So… About Those Spartans?

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2010

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…

Share this story

Around The Blogosphere: Pe’Shon Nails A Dagger

Posted by nvr1983 on November 11th, 2010

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 rushthecourt@gmail.com.

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)

Top 25

  • #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; [TristanThompson and [CoryJoseph have already been impactful; and [GaryJohnson and Dogus [Balbay] are leading by example. Heck, even Jai Lucas and [MattHill 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)
Share this story

RTC 2010-11 Impact Players: National Wrap-Up

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2010

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Conference Primers: #3 – Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 4th, 2010

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC correspondent for The Big 12.

Predicted Order of Finish

  • T1. Kansas (12-4)
  • T1. Kansas State (12-4)
  • 2. Baylor (11-5)
  • 3. Missouri (11-5)
  • 4. Texas (10-6)
  • 5. Colorado (9-7)
  • 6. Texas Tech (8-8)
  • 7. Texas A&M (7-9)
  • 8. Oklahoma State (6-10)
  • 9. Nebraska (5-11)
  • 10. Oklahoma (3-13)
  • 11. Iowa State (2-14)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Jacob Pullen – Kansas State (19.3 ppg)
  • G: Alec Burks – Colorado (17.1 ppg, 5 rpg)
  • G: LaceDarius Dunn – Baylor (19.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
  • F: Marcus Morris – Kansas (12.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
  • F: Curtis Kelly – Kansas State (11.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg)

6th Man

Cory Higgins - Colorado (18.9 ppg)

Impact Newcomers:

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.

Josh Selby – 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 Markieff Morris will step into key leadership roles while the development of Tyshawn Taylor 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 LaceDarius Dunn 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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Plains/Mountains Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 28th, 2010

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.

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

Plains/Mountains Region (KS, CO, WY, OK, TX)

  • 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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The RTC Big Four State Tournament: Final Four

Posted by rtmsf on September 14th, 2010

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? 

RTC Choice: North Carolina 77, Florida 62.

RTC State Tournament Championship: Thursday 9/16

Share this story

The RTC Big Four State Tournament: Quarterfinals

Posted by rtmsf on September 9th, 2010

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.

RTC Choice: Texas 78, Virginia 65.

#2 North Carolina (89%) vs. #7 Washington (58%)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Summer School in the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 27th, 2010

Around The Big 12:

  • 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.

Power Rankings:

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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 »
Share this story

RTC Class Schedule 2010-11: Texas Longhorns

Posted by zhayes9 on August 15th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

After looking at Kansas last week, here’s a breakdown of Big 12 foe Texas and their quest to avenge last season’s disappointing collapse:

Gary Johnson: no longer a role player

Team Outlook: Rick Barnes lost three of his most productive players from last year’s up-and-down campaign. The fact that all three of those cogs were selected in the top-32 of the NBA Draft renders their descent from #1 ranked team to first round flameout all that more disturbing. Barnes and his burnt orange faithful are ready to look forward to a new season where, due to the incredible depth assembled last season, the drop-off talent wise isn’t monumental. While Kansas State, Baylor and Kansas are primed to finish in some order atop the Big 12, Texas isn’t too far behind. It’s also not blasphemy to suggest that the loss of a handful of bodies could be addition by subtraction for a coach that often struggled to maintain a consistent rotation. From scoring wing Jordan Hamilton to the rugged play of Gary Johnson to the lockdown defense of Dogus Balbay and a star studded recruiting class, the Longhorns could very well see their season last longer than it did last March.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 8.5. Coach Barnes has never been shy about loading up his non-conference schedule. That strategy certainly didn’t change in 2010 with a number of powerhouse programs both on the road and in Austin featured on the slate. After two warm-ups at home, Texas will travel to NYC for the 2K Sports Classic and face Illinois, a projected top-25 team that returns nearly all of their production from a year ago. Emerge victorious and it’s likely the Longhorns will face a Pitt team that brings back everyone but Jermaine Dixon from a squad that collected a #3 seed out of the always-challenging Big East. Texas was paired with USC in the Pac-10/Big 12 Hardwood series game to be played out in LA. Finally, four rematch games will provide Texas with a challenge- December 18 vs. North Carolina in Greensboro, four days later in a true road game at Michigan State and two early January home dates with Arkansas and Connecticut.

Cupcake City: To avoid burning out his team, Barnes did schedule a few walkover games. Louisiana Tech is one of the two warm-ups for New York, but the Bulldogs lost both Kyle Gibson and Magnum Rolle. Sam Houston State is on the slate, a program that gave Baylor a brief scare in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last March, yet once again they were hit hard by graduation. Texas State could contend in the Southland with a fair share of talent returning. Other squads on the slate include North Florida, Lamar, Coppin State and Rice with none of these contests on the road or on neutral floors. The Longhorns should cruise through these games.

Toughest Early Season Test: A matchup with Pitt at NYC would provide a stiff test, but this one isn’t even close: a true road game at Michigan State, a team that could easily be #1 in the nation when the Longhorns invade the Breslin Center. State only lost Raymar Morgan to graduation off of  last year’s Final Four club that completed the run without the services of star point guard and potential First Team All-America Kalin Lucas. Other than possibly Jacob Pullen, containing Lucas sets up to be Balbay and stud freshman Cory Joseph’s toughest task. Forwards Gary Johnson and the other star frosh Tristan Thompson will have their hands full with a healthy Delvon Roe and Draymond Green. The Spartans are also incredibly deep and always well-coached. Still, they have been vulnerable in the last couple seasons to losses on their home floor. Texas will need an A+ effort to accomplish that feat.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

20 At The Top: Big 12 Player Rankings

Posted by zhayes9 on July 16th, 2010

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

For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.

The Big 12 enjoyed a remarkable 2009-10 season, rivaling only the monstrous Big East for the ever-changing label of top conference in the land. Kansas spent a large majority of the season atop the national rankings, Texas escalated to a #1 spot before falling flat on their face, Kansas State was a top-ten squad that reached the Elite 8, Baylor exploded late to join K-State in the Elite 8, Texas A&M recovered from the Derrick Roland injury to put together a successful campaign, James Anderson led Oklahoma State to big wins and Missouri continued to be dangerous. With numerous impact seniors and juniors no longer residing in the conference and expansion put on the back burner, 2010-11 could be a bit of a down year in terms of elite teams and extraordinary talent. Continuing our Friday series of the top players in each conference heading into next season (my ACC top 20 from last week), here’s a look at the cream of the crop in the Big 12:

Pullen is the preseason favorite for B12 POY

1) Jacob Pullen, Kansas State- With backcourt mate Denis Clemente exhausting his eligibility, the onus is on Pullen to carry the strongest load of any team with Final Four expectations next season. I’d deduce the 6-foot sharpshooter has the chops to take on such an assignment. Pullen has an outgoing personality, displayed great leadership qualities last year and is always anxious to improve his game. His fearless shooting stroke and unlimited range really set Pullen apart. He peaked last year on the grand stage of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 62 points combined on 13-24 from behind the 3-point arc against BYU and Xavier. With Clemente no longer around to take shots, Pullen could average over 20 points per contest and put together a strong candidacy for first team All-America. The question mark regarding Pullen is his ability to run the point. He worked primarily off screens and isolations at K-State last season and will need to show more than just shooting guard skills at 6’1 to take the Wildcats to even greater heights.

2) Marcus Morris, Kansas- Assigned more of a supporting role with Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry around, Morris and incoming frosh Josh Selby are now assigned to make sure Kansas continues to bypass any semblance of rebuilding. Despite being more of a role player, Morris managed to be supremely efficient playing just 61% of his teams’ minutes. The 6’9 forward ranked in the top-100 in offensive rating and efficient FG%. He’s also an outstanding offensive rebounder nationally where a committed Morris won’t be denied snagging key second chances. His fundamentals are constantly improving from defensive effort to a confident face-up game and even a mid-range jumper that’s showed increasing range. Scary news flash for the Big 12: there’s still plenty of room for the young Morris to grow as a player. He should be a force next season in a starring role, averaging around 18/9 per game and molding into the most dominating forward in the conference.

3) Cory Higgins, Colorado- Few college hoops fans know much about Higgins. Playing three seasons for an irrelevant Colorado team in a conference loaded with big-name, successful programs will do that to you. I expect the Buffs to make more noise nationally in this upcoming season under new coach Tad Boyle, and the biggest reason is Higgins. The talented guard averaged nearly 20 PPG and shot close to 50% from the field in a junior year where stopping Higgins and freshman Alec Burks was the game plan for every opposing coach. Higgins has a quick first step, can explode to the rim and feels comfortable drawing contact and getting to the charity stripe at an outstanding rate where he shoots 83%. One of the candidates to lead the Big 12 in scoring next season, Higgins is a name to look out for even if the Buffaloes are not able to turn their program around in 2010-11. With Higgins on his last hurrah and Burks flirting with the NBA Draft, this could be their last chance for a good while.

4) LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor- Dunn made the prudent decision to return to Baylor for his senior season for another shot at the Final Four and the chance to move his draft stock even higher. Even with a funky shooting form, Dunn can light up any gym with his remarkable scoring abilities. In fact, Tweety Carter can thank Dunn for providing him with such astounding assist totals last season. Dunn could very well be the most potent shooter in the nation in 2010-11, an athletic talent that can catch fire at any moment. Dunn’s game has, on occasion, shown its ugly side — uninterested effort on defense, three straight years of more turnovers than assists, too much of a “streetball” mentality — but overall Dunn provides more positives for Scott Drew and Baylor than negatives. With Carter and Ekpe Udoh gone and Perry Jones no lock to become Superman, Dunn will need to refine his complete game rather than just play spot-up shooter and float around the perimeter for Baylor to reach another regional final.

It wouldn't surprise anybody if Dunn led the B12 in scoring

5) Perry Jones, Baylor- Even if he’s around for only one season, Jones has the chance to make the greatest impact of any Bear since Vinnie Johnson was dropping 24 per game in Waco. Jones is 6’11 with a  7’2 wingspan but plays more of a Lamar Odom/Tracy McGrady-style small forward, flashing advanced perimeter skills and the ability to pull up from mid-range with confidence. He’s at his peak when attacking the basket and can be absolutely unstoppable when motivated. Jones still has plenty of growth ahead of him on the defensive end of the floor and tends to disappear without the ball in his hands, but Scott Drew has to be incredibly anxious to start working with this kid and tap into that potential. The ceiling is unlimited and Jones is a near-lock to go in the top 5 in the 2011 NBA Draft.

6) Alec Burks, Colorado- Colorado fans are probably still wondering what would have happened if Burks, who was cleared by doctors but not at 100 percent, had played with a sprained left knee in an overtime home loss to top-ranked Kansas. The ultra-talented freshman turned out to be quite the recruiting coup for former headman Jeff Bzdelik and is returning to team with Cory Higgins for a campaign that they hope ends in the Buffs first NCAA berth since 2003. Burks scored over 17 PPG, shot 54% from the field and scored in double digits in every game as a rookie. I could probably just stop there. A late bloomer to scouts and evaluators, Burks possesses solid size and athleticism for a shooting guard, can fly to the rim, flashes decent court vision and shows the stroke to be a capable outside shooter in the near future. Adding some strength this summer would suit Burks extremely well.

7) Kim English, Missouri- He’ll never put up tremendous scoring totals because of the Tigers’ system and balanced attack, but if any player can anchor the Missouri attack next season, it’ll be the poetic and tweet-loving English. Known for sleeping in the Mizzou practice facility to get shots in before class, English has the skills to explode onto the national scene as a junior. English has rarely seen a shot he didn’t like and, for the amount of times the ball leaves his hands, a 39% FG% probably needs to move up a few ticks. Still, the 6’6 Baltimore native shows impressive three-point range and plays the role of another pest in Mike Anderson’s own version of 40 Minutes of Hell.

8) Josh Selby, Kansas- Bill Self won an intense recruiting battle for the former Tennessee commit Selby, ranked nationally as one of the top high school point guards in the nation. Other than Harrison Barnes and maybe Kyrie Irving, Selby has the most responsibility on his plate from Day One in Lawrence, stepping into Sherron Collins’ shoes as the on-court leader of the Jayhawk attack. If talent is any indication, Selby should be able to handle that demanding role. Selby possesses great body control and flies to the basket, but defenders must respect his deep shooting range and Selby has the ability to pull up for a leaning jumper at any moment on the break. That quickness and explosiveness could, in some ways, be an upgrade to Collins, and three-point poppers like Brady Morningstar and Tyrell Reed will still receive plenty of open looks with Selby flying around. Even with the typical freshman lumps, he’ll likely be a double-digit scorer right away and make an immediate impact on the Allen Fieldhouse hardwood.

9) Curtis Kelly, Kansas State- A former promising Jim Calhoun recruit, Kelly has found a home in Manhattan and is thriving beautifully. He impressed me just as much as any big man in last year’s NCAA Tournament and still has plenty of room to grow and expand his budding post game. Kelly averaged 12/6 on 57% FG playing with a busy Wildcat front line, but his 21 points in their Sweet 16 marathon win over Xavier is where I saw Kelly truly shine. The lanky southpaw has a nice face-up game but can also bang low in the post and shows spurts of tremendous skill. Maintain that aggressiveness both scoring and on the boards over 30 minutes of action and Kelly could form quite the inside-outside 1-2 punch with Jacob Pullen.

10) Mike Singletary, Texas Tech- Much like Higgins and Burks, Singletary doesn’t receive much national publicity because of his team’s recent success compared to the likes of Kansas, Texas and Texas A&M. Make no mistake about it, though: Singletary can play with the best of the conference and leads a number of key returners back to Lubbock for a run at the Big Dance. Singletary first made headlines when he dropped an otherworldly 29 straight points for the Red Raiders in one Big 12 Tournament game as a sophomore. He only improved as a junior: 15.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.3 APG, but struggled with jump shot inconsistencies, making up for those off nights by living at the free throw line.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ATB: Texas the New Florida?

Posted by rtmsf on December 22nd, 2009

Damion James Makes an Early Case for POY. #2 Texas 79, #9 Michigan State 68. Four days and two games against top ten opponents for Rick Barnes. No sweat, right? Texas passed yet another difficult test prior to the winter break by imposing their hellacious perimeter defense into 22 Michigan State turnovers and allowing the future Big 12 all-time rebounder Damion James to put up 23/13 on 10-18 FG in a statement victory at home. The dynamic defensive duo of Dogus Balbay and lengthy freshman Avery Bradley confused star point guard Kalin Lucas (3-11 FG and 2:6 A:TO ratio) all night while also forcing guards Chris Allen and Korie Lucious into a combined nine turnovers of their own. In a key stretch late in the second half, reserve forward Gary Johnson drained a difficult shot and forced two consecutive Michigan State miscues around the halfcourt line that were converted into easy buckets. But the real story is the utter dominance of Damion James. He’s now been clearly the best player on the floor against two national title participants in a matter of four days, making a case ahead of Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Craig Brackins for the favorite to win Big 12 POY (and perhaps more). Texas also received four treys from freshman Jordan Hamilton and did most of their damage with center Dexter Pittman on the bench with foul trouble. One could certainly make a case for the Longhorns as the #1 team in the land. They play Kansas, right?

Texas is Good Enough to Do the Florida Twin-Title Thing

Down to Seven Unbeatens. Arkansas 66, Missouri State 62 (OT). The undefeated run came to a bitter end in Fayetteville for Missouri State as the enigma that is the Arkansas basketball team edged the Bears in overtime. Regulation ended in crazy fashion with a wide-open Caleb Patterson layup at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. With 18 seconds left in the extra frame, three-point mastermind Rotnei Clarke nailed a clutch trey and then sealed the game with two free throws afterwards. Missouri State struggled from the field all night, shooting just 32% from three and 31% overall in a rare positive showing for the Razorback defense. Kyle Weems led the way for the Bears with 24 points.

Cal Challenges Kansas for a Half. #1 Kansas 84, California 69. Maybe the Pac-10 is improving?  The much-maligned league got three wins over BCS conference teams in the same evening; and considering that coming into tonight’s games, the league was a combined 6-20 against the other five power conferences this season, three more wins in a single night is something to be excited about.  This was not one of those three wins.  For about twenty-five minutes tonight, though, Cal hung right there with the nation’s #1 team on its home court, but eventually the superior talent of KU won out, as the Jayhawks hit a scorching 73% for the second half and used a 15-3 run to open some distance and ultimately put the game away.  All five Kansas starters scored in double figures, led by Sherron Collins’ 17/5 and Cole Aldrich’s 10/10/5 blks.  Patrick Christopher had 21 for the Bears, picking up for the struggling star Jerome Randle (3-15 FG), who had trouble finding open looks against the Jayhawk defense (including seven turnovers).

Texas Tech Loses More Than a Game. #19 Washington 73, Texas A&M 64. UW got 25/13/3 blks from Quincy Pondexter, who is putting up all-america numbers this year, but more importantly the Huskies’ defense was superb, holding A&M to 30% shooting and handling the Aggies on the boards (+10).  The overarching story of this game, though, was the terrible injury that TAMU guard Derrick Roland suffered when he came down awkwardly and broke his leg after jumping under the basket in the second half.  Those who saw it live compared it to the gruesome broken leg that Joe Theismann once endured on national television a generation ago.  If you’re the type of person who does not handle seeing injuries well, you probably shouldn’t make the jump today (we put the video up, but you don’t have to watch it; seriously, it’s bad).

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ATB: Northwestern Really Misses Kevin Coble

Posted by rtmsf on November 19th, 2009

atb

A quiet day following the storm of the 24-hour marathon and on the eve of two tremendous CvC semifinal matchups tomorrow night in New York City…

Story of the Day Butler Passes Its First Non-Conference Test. #10 Butler 67, Northwestern 54. It was a balanced effort last night for the Bulldogs who shook off a sluggish opener against Davidson to down the shorthanded Wildcats. Northwestern could have used leading scorer and rebounder Kevin Coble along with senior forward Jeff Ryan (both out with season-ending injuries) against a deeper Butler squad that saw five players notch nine points or better. The effort was led by sophomore point guard Shelvin Mack’s 15 points and eight assists while Gordon Hayward chipped in with 14 of his own. Butler was able to win despite shooting a lackluster 8-16 from the charity stripe, a statistic I’m sure coach Brad Stevens won’t ignore. Butler now has a road date with Evansville before departing for Anaheim next week.  For mor e details from this one, our RTC Live post is on it.

Longhorn Domination (or Was It?). #3 Texas 73, Western Carolina 41. Dominating win for the Longhorns against weak competition, but 21 turnovers and 18-31 from the free throw line have to be concerning numbers for Rick Barnes. A balanced scoring effort last night with some highlights including Damion James ’18/7/2 on 4-9 FG, 2-3 3pt and 8-10 FT, Gary Johnson with 10 points on 4-4 FG and potential starting point guard J’Covan Brown with 10 points on 3-3 FG. Remember: the Longhorns still don’t have Jai Lucas eligible. This is still the second-best team in the nation in my humble estimation.

Other Games of National Interest.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story