Who Won The Week? Kentucky, Gonzaga and Cal!

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on November 21st, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Tacoma-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Kentucky

The #1 Wildcats put in as dominant a performance against a top-five team as I can remember, eviscerating Kansas 72-40 on Tuesday. As many blocks as field goals surrendered? Holding an elite opponent under 20 percent field goal shooting on a neutral court? Sign me up. If this team plays defense together half this good on a nightly basis, it won’t be on the bottom end of a box score very often this season. The beatdown Kentucky put on Kansas completely justifies overlooking the halftime deficit to Buffalo on Sunday, which became a 71-52 win.  This is as no-doubt a winner as I’ve ever had in this column. (Welcome to year three, kids.)

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All Americans on his roster (AP).

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All-Americans on his roster. (AP)

(Related winners: The nine high-school All-Americans who get to play 20 minutes each a game while playing against the best opposing players in the country in practice every day, getting to boost their abilities and NBA draft stock simultaneously. Related losers: Kansas, because yeesh. Buffalo, because blowing a halftime lead wasn’t nearly as bad as the six-plus feet of blowing snow dropped on their city later in the week – after a win at Texas-Arlington, at least.) Read the rest of this entry »

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What’s Trending: #TipOffMarathon Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on November 19th, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong) is your weekly host.

Kevin Pangos is Still in College

Believe me, when I turned on the Gonzaga vs. SMU game late Monday night, I was just as surprised as you were.

But I digress. Pangos was awesome, posting a cool 17 points, seven assists and five rebounds in Gonzaga’s 72-56 victory.

Bruce Pearl is Back…

And he’s sweatier than ever!

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Four Thoughts on SMU’s Pasting at Gonzaga

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 18th, 2014

SMU didn’t exactly make a great impression in its nationally televised showdown with Gonzaga last night. The final score was 72-56 and that was after the Mustangs closed the gap late against the Bulldogs’ scrubs. It started early when Larry Brown’s team gifted Gonzaga way too many open looks, and continued in the second half as the Mustangs suffered through a poor shooting performance — at one point in the second half, they were 3-of-23 from the field — so bad it’s unlikely to be repeated this season. The second half got so out of hand that it gave the Gonzaga student section time to audition some new chants for this season (the “You need Mudiay” version was the best of the bunch, in my opinion). The Mustangs are too experienced and talented to be blown out so easily, but despite a disappointing showing in a marquee match-up during the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon, there were a few positives to take away from the game. Gonzaga is really good and Spokane is a difficult place to play, so I don’t think that this game will be reflective of the team that SMU will become by the end of the season.

Brown Had A Similar Pained Look On His Face Often Watching Gonzaga. (AP)

Brown Had A Similar Pained Look On His Face Often Watching Gonzaga. (AP)

Here are the four things that stuck out to me about last night’s game:

  1. Did I mention how good Gonzaga is yet? The Bulldogs haven’t been a true mid-major team in years, but this may be the season that Mark Few’s club looks the least like a punchy underdog. Gonzaga has more size than almost any team in the country outside of Kentucky; it has one of the best point guards in the country in Kevin Pangos; it has plenty of shooting; and its rotation might be legitimately nine-deep. The Bulldogs fed off an explosive atmosphere in having their way with the Mustangs all game long. Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer are a pair of frontcourt players with NBA futures, and Pangos is one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the country. What am I trying to say is that there is no shame in losing to the Zags in their building this early in the season.  At one point Fran Fraschilla said that if there are “12 teams in the country better than Gonzaga, they must be really good.” Yeah, there is no way that there are 12 teams in America better than that team right now. Read the rest of this entry »
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Tip-Off Marathon: The O26 Menu

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 17th, 2014

Tonight kicks off ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, a jam-packed, 24-plus hour slate of basketball featuring numerous mouthwatering options for O26 fans. And with many of these games serving as important resume-building opportunities, you better come hungry. Let’s check out the menu.

Appetizers/Starters

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

  • UC Santa Barbara at Florida Gulf Coast – 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Tonight. We are not even sure if this is formally part of the Marathon, but what better way to whet your appetite than by watching Alan Williams take on Dunk City? After logging 22 points and 13 rebounds against Kansas on Friday, UC Santa Barbara’s 6’8’’ center gets a shot at the Atlantic Sun favorites in Fort Myers – the first of two contests between the Gauchos and Eagles this season. Florida Gulf Coast’s Brett Comer is among the better point guards in the country, while his running mate, Bernard Thompson, is a conference Player of the Year candidate. Both squads could wind up dancing in March.
  • Georgia State at #14 Iowa State – 9:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Tonight. Certain to be one of the most popular appetizers on the menu, this game features a loaded underdog taking on a top-15 team in one of college basketball’s best environments. The Cyclones better be prepared for Georgia State, which boasts a pair of Bluegrass State transfers – Ryan Harrow (Kentucky) and Kevin Ware (Louisville) – and arguably the Sun Belt’s best player, guard R.J. Hunter (18.3 PPG in 2013-14). Hilton Coliseum will be rocking, as always, but perhaps maybe its magic will work in the Panthers favor, instead of the other way of around.
  • #22 SMU at #13 Gonzaga – 11:00 PM ET, ESPN, Tonight. This is one of those fill-you-up-before-the-entrée type items, a hearty match-up of Top 25 units with high expectations. SMU took a serious hit when forward Markus Kennedy, the team’s best player, was ruled academically ineligible for the first semester, so Gonzaga is in great position playing at home. Still, even though Mark Few’s bunch looked utterly dominant in its opener against Sacramento State (with newcomers Byron Wesley, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis combining for 44 points), the Bulldogs must come out and execute against Larry Brown’s defensively-tough Mustangs. Kevin Pangos vs. Nic Moore is one of the best point guard match-ups of the young season.

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2014-15 RTC Top 25: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 14th, 2014

And so it begins — the time of year when we hear familiar voices on the television, see the faces on the floor, and our favorite teams again playing games that count in the standings. It is a beautiful time, indeed. With a large slate of games commencing this evening, we officially unveil RTC’s 2014-15 Preseason Top 25. This poll will hold for about 10 days, but starting November 24, you can expect our weekly poll to come out every Monday morning throughout the rest of the season. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives deeper into how the teams shake out from top to bottom. To see how we did last year, check out our 2013-14 preseason poll — we nailed some (Louisville, Michigan, Florida, Kansas), and missed on others (Oklahoma State, Marquette, Notre Dame, Georgetown). We promise to do better this time around.

rtc25 preseason

Quick n’ Dirty Thoughts.

  • A Strong Majority Like Kentucky – Six of our seven pollsters were in agreement that Kentucky is the top team in the country, while the lone dissenter went with #2 Arizona. It is very difficult to argue with either selection, but Kentucky reigned supreme with John Calipari bringing another star-studded recruiting class (Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns) to play alongside a formidable returning unit (Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson, and Willie Cauley-Stein). Calipari has so much talent at his disposal that he is planning on starting the season with two separate “platoons” of six players that will roughly play the same number of minutes. Will this strategy work? That certainly remains to be seen, but it will be an interesting narrative to follow. After advancing to the Elite Eight last spring, Arizona is once again loaded with talent. T.J. McConnell, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all return, and the other Wildcats are joined by much-balleyhooed freshman Stanley Johnson.
  • After The Top Four, Everything Is Fairly Close – Kentucky, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Duke are well-established by our pollsters as the four top teams in the country. After that, there was not a ton of agreement on the remaining 21 teams. For example, #7 North Carolina was voted as high as #5 by three pollsters, but the Tar Heels also drew two votes at #12. This much uncertainty regarding the placement of the #5 through #25 teams in the country should make for a fun early season stretch where some teams will undoubtedly distinguish themselves as bona fide contenders while others will fade out of the RTC25.

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The 25 Non-Conference Pac-12 Games to Watch

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2014

Hey look! Basketball! Well, maybe don’t look all that quickly because, frankly, unless you’re a die-hard, there isn’t a game that a Pac-12 team plays this weekend that is worth a whole heck of a lot. Oh, we’ll still be watching, of course, because, well, we’ve been waiting to see these teams for months now. But, if you’re a busy person and a discriminating basketball fan, don’t burn your precious basketball-watching minutes right away this season. Instead, put these 25 non-conference games on your calendar and you’ll get a chance to check out every team in this league from the comfort of your own couch. Is 25 games not enough for you? Don’t worry, I’m not even including the games in one of the many early-season exempt tournaments (11 of the 12 conference teams compete in such a tournament this season) in this list; more on those later. Here’s your list of the best games involving Pac-12 teams over the next couple of months.

  • 11/18 Utah @ San Diego State (ESPN) – Part of the behemoth in Bristol’s 24 hours of hoops kickoff, this is on the very short list of best Pac-12 non-conference games of the year. We’ll get an early look at the Utes going on the road to face a Top 25-caliber team with a chance to breathlessly overreact to whatever happens there on Tuesday afternoon.
The Show - And The Aztecs - Will Test Utah Early

The Show – And The Aztecs – Will Test Utah Early

  • 11/22 Colorado @ Wyoming (ESPN3) – The only game on this list that you won’t see on national television, this will not only represent a chance to check out the status of the Buffaloes’ point guard situation, but a look at Wyoming’s Larry Nance on his way back from a torn ACL.
  • 11/26 California @ Fresno State (CBSSN) – It’s not the sexiest looking game, but an early road game against an improving intrastate foe is a game the Golden Bears could lose if they aren’t locked in early for Cuonzo Martin.
  • 11/30 USC @ New Mexico (CBSSN) – The Trojans visiting one of the toughest places to play in the sport on Thanksgiving Sunday; sounds fun to me. The Lobos will be breaking in new players almost everywhere, though, so Andy Enfield’s young bunch has at least a puncher’s chance.

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2014-15 RTC Preseason O26 All-America Teams

Posted by Tommy Lemoine and Adam Stillman on November 12th, 2014

Considering the sheer number of teams competing in O26 conferences, reaching a consensus on the top 15 players – much less the top five – is an incredibly difficult task. Alas, here are our Preseason O26 All-Americans, along with the Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Newcomer of the Year for the upcoming season. Where did we go wrong?

Player of the Year

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. Evaluating players based on their “leadership” and “composure” and ability to “play within themselves” can be a slippery slope, prone to subjectivity and flaws in perception. But when the numbers seem to back those claims up – a sparkling offensive rating, an eye-popping assist-to-turnover ratio – the intangible qualities quickly seem much more tangible. Which brings us to VanVleet. The 5’11’’ junior possesses nearly all the skills and qualities you could want in a point guard: He is a floor general, who posted the best assist rate in the Missouri Valley last season and fourth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the entire country; he is an efficient scorer who shot 41 percent from behind the arc and 83 percent from the stripe; he is a good defender who recorded four-plus steals on six different occasions. And by all accounts he is a true leader on and off the court, the steady hand guiding the steadiest bunch in mid-major hoops. Considering all those attributes, VanVleet is our Preseason O26 Player of the Year.

First Team

  • Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. See our Player of the Year writeup above. VanVleet is one of the best point guards in the entire country, regardless of league.
  • Ron Baker – G – Wichita State. If VanVleet is the best non-power conference guard in the country, then Baker, his backcourt running mate, is not far behind. The 6’3’’ junior punctuated an impressive 2013-14 campaign (13.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.1 APG) by scoring 20 points on 4-for-6 three- point shooting against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last March and squashing any doubt about whether he could compete at the highest level. Baker now enters this season as the offensive cornerstone for a top 15 team, whose versatility and perimeter shooting is only expected to shine brighter for the Shockers.

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Ranking the AAC Non-Conference Schedules: Part II

Posted by mlemaire on November 11th, 2014

Yesterday the microsite rolled out the first half of our AAC non-conference schedule rankings, listing teams from #11 to #6 based on the competitiveness of their schedules. Today’s rankings of the top five are a bit more interesting, primarily because a lot of these games are projected to have NCAA Tournament implications and are therefore deserving of a closer look. Here are the top five non-conference schedules in the conference, starting from the easiest to the hardest:

  • #5 Cincinnati: We have frequently used this space to blast Cincinnati for its soft non-conference schedule and it seems like Mick Cronin is finally listening. Last season’s slate featured four games against teams ranked #300 or lower, whereas this season only Eastern Illinois comes into the season lower than that mark, and the rest of the Bearcats’ schedule should give the team ample opportunities to pile up resume-enhancing wins. The Emerald Coast Classic could result in a match-up with Creighton or Mississippi, and the team also welcomes San Diego State and VCU to Fifth Third Arena before the end of 2014. And even though the game will be played in February this season, don’t forget about the Crosstown Classic against Xavier either. If the Bearcats can win a couple of those games and follow that up with double-digit victories in the conference, it will be tough to keep Cincinnati out of the NCAA Tournament.

    Josh Pastner is now 0-13 Against Ranked Opponents

    Josh Pastner’s team will have an early chance to answer how good they can be. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • #4 Memphis: No team in the conference plays a more difficult season opener than the Tigers, which are headed to South Dakota for a prime-time showdown with Wichita State. That’s a great opportunity, but aside from the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational in which Memphis will play Baylor and perhaps Illinois, the non-conference schedule looks comparable to last season’s 151st-best slate in the country. The only other game worth paying attention to is the December 13 return game home date with Oklahoma State. If Memphis is on the bubble in February, it will be worth remembering that the Tigers opted to play Prairie View A&M and Western Illinois as part of their non-conference schedule this season.

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Top of the O26 Class: Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, WAC & WCC

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 10th, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Western region of the U.S: Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, Western Athletic Conference, West Coast Conference. Previous installments include conferences from the Northeast region, Midwest region, Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region and the Southern region.

Top Units

Mountain West

Guys like wing Dwayne Polee II need to step up offensively for the Aztecs. (Ben Margot — AP)

Guys like wing Dwayne Polee II will need to step up offensively for San Diego State. (Ben Margot/AP)

  • San Diego State – 2013-14 record: 31-5 (16-2). San Diego State will be very good defensively, that much we know, but whether it can replace do-everything guard Xavier Thames (17.6 PPG, 120.0 ORtg) is the most pressing concern this time around. The Aztecs – which have ranked among the top-20 nationally in defensive efficiency in three of the last four seasons – return several long-armed stoppers like Dwayne Polee II and 6’10’’ center Skyler Spencer (best block percentage in the league) while adding a highly-touted Arizona transfer in 6’9’’ Angelo Chol. But Thames was the only consistent offensive threat last year and points were hard to come by when he struggled, so the ability of guys like Polee and guard Winston Shepard to thrive in more prominent scoring roles is crucial. Steve Fisher’s club should win the Mountain West considering the talent he has on hand (five-star forward Malik Pope also joins the mix), but the team’s offensive development, especially in the backcourt, will determine its ultimate national stature.

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2013-14’s All-Underappreciated Team

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 17th, 2014

We’ve seen All-American list after All-American list over the past few weeks, and the familiar names are all deserving: McDermott, Parker, Smith, Wilbekin, and so on and so forth. But what about the players who are nowhere to be found on any of these honor rolls, yet still deserve mention for their valuable contributions this season? Below is a team of five players – none of them All-Americans, or really anything especially close – who all played important but overlooked roles for their successful teams.

Quinn Cook Was An Underrated Player For Duke In 2013-14

Quinn Cook Was An Underrated Player For Duke In 2013-14

  • PG: Quinn Cook, Duke – If you are a McDonald’s All-American and seek a successful but unheralded college career, Duke would seem like as good a destination as any. Somehow, Cook has avoided plaudits from most observers during his time in Durham, and at times has even been seen as the weak link for the Blue Devils. His play isn’t always as consistent as Coach K would like, but after a season in which he posted a 120.2 Offensive Rating (better than more heralded teammates Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood) and an assist rate of 27.7 percent, it’s time to appreciate Cook for what he was this year — one of the best point guards in the country.
  • SG/SF: Tekele Cotton, Wichita State – We heard plenty about Cleanthony Early, Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker this season, but what about the Shockers’ unsung hero, Cotton? The 6’3” junior was the best defensive player on the 12th most efficient defensive team in the country, and shot 37 percent from three-point range en route to a gaudy Offensive Rating of 118.2. Not everyone missed Cotton’s value to WSU; he was one of four Shockers to receive a first-place vote for MVC POY, and was awarded the league’s Defensive Player of the Year trophy. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Top Five (and More), Because It’s Never Too Early

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 7th, 2014

Don’t look now, but college basketball season is only seven months away! Sure, this one hasn’t technically ended yet, but with Dayton respectably bowing out in the Elite Eight and only one game left to play between two power conference teams, O26 folks need something to look forward to. So let’s examine a few teams sure to make some noise in 2014-15.

Top Five

Players like Mo Alie-Cox will have increased roles for VCU in 2014-2015. (vcuramnation.com)

Players like Mo Alie-Cox will have increased roles for VCU in 2014-2015. (vcuramnation.com)

  1. VCU. The Rams lose Juvonte Reddic – the team’s leading rebounder, second-leading scorer and an unquestioned leader – along with Rob Brandenberg, who’s been a reliable offensive weapon for the past four years. Still, contrary to what folks in Milwaukee had us recently believing, it does not appear they will lose Shaka Smart to another program. And that’s a victory in itself. The coveted head coach will remain in Richmond to lead a group that could be even better than this year’s unit, which grabbed a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament and ranked sixth overall in adjusted defensive efficiency. Dynamic weapon Treveon Graham returns along with quick-handed guard Briante Weber and a cast of other players capable of wreaking HAVOC in 2014-15. To boot, Smart welcomes his best recruiting class yet, led by top-50 forward Terry Larrier, who should see significant playing time right away.
  2. Wichita State. Star forward Cleanthony Early graduates along with role player Nick Wiggins and forwards Chadrack Lufile and Kadeem Coleby, so Wichita State will miss some big-time pieces next year. But the Shockers still return a solid core from this season’s 35-1 squad, including point guard and Missouri Valley Player of the Year Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter. The frontcourt might be a bit thin – redshirt freshman Shaq Morris and incoming seven-foot transfer Bush Wamukota need to contribute alongside Carter – and Early (a likely NBA first-rounder) is probably irreplaceable, but Gregg Marshall has always relied more on balance and depth than he has on individual talent. Another conference title and single-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament should be doable for next season’s bunch.
  3. San Diego State. Can the Aztecs contend for the Mountain West title next year without Xavier Thames? Why yes, yes they can. Sure, the conference Player of the Year was their only reliable offensive threat for much of this past season, and yeah, rebounding maven Josh Davis also graduates. But Steve Fisher welcomes back a core of long-armed athletes, including NCAA Tournament stud Dwayne Polee and 6’10’’ shot-blocker Skylar Spencer, along with a top-notch recruiting class. Among the incoming freshmen are five-star forward Malik Pope, four-star forward Zylan Cheatham and four-star point guard Trey Kell, each good enough to find minutes right away. Oh, and Arizona transfer Angelo Chol, an athletic 6’9’’ power forward, will also be eligible after sitting out this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Gonzaga: What Gives?

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 25th, 2014

Gonzaga has been playing Division I basketball for 57 years. In that time, they’ve made 17 NCAA Tournaments. Sixteen of those 17 appearances have occurred consecutively over the last 16 years. And Mark Few has been the head coach for 15 of those. Just to be clear: Mark Few has taken Gonzaga to 15 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, a streak which accounts for 15 of the program’s 17 tournament appearances in school history. After the Zags’ big Elite Eight breakout surprise in 1999, Few entered as head coach and took the Bulldogs to the Sweet Sixteen in the following two seasons, marking three straight appearances in the Tournament’s second weekend for the burgeoning program. In the 12 years since the run from 1999-2001, they’ve made it to just two more Sweet Sixteens, losing in heartbreaking fashion to eventual national runner-up UCLA in 2006, then getting blown out by eventual national champion North Carolina in 2009.

Gonzaga Basketball Is Defined By The Mark Few Era (AP)

Gonzaga Basketball Is Defined By The Mark Few Era. (AP)

Mixed in there, however, are more underachievements based on seed line than overachievements: a 2002 first round loss as a #6 seed; a 2004 round of 32 loss as a #2 seed; a 2005 round of 32 loss as a #3 seed; and most famously, last year’s round of 32 loss as a #1 seed. Only twice has Gonzaga outperformed its seed in the NCAA Tournament since 2001 — that took place in 2003 where they won one game as a #9 seed (note that the Zags also then gave #1 seed Arizona one hell of a game in the next round), and in 2011 when they won a single game as a #11 seed.

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