Set Your Tivo: 02.07.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 7th, 2011

***** – 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.

Two of the top teams in the country are each without a key player tonight, plus one is on the road. How will the personnel losses affect these two deep teams? All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#4 Pittsburgh @ West Virginia – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

The Panthers Will Have To Learn to Live Without Gibbs For a While

The Backyard Brawl, hoops edition, tips off for the 181st time tonight in Morgantown with West Virginia owning a 95-85 series edge. However, Pittsburgh has won seven of the last ten meetings with Jamie Dixon’s program reloading every year of late. This evening the Panthers will be without a key cog in their offense, itself ranked #2 in efficiency. Ashton Gibbs, Pitt’s leading scorer and best three point shooter, is out with a knee injury and will miss up to two weeks. That means Travon Woodall will start at the point guard position and the Panthers’ outstanding depth will be put to the test.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.04-02.06

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 2011

***** – 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.

On paper, this isn’t the best weekend of games. However, this is college basketball where anything can happen. You just never know what could happen and it may end up being a thrilling couple of days, anyway. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

West Virginia @ #12 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Yet another big game in the Big East features two teams tied for third place at 6-3 in league play. The winner will tie second place Notre Dame, just a game and a half behind first place Pittsburgh. West Virginia has won seven of nine games and rebounding has been a big reason why. The Mountaineers have not been out-rebounded by an opponent since a New Year’s Day game at Marquette, plus their defense has been solid. West Virginia has scored only 58 PPG over their last four games (three of them without leading scorer Casey Mitchell) but has held opponents to an average of 50 PPG over the same stretch, culminating in holding Seton Hall to 44 points on Wednesday. Bob Huggins’ team is #5 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage but will have to bring their A-game on the glass against Villanova. The Wildcats rank 20th in keeping opponents off the offensive boards and were led by the interior duo of Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou in their most recent win over Marquette. They combined for 32/15 and have been huge factors this season as Jay Wright isn’t counting exclusively on his guards to win games anymore. Although West Virginia has rebounded the ball extremely well of late, they still rank only #291 in opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage, allowing teams to grab 35.6% of their misses. Villanova will likely miss a lot of long range shots against West Virginia’s #2 ranked three point defense (allowing 27%) so offensive rebounding will be important for both teams, especially the Wildcats, in this game. Coach Huggins used 6’7 John Flowers on Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell in their last game and he successfully shut down the Pirates’ gunner. Might we see the same thing on Villanova’s Corey Stokes? It’s a good possibility, though Flowers may be needed inside more often to double Pena and Yarou. Flowers leads the Big East in blocked shots and needs to have another good defensive game against a Villanova team that can score in bunches. The Wildcats score 25.6% of their points from the foul line and attempted 33 free throws against Marquette. Villanova is very difficult to beat when they get to the stripe because they shoot 78% and get there so often. Dribble penetration from Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns leads to good looks inside and plenty of free throw opportunities. West Virginia has to do a good job defending the dribble drive and Kevin Jones will be a key player in doing so. Jones is a taller player who, along with Flowers, will form the second line of defense if the Wildcat guards are able to get into the lane. Jones is also a warrior on the glass, going for 13/12 in his last game. With the status of Casey Mitchell still uncertain, West Virginia will have to stick to typical “Huggy-ball” more than ever, and that’s physical defense and great rebounding. Villanova is 16-0 when they score at least 70 points but only 2-4 when they fail to do so. With the way West Virginia is rebounding and playing defense right now, it’s very possible that this game could be in the 50’s or 60’s. We’re going to go with the upset and take the Mountaineers on the road in this game.

#10 Kentucky @ Florida – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

With a win on Saturday night, Florida can really create some separation between themselves and Kentucky. With a win against the Wildcats, Florida will hold a two and a half game lead over UK and remain ahead of Tennessee, a team they beat on the road already. Quite simply, a win here puts Florida in a commanding position in the SEC East. Of course, that won’t be so easy against the nation’s fourth ranked team in eFG% defense. The Gators have won 9 of 11 games but Kentucky will be their toughest test since a meeting with Ohio State back in November. The Wildcats are coming off a loss at Ole Miss earlier this week, a game in which they committed 18 turnovers and didn’t defend the three point line well at all. Freshman point guard Brandon Knight had six of those turnovers and needs to do a better job tonight. Young teams can’t turn it over and expect to win on the road no matter how talented they are and Kentucky is finding out the hard way. With a 2-4 record in true road games, the Wildcats need to grow up quick if they want to play deep into March. Knight needs to create shots for himself and others, taking advantage of UK’s 40% shooting from deep. With Doron Lamb shooting the ball very well recently, Kentucky has plenty of threats to win this game. A key battle in this game will be at the forward spot as Kentucky’s freshman Terrence Jones goes up against Florida senior Chandler Parsons. Jones averages 18/9 and had 22/12 at Ole Miss while Parsons has been on an absolute tear on the glass of late. Controlling the boards will be critically important in a game that could be all about pace. The Gators would like to slow the game down and work in the half court while the Wildcats are comfortable at a quicker pace. To keep the tempo in their favor, Florida has to win the rebounding battle and make shots. The Gators are #10 in offensive rebounding percentage but the matchup between Jones and Parsons, as well as Vernon Macklin and Josh Harrellson at the center position, will likely determine who controls the glass in this game. If Harrellson can shut down Macklin (Festus Ezeli of Vanderbilt did a good job of this in the last game), the onus will be on Parsons to carry the Gators yet again. With Erving Walker hitting only 7 of his last 33 threes (21%), Florida will work the ball inside even more than they already do. The Gators get 56.8% of their points from two point range but will face the #4 interior defense in the country. Kentucky allows opponents to shoot only 41% from two point range while Florida is making 50.5% of their two point shots. This should be a physical game and whoever controls the interior will likely come out on top. Despite their road woes, we think John Calipari’s team will be ready to play tonight and hand the Gators their fourth home loss, disappointing the big crowd sure to be at the O-Dome for ESPN Game Day.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.24.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 24th, 2011

***** – 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.

After a thrilling Saturday, the attention turns back to the Big East and Big 12 on ESPN’s Big Monday. Can Notre Dame pick up a much needed road win? Will either Baylor or Kansas State save their season (at least temporarily) with a win? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#16 Notre Dame @ #5 Pittsburgh – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

The big story in this game will be whether or not Notre Dame can make a statement by finally picking up a road win. The Fighting Irish are 0-3 in true road games this season, but they did win the Old Spice Classic on a neutral floor back in November. Winning at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh is about as difficult as it gets, a place where the Panthers have lost only 11 times since the building opened at the start of the 2002-03 season. Notre Dame has some momentum having won two straight in South Bend, including a nice comeback win against Marquette on Saturday. As for Pittsburgh, they have won nine straight games and built a resume that would earn a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended today.

Dixon Has His Panthers On Track To Earn a #1 Seed

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East.


A Look Back

The Big East seems like it is beginning to break into three groups at the top. You have the contenders at the top in Pitt and Syracuse, then you have a second tier of Villanova and UConn.

Beyond that, you may as well start flipping a coin.

Right now, Louisville and West Virginia look to be the best of the rest. This comes a week after Notre Dame and Georgetown looked like they were the best of the rest. Marquette is good enough to beat anyone in the league, but they haven’t been closing games. Cincinnati is still a bit of an unknown, as they have lost to Syracuse and Villanova on the road, but have taken care of everyone else they have played in conference play. St. John’s is another enigma, as seen by a 20-point loss and a 20-point win versus Notre Dame in the span of a week.

The craziest part? Every single one of those 11 teams I just mentioned has a real shot of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. There is no way that happens — there is too much parity in the league and these teams are going to be beating up on each other for another month and a half — but depending on how the rest of conference play turns out, I can realistically see nine teams earning themselves a bid.

That is, of course, assuming teams like Georgetown and Notre Dame figure out how to turn their season around and Cincinnati and St. John’s turn out to be for real. If those teams end up being the worst case scenario, I can also see a situation arising where only six or seven teams earn a bid.

The only thing I am sure of?

This league is going to be a fun one to follow for the next two months.

Player of the WeekPreston Knowles, Louisville: Rick Pitino has said it time and again — this Cardinals team doesn’t have a star. They don’t have a go to player. And as easy as that is to believe, Knowles is certainly close to becoming ‘the man’ for this team. In three games since we last did a Big East check-in, Knowles averaged 17.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 2.3 SPG, all while hitting 11 of 24 from three. Knowles’ best statistical performance came in Louisville’s loss at Villanova on Wednesday, but he was the catalyst for their impressive comeback against Marquette. He scored 15 points in the second half, including four threes and two assists in the final 5:45 as Louisville overcame an 18-point deficit to win. He had the game winning assist with four seconds left, finding Kyle Kuric for a layup. Knowles’ transformation from a defensive specialist to an offensive star has been an impressive one to watch.

Team of the WeekWest Virginia: All of a sudden, the Mountaineers look like a team capable of making a run at the top four in the league. Kevin Jones had a slow start to the season, but he’s come on strong of late, averaging 17.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game — with 18 offensive boards — in the last three games. John Flowers is one of the best glue guys and arguably the best defender in the league. Casey Mitchell is always a threat to go for 25 points. If defenses key on him, Truck BryantDenis Kilicli, and Joe Mazzulla all have shown the ability to be double figure scorers. They have role players, they can defend, and when they are hustling and playing the blue collar game that Bobby Huggins loves, this team is dangerous. Ask Georgetown and Purdue, as both took a loss to WVU this week.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (18-1, 6-0) (2)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Marquette 89-81, 1/12 @ Georgetown 72-57, 1/15 vs. Seton Hall 74-53, 1/17 vs. Syracuse 74-66

Next Week: 1/22 @ DePaul, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame

Efficiency is the name of the game for this Pitt team offensively. They may be the best team in the country when it comes to executing offensively. They always seem to get the shot that they want, whether it is a post touch for Gary McGhee or a three for Ashton Gibbs coming off of a screen. If they miss, 45.6% of the time they get the offensive rebound. They also don’t turn the ball over in the half court, meaning that they maximize their possessions offensively as well as anyone. They’ve been knocked on the defensive end of the floor, but the last three games have looked much better. If there is an Achilles heel, it is that they struggle against pressure. Providence nearly beat them by forcing turnovers with a press while Syracuse and Georgetown got the Panthers to turn the ball over late using a press.

2. Syracuse (18-1, 5-1) (1)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Seton Hall 61-56, 1/12 @ St. John’s 76-59, 1/15 vs. Cincinnati 67-52, 1/17 @ Pitt 66-74

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Villanova

The Orange suffered their first loss of the season Monday night, but take it with a grain of salt. The loss came at Pitt when the Orange were missing Kris Joseph, and they were nearly able to overcome a 19-0 start by the Panthers. The Orange look like the best team in the conference on the defensive end of the floor, and the numbers back it up. The question all season long has been on the offensive end, but with Joseph’s recent scoring surge and the emergence of James Southerland as a spot-up shooter at the three/four spot, that may be less of an issue. The Orange aren’t getting a lot of pub right now, but this team is for real.

3. Connecticut (15-2, 4-2) (6)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Texas 82-81 OT, 1/11 vs. Rutgers 67-53, 1/15 @ DePaul 82-62, 1/17 vs. Villanova 61-59

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Tennessee

All of a sudden, UConn has a supporting cast. Alex Oriakhi has been fantastic the past four games, averaging 13.3 points and 12.5 rebounds per game while showing off some nice post moves. Jeremy Lamb has been playing very well on both ends of the floor. Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith both have shown the ability to be second and third scoring options this season. Kemba Walker‘s efficiency numbers have been dropping as defenses focus on him, but his teammates have shown an increasing confidence to take and make big shots when they are left open. As UConn continues to improve defensively — forcing turnovers and clearing the defensive glass — they are only going to get better as a team.

4. Villanova (16-2, 4-1) (3)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Cincinnati 72-61, 1/12 vs. Louisville 88-74, 1/15 vs. Maryland 74-66, 1/17 @ UConn 59-61

Next Week: 1/22 @ Syracuse

Villanova’s first loss in conference play came on a Kemba Walker buzzer beater in Gampel without Dominic Cheek. It also came on a night when Corey Fisher looked like Mr. 105 while the rest of his teammates struggled to get anything going offensively. I like what his team can do defensively, but I still have concerns on the offensive end of the floor. Maalik Wayns is talented, but he is inconsistent and needs to learn how to run a team and not just be a dribbler. Fisher has been up and down, although he looked terrific against UConn. The key may be Mouphtaou Yarou. If he can get better scoring on the block, the emergence of Antonio Pena‘s jump shot will give him a lot of opportunities down low with space.

5. Louisville (14-3, 3-1) (7)

Last Week: 1/9 @ South Florida 86-77, 1/12 @ Villanova 74-88, 1/15 vs. Marquette 71-70

Next Week: 1/19 vs. St. John’s, 1/22 @ Providence

See the “Player of the Week” feature above to see why Rick Pitino has Preston Knowles and the Cardinals rolling.

6. West Virginia (12-4, 3-2) (11)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Georgetown 65-59, 1/13 vs. Providence 93-63, 1/16 vs. Purdue 68-64

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Marshall, 1/23 vs. South Florida

See the “Team of the Week” feature above for my thoughts on the Mountaineers.

7. Marquette (12-6, 3-2) (10)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Pitt 81-89, 1/10 vs. Notre Dame 79-57, 1/15 @ Louisville 70-71

Next Week: 1/18 vs. DePaul, 1/22 @ Notre Dame

Marquette still hasn’t been able to figure out how to win the close games this season. The talent is clearly there — it wasn’t a fluke that they were up by 18 in Louisville — but the ability to finish games isn’t quite there yet. The perfect example — Marquette was up 70-69 against Louisville with less than 30 seconds left when they broke the Cardinals’ press. Instead of pulling the ball out, Dwight Buycks attacked Terrence Jennings and had his shot blocked. At the other end, the Golden Eagles lost track of Kyle Kuric on a dribble handoff, and it resulted in a wide open layup for the win.

8. St. John’s (11-5, 4-2) (9)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Notre Dame 61-76, 1/12 vs. Syracuse 59-76, 1/16 vs. Notre Dame 72-54

Next Week: 1/19 @ Louisville, 1/22 vs. Cincinnati

I still can’t figure this team out. I thought I had them pegged — a fraud — after they were blown out by both Syracuse and Notre Dame, but then the Johnnies went and beat the Irish by 18 in a rematch on Sunday. They can defend, they are physical, and they have a couple of players that are dangerous when they get it going, but I’m not completely sold yet. Win at Louisville on Wednesday, and we’ll talk.

9. Notre Dame (14-4, 3-3) (4)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. St. John’s 76-61, 1/10 @ Marquette 57-79, 1/16 @ St. John’s 54-72

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Cincinnati, 1/22 vs. Marquette

There are two different Notre Dame teams — the one that plays at home and the one that plays on the road. The Irish have four losses on the season — by 14 at Kentucky, by 12 at Syracuse, by 22 at Marquette, and by 18 at St. John’s. I love the roster makeup of this group. The mental makeup is a different story.

10. Georgetown (13-5, 2-4) (5)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. West Virginia 59-65, 1/12 vs. Pitt 57-72, 1/15 @ Rutgers 74-65

Next Week: 1/18 @ Seton Hall

I’ve written off the Hoyas … for now. I’ve seen this happen too many times. It feels like a rerun of the 2009 campaign, when Georgetown jumped all the way to eighth in the country after a win at UConn to kick off Big East play before collapsing and getting bounced in the first round of the NIT. They are a small team up front and they aren’t a great defensive team, but they haven’t been good enough on the offensive end to make up for it.

11. Cincinnati (16-2, 3-2) (8)

Last Week: 1/9 @ Villanova 61-72, 1/12 vs. South Florida 74-66, 1/15 @ Syracuse 52-67

Next Week: 1/19 @ Notre Dame, 1/22 @ St. John’s

My opinion of the Bearcats hasn’t changed. I like the pieces they have, but I am not sure if they are good enough to make the tournament. Yancy Gates is inconsistent and their perimeter has had a tough time against good teams. They have two winnable road games against fellow tourney contenders this week. Win one and make a statement.

12. Seton Hall (8-10, 2-4) (13)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Syracuse 56-61, 1/12 @ DePaul 78-67, 1/15 @ Pitt 53-74

Next Week: 1/18 vs. Georgetown, 1/22 vs. Rutgers

The best story of the week belonged to Jeremy Hazell, who made a return from a broken wrist that required surgery and a gunshot wound to score 23 points against DePaul. I’m hoping that he can be the spark that the Pirates need to salvage their season.

13. Rutgers (10-7, 1-4) (14)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Providence 85-72, 1/11 @ UConn 53-67, 1/15 vs. Georgetown 65-74

Next Week: 1/20 vs. South Florida, 1/22 @ Seton Hall

This group plays hard, they just don’t have the talent in the program to beat the big boys yet.

14. South Florida (7-12, 1-5) (16)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Louisville 77-86, 1/12 @ Cincinnati 66-74, 1/16 vs. Providence 79-72

Next Week: 1/20 Rutgers, 1/23 @ West Virginia

15. Providence (11-8, 0-6) (12)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Rutgers 72-85, 1/13 @ West Virginia 63-93, 1/16 @ South Florida 72-79

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Louisville

16. DePaul (6-11, 0-5) (15)

Last Week: 1/12 vs. Seton Hall 67-78, 1/15 vs. UConn 62-82

Next Week: 1/18 @ Marquette, 1/22 vs. Pitt

I’d say there is a 25% chance that none of these three teams gets a win against any of the top 13 teams in the Big East. Who else is happy that TCU is joining the mix in 2012?

A Look Ahead

The big day for the Big East this week looks to be Wednesday, when St. John’s and Cincinnati get their cracks at Louisville and Notre Dame, respectively, on the road. Both teams need a win. Not just for their resume, but to make a statement. The way to earn respect in this league is by winning on the road against good teams. On Saturday, make sure you’re up early as Syracuse and Villanova tip at noon.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC Correspondent for the Big East conference.

[Ed. note: this post was written prior to Tuesday night’s games]

A Look Back

Last week, I wrote about how the Big East had won a number of the early season tournaments.  Six, to be exact. Two other teams made the finals of their respective tournaments. I had this to say about it: But is it possible that, while looking at the Big East’s faults, we happened to overlook just how deep the conference is? Yes, apparently. I’m taking it a step further this week.

The Big East, as of today, might actually be the best conference in the country. There are 19 college basketball teams left without a loss on the season. Seven of them are members of the Big East conference — Pitt, Georgetown, UConn, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Louisville. Three more have just one loss — St. John’s, Villanova, and a 9-1 Providence team off to their best start since 1988.  True, the Big East has 16 teams, more than any other conference. But in comparison, the Big Ten and the Big 12, the two other leagues that can realistically join the conversation, have just two undefeated teams each.

I think we can all agree, however, that this is not the best way to determine the strength of a conference. Is RPI? Because the Big East has the No. 1 conference RPI according to If you want to get even more in depth, Albert Lancada of ESPN put together a formula that incorporates four different computer rankings as well as both polls, and he found that the Big East was a close second to the Big Ten when it came to the best conference.

Honestly, I don’t love breaking down conference rankings. I think it is actually pretty boring, but it is a good discussion starter. Anyone that follows me on twitter knows how much I enjoy a good twi-scussion.  Even the most die-hard Big Ten and Big 12 fans have to admit that the Big East may currently be leading that discussion.

Player of the Week: Chris Wright, Georgetown. Team of the Week: Georgetown Hoyas

This week, its all about Georgetown, and not just because the majority of the Big East didn’t play anyone this week. It’s about time that we start to consider Georgetown as one of the favorites to win the Big East and to reach the Final Four. That’s what happens when you start the season 8-0 with wins against teams like Old Dominion, Missouri, NC State and Utah State. Only the Utah State game was at home. Last week, the Hoyas beat two completely different teams. On Tuesday, they went into Kansas City to take on the Tigers in what was the single most entertaining game of the young season, 111-102 (OT).

On Saturday, the Aggies came to town. After playing a methodical first half which saw USU’s offense execute to precision, John Thompson III threw on a press in the second half which the Aggies could not handle. Turnovers and easy baskets led to a 68-51 win over the WAC favorites despite Chris Wright being the only player that reached double figures for the Hoyas.

Georgetown beat two very good teams this week. Those two teams played styles that are at opposite ends of the basketball spectrum. Both teams were able to execute their game plans to a degree — Missouri got the game into an uptempo shootout, forcing turnovers and scoring in transition while Utah State was able to keep Georgetown from shooting threes (the Hoyas were 2-9 from deep) and kept the pace methodical – the Hoyas won both games.

Chris Wright was Georgetown’s most valuable player this week. Against Missouri, he had 21 points, ten assists, and hit the three that forced overtime with 0.3 seconds left. He also had 21 against Utah State, the only player to reach double figures in the game.

Deserving of a shout-out: Brandon Young, DePaul (because we all know none of you will make it down to the DePaul section of this post)

Quickly, name the best freshman in the Big East. I bet the name Brandon Young never came up, did it? Young is the fifth-leading freshman scorer in the country at 16.3 PPG. He averaged 24.0 PPG last week as DePaul actually won two games, knocking off Central Michigan and Northern Illinois. Against Central Michigan, Young exploded for 31 points, the second most for a freshman this season and the most for a DePaul freshman since Quentin Richardson. He also went 6-6 from three after going into the game 1-9 on the season.

Power Rankings (last week’s rankings in parentheses)

1. Pitt 9-0 (1)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. Duquesne 80-66, 12/4 vs. Rider 87-68
Next Week: 12/8 vs. Delaware State, 12/11 vs. Tennessee

Brad Wanamaker had come back down to earth after a terrific start to the season, culminating in an ugly performance against Duquesne where the senior guard had four fouls and seven turnovers in just 16 minutes. He responded in a big way against Rider, scoring 16 points and dropping 11 dimes while turning the ball over just once. Ashton Gibbs is still playing terrific, efficient basketball. And Pitt’s front line is starting to come alive. Dante Taylor scored 21 points this week. Gary McGhee had 12 points, 13 boards, and 7 blocks against the Dukes. Nasir Robinson went for 14 in that game. Yeah. Pitt’s good.

2. Georgetown 8-0 (4)
Last Week: 11/30 vs. Missouri 111-102 OT, 12/4 vs. Utah State 68-51
Next Week: 12/9 @ Temple, 12/12 vs. Appalachian State

See above discussion of Team of the Week.

3. UConn 7-0 (2)
Last Week: 11/30 vs. UNH 62-55, 12/3 vs. UMBC 94-61
Next Week: 12/8 vs. FDU

Kemba Walker had another terrific week, putting 30 on New Hampshire before notching a triple double (24 points, 13 boards, ten assists) against UMBC. But the Huskies may have had their fatal flaw exposed this past week. Combined, the Huskies gave up over 30 offensive rebounds to two teams that should not be able to rebound with UConn. Alex Oriakhi is a horse inside, but he’s one of the only frontcourt players on that team with any strength. What happens when Roscoe Smith tries to box out Rick Jackson or Dante Taylor?

4. Villanova 6-1 (3)
Last Week: 12/3 vs. St. Joe’s 71-60
Next Week: 12/8 @ Penn, 12/12 @ La Salle

All of a sudden, the Wildcats have no depth. Nova was able to bounce back with a win over St. Joseph’s in one of the great college basketball rivalries, but they did it with Maurice Sutton out with ankle problems and Isaiah Armwood dealing with back spasms. Worse, however, is the fact that JayVaughn Pinkston got word this week that he will be forced to miss the entire season as a result of the fight he got in earlier this year. Throw in the struggles of Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns the last two games, and Nova had to get bumped down.

5. Syracuse 8-0 (5)
Last Week: 11/30 vs. Cornell 78-58, 12/4 vs. NC State 65-59
Next Week: 12/7 vs. Michigan State, 12/11 vs. Colgate

The Orange have yet to really put together an impressive performance this season. This week, the NC State team that lost to Wisconsin by 39 points went into the Carrier Dome and nearly beat the Orange. While they continue to struggle to find their range from three, we at least have a reason for Fab Melo‘s slow start — he’s playing with an injured achilles and a dislocated finger.

6. Notre Dame 8-0 (7)
Last Week: 11/30 vs. Indiana State 81-72
Next Week: 12/8 vs. Kentucky, 12/11 vs. Gonzaga

We will have to wait until next week to really get a feel for the Irish. The win over Wisconsin is nice, but the Badgers haven’t been the most impressive team here early in the season. Notre Dame will get Kentucky on the road before playing host to the Zags. It will be interesting to see how the Irish match up with a team as athletic as Kentucky or Gonzaga.

7. Louisville 6-0 (8)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. FIU 92-55, 12/4 vs. South Alabama 97-70
Next Week: 12/8 vs. San Francisco, 12/11 vs. UNLV

The Cardinals still haven’t done anything wrong, but they really haven’t had an opportunity to. The win over Butler is looking less impressive after the Bulldogs lost to Evansville. They will get a really good test on Saturday when UNLV pays the Yum! Center a visit.

8. Cincinnati 7-0 (11)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. Wright State 77-69, 12/4 @ Toledo 81-47
Next Week: 12/11 vs. Utah Valley

The Bearcats are, in fact, 7-0. But they also haven’t beaten much of anyone this season as Dayton is not as good as many believed they would be. The sad thing is that Cincy can realistically make it to the new year undefeated if they can handle Xavier on New Year’s Eve.

9. Marquette 6-2 (9)
Last Week: 12/4 vs. Longwood 96-65
Next Week: 12/7 vs. Texas A&M-CC, 12/11 vs. Wisconsin

Marquette needs to spend their Christmas break down time taking jumpers, because the Golden Eagles’ biggest issue right now is that they are shooting under 30% from beyond the arc. Once those jumpers start dropping, this will be a different team.

10. West Virginia 5-2 (6)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. American 71-50, 12/4 @ Miami FL 76-79
Next Week: 12/7 vs. Robert Morris, 12/12 @ Duquesne

Perhaps the biggest testament to the strength of this conference is that West Virginia is 10th in our rankings. Tenth! That’s what happens when the same team that battled Minnesota for 40 minutes for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title loses to Miami. Casey Mitchell finally came back to earth, finishing just 5-15 from the floor after breaking the 25-point mark in five straight games.

11. St. John’s 5-1 (10)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. Wagner 69-61
Next Week: 12/7 vs. St. Bonaventure, 12/11 @ Fordham

The Johnnies have now won five in a row after knocking off Wagner 69-61. I hope you didn’t write this team off after their loss to St. Mary’s. DJ Kennedy, who has been struggling, came off the bench to score 20 points, a personal season high.

12. Providence 9-1 (14)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. Northeastern 77-72, 12/4 vs. URI 87-74, 12/6 vs. Brown 91-64
Next Week: 12/8 @ Boston College, 12/11 vs. Alabama

The Friars are off to their best start to a season in a long time. You always have to consider the competition and pace of play, but Providence currently sits 11th in the country in rebounds per game. Not bad for a team whose big knock in past year’s was their extreme guard orientation. If they win at Boston College, it’ll be time to start talking about the Friars.

13. Seton Hall 3-3 (12)
Last Week: Nothing
Next Week: 12/11 @ UMass

The Pirates didn’t play last week, but they still lost. Jeremy Hazell is out at least another month after having surgery on his broken wrist.

14. South Florida 5-4 (13)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. VCU 60-59, 12/4 @ Florida Atlantic 42-50
Next Week: 12/12 @ Kent State

It’s a shame South Florida had to go and lose to Florida Atlantic. I was just starting to like this team. They were coming off of back-to-back wins against Texas Tech and VCU, and did not have a bad loss on their resume.

15. Rutgers 4-2 (15)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. NJIT 66-54
Next Week: 12/8 vs. Marist, 12/11 vs. Auburn

Auburn vs. Rutgers on Saturday will air in 3D on ESPN, according to a tweet from Mike DeCourcy. With Auburn being one of nation’s worst Power Six teams and Rutgers struggling to generate interest even in their own fanbase, I’ll bet five people see it, and none in 3D.

16. DePaul 3-4 (16)
Last Week: 12/2 vs. Northern Illinois 86-84, 12/5 vs. Central Michigan 71-62
Next Week: 12/8 @ Indiana State, 12/11 vs. Ball State

Brandon Young’s status as an overlooked freshman was chronicled earlier in this space. As one of the nation’s lowest “Power Six” schools in KenPom’s rankings, there’s not much else to get up for with this group.

A Look Ahead

While some teams use the holiday season to feast on cupcakes, that’s not the case with the Big East. High-profile opponents this week include Michigan State (Syracuse), Tennessee (Pittsburgh), Kentucky and Gonzaga (Notre Dame), and Wisconsin (Marquette).

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One Man’s Opinion: Contenders After One Month

Posted by zhayes9 on December 6th, 2010

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

After engulfing myself in a nightly binge of college basketball over the first month of the season- taking in games from the Big Apple to the Little Apple and from Cancun to Maui- here is one man’s evaluation on some of the top teams in the country and where they stand heading into the final weeks of non-conference play:

Kyrie Irving has surpassed expectations thus far

Duke- It’s going to take a near perfect effort to beat Duke this season. Being able to lure Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler back to campus coinciding with a severe down year in the ACC was truly the perfect storm of circumstance. One chance a team may have to dethrone Duke is if they lure Mason Plumlee into two early fouls, keep them in the halfcourt and the Blue Devils become three-happy, but Duke does have five players who can catch fire from deep at any time. Kyrie Irving has surpassed any and all expectations during the first month of the season. His court awareness is reminiscent of a 10-year NBA veteran rather than an 18-year old college freshman. His use of the hesitation dribble, ability to split screens, explode to the basket and display innate court awareness has vaulted Irving to stardom. What makes Duke so lethal is that they have a plethora of options that can explode for 25 points on any given night, just as Plumlee did against Marquette or Singler against Oregon or Irving against Michigan State.  There’s three potential lottery picks on this team, but selfishness is never an issue and they flow together seamlessly on the court. I have a hard time pointing out exactly where Duke slips up this season; after all, they don’t face a currently ranked team the rest of the slate.

Ohio State- Here’s the one team I feel would have a good shot at knocking off Duke on a neutral floor right now. They can come close to matching the Blue Devils at every position on the floor if William Buford runs the point. Jared Sullinger has been overrated a bit in the early going. Most of his production has come off easy dunks and layups and I haven’t seen an array of post moves quite yet, although I trust that they exist in his arsenal. It’s his fellow freshmen that should be receiving more attention. DeShaun Thomas is scoring 13 PPG in just over 17 MPG of play and shooting 56% from the floor. I’ve also been wildly impressed with the headiness and intelligence of Aaron Craft at the point. He’s compiled a near 2/1 assist/turnover ratio in the early going and has done a fantastic job finding shooters Diebler and Lighty off screens or Sullinger in low post position. David Lighty is this team’s MVP. He’s a lockdown defender and has really improved his outside jumper, while Buford may have the best mid-range game in the Big Ten. One should always anticipate Tom Izzo’s team to improve as the season wears on, but the Buckeyes have to be the odds-on favorite to win this conference as of now.

Pittsburgh- I know it’s horribly cliché when talking about Pittsburgh, but “tough” is the first word that comes to mind. Jamie Dixon’s teams are never outworked and currently lead all of college basketball is offensive rebounding percentage. Pitt seemingly has an assembly line of big men they can trot off the bench to give Gary McGhee, Nasir Robinson and Talib Zanna breathers. Dixon loves to run Ashton Gibbs off screens for open looks and the junior sharpshooter is connecting better than ever, although he still lacks true point guard skills. Although the rotation will eventually be trimmed down, Dixon has the luxury of digging 10-deep into his bench that Big East rivals like Georgetown and Connecticut simply do not have. McGhee is the type of bruiser inside that every team would love to throw out there for 20 MPG. He gives Pitt’s offense extra shot opportunities and shuts down opposing big men inside. Pitt doesn’t necessarily have the star power of other Final Four contenders, but their toughness and execution as a unit may be enough to carry them to Houston.

Kansas- I think we all need to take a moment to applaud the job Bill Self has done in Lawrence. This program lost two lottery picks and an All-American and have taken maybe one step back. This is a credit to the tremendous depth Self has compiled at Kansas and his staff’s ability to develop players. When Josh Selby is eligible on December 18, this team becomes Final Four good. He could be lumped into the same category as Irving, Walker and McCamey come March. I’ve been wildly impressed with how well the Jayhawks know their roles. The Morris brothers complement each other with Marcus as the inside-outside scoring threat (18.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 65% FG, 9/15 from deep) and Markieff perfectly content with doing the dirty work on the boards and in the paint. In and out of Self’s doghouse during his tenure at Kansas, Tyshawn Taylor has done a quietly solid job filling in for Selby at the point distributing the basketball.  A player who also flies under the radar is Brady Morningstar. Most just view him as a spot-up shooter, but he’s a valuable cog for Self ushering the fast break and setting up teammates for open looks.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.19.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 19th, 2010

***** – 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.

All five of these games come from tournaments. Here are your brackets: Puerto Rico Tip Off, 2K Sports Classic and the Paradise Jam. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Vanderbilt vs. West Virginia – 12:30 pm on ESPNU (***)

This is a really good under the radar game between two teams that were overlooked in the preseason discussion that went on in their respective conferences. Vanderbilt struggled a bit against a physical and plodding Nebraska team in a low scoring affair on Thursday. Today they’ll face another, even more physical (and talented) team in West Virginia. Vandy’s John Jenkins needs to get going in terms of shooting the three. Jenkins, one of the better shooters in the nation, has averaged 16 points in Vanderbilt’s first two games but he’s just 1-11 from three. Kevin Stallings needs a big game out of his star, as well as Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsley (triple-double against Presbyterian). The Commodores need to shoot it well and adjust to the pace and physicality of West Virginia in order to come out victorious. For Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers, they should take a page out of Nebraska’s playbook. If they can get Vanderbilt into a tough grind it out game, they stand a good chance of winning. WVU is obviously much more talented than Nebraska so the same type of game with better players should cause a lot of problems for Vandy. John Flowers has been a pleasant surprise so far while Kevin Jones has yet to really get his game going. Huggins is going to need production out of Deniz Kilicli, who fouled out in only six minutes of action against Davidson. These teams will likely be in the NCAA Tournament but a quality non-conference neutral court win will help whoever comes out on top today with seeding come March.

Texas vs. #5 Pittsburgh – 7:30 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Texas is loaded with talent and has played up to their potential so far this year. It seems when the pressure is off a bit, Texas and Rick Barnes excel. They won a terrific battle with Illinois on Thursday night with tough defense and big shots down the stretch. Though he only scored five points, Dogus Balbay was the story for Texas. The senior held Illinois star Demetri McCamey in check at the end of regulation and into overtime which forced the younger Illini players into very poor shot selection and eventually cost them the game. As a unit, the Longhorns limited Illinois to 38% shooting, held their own on the boards and blocked ten Illini shots. They’re going to need another superb defensive effort to knock off a physical Pittsburgh team that loves to grind games out. The Panthers killed Maryland on the boards, 43-25, to make up for a weaker than usual Pitt defense that allowed the Terps to shoot 48% from the floor. Texas will have a chance to win if Balbay can repeat his second half performance against McCamey and lock down Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs is the creator and leader for Jamie Dixon so shutting him down should significantly hamper the Pitt offense. The Panthers will counter that with excellent passing wings and big men like Gilbert Brown and Talib Zanna who are smart basketball players that always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Texas has been very efficient on defense so far this season, a nice improvement from last year’s dysfunctional group. If their defense continues to hold firm, this game could come right down to the wire. If that’s the case, players like Tristan Thompson are going to have to step up from the free throw line. Thompson had a great game everywhere else but his free throw shooting was abysmal. For Pitt, Gary McGhee and the aforementioned Brown must control Thompson and Jordan Hamilton in order to win comfortably. Pittsburgh is very good but Texas is a much better team than last year. We have a feeling this game could be another tight one at Madison Square Garden.

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RTC Live: Coaches vs. Cancer Semifinals

Posted by rtmsf on November 18th, 2010

Games #16-#17.  We’re back at Madison Square Garden for the second year of the 2kSports Coaches vs. Cancer semifinals.  You might recall that this is the spot in the season last year where Wes Johnson and Syracuse announced themselves as contenders for the crown with two convincing wins here.

#5 Pittsburgh vs. Maryland – 7 pm

Maryland may be 3-0 on the season, but there are some serious red flags waving for this team. The issue at hand? Point guard play, or lack thereof early in the season. For the first three games, Gary Williams has been starting senior Adrian Bowie at the point, but Bowie is not a prototypical point guard. He’s more of an off-guard that happens to be 6’1. He looked horrible in the opener against Seattle (seven turnovers, 12 minutes), and while he’s been better the last two games (eight assists, two turnovers), he’s not exactly the facilitator the Terps need. Two freshmen, Pe’Shon Howard (who hit the game-winner against the College of Charleston) and Terrell Stoglin, have been impressive at times, but their youth and inexperience has shone through as well. The Terps’ best offense early in the season has been pounding the ball into Jordan Williams or beating their opponent’s defense down the floor. Pitt has a much bigger and better front line (headlined by Gary McGhee, which makes for one of the most intriguing one-on-one matchups thus far this season) and a much better defense, so the question heading into this game is “can Maryland actually score?” For Pitt, watch Brad Wanamaker. I know Ashton Gibbs gets the accolades, but Wanamaker is ready to turn into one of the Big East’s best.

#16 Illinois vs. Texas – 9:30 pm

Illinois is underrated right now, in my opinion. I think the Illini have a shot of competing for the Big Ten title with Ohio State and Michigan State, that’s how good I expect them to be. Demetri McCamey is one of the least talked about superstars at the college level. He’s coming off of a season where he led the country in assists. My concern with McCamey? The theory that a knucklehead is always going to be a knucklehead, because heading into last season, McCamey had a reputation as, well, a knucklehead. The rest of Illinois’ lineup is talented. They are deep. They have some size as well, and while that size can be considered “soft”, their bigs (the Mikes, Tisdale and Davis) both shoot the ball well enough that it keeps the floor spread for McCamey’s penetration. Texas, on the other hand, is going to be an interesting team to follow this year. They have a supremely talented 1-2-3 punch in Cory Joseph, Jordan Hamilton, and Tristan Thompson, but those are two freshmen and a sophomore that wasn’t exactly known for his maturity or decision-making as a freshman. Do the Horns have a leader? Will Hamilton be the next Brandon Rush or the next Jeremy Hazell? Can Joseph run this team? Does Thompson have enough “want-to” to be a force on the block?  These and other questions will be answered tonight.

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RTC Presents College Basketball’s Opening Weekend

Posted by nvr1983 on November 12th, 2010

After opening with four games apiece on Monday and Wednesday night, college basketball really starts to pick up this evening with 16 of the top 25 teams in action including Georgetown traveling to play a tough Old Dominion team. By Sunday night, 24 of the top 25 teams will have played with Missouri being the lone exception, as they do not play their first game until November 18th. Even though there are only a few games that I would deem particularly compelling in isolation it will be interesting to see how the new pieces on these teams work with the returning parts.

We will have more about each day’s game with our Set Your Tivo feature, but in addition to those games you can watch on TV, we will also be coming to you courtside from nine games on RTC Live this weekend. Check back throughout the weekend for more (somewhat) instant analysis and join us on RTC Live for action from across the nation.


  • Boston University at Northeastern, 7 PM – One of the early battles of Boston will occur in Matthews Arena as the Terriers come to play the Huskies, who will be significantly weaker this year after losing four of their top five scorers. Chaisson Allen and the Huskies will be tested against a promising Terrier team led by John Holland, the leading scorer in America East, who has support from a team that includes four transfers.
  • East Tennessee State at #10 Kentucky, 7 PM on Big Blue Sports and ESPN Full Court – This game will be interesting if only for the reaction of the Wildcats and their fans a day after learning that Enes Kanter, whom many said would be the key to their season, would never play in a Wildcat uniform. On the other sideline, the Buccaneers will be without Tommy Hubbard, their leading scorer and rebounder. Ok, technically Hubbard will be on the sideline, but you get my point…
  • Cornell at Albany, 7:30 PM – While the Great Danes should be improved with Tim Ambrose returning for his senior season, most of the college basketball world will be focused on the Big Red, who lost eight seniors, including Ryan Whitman, Louis Dale, and Jeff Foote along with their coach Steve Donahue, who headed to Boston College. New coach Bill Courtney will be relying on Chris Wroblewski as one of the few known elements of his team to help guide the Big Red in the early season while they try to establish a new identity.


  • North Florida at #5 Pittsburgh, 4 PM on The Big East Network and ESPN Full Court  We aren’t expecting this to be a particularly competitive game, but it will be worth following to see the co-favorites in the Big East (along with Villanova and Syracuse). The Panthers have one of the best backcourts in America with Ashton GibbsBrad Wanamaker, and Gilbert Brown, but the success of the team could well depend on the interior play of Gary McGhee, who has been quiet so far this season.
  • Harvard at George Mason, 4 PM – Jeremy Lin is gone, but Tommy Amaker returns with a solid squad–led by Kyle Casey and Keith Wright–that is good enough to win the school’s first Ivy League title. [Ed. Note: The Crimson are the only historic Division 1 program to have never won a league championship. And the answer is no, we do not count schools that joined recently in the discussion.] They will have their hands full, however, as they travel down to Fairfax, Virginia to take on Jim Larranaga‘s squad that is led by Cam Long and Ryan Pearson and could very easily end up winning the CAA.
  • #23 San Diego State at Long Beach State, 7 PM – This game should be all about the Aztecs who return all five starters from a team that challenged Tennessee in a close game in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament last March. The Aztecs, who are led by sophomore sensation Kawhi Leonard, should challenge BYU for the Mountain West title this season, but Steve Fisher has higher aspirations for what’s certainly a Sweet 16-level team. Look for Casper White to make his mark for the 49ers, but the Aztecs should win this one fairly easily.
  • Weber State at Utah State, 9:05 PM – An early season Bracket Buster match-up that might be the most interesting game of the weekend. The Wildcats will have the best player on the court in Damian Lillard, projected as a potential first round pick in 2012, but they will have to travel to Logan to take on a Aggie team that returns four of five starters but will really miss Jared Quayle as they have to break in a new point guard against Lillard.


  • Cornell at Seton Hall, Noon on The Big East Network and ESPN Full Court – Their second game of the weekend should be significantly more challenging for the Big Red as they travel to play a Pirate team that has a new coach in Kevin Willard and returns two stars in Jeremy Hazell and Herb Pope. We know what to expect from Hazell (shooting, lots of shooting), but we aren’t sure what to expect from Pope who underwent cardiac surgery in the off-season to repair a congenital abnormality. Pope looked pretty good in some exhibition games, but we expect it will be a while before he gets back to the level where he was last year. A year ago, the Pirates won a tight game over the Big Red on the road. Don’t expect this year to be as close.
  • Princeton at #1 Duke, 5 PM on ESPNU – That’s right. We will be courtside for the opening game of Duke’s title defense. Nothing against the Tigers, but this should be one of those 40-50 point blowouts. Still, we will be interested to see how Kyrie Irving and Seth Curry fit into an already loaded perimeter attack for the Blue Devils that features Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler.
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Set Your Tivo: Opening Night Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 8th, 2010

***** – 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.

After 216 excruciating days, our long off-season national nightmare is over. College basketball is back! The 2010-11 season opens tonight with four opening round games in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.  Here’s your schedule/bracket, and here are the two games tonight that you should be tracking.  All times eastern.

Rhode Island @ #5 Pittsburgh – 7 pm on ESPNU (***)

Pitt Hopes to Have a Celebratory Season

Game one features a Pittsburgh team picked to win the Big East against a solid Rhode Island team selected fifth in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll behind the “big four” of Temple, Xavier, Richmond and Dayton. For Pitt, years of preseason optimism have almost always ended in disappointment relative to expectations. There should be no doubt that Jamie Dixon has built a top program there but they have yet to make the leap and get to the Final Four. Many are saying this could finally be the year. The Panthers return four starters from last year’s team that caught everybody by surprise and taught us all never to doubt him again. They are led by junior point guard Ashton Gibbs, the scoring leader last year at 15.7 PPG. Gibbs is an outstanding three-point shooter, connecting at a 40.4% clip from downtown for his collegiate career. Versatile Brad Wanamaker (12.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.7 APG), Gilbert Brown and Gary McGhee should also start for Pitt. With Nasir Robinson out due to injury, Dixon may turn to redshirt freshman Talib Zanna who started and played 22 minutes in an exhibition win over Indiana (PA) on Thursday night. For Rhode Island, Jim Baron’s team is coming off a successful 26-win year that ended with a loss to North Carolina in the NIT semifinals. Gone is leading scorer Keith Cothran as well as Lamonte Ulmer, but Delroy James returns for his senior campaign in Kingston. The 6’8 James saw his production drop towards the end of the regular season but broke out in the NIT against Nevada, scoring 34 points on 10-19 shooting, including 5-7 from deep. James can stretch the defense and that could cause some problems for Pitt in this game tonight. He scored 23 points against Temple and 22 at Dayton last year, teams that play a similar style to Dixon’s Panthers. Rhody will also miss 7’0 senior Will Martell (injury) in this game, presenting some depth issues for Baron. Pitt should be ready for this game as it’s certainly no cupcake while Rhode Island hopes to make a huge statement on the first night of the season. Rhody’s main problem may well be defense as the Rams were ranked #110 in defensive efficiency last year per Ken Pomeroy. A realistic expectation would be to play relatively close and show the rest of the A-10 that there may be another team to reckon with this season. That will be hard to do in the raucous Petersen Events Center.

UC Irvine @ #13 Illinois – 8 pm on (**)

Bruce Weber’s Illinois team enters the season with their highest expectations since a trip to the 2005 championship game. The Fighting Illini return essentially everyone of significance from last year’s 21-win team. Of the players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game, only Dominique Keller and Jeff Jordan are not returning. Illinois has four seniors playing key roles this year, all of them determined to end their collegiate careers on a high note: Demetri McCamey(15.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 7.1 APG) is a rock at the point, leading the nation in assist rate last year; Mike Davis (10.7 PPG, 9.2 RPG) and Mike Tisdale (11.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG) anchor the frontcourt with Bill Cole serving as a glue guy inside off the bench. Freshman swing Jereme Richmond and returnee D.J. Richardson (10.5 PPG, 39% 3FG) are expected to complete the starting lineup. Illinois’ starting five is imposing and can go head to head with any team in the Big Ten and likely the nation. Weber has pretty good depth with Cole, Tyler Griffey, Brandon Paul and two good freshmen coming off the bench. Illinois’ freshman class of Richmond, Crandall Head (brother of Luther) and Meyers Leonard was rated #11 by This class, along with another year of experience for the returning players, should push the Illini from the NIT to well into the NCAA Tournament this year. Illinois struggled offensively at times last year but the firepower returning and coming in should allow them open it up more. With a dynamic play-making guard in McCamey, Illinois is poised for a big year and could contend with Michigan State and Ohio State at the top of the conference. UC Irvine went just 12-18 against D1 opponents last season. Led by junior forward and preseason first team all-Big West player Eric Wise (16.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.0 APG), the Anteaters have been tabbed sixth in the conference media preseason poll. Darren Moore can really stroke it from three point range (39.4%) but first year coach Russell Turner doesn’t have much else to work with. Michael Hunter and Zack Atkinson are gone so players like Patrick Rembert and Pavol Losonsky must improve for UC Irvine to move up in the Big West standings. UCI was not good defensively last year, giving up almost 70 points per game, and didn’t fare much better on the other side of the ball. While the game probably won’t be close, one thing fans should look for is how often Illinois gets to the free throw line. Last year the Illini ranked #337 out of 347 D1 teams in percentage of points from the line (16.3%). For a team that shot over 70% from the line last year, that’s an awfully low percentage. It could indicate a slow pace of play and/or a lack of aggressiveness which could hold them back somewhat this year outside of the Big Ten. Playing at home in the season opener, the deep and talented Illini should pick apart the Anteaters and win this game by a comfortable margin.

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