Thoughts on the First Session of the Mountain West Quarterfinals

Posted by AMurawa on March 13th, 2013

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report from The MW Tournament in Las Vegas Wednesday afternoon.

Despite a Thomas & Mack Arena that would have been optimistically called half-full at the opening tip, there was plenty of buzz in the arena for a much-anticipated event. However, just two minutes into the first game between UNLV and Air Force, we were hit smack in the face with a low to match the high of tip-off. After grabbing a defensive rebound, Michael Lyons turned to head up court, had his pocket picked from behind by Bryce Dejean-Jones, and then collided with Katin Reinhardt at midcourt. He crumpled to the floor, immediately grabbed for his knee and did not get up. Several minutes later he was helped off the court by the trainers and was unable to put any weight on his leg, leaving little doubt that the Falcons would have to fight an uphill battle without their best player. The unfortunate injury to a team’s senior leader called immediately to mind the 2011 semifinals where, in the same game that Jimmer Fredette went off for 52, New Mexico’s senior point guard Dairese Gary tore his ACL early in the second half with his team having played BYU to a draw to that point. While Dave Pilipovich tried many different combinations of players from the Lyons injury forward (he played 12 different players in the first half), there was little doubt about the outcome.

Michael Lyons, Air Force

Michael Lyons’ Excellent Collegiate Career Ended Too Early On Wednesday Afternoon (David Zalubowski/AP)

However, as UNLV continues to try to figure out their roles in anticipation of the NCAA Tournament, the Rebels got to spend the rest of the game in a glorified scrimmage working on stuff. One of the biggest changes was a new starting lineup featuring both Mike Moser (at the four) and Anthony Bennett (at the five). For the Rebels to live up to their vast potential, Dave Rice has to find a way to get production out of both of these guys – and preferably at the same time. Bennett’s first half minutes were limited by foul trouble (and stupid fouls, at that), but if UNLV is going to come up with a last-minute solution for these two, it probably involves that combination. They’ve tried Moser at the three plenty of times and his inability to consistently knock down the long jumper, take anyone off the dribble or rebound effectively out there has basically put an end to that experiment. But today there were promising signs, albeit against a seriously outmanned opponent. Against an Air Force team that only played one guy taller than 6’6″ in the second half, Bennett scored 19 points after the break and was spectacular at times, while Moser grabbed 10 defensive boards and looked as comfortable as he has all season with Bennett. The primary strategy in the half-court seemed to be starting with Moser and Bennett on opposite blocks, allowing them to set screens for each other and both be in position to crash the glass. Occasionally, one would float out to the three-point line – Bennett up top, where he hit a couple, and Moser to the corner, where he hit one – but against a smaller team, each was able to work effectively inside. Bigger tests await, but the Rebels continue to work on ironing out their offense. Also credit sophomore center Khem Birch for taking to his new role – coming off the bench – without missing a beat. In 19 minutes, Birch made all four of his field goal attempts, grabbed eight boards and blocked three shots.

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ATB: Murphy Lifts Florida, Creighton Survives Scare, and a 39-30 “Thriller”…

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 15th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Styles Clashed, Tempo Prevails. The realization that Kentucky has not yet blossomed into the transcendent juggernaut it was last season creates an interesting situation atop the SEC title race, where the likes of Florida and Missouri are very well in line to seize the opportunity should the Wildcats falter in any significant way. Of the three likely contenders, the Gators can now lay claim to the most impressive non-conference win – which, if you throw in the forever expunged naval ship game with Georgetown, should be Florida’s potential second impressive non-conference win. In any case, this Wednesday night headliner gave us a nice glimpse of Billy Donovan’s charges against a Tournament-caliber foe, and a decent jumping off point from the blue-blood bonanza that took place last night in Atlanta. Plus, for you x’s and o’s savants, whenever a giddy-up offensive thoroughbred like Florida tangles with the ploddiest of plodders, Wisconsin, the clash of styles is awfully fun to observe. This game didn’t disappoint. Let’s dive into the Gators’ triumph, plus some of the other action on a rather blasé night of college hoops…

Your Watercooler Moment. Erik Murphy Eases Florida’s Frontcourt Concerns.

As frontcourt scoring options go, Murphy gives Florida an excellent complement to Young (Photo credit: AP Photo).

The logical stopping point on any even-keeled analysis of Florida’s offensive potential this season rests on two key developments: Kenny Boynton’s unrestrained three-point trigger and Patric Young’s development slowly, surely, eventually, into a viable scorer and rebounder on the low block. With nine three-point attempts through two games, Boynton’s already off to the running. Young has been efficient – 8-for-14 shooting and a combined 20 rebounds so far – but his progress feels like a backstory in light of senior forward Erik Murphy’s spotlight 10-for-10, 24-point, eight-rebound night against the Badgers. The star turn of one-and-done guard Bradley Beal during last season’s Elite Eight run, not to mention the Billy Donovan/Rick Pitino interplay, among other nuggets, conspired to de-emphasize Murphy’s importance to Florida’s offensive chemistry. Did you know the 6’8’’ senior forward hit double figures 19 times last season? You’ll certainty take notice after the hyper-efficient shooting display he threw down tonight. If Young can’t make the improvements everyone’s been expecting since he arrived on campus, if he can’t elevate his footwork, post awareness and interior scoring touch to match the physical tools befitting a lottery pick, Murphy’s interior scoring responsibilities could skyrocket. The question going forward is whether last night’s sterling effort was a blip or a sign of things to come. His teammates sure appreciated it (see video below)…

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • When McDermott Doesn’t Score… Any early-season national player of the year projections invariably include one name: Doug McDermott. For all his success last season, and Creighton’s likely Top 25 status this season, McDermott may never be recognized as the nation’s best player. What we do know is that McDermott is crucial to the Bluejays’ chances of reigning over the mid-major landscape, and last night’s home win over UAB offered a perfect example of his outsized role. Foul trouble kept McDermott on the bench for much of the first half, and he ultimately finished with just five points, the first time he’s failed to record double figures in his last 37 games. In case anyone was interested in a defensive antidote for Creighton’s high-powered offense, the Blazers found your solution: keep McDermott off the court. Simple enough. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 08.31.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 31st, 2012

  1. We know that all of you like us have spent the last couple of weeks waiting with bated breath to hear the official explanation as to how Julius Peppers‘ depressing UNC transcript ended up on an NC State message board. We now have our answer. According to North Carolina administrators, the saga began 11 years ago when a staffer made a test record of a de-identified copy of Peppers’ transcript and placed the original file on a secure server. Subsequently, during a 2007 technology migration to a new system, Peppers’ original transcript file came over with it and ended up on an unsecured server. It sat there for five years until some enterprising Wolfpack fan exhumed it a few weeks ago. UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said on Thursday that he personally apologized to Peppers for the privacy transgression, but it wasn’t clear from his statement whether that phone call came before or after Peppers made a massive scholarship donation of $250,000 to the school.
  2. There was some big player movement news on Thursday as Memphis announced that junior college superstar Geron Johnson has matriculated at the school and is eligible to play immediately. Johnson has spent a career moving around and getting arrested rather than playing basketball — he was dismissed from both of his junior college teams, as an example — so this should make for an interesting situation under Josh Pastner next season. With a strong group of Tigers returning, the addition of a player the caliber of Johnson on the perimeter could potentially convert Memphis from a Sweet Sixteen team into a Final Four team. On the other hand, history has quite clearly shown that Johnson does not know how to avoid becoming a distraction. As a parallel, former Tiger Jelan Kendrick caused all sorts of headaches for Pastner before he was finally dismissed from the team on the eve of the 2010 opener, so the head coach clearly isn’t afraid to cut a trouble-maker loose. All in all, it’s probably worth the risk to Pastner to see how Johnson handles the first half of the fall semester and first few weeks of practice before making a final decision on whether he’ll wear the uniform next season.
  3. While on the transfer tip, Fresno State announced on Thursday that former Oklahoma State guard Cezar Guerrero has enrolled at the school and will pursue a waiver request with the NCAA to play next season. The rising sophomore spent a successful first season at OSU, averaging six points and a couple dimes per game in just about 19 minutes per contest, but he wanted to move closer to his hometown of Los Angeles to be nearer to his ailing mother. The Bulldogs were not very good last season, but with Guerrero possibly in the fold and a couple more nice transfers coming in (Kansas’ Braeden Anderson and Pacific’s Allen Huddleston), Fresno could be poised to make a leap in the rugged Mountain West. One other transfer note: former Xavier player Dez Wells is apparently looking hard at none other than John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats.
  4. We can’t say that we’ve every actually made it over to Terre Haute, Indiana, but if we ever had, you can rest assured that the very first thing we would have done was to make a beeline to the Indiana State campus and ask directions for the statue of Larry Bird. Imagine our surprise when our fake-traveler self would have learned that, alas, there is no such thing. At least not at ISU. Our next question,”how is this possible,” probably would have been met with a shrug and a “good luck,” but when we learned Thursday that Bird’s alma mater was finally making plans to build a 15-foot bronze statue of the Legend, we made a mental note to do a visit there eventually. Here is a short list of big-time basketball schools who cannot claim one of the top 10 basketball players to ever walk the earth: Duke, Kentucky, Syracuse, Georgetown, Indiana, Connecticut. But you know who can? Indiana Freakin’ State. How can it take 34 years to get this done — astonishing.
  5. What might be even more astonishing is when schools claim national titles that the simply do not have. Our disgust over treating Helms Titles in the same way as national championships won on the court is well-documented, but how should we feel if a school begins claiming that other (non-NCAA) tournament titles are also “national championships?” Can Pitt claim a national title for winning last year’s CBI? Does Mercer have one for winning the CIT? Well, Louisville has pushed forward with a new adidas t-shirt suggesting that the school (who, incidentally, has won NCAA championships in 1980 and 1986) has won four national titles. A little deeper research performed by Kentucky Sports Radio (who else?) shows that the Cards won a tournament called the NAIB in 1948 and the NIT in 1956. Is this trend of claiming national championships from whole cloth marketing genius or shameless deception disguised as celebration? We’re tending toward the latter. Don’t do this, Louisville.
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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2010

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

[ed note: this WAC Check-In does not include Wednesday’s games]

A Look Back

The WAC went 12-5 against their schedule over the past week picking up wins over Pacific and Oregon along the way.  New Mexico State‘s win over Pacific and Idaho‘s win over Oregon represent two of the better RPI-based wins this season by the WAC and the league moved up one spot in the RPI rankings from 19th to 18th.

Player of the Week.  Louisiana Tech’s Olu Ashaolu was named the Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 13-19.  Ashaolu, a junior forward, recorded back-to-back double-doubles for the third time this season in a pair of Bulldog wins. He scored 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds in an 80-57 win at Houston Baptist. He then recorded 12 points and 10 rebounds in a 62-61 win at UT-Arlington.  Ashaolu averaged 16.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.5 assists per game for the two-game stretch and shot 68.4 percent (13-of-19) from the field and 75.0 percent (6-of-8) from the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (9-2)

Up Next: 12/22 vs. Western Michigan, 12/23 vs. Troy

Utah State had no trouble with Utah Valley or Idaho State and improved to 9-2 on the season.  The UtAgs got 19 points from Brockeith Pane in the victory over Utah Valley and 17 points from Brian Green in the victory over Idaho State in the opener of the World Vision Invitational in Logan, UT.  Head coach Stew Morrill cannot be pleased that his Aggies allowed the Bengals to shoot 58.8 percent in the second half, however, shooting 61.1 percent yourselves eases the pain a little.  USU will face Western Michigan and Troy to wrap up the Invitational.  The Broncos from WMU and the Trojans from Troy did battle in a 102-99 overtime shootout.  With Utah State’s defensive struggles against Idaho State in the second half, one has to wonder if either WMU or Troy can do the unthinkable and knock off USU in their own building.

2. Hawai’i (7-2)

Up Next: 12/22 vs. Florida State, 12/23-12/24 vs. TB

Victories versus Hawaii Pacific and Chicago State (on Maui) have righted the team after consecutive losses to Cal Poly and then BYU. Now it’s the Diamond Head Classic, starting out with Florida State and Baylor, Butler, Utah and San Diego rounding out the field. Hawaii is undefeated at home so far this season.  Four Warriors are scoring in double figures: Zane Johnson at 12.6 PPG, Joston Thomas at 12.1 PPG, Hiram Thompson at 12.0 PPG and Bo Barnes at 10.1 PPG.  Thompson was injured last game — his status is unknown — further depleting the depth at guard after the departures of Anthony Salter and Jordan Coleman.  Forward Bill Amis (15.8 PPG) remains on the sidelines but various reports indicate he will see some action very soon.

3. Louisiana Tech (8-4)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. Boise State

The Bulldogs split a pair last week notching a one-point victory over UT-Arlington before losing to Iowa in Iowa City 77-58.  The Bulldogs were within one at halftime against the Hawkeyes but a late second half surge by the home team made the final margin a little wider than the contest had actually been.  After shooting a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line in the first half, La Tech was awarded just four foul shots in the second half and hit just one.  Olu Ashaolu continued his strong play with 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.  The Bulldogs’ next game will be their home conference opener against Boise State.

4. San Jose State (7-3)

Up Next: 12/22 vs. University of Puget Sound, 12/29 at Fresno State

After falling at the end to crosstown rival Santa Clara, SJSU hosted and beat Eastern Washington (for the second time this season) and then put a pasting on Seattle up in the Emerald City. Puget Sounds comes to town Wednesday for what should be an easy one for the Spartans. One interesting factoid: the Spartans are 4-2 on the road in 2010.  San Jose State is still surprisingly still below 40% in team shooting (.394). Senior Justin Graham is all the way back physically, shooting 49% overall and 57% on threes while also topping the team in assists.

5. Boise State (7-4)

Up Next: 23/33 at Portland, 12/29 vs. Louisiana Tech

The Broncos put up a fight at Utah but came up disappointingly short, a two point loss at the Huntsman Center.  The disappointing part for the Broncos is that not only was it their fourth consecutive loss but they held an eight point lead at the break despite 51.7 percent shooting by the Utes in the first 20 minutes (the Broncos countered with 51.3 percent shooting in the half) and and nine point lead with just under five minutes left to play.  Utah still wielded a hot hand in the second half shooting 53.6 percent while making 6-of-11 threes and 10-of-12 free throws.  The Broncos led by one with 22 seconds left after a layup by La’Shard Anderson but a three from Utah’s Will Clyburn with 11 seconds left was followed by a three point miss by the Broncos’ Westly Perryman sealing the loss.  The Broncos took out their frustration on UT-Pan American winning 91-62 but the second half defensive struggles for the Broncos continued as UTPA shot 63.6 percent in the second stanza.  The Broncos travel to Portland and then open up conference play versus Louisiana Tech.

6. Idaho (6-5)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. New Mexico State

The Vandals nearly extracted revenge against Montana for an early season embarrassment but came up just short falling 64-63.  The teams were tied at halftime but the lead went back and forth in the second half with Idaho holding a pair of four and five point leads while Montana tried to pull away late going up by five with 1:14 left to play.  Idaho would put on a furious rally and took the lead 63-62 on a jumper from Shawn Henderson but Montana’s Derek Slevig would break the Vandals’ hearts with a jumper with six seconds left to send Idaho to a 64-63 loss.  Idaho bounced back by notching the second WAC victory over Oregon this season winning 69-65 (SJSU authored the other Duck killing).  The Vandals led by five at the break and trailed just once in the second half, by one point.  Idaho got the ultimate in balanced scoring as seven players finished with at least eight points.  The Vandals are off until next week when they host NM State in the conference opener.

7. New Mexico State (6-7)

Up Next: 12/23 vs. St. Mary’s, 12/29 at Idaho

The Aggies currently own the league’s longest winning streak (four) which comes immediately after owning the league’s longest losing streak (seven).  The Aggies easily handled a couple of lower level schools (Oklahoma Panhandle State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff) but got their best win of the season to-date with a 69-64 victory over Pacific.  The Aggies trailed by five at the break but rallied to take the lead with 15:17 remaining and did not trail the rest of the way.  Senior guard Gordo Castillo finished with 17 points to lead all scorers.  The Aggies added to the win streak by holding off a pesky Louisiana squad 82-76.  NM State led by as many as 10 in the first half but went into the break with just a one-point lead.  They led by as many as 11 in the second half but needed a late bucket and defensive stop to seal the win.  Up next the Aggies host St. Mary’s on Thursday.  The Aggies will need their most complete effort of the season if they are to come away with the win over the Gaels.  The Aggies lost 100-68 in the season opener last year while playing without Wendell McKines and Troy Gillenwater which they will be doing again this time around.  Hamidu Rahman will also miss the game but the Aggies did receive a bit of good news as McKines is said to be participating in his first walkthrough practice since breaking his foot.

7. Fresno State (4-6)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. San Jose State

“Home Sweet Home” is the Bulldog mantra of late what with three consecutive Save Mart Center wins over San Diego, Pepperdine and North Dakota State respectively prior to a 65-55 home loss to Pacific.  The Bulldogs are off until they start WAC play at home next week: San Jose State then a trip to Nevada. Greg Smith‘s 20 points led to the victory over USD, 15 steals paced Fresno State to the victory over the Waves and a pair of unexpected double-doubles supplied by Nedeljko Golubovic and Bracken Funk sent the Bison (shouldn’t it be the Woodchippers?) back to Fargo. Fresno State is 3-2 at home but just 1-4 away. Smith still leads the Bulldogs in scoring (10.5 PPG) and rebounding (6.8 RPG) but a double-double average is the expectation of him this season. Better outside-shooting from his teammates (currently a collective 25% three-point percentage) will provide more room for Smith to operate but stronger internal motivation is needed from the sophomore.

9. Nevada (3-8)

Up Next: 12/22 at Washington, 12/27 at Portland

The Wolf Pack head to the road to complete non-conference play as they’ll face Washington and Portland.  The Pack narrowly lost to Arizona State (78-75) as Olek Czyz made his Wolf Pack debut with 10 points and seven boards and a monster putback dunk in the second half.  Nevada followed the loss with a 79-73 victory over Portland State.  Malik Story finished with 20 points and six boards as the Pack fought back from a three point deficit late in the second half to pull away with the win.

A Look Ahead

Conference play begins next week but a few teams still have non-conference games to finish up.  The sternest test will come on the island of O’ahu as Hawai’i hosts the Diamond Head Classic with Butler, Baylor and Florida State among the participants.  New Mexico State hosts St. Mary’s, Nevada travels to Washington and Portland while Boise State also makes the journey to Portland.

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Behind the Numbers: Who Needs to Shoot More Threes?

Posted by KCarpenter on December 22nd, 2010

Kellen Carpenter is an RTC contributor.

A wise man was once asked why he shot so many threes. The sage stroked his chin and replied simply, “Because there are no fours.” Truly this is the wisdom of the ages. While there are some amongst us who dispute the wisdom-dispensing qualifications of former Kentucky Wildcat/Boston Celtic/Miami Heat Antoine Walker, there is at least a hint of a whiff of a smidgen of truth to his sentiment. The three is a powerful and deadly offensive weapon and the proper deployment of judicious three-point shooting can transform a tough team into a deadly team.  This isn’t a secret. Lots of teams know this. How many March upsets follow the familiar script of an overmatched, smaller team launching a barrage of threes in a bid to upset its major-conference opponent? Most of them. But it’s not just underdogs that utilize the three, it’s the top dogs too: Duke’s tremendous early season success is due in no small part to shooting a blistering 43.6% from beyond the arc so far this season. The three is potent, indeed.

Employee #8 Never Hesitated on a Trey Attempt

Yet, for some reason, many teams shy away from the three. Why? The three is mighty, and sometimes a player or a whole team can become drunk on its power, letting loose a barrage of deep shots only to have the shots not fall. The barrage of bricks, airballs, and just plain ugly shots can grind an offense to a halt. Fairly or not, some coaches disparage the three and discourage their players from taking what they see as a relatively low-percentage shot. In their eyes, the three is imprudent and hasty, the product of players not having the discipline to work the ball around the defense, to set up a shot closer to the rim for a “high-percentage shot.” It’s hard to fault coaches for wanting their teams to take the best shots they can get, but sometimes, in trying to avoid the risk of the three-point shot, coaches are actually turning down the real “high-percentage shot.”

Three-point shots, as you may have noticed, are worth one point more than a regular field goal, and because of this mathematical fact, hitting two out of five three-pointers or hitting three out of five standard field goals nets you the same result: six points on five shots taken. Dazzling arithmetic, I know, but I just want to be crystal clear on this so I can make the point that it’s easy to compare the relative efficacy of shooting twos versus shooting threes by simply taking the three-point shooting percentage of a given player or team and multiplying it by 1.5. This is the essential wizardry behind the concept of effective field goal percentage (eFG%) and the trick we are going to use to figure out which teams would be better off shooting more often from behind the arc.

If a team’s actual two-point field goal percentage is lower than the three-point field goal percentage multiplied by 1.5, it suggests that the team’s better offensive option is shooting the three. If you were to run this basic check on all 345 teams that Mr. Ken Pomeroy quantifies, you’d see that a whopping 246 teams get more offensive bang for their buck from shooting threes. Now, this is a really crude calculation with an even cruder suggestion: if you are effectively better at shooting threes than shooting twos (which most of you are) you should take more threes. This advice ignores a lot of variables like which shots are open, who is open to take those shots, and the difficult-to-measure value of a balanced offense. In many cases, coaches realize how valuable the three-point shot is and are taking those shots at a rate that they feel is most effective for their offense. In these cases, it’s not inherently interesting that the effective three-point percentage happens to be a little higher than two-point percentage; it’s simply a matter of chance with a fairly ambiguous interpretation. What’s much more interesting is to take a look at teams where the numbers are less ambiguous: teams that are much better, relatively speaking, at taking threes than twos, yet insist on ignoring that evidence anyway.  (see table below)

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Southwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 1st, 2010

Welcome to our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Southwest Region (NM, AZ, NV, HI, SoCal)

  • Jio Fontan – Soph, G – USC. Last year, USC was the talk of the college basketball world for a stretch, when senior point guard Mike Gerrity, a transfer from Charlotte, took over the team in December and promptly led the Trojans to an upset blowout victory over then #8 Tennessee in his first game of the season. The Trojans went on to win their next five games, including the inaugural Diamond Head Classic, with Gerrity serving as a big spark. In 2010-11, head coach Kevin O’Neill and his team will welcome another Division I transfer to the active roster over the winter break, and they hope to sustain the bump in talent they’ll get when Fontan joins the team as a midseason transfer from Fordham. In fact, Fontan was in the midst of an on-campus visit last December 19 when Gerrity was leading the Trojans to their win over the Volunteers and he committed to the school just days later, perhaps seeing the blueprint for his own success in Gerrity’s. Luckily enough for O’Neill and the Trojans, Fontan will have more than just the one semester of eligibility that Gerrity had.  But while their paths to the USC roster may seem similar, their games are different. Fontan is more of a combo-guard, capable of running an offense, but more adept at creating for himself than being a pure distributor. Not that he isn’t capable of handing out assists – he averaged more than four assists per night during his one season plus five games at Fordham – but Fontan is at his best with the ball in his hands, able to both blow by defenders and hit from long range, scoring the ball to the tune of 15.3 points per game in his freshman season on his way to Atlantic 10 rookie of the year honors. Paired with established frontcourt returners Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson and a talented group of newcomers, including 5’7 point guard Maurice Jones who will handle the lead guard duties until Fontan is eligible, Fontan will be surrounded by far more talent than he ever was in his time at Fordham. And if things go as well as could be hoped for, Fontan will have a chance to reprise Gerrity’s Trojan debut, as Southern Cal will travel to Kansas (and then, three days later, they’ll play the return game in the Tennessee series) for Fontan’s first game, giving USC a chance to make another big mid-season splash on the national stage.
  • Tre’Von Willis* – Sr, G – UNLV. For a good part of last summer, Tre’Von Willis, the star shooting guard for the Runnin’ Rebels, may have thought that his collegiate career was over thanks to his June 29 arrest for felony battery involving an ugly incident with a woman in nearby Henderson, Nevada.  Willis ultimately copped to a plea agreement of a lesser charge of misdemeanor domestic battery, and in interviews since the incident he has shown considerable sincerity and self-awareness in suggesting that he placed himself in a bad situation.  After he serves a mandated three-game suspension meted by coach Lon Kruger, Willis will likely be back in action for UNLV’s second regular season game against Southeastern Louisiana.  And it’s a good thing that he will be, as the Rebel program has eyes on putting together its best season since the understated head coach rolled into town several years ago.  Considering that the Rebs have been to a Sweet Sixteen and won 30 games in a season under his tutelage (both in 2006-07), those are lofty goals.  But they are also realistic ones so long as some of the injury problems that Willis and several others have recently endured are controlled.  Willis in particular continues to experience knee pain as a result of arthroscopic surgery in August to repair cartilage, a recurring problem which caused the capable scorer to lose some of his lift at the end of last season and definitely impacted his effectiveness.  As an example, after scoring twenty or more points ten times through mid-February, Willis only hit the figure one more time during the last eight games of the year, a sure indication that he was not at 100%.  The hope is that his summer surgery,  a new outlook on opportunity as a result of his legal troubles, a sprinkling of maturity (he also had a daughter) and much-needed rest will encourage Willis to come back with an all-America caliber season.  He was chosen as a first-team all-MWC guard in 2009-10 when he contributed an all-around game of 17.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 3.5 APG while increasing his previously-sketchy shot selection to the point where he added nearly 10% (from 38% to 48%) on his field goal percentage.  If he can truly put everything from last summer behind him and remain healthy for an entire season, the new Aria Hotel may not be the only must-see on The Strip this winter.

Tre'Von Willis Has to Sit Three Games (LV Sun/S. Morris)

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Morning Five: 10.28.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 28th, 2010

  1. For some strange reason, the preseason all-SEC first team has nine players on it and Kentucky’s Brandon Knight is not a member.  Here’s your list, as voted on by the coaches: Dee Bost (Mississippi State); JaMychal Green (Alabama); Scotty Hopson (Tennessee); Travis Leslie (Georgia); Chandler Parsons (Florida); Marshawn Powell (Arkansas); Jeffery Taylor (Vanderbilt); Trey Thompkins (Georgia); Chris Warren (Ole Miss).  We won’t list the second team, but it had another eight players on it, amounting to a total of seventeen all-SEC preseason players.  Is it really so hard, SEC brass, to do three five-person teams?  Who is the genius who thought of this and why does it continue to happen?
  2. Pitt junior forward Nasir Robinson had surgery on Wednesday for a torn meniscus in his right knee after injuring it in practice on Monday of this week.  There was no long-term damage and the prognosis is that Robinson will be back in action in the next three to six weeks.  He was a full-time starter last season in his role as a mop-up man to the tune of 7/6 per game.  The best case scenario is that he would be back in the Panther lineup against Maryland at MSG in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on November 18.  Luckily for Jamie Dixon, he has plenty of frontcourt depth (Gary McGhee, Dante Taylor) to lean on in the interim.
  3. Things just got a lot tougher for new Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery, as his star player Matt Gatens injured his left hand and had surgery on Wednesday to repair a torn tendon.  His layoff is currently indeterminate in length, but goodness, the Hawkeyes, coming off a 10-22 (4-14 B10) disaster last season, surely could have used some better news going into the start of the year.
  4. It appears that current WAC members Nevada and Fresno State will not bail from the conference in 2011 to go to the Mountain West as they’ve repeatedly threatened to do — it will instead happen in 2012.  A teleconference has been announced for today and the WAC is expected to declare that the feuding parties have come to an agreement where they will pay reduced walkaway fees in exchange for sticking around an additional year.  We’re actually kind of excited to see some of the clever signage that students at some of the remaining WAC schools might come up with this year and next when the Wolf Pack and Bulldogs visit town.
  5. We mentioned that this would ultimately happen in a M5 over the summer, and it’s now come to fruition — John Wooden’s den is now on permanent display at the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame, just a few paces away from the House that Wooden Built, Pauley Pavilion.  This is something that we’re most definitely planning on visiting the next time were down in LA.  When we do, expect a full report on the place.
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WAC Fires a Shot Across Bow of Nevada & Fresno State

Posted by rtmsf on September 15th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

The standoff between the Western Athletic Conference and the Mountain West Conference over Fresno State and Nevada has come to the next logical stopping point: a lawsuit, perhaps just the first in a string. WAC commissioner Karl Benson confirmed today in a conference call that last week the league filed suit against Fresno  and Nevada in an effort to prevent the schools from joining the MWC for the 2011-12 athletic seasons. Benson and the WAC contend that WAC bylaws require a school to give notice to the conference by July 1 if it plans to leave the conference in the next two years. Both schools accepted the MWC’s offer of membership on July 18 of this year. However, there is a discrepancy between the conference bylaws and the WAC Code Book which claims that the deadline to withdraw from the conference is instead September 1. The MWC is included in the suit in an attempt to prevent the conference from adding either school to its 2011-12 scheduling. All parties named in the suit have 30 days to respond after which the Jefferson County District Court in Colorado will likely issue a ruling within another month.

Fresno & Nevada Are Gone, But at What Cost?

According to Benson during today’s teleconference, “the WAC is simply seeking to protect its interests and insure that all member institutions are protected from a potential and threatened violation of the bylaws. Such inappropriate action would make it impossible for member institutions to schedule athletic events and thereby would adversely affect the WAC, the WAC member institutions and the student-athletes.” Benson specifically cites the difficulty the remaining WAC institutions would have in filling out its 2011 football schedule, the potential impact on the conference’s bowl agreements, the negative effect on its existing television contract and the impact on the WAC basketball tournament as areas that would be damaged by Fresno State and Nevada leaving after this coming season.

For Fresno State and Nevada’s part, they still seem determined to leave the conference after this season in order to play in the MWC in 2011-12. If they were to remain in the WAC for an additional year, they would forfeit their shares of any postseason money earned by the conference because of their lame duck status. They’ll lean heavily on the discrepancy between the conference bylaws and the WAC Code Book in an effort to bolster their claim that they are allowed to leave the conference without penalty after the 2010-11 season.  The MWC being included in the suit seems more of a scattershot inclusion, a hail mary attempt to prevent the conference from making any scheduling plans involving the two schools, although the likelihood of the MWC having to play by the WAC bylaws seems untenable at best.

A completely separate issue still remains: the possibility that Fresno State and Nevada will each owe a $5 million buyout fee for their decisions to leave the WAC. Both schools were given 60 days notice that payment was due and when that deadline expires on October 18, another lawsuit featuring liquidated damages is likely.  With actual games being played on the field and with college basketball practice just a month away, this courtroom drama rightly takes a backseat to more athletic competitions, but this should remain an interesting story throughout the fall as we learn the fate of the WAC, Fresno State and Nevada. In the end, this likely gets settled out of court between the three main parties with some compromise agreement likely allowing the two schools to head to the MWC in 2011-12 while paying somewhere south of the $5 million buyout.

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BYU Leaves For the WCC in Hoops: Two Perspectives

Posted by rtmsf on August 31st, 2010

We asked two of our best contributors to take a look at today’s news that BYU has decided to go independent in football while joining the WCC in all other sports.  As he’s done all summer, our Mountain West correspondent Andrew Murawa breaks down all the moving pieces here in a simple, understandable way.  Additionally, our WCC correspondent, Michael Vernetti, stops by with a profile of the architect of the biggest coup of realignment summer, WCC Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich.

What Does It Mean? by Andrew Murawa

The wait for the next step in conference realignment is over, as BYU announced today its intention to forge ahead as an independent in football while joining up with the West Coast Conference in most other sports, beginning in 2011-12. In the process, the last hopes for the Western Athletic Conference to remain a viable entity have vanished, and the Mountain West Conference has turned its gaze from perhaps earning an automatic bid to the BCS for its conference champion to simple survival.

Jimmer Fredette Won't Get a Chance to Play in the WCC, but We Savor Future BYU-Gonzaga Matchups

A look at the news from the perspective of all the major entities in this move, BYU, the WAC, the MWC and the WCC:

  1. BYU – it appears all along that BYU was set on going independent in football, and just needed to find a soft landing spot for its other sports. In football, they’re working with ESPN on a deal for their television rights and they’ll make a viable schedule out of the remnants of the WAC (Utah State and Hawai’i are already on the schedule for 2011) and whoever else ESPN can convince to play them.  Regardless, they’re certainly not getting a Notre Dame-style sweetheart deal from the BCS and they’ll likely have trouble filling out a schedule decent enough to regularly put them in BCS contention. As for the move to the WCC, this is an excellent destination for a good basketball program, putting the Cougars into a spot where they should be able to compete with Gonzaga for conference supremacy immediately. Given St. Mary’s steady rise, Portland’s continued improvement, Loyola Marymount’s potential and the success of schools like Pepperdine, San Diego and Santa Clara in the past, the Cougars will definitely find some worthwhile competition there. And given that every other school in the league is a religious institution, BYU at least has something in common with its new conference mates (never mind the fact that BYU has a student body of 33,000, while the biggest school in the WCC has an enrollment of less than 9,000). But, the big key for BYU is getting away from what they found to be a limiting television package in the MWC. Now, they’ll be able to make use of their state-of-the-art media center and use it as a nice carrot to make sure that they are able to reach an agreement with ESPN. And, given that the WCC already has a television deal in place with ESPN for basketball and will reportedly retain broadcast rights for games not aired by the WWL, this is likely a big upgrade in terms of the television package for BYU.
  2. WAC – goodbye. If BYU had agreed to join the WAC in its non-football sports, at least there would have been some reason for the continued existence of the conference, but now standing at six teams with schools like Hawai’i and Utah State already considering other options, this venerable conference is on its deathbed as it approaches its 50th birthday. Right now, about the only reason for the remaining schools to stick together is in the hopes of getting the $10 million in buyout money from Fresno State and Nevada, money over which there will clearly be an epic legal battle. WAC commissioner Karl Benson insists that Fresno State and Nevada will have to remain in the conference through 2011-12, but the schools so far beg to differ. With six remaining members, the conference still holds a claim on an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for a couple of years, but the defection of one more school (whether it be Utah State to the MWC or Hawai’i to independence) would be the final nail in the coffin.
  3. MWC – saved from extinction a few weeks back by Fresno State and Nevada’s agreement to join the conference, the MWC is certainly hurt by the loss of BYU but it was going to happen sooner or later anyway. The hope of an automatic bid for its conference football champion to the BCS is now a distant memory and the conference is left with its meager television deal with Versus, CBS College Sports and its own network, The Mtn., now minus the Salt Lake City market  (the regional hub of the conference). In order for the conference to remain a viable entity for the future, it will need to fix its issues with its television contracts, but in the short term, it is still a strong league. However, given that the television contract is locked in until 2015-16, the conference may find itself having to fight off other suitors for some of its strongest members. TCU has already been mentioned as a possible target for the Big 12, and there has even been talk of a merger or some kind of alliance between the Mountain West and Conference USA (talk fueled by meetings between the two conferences in the days after the MWC added Fresno State and Nevada). Finally, there is the possibility that the MWC would be interested in adding more teams. They could certainly finish off the WAC by stealing Utah State (a move that would probably thrill Fresno State and Nevada because it would immediately end the $5 million buyout talk) and maybe even New Mexico State. There have been hopeful rumors of adding some of the western CUSA teams (Houston, Tulsa and UTEP, for example), but the MWC’s television deal probably precludes that, so it will be interesting to see what the next move is for a conference that was very recently thought to be a significant up-and-comer.
  4. WCC – first, you have to wonder what Gonzaga thinks of this. They’ve been the alpha dog in the conference for years as the school casting shadows on the rest of the league, and now, they’re potentially just another tiny school bouncing about in behemoth BYU’s wake. Certainly Gonzaga basketball isn’t going anywhere, but they’re no longer the program that can be immediately penciled in as the favorite in the conference every single year. Looking at it from the Zags’ perspective, the addition of BYU adds a couple more high-quality games during the conference season to bolster its strength of schedule and maintain a high RPI -– perhaps they don’t have to go so nuts with their non-conference schedule anymore. As for the conference as a whole, BYU’s presence in basketball is nothing  but good -– more high-profile games, stronger schedules and a big new market.  The league – now at nine teams with the addition of BYU – will go to a 16-game full home-and-home round robin schedule (although they’ll need to figure out the logistics of that, since there is no longer an easy way to schedule travel partners with an odd number of teams) and they’ll need to rearrange their conference tournament (tournament semifinals have been on Sunday and BYU will not play on Sundays). And there is even the potential for further expansion. Pacific had been considered for possible conference membership in 2008, and the Tigers would be a good fit along with the existing Bay Area schools (St. Mary’s, San Francisco, Santa Clara), but Denver and Seattle have also been mentioned as possible new invitees, given that those schools would add new large markets to the conference.  Denver, in particular, would be a natural travel partner for BYU. All things considered, this is an exciting day for fans of schools all around the WCC, even if the size and particular religious affiliation of BYU may give brief pause.

What’s next?

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Morning Five: 08.31.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 31st, 2010

  1. Checking in on the latest conference re-re-realignment talk from Utah, the current word is that BYU is still intent on going independent in football but is looking more and more like a candidate to move to the WCC in basketball and all other sports.  Yes, you read that right.  The West Coast Conference, the tightly-knit eight-team conference of tiny private religious institutions that max out at nearly 9,000 students (Loyola Marymount and San Francisco, whereas BYU at 33,000 students is nearly four times that enrollment) and has remained at eight teams for three decades.  Andy Katz makes the case that this move makes sense in basketball, and we can’t really argue with his logic, except for one little thing — you know what makes more sense?  Staying in the Mountain West, where, with recent additions of Nevada and Fresno State to go with San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico, the league is on the verge of overtaking the Pac-10 for hoops superiority out west.  We should know something very soon — the deadline for BYU to leave the Mountain West is Wednesday.
  2. Getting back to the conference that BYU originally threatened to move to prior to its implosion, the WAC, feeling jilted and unloved after Nevada and Fresno State’s unceremonious dumping earlier this month, is threatening to sue the two schools if each refuses to pay a disputed $5M exit fee each by the October 25 deadline.  Furthermore, the WAC says that they have the contractual right to not release the two renegades until after the 2011-12 academic year, an interesting assertion given that Fresno and Nevada’s stated positions are that they’re leaving next summer.  This is going to get more interesting before it dies down, because there’s no question that this particular tussle has gotten personal among key players at some of these schools.
  3. There’ll be a boatload of these player profiles coming out in the next two months, but it just means that the season is slowly approaching.  Here are a few from the last few days: Texas’ Jordan Hamilton, Mizzou’s Kim English, Purdue’s E’Twaun Moore, and Louisville’s Preston Knowles.
  4. Jeff Jacobs, a UConn columnist at the Hartford Courant, suggests that Ater Majok’s presumed leaving of the program has nothing to do with impending sanctions that may have involved his recruitment, as we wrote could be possible yesterday.  But in the same paragraph, he also says that there have been “whispers” in the program involving Majok, so we’re not sure what to believe here.  UConn is expected to announce its response to the NCAA’s allegations later this week.
  5. Austin Rivers is the #1 prospect in the Class of 2011, according to Rivals, and he showed the skill that he possesses in a recent summer league game where he crossed over and scored on #1 pick John Wall, followed by ripping him clean on defense on the other end.  One blogger makes a reasonable case as to why Rivers will end up playing for Coach K at Duke in the fall of 2011.

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Morning Five: 08.30.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 30th, 2010

  1. It’s been a rough summer for Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, and things haven’t gotten any better as we head into the upcoming Labor Day weekend.  Two players expected to contribute on the wing for the 2010-11 Cardinals will not be eligible.  The biggest hit comes in the form of Memphis transfer Roburt Sallie, who was attempting to take advantage of a transfer rule that allows a player to play immediately at his new school if he has already graduated and his school does not offer post-graduate training in his area of study (see: Alabama’s Justin Knox to UNC as but one example).  Well, Sallie failed to graduate from Memphis over the summer in time to enroll at Louisville, so he will not be allowed to utilize the rule.  Additionally, incoming freshman Justin Coleman, a top fifty scoring guard from Huntington, WV, is also ineligible.  Louisville clawed its way to a mediocre season by its lofty standards last year (20-13, 1st round NCAA loss), but frankly, we’re having trouble seeing how Pitino is going to coax his current roster back into the Big Dance.
  2. Meanwhile, a little farther east on the interstate, John Calipari continues to enjoy the Midas touch with his recruits.  Despite Mike Gilchrist’s tweeting about taking three official visits on Friday night, conventional wisdom is that he’s still strongly committed to Kentucky and will end up in Lexington a year from now.  On Saturday, UK received a commitment from another elite player in the Class of 2011, Kyle Wiltjer, a 6’9 forward from Oregon who proves that Calipari is keeping that Pacific Northwest pipeline greased and fertile.   Additionally, 6’11 transfer forward (and former Florida Gator) Eloy Vargas was declared eligible over the weekend and will have two seasons remaining with the Wildcats.  The only missing piece for Cal’s 2010-11 team remains the eligibility limbo that Enes Kanter is in over questions about his amateur status.  The way things are going in Lexington these days, expect him to be declared eligible by Midnight Madness.
  3. Ray Holloman at Fanhouse deconstructs the Big East’s decision to continue with the double-bye system for the top four seeds of the Big East Tournament.  The basic premise: the Big East is loaded in positions one through eight, much more so than any other conference.  No wonder the coaches unanimously voted for a sixteen-team bracket scenario — it gives those at the top an opportunity for an easy first-round win before getting down to serious business among the quarterfinal teams, most of whom are NCAA-caliber in a given year.  Great analysis.
  4. LeBron’s high school coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary (OH), Dru Joyce, stated late last week that Xavier University is now his “enemy,” and that the school would no longer be allowed to recruit his players after what he describes as the unnecessary pushing of one of his stars to a prep school for 2010-11.  JaKarr Sampson is a rising senior who shot up the summer recruiting rankings after a strong showing at LeBron’s Skills Academy, but according to his mother, it is she, not XU, who is responsible for sending her son to prep school Brewster Academy (NH) because of his lackluster academic record.  Weird situation, there.
  5. This BYU to the WAC or WCC thing is getting even more fascinating than we thought possible.  As the Salt Lake Tribune reported on Sunday, BYU is expected to announce complete independence in football and a move to one of the other “W” conferences in all other sports as soon as today.  The deadline that the school has to inform the Mountain West Conference if it plans to leave is Wednesday of this week, and all indications are that it will take that step despite the MWC’s counter-poach of two of the more valuable properties in the WAC, Fresno State and Nevada.  Open records requests revealed that “The Project” to target BYU was originally a WAC retaliatory measure for the MWC’s nabbing of Boise State during the early-summer conference realignment madness.  Ironically, Nevada president Milt Glick was the first person to use the code name to target BYU on the record, yet it was his school in Reno that jumped at the chance to join the MWC within mere hours of the offer.  Wild stuff going on out there in the Great Basin.
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Morning Five: 08.23.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 23rd, 2010

  1. Our correspondent Andrew Murawa put the Mountain West/WAC situation into understandable terms over the weekend, but we wanted to highlight one area of particular concern.  It certainly appears that BYU will now remain a member of the MWC, while the WAC’s Fresno State and Nevada will join up with its new league as soon as possible; but the real wildcard in all of this is Utah State.  If the Mountain West is able to recruit it’s twelfth school USU over to its side, that would leave the WAC with a mere five teams, less than the requisite six needed (for five consecutive years) to retain its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  The current mixture of automatic/at-large bids in the Big Dance exists at 31/37.  If the WAC implodes, another at-large team could be getting a bid as soon as the 2012 Tourney.  Somewhere in southwest Virginia Seth Greenberg just danced a jig.
  2. Jason King at Yahoo! Sports takes a look at one of the most unappreciated aspects of college basketball recruiting, the top assistant coaches who get the job done in the trenches so that the head coach can later take all the credit and glory of those hotshot players.  It should be no surprise to you that the names of assistants at Ohio State, Kentucky, Memphis, Texas, Kansas and Michigan State are all represented on this list.   What is odd is that nobody from Duke or UNC are here — perhaps Coach K and Roy Williams are simply all that is needed to get the job done at those schools.
  3. Chris Allen, the Michigan State guard who did not meet the standards required of him by head coach Tom Izzo, will re-surface at Iowa State in the 2011-12 season.  His decision to transfer to ISU over UTEP and St. John’s is a major boon for Fred Hoiberg’s rebuilding project in Ames.  Allen, a full-time starter on the 2009-10 Spartans, will bring a toughness and solid three-point stroke to the Cyclone program for his senior campaign.  Let’s hope, though, that whatever it was that put him in the doghouse in East Lansing will be left behind among the unused moving boxes.
  4. MaxPreps has released its post-summer top 100 recruits for the Class of 2011, and Michael Gilchrist (Elizabeth, NJ) remains at the top despite strong summers from several competitors.  Kentucky’s John Calipari has already received verbals from three of the top nine — Gilchrist, Anthony Davis (Chicago, IL), and Marquis Teague (Indianapolis, IN).  Interesting note: if you want to see great HS talent in person next season, the Commonwealth of Virginia, with nine players, is where you should be.
  5. This is a must-read every summer, as Luke Winn gives us his 2010-11 Breakout Five players.  He uses Pomeroy statistics to make educated determinations as to the players most likely to have impact sophomore campaigns, and his findings are worth the time.  The biggest surprise name on the list?  Miami (FL)’s Reggie Johnson.
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