Do you recall the incident from this past Saturday in which Rick Majerus collided with a couple of players who were diving for a loose ball, knocking him into the scorer’s table and putting a gash in his left leg? If you saw it, you might remember that the leg bled pretty badly (he’s on blood thinners), and Majerus missed the rest of the game as he received treatment in the locker room. Well, now the leg is infected, and Majerus missed tonight’s A-10 opener against Dayton. He’ll also miss the Billikens’ next two games (Sunday at Temple, Wednesday at Duquesne) while he recovers. Get better soon, coach.
Twelve games in, freshman guard Gary Franklin has decided that he’s had enough of being a California Golden Bear, and will transfer. Not the most efficient option, Franklin didn’t start, but was fourth on the team in minutes and fifth in scoring (8.2 PPG in 25.7 MPG). One interesting fact from that article: that’s seven transfers by players from Santa Ana Mater Dei in the last five seasons.
Even among Kentucky fans, all people cared to know about Josh Harrellson before this season was that he was a backup center and…well, that he was notEnes Kanter. Now, he’s a BMOC (at least in the Bluegrass) and leads the Wildcats in seven different statistical categories, if you throw some tempo-free ones in there. The Frankfort State Journalchecks in on him to see how he’s handling his exponentially increased celebrity. Hard work on the boards and 23/14 in a thumping of arch rival Louisville will do that for you in Lexington.
Nobody told Fran McCaffery things were going to be easy at Iowa, and his efforts just took another hit. When sophomore guard Cully Payne went out with a sports hernia (surgeons also repaired a torn oblique muscle) after only five games this season, there was still hope that he would be back later in the schedule. McCaffery painted a less encouraging picture, though, earlier this week. Last year, Payne led the team in assists (3.8 APG) and was fifth in scoring (8.7 PPG), and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.1 to 1 was tops on the Hawkeyes this year.
It was almost a year ago that Texas was the top-ranked team in the land. At that point in the season, we can only assume that Oklahoma and Texas A&M supporters everywhere began sticking pins in their Longhorn dolls, as UT subsequently went 7-10 to end the year. Senior forward Gary Johnson remembers those days: “If you watch any film from last year, the will of being a team just wasn’t there,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. More importantly, he makes a great case as to why he sees no such swoon in store this season for his squad, which seems to be playing progressively better each week.
***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
Tuesday is a relatively quiet night for hoops fans but there are a few interesting games out there. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
Hansbrough Can Get Hot Anywhere, Especially At Home.
The Huskies enter a difficult road environment struggling somewhat after their hot start. Connecticut was beaten soundly at Pittsburgh last week and had a very hard time putting away Big East bottom feeder South Florida at home on Friday, needing overtime to knock off the Bulls. As has been the case all year long, Jim Calhoun’s team hasn’t found a third scorer to take some pressure off Kemba Walker and Alex Oriakhi. Walker needed 27 shots to score 31 points against Pittsburgh and Connecticut is going to need a third option tonight against an experienced Irish team with a lot of scoring balance. Notre Dame has five players averaging double figures when you round Scott Martin’s 9.8 PPG up, and each player knows their role in Mike Brey’s newly disciplined offense.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Michigan State’s 52-game non-conference homecourt winning streak ended with an icy thud tonight as a young, athletic Texas team went into the Breslin Center and dominated Tom Izzo’s team, 67-55. Before we get to the “problems” that the Spartans have, let’s consider a little bit of historical context with this program before we pull the alarm bells at the firehouse. Since the last time MSU entered the NCAAs as a #1 seed in the 2001-02 season, Izzo’s teams have been to nine NCAA Tournaments with an average seed of #6 coming into the Dance. Remember, seeding is a general reflection of a team’s season resume, and the standard profile of a #6 seed is something in the neighborhood of a 25-9 team that finished third or fourth in the Big Ten — a solid above-average major conference team but nothing special. In six of those nine years, the Spartans overplayed their seed expectation by a total of ten wins, which essentially means that if Izzo’s team was expected by seed to make the Sweet Sixteen, he usually took them to the Final Four instead (in two other years, MSU performed exactly to its seed, and only in 2006 did the Spartans perform below its seed).
No Need For Frowns, Fellas (DFP/J. Gonzalez)
So what’s happening here? Is this a situation where the “real” Michigan State is the one that sleepwalks through much of the season, vulnerable to several head-scratching games a year despite a surfeit of talent on the floor? Or is the actual team the one that shows up seemingly every March and plows through NCAA Tournament opponents as if they were #16 seeds with multi-directional names? We’ve seen this Izzo dog-and-pony show long enough to have become fully convinced that it’s the former. He recruits numerous good but not great players (only two first-rounders since 2002) who buy into his system and win a lot of games, but nobody will ever confuse Kalin Lucas with John Wall or Durrell Summers with Evan Turner — and yet, those MSU players have been to Final Fours while the others have not. It comes down to this. We believe that Izzo is such a fantastic motivator and game coach that when the NCAA Tournament arrives, he elevates his players to the point where a #6 seed from a talent/resume perspective starts playing like a #1 or #2 seed, and before you know it, Sparty is again booking tickets at the Final Four.
That collective disgust you heard tonight was the college basketball community once again throwing its hands up in the air as MSU looked slow, tired and generally unathletic against the much more aggressive and high-flying Longhorns. The Spartan goals sphinctered up to the point where they shot only 29% for the game and 19% from deep while committing six more turnovers than the younger ‘Horns, including several from Korie Lucious that nearly made Jay Bilas get up out of his analyst’s chair and deliver a tirade at the Final Four point guard himself. And as for that legendary Michigan State defense? Well, it guarded the foul line well (11-21) and not much else tonight, as UT’s big four of Jordan Hamilton, Gary Johnson, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph went for 59 points on an array of dribble-drives and ensuing layups/dunks that often made the Spartans look cemented into the hardwood. To a casual observer of this game, it would be extremely difficult to explain to that person why Michigan State is still the better bet in March, but riddle us this: will anyone out there go on record to say that the Spartans definitely will not make it to Houston in April? Or that Rick Barnes’ Longhorns will? Yeah, didn’t think so — to do so would be to deny what we know to be true, that Izzo will figure out a way to make the magic happen again.
Here’s the takeaway from tonight’s loss to Texas. There’s nothing wrong with Michigan State — they are who they are and who they will continue to be — an above-average team with above-average players who will lose some games and cause everyone to doubt them again during the regular season before making another shocking and completely unexpected run in March. Sure, it’s annoying because we tend to celebrate greatness and denigrate unpredictability, but there’s really nothing unpredictable about MSU’s modus operandi. They do this almost every year. All we can say is, fool us once…
We are still early in the season, but things are starting to kick into gear with our first huge shot of the (regular) season. Like we stated after opening night, if you are interested in participating in this feature and getting your site linked to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Game of the Night
Maryland 75, College of Charleston 74: “For 39 and a half minutes, there was no shortage of things I could’ve said about Maryland’s game against College of Charleston: the missed free throws, the turnovers, the sensational Andrew Goudelock, the fact that Maryland lost to College of Charleston in their second game, and so on. And then Pe’Shon Howard happened. And then I was left speechless.” (Testudo Times: Part 1 and Part 2)
#4 Pittsburgh 97, Illinois-Chicago 54: “Pitt played nearly perfectly in every facet of the game. The team shot about 60% from the field, rebounded extremely well, and only turned the ball over six times. When the Panthers play that well, they will be nearly impossible to beat.” (SB Nation: Pittsburgh)
#16 Illinois 84, Toledo 45: “This was more like it. Illinois played its first complete game of the season on Wednesday with a 84-45 blowout of Toledo at Assembly Hall. All 11 Illini players that saw playing time scored, including walk-on Kevin Berardini.” (Chicago Breaking Sports)
#25 Texas 89, Louisiana Tech 58: “Through two games, this Texas team has looked as solid as anyone could have imagined. They are playing as a team, moving the ball, crisply on offense, and not settling for jump shot. On the other end, they’ve been able to win the rebounding battle in both games and held both opponents to under 40% from the floor. J’Covan [Brown] and [Jordan] Hamilton look like different players; [Tristan] Thompson and [Cory] Joseph have already been impactful; and [Gary] Johnson and Dogus [Balbay] are leading by example. Heck, even Jai Lucas and [Matt] Hill have provided some quality minutes. The competition takes a giant step up next week, but, again, through two games, I’m impressed.” (Burnt Orange Nation)
Over the past month-plus, we’ve been presenting our RTC Impact Players for the 2010-11 season. From coast to coast and the Canadian border down to Mexico, we’ve selected the sixty players nationally who we believe will have the most impact on the game this year. Each of the ten geographic regions was allotted five “starters” and a “sixth man,” an artificial construct that was easy to fill in some areas while much more difficult in some of the others. In case you’ve missed the series along the way, this post will serve as your wrap-up. We’re rank-ordering the ten “teams” by geographic region and list some of the near-miss players in each one. Each regional post has a much more extensive writeup on each player chosen, so be sure to click on its respective link if you’re looking for additional information. Here’s the view of the 2010-11 college basketball world from 500,000 feet.
The 2010-11 RTC Impact Players Map
The Ten Regions
(* denotes current injury, suspension or ineligibility)
1.Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL). Wow, and imagine if Robbie Hummel hadn’t gotten hurt. Another group of first-rounders has everything, but what really sets this team apart is the inside dominance that Sullinger and Johnson can impose. There isn’t a region on our list this year that would be able to stay out of foul trouble against those two, especially with the heady play of Mack, McCamey and Moore finding the big men in the right spots time and time again. It’s no coincidence that the nation’s best conference — the Big 10 — has its footprint located here.
Shelvin Mack, G, Butler
E’Twaun Moore, G, Purdue
Chris Wright, F, Dayton
Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State
JaJuan Johnson, C, Purdue
Demetri McCamey, G, Illinois (6th)
Near Misses: William Buford, Ohio State; Maurice Creek, G, Indiana; John Shurna, Northwestern
2. South Atlantic Region (VA, NC, SC). Obviously, if you can’t find a space for a likely all-american like Nolan Smith, this is a sick team. Its only weakness is that other than Tracy Smith, it is extremely perimeter-oriented. Granted, nobody can put a more talented five on the floor, but if a team like the above can pound the ball inside on them, that could make the difference.
Kyrie Irving, G, Duke
Malcolm Delaney, G, Virginia Tech
Kevin Anderson, G, Richmond
Harrison Barnes, F, UNC
Kyle Singler, F, Duke
Tracy Smith, F, NC State (6th)
Near Misses: Nolan Smith, Duke; Andrew Goudelock, College of Charleston
3.Plains/Mountains Region (KS, CO, WY, OK, TX). This is a ridiculously talented region, with first-rounders everywhere on the floor. The only possible issue would be who would be willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team, but if Selby is eligible to run the show, we’re not sure there’s a much better group anywhere else in America. This region is so strong we had to leave a high-major conference POY (Culpepper) off the team. Wow.
LaceDarius Dunn*, G, Baylor
Jacob Pullen, G, Kansas State
Perry Jones, F, Baylor
Marcus Morris, F, Kansas
Cory Higgins, F, Colorado
Josh Selby*, Kansas (6th)
Near Misses: Alec Burks, Colorado; Gary Johnson, Texas; Randy Culpepper, UTEP
All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)
G: Jacob Pullen – Kansas State (19.3 ppg)
G: AlecBurks – Colorado (17.1 ppg, 5 rpg)
G: LaceDariusDunn – Baylor (19.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
F: MarcusMorris – Kansas (12.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
F: CurtisKelly – Kansas State (11.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
Cory Higgins – Colorado (18.9 ppg)
Perry Jones – Baylor – It’ll be tough to replace Ekpe Udoh’s defensive tenacity, but the dropoff won’t be that steep with Jones manning the paint at 6’11 and 235 pounds. As a big man with shooting range, Jones will throw off weaker defenses and also possesses advanced ball-handling skills for someone as raw as he is. Scott Drew is making waves on recruiting trails, but now is the time for his sales acumen to translate on the court.
JoshSelby – Kansas* (if eligible) – The Jayhawks went longer than most schools of its ilk without having a player leave after just one year, but they may go two straight seasons with a post-freshman departure after Xavier Henry and Josh Selby. The #5 recruit by ESPNU in the class of 2010, Selby is a big guard who can score on his own or penetrate and dish to bigger guys like Marcus Morris down low. The coaching staff, players and fans alike have to be getting restless waiting for the NCAA to make a ruling regarding Selby’s eligibility.
The effusive Frank Martin has built the Wildcats into a top-five program with the help of AP Preseason All-American Jacob Pullen. (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire)
What You Need to Know:
Kansas State returns several very key pieces from an Elite Eight team a year ago. The biggest question mark is going to be how they handle replacing Denis Clemente, who forced the tempo and managed the offense from the point. A potential boost could come in the emergence of Wally Judge and several other young Wildcats who began to assert themselves late in the 2009-10 season.
The Missouri Tigers added one of the top recruiting classes in the country to a team that is now one of the deepest and more experienced groups in the conference. While Tony Mitchell didn’t make it to campus due to an eligibility ruling, Ricardo Ratliffe does solidify the inside and put the Tigers and Mike Anderson in the perfect position to run the “40 Minutes of Hell” style.
Kansas loses three players to the NBA, but looks poised to make a run at the conference championship once again. Marcus and MarkieffMorris will step into key leadership roles while the development of TyshawnTaylor and eligibility of Josh Selby will be huge in whether Kansas can go from conference contender to being in the National Title hunt.
Colorado is the fourth team in the North making waves, as the balance of power has shifted in the Big 12. Alec Burks and Cory Higgins make up one of the most dangerous duos and the Buffs could be in a position to make a run at an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time since 2003.
Baylor and Texas will battle it out in the South. The Bears return LaceDariusDunn and several other developing players while the Longhorns will rebuild after a disappointing season a year ago. Both schools have the pieces to challenge for the conference and a year after Baylor swept the series, the games between these two teams in Waco and then in Austin should have some added intensity.
For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you 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.
LaceDarius Dunn* – Sr, G – Baylor. Let’s get this out of the way right at the beginning: there’s no news. We know that in order for him to be an Impact Player for this region and to indeed fulfill the promise that’s implied when your name pops up on all sorts of pre-season All-America teams, LaceDarius Dunn has to actually see the floor, and as of right now he’s still suspended from competition. He’s practicing, he’s attending classes, but that suspension from games of any kind is indefinite, so what Dunn is doing most is waiting. So are we, because we want to see the guy play some more, and soon. We’ve backed LaceDarius since his first moments on the Baylor campus and we’ve enjoyed watching him grow as a basketball player during his time there. Dunn was a factor right from the start in Waco, averaging 13.6 PPG and 4.1 RPG in 22 MPG as a freshman, and he’s only gotten more impressive each season. You could see his confidence grow by the game through his sophomore year as he tacked a couple of points onto that scoring average (15.7 PPG) and took on more responsibility. Last season was probably the school’s best since 1950 and earned the Bears their best year-end ranking ever (#10), and Dunn was the centerpiece along with Ekpe Udoh. The unquestioned team leader, Dunn put his scoring gift on full display, contributing 19.6 PPG (33rd in the nation) in just over 32 MPG. Because of his quickness and his deep shooting range, he represents the ultimate defensive conundrum. If you play up on him, he’s by you. If you give him a cushion — and he doesn’t need much space at all — he’ll drill you from range. If you get physical, not only will he match you (Dunn is a disturbingly solid 6’4, 205), but he’ll be more than happy to repair to the free throw line (85.7% last season) and bleed you to death with paper cuts. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about his game is that shooting accuracy. If Dunn can see the rim, he’s in range, and he has no qualms about letting it sail. He nailed 116 threes last season, a single-season record for the school. His next trey will be his 300th, and he’s already hit more of them than any other Baylor player. Those 299 threes put him 91 bombs away from breaking the Big 12 record of 389 held by Texas’ A.J Abrams, and seeing as how Dunn has had no problem breaking 100 the past two seasons, we think he’ll get there. Considering all that, his overall shooting percentage becomes that much more impressive. He shot 45.2% last year and has posted a 44.9% mark for his Baylor career. This brings up the question, again: how do you guard this man? It’ll be fun to watch Big 12 opponents make a go of it this season, that’s for sure — we just have to get the guy on the floor and past this current situation regarding the alleged assault. Because of the strange, conflicting stories from some of the people involved and the paucity of other details that have emerged about this matter, we’re not sure where the truth lies or what outcome would constitute justice. We just hope it’s one that results in LaceDarius Dunn playing basketball as soon and as much as possible.
If Dunn Keeps His Head, He Could Be Baylor's first AP All-American First Teamer
Jacob Pullen – Sr, G – Kansas State. Expectations, much? The last time Jacob Pullen’s Kansas State Wildcats were ranked as high as they are in the Preseason Coaches Poll (#3), John F. Kennedy was a relatively unknown senator from Massachusetts. The year was 1959, and the Wildcats were ranked #1 in the final AP poll heading into the NCAA Tournament (regrettably, the Cats lost to Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati in the regional finals). In large part due to the big-shot making abilities of the six-foot guard who has a great chance to re-write the K-State record books this season, Frank Martin’s KSU squad is poised to make a run at its first Final Four since the 60s and its first Big 8/12 conference title since the 70s. Pullen, the Big 12 Preseason POY as voted on by the coaches, is expected to run more of the point now that last year’s starter at that position Denis Clemente has graduated, but his ability to successfully play either the one or the two position is well-documented by league opponents. Let’s be honest, though; with Pullen mimicking the scorer’s mentality of other height-challenged combo guards that have come before him, it doesn’t matter what “position” head coach Frank Martin puts him in. The Beard (which is rounding into form for the season, incidentally) will have the ball in his hands when it’s crunch time, just as he did in a 34-point explosion against Jimmer Fredette and BYU in the NCAA second round last season and in multiple overtimes in another win (and 28-point performance) against Xavier in the Sweet Sixteen. It’s not very easy to stop a player who can routinely go for 20+ against some of the best defensive coaches in the country (16 times last year), but the one thing you do not want to do against Pullen is leave him open from behind the arc. Make him put the ball on the floor and try to get to the rim. He’s not a traditional dead-eye shooter by any stretch, but he can torch it from outside when he finds a groove — seven threes against UNLV and BYU; six against Alabama, Xavier, Baylor and South Dakota. Last year he tied Askia Jones’ school-record of 110 threes in a season because he’s learned how to pick his spots appropriately, exhibited by the nearly 40% conversion rate he enjoyed (a significant improvement from his 30% and 34% he shot from deep in his first two years in Manhattan). Perhaps reflecting the grit of his fiery head coach, Pullen is also an elite defender, having been selected as a member of the six-man Big 12 all-defensive team last year. Put all of this together — the scoring, the defense, the grit, the BEARD — and you’re faced with the simple fact that the K-State guard is on the short list of a dozen or so players who are in contention for 1st team All-American and national Player of the Year honors in 2010-11. The better he plays, the more likely it is that the fortunes of Kansas State basketball is on its way to reclaiming some of its ancient glory and make comparisons with teams a half-century ago completely moot.
We’re now down to the Final Four of the RTC Big Four State Tournament. Last week was the quarterfinal round, and we saw as three of the favorites (#1 Indiana, #2 North Carolina, #4 Texas) advanced to the Final Four while #3 Pennsylvania was downed at the buzzer by upstart #6 Florida. There was a very strong public consensus among the top two seeds advancing (85% and 90%, respectively), while the fan vote was a little less confident in Pennsylvania (70%) and Texas (72%). Of course, we here at RTC had the Sunshine State (with afternoon rain) squad coached by Billy Donovan springing the upset over PA, so it’ll be interesting to see how far we think they can continue to their run. Here’s our current bracket, with the F4 breakdowns below.
Final Four Matchups(Quarterfinal fan vote pct. listed)
#1 Indiana (85%) vs. #4 Texas (72%)
Nitpicking is the only way to find weaknesses on the rosters of Indiana and Texas, two hoops-loaded states with a great deal of pride on the line in this anticipated semifinal matchup. The raw talent level of Texas should prove Indiana’s stiffest challenge thus far in the tournament. From the Nate Robinson-style leaping ability of UTEP’s Randy Culpepper to the physicality and shooting prowess of Texas’ Jordan Hamilton to the Kevin Garnett comparisons that Baylor’s Perry Jones is receiving before he makes his Bears debut, Indiana’s status as tournament champion favorite is in serious jeopardy. This especially rings true when Texas comes out of the gates sprinting up and down the floor, boosted by the red-hot shooting of LaceDarius Dunn, the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year candidate and the school’s all-time leader in threes made. Gary Johnson takes Robbie Hummel to the hole on a spin move and the foul. Dunn throws an alley-oop to Jones that gets the crowd on their feet and forces Indiana to use a timeout. Culpepper races from end to end for the flush. A ten-point halftime lead gives the top seed a moment of pause in the locker room.
Here’s the point where Indiana’s senior-laden roster and big-game experience becomes a factor. The collected demeanor of Brad Stevens in the locker room calms his troops, the gameplan is slightly tweaked to force Texas into a halfcourt game, the physicality of Indiana’s Shelvin Mack and Hummel is asserted, and Indiana slowly but surely drains the deficit. The steady and levelheaded Mack leads the force, hitting clutch mid-range jumpers as the shot clock winds down. Just when Texas is about to corral the momentum once again, a JaJuan Johnson rejection of Jones effectively punks the youngster. As the score inches closer and the pressure mounts on such a monumental stage, it’s Texas taking their fair share of poor shots while Indiana lives at the free throw line, led by Hummel at 90%. His four consecutive makes seals the deal and Indiana escapes by a slim margin for a spot in the finals.
RTC Choice: Indiana 68, Texas 65
#2 North Carolina (90%) vs. #6 Florida (30%)
In an all-too-familiar situation when a Cinderella makes a run to the national semifinals, they usually come up against a seasoned, experienced and talented team who expected to be there all season long. The result is not often pleasant for the underdog, who quickly realizes that it’s in over its head and needs to make hasty plans for a return flight later that evening. This is what Billy Donovan’s team faced in matching up against the boatload of NBA lottery pick-level talent that North Carolina threw at them. Predictably, the game was over in the first ten minutes. The offensive firepower of Kyle Singler, Harrison Barnes and Tracy Smith got off early inside the paint, but it was a quick whistle (actually, series of whistles) on Florida’s Chris Singleton that set the tone early. Three quick fouls meant that the inside defensive presence that Florida was relying upon to slow down the North Carolina bigs was no longer available. Gus Gilchrist and Chandler Parsons, while capable offensive players, are not known for their ability to stop people, especially players the caliber that NC brings to bear.
By halftime, Florida was already down 22 points and not only looked demoralized but also emotionally and mentally exhausted from their previous nailbiters in this tournament. From that point on, Coach K put his guys into a cruise control situation, running clock but finding their spots, as Florida tried desperately to cut into the lead. A couple of times Donovan’s team had cut the margin down to a 12-point game, only to watch helplessly as Nolan Smith or CJ Harris drained a three or Barnes slashed his way to another dunk. There was no confusion as to who the better team was in this particular game, and North Carolina moved on to the tournament finals to play the top overall seed Indiana in an upcoming battle of epic proportions. Coach K vs. Brad Stevens; Nolan Smith vs. Shelvin Mack — where have we seen that before?
We’re back with the next round of the RTC Big Four State Tournament. As you likely recall, last week we broke down eight first round matchups between the top sixteen states containing at least four NCAA D1 programs, utilizing star players from each of those programs to come up with the bracket that appears below. We didn’t always agree with the fan vote, picking a couple of true upsets (#9 Illinois over #8 Michigan, and #12 Virginia over #5 Ohio), and disagreeing with the fans on another (#6 Florida over #11 Kentucky). Regardless, we endeavor to carry on.
We’ll break down the semifinals and finals next week. Be sure to get your votes in on these matchups below.
Quarterfinal Matchups(1st Round fan vote pct. listed)
#1 Indiana (92%) vs. #9 Illinois (24%)
The plucky underdog Illinois meets another Midwestern foe after downing Michigan in the opening round. This time around, the challenge will be even stiffer — the top seeded and tournament favorite Hoosier State representatives. The primary reason for Illinois’ first round win was the perimeter trio of Demetri McCamey, Michael Thompson and John Shurna. Different story against Indiana; the hard-nosed play of Shelvin Mack, the scoring ability of E’Twaun Moore, the all-around game of Tim Abromaitis and even Robbie Hummel’s propensity to step out to the perimeter — his first half performance against Ohio State one that sticks out — provides the Hoosiers more than enough firepower out of their guards to counteract Illinois. Southern Illinois’ Carlton Fay attempting to guard potential first team All-America Hummel is also a key factor. Since it’s doubtful Fay can hang with the multifaceted Boilermaker, we suspect that the Purdue senior explodes for a big shooting night and a near triple-double. There’s simply way too much firepower with JaJuan Johnson coming off the bench in this one. Indiana cruises again.
RTC Choice: Indiana 83, Illinois 67.
#4 Texas (67%) vs. #12 Virginia (22%)
Virginia was the Cinderella story of the first round, continuing the ever-popular 5/12 upset trend and knocking off favored Ohio on the heels of their backcourt consisting of Malcolm Delaney and Kevin Anderson. Those two won’t have it as easy against the twosome that gives a whole new meaning to Don’t Mess with Texas. High-flying Randy Culpepper of UTEP could be one of the best non-BCS players in the land this season. He’ll team with Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn and Texas’ Jordan Hamilton on the wing, meaning scoring can come often and in bunches for this Texas squad. There’s too much athleticism across the board for the Virginia frontline of Mike Scott, Jeff Allen and Justin Harper to contain. Look for Texas to pound the ball inside early to Perry Jones and Gary Johnson to utilize these extreme mismatches and lure the Virginia bigs into foul trouble. If this happens, let the dunkfest ensue. Culpepper and Dunn provide the scoring punch outside to complement the forwards, making this even more of a foregone conclusion, especially since Delaney can’t hang with the crafty Dunn defensively. Texas advances to the semifinals in relatively easy fashion.
One Foot Out The Door: The big news in the Big 12 is that it’s no longer the Big 12. This season will be the final season with the Big 12 as we know it. Nebraska departs for the Big Ten and Colorado will eventually make the jump to the Pac-10, either in 2011 or 2012. Either way, the transformation in the conference has major implications as far as basketball is concerned, as the unbalanced schedule that has existed since the league’s inception goes away, and a new 18-game conference slate could become the norm. In an ideal world, no more excuses – everybody plays everybody at home and on the road from here on out.
New Coaches: Two teams in the conference will have new head coaches in 2010. Colorado lost Jeff Bzdelik to Wake Forest and his self-described dream job. The timing couldn’t have been worse for Colorado, as the program seemed to be gaining some traction, and any time there is a lack of stability, it can hurt a program. In terms of the hire itself, Tad Boyle from Northern Colorado doesn’t necessarily have the name recognition, but he was able to keep all the current pieces in place for Colorado and in the short term, that’s very important. Things at Iowa State didn’t necessarily shake out quite as well. The Cyclones are bringing back “The Mayor,” Fred Hoiberg, who has an extremely limited coaching resume, but tremendous amount of clout with the Iowa State faithful. The program lost the top two players from a year ago and then some. With the new start and a fresh face on the bench, it’s a full-blown rebuilding job awaiting an Ames legend.
Diaper Dandies: The Big 12 has made a name for itself as a league that can reload.This year is no exception; around the league, a host of high-profile recruits join various programs, ensuring the viability of the league as a basketball power for the future. Perry Jones at Baylor, Josh Selby at Kansas, Tony Mitchell at Missouri and both Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph at Texas join each respective program as big-time national recruits. The only problem right now is that both Tiger and Jayhawk fans are awaiting eligibility news related to their blue chip talents.
An I-70 Battle: Three teams situated on or very close to Interstate 70 look poised to battle for the conference title. In years past, the gripe from the Big 12 South has always been the competitively unbalanced schedule and the built-in advantage that it provided Kansas in winning the conference. In 2010, three North teams in Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri all appear to be legitimate contenders for the conference crown. Mike Anderson and Frank Martin have done a tremendous job in recruiting players to their respective programs, developing talent and getting the buy-in that it takes to step onto the national stage. Both appear to be inching ever closer to Bill Self and the Jayhawks and the three-way “rivalry” will no doubt play a major role in who wins the Big 12.
With or without Josh Selby, Kansas is ready to defend its string of six consecutive regular season conference titles.
Kansas: When you lose three starters, the common belief is that you will take a step back. With Kansas however, the cupboard is far from bare. The Jayhawks were easily one of the deepest teams in the country a year ago and while losing Sherron Collins, Xavier Henry and Cole Aldrich certainly isn’t an easy pill to swallow, Kansas returns a Big 12 POY candidate in Marcus Morris, depth and talent at every position, and they add one of the top recruits in the country in McDonald’s All-American Josh Selby, who as of this writing, has yet to be cleared to play. Two players who could prove critical to success in 2010 are Markieff Morris and Tyshawn Taylor. Both have enjoyed success off and on in their careers thus far, but neither has found the consistency or leadership on the court that’s necessary to be viewed as a leader. With the turnover in the program, the opportunity is there for one or both to make that leap.
Kansas State: The Wildcats return a good amount of talent from their Elite Eight team of a year ago. Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly could easily represent the best inside-outside combination in the league. But the biggest reason to not doubt Kansas State is their coach, Frank Martin. A hire that was highly criticized when it was made, Martin’s move to the head job in Manhattan has proven to be a great one. His teams play an extremely hard, tough, physical brand of basketball, and as a coach, he’s found a way to put together a team that buys into that style. The biggest question mark will be finding a way to replace Denis Clemente, arguably the most athletic player in the Big 12 a year ago. Martin will look to sophomores Rodney McGruder and Wally Judge to step up and provide support for the Wildcats as they battle for the conference title
Missouri: Mike Anderson has stocked up on quality depth and added the top recruiting class in the conference to boot. While the eligibility of blue-chip talent Tony Mitchell remains a question mark, the Tigers have made another major addition on the interior in the top ranked junior college forward, Ricardo Ratliffe. The biggest thing the Tigers will have to replace is leadership. The departures of seniors J.T. Tiller, Keith Ramsey and Zaire Taylor aren’t major blows in terms of production, but they are in terms of leadership. All three were part of the initial transition from the Quin Snyder era to Anderson and all three were in the top four in minutes played a year ago. The talent in Columbia is there for a Big 12 run, the question is who will lead them? Read the rest of this entry »