For Villanova and VCU, Handling the Ghost of Seasons Past

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on November 25th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog. Joe filed this report after Villanova’s 77-53 victory over VCU Monday evening.

When Villanova and Virginia Commonwealth faced off in the first round of the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn last night, a trail of questions about these two dynamic teams followed them onto the court. Both had great success last season, winning their respective conference regular season titles while compiling a combined record of 55-14 (Villanova was 29-5 while VCU was 26-9) but each saw their seasons expire with a sigh that betrayed what they had worked for. VCU had run up a 24-7 record even before the conference tournament, securing no worse than an at-large place in the NCAA field as the Atlantic 10 Conference garnered a record-breaking six bids. They burned through Richmond and NCAA-worthy George Washington by 20 points apiece before bowing to a senior-heavy Saint Joseph’s squad, 65-61. But it was the two-point loss to Stephen F. Austin (77-75) that stung. Had HAVOC run its course? If the defensive turnover machine of seasons past could not produce, the Rams’ open court offense was reduced to their half court set which yielded far fewer points (and possessions). Like Gonzaga, Butler and George Mason before them, the Rams were no longer the hunters, they had become the hunted.

Will Shaka Smart Be Interested In The Open Position In Westwood? (US Presswire)

Smart’s club started off well, but tailed off against an equally talented Villanova squad in Brooklyn. (US Presswire)

In “the old” Big East a 28-3 regular season record capped with a 16-2 conference record would have heralded the Wildcats as an elite team and Final Four contender even before the conference tournament. For Villanova and “the new” Big East however, double-figure losses to Syracuse and Creighton (twice) appeared to undermine the Wildcats’ — and the Big East’s — attempts to write a new chapter. Villanova dropped their first round conference tournament game to Seton Hall (64-63), secured a #2 seed in the NCAAs, then dropped their second round game to former conference mate Connecticut (77-63). The Big East garnered four bids and no conference team made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Announcement of 2016 Field a Reminder that Maui is Still King

Posted by Henry Bushnell on November 25th, 2014

December 23, 1982. It’s a date etched in college basketball folklore, and with good reason. You’ve probably heard the tale before, perhaps many times: the tale of big, bad Ralph Sampson towering above his opponents; the tale of the tiny gym, of the mysterious aura; the tale of mighty Virginia being confounded and eventually upset by plucky Chaminade, an embryonic NAIA squad in just its eighth season of competition.

A Game 32 Years Ago Set the Maui Invitational in Motion

A Game 32 Years Ago Set the Maui Invitational in Motion

In fact, every November, the Maui Invitational serves as a convenient reminder of that day nearly 32 years ago, because it was in the wake of Chaminade’s shocking win that the tournament was born. What began as a four-team event soon expanded to eight, and pretty soon, it was attracting the top teams from around the country. Michigan made its first trip in 1985, Kansas (along with Stanford, Villanova and Illinois) followed in 1987, UNLV came in 1988, North Carolina debuted in 1989, Duke visited in 1992, and Arizona in 1993. As big time programs flocked to Maui, it became the pinnacle of November college basketball, and built quite the reputation. For at least two decades, it was one of the kings of early season tournaments.

It wasn’t the undisputed king though. Alongside Maui had always been the Preseason NIT, now known as the NIT Season Tip-Off, and the Great Alaska Shootout, both of which also drew the bluebloods. Recently though, given the resounding success of Maui in particular, even more competition began to sprout up in the form of other holiday tournaments. Organizers realized that with school temporarily out of session for Thanksgiving break, teams would love to travel to desirable locations and test themselves against other top national contenders. In 1995, the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic was founded. Following the turn of the century, the CBE Classic (2001), Old Spice Classic (2006, now the Orlando Classic), and Legends Classic (2007), plus others, joined the fray, and suddenly, it was no longer Maui, NIT or bust. Elite programs had options aplenty, and it may have even seemed as if the exclusivity and uniqueness of Maui had been watered down.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East Weekend Wrap

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 24th, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

Continuing its hot start, the Big East finished off another strong week and as a whole, stands at 30-2. For most teams, the competition picked up after a week of tune-up type games. Sensing a higher state of importance, a number of Big East teams stepped up, pulling off upsets and recording marquee, resume-building wins (Creighton, Providence). Others, however, floundered and either lost to underwhelming competition (Marquette) or narrowly avoided ugly losses (Villanova, St. John’s). Below are four key takeaways from the past week of Big East action.

Josh Smith Has Had a Nice Start to the Season (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Josh Smith Has Had a Nice Start to the Season (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

  • Creighton might not be so bad after all. I’ll admit, I had Creighton ranked #9 in the Big East coming into this season. I thought the loss of McDermott, and three other starters, would have a monumental impact on the offense’s fluidity and efficiency. Instead, head coach Greg McDermott’s playcalling, ball movement, and overall offensive scheme appear to have remained the same. This is largely in part due to the emergence of senior point guard Austin Chatman, who has been near flawless at keeping all of the Bluejays’ newcomers on the same page (2.1 turnovers per 40 minutes). On Wednesday, Creighton squared off against the 18th ranked Oklahoma Sooners and rallied from 18 down to steal the show. Surprisingly, the Bluejays shot poorly all night, just 8-26 from three and 37.5% overall, but Isaiah Zierden and Toby Hegner are doing their best to fill the Manigat/Wragge roles on last year’s squad: finding open space on the floor and draining threes at crucial points in the game. Chatman, the lone returning starter, knows exactly how to run the offense after four years in the system, and has found success by driving and drawing defenders, and either getting to the line or dishing to open teammates. The 6’0 guard posted a 17 point, 11 rebound, six assist statline against the Sooners.
  • Kris Dunn is the real deal. Normally, Creighton would receive the top headline in the Big East for its win over #18 Oklahoma, but Dunn’s performance this week was just too impressive to ignore. Dunn’s role on the 5-0 Friars is not as a primary scorer, that’s LaDontae Henton‘s job. Instead, Dunn serves as a distributor and offensive coordinator, putting teammates in a better position to score. The 6’3 sophomore was a highly touted McDonald’s All American out of high school, but spent much of last season on the bench after a season-ending injury just two weeks into the season. Anyone can recognize how important senior LaDontae Henton is to Providence, who scored a career high 38 points in a huge win over Notre Dame today and is averaging a league-leading 19.8 points per game. But Dunn, who got off to a rough start in his first game has completely turned things around and is largely responsible for the Friars’ hot start. He is now averaging 8.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game with just 17 turnovers through five games, including a remarkable 14 assists against Navy. Dunn was a major question mark coming into this season, and with a depleted Friars backcourt following Bryce Cotton’s departure, his continued success will be vital to Providence’s. The Friars offense runs at a completely different rate when Dunn on the floor, and now the question will be whether he can avoid foul trouble and stay on the floor long enough in close games: he played just 21 minutes versus Notre Dame, and is averaging 3.3 fouls per game.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Top 25: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 24th, 2014

Week one is in the books and what a week it was. One of the great things about college basketball is that many of the elite teams play other elite teams early in the season, and that is what happened at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis last Tuesday. First, #2 Duke led the entire way in scoring a comfortable 11-point victory over #19 Michigan State, and in the nightcap, #1 Kentucky showed everyone why it will be the story of the year in college basketball, as the Wildcats thoroughly dismantled #11 Kansas. Duke’s win over Michigan State paired with its weekend victories over Temple and Stanford have the Blue Devils all the way up to the second slot in this week’s RTC25. #1 Kentucky remains in the top spot, but its style points in demolishing a talented Kansas squad earned the Wildcats every one of our pollsters’ number one votes. Outside of Kentucky, the team of the week had to be #7 Gonzaga, who rose from #11 after it impressively handled previously-#22 SMU and dominated its way to a 52-point thrashing of Saint Joseph’s.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 9.21.01 AM

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Shaq, Grant Hill & Gary Williams Lead College Basketball HOF Induction Class

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2014

Feast Week is one of the best parts of the season, as the sport gets some November time in the national spotlight before ceding it back to college football and the NFL. Teams are still rounding into form, so while quality of play isn’t the best, coaches and players alike get a chance to test themselves against quality competition in neutral-site settings. Before the ball is tipped in the weeklong extravaganza of hoops, though, the festivities begin with the College Basketball Hall Of Fame enshrining its Class of 2014 in Kansas City on Sunday night. A synopsis of each of the inductees is below.

The Big Aristotle and his coach at LSU, Dale Brown, add another accolade to their illustrious careers.

The Big Aristotle and his coach at LSU, Dale Brown, add another accolade to their illustrious careers.

Players:

Shaquille O’Neal (LSU, 1989-92)

  • No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick in 1992
  • 2x consensus first team All-American (1991-92)
  • AP National Player Of The Year (1992)
  • 2x SEC Player Of The Year (1991-92)
  • Averaged 22 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks per game

Grant Hill (Duke, 1990-94)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Back and Forth: Some of Maui’s Greatest Storylines

Posted by Judson Harten on November 24th, 2014

Each week, RTC columnist Judson Harten will profile some of the week’s biggest upcoming games by taking a look back at some relevant history relating to the match-ups. This is Back And Forth.

Before the days of ESPN “24 Hours of Hoops” marathon, the true, unofficial kickoff to the college basketball season could be summed up in one word: Maui. With each passing year, it seems as if there are more and more great tournaments with a number of excellent teams in them. But to most college basketball fans who came of age in the past two decades, there’s one tournament that stands out, the one that signifies that college basketball season is indeed really here: The EA Sports Maui Invitational.

Remember this guy? Back in 2002 then Indiana freshman phenom Bracey Wright, who is now playing professionally in Israel, exploded in Maui. (el Periodico/ Angel de Castro)

Remember this guy? Back in 2002, Indiana freshman phenom Bracey Wright, who is now playing professionally in Israel, exploded in Maui. (el Periodico/ Angel de Castro)

From its humble beginnings with NAIA school Chaminade’s titanic upset of #1 Virginia in 1984 to Duke’s five titles in five tries, from Ball State’s Cinderella run to the title game in 2001 to the dominant performances of future National Champions in 2004 (North Carolina) and 2010 (UConn), there’s always something memorable from the action taking place in the Lahaina Civic Center.

Let’s look back on some of the best runs in Maui, shall we? Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

What’s Trending: Pre-Feast Week Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on November 24th, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Texas Looks Like a Top Ten Team

The Longhorns came to play late last week, taking the 2K Sports Classic event at Madison Square Garden rather handily. Jonathan Holmes, the tournament MVP, emerged onto the national scene after going for 40 points and 18 rebounds in Texas’s two convincing wins over Iowa and California.

Plus, mentioning Texas gives me the excuse to show you Cameron Ridley‘s insane block!

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Is Justin Anderson This Year’s Malcolm Brogdon?

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 22nd, 2014

Prior to the beginning of last season, any preseason accolades that were heaped on a Virginia player were going to Joe Harris. He was a senior who had put up prodigious numbers over his career, and the media rightly thought he was in for a superb final season in Charlottesville. Although Harris notched his second all-ACC performance in 2013-14, it was a little-known sophomore named Malcolm Brogdon who became the team’s offensive leader on its way to the program’s best season in over three decades. With Harris now gone and Brogdon returning as a hyped junior, history at Virginia may just be repeating itself. Brogdon was the star who received preseason All-ACC honors, but through the first four games it has instead been a newcomer to the starting lineup who has become Virginia’s star.

Coach Bennett has to like what he's seen from new starter Justin Anderson so far (virginiasports.com)

Coach Bennett has to like what he’s seen from new starter Justin Anderson (forefront) so far (virginiasports.com)

Justin Anderson was not quite the unknown quantity that Brogdon was last year, having been the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year a season ago. However, given the perception that this would be Brogdon’s team as well as uncertainty as to how Anderson’s energy and consistency would be affected by becoming a starter, few saw this breakout coming. The Cavaliers’ swingman has led or tied for the team scoring lead in all four contests in this young season, including a team-high 18 last night in a victory over a tough George Washington squad. Right now, he’s averaging 16.0 points and nearly six rebounds a game for one of the top teams in the nation, and shooting an astonishing 59 percent from three-point range.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Who Won The Week? Kentucky, Gonzaga and Cal!

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on November 21st, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Tacoma-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Kentucky

The #1 Wildcats put in as dominant a performance against a top-five team as I can remember, eviscerating Kansas 72-40 on Tuesday. As many blocks as field goals surrendered? Holding an elite opponent under 20 percent field goal shooting on a neutral court? Sign me up. If this team plays defense together half this good on a nightly basis, it won’t be on the bottom end of a box score very often this season. The beatdown Kentucky put on Kansas completely justifies overlooking the halftime deficit to Buffalo on Sunday, which became a 71-52 win.  This is as no-doubt a winner as I’ve ever had in this column. (Welcome to year three, kids.)

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All Americans on his roster (AP).

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All-Americans on his roster. (AP)

(Related winners: The nine high-school All-Americans who get to play 20 minutes each a game while playing against the best opposing players in the country in practice every day, getting to boost their abilities and NBA draft stock simultaneously. Related losers: Kansas, because yeesh. Buffalo, because blowing a halftime lead wasn’t nearly as bad as the six-plus feet of blowing snow dropped on their city later in the week – after a win at Texas-Arlington, at least.) Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Win For Cal, But More Significant Test Pending

Posted by AMurawa on November 21st, 2014

Midway through the second half of California’s 14–point win over Syracuse (#25 in the RTC preseason poll) at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, both Dick Vitale and John Saunders expressed surprise that the Golden Bears were picked seventh in the Pac-12 — astonished that there could be six teams in the conference better than them. And if you watched the game, you probably understood that surprise, because Cal looked great. They shot a 54.5 percent eFG against the vaunted Syracuse zone, kept the Orange’s athletes out of transition (for the most part), and really had a handle on the game from the closing moments of the first half (a late 12-0 run in that half featured four Cal threes in five possessions). Sophomore Jabari Bird had his national coming-out party with 16 points on four threes, and his more under-the-radar classmate Jordan Mathews wound up with 22 relatively quiet points. Up and down the rest of the roster, Cuonzo Martin’s players made the type of plays that they’ll be expected to make all season long. So, all that optimism that Golden Bears fans had to be feeling throughout that not-all-that-stressful second half is completely warranted and Cal should start looking into a nice brand of scissors for all that net-cutting they’re going to be doing at the end of the year, right? Well, slow your roll for just one minute.

Jabari Bird and The Cal Bears Looked Great In Handling Syracuse (Ben Margot, AP Photo)

Jabari Bird and The Cal Bears Looked Great In Handling Syracuse (Ben Margot, AP Photo)

First, note that we’re not about to discount what the Golden Bears did last night at all. They beat Syracuse on a floor that was anything but neutral, and they did it in convincing fashion. They’ve got a star or two on the wing in Bird and Mathews. Tyrone Wallace is settling in at the point and has looked good enough there. And if he needs a hand, Martin’s best bench player at this junction is sophomore point Sam Singer who, by the way, handed out eight assists in a solid night of action. There’s senior center David Kravish, who contributed 12 points, 10 boards, three blocks, five assists and even a three against that Syracuse front line which, even if you don’t recognize any of the names off the top of your head, is an intimidating opponent. They looked really good, validating the initial opinion that most people who watched any of the Golden Bears’ first couple games of the season came away with.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Keydet Fast: VMI Still Trying to Find Its Footing

Posted by Ray Curren (@currenrr) on November 21st, 2014

Virginia Military Institute coach Duggar Baucom was all apologies after his team’s opener last week against The Citadel. “They just made us guard,” Baucom said. “We call it a ‘red call’ when the shot clock goes under 10. It seemed like we were yelling that all night. You just have to deal with it. We were late on some deflections that probably should have been steals and that would have allowed us to run a little more. But we’ll have games like that every once in a while.” The Keydets may have pulled out a 66-65 victory on a clutch Trey Chapman three-pointer with 15 seconds left, but — while wins are important — the fact that VMI was held to 60 possessions in the game, the lowest number in Baucom’s 10-year career in Lexington, made Baucom swear to go back to the drawing board.

This might be the toughest season yet for Duggar Baucom at VMI. (Big South Athletics)

This might be the toughest season yet for Duggar Baucom at VMI. (Big South Athletics)

Baucom has made up-tempo basketball his identity throughout his coaching career, coming to VMI from Division II Tusculum a decade ago. He was under no illusions at how tough a job he would have to build a competitive program at the military school. He couldn’t offer many of the bells and whistles other Division I schools can, but he could show them how to play high-octane basketball. Baucom’s teams have finished in the top 10 nationally in adjusted tempo in the last eight years, and in the top two in six of those seasons, including last year when VMI won 20 games and advanced to the semifinals of the CIT. “Every day is a grind at a military school like VMI for the kids, and you have to do things a little differently as a coach,” Baucom said. “Recruiting is tough. We have great kids, though, and I wouldn’t swap them for anything. VMI has been very good to me.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Harvard’s Wake-Up Call Might Not Be So Bad

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 20th, 2014

Let’s make a few things clear about Harvard and its probably-gone at-large hopes. For one, if the team is worrying about an at-large selection come March, it probably means it lost two or three games in Ivy League play – which would be problematic on its own. For another, Tommy Amaker’s group is no stranger to faltering unexpectedly in the non-conference: in 2012, the Crimson lost to Atlantic 10 bottom-feeder Fordham; in 2013, it fell at home to Vermont; and last season, it suffered a 15-point defeat to sub-.500 Florida Atlantic. Each year, Harvard’s at-large aspirations took a severe hit before conference games even began, and each year the team responded by winning the outright Ivy League title. Sunday’s turnover-filled loss to Holy Cross is only different in that it happened just three days into the season, before anyone could even blink. With everything still left to play for – a league title, a Tourney birth, seeding implications – the much-hyped Crimson may have received the wake-up call it needed and was eventually going to get anyway. Now it must figure things out on the court before the schedule ramps up in coming weeks.

Harvard needs to bounce back after falling to Holy Cross on Sunday. (Robert F Worley/The Harvard Crimson)

Harvard needs to bounce back after falling to Holy Cross on Sunday. (Robert F Worley/The Harvard Crimson)

Siyani Chambers is probably the best point guard in the Ivy League yet the Crusaders’ pressure defense completely got the best of him on Sunday, turning him over a career-high nine times and holding the junior to just one point. As poorly as Chambers played, though, his track record suggests that he’ll be just fine going forward; the bigger problem might be his backcourt running mates, or lack thereof. Both he and Ivy League Player of the Year Wesley Saunders (24 points and 12 rebounds on Sunday) are going to play a lot and produce a lot, but nearly every other guard is an unproven commodity. Program mainstays Laurent Rivard and Brandyn Curry graduated in the offseason, stripping the team of its best perimeter shooter (Rivard shot 43% 3FG as a senior and holds the school’s all-time three-point record) and a solid all-around guard who could spell Chambers at the point (Curry was the team’s floor general before Chambers arrived in 2012). Corbin Miller (45% 3FG in 2011-12) – who missed the past two years due to an LDS mission – should fill some of the void left by Rivard, but true freshman Andre Chatfield looks like the only other guard receiving rotational minutes early on. As a result, not only is Harvard very thin in the backcourt from an injury-risk standpoint – losing Chambers, Saunders or Miller would be devastating – it also seems less-equipped to handle opponents that necessitate a guard-heavy lineup like Holy Cross. Too much pressure was placed on the pair in that game. Amaker has a ton of options when it comes to mixing and matching frontcourt guys, but far fewer when it comes to the backcourt, so the continued development and emergence of players like Miller and Chatfield will be crucial as the season progresses.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story