleston Daily Mail. Huggins has remarked on how his team “hasn’t finished games” and that he takes full responsibility for this as coach, but Bogaczyk writes that what the ‘Eers really lack in this early stage of these post-Da’Sean Butler days is a vocal floor leader.
  5. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds of watching Jimmer Fredette play basketball to get a sense of how competitive this young man is. Ahead of BYU’s game against Vermont on Wednesday (which serves as a homecoming for Fredette), the Albany Times Union’s Pete Iorizzo pens an excellent article about how Fredette’s competitive drive was evident as early as age five, and how those fires were born — as they so often are — from that classic recipe of a basketball, a family member (in this case, an older brother), and a patch of asphalt in the back yard. We never played major college hoops, Jimmer, but your story is ours.
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RTC Instant Analysis: Noon Games (12.04.10)

Posted by nvr1983 on December 4th, 2010

As part of our on-going attempt to bring you the best college basketball coverage on-line, we are introducing a new feature where we give your our thoughts after each set of games over the weekend. You can expect posts around the following times:

  • 3 PM for the Noon and 1 PM games
  • 5 PM for the 2 PM and 3 PM games
  • 10 PM for the 7 PM and 8 PM games

If you have any thoughts (agreeing or disagreeing) about what we say, leave a comment and we will respond.

Instant Analysis

  1. Tyler Zeller was phenomenal (27 points including 8/13 FG and 11/12 FT, 11 rebounds, and 5 blocks) today admittedly against a weak Kentucky interior defense (we will get to that in a bit), but he has shown that when healthy, which has been pretty rarely while he has been in Chapel Hill, he is one of the premier interior players in the ACC. The combination of Zeller and John Henson, who has developed nicely as well as he added a few low-post moves during the off-season even if he didn’t add on any pounds, could make the Tar Heels competitive for 2nd place in the ACC (read: everybody in the ACC except Duke). If Zeller keeps playing this way and can avoid injuring himself (again), he should be a lottery pick after this season.
  2. Neither Kentucky nor UNC is ready for prime-time yet. Both teams have serious deficiencies–Kentucky on the inside and UNC at point guard–that will limit them to being Sweet 16 teams at best. Kentucky’s problem can be solved, or at least mitigated, by the possibility that Enes Kanter could regain his eligibility especially in light of the NCAA’s decision on Cam Newton. If the NCAA does not rule in favor of the Wildcat, they will need some of their athletic, but less physical interior players to pick up the slack, which I don’t think they can do on a consistent basis. On the other sideline, Roy Williams has to figure out what to do at point guard. Larry Drew II isn’t going to cut it in March and while Kendall Marshall had stretches where he looked like he could be their starting point guard today he also had stretches where he looked like a lost intramural team point guard. As for Reggie Bullock, he could be a very good point guard some day, but that day is not in the near future. The Tar Heels showed that they could be a dangerous team especially if Barnes ever gets on track, but their lack of reliable point guard play will hold them back from being a 1st- or even 2nd-tier team.
  3. Having already commented on the UNC guards I would be remiss not to comment on Brandon Knight. The Wildcats will have to address their inside issues, which may be alleviated by Kanter, but they will also need Brandon Knight to continue to mature. He puts up solid numbers (15 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists) today and looked much better than he did in Maui, but he need to work on his decision-making (6 turnover today against those 3 assists) and he was playing was against shaky opposing guards today. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the SEC is weak this year (again) so Knight will not be playing against quality guards that often so we won’t have a good barometer of how Knight has progressed until the NCAA Tournament. Advancing deep in March with a freshman point guard is incredibly difficult particularly without experienced players around him, but John Calipari and Big Blue Nation will be counting on Knight to deliver in March.
  4. Harrison Barnes is still a work-in-progress. Although he showed flashed of brilliance like the 7 points in a row capped by an emphatic put-back dunk in the first half, his play is too inconsistent (5 points the rest of the game) for Tar Heel fans to rely on. As we mentioned on Twitter earlier, there is no question that he has all the physical basketball skills you could ask for, but I still get the feeling that he is missing “it” (the ability to translate those skills into production on the court). It’s quite possible that he could develop into a dynamic player this season and will still be a top 5 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft because of his athleticism, but I don’t think he will become a 1st team All-ACC player this season much less a 1st team All-American.
  5. Despite their lack of star power on the inside don’t forget to put Georgetown on the short list of title contenders. Their inside players might not put up big numbers and they might be at a significant disadvantage when they play against a team with excellent interior players, but they do just enough to let their guards, who are fantastic, win the games. I’m not saying they are going to duplicate what Duke did last season, but John Thompson III can point to what the Blue Devils did last year with excellent play from their perimeter players and their inside players (particularly Brian Zoubek) doing what they need to do (rebound and play solid defense) as an example of what his team can aim for.
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Around The Blogosphere: The Big Ten Reigns Supreme

Posted by nvr1983 on December 2nd, 2010

If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com.

Top 25 Games

  • #18 Purdue 58, Virginia Tech 55 (OT): “Purdue relied on JaJuan Johnson to score 50% of their points as the otherwise icy-cold shooting Boilermakers clawed out an OT win in Blacksburg. The win clinched the Big Ten/ACC Challenge for the Big Ten for the second straight year.” (Boiled Sports)
  • #20 Texas 76, Lamar 55: “Texas’ 76-55 win over Lamar didn’t exactly go according to script, but the Longhorns were good enough in spurts to pull away for the comfortable final margin. Texas enjoyed a pair of 9-point runs in the first half to take a 9 point lead at intermission, then opened up the second half on a 14-4 run to put the game out of reach.” (Burnt Orange Nation)
  • #21 BYU 77, Creighton 65: “It is foolish to think that we just sort of zombie through the non-conference season and expect to be able to hit the reboot button once conference season comes around.  These early games are where you define your teams.  They were what defined the Bluejays last season. With the disasterous non-conference performance, that bled into conference season.  Nothing really changed.   Don’t think that adding one player will erase all of that.” (White & Blue Review)

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Morning Five: 12.02.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 2nd, 2010

  1. In an odd story involving Michael Jordan and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame located in Raleigh, the GOAT will be inducted into his home state’s hall at a public ceremony in Charlotte during halftime of the Bobcats-Raptors game on December 14.  So… why did it take so long?  After all, the 47-year old superstar  has been off the court since 2003 and was elected to the big-boy Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.  Apparently the problem is that the NC Hall requires its selections to actually be present when they’re inducted, and for a number of reasons, neither MJ or the institution have been able to work out an appropriate time over the last seventeen years.  Yeah, since 1993.  Something tells us that Jordan didn’t really have his local HOF high on the priority list, but if the North Carolina  Sports HOF was willing to come to wherever he is — remember, he’s majority owner of the Bobcats now — why wasn’t this done before now?
  2. Mike DeCourcy doesn’t come out and say it, but… the NCAA Board of Directors is run by college presidents, and the college presidents also control the BCS.  The BCS folks don’t like nor want johnny-come-latelies such as TCU knocking on the door of their national championship football showcase, so does Auburn quarterback Cam Newton’s eligibility finding really surprise anyone?  After all, without Newton in the lineup at the SEC Championship this coming weekend, Auburn might lose; and if Auburn loses, we’d be left with a probable Oregon-TCU matchup that nobody would watch.  Enes Kanter’s eligibility may not feel insignificant in Lexington, but he’s small potatoes compared to the masters of the sporting universe interested in (and possibly involved) in Newton’s eligibility (that said, we actually think Kanter will be able to play this season on appeal).
  3. With UCLA visiting Kansas tonight at Allen Fieldhouse and Kentucky visiting North Carolina on Saturday, four of the top six college basketball programs of all-time will be playing each other in the next few days.  No disrespect to Tom Crean’s Indiana Hoosiers, but we’d rather have seen Duke play Michigan State anyway in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge last night.  Here’s a look at how the Kansas players are feeling in anticipating their contest with the Bruins — even though UCLA has been down a bit, the tradition and names on the front of these jerseys always inspires excitement in these kinds of games: even when down, they’re never down for long (although IU is making us worry).  Also, seeing the top-ranked UCLA class of 2008 written out and discussed as it is in that piece inspires another query: worst top-ranked recruiting class of all-time?
  4. Horrible news for Bradley as the team has decided to sit preseason all-MVC guard Sam Maniscalco for the rest of the season.  He had surgery over the summer to remove bone spurs in his ankle, but he’s been playing with continued pain in the joint and his effectiveness has been limited over the first six games of the season (10/4 on 33% shooting compared to 13/3 on 47%).  The senior will apply for a medical redshirt and we hope he gets it.  Bradley is currently 4-2 on the year, but they’ve already lost two starters to injury and the MVC looks like a one-bid league again — not a good scenario.
  5. Here’s an interesting story from the New York Post about the decline in the Big Apple’s long-standing status as a hotbed for elite hoops talent.  The article probes a number of possible reasons, most interesting of which is the concept of democratizing the “New York game” worldwide.  The point that really hits home, though, is that the best current born-and-bred New Yorker playing in the NBA is probably Sebastian Telfair, a player whose talent and skill set never came close to matching his ridiculous hype.  Telfair is currently a backup point guard for the horrendous Minnesota Timberwolves, averaging a pedestrian 8.4 PPG and 4.3 APG in just under 25 minutes per game.  Another interesting factoid: there was only one New Yorker among the 27 players receiving votes for the 2010-11 AP All-America team — Mr. 105, Villanova’s Corey Fisher, who grew up in the Bronx.
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Is The NCAA Taking On American Soldiers?

Posted by nvr1983 on November 27th, 2010

The media and fans have criticized the NCAA for years for the sheer ridiculousness of some of its rules and how it applies those rules. While everyone is aware of the NCAA’s decisions on players reportedly receiving payments before school like Enes Kanter or Josh Selby, and while in school like O.J. Mayo or Reggie Bush, there are also grey areas such as when recruits come as part of a package deal like that in which Michael Beasley was reportedly involved. Much has been made of the NCAA’s perceived uneven application of those rules and the glacial pace at which they have enforced them. The latest application of those rules that led Duquesne‘s men’s basketball program to report itself to the NCAA, however, should make even the NCAA’s staunchest defender cringe. 

So what exactly did Duquesne do that led it to turn itself into the NCAA? Donate shoes to American soldiers, according to Duquesne. Ok, maybe it is a little more complex than that. Technically, they donated shoes to a foundation run by Bob Starkman, the coach at Broward Community College, who then sent them to US troops in Afghanistan. So even though the shoes were sent to the US troops because they were sent to Starkman, a junior college coach, they were interpreted as a gift to Starkman, which would be a secondary NCAA violation. Here is the official statement from Duquesne via athletic director Greg Amodio: 

In an attempt to support our troops in Afghanistan through a program conducted by Bob Starkmann [sic], head basketball coach at Broward CC, the Duquesne University men’s basketball staff inadvertently violated an NCAA bylaw that prevents Division I institutions from sending athletic apparel/equipment directly to a junior-college coaching staff. Therefore, the Duquesne University athletic department has submitted a letter to the NCAA outlining the circumstances associated with this secondary violation. 

Seems like a straightforward case of the NCAA being ridiculously anal, right? It turns out the case might not be that simple. 

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That’s Debatable: Giving Thanks

Posted by rtmsf on November 25th, 2010

That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude.  Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people.  We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season.  We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.  And have a beautiful Thanksgiving, everyone.

This Week’s Topic: It’s the time of year to give thanks.  What college basketball related thing are you most thankful for this season?

Matt Patton, RTC Contributor

Early season tournaments.  This year feels like one of the best years ever: the Maui Invitational (Kentucky, Michigan State, Washington and UConn), Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Vanderbilt, Minnesota and UNC), 2kSports Classic (Pitt, Texas and Illinois), and CBE Classic (San Diego State, Gonzaga, Kansas State, Marquette and Duke) all highlighted at least three at-large NCAA teams with an astounding 13 teams that have appeared in the top 25 counting UConn’s imminent inclusion.  That’s really unbelievable when you think about it: we saw 15 probable at-large bids face off against at-large talent, and the conference season is still a month away!   Some early season tournaments are jokes (here’s looking at you, Cancun), and it’s annoying that the Puerto Rico Tip-Off takes place in a gym the size of my high school’s (with horrible attendance to boot).  But don’t act like it wasn’t awesome to see Duke battle Kansas State on a “neutral” floor two hours from the Little Apple, or Washington and Kentucky take their talents to Maui (and the impressive mobility of Big Blue Nation for migrating across the country).  These are the nonconference clashes of titans that normally take place only in our sleep, in March, and now in November.

Zach Hayes, RTC Editor/Contributor

I’m most thankful for the seniors that have stuck around to play college basketball for four years. Given the pressure of today’s one-and-done-or-failure mentality, the seniors that have graced the college hardwood for four seasons truly represent what this sport should be about on and off the court. Whether it’s Kyle Singler’s silky smooth jumper, the end-to-end quickness of Corey Fisher, the rebounding prowess of Kenneth Faried, the scoring artistry of Jimmer Fredette or the leadership qualities of Kalin Lucas, these wily veterans will have dazzled us loyal hoop viewers from their first day at practice as a freshman to the moment they receive their college degree. They didn’t appear and disappear from our lives after four months. They didn’t decide to play overseas and collect that first paycheck as soon as possible. After studying how they’ve improved and tracking their ups and downs after four winters, these players almost seem like family. They take us back to a time when staying through your senior year was applauded rather than stigmatized. Mr. Singler, Fisher, Faried, Fredette, Lucas and all the rest of the seniors that deserve so much more attention than they receive, I thank you.

Brian Otskey, RTC Contributor

I’m most thankful for the NCAA, believe it or not. The much-maligned organization has had a very good year. Most importantly, they resisted the urge to expand to a 96-team tournament which would have been an unmitigated disaster. Just imagine a 5-11 NC State team or 6-12 St. John’s making it into the tournament. That would have likely happened last season under a 96-team format. I realize they are probably not done with expansion but let’s give them some credit for holding off, at least for now. The NCAA has also cracked down on some name brand programs, most notably Kentucky, declaring Enes Kanter ineligible. This was the correct decision as there is just no way a professional athlete should be able to play an amateur sport. Connecticut and Jim Calhoun have also come under fire from the “new” NCAA. Don’t forget Bruce Pearl’s situation, Baylor being the subject of an investigation and Oregon as well. I’m sure there is more out there and hopefully the organization will continue its crackdown in the coming years. The NCAA is still a heavily bureaucratic operation with many problems but 2010 has been a positive step in the right direction for collegiate athletics.

Brian Goodman, RTC Editor/Contributor

I’m thankful for Marquette and Connecticut turning heads with their performances this week. The preseason rankings in the Big East read as Pittsburgh, Villanova, Syracuse, Georgetown and everyone else. Marquette was tabbed eighth; the Huskies tenth. While the top two have handled things on their end, Jim Calhoun and Buzz Williams’ squads are already in the kitchen cooking up some crow. Five time zones away from Storrs, UConn made an early splash in Maui on par with last year’s party crashing from Syracuse in New York City. The Huskies were predicted to finish in the bottom half of the conference, and those who cover the Big East hitched their wagons to Austin Freeman for individual honors over Kemba Walker. The Husky junior’s response is loud and clear, exploding for 90 points over three games at Lahaina. The nation awaits the conclusion of the NCAA’s investigation into misconduct on the part of the Huskies’ staff, but in the meantime, credit Calhoun for keeping his young team sharply focused. Yes, the Golden Eagles left Kansas City with two losses, but they gave #1 Duke far more than #4 Kansas State could manage against the Blue Devils. The next night, they nearly sent Bulldog Nation into panic mode before falling short. Marquette will readily take on any challenge thrown their way and fight harder than many of the nation’s premier teams to make a name for themselves. Despite their lack of a consistent post option, they will never use it as a crutch. The Big East is at its best when these two teams are in the thick of things.

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After the Buzzer: On 800 Wins, Internet Humility, and Fantastic Freshmen

Posted by jstevrtc on November 24th, 2010

Your Watercooler Moment. Yeesh, take your pick. On Wednesday morning the two games the majority of hoop aficianados were most looking forward to from Tuesday night will yield the headlines to a so-called undercard matchup between #3 Michigan State and Connecticut, the latter a team slated to be foraging for leftover scraps in the Big East this year. Jim Calhoun beamed after the effort shown by his players in knocking off the Spartans, saying after the game, “We proved to the world that we can play.” Also in Maui, the Kentucky vs Washington matchup was so intense they played through a freaking 4.7-on-the-Richter scale earthquake that nobody in the building seemed to notice centered 30 miles south-southwest of the island, and four time zones away, Duke gave Kansas State false hope for a half before turning out their lights and inscribing Mike Krzyzewski into the 800 victories book for a single school. Oh, and a game between Appalachian State and Tennessee Tech was cancelled because the former forgot to provide refs. All of this, a feast before the feast…on the day the Spectrum died.

Onward And Upward -- Coach K Earned His 800th Duke Win On Tuesday

Tuesday’s Quick Hits…

  • Connecticut Has A Pulse. And it’s strong. And its name is Kemba Walker. In 38 minutes of floor time in the Huskies’ capsizing of #3 Michigan State, Walker went 10-19 from the floor, 6-7 from the line, and added three boards, four assists, and three steals to his 30 points. Who cares that a kid’s getting up a shot every two minutes of game time when he’s producing like this?
  • Kyrie Lays It On. Kyrie Irving smoked Jacob Pullen as if the latter were a finely aged Cohiba Siglo. He took Pullen to the bucket several times, scored or got to the line, twice producing and-ones. Irving saw other defenders, but it was Pullen in front of him a good deal of the night; this matchup saw the freshman wood-shedding the senior to the tune of 17/5/6 asst/2 steals.
  • Unsung Wildcat Heroes, Take One. The talk will be about Terrence Jones‘ 16/17 (4-13 from the field) and Brandon Knight’s 24 points (he also had zero assists and eight turnovers), but the best line on the Wildcats’ side may have come from Josh Harrellson, the backup center many UK fans felt could barely qualify to be Enes Kanter’s personal assistant before the season. Harrellson had troubles with his handle, but in 34 minutes he contributed nine points on 4-6 shooting (one of those a trey), blocked two shots, and pulled in 14 rebounds, seven of them on the offensive end. DeAndre Liggins only added seven points and four rebounds, but he smothered UW’s Isaiah Thomas for most of the second half, frustrating him to no end (on which more in a bit).
  • Unsung Wildcat Heroes, Take Two. The only bright spot from KSU’s defeat was the play of their reserves. Four players — namely Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels, Martavious Irving, and Will Spradling — played at least 13 minutes (three of them were in for 20+), and they accounted for 47 of K-State’s 68 points, shooting 18-29 (62%) from the field. Could there be lineup changes in store for Frank Martin’s squad?

…and Misses.

  • Kalin, Not His Usual Ballin’. No particular player could be singled out as really letting MSU down, but Kalin Lucas would love another crack at this one. The Spartans actually shot better than UConn, but Lucas’ head-scratcher of a night consisted of a 4-12 shooting night, five turnovers and but a single assist. There won’t be many nights like this for Lucas this season.
  • The Sprint Center Floor. We had the privilege of being in the Sprint Center for the Big 12 Tournament last year. It’s a great arena for college basketball. Plenty of press seating, helpful staff, and even the distant seats in the stands aren’t bad. But for the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic tonight, its floor had ten temporary logos on it, causing it to resemble one of those NASCAR automobiles (I guess they do race for the Sprint Cup, don’t they?) or a jersey from an Australian pro league team.
  • Smeared the Beard. Jacob Pullen not only got schooled by a freshman in terms of how many times he got taken to the hole, but he couldn’t hit an elephant with a handful of rice on Tuesday night. Pullen will not have many 1-12 nights this year, and likely none in which he also throws in a defensive clanger like he did on Tuesday. But big games like this are not the time for these rare occasions to occur for the facially hirsute and usually excellent senior.
  • Isaiah Was No Prophet. When the Maui brackets were released a few months ago, Isaiah Thomas tweeted that he was hoping his squad would run into Kentucky, a sentiment fueled by the bolting of recruits Kanter and Jones to UK after committing to UW. The Wildcats’ DeAndre Liggins intercalated himself into Thomas’ DNA on Tuesday, and as a result the UW guard was flummoxed into a 4-14 shooting night, two of those buckets coming as cosmetic late layups when UK let its defensive intensity slip a notch in hopes of not fouling.

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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2010

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.

A Look Back

The biggest story out of the SEC this week is the Southeastern Conference’s suspension of Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl for the first eight games of conference play.  Pearl hosted recruit Aaron Craft at his home contrary to NCAA rules and misled investigators about a picture that was taken with Craft during the visit.  Pearl also admitted to making excessive recruiting phone calls.  For his sins, the Tennessee will reduce Pearl’s pay by a total of $1.5 million over the next five years and he is not allowed to recruit off campus for one year.  Pearl got a pretty stiff punishment here, but this should come as no surprise.  The NCAA is still considering the matter and may impose additional penalties in December when it releases its findings.

Tennessee has no desire to let Pearl go despite his misdeeds.  He has won a lot of games in Knoxville and he is a great recruiter.  The problem now is that there is a question mark as to how good he is at recruiting if he plays by the rules.  Pearl is on a short leash and the university has made it clear – any more violations, and he’s out.

Pearl should have known better from previous incidents and it is likely the NCAA will impose additional punishments.  There are two universal truths in this life: one, the NCAA hates being left out of the punishment game when a violation has occurred, particularly for repeat offenders, and two, the NCAA hates recruiting violations.  If you want to get your team in a heap of trouble, the fastest way to do it is through recruiting violations.  Indiana is still suffering from the Kelvin Sampson disaster, a fellow repeat offender.  Indiana is likely to miss the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year due to Sampson’s cheating.  Time will tell if the NCAA’s sanctions will have such an effect on Tennessee.  The moral of the story, keep it clean out there, coaches.

In other news, Georgia is playing well despite the loss of star Trey Thompkins who is out with a high ankle sprain.  The Bulldogs got a good win against a talented Colorado team that should make the NCAA Tournament this year.  The Bulldogs are currently 4-0, but Thompkins was recently cleared to practice.

In the preseason primer, I predicted Enes Kanter would be eligible for Kentucky.  Seeking to make me look the fool, the NCAA saw otherwise.  While the NCAA and Kentucky do agree on the facts of the case, that Enes Kanter received payment for play while in his native Turkey, they disagree on the interpretation of NCAA rules, Kentucky obviously believing Kanter deserves to play.  The NCAA ruled that he received benefits over and above necessary expenses and declared him “permanently ineligible,” a big blow to the Wildcats’ plans to win a second straight SEC crown and an eighth National championship.  John Calipari stated that he was not happy with the NCAA’s decision but that he respected it.  Following Kentucky’s 88-65 win over East Tennessee State, Alan Cutler, a Lexington sports reporter, opened the press conference by asking Calipari’s opinion on the matter.  Calipari was noticeably frustrated and responded, “Didn’t we just play a game?”  The school will appeal the decision.

Power Rankings

    1. Kentucky (3-0) opened the season with a pasting of East Tennessee State 88-65 in which freshman Terrence Jones recorded a double-double scoring 25 points and collecting 12 rebounds.  On Monday night against Oklahoma, Jones recorded his second double-double by scoring 29 points and pulling down 13 rebounds to go along with 3 assists, two steals, and four blocks.  Apparently, Jones doesn’t like to see anyone else’s name on the stat sheet.  In between those two games, Kentucky trounced Portland 79-48 in a game in which the Wildcats scored the first 15 points of the game and were never challenged.  After three games, Kentucky leads the SEC in three-point field goal percentage and assist/turnover ratio, both weak points on last year’s squad.
    2. Arkansas (2-0) While I don’t expect the Razorbacks to remain at number two for very long, it’s hard to drop them lower than number two when they won their first two games against Grambling State and Florida Gulf Coast by an average margin of 33 points per game.  That’s the highest scoring margin in the SEC, and it’s not even close.  Guard Rotnei Clarke picked up right where he left off last year making five three pointers in his first game this season.  Through two games, Clarke is 10-23 from three point range and leads Arkansas in scoring at 17 points per game.
    3. Georgia is 3-0 record despite playing without preseason SEC POY pick Trey Thompkins.  Mark Fox can flat-out coach.  Underestimate him at your own peril.  He will have the Bulldogs competing all year long and no game against the ‘Dogs will be an easy one, with or without Thompkins.  In Thompkins’ absence, guard Travis Leslie has taken it upon himself to pick up the slack by leading Georgia in both points and rebounds at 18 and 8.3 per game, respectively.  Georgia will need Thompkins back soon, however, as the road gets tougher from here.  They next face Notre Dame in the Old Spice Classic which also features Temple, Wisconsin, California and Texas A&M.
    4. Mississippi State’s (3-0) Kodi Augustus is leading the SEC in rebounds at 11.0 RPG and is second in scoring at 20.0 PPG behind fellow Bulldog Ravern Johnson’s 25.5 PPG.  While they didn’t win big against Tennessee State, Appalachian State or Detroit, whom they defeated 75-65, 76-74 and 82-76, respectively, the Bulldogs are playing without guard Dee Bost and power forward Renardo Sydney.  Mississippi State will be very, very good once Sydney and Bost return and should be an exciting team to watch.
    5. Vanderbilt (3-1) whipped Presbyterian 88-47 in the Commodores season opener then beat Nebraska 59-49 and followed that up with a hard fought loss to West Virginia, 74-71.  The ‘Dores got what might have been a nice win against North Carolina if it had not been tainted by the fact that UNC had previously lost to Minnesota two days before.  Vanderbilt fans frequently chanted “overrated” as they taunted the Tar Heels in a game that Vandy led for all but a few moments.  The pollsters seemed to agree, dropping UNC to the 25 spot. Regardless, Vanderbilt made touted UNC freshman forward Harrison Barnes look bad as they held him to just 4-12 shooting.
    6. Tennessee (3-0)  Well, the Volunteers are undefeated but have yet to leave Knoxville.  They got a 20 point win over Chattanooga.  Beating Belmont by nine at home could be a little better, but it will do.  A lot of folks sounded alarm bells when the Vols lost their exhibition game against Indianapolis.  You can stop ringing the bells.  Exhibition wins and losses are meaningless.  These are tune-ups and coaches use them as such.  Tennessee’s real problems are off the court where Bruce Pearl’s indiscretions may prove costly down the road.  For now, Tennessee is playing well enough and should reach the finals of the NIT Preaseason Tip-Off following a win against VCU which I think they will get.  Oh, and that Tobias Harris kid is everything he was hyped up to be.  He currently leads Tennessee in scoring at 16.3 points per game, though he also leads in turnovers with 3.7 TPG.
    7. Florida (3-1).  How does the preseason SEC favorite end up number seven?  I think Doug Gottlieb summed it up well on Sunday when he said, “And then I saw them get pounded by Ohio State and I realized why all five starters returned.”  Florida easily handled UNC Wilmington, 77-60, in the Gators’ season opener but they followed it with an ugly loss to Ohio State in which they played the same uninspired defense that they played last year.  The Buckeyes easily beat Florida’s press and shot 62.9% in the game.  The Gators had no answer for Jared Sullinger inside who went 13-17 from the floor, nor for David Lighty who went 9-11.  You will recall that I expressed skepticism over Florida being tabbed as the SEC preseason favorite.  They appear to be the same team as last year in many respects, which makes sense as they have all the same players.  They still lack defensive intensity particularly inside.  Yes, they did pummel North Carolina A&T 105-55 following their loss to Ohio State and they got a quality win against NBA-bound Kenneth Faried’s Morehead State team, but I remain skeptical.  Florida shot only 26.3% from three point range and 38.9% overall in that game and Faried had his wicked way with Florida’s bigs scoring 20 points and pulling down 18 rebounds.  Patric Young was supposed to provide the inside game Florida was lacking but in four games for the Gators, he has yet to prove he is up to the job.  Get it together, Gators, or you’re going to make a lot of media folks feel very silly for picking you number one, not to mention those that picked the Gators as National Championship contenders.
    8. Mississippi (2-1) Ole Miss opened the year with a meaningless win over Arkansas State, which is currently 0-4 but then got a quality win over Ohio Valley Conference favorite Murray State behind guards Zach Graham‘s career high 22 points and Nick Williams’ 21 points.  The Rebels then lost a tough one against a quality Dayton team that came back from a 15 point second half deficit to win 78-71 by taking advantage of a 33 to 16 free throw opportunity disparity.  In the end I don’t expect this loss to cost Mississippi as a bad loss.  The problem, however, was this was Mississippi’s last chance to get a quality win against a non-conference opponent.  The rest of Ole Miss’s preseason schedule is cupcake city and since I expect the Rebels to be a bubble team this year, picking up another quality non-conference win was crucial.  It may take ten conference wins to make the Tournament now.  It sounds silly to say that so early, but that’s the situation that Mississippi puts itself in every year by continually playing one of weakest preseason schedules of any team in a major conference.
    9. South Carolina (2-1) After watching the Gamecocks lose to Michigan State 82-73 in a game they were never supposed to have a chance of winning anyway, I realized I really liked this team.  They played hard throughout and were never intimidated by the number two-ranked Spartans.  Michigan State forced them into 20 turnovers and the ‘Cocks shot poorly making only 35.7% from the field, but were able to get off 70 shots to State’s 53.  They battled and impressed me with their hunger.  The reality is that they just didn’t have the talent to keep up. Spartan’s loaded team.  This loss was sandwiched by dominating wins over Elon 95-79 and Radford 85-56.  If South Carolina continues to play this way, I may have to rethink the four SEC wins I predicted, even in the loaded SEC East.  Hard play always pays dividends.  Hey did anyone else notice that South Carolina replaced 5’9 leading scorer Devan Downey who shot 40% last year with 5’9 leading scorer Bruce Ellington, who is shoots 35.1% this year.  Ellington also averages three rebounds, 2.3 assists and four turnovers, nearly identical to Downey’s marks in the same categories.
    10. LSU (2-2) Well, it’s getting ugly down here towards the bottom.  What is there to say about LSU?  They opened with an 87-78 win over Northwestern State, and then lost to lowly Nicholls State 62-53.  LSU held Nicholls State to only 35.8% from the field and only seven assists, outrebounded the Colonels and blocked more shots, yet they still lost.  Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that NSU stole the ball from them 12 times.  When you can hold a team to only 35.8% and outrebound them by nine and still lose to that bad team, it’s going to be a long year.  There is some great young talent on this team in freshmen Andre Stringer and Ralston Turner who are leading the team in scoring at 15.8 and 12 points, respectively, but their shooting is horrendous at only 34 and 37%.  LSU managed to get a win over Tennessee-Martin 79-56 — no reason for excitement there — and a loss against Memphis.  It’s early, but I think the Tigers are still a year away.
    11. Alabama (2-3) While LSU is disappointing, Alabama is inexcusable.  Between talented players like JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell, and Senario Hillman there is no reason Alabama should be on a three game losing streak to the likes of Seton Hall, Iowa and St. Peters.  Seton Hall was picked to finish seventh in the Big East and Iowa was picked last in the Big Ten in the Rush The Court conference primers.  Folks, I like Anthony Grant, but it’s getting ugly out there.  Alabama shot only 32.5% from the field in that loss to St. Peter’s, a game that was supposed to be a walk through.  Well, at least Alabama has wins against Florida A&M and Troy.  That’s got to count for something right?
    12. Auburn (1-3) When you open up with three straight losses to basketball giants like North Carolina-Asheville, Samford and Campbell, and your only win is a two point victory over a bad Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders team, it’s hard to find something to be positive about.  Because I like to find things to build on, I found something good. Sophomore guard Andre Malone is shooting lights-out from three point range, making 14-25 shots thus far.  Last year he shot a mere 20.7% from three.  After him, the Tigers are nothing to write home about.  Auburn is currently last in the SEC in scoring offense, scoring margin, field goal percentage and turnover margin, and are eleventh of twelve teams in field goal percentage defense, three point percentage defense, assists, steals, and turnover margin.  All of that amounts to Pomeroy’s lowest-ranked team in the Big Six conferences. Those numbers aren’t exactly against stellar teams.  Good luck to you Auburn, those predicted three SEC wins are all of a sudden looking pretty hard to come by.

      A Look Ahead

      Here are the key matchups for Southeastern Conference teams this week:

      • Georgia has a game they should win against Notre Dame in the Old Spice Classic on Thursday.  Assuming they do, they will face the winner of Temple and California on Friday, a quality opponent either way.  If they lose they face the loser of that same game.  A good early test no matter the outcome, but the win is necessary as the Old Spice Classic is Georgia’s last chance for some good non-conference wins.
      • Tennessee next plays a tough VCU team on Wednesday at 7:00 Eastern.  Win that and they take on the winner of Villanova/UCLA, (likely ‘Nova) in the championship of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Friday.  These two wins are important for Tennessee to keep their momentum going and stay positive in the face of the punishments handed down against their coach.
      • Kentucky’s foe tonight is Washington, a team that surely will want vengeance against the Wildcats for stealing away Terrence Jones and the now ineligible Enes Kanter, both of whom had previously committed to Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar before backing out and pledging allegiance to Calipari.  It’s must-see hoops TV tonight at 9:30 Eastern.

      Other Points of Interest

      • The SEC named Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins SEC Player of the Week after he averaged 21.7 points and 3 rebounds per game in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan in games against Nebraska, West Virginia, and North Carolina.
      • Tennessee’s Tobias Harris, was named SEC Freshman of the Week after leading the Volunteers in scoring and rebounding at 16 and 7 in wins against Belmont and Missouri State.
      • Vanderbilt’s Brad Tinsley just barely got the triple double against Presbyterian in Vandy’s season opener with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, but it was good for Vanderbilt’s first one ever in its 110-year history.
      • There is a little disparity between the SEC East and the SEC West.  Maybe you’ve noticed.  Currently the SEC is 29-12 overall, but 17 of those wins and only three losses come from the SEC East against slightly superior competition than the West is playing.  The West is now 12-9. It’s time that the SEC adopt a conference tournament that seeds the best team against the worst rather than pitting the number one team in the East against the number six in the West.  This hurts the conference’s chances at getting five to six bids.  It also severely hurts the West’s chances of getting multiple bids as the top West teams must play the bottom East teams which while still at the bottom of the East are considerably better than the bottom of the West.  I am sure that come conference tournament time Mississippi State would much rather be facing off against the likes of Auburn or LSU than Vanderbilt or South Carolina, either of which could very well win a game or two in the conference tournament.
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      Morning Five: 11.22.10 Edition

      Posted by nvr1983 on November 22nd, 2010

      1. It looks like this whole Bruce Pearl ordeal just got a whole lot more interesting as the SEC suspended the Tennessee coach for the first eight games of SEC play. The suspension means that Pearl will not be able to coach the Volunteers in their SEC games between January 8th and February 5th nor will he be able to coach them during practices in the hours preceding/following those games BUT (emphasis intended) he will be able to coach against UConn and Jim Calhoun, someone in a bit of hot water with the NCAA, on January 22nd, and against Kentucky and John Calipari, someone who always appears to be at the edge of the hot water with the NCAA, on February 8th. Pearl still has to go in front of the NCAA infractions committee in early February. Some pundits are calling for Pearl’s head (figuratively, we think), but Pearl himself does not think it will be such a big deal.
      2. The other piece of big news over the weekend was the NCAA clearing Josh Selby to play for Kansas this season. They suspended Selby nine games, of which he has already missed three, for receiving $5,757.58 (or $4,607.58 if you believe Kansas) in impermissible benefits. Of course, some Kentucky fans are up in arms about Enes Kanter being ruled permanently ineligible for taking $33,033 (technically a little over 51 games worth if it was matched to Selby’s suspension) from his Turkish club, but it appears that the NCAA is differentiating between taking money on the side and being a professional.
      3. There’s some important injury news to get to, as two teams were hit hard this weekend. NC State will be without the services of Tracy Smith, who led the team in scoring (16.5 PPG) and rebounding (7.5 RPG) last season, for three weeks after he had to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Friday. Smith’s absence will only put more pressure on beleaguered head coach Sidney Lowe (can that be his new title: “beleaguered head coach?”). Meanwhile, a few hundred miles up the Atlantic coast, new coach Kevin Willard will have to search for more scoring from his Seton Hall team as gunner extraordinaire Jeremy Hazell will be out for 4-6 weeks with broken bone in his left wrist.
      4. Over the weekend, Michigan brought back three-fifths of the Fab 5, which according to the NCAA never existed, to Crisler Arena. Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson were all on hand for the Wolverines’ rout of Gardner-Webb. Juwan Howard was not available as he is currently “playing” for the Miami Heat (8.3 minutes per game in four appearances this year). Chris Webber…well, according to the NCAA, Chris Webber never attended the University of Michigan. At least not for a few more years.
      5. Coming into the season we knew that UNC freshman Harrison Barnes would face unrealistic expectations. Now, we didn’t expect him to go 0-for-12 as he did against Minnesota on Friday, but our expectations were significantly lower that his hometown paper (see the headline).
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      Morning Five: 11.17.10 Edition

      Posted by rtmsf on November 17th, 2010

      1. Wow.  We know of quite a few writers, bloggers, television personalities, gadflies and ne’er-do-wells who are hurting in a big way this morning.  After a 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon that once again did not fail to disappoint, the hangover is here.  We’re guessing that #cbb on Twitter won’t be this quiet again until sometime in May, as everyone around the country comes off their hoops-gasm and starts calculating the actuarial ratios of all-nighters to lost months of life.  Still, seeing all the different schools and fans and courts and cheerleaders and announcers and studio hosts and analysts around the country all day yesterday was pretty awesome, wouldn’t you agree?  As much as we’ve ripped apart the opening week’s haphazard trickle-out of games, this made-for-television event is brilliant and is quickly becoming one of the best regular season must-sees that the sport has to offer.  God help us all during the random future year when the 24HoH mimics a day of the NCAA Tournament and 75% of the games come down to the last possession — the WWL suits had better already have ESPN Legal working on its tort defenses.  Oh, and our guy John Stevens?  Over 11,000 words and untold hallucinations in 25+ hours of BGTDing, without a single drop of caffeine in his system (perhaps crystal meth, but certainly no coffee/soda).
      2. The biggest non-ESPN 24HoH news from the day came from Turner Sports, as the cable network announced that it will provide some of its wildly popular NBA on-air talent such as play-by-play announcer Marv Albert and the brash-but-hilarious Charles Barkley as part of its joint coverage of the NCAA Tournament with CBS.  The general consensus is that this is going to be a very good thing, and given that we are intimately familiar with the chemistry of Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Barkley on Inside the NBA (the best sports show on television by far), we think that they’ll pull it off.  Our only reservation — and admittedly, it’s a small one — is that we’ve watched (and listened) in horror to Fox when NFL announcers with their play-on-Sunday focus call college football games during the BCS bowls and it’s obvious they don’t even know or understand the key rule differences between the two sports.  We found this experience exceptionally painful.  Since none of the Turner channels (TBS, TNT, TruTV) are covering college hoops during the regular season, we’re a little concerned that even knowledgeable folks such as those listed above might have trouble making the transition.
      3. And this article is why NBA fans are different in many ways from college basketball fans.  Mr. Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register: in our sport, it actually IS about the names on the front of the jerseys.  Carolina fans will go crazy for their team whether they have a future lottery pick like Harrison Barnes or a four-year guy like Tyler Hansbrough leading the way; Kentucky fans showed as much passion for one-year man John Wall in the blue and white as they did for Tayshaun Prince; Michigan State fans loved consistently-tough guy Charlie Bell as much or more than Zach Randolph.  Here’s our suggestion.  Get out of the suburban and basketball wasteland known as the OC and high-tail it to a Missouri or K-State game at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.  While you’re in the Midwest, catch a game at Hinkle before heading over to Rupp for a Louisville or Florida game.  Detour down through Tobacco Road and venture into Cameron Indoor Stadium before your soul goes completely cold; then, since you’re on the east coast, head up to the Palestra for an epic Big Five battle.  Report back to us afterward if you gave a damn whether you actually knew the names of the players who you were watching — that is, assuming you actually enjoy the sport of basketball and not some bastardized version of star-watching.
      4. Gary Parrish takes a look at the oft-bizarre world of AP/Coaches poll ballots in his weekly column, The Poll Attacks.  Every time we read a column like this one, we thank our lucky stars that these flawed polls that reflect current perception are for entertainment purposes only.  Teams will get a chance to settle their real rankings on the court.  What some sportswriter in Eugene thinks about Villanova is about as important as what a Floridian believes concerning a local dogcatcher race in Wyoming — it’s irrelevant.  And we love it that way.
      5. Gregg Doyel examines the case of Enes Kanter and his eligibility through the prism of the NCAA rulebook and asks the question of when a pro is (or isn’t) a pro?  As he correctly points out, the NCAA has drawn a bright line with the apples/oranges comparison between sports, as in the cases of Josh Booty, Chris Weinke and current Clemson QB Kyle Parker, all of whom played professional baseball prior to becoming amateur NCAA football players.  But why have they drawn a distinction — what is the fundamental difference here?  It would be interesting to review the NCAA legislative history on this issue to see what the thinking was.
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      Ten Opening Night Scribbles

      Posted by zhayes9 on November 13th, 2010

      Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

      It would be foolish to draw too many sweeping conclusions after one rust-filled outing against inferior competition, but there are certain elements within a game that can provide a glimpse into what to expect during the season ahead.  After watching a handful of games last night and tracking each and every box score this morning, these ten things caught my eye:

      Tinsley is now the full time point guard at Vandy

      1. As is often the case in the SEC, Vanderbilt flew under the radar in the preseason. Kentucky’s ballyhooed freshmen class received the buzz, Florida was crowned the prohibitive favorite due to the return of five starters, Bruce Pearl’s recruiting indiscretions vaulted Tennessee into the spotlight for the wrong reasons and Mississippi State could certainly be dangerous when Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney return nine games into the campaign. The Commodores, coming off a 24-9 season and a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, didn’t receive the same publicity as their SEC brethren. But that’s just how Kevin Stallings, one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the business, prefers it. The loss of senior point guard Jermaine Beal (and the premature departure of A.J. Ogilvy inside) was a big reason why many pegged Vanderbilt to take a step back from a season ago, even with returnees John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor oozing with talent and potential. The question was how junior point guard Brad Tinsley would step in for the grizzled veteran Beal and run the Commodores offense with the same aplomb, finding Jenkins off curls and screens for open threes or big man Festus Ezeli in scoring position on the block. Tinsley showed he’s up for the task in a 41-point romp of Presbyterian at Memorial Gymnasium on Friday, notching Vandy’s first triple-double in school history with 11 points and a career high 10 assists and 10 rebounds (not too shabby for a 6’3 guard). Tinsley also collected three steals and only turned the ball over twice. If Tinsley provides playmaking and stability at the point, Taylor lives up to his future lottery pick billing as an impact wing, Jenkins continues his proficiency from deep and Ezeli gives Vandy a presence inside, the Commodores will win 24 games again.

      2. Two wins on Friday night may fly under the radar a bit, but are absolutely worth highlighting. The first is Minnesota’s convincing home victory over Wofford. I expected the Terriers to give Tubby Smith’s squad all kinds of trouble and possibly even win this game straight up. Wofford returns four starters, including potential SoCon POY Noah Dahlman, from a stout defensive team that gave Wisconsin a scare in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Heck, I even pegged them as my Cinderella last week. Throw in yet another Minnesota suspension on Thursday (this time off-guard Devoe Joseph) and this had all the makings of a super competitive test for the Gophers. Instead, Minnesota controlled the game throughout, leading by ten at half and winning 69-55 behind 20/13 from Ralph Sampson and 14/10 in Trevor Mbakwe’s debut in maroon and gold. The Gopher bigs also contained Dahlman to 15 points and the Wofford guards couldn’t find their stroke from deep. Don’t be surprised if this is an RPI top-100 win for Minnesota by season’s end. A second win that stood out is West Virginia’s romp of Oakland, another squad favored to win their conference behind potential first round pick Keith Benson. Benson did his thing with 22/15 but received no help as the Mountaineers utilized a balanced attack- Joe Mazzulla, Dalton Pepper, John Flowers, Deniz Kilicli, Casey Mitchell and Darryl Bryant all scored in double figures- to romp the Golden Grizzlies 95-71. Without an all-Big East perimeter threat like Da’Sean Butler at their disposal, this type of team effort is imperative if the Mountaineers want to vault themselves into the upper echelon of the Big East this season.

      3. It’s painfully obvious that Georgetown is going to live and die with their backcourt this season. Their frontcourt pieces- Julian Vaughn, Nate Lubick, Jerelle Benimon and Henry Sims- are unspectacular, role players that can crash the boards, provide versatility and dish from the top of the key in the Georgetown halfcourt offense, but simply cannot be relied upon as consistent scoring threats. The Hoyas opener at reigning CAA champion and preseason favorite Old Dominion exposed this weakness inside. The Monarchs out-rebounded Georgetown by 11, blocked nine more shots and the Hoya forwards only scored eight of the team’s 62 points. Yet Georgetown eked out an enormous road victory on the heels of their experienced and savvy backcourt trio of Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark. The threesome led Georgetown back from a second-half deficit with clutch threes and free throws down the stretch, including one from Wright on a crosscourt Hollis Thompson feed where the 6’1 senior wasn’t even able to even land as the shot clocked expired. Given the Monarchs defensive prowess and the return of four starters from a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, this is in all likelihood a top-50 RPI win for Georgetown in the first week of the campaign. If more of those marquee wins are to come, Wright, Freeman and Clark will be the reasons.

      Read the rest of this entry »

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