It’s Christmas in March

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2009

Dave Zeitlin is an RTC contributor.

I’ve often said that the first Thursday of the NCAA tournament is like Christmas for me. So what better time to make a Christmas, err, a March Madness wish list? Here, in no particular order, is what I want as the best three weeks in sports begin:

xmas-tree-ornament-bball

  • To hug a stranger at a bar while cheering for a player I’ve never heard of at a school I don’t know anything about.
  • Anyone who roots against a big underdog for the sake of his bracket to be forced to watch exclusively LPGA tournaments through the rest of March.
  • Another George Mason to make the Final Four. I’m looking at you, Siena.
  • A 16 seed to finally win a game, and not just for the free Arby’s burger. (This promotion, though, is sort of funny, especially this quote: “Each year at this time, people crave that Cinderella story – the team that takes everyone by surprise. Our new Roastburgers offer an unexpected change from standard greasy burgers.”)
  • A brawl between Gary Williams’ sweat and John Calipari’s gel in Round 2 (speaking of greasy things)
  • A cat-fight between Fran McCaffery’s wife and Rick Pitino in Round 2 (sorry, I must have that mascot brawl on my mind).
  • A game that goes seven overtimes. Six is nothing.
  • A buzzer-beater that will make Bryce Drew say, “Now that was impressive.”
  • A moment so memorable, I’ll always remember where I was when I saw it. (Unless I’m with Jim Calhoun. Wait, why would that happen?)
  • Someone just as fun as Stephen Curry to become the new Mr. March.
  • Greg Paulus to become the new Miss March.
  • Fran Dunphy to win a game. He deserves it.
  • Bob Huggins to lose a game. He deserves it.
  • Jonny Flynn to keep doing his Energizer impression
  • To win my pool, though I’ll settle for keeping my bracket alive past the first day.
  • To watch my alma mater, Penn, try to win a game. What’s that? The Quakers aren’t in the tournament for the second straight year? And they had one of the worst seasons in recent history? Excuse me while I jump from the Palestra rafters.
  • Jay Bilas to stop hating on the little guy. How many mediocre schools from BCS conferences to do we need to see before we realize it’s the upsets that make this tourney tick?
  • Binghamton’s D.J. Rivera to get his revenge for the ultimate snub by torching the team everyone loves to hate. Speaking of which …
  • To find a new villain other than Duke. How about … let’s see … um …. Oh, hell, I’m sticking with Duke.
  • The announcers doing the Cornell game to abstain from saying things like “I thought Ivy League kids were smart” after a bad turnover. SAT jokes are a no-no, too.
  • Players to stop thanking God after wins. I’m OK if Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado repeats this gem though: “I’ve got to use my quickness to outquick the opposing opponent.”
  • Bob Knight to offer a formal apology for once saying, “All of us learn how to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things.” Hey Coach, those words you’re stringing together for your new website with fellow jerk knowledgeable hoops personality Billy Packer. I’m not entirely sure but I think it’s called writing.
  • Gus Johnson to yell even louder.
  • Any commentator who says the expression “body of work” more than twice in one sentence to stop getting lessons in awful announcing from Suzyn Waldman.
  • Gonzaga not to ruin my bracket for the millionth straight year. Please? If I win my pool, I’ll split the money with you, Heytvelt. You can use that cash for your supply of – and moving on!
  • The dude who said, “I’m the weather man” to come back into my life.
  • To hear my stepdad explain the same last-second play he created years ago while lamenting, “No one ever does this.” (It’s March. Everyone’s a coach.)
  • A team with a great story to rally behind. Cleveland State and North Dakota State seem like good choices, but I’m open to suggestions.
  • To tune out anything that has to do with the economy, the wars, the demise of newspapers, octomoms and Dane Cook … and get sucked into a world of college hoops for three straight weeks, remembering so many great shots, players and moments that I have enough material to write another column gushing about March Madness 20 years from now.
  • And, of course, to cry during One Shining Moment. I mean, what?

So that’s my wish list. May Santa, I mean Greg Gumbel, come down the chimney and bring it to me.

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NCAA Basketball 2009: The BCS Version

Posted by nvr1983 on March 16th, 2009

bcs-fail

With the release of the brackets on Sunday evening there has been quite a bit of controversy (Arizona over St. Mary’s being the predominant gripe) and there have been some interesting moments with Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps ganging up on Dick Vitale and almost bringing him to tears. However, it was nothing compared to the furor that we saw when the BCS released its final poll that determined the BCS bowl games and more importantly the national championship. We thought it would be a fun exercise to try to make a mock BCS basketball system. I used the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls as the human polls and ESPN.com’s InsiderRPI, KenPom.com, and Sagarin’s ratings as the computer polls. There are a couple polls I excluded for other reasons: Kenneth Massey’s (wasn’t updated yet) and Jerry Palm’s (not free). I did not throw out the high and low computer polls for two reasons: (1) we only had 3 available and (2) they were fairly similar with a few exceptions (Gonzaga in the RPI, but they weren’t going to be a factor anyways because of Memphis). ESPN.com’s InsiderRPI didn’t include the games from Sunday, but after looking at the final results they would not have had any impact on the rankings  based on the teams involved. Here are the results:

bcs-2009

If you want to try and follow along, here are the BCS criteria.

Now onto the match-ups. . .

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NCAA Preview: Duke Blue Devils

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2009

Duke (#2 seed, East, Greenboro pod)

vs. Binghamton (#15)
March 19th, 9:40 P.M.

Vegas Line: Duke -21.5

duke-ncaa-graph

Thanks to Vegas Watch for providing these graphs that measure the moving average of a team’s spread (moving avg.) over time vs. the spread for each individual game (indiv).  If a team’s moving average is higher than zero, then Vegas currently has a higher opinion of them than Pomeroy, and vice versa.

General Profile

Location: Durham, North Carolina

Conference: ACC, Won the ACC Conference Tournament

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski, 755-218 at Duke

08-09 Record: 28-6, 14-5 ACC

Last 12 Games: 9-3

Best Win: 101-91 v. Wake Forest, February 22nd

Worst Loss: 73-81 v. Michigan, December 6th

Off. Efficiency Rating: 117.6/ 6th overall

Def. Efficiency Rating: 89.0/ 13th overall

Nuts n Bolts

Star Player(s): Gerald Henderson- 16.6 points/game, 4.9 rebounds/game, 1.5 steals/game, 47.9 FG%

Unsung Hero: Lance Thomas- 5.3 points/game, 3.3 rebounds/game, 63.6 FG%

Potential NBA Draft Pick(s): Gerald Henderson, projected 7th overall

Key Injuries: None

Depth: 34.5%, 92nd overall

Achilles Heel: Duke’s lack of a true post player since Shelden Williams left school has been well documented. But, unfortunately it is still true for Duke. Lance Thomas and Kyle Singler are the team’s best rebounders. Brian Zoubek has played well at points this season but still can’t handle a good big man.

Will Make a Deep Run if… Duke will only go as far as Gerald Henderson will take them. John Scheyer and Singler are good role players, but their offense is dependent on the drive and kick of Henderson. If Henderson has a great tournament, and Elliot Williams continues to have success running the point, the Blue Devils are a Final Four contender.

Will Make an Early Exit if…: The two biggest weaknesses of Coach K’s team is their lack of an inside presence, and the relative inexperience of Williams playing point. They will go out early if a team exploits their lack of an inside game, and pressures Williams into bad decisions. Duke’s offense is predicated on Williams making good decision and taking care of the ball, and if a defense pressures him enough, he could fold.

NCAA History

Last Year Invited: 2008, Lost in the second round to West Virginia

Streak: 13 consecutive seasons, last time they didn’t make it was 1995.

Best NCAA Finish: National Champions in 1991, 1992, 2001

Historical Performance vs. Seed (1985-present): +0.51 wins per appearance

Other

Six Degrees to Detroit: Dickie V. slurps the Devils constantly, and he once coached at the University of Detroit

Distance to First Round Site: 54 miles away Greensboro, North Carolina

School’s Claim to Fame: “Tricky Dick” Nixon and Cameron Crazies.

School Wishes It Could Forget: You may not remember the incident if you were living in a cave, but there were some lacrosse players at the University who were the center of a media firestorm for quite awhile. They were acquitted, but their names, and Duke’s good reputation will forever be slightly besmirched.

Prediction: So much for the Duke Swoon, the Blue Devils stormed through the ACC Tournament to take the title and earn what amounts to a home game in the first round in Greensboro. They are a Sweet 16 team for sure, but getting by Villanova or UCLA to get to the Elite Eight will be too much for the Blue Devils.

Preview written by… Mike Lemaire

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We Really Don’t Hate Duke at RTC. Really.

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2009

Um.  We feel a little dirty for having watched this.

Twice.

Carry on.  Nothing to see here.

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 02.22.09 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 22nd, 2009

dynamite1

1:00pm. Welcome back to another day of BGTD.  There are only 2o games today, but there are five of particular interest that we’ll be tracking.  Villanova @ Syracuse and Illinois @ Ohio St. at 1pm, Wisconsin at Michigan St. @ 3pm, Wake Forest @ Duke at 7:45pm, and Arizona at Arizona St. at 10pm.  Pretty strong day.  Let’s get it started in upstate NY…

1:02pm.  Before we get going, we want to touch on this story from the LA Times yesterday that UCLA has stopped recruiting local 6’11 prep star Renardo Sidney even though by mid-last week the Bruins were still considered the front-runner.  Certainly UCLA could use a big man with guard skills such as those that Sidney has, so what gives?  Color us jaded, but all we could think of when we heard that UCLA so abruptly dropped Sidney was this story written by Gregg Doyel about a Pac-10 recruit who was charging $10k per on-campus visit a few years ago.  Did Sidney finally give UCLA his price?  Was there a package deal that Ben Howland wasn’t willing to stomach?  Not surprisingly, USC (of OJ Mayo, Daniel Hackett and Reggie Bush) is now considered the leader. Let’s see what happens later today when Sidney announces his college choice at 4pm PDT.

1:13pm.  Villanova looks fantastic thus far, with seven scores in eight possessions, including three threes from Dwayne Anderson.  If you’re still reflecting on yesterda’s wild Saturday, here’s Andy Katz’s article focusing on how quickly things can change.

1:23pm. Nova is getting whatever it wants offensively, and the Syracuse crowd still looks asleep (the players aren’t much better).  Uh-oh alert – Clemson is already down double-figures at Georgia Tech – remember the Tigers lost a road game last weekend at bottom-feeder Virginia.

1:45pm. Cuse is coming back here just before the half, now down 2, behind Devendorf, Rautins and Flynn.  Clemson is also back in the game, after getting down by as much as 15 to Ga Tech.  Illinois appears like they’ll hit their total from the Illini’s last game vs. OSU in the first half (up 26-24 with 2:30 left).

2:00pm.  Nova goes into the half with a six-pt lead, 46-40.  Neither one of these teams is playing much defense – both sides are shooting 55% from the field.  The key difference is that Villanova has been able to get to the line eight more times than the home team.   Clemson fought back to tie things up at Georgia Tech, and Xavier is ripping GW 36-20 at halftime.

2:05pm. Seth Davis just got on board the RTC train with the Duke Swoon at halftime of the Syracuse-Nova game, predicting that the Devils will be the highest ranked team to lose early next month.  Not sure if Duke will lose tonight, but there are two things in Wake’s favor…  1) Duke will play man-to-man, which helps Wake penetrate to the rim; and 2) Wake has shown this year a propensity to take ranked teams seriously, home or away.  The Deacs get into trouble when they’re playing teams they don’t respect.

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 02.15.09

Posted by nvr1983 on February 15th, 2009

dynamite

Welcome back to another edition of Boom Goes the Dynamite. I’m back as your semi-regular host after a day off with John Stevens covering for me. Today is a kind of weird day of basketball with the best games later in the day going head-to-head against the NBA All-Star game. So hopefully everyone will be sticking with us throughout the day and the real basketball fans (the ones who actually like defense and competition) will stay with us into the night.

1:00 PM: Our early games today are Illinois at  Indiana on CBS and Clemson at Virginia on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com. We’ll be updating you with highlights of those games throughout the day, but like always if there is something going on that we are missing or we make a mistake leave us a message in the comment section.

1:10 PM: Illinois is up 10-7 early. Bruce Weber‘s club must be riding high after their amazing comeback at Northwestern in their last game. Clemson is tied 3-3 in Charlottesville with 15:54 left in the first half. I’m guessing today is Sean Singletary day at UVA today based on the parts of the pre-game that I caught. Singletary, a 3-time 1st team All-ACC player, is one of three players in ACC history (Danny Ferry and Johnny Dawkins being the others) to have 2,000 career points, 500 career assists, and 400 career rebounds.

1:25 PM: Illinois is up 15-7 as we go to a TV timeout. CBS just showed a graphic about Indiana’s tough losses this year by featuring the games they led, but lost. You know the Hooisers are having a bad year when having a lead of 2 points at some point during the game is highlighted as a tough loss. Meanwhile, UVA is up 16-7 with 11:54 as they head into a timeout as well.

1:30 PM: I just noticed the electronic board on the side of the court at Assembly Hall. I guess it’s a nice fan friendly feature and probably generates some revenue through ads, but I think it looks horrendous in this famous arena. I haven’t noticed it at Cameron Indoor, but I think they should avoid it in the historic arenas.

1:40 PM: Jeff Jordan just hit a jumper for Illinois. As we noted before, he was recently was given a scholarship at Illinois. For those of you who haven’t seen him play, we think you might have missed his only big play of the day if his performance this season is any indication of what we can expect today. He’ll probably be out there quite a bit since Indiana is awful so watch for #13 on Illinois.

1:45 PM: UVA is up 22-16 coming out of a timeout with 5:11 left in the first half. Illinois is up 27-13 with a little less than 5 minutes left in the first half. I’ll be focusing on the UVA-Clemson game for now unless the Illinois-Indiana game gets interesting.

1:55 PM: UVA is up 33-25 at half. That 3 by Terrence Oglesby with a little over a minute left in the first half was Clemson’s first of the day after the Tigers missed their first 10 straight. The Cavaliers might have a chance if the Tigers continue to have difficulty hitting from the outside. Trevor Booker has had a big first half with 10 of Clemson’s 25 points, but it wasn’t enough as none of the other Tigers are playing well today. Illinois is up 38-21 at half.

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Set Your Tivos: 02.11.09

Posted by nvr1983 on February 11th, 2009

Set Your Tivos

First, welcome to the “new and improved” Rush The Court. This is pretty much the same interface we were using before, but there are a few minor differences so it may take us some time to work the kinks out. Anyways, there are some note-worthy games tonight. You may have heard about a little game going down in Durham, North Carolina tonight.

Game of the Night
#3 UNC at #5 Duke at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Yeah. I know it’s not exactly the scoop you were expecting from us, but this is probably one of the 5 best match-ups so far this season so I’m not going to go with another game just to be contrarian. The big match-up in this game is on the inside featuring Tyler Hansbrough and Kyle Singler. The Blue Devils will need a big game out of Singler who has struggled lately who is only 9/38 FG in his last 3 games. The other key match-ups will be on the perimeter with Ty Lawson against Greg Paulus at the 1 and high school teammates Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderson going against each other. UNC should win this game fairly easily with the way that Duke has been playing lately. If Coach K wants to knock of Hansbrough in his last game at Cameron, he will need Singler to play like he did earlier this year and Jon Scheyer to be hitting any open looks he gets.

Other Games to Watch
#22 Syracuse at #1 UConn at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: On almost any other night this would be our “Game of the Night”, but there is that small rivalry we mentioned before. Jim Calhoun‘s team is starting to look like the team that some thought could threaten this year’s G.O.A.T. UNC team with the emergence of Hasheem Thabeet as a black hole on the inside. Syrcuase will need a huge game out of Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf against the UConn guards (Jerome Dyson, A.J. Price, and Kemba Walker) because Arinze Onuaku isn’t going to be shooting 70% with Thabeet lurking on the inside. I’m going with the Huskies by double-digits in this one.

#13 Xavier at Dayton at 7 PM on ESPN Classic: I’m guessing that both teams were caught looking ahead to this game as both lost their last game to inferior opponents. These two teams are probably the class of the Atlantic 10 so this might end up being a preview of the conference championship game although St. Joseph’s and Duquesne may spoil the party. If Dayton wants to pull off the upset (and have a “Rush the Court” situation), they will need to contain Derrick Brown and B.J. Raymond. Normally, I might lean towards Dayton to pull off the upset, but I think the Musketeers will be too focused after losing to Duquesne in their last game.

#2 Oklahoma at Baylor at 9 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: This is a game that Baylor needs to win if they are going to have a chance to make the tournament. It probably isn’t fair to make a game against the #2 team in the country and national POY (yes, I’m calling the race) Blake Griffin a must win, but it isn’t fair to lose 5 straight in conference and still make the NCAA tournament. If the Bears are going to pull off the upset, they should focuse on limiting Willie Warren because they aren’t going to stop Griffin and hope that Curtis Jerrells and LaceDarius Dunn both have big games.

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 02.07.09 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 7th, 2009

dynamite1

We’re back with another thrilling edition of Boom Goes the Dynamite where we try to cover every single game on TV. Since we have only two people working on BGTD, we appreciate any reader tips on what games everyone should be watching since there are so many on TV and the Internet. For a rundown of the games today, check out today’s Set Your Tivos.

11:40 AM: ESPN GameDay is live from Spokane site of the Memphis-Gonzaga game tongiht at 9 PM. The crowd is fairly small, but I’ll give the Bulldog fans a break since it started at 8 AM local time on a Saturday morning at a school with just 4,515 undergraduates. I’m still waiting for a basketball GameDay to match a college football GameDay in terms of attendance and crazy fans. Looking at the schedule, I’m going to have go with February 21st when Oklahoma plays Texas in Austin, TX as the ESPN GameDay where the fans actually show up.

Noon: Some great work by the ESPN camera crew making Philadelphia look like something other a dump. The Syracuse-Villanova game should be one of the better ones today with both teams being in the 2nd tier in the Big East after UConn, Pittsburgh, and Louisville. The jury is still out on Marquette after last night’s debacle. Like we said watch the Jonny Flynn versus Scottie Reynolds match-up. The Arinze Onuaku injury could be big particularly with Dante Cunningham on the inside.

12:40 PM: Sorry for the delay in posting, but we’re having some problems with WordPress. Anyways, Villanova is absolutely destroying Syracuse right now. A basket by Cunningham stretches the lead to 21 at 36-15. It might be a while before we have another update on this game unless the Orange make a run. If the game continues like this, Jim Boeheim‘s squad will fall out of the top 25 leaving just 5 Big East teams in the rankings.

1:00 PM: The ESPN announcers just said that Donovan McNabb played some basketball when he was at Syracuse. Either he had some ridiculous intramural basketball career that I’m not aware of or they just assume that every mobile black QB was a two-sports star. I’m guessing it is the latter.

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Set Your Tivos: 02.04.09

Posted by nvr1983 on February 4th, 2009

Set Your Tivos
After last night’s relatively weak slate of games, we’re back to normal tonight with a great set of games.

Game of the Day
#3 Duke at #10 Clemson at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Our second top 10 match-up of the week. Once again the road team is the higher ranked team, but I feel like this time they are also the favorites coming in to the game. All of you know about Duke by now thanks to their frequent appearances on national TV so I will keep it brief. Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson have emerged as their two most consistent players. Usually that is enough to get them by most teams even if they only get minimal support from the rest of the team. However, when that happens against quality teams the result isn’t always that good (even if they come really really close). The key for the Blue Devils in this game and for the rest of the season will be the play of Brian Zoubek (go ahead and snicker Duke haters) and Nolan Smith. Zoubek merely needs to be a mediocre 7-footer and Coach K and the rest of the Blue Devils staff will be happy. Smith, who replaced Greg Paulus in the starting lineup, has to improve his decision-making. He must have one of the worst assist-to-turnover ratios (1.03 to 1) of any starting PG on a top team in the nation. On the other side of the ball, Clemson may be the most under-appreciated team in the country. I’m not sure if it is the Tigers’ recent history of falling apart down the stretch, but I never hear anybody mentioning them as a team that could make a run in March despite the fact that they probably have the most reasonable losses of any team in the country (Wake Forest and at UNC). The key for Oliver Purnell‘s team will be to have Trevor Booker dominate on the inside. I doubt that Duke will let him play against Zoubek so he will probably have to do it against Singler, which could make for an interesting match-up. If Booker can win that match-up, Clemson will have a shot. After that they will need a strong game out of K.C. Rivers and hope to contain Duke’s outside shooters (particularly Jon Scheyer). I think Clemson will keep it close until midway through the 2nd half when Duke will go on a run and pull away to win by about a dozen.

Worth Watching
West Virginia at #20 Syracuse at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Mountaineers are a a perfect example of why it is so hard to read Big East teams. They are only 4-4 in the conference, but all 4 of those losses were to top 10 teams (UConn, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Marquette). Likewise, Syracuse comes in having lost 3 straight and 4 of 5, but 3 of those losses have been on the road (Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and Providence) and the other to one of the hottest teams (Louisville) in the country. The Orangemen should be able to break their recent skid if they can contain Da’Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff, but a lot of that will have to do with whether or not they will have their full compliment of players available. Mookie Jones is done for the year with a hip injury, but someone will have to step up as Jim Boeheim can’t expect to get 62 points from Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf every game (and even that didn’t work in their last game).

#19 Minnesota at #14 Michigan State at 8:30 PM on The Big Ten Network: What is going on with the Spartans? Tom Izzo‘s team has lost back-to-back games at the Breslin Center to pretty weak competition (Northwestern and Penn State). Just two weeks ago everyone was talking about this team as a potential Final 4 contender with the return of Goran Suton. Unfortunately for Izzo, the Spartans will be without Raymar Morgan, who is out with “walking pneumonia”. To turn things around, the Spartans will need improved play out of Kalin Lucas, who still boasts an impressive 3.09 to 1 assist to TO ratio, but most of that is from his early season play. They will have to do it against a Gopher team that held Illinois to a ridiculous 36 points in their last game. Keep an eye on Al Nolen and Ralph Sampson III in this one for the Gophers as they will be matched up against Lucas and Suton respectively.

#6 Wake Forest at Miami (FL) at 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Wake needs to develop some consistency if they want to be a national championship contender. We know that they can beat the big boys as they knocked off UNC, Clemson, and Duke in a three week stretch. The question is why they can’t maintain that level of play when they go up against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech (both losses). Dino Gaudio will need to figure this out if he wants to get this team up to the level of Duke and UNC at the end of the season. Maybe it’s just a focus thing, which hopefully shouldn’t be an issue in March. Either way, this trip to Miami should be a nice challenge for the Demon Deacons. Jeff Teague will be matched up against Jack McClinton and Al-Farouq Aminu will be up against Dwayne Collins. I think Miami may be able to hold its own in those match-ups. Unfortunately for Frank Haith, the Hurricanes run into depth problems after their top 2 while the Demon Deacons run much deeper. Perhaps Haith should look into giving more PT to his ridiculously athletic freshman DeQuan Jones.

#16 Villanova at Providence at 8 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: Villanova finally got the signature win we were asking for by beating Pittsburgh last week in the last college basketball game at the Spectrum. This time they will have to do it on the road against a Friar team that was playing well before they ran into the UConn buzzsaw. Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds will need to have solid games if Jay Wright‘s crew is going to pull out a rare Big East road win against a Providence team that is actually above them in the Big East standings. Providence will need a solid effort out of its 8-deep rotation including Weyinmi Efejuku and Jonathan Kale to defend its home court tonight.

Keep an Eye On
Notre Dame at Cincinnati at 7:30 PM on ESPN360.com: Mike Brey
needs  Kyle McAlarney to snap out of his funk and start helping Luke Harangody out or the Fighting Irish might be looking at trip to the NIT this year. This is a game Notre Dame needs to win if they expect to make the NCAA tournament.

Tennessee at Arkansas at 8 PM on Raycom, Fox Sports South, and ESPN360.com: Can freshman Scotty Hopson be the one to reenergize the Vols who have struggled to play up their pre-season #8 ranking? Bruce Pearl might want to give him some more PT against the confusing Arkansas team that beat Texas and Oklahoma (the Sooners only loss), but is just 1-5 in the SEC.

Texas A&M at #2 Oklahoma at 9 PM on The Big 12 Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Watch this one for Blake Griffin, who will be your national Player of the Year barring some freak injury or sketchy voting. I guess the Aggies played Oklahoma close at College Station so this could be a decent game, but since it is in Norman I doubt it will be that close after the half unless the Sooners are already looking ahead to Texas and Kansas two weeks from now.

USC at #12 UCLA at 10:30 PM on Fox Sports: Ben Howland‘s will be going for a sweep of the California Pac-10 teams at Pauley Pavilion against their cross-town rivals. The Trojans are my pick for secretly good team that nobody is talking about, but could make a run in March. Watch this one for the battle of the freshmen: DeMar DeRozan and Jrue Holiday. They won’t be matched up against each other, but it should be fun to see Josh Shipp guard DeRozan. As an added bonus, you might get to see Lil’ Romeo (ok, maybe not).

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Set Your Tivos: 01.07.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 7th, 2009

Tonight’s a special night at the East Coast RTC headquarters, as I will intently be watching a game on ESPN based on a little column I wrote a few days ago. The results of this game (more specifically how one player does) will lead to one of two options:

(1) He will go off and the site will be bombarded by hateful comments by people questioning my manhood and my intelligence.

(2) He will pull a 7-for-25 or something similar and the site will be silent. It’s not really right, but that’s just the way these things work. I guess I can be like a superstar walking out of an opposing stadium enjoying the sweet sound of silence. [Note: This doesn’t mean I would enjoy seeing Curry struggle. It would just add some validity to my theory.]

Anyways, onto the games. . .

tivos

7 PM
Davidson at #2 Duke on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Even though Duke is the obvious favorite here and the Goliath to Davidson’s, uh, David, I think the Wildcats have more pressure on them going into this game. They have had 2 shots at the big boys (Oklahoma and Purdue) and came up short both times including a beat-down at the hands of the Boilermakers. Even with a win over West Virginia, the Wildcats non-conference resume is a little weak for a team that came into the season ranked 20th in the nation after their scintillating run last March. If they lose this one, they can forget even getting a 6 seed. This isn’t a death knell for the Wildcats season (see last year), but it would be disappointing for Bob McKillop’s crew after coming into the season with such high expectations. To get a win at Cameron, Stephen Curry will need to have a huge game (40+ points) and get some help from Andrew Lovedale, who will probably have his hands full with Kyle Singler. In addition, McKillop will have to hope that the Blue Devils have an off-night beyond the arc like they did in their only loss this year. As you know the Blue Devils have a much more balanced attack led by Singler with help from Jon Scheyer, Gerald Henderson, and Nolan Smith. One of the interesting things to watch for early in the game will be the mobility of Smith, who will be guarding Curry and is coming off a knee injury. If Smith isn’t up to the task, the task of guarding Curry will be left up to blogosphere whipping boy Greg Paulus. If that is the case, I will be taking back my earlier prediction for Curry for tomorrow night.

The Cameron Crazies will be out in full force
The Cameron Crazies will be out in full force

- #21 Louisville at South Florida on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: The Cardinals will be riding high after their rollercoaster win over intrastate rival Kentucky on Sunday afternoon. They should be careful though going into the Sun Dome where the Bulls nearly beat then #11 Syracuse in a 59-54 game despite a horrendous night from Jesus Verdejo (3/17 FG including 0/10 from 3). Rick Pitino will be expecting a more consistent performance out of freshman sensation Samardo Samuels, who only had 4 points and 1 rebound in 11 minutes due to foul trouble. I’m sure Pitino will be praying for another solid performance from Edgar Sosa, who responded to Pitino’s interesting motivational techniques (reminiscent of my high school coach threatening to put all of us on JV before every game) with a season-high 18 points including a game-winning 3 with 2.8 seconds against Kentucky. Like usual, Louisville has the talent to run away with this game, but the question is whether they will continue to play down to the level of their competition.

7:30 PM
#15 Marquette at Rutgers on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: Honestly, this isn’t a particularly exciting game, but it should be fun to see if Rutgers finds the Golden Eagles below the level of their typical competition (last 3 games vs. last week’s #1 UNC, #2 UConn, and #3 Pittsburgh). The Golden Eagles are only considered the 15th best team in the country. You gotta love the Big East this year.

9 PM
College of Charleston at #3 UNC on Fox Sports South: See if the Tar Heels, currently in last place in the ACC, can dig its way out the cellar. Don’t say we didn’t warn you about the Tar Heels.

- Gonzaga at #24 Tennessee on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: That’s not a typo. The Bulldogs, who were once ranked 4th in the country, are no longer ranked. I’m not sure what to make of Gonzaga. After being the underdog for so many years, they suddenly became a favorite, but have continued to disappoint and frustrate the nation each March after repeated failures to live up to their NCAA tournament seed. This year, they rose to their 2nd highest ranking ever (spent 2 weeks at #3 at the end of the 2004 regular season) before going into a freefall losing their last 3 and 4 of their last 5 games. To be fair, those 4 losses have been by a combined 18 points and included 2 road games and an overtime loss to then #2 UConn. Despite that, there’s no reason that a national title contender should go through a stretch like that. The Volunteers will be looking to bounce back from a tough loss at Kansas. The key to this game will be on the inside with Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism battling against Josh Heytvelt and Austin Daye.  If the Volunteers are able to control the paint, they will have a good shot at knocking off the Bulldogs, who will also need some help from their perimeter guys (Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray, and Jeremy Pargo).

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12.29.08 Fast Breaks

Posted by nvr1983 on December 28th, 2008

This is the last installment of Fast Breaks for the calendar year, but it’s a loaded one with lots of news before the New Year’s ball drops.

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Set Your Tivos: Super Saturday Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 20th, 2008

Super Saturday is a term usually reserved for the final Saturday of the US Open where the two men’s semifinals and the women’s final are played, but this Saturday of college basketball trumps any day at Flushing Meadows (unless we could somehow get a Kournikova-Ivanovic final). Normally I would cover all the interesting games on the docket, but today is so good that I’m only going to cover the ones featuring ranked teams matched up against each other.

No naps this Saturday afternoon

No naps this Saturday afternoon

The Undercard: On any other Saturday, these games would be the headliners, but today they are merely an appetizer to get you ready for the even bigger match-ups to follow.
#22 Michigan State at #5 Texas at 2 PM on CBS: Tom Izzo’s Spartans come into Saturday badly in need of a victory against a quality foe. Although Michigan State comes in with a respectable record of 7-2, they have been underwhelming and certainly nowhere near the level they were predicted to be coming into the season (AP #5 back on November 24th). On the other side, the Longhorns have been surprisingly strong with their only loss coming against Notre Dame (81-80) in what was the best game of the Maui Invitational. Texas has responded well to the setback with wins over 2 ranked teams in December (UCLA and Villanova). The last time Michigan State played a team of this caliber was in their much-anticipated match-up against UNC (clearly Texas isn’t quite at that level), they were blown off the court in a virtual home game. Tom Izzo will need a big game from Raymar Morgan and hope that his defense can contain A.J. Abrams and Damion James if he hopes to steal one in Austin.

- #20 Davidson vs. #18 Purdue at 4 PM on CBS: Both teams are all but assured of NCAA tournament bids. However, neither team has a signature win yet. Davidson certainly has the marquee value with national POY contender Stephen Curry, but they lost their only game against a ranked team (82-78 at #14 Oklahoma on November 18th). While the Wildcats can hardly be faulted for losing a road game against Blake Griffin and the Sooners, it still leaves them without a win they would need to merit a potential 5 seed or better. If they are unable to win today in Indianapolis, their only other chance to beat a top 25 team will be on January 7th against Duke at Cameron (ESPN might be hyping that game a little bit in the time leading up to the BCS title game). The Boilermakers are in a similar situation albeit without a star anywhere close to the level of Curry. The Boilermakers lost their only games against ranked teams back-to-back (87-82 in OT against Oklahoma on November 28th and 76-60 at home against Duke on December 2nd) and after tomorrow they don’t have a game against a currently ranked team until February 3rd against Ohio State. This game will likely come down to how well the Boilermakers can contain Curry (31.9 PPG and 6.8 APG) and limit his sidekick on the inside Andrew Lovedale (13.9 PPG and 10.7 RPG). The Boilermakers will counter with a much more balanced attack (4 players averaging between 9.9 and 15.6 PPG).

National POY?

National POY?

- #11 Syracuse at #21 Memphis at 6 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Orangemen (other than Jim Boeheim) responded well to their crushing loss at the buzzer on Monday night. However, they will be without Eric Devendorf for at least 2 games so Jonny Flynn will have to hope that Paul Harris and/or Arinze Onuaku can pick up the slack as John Calipari will almost certainly be focusing on Flynn on the perimeter. The Tigers could use a quality win here as they have lose both of the games they have played against quality opponents (Xavier and Georgetown). Tyreke Evans and Shawn Taggert will need to play well, but this is a game that the Tigers should win.

The Title Bouts: These games are as good as you will find any time this season (in-conference or out-of-conference) until we get to March.
#7 Xavier vs. #6 Duke at 2 PM on CBS: Although this game is a “neutral” site game and quite far away from North Carolina, East Rutherford, New Jersey has become a de facto home for Coach K and the Blue Devils over the past 20 years. Despite that edge, I don’t think Coach K will be starting his bench (including everybody’s favorite whipping boy Greg Paulus) like he did in the Blue Devils last game against UNC-Asheville. Sean Miller didn’t have quite the same luxury in Xavier’s last game as they had to fight hard to beat crosstown rival Cincinnati 76-66 a week ago. Both teams rely on a balanced scoring attack, but the outcome of the game will likely be decided by Duke’s ability to hit the 3. The Blue Devils don’t shoot a particularly high percentage from 3 (32% for the season), but they are such high-volume shooters (20.6 attempts per game compared to 15.3 attempts per game for the Musketeers) that it becomes a major factor in all of their games. Their only loss this year was their rematch against Michigan in Ann Arbor where they opened the game hitting 3 of their first 27 attempts for 3 point range before hitting 4 in a row late to close the gap. The key match-up in this game should be Kyle Singler versus Derrick Brown, which should be interesting to watch if Singler tries to pull Brown away from the basket with his outside shooting. This should be a close game, but look for Duke to win this one as they have had a tendency to pull out big games before conference play starts.

- #2 UConn vs. #7 Gonzaga at 4 PM on CBS: This game could have very easily been a 2-4 match-up if Gonzaga hadn’t slipped up last week against Arizona in Tucson. One of the interesting subplots, which I’m sure that CBS will cover repeatedly, is that it was match-up that introduced the nation to Gonzaga basketball less than 10 years ago and propelled UConn to its first Final 4 trip. While I remember the game for its significance for Gonzaga’s program, I had completely forgotten that it gave UConn its first Final 4 trip ever (won the title that year in a nail-bitter over Trajan Langdon’s Blue Devils). This Gonzaga team is significantly different than the one you might see on ESPN Classic. They are no longer just the team that relies on exceptional skill and execution. Now they have the athletes to compete with anybody in the nation. However, UConn has been playing better than anyone in the nation not wearing baby blue so Gonzaga will have its hands full trying to keep up with the Huskies, who have a balanced scoring attack led by Jerome Dyson, Hasheem Thabeet, and Jeff Adrien. Dyson leads the Huskies in scoring at 15.4 PPG and provides Jim Calhoun with a versatile one-on-one scorer. Thabeet, his counterpart on the inside, has finally started to show some of the promise that has had NBA scouts salivating over him in the past as he has started to score on a consistent basis to compliment his always strong defensive presence. The one area that the Huskies need to improve upon if they want to compete for the national title (read: challenge UNC) is for A.J. Price to step up as an elite college PG. His 35% FG and 36% FT isn’t going to cut it in March and may even be a liability in Big East play, which may be more competitive than the NCAA tournament itself on a nightly basis. The Bulldogs have also been playing exceptionally well this year with the exception of their loss last week to Arizona last week. They also come in with a balanced attack, but they are led by PG Jeremy Pargo whose scoring is slightly down (12.1 PPG to 8.9 PPG) from the past 2 season as he has focused more on running the team (3.4 assist:turnover ratio compared to 1.8 last year). To beat the Huskies, Mark Few will need everybody–Pargo, Austin Daye, Josh Heytvelt, and Matt Bouldin–to be near the top of their games. In the end, the Huskies depth and superior interior defense will probably be too much for Gonzaga to overcome.

Tyler who?

Tyler who?

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