Ben Simmons’ Debut Season Is Becoming Special

Posted by William Ezekowitz on November 30th, 2015

The Ben Simmons bandwagon is filling up quickly. The LSU freshman came into the season hyped as the next big prospect to go one-and-done and first overall in the NBA Draft, joining an illustrious group of NBA stars (and Anthony Bennett) in the process. But his double-take-inducing statistics and the raw athleticism exhibited in the first five games have led many to ask if he can be even more than that.

Ben Simmons May Be Working On One Of The All-Time Great Freshman Seasons (Photo: Getty)

Ben Simmons May Already Be Working on an All-Time Great Freshman Season. (Getty)

Simmons’ season has been so incredible through two weeks that we feel the need to examine where he fits amongst the best freshmen in the modern era of college basketball. If we were to be measured and retrospective, we would take a deep breath and say that he’s only played five games, three of which were against the likes of McNeese State, Kennesaw State and South Alabama. But that reasoned perspective is somewhat antithetical to sports media and the blogosphere in general, so let’s overreact and see how the superstar rookie fares against some of his historical comparisons. We will start with the one-and-done era, which began in 2006.

Keep in mind that Simmons, at the time of this writing, is averaging 16.2 points, 14.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game.

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SEC Week That Was: Volume II

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 30th, 2015

Feast Week is in the books and there’s plenty of good and not-so-good happening throughout the SEC. Here’s the good: The league boasts two undefeated teams and four teams with just a single loss. On the flip side, there are two teams siting at .500 and two others already under .500. Here are the nuts and bolts of the previous week in SEC basketball.

The Aggies didn't win the Battle 4 Atlantis, but they impressed nonetheless (

The Aggies didn’t win the Battle 4 Atlantis, but they impressed nonetheless. (AP)

  • Team of the WeekTexas A&M didn’t win the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, but the Aggies nonetheless made a statement. They started with an emotional win over intrastate rival Texas in the opener, and while the Longhorns are in a transition year, that win may improve as the year wears on. A&M then knocked off top 10 team Gonzaga in its second game, notching a win that will pay dividends the rest of the year. The experience that young players such as Tyler Davis and Tonny Trocha-Morelos got against the Bulldogs’ elite frontcourt should be a good primer for future games against Kentucky. And while the team ran out of gas against Syracuse in the championship game, what stood out most might have been the Aggies’ depth. Over the three-game tournament, Davis, Morelos, Jalen JonesDanuel House and Anthony Collins all played starring roles at various times. The team has been extremely balanced in both contributions and results, ranking among KenPom’s top 30 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency — a combination that can be useful in predicting March success.

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Which Villanova — Elite Defensive Juggernaut or Solid Top 10 Team?

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on November 30th, 2015

Rankings come in two varieties, those based on statistical metrics (e.g., the RPI, KenPom, Sagarin and Massey ratings systems) and those based on individual votes (e.g., the RTC, AP and USA Today/Coaches polls). Changes in specific rankings tend to follow certain patterns — the “numbers” rankings do not tend to change all that much with a single win or loss; the human polls tend to change weekly as a reflection of the voters’ reactions to the latest batch of wins and losses. This season’s plethora of upsets has already introduced an element of chaos to the rankings and each type of system has responded in ways that break with their historic patterns for dealing with upsets and overlooked teams.

Jay Wright and Villanova have been on point. (Getty)

Jay Wright and Villanova have been on point. (Getty)

The metrics-based systems have shuffled their top 10 to 25 teams radically, while the polling systems have resisted a common tendency to drop teams that lose below those that remain undefeated. Villanova’s treatment by each system can be viewed as this season’s Exhibit A. Both systems were consistent in the preseason on where Jay Wright’s Wildcats belonged. KenPom (which ranked his team around #11) as well as the AP and the USA Today/Coaches polls (#11 and #9, respectively) agreed that Villanova was very good but not among the elite handful of teams that the Selection Committee rewarded with top-two seeds during the last two NCAA Tournaments. Through the first two weeks of the season, however, the two ratings systems have diverged greatly on this squad. As of today, the trio of KenPom (#2), Sagarin (#1) and Massey (#4) all agree that Villanova is the working equivalent of a #1 seed, but the humans voting in the polls largely remain skeptical. The AP has moved Villanova up only three spots from preseason #11 to #8, while the USA Today/Coaches have kept the Wildcats in limbo at #9. Only RTC, which moved Villanova up five spots to #5 in its latest poll, seems to feel a promotion has been earned. Read the rest of this entry »

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Great Alaska Shootout a Dying Breed of Holiday Tournaments

Posted by Kenny Ocker on November 27th, 2015

The school-managed exempt tournament is going extinct. The proliferation of corporate-owned events, including those put on by ESPN, have made sure of that. But out on the Last Frontier, the last holdout is conducting its last event on its own: The Great Alaska Shootout, organized and hosted by the University of Alaska-Anchorage, goes until Saturday, with its champion being the final team to win the tournament before Basketball Travelers takes over as managers next season.

The Great Alaska Shootout Produced One of the Best Moments for Bob Huggins at Cincinnati, in 1998. (AP)

The Great Alaska Shootout Produced One of the Best Moments for Bob Huggins at Cincinnati, in 1998. (AP)

The 50-plus-year-old tradition of exempt tournaments started when schools off the U.S. mainland needed to have an incentive before teams would schedule visits, and for a long time it stayed on an island floating off the coast of the NCAA landscape. But when eccentric Louisianan Bob Rachal took over the UAA men’s basketball program during its inaugural year in the NCAA’s Division II in 1977-78 – donning a tuxedo and top hat in his first game on the sidelines – he found that metaphorical island and used it to his advantage.

“He wanted something that could make a splash, something that could get the program on the map, so he dug around in the NCAA bylaws and he found out that you could host basically free games held under the exemption for any teams playing in Alaska or Hawaii at that point,” Seawolves sports information director Nate Sagan said. Well, not quite free, but close enough: A tournament of up to four games could count as one game against the NCAA’s limit of contests per season.

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Levy’s B1G Layup Line: Week Two

Posted by Adam Levy on November 27th, 2015

We’re back for Week 2 of Levy’s B1G Layup Line and boy, what a week it was. A lot of tournaments, a lot of turkey, too much family and somehow too little basketball. If you feel you were cheated by a new, terrible stuffing recipe like I was, cheer up. At least you have all of the Big Ten stuffing you need right in front of you. Let’s get right to it and carve up the week that was.


A: Purdue Boilermakers

Matt Painter's Team Hasn't Gotten a Lot of Attention Yet (USAT Images)

Matt Painter’s Team Hasn’t Gotten a Lot of Attention Yet (USAT Images)

Purdue is good. Like really, really good. Coming into the season, everyone knew about their scary frontcourt and, thus far, it has probably exceeded expectations. It’s the performance of the backcourt, however, that is taking the college landscape by storm and led to a beat down of Florida in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship. Sophomore point guard P.J. Thompson took home the fictional MVP award after his 15-5-4-2 line in that game, boosting his offensive rating to 155.5 – good for 17th best in the country. Thompson also has yet to turn the ball over in any game this season and owns a 12-to-0 assist to turnover ratio so far – a crazy feat in its own right. P.J. Thompson: #RememberTheName.

Outside of a rare bad game against Old Dominion, reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Raphael Davis has been his usual great self, leading the way with unfathomable shooting splits (53.8% FG, 46.2% 3PT, 90.9% FT). Those numbers are clearly unsustainable, but it’s obvious that the senior leader is on a mission to prove something in his final season in West Lafayette. That something sure as hell could be shocking the world by winning a Big Ten title and making serious moves in March. This team is as balanced as any in the country. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

B: Bryant McIntosh

In three games against Columbia, North Carolina and Missouri this past week, McIntosh averaged 35.7 minutes, 19.7 points, and 5.7 assists while shooting 8-for-14 from distance and 13-for-15 from the charity stripe. It’s no coincidence that the underrated ‘Cats went 2-1 in those games and hung with one of the nation’s best in the Tar Heels for all of the first half before their athleticism simply took over. It may be a small sample size, but the sophomore point guard is looking like a legitimate All-Big Ten player with an incredibly bright future in purple. This Northwestern team has been as competitive as can be in the early going, and they’ll go as McIntosh goes. If he can continue to lead the offense by setting up his teammates (38.3% assist rate – 44th nationally) and getting to the free throw line at a consistent rate (88.2% from the line thus far), Northwestern will surprise a lot of people.

C:  AP Voters

Things that really tick me off: losing a sock during every single laundry cycle, receiving a “Call me back” voicemail, people texting “K” in response to something I’ve said, and the AP Top 25. It truly is the dumbest ranking of all time. Maryland barely held off a struggling Georgetown team at home, then needed six free throws in the last minute to beat Rider three days later? What the hell, let’s move them up a couple spots to #2 in the polls just because some other, better teams (Duke, Kansas) lost to some other, better teams (Kentucky, Michigan State). The Terps then followed up that poop fest with a crappy showing against Illinois State in the first round of the Cancun Challenge that saw them down 5 at the seven minute mark before pulling away late. I don’t care how good people think this team could be. The polls should be about who the best basketball teams are right now and, right now, outside of Rhode Island (who already lost their best player for the season), Maryland is struggling to beat every decent team they play. Sorry voters, but as I sit here stuffing my face with turkey in November, I feel comfortable saying that this is just not a top two team.

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Despite Loss, Vanderbilt Can Learn From Maui Experience

Posted by David Changas on November 27th, 2015

After thrashing St. John’s and Wake Forest in its first two games at this week’s Maui Invitational, Vanderbilt was not able to finish the deal against #5 Kansas in the championship game, falling 70-63. The #19 Commodores, a team that generally has no problem scoring but is somewhat prone to struggling on the defensive end, held the Jayhawks in check for the first half, leading 30-26 at the break. However, defensive shortcomings allowed Kansas to ride a 62.5 percent shooting second half en route to the school’s second championship in Maui. The Commodores helped things along with a woeful 6-of-27 (22.2%) performance from three-point range, and there was no way Kevin Stallings’ team was going to leave the islands with a trophy without a better offensive performance.

Damian Jones and Vanderbilt can take a lot of good from Maui (Bosley Jarrett/Vanderbilt Hustler).

Damian Jones and Vanderbilt can take a lot of good from Maui. (Bosley Jarrett/Vanderbilt Hustler)

Despite the disappointment of not becoming the first SEC team to win the Maui Invitational since 1993 (Kentucky), Vanderbilt’s loss to Kansas should provide Stallings some valuable lessons as the season progresses. First of all, it is highly unlikely that the Commodores will again be so futile on the offensive end. The Commodores came into the game shooting over 42 percent from beyond the arc, so it’s doubtful that one cold shooting performance signals a long-term problem. Where the Vanderbilt coach should be concerned, however, is on the defensive end. The Commodores allowed Kansas guard Wayne Selden, Jr., to completely go off on them, as the junior guard matched his career high with 25 points and almost single-handedly kept the Jayhawks in the game in the first half. Fellow guard Devonte’ Graham scored 12 points of his own as the two Jayhawks’ guards combined to go 7-of-11 from deep. Read the rest of this entry »

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Three Takeaways From Indiana’s 1-2 Finish in Maui

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 26th, 2015

Indiana headed to Maui with a 3-0 record and an offense averaging 92.0 PPG. The Hoosiers left with a 4-2 record that included a pair of losses to middling teams, and now have more questions to answer than they came to the islands with. Here are three issues that stood out the most from watching the Hoosiers play over the last three days.

Coach Tom Crean gave his critics some ammunition after the Hoosiers lost two in Maui. (Getty)

Coach Tom Crean gave his critics some ammunition after the Hoosiers lost two games in Maui. (Getty)

  1. Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers: This one goes beyond just the pure numbers. Granted, Indiana did average 17 miscues in their three games on the islands, but it seemed as though the majority of the mistakes were of the junior high variety. The Hoosiers couldn’t catch the ball, threw errant passes after leaving their feet, and generally produced unforced error after unforced error all week. Crean’s system enables Indiana to play with pace, but the Hoosiers were simply out-of-control and reckless with the ball on far too many possessions. They will need to find the happy medium of playing uptempo, yet staying under control to take better care of the ball. This is too gifted of an offensive team to waste scoring opportunities by giving the ball up so often. Read the rest of this entry »
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Clearance of Cheick Diallo Bolsters Kansas’ Title Hopes

Posted by Chris Stone on November 26th, 2015

Kansas received word yesterday that five-star prospect Cheick Diallo will be eligible to play college basketball beginning December 1. Diallo, the nation’s fifth-ranked prospect, according to Rivals, had been under investigation for his time at Our Savior New American High School as well as possible benefits violations. His high school’s academic credentials have been questioned by the NCAA’s Eligibility Center on more than one occasion — Alabama lost 2015 recruit and Our Savior New American graduate, Kobie Eubanks, because he failed to academically qualify. Eubanks, however, appears to have had additional academic issues that prevented him from playing. Diallo’s case was bolstered by an independent investigation into his course history and nearly six figures of funding from Kansas.

Cheick Diallo's NCAA clearance is big news for Kansas. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Cheick Diallo’s NCAA clearance is big news for Kansas. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

The Kansas compliance department was deliberate in its approach to Diallo’s eligibility and the recently-crowned Maui Invitational champions should now be able to reap the rewards of that patience. The freshman really impressed his head coach during summer workouts, and is likely to force his way into the starting lineup at some point. “We’ve never had a big guy that could run like this,” Self told reporters. “It’d be nice to have a mindset to play at a much faster tempo than we have in the past. […] Cheick forces a pace that nobody has ever forced here. He can create pace better than any point guard we’ve ever had here. Just because the dude from rim to rim is as good as I’ve seen. I didn’t say the best offensive player, but running rim to rim I think he’ll drag everybody along with him.” Given that sort of evaluation, it appears that Diallo’s presence on the floor is likely to push Kansas to play at one of the fastest paces a Self team has ever maintained (Kansas is already playing the 37th-fastest tempo nationally). Read the rest of this entry »

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Giving Thanks: Setting the Table for the Rest of the Season

Posted by Shane McNichol on November 26th, 2015

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday by a significant margin. From the moment I wake up to the moment I slide into a food-induced coma at the end of the night, I have a wide smile on my face. My relationship with college basketball is much the same. It’s my favorite sport by a comparable margin and I certainly find my share of smiles throughout the season. The two are unquestionably intertwined, with Turkey Day acting as an unofficial turning point of the season. Everything prior feels like two boxers dancing and feeling each other out, but once Thanksgiving comes and goes, the real haymakers start to be thrown.


And a Happy Thanksgiving to All…

Even if that may be well and good, I want to mash them together even further. If notable college basketball teams were the dishes on your Thanksgiving table, what would you eat? What would you pass along? What would you hoard all for yourself?

Turkey – Wisconsin

The bird may be the centerpiece of Thanksgiving dinner, but even that status can’t outweigh the connotation of its name. If we’re calling someone the “turkey” of the young season, it’s not a compliment. And that distinction goes to the Badgers. Losing the likes of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker wasn’t supposed to be easy, but count me among the masses who though Bo Ryan, Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes would be able to steady the ship in the wake of their run to the National Championship game last season.

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UConn Seeks Signature Wins in Atlantis

Posted by Jared Kotler on November 25th, 2015

Coming off last year’s disappointing season that resulted in a trip to the NIT, Kevin Ollie‘s UConn Huskies have retooled and should be looking to make a statement in this week’s Battle 4 Atlantis. To accomplish that mission, here are three things UConn will be looking to do — besides eat a little Thanksgiving turkey — this Feast Week.

If UConn Meets Syracuse On Thursday, Daniel Hamilton Will Be Key In Picking Apart The Vaunted ‘Cuse Zone. (NBC Connecticut)

Win the opening game: This may seem obvious, but UConn’s Battle 4 Atlantis opener is crucial. Given the way the bracket sets up, beating Michigan must happen for the Huskies to have real chances at resume-building wins. It’s not that dissimilar a situation to the 2010 Maui Invitational that UConn won. Those Kemba Walker-led Huskies opened with a victory over Wichita State, a win that enabled them to post marquee wins over Michigan State and Kentucky. A UConn loss to Michigan would most likely result in a matchup with a Charlotte (KenPom #275). Win, and a matchup with old Big East foe Syracuse is a good bet to happen. Out of conference scheduling has been a focus of UConn since conference realignment left them with fewer in-conference opportunities for big victories, and needless to say, the Huskies didn’t travel to Atlantis to take on Charlotte. Michigan comes into this game after a home loss to Xavier in the Gavitt Games, so they will also arrive in Nassau desperate for a solid early win. Read the rest of this entry »

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The RTC Podcast: Feast Week Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 25th, 2015

As we head into what is certain to be a very happy holiday weekend, the guys wanted to get a Feast Week podcast in the books before things got too crazy. Little did they know that the great state of Nebraska would leave its indelible footprint on this week’s RTC Podcast. Spreading holiday cheer from Lincoln to North Platte! Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts and Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) once again joins, as the group goes through some of their early season tournament takes and looks ahead to the rest of the week. Oh, and this.

Five-oh Makes an Appearance on This Week's RTC Podcast!

Five-oh Makes an Appearance on This Week’s RTC Podcast!

Make sure to add us to your iTunes subscription list so it will automatically download to your listening device each week. The full rundown is below!

  • 0:00-8:27 – Champions Classic Review
  • 8:27-15:17 – True Home Games vs. Neutral Sites
  • 15:07-21:14 – Early Season Takeaways
  • 21:14-25:51 – Battle 4 Atlantis
  • 25:51-30:21 – Other Early Tournaments/Randy Gets Arrested
  • 30:21-35:57 – Player of the Year Discussion
  • 35:57-39:17 What We Are Thankful For/Wrap
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CBE Hall Of Fame Classic: Reactions From Night Two

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 25th, 2015

Brian Goodman is the lead Big 12 correspondent for Rush The Court. He’s in Kansas City this week for the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. You can follow Brian on Twitter @BSGoodman or the RTC Big 12 Twitter account @b12hoops.

The CBE Hall Of Fame Classic wrapped in Kansas City on Tuesday night, with North Carolina overcoming a hot night from Kansas State to take the title by a score of 80-70. In the consolation round, Northwestern withstood a second half Missouri run to topple the Tigers 67-62.

  • North Carolina’s late run deflates Kansas State. The Tar Heels and Wildcats traded jabs for most of the night, with Kansas State pulling ahead for a prolonged stretch in the second half. In the closing minutes, however, North Carolina reeled off a 21-3 run to put Bruce Weber’s team away. It was a collective effort down the stretch for North Carolina, but one specific play turned the tide in the Tar Heels’ favor. Coming out of a media timeout with a touch under four minutes left, Roy Williams drew up a baseline out-of-bounds designed play for Joel Berry, who found himself open thanks to a pair of screens to bury a three-pointer off a pass from Brice Johnson. The Tar Heels were soft on offense for the better part of 35 minutes, allowing Kansas State to keep up on the glass and get some steals, but they tightened their game up when it mattered most and showed some toughness to close things out.
Down the stretch, Kennedy Meeks and UNC had just enough to hold off hometown Kansas State. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Down the stretch, Kennedy Meeks and UNC had just enough to hold off hometown Kansas State. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Kamau Stokes puts on a show as the young Wildcats put a scare into UNC. We talked yesterday about Dean Wade‘s great effort on the blocks on Monday, but it was a different Kansas State newcomer who grabbed the attention of everyone in the Sprint Center last night. Stokes came into Tuesday’s final shooting a paltry 3-of-14 from distance on the season, but caught fire against North Carolina with a 6-of-8 effort from distance. With each passing bucket, Stokes grew more confident, firing up the crowd and his teammates. Stokes’ hot stretch even drew a double-team from the Tar Heels at one point. His night was made even more unexpected by the fact that he required an extra year at prep school just to get a Division-I scholarship offer. It’s just unfortunate that the rest of the Wildcats shot just 36 percent from the floor and couldn’t buy a stop late in the game. Tonight served as a reminder that even though Bruce Weber has a young team full of guys that want to play for him, it’s still going to be a process. Stokes will continue to get opportunities as Weber figures out his rotation, but while we wouldn’t expect him to be this hot regularly, even decent three-point shooting would be a big lift to Kansas State as it retools.

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