CIO… the Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 4th, 2012

Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.

Looking Back

  • Wichita State chugging along, or are they? The Shockers are sitting at 8-0 and the only team in the league without a loss after a tight victory over Air Force in the MVC/MWC Challenge. But how strong is that 8-0? The Shockers may now be in the Top 25 rankings, but at this point it is hard to tell how legitimate that record is when you look at their schedule so far. Wichita State survived bad free-throw shooting by VCU to get that early victory on the road. The Shockers beat DePaul and Iowa in Cancun to take that tournament, but both of those teams have been at the bottom of their leagues for a few years now. A win over Tulsa? The Golden Hurricane are not where they used to be either. And the aforementioned Air Force is not exactly UNLV or New Mexico. The silver bullet might be at Tennessee on December 13. You do have to give the Shockers credit, though, as they are off to their second best start in school history.

Carl Hall (22) has given Shocker fans plenty to be excited about.

  • Creighton stumbles but makes a statement: Creighton came back from Las Vegas with big victories over Wisconsin and Arizona State. The hangover from those wins must have taken the toll on the Bluejays as they didn’t recover in time to take on Boise State. On the other hand, Boise State might be better than everyone expected this season, especially after taking Michigan State to the wire. We’ll have to see how the season plays out to determine if this turns out to be a bad loss. Creighton responded by getting off early against a highly anticipated match-up with St. Joseph’s where they were up by more than 20 points early in the first half.  The lead extended to as much as 34 in the second half as the Bluejays did a total 180 from the game before.  Highlights from both show it. With St. Joseph’s expected to win the A-10 this year, the victory and the way in which it was done was impressive.
  • Great matchups, but disappointing results: The Valley, though getting a lot of positive reviews, has already left a lot of important games on the table.  It is one thing to schedule big games, but it is another thing to go out and win some of them. Outside of Creighton, pretty much the rest of the Valley has come up with goose eggs against teams from the power conferences. Notre Dame, Louisville (twice), Michigan, Stanford, Memphis, South Carolina, San Diego State, Northwestern, New Mexico, UCLA, Cal, and Xavier have been on Missouri Valley schedules and the league is a whopping 0-13 against them. In 2006, the Valley won a lot more of these games. The non-conference resume sets up the conference season and how far teams can go in the postseason. Opposing coaches, including Rick Pitino, have given some great praise to the conference, but the victories against those conferences are few and far between so far. There are still a few weeks left for the MVC to pick up some bigger wins, but the positive look is that Valley teams are winning the games they should which will also help in the long run.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Creighton (7-1)–The Bluejays stay at the top after rebounding from their loss against Boise State by demolishing St. Joseph’s.  A key to Creighton’s success has been having Doug McDermott AND Gregory Echenique to have good nights down low. Echenique struggled in the loss against Boise scoring nine points, but only getting three rebounds, but turned things around to score 16 and grab six rebounds in the win against the Hawks.  Echenique leads the MVC in field goal percentage at about 74%.  When the frontcourt is going, the Creighton outside game can bury opposing teams.  Creighton leads the nation in 2-point shooting percentage at 61.2%. Read the rest of this entry »
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McDermott vs. Mitchell a Fun Show, But the Lesson Lies in Creighton’s Legitimacy

Posted by dnspewak on November 9th, 2012

Danny Spewak is an RTC correspondent and Big 12 microsite writer. He filed this report from Omaha after Creighton’s 71-51 victory over North Texas tonight. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

The Tony Mitchell Show began with a fast-break dunk in the opening minutes and continued with a block, a three-pointer from the wing, another swat, a monstrous slam off an offensive rebound and, finally, a loud, piercing scream of raw emotion directed toward the sold-out CenturyLink Center crowd. The public address announcer continued to call that name in monotone – Tony Mitchell ­– as he racked up nine points, two dunks and two blocks in the first eight minutes of the game to put himself on pace for numbers that would make ESPN look foolish for failing to televise this matchup against All-American Doug McDermott and Creighton.

Doug McDermott Isn’t the Only Bluejay on His Team (ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD)

A funny thing happened, though, as the game progressed. North Texas, the consensus Sun Belt favorite but a team heavily reliant on underclassmen, began to crumble when Mitchell struggled offensively. A Mean Green offensive drought turned into a double-digit deficit, and by the end of the half, Mitchell sat on the bench with two fouls as his team fell out of contention. Suddenly, it became apparent that this wasn’t the Tony Mitchell Show or the Doug McDermott Show, nor was this game simply an individual battle between Tony Mitchell and Doug McDermott. Instead, the 71-51 throttling was a testament to the potential and limitless ceiling of this Creighton team. More importantly, it was a testament to the fact that the Mean Green have a long, long way to go. Still, this was no Division II school to open 2012-13 season—instead, the Bluejays welcomed one of the nation’s top players in Mitchell and a team with serious NCAA Tournament hopes. “I don’t know if I’ve been as nervous for an opening game for this one than I have been in 24 years of doing this,” coach Greg McDermott said. “I thought it was a great idea when we scheduled it, and then all this week I thought it was a terrible idea.”

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Morning Five: 06.19.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 19th, 2012

  1. Mike Brey has built Notre Dame into an annual fixture in the Top 25 during his tenure in South Bend, and the three-time Big East COY who has led the Irish to six straight 20-win seasons will be rewarded with long term job security as a result. Reports indicate that the school on Tuesday will announce a 10-year extension to Brey’s contract, ostensibly keeping him at the school well into his 60s (he’s currently 53). It’s a proactive move by Notre Dame brass who are looking to shore up a winning program that has arguably been more successful than its football counterpart over the same period, while also signaling to potential poachers that Brey is going to cost quite a bit of coin to attract him away from northern Indiana.
  2. It’s June 19, so what better time than to debate the relative merits for three top contenders for next year’s national title? The gents from CBSSports.com — Jeff Goodman, Gary Parrish, and Matt Norlander — each chose a team on Monday and made their case. Goodman chose Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals; Parrish chose John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats; and Norlander chose Tom Crean’s Indiana Hoosiers. If you believe these guys, the Mesopatamia of college basketball in 2012-13 lies somewhere near Otisco, Indiana.
  3. In reading about the way friends, family and even recruiters treated high school star Khadeem Lattin‘s year spent in Spain at Canarias Basketball Academy, we weren’t sure whether to laugh or cry at the absurdity of it all. Despite going to a skills academy run by an American that has sent 41 Europeans to D-I schools over the years, the general consensus stateside was that Lattin was somehow hurting his career by taking the year to hone his skills in a European environment. He was removed from the ESPN rankings altogether per a policy regarding ranking only US players, and his rating was downgraded from four stars to three after a lackluster showing in the spring. And people wonder why the abominable AAU system of prep basketball in the US never improves — they hold all the cards, man.
  4. Sometimes we openly wonder whether the hardship waiver transfer rule has gotten completely out of hand, but in the case of Villanova’s Tony Chennault (a transfer from Wake Forest), we understand why the rule exists. The school announced on Monday that the NCAA had approved Chennault’s waiver request, making him eligible to take over a decimated VU backcourt effective in 2012-13. Chennault’s mother suffered some health issues recently, but more tragically than that, he lost his brother, Mike Jay, recently. Villanova is coming off its toughest season under Jay Wright’s stewardship, but with a solid interior crew surrounded by the talented Chennault and another promising player or two, maybe the Wildcats can find their typical game next season with a different cast of characters.
  5. Finally this morning, we’re about six weeks removed from the start of the 2012 Summer Olympics and players from around the world are preparing to compete in the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament to earn a spot in London. The Dagger took a look at seven college (or recently graduated) players who will play in that tournament, with a few notable names such as Creighton’s Gregory Echinique (Venezuela), Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim (Nigeria), and Florida State’s Deivydas Dulkys (Lithuania) leading the way. Of course, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis is one of the finalists for the US men’s national team, but his odds of making the final roster remain a long shot at best.
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Oregon Wins the CBI: Why It Matters…

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2011

Kenny Ocker is an RTC contributor.  He was in Eugene for Games Two and Three of this week’s College Basketball Invitational between Creighton and Oregon.

The Ducks Delivered In the CBI

 

When people talk about March Madness, the College Basketball Invitational is probably about the furthest thing from basketball fans’ collective conscience. Don’t let that fool you, however. The third-rate tournament is a valuable source of experience for teams, and it allows players to hang on just a little bit longer. Without the National Invitation Tournament’s strict standards of only extending bids to teams with above-.500 records, the CBI ends up with the third pick of postseason teams. Though the teams invited aren’t NCAA Tournament-quality, that doesn’t mean they’re not quality teams. For instance, the Creighton Bluejays are 23-16 and the Oregon Ducks are 21-18.  “We did win 20 games, which I know we had to play a lot to get to 20, but we did win 20 games, so winning breeds winning,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said after Wednesday’s game. “Hopefully, it will help us down the road. We’ve got a long ways to go with our program, we’re not kidding anybody, but at least guys are playing hard.”

While both teams have been able to pad their records with wins in the tournament, the biggest impact the CBI has on college basketball is giving valuable practice time and postseason experience for growing teams. Creighton’s Greg McDermott and Oregon’s Altman are both first-year coaches at their programs (Altman, incidentally, came to Eugene from Creighton after 16 seasons in Omaha), and the two-plus weeks of meaningful practices both coaches have had with their teams will certainly make an impact next season. Incidentally, the tournament’s last three champions (including 2011) were in their first years at their schools. The six 2010 CBI teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament this season have gone 6-16 so far, compared with NIT teams going 7-32 and CollegeInsiders.com Tournament teams going 1-16. This is especially emphasized in the fairytale Final Four run of Virginia Commonwealth, which won the CBI in 2010.  “It’s not the NCAA Tournament. It’s not the NIT,” Altman said after Wednesday’s game. “We’ve got a long ways to go to elevate our program there, but it’s an opportunity to play.”

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Morning Five: 12.28.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2010

  1. The NY Daily News published an exclusive interview with Seton Hall star Jeremy Hazell, who, as you all have heard by now, was shot by a robber on Christmas night near his home in Harlem.  He describes in detail how the robbers approached him and how he pushed one and ran for his life before feeling the piercing bullet enter his side below his armpit and how he waved down a passing FDNY ambulance to get timely treatment from the paramedics.  Talk about the Christmas spirit!  This is a frightening story and we wish Hazell nothing but the best on his recovery, and if that means he doesn’t play again this season, we don’t think anyone would blame him.
  2. Marquette freshman guard Reggie Smith is transferring away from Buzz Williams’ program in a bit of a surprising twist, as the young player had started in five of MU’s games this season yet was apparently chafed at a perceived lack of playing time.  He was averaging 1.4 points in just under ten minutes per game, but clearly neither he (nor his stepfather) thought that was enough a mere six weeks into his playing career.  This is also the second year in a row that Marquette has lost a freshman at the semester break — last season Jeronne Maymon transferred to Tennesssee in December.
  3. Speaking of midseason transfers, BIAH has a pretty good rundown of who those key players are and how they’re doing thus far since becoming eligible.  The winners so far: Kansas’ Josh Selby, USC’s Jio Fontan and Creighton’s Gregory Echinique.
  4. Jeff Goodman does us the service of breaking down the six power conferences heading into the new year.  There’s an awful lot to like and agree with here, but for the sake of contrarianism, we’d probably have gone with Georgetown in the Big East at this point.  RTC is majorly crushing on the Hoyas.
  5. Last night’s big Connecticut-Pittsburgh game turned out to be a dud for the most part with the Panthers handling the Huskies (while we’re at it, check out how Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs gets open off of screens), but this little jewel of a memory passed along from the UConn Hoops Blog reminded us when and how the rivalry began between these two basketball powerhouses.  Khalid El-Amin’s mastery (and bombast) was the difference way back in 1998, so c’mon readers, let’s help them out by locating the specific photo of KEA they’re requesting.
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Checking in on… the MVC

Posted by rtmsf on December 27th, 2010

Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent  for the Missouri Valley Conference.

A Look Back

  • End of the Non-Conference SeasonSome people may say it is a relief to see the end of the Missouri Valley Conference’s non-conference season.  Every school in the conference had opportunities against top teams in the nation and none of them could come through and separate themselves, nor get into the national spotlight.   The conference really needs to take a look at the scheduling that each of the schools do and maybe re-evaluate what can be accomplished in the non-conference season.   There were more games than usual scheduled against the top 25 teams in the nation, but maybe it would be better to get more with the teams ranked 26-75 instead.  They may also have to try and play more neutral court games as well.
  • Diamond in the RoughWe have talked before about Gregory Echenique and his impact to the Creighton basketball team since becoming eligible, but another player that has become eligible heading into conference season is Diamond Taylor from Southern Illinois.  Taylor came to the Salukis last season after being kicked off the Wisconsin basketball team in September 2009 after being arrested for burglary and possession of stolen property.    With a new start, Taylor will bring a scoring and defensive spark to Southern Illinois.
  • RPI doldrums If the Valley ever wants to be considered a multiple big league again, one thing they will need to do is find a way to move up the conference RPI rankings.  As of the past week, the Missouri  Valley Conference was as low as the 13th in some conference rankings sitting below the Ivy League.  While they now beat up on each other in the conference season, their only hope to move up now is to have a couple of teams separate themselves and then make a nice showing in the now overblown Bracketbusters.
  • Non-Conference Player of the Season—Kyle Weems, Missouri State—Weems is second in the league in scoring, sixth in rebounding and the only player in the league to be in the top 10 in both categories.  He has been the leader the Bears have needed during their tough non-conference season.  The junior has scored in double figures in all but one of their games and has averaged 22 points a game in the past four games.  If Missouri State is going to win the conference season, Weems will be the key to take them there.
  • Non-Conference Newcomer of the Season—Doug McDermott, Creighton—There was talk that McDermott would redshirt this season.  With the wait of Gregory Echenique to become eligible, Ethan Wragge’s foot injury and the loss of Casey Harriman, McDermott was the required to go ahead and play.  He has started every game this season and is second on the team in minutes played.  The freshman has responded by averaging almost 13 points and 6 rebounds a game.   Creighton received a gift when Northern Iowa released him from his Letter of Intent so he could play for his dad.

Power Rankings (Record) (Last week rank) and Conference Outlook

  1. Wichita State (9-2) (1)— Wichita State had an up and down non-conference season.  They missed some opportunities out in Maui, blowing a lead late to Connecticut putting them in the wrong part of the bracket and missing a chance against Michigan State and Kentucky.   Then they failed to win their MVC/MWC Challenge game against a still undefeated San Diego State.  However they have come on lately by winning a tight game at LSU (which now doesn’t look as good after the Tigers were blown out by North Texas) and then taking down Tulsa this past week in the first basketball game at Intrust Bank Arena.    They have some big momentum going into conference play.   They host Evansville and travel to Bradley for their first two conference games.
  2. Missouri State (8-3) (2)— Will Creekmore has stepped up larger than many have expected and together with Kyle Weems gave the Bears a decent non-conference season, but probably not what they were hoping for.  They came up just short against Tennessee in the NIT Tipoff, got caught by Tulsa unprepared, and played tough against Oklahoma State.  Unfortunately they were all losses.   There is no signature win on their resume that will help them come March.
  3. Northern Iowa (9-3) (3)— Rebuilding and exceeding expectations from last season has been a large challenge on Ben Jacobson’s plate.  The Panthers were taught an early lesson at Syracuse and have had some troubles on the road losing to Iowa and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  However, winning the Las Vegas Classic springboards them into conference play with a lot of confidence and a solid rotation of players.    The Panthers now have a knack for beating storied teams with the win against Indiana this week.
  4. Creighton (8-4) (5)— Creighton got off to a slow start, but heads into a conference season riding a four game winning streak, getting Rutgers transfer Gregory Echenique three games under his belt to get ready for conference season.  However, losses to their toughest competition like BYU, Nebraska, Northwestern and Iowa State lays out a path that the Bluejays need to have a stellar MVC regular season and put all of their eggs into the MVC Tournament basket..
  5. Illinois State (8-3) (4)— Tim Jankovich said coming into the season he had one of the youngest teams in the league having to replace a lot of key players, so their non-conference has been probably as expected.  They lost games against their toughest competition, UNLV and Ohio, and had a rough outing on their first road game of the season losing at Arkansas-Little Rock.   But they finished their non-conference on a strong note in a back and forth contest at UNC-Wilmington before winning in overtime.  They will be tested early with Creighton and Missouri State to start things off.
  6. Southern Illinois (6-5) (7)—Southern Illinois is where most people had them coming into this season.  Somehow I missed the memo and expected them to be better than they have been.   They started off the season getting blown out by Illinois and then somehow called a timeout they didn’t have against Northeastern to start the season 0-2.   The Salukis have been able to beat the teams they were supposed to beat, but lost to known commodities of a Drake and Northern Iowa start their battle for the MVC. Shorter and more intense practices might be their answer.
  7. Evansville (6-4) (6)— There are signs of improvement in Evansville, but like the other teams in the conference, could not get a big win to put in their back pocket.   Butler could be that win, but even they look down compared to their NCAA Championship game run last season. Losses against North Carolina and Indiana  along with Air Force and Middle Tennessee exploits their inconsistency that is still being put in place for a program that has struggled to do anything since becoming a part of Division I years ago.  But with young players like Colt Ryan, Denver Holmes and Ned Cox, things might be looking up. Starting at Wichita State will not be an easy task.
  8. Bradley (6-5) (9)— There is something in the water in Peoria that has caused things not to turn out at all what was expected coming into  this season.  Two starters and potential All-Conference players in Taylor Brown and Sam Maniscalco have been grounded with injury and the Braves were riding a five-game losing streak coming into the week before Christmas where they were able to get back on the winning track. Jim Les may have saved his job for another year once again because of injuries and coaching a different way.  Indiana State and Wichita State are on the slate for the first week. 
  9. Indiana State (5-6) (8)—The Sycamores have had time to think about their last non-conference game against Purdue on December 18th.  Being on the road for most of their non-conference season was a killer for Indiana State though they probably gained a lot of experience playing against adversity heading into the conference season.  They could get themselves off to a good start if they can beat Bradley and Evansville in the first week.
  10. Drake (5-6) (10)— After Drake’s teaching lesson from Dartmouth to start the week, the Bulldogs in shambles at the end of the non-conference.   When your wins are against Texas Southern, Southern Utah, Eastern Michigan, Boise State and Chicago State, there is definitely something that is not clicking for them.  They have had the last two top recruiting classes in the conference, but there may be some questions on whether that talent has the right coach in place. 

A Look Ahead

Conference play begins and there are already some good matchups to kick things off.

  • 12/29—Missouri State @ Northern Iowa (Fox Sports Net)—A great game to kick off MVC conference play as both teams expect to be in the race at the end of the season.
  • 12/29—Creighton @ Illinois State (ESPN Full Court/ESPN3.com)—Creighton has had some struggles with Illinois state when they have played each other early in the conference schedule.   Both teams have work to do as they start conference play.
  • 1/1—Wichita State @ Bradley (ESPNU)—This game had a lot of potential before half of Bradley’s starters went down with injury.  The Shockers will set the bar in this game.
  • 1/1—Illinois State @ Missouri State (No TV)—Missouri State has steadily risen in the Valley stature over the past couple of seasons.  I still think the Bears can win the conference.  At the same time, we may know early where the Redbirds will ultimately end up.
  • 1/1—Northern Iowa @ Southern Illinois (No TV)—Both programs are heading in different directions.  Northern Iowa is in the reloading stage while Southern Illinois is still going through an extreme makeover.
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ATB: Coach K Catches Dean — Carolina Fans Look Away in Horror

Posted by rtmsf on December 21st, 2010

The Lede.  Happy Holidays, everyone.  As we dive headfirst into Christmas week spent with our loved ones and hope that you’re doing the same wherever you live, the college basketball landscape looks a little peaked.  After an unimpressive exams period of games last week, the bulk of this week’s games occur over the next three nights, and after that we’ll hit a four-day interregnum where most coaches allow players to take short breaks to enjoy the holiday season with their families.  Tonight involved a very light slate of games but things will progressively improve until Wednesday when we’ll have a solid mid-week lineup to consider.

The Two Go Way Back, But K is the Legend Now (photo credit: RNO)

Your Watercooler MomentCoach K Ties Dean at 879.  With tonight’s blowout victory over Elon, Mike Krzyzewski tied his longtime rival eight miles away in Chapel Hill, Dean Smith, for the #2 spot on the all-time wins list in Division I basketball.  There have been a lot of these lately; in fact, Coach K just tied and passed Kentucky legend Adolph Rupp a couple of short weeks ago, but if you ask anyone over thirty who has lived on Tobacco Road, you know that this one (and the next one where K will pass Smith) means a little more.  Prior to Krzyzewski’s arrival at Duke in the early 80s, the Blue Devil program was a nice little place for basketball.  They’d been to some Final Fours and had some very good teams over the years, but they were not considered an elite program anywhere near Smith’s Tar Heel program or even NC State a few more miles down I-40.  K set his sights directly on matching and surpassing the talent level and existing success of the program in Chapel Hill, and within a little more than a decade he’d already been to a slew of Final Fours and won back-to-back titles (Smith matched K in 1993).  Nobody in his right mind could have ever imagined that the midwesterner with the funny name at the private school in Durham could ever overtake the folksy Kansan at the public school in Chapel Hill in terms of  success and stature, but Duke’s win over Elon tonight is just one more huge prong in an argument that’s long been settled: when it comes to K & Dean, Krzyzewski is the better coach, and history will quite possibly judge him as the second-best of all-time behind John Wooden.  Sorry, Heels fans, but it’s true.

Upset of the NightJacksonville 71, Florida 68 (OT).  A strange game scheduled at a strange time (1 PM) on a Monday afternoon after students have gone home, but a somewhat predictable result.  Can we just go ahead and put Florida in as one of our first-round victims in the NCAA Tourney this coming March?  This Gator team is a carbon copy of all the other underachievers that Billy Donovan has had in his decade-plus in Gainesville.  Just switch out Kenny Boynton for Anthony Roberson and Chandler Parsons for Matt Bonner, and you’ll see what we’re talking about.  Donovan has only had one class in his entire tenure  at Florida who actually defended their tails off and had a legitimate post presence inside — the ballyhooed Oh-Four class that happened to win a couple of national titles in 2006 and 2007.  Almost every other team has relied way too much on spotty guard play with questionable decision-making skills.  You can go all the way back to White Chocolate in the late 90s if you want, but the style of players are the same.  Bottom line for the 2010-11 Gators: Erving Walker and Boynton shoot way too much considering how inefficient they are with the ball, and there’s no single big man among Parsons, Alex Tyus or Vernon Macklin who can guarantee you points inside when you need them.  Sorry, Gator fans, but we’ve seen this Florida team too many times before.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • John Shurna.  It’s not often that someone shoots 60% in a game (9-15) and his conversion rate declines, but that’s what happened with Northwestern star John Shurna tonight as he came in dropping a 64.3% and ended the night at 63.6%.  With another impressive 26/6/4 stls evening, the guy is just on fire right now.  His season averages of 25/5/3 APG/3 SPG are all-american caliber numbers, and the only criticism that can be levied against the 6’8 forward is that he’s doing it against inferior competition (NW’s schedule has been delectably creampuffish so far).  Tomorrow night’s game against the long, athletic players on St. John’s will be somewhat instructive with how he responds.
  • Kemba Watch.  Kemba, you’re killing us.  For the third straight game, the dynamic Husky point guard was well under the 30 PPG average he carried through the first month of the season.  His 20/5/4 assts/3 stls was plenty enough for his team to beat Coppin State convincingly, but his season scoring average is now down to 27.2 PPG and we’re starting to fret.  He needs to explode for forty against Harvard on Wednesday because we don’t think that next Monday’s game against Pittsburgh will be a great scoring game for him (in two games against the Panthers, he’s averaged only 10 PPG).

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Upper Midwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 25th, 2010

For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

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

Upper Midwest Region (MI, WI, MN, IA, NE, SD, ND)

  • Kalin Lucas – Sr, G – Michigan State.  Few elite players and certainly no other senior elite players will enter this season as more of an unknown quantity than Kalin Lucas. Coming off a solid junior season where he averaged 14.8 points and 4.0 assists per game, Lucas and the Spartans were poised for yet another run at the Final Four before a torn Achilles tendon in the second round against Maryland supposedly ended those hopes along with the possibility that Lucas might declare for the 2010 NBA Draft, already lacking in depth at the point guard position. We all know what happened instead (MSU rallied to yet another Final Four even without their starting point guard).  All indications point to Lucas having recovered from the untimely injury to near 100%, but we can’t help but wonder if his explosiveness, which already was a concern for NBA teams, might be compromised. Lucas is certainly fast enough when he gets going in the open court, but his first step has never been at the level of the other elite point guards he has been compared to and a potential reluctance to push off that torn left Achilles tendon may hinder that more. Despite the questions, Tom Izzo is certainly happy to have Lucas and his all-around skills and intangibles back in East Lansing—there are very few All-American point guards in BCS conferences that stick around for their senior season—and if Michigan State is going to make a push to yet another Final Four it will be Lucas who will again be the driving force. Having lost the enigmatic but explosive Raymar Morgan and equally enigmatic but troublesome Chris Allen, Izzo will expect Lucas to carry an increased offensive load while still distributing the ball to wings Durrell Summers and Draymond Green along with the talented Delvon Roe, who has yet to fulfill the promise he showed coming out of high school. If Lucas is able to meet those expectations, he could have a senior season much like one of his Spartan predecessors (Mateen Cleaves) that results in the Spartans cutting down the nets in Houston next April.

Lucas Returns For a Last Final Four Shot

  • Blake Hoffarber – Sr, G – Minnesota. Here’s the thing about Blake Hoffarber: he’s probably not the best player on this Minnesota team, maybe not even the third or fourth best player, but he is absolutely critical to their success, perhaps the most important player on the team in that regard. Guys like Al Nolen and Devoe Joseph, Ralph Sampson, III, and Colton Iverson, are all probably more talented and more complete players than Hoffarber, but last year’s Golden Gopher results tell the tale of a team that succeeded when Hoffarber succeeded and failed when he failed. In the 15 games in which Hoffarber scored ten or more points last season, Minnesota went 13-2; in the remaining 20 games when he scored less than ten, they were 8-12. The lesson is simple: Hoffarber needs to score for this team to be successful. And given that Hoffarber’s offensive game is almost entirely predicated on hitting spot-up threes, maybe the true impact player here should be Joseph or Nolen, getting Hoffarber good looks on drive-and-dish. Or maybe it should be Sampson and Iverson for sucking in defenders in the post or kicking out offensive rebounds that eventually find their way into Hoffarber’s hands. But the point remains, Hoffarber needs to get and hit threes for the Gophers to be successful. His offensive numbers tell the story well, as last season Hoffarber was the most efficient offensive player in the nation, but only used 14% of all Gopher possessions when he was in the game. He scored a total of 351 points last season, 255 of which came from behind the arc (at an impressive 46% clip, leading to an effective field goal percentage of 67.3%, good for fourth in the nation). Of the remaining 96 points, 28 came from the line, meaning he scored just 34 hoops inside the arc, less than one point per game. Basically, Hoffarber is the very essence of a pure shooter – you really don’t need to worry about him going around anybody and the only open looks he’ll create for teammates is when he draws defenders to him at the line and rotates the ball around the arc. Sure, he contributes a handful of rebounds a game and rarely turns the ball over, he passes pretty well and is a decent if unspectacular defender, but when it comes right down to it, he’s “just a shooter” – one of the best in the nation upon whom the Golden Gophers’ chances depend, but in the end, still “just a shooter.”

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Morning Five: 01.11.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 11th, 2010

  1. #1 Kansas Goes Down.  Given the circumstances involving Bruce Pearl’s team, a lot will be written about this game in the next 24 hours.  Here are some of the better takes we’ve found.  Mike DeCourcy calls the Tennessee win miraculous, Luke Winn points out (correctly) that Cole Aldrich cannot be a forgotten man in the KU offense, and we over here at RTC had a bit of take on that game as well…
  2. You don’t see this often, and it was hidden in the Friday night news feeds, but Dartmouth head coach Terry Dunn was fired (“forced to resign”) after his entire team mutinied by signing a document stating they refused to play for him anymore.  The players then took the court on Saturday and were run out of the gym by thirty against Harvard.
  3. Injured center Gregory Echinique announced that he is transferring from the Rutgers program, and one possible destination for the talented big man from Venezuela is Tom Crean’s Indiana program.
  4. From last week, CBS/FSN announcer Tim Brando apparently (allegedly?) got into a bizarre email exchange with a Kentucky fan over his comments regarding DeMarcus Cousins’ elbow in the UK-Louisville game.  It doesn’t seem real, but whoever wrote it trashes the SEC and the “limited knowledge” of Kentucky fans outside of their own team.
  5. Midnight Madness on October 1 as well as a shortened regular season could come to fruition if the NCAA Board of Directors proposals are approved this week in Atlanta.  Another key proposal is the elimination of the hire-the-AAU-coach loophole to get a top prospect to attend your school, which is a fantastic piece of legislation if you ask us.
  6. BONUS:  Late-breaking news but DePaul’s Jerry Wainwright will be removed as head coach today, according to Andy Katz.  Wainwright seems like a good guy, and he’s had coaching success at the mid-major level, but he could never get it going there in Chicago.
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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2010

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

It has been a long time since there was a good college basketball team in the NYC metro area.  Unless you consider Storrs, CT, in the NYC metro area.

This season was supposed to be different. Seton Hall had added transfers Herb Pope, Jamel Jackson, Jeff Robinson, and Keon Lawrence to a solid core. St. John’s was bringing everyone back, including one of the most underrated players in the league in DJ Kennedy. Rutgers lost Corey Chandler, but with Mike Rosario returning alongside Gregory Echinique and Hamady Ndiaye, the Scarlet Knights were expected to be much more competitive in the league.

The non-conference season seemed promising. They combined to go 28-7 before the Big East season, which included wins over Temple, Siena, and Cornell, three teams that could very well be playing in the Tournament.  Hell, it seemed like both the Pirates and the Johnnies had a good shot at making a run to the Dance.

But a week into league play, these teams have yet to win a game, going 0-5. What’s worse is that four of those five losses have come at home.  So what happened?

For starters, injuries have played a big role. St. John’s is just getting Justin Burrell back after a sprained ankle held him out for a couple weeks, and still hasn’t had Anthony Mason, Jr., who is battling hamstring problems. Rutgers lost Gregory Echinique for the season to an eye injury. And if you look closer, four of those five losses came against teams that look destined to be dancing. In each of those four games, the loser wasn’t blown out as much as outlasted.

But the bigger issue may a bit more subtle. You see, winning is a skill; a learned trait. It takes experience, it takes leadership, and it takes smarts. It’s the ability to understand time and score, knowing when to step on the gas and when to rein it in offensively and run some clock. Its knowing what is a good shot, and the ability to run your offensive sets and get those good shots.

After watching any (or all) of these games, do you believe that Seton Hall, St. John’s, or Rutgers knows how to win a close game?

I don’t.  Can the same be said for Marquette?

The Golden Eagles were written off by a lot of people before the season started, but after an impressive showing at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, it seemed like Buzz Williams’ team might be better than some of us thought.  But Marquette has had just as much trouble in close games. They are currently sitting at 9-5 on the season, losing those five games by a combined 17 points, three of which came on the final possession.  Two of those losses came in Marquette’s first two Big East games, as Da’Sean Butler and Scottie Reynolds both hit game-winners in the final seconds.

What does this all mean?

Well, what we know for sure is that Marquette is much better than expected, Seton Hall has a ton of talent, and that St. John’s is good (they beat Temple in Philly, and regardless of what Kansas did on Saturday, beating this Temple team in Philly is impressive) and will only get better when Mason returns.

Maybe this says more about the Big East conference as a whole than anything about a specific team.  Maybe this proves what we expected – that the Big East is incredibly balanced this season.  Maybe this shows us that the difference between finishing 12-6 and 6-12 in the league, the difference between making the Tournament and heading to the NIT, isn’t a matter of talent. Its a matter of leadership, of experience, of smarts.

Maybe the difference is simply having guys that know how to win these close games.

Other Notes

  • Of the 16 teams in this conference, there are only three that I am ready to write off: Providence, Rutgers and DePaul. One team that you may notice missing from that list is South Florida. Yes, the Bulls have started Big East play 0-2. No, the Bulls don’t have many impressive wins this season (their best are UVa and San Diego). But keep in mind that Stan Heath’s club is currently missing two of their best players – Gus Gilchrist, their leading scorer who has missed the last six games and will be out for about another month with a severely sprained ankle, and Anthony Crater, an Ohio State transfer that was suspended after he became eligible in mid-December. The Bulls are not a deep team – without Crater and Gilchrist they basically go five deep – but a seven man rotation headlined by Crater, Gilchrist, Jarrid Famous and Dominique Jones, one of the best kept secrets in the country, the Bulls will make a lot of believers.
  • UConn might be the best team in the conference in transition. Kemba Walker can lead the break as well as anyone, Stanley Robinson may be the best in the country at finishing above the rim, and Jerome Dyson attacks the rim like a running back hitting the hole on third and short. That said, where UConn will struggle is in the halfcourt until Walker learns how to run a team and an offense. Far too often, the Huskies pass the ball around the perimeter for 30 seconds, ending a possession with a headlong drive at the rim. UConn had the same problem last season, but AJ Price was excellent at taking the ball with 10 seconds on the shot clock, beating his defender, and either finding a big man at the rim or setting up an iso on the wing. Walker can’t do that. He also hasn’t developed Price’s best shot – the 10 foot pull-up. Walker isn’t going to be finishing at the rim against a set defense in this league, but he is quick enough to get into the paint any time he wants. Until Walker becomes the on-court leader that Price was, the Huskies will continue to struggle.
  • Another UConn note: has Gavin Edwards been the most surprising player in the conference this year? Probably not, but there are few that have impressed more people than Edwards. He is the Huskies’ only real threat to score in the post on anything other than a catch-and-dunk, he rebounds the ball well, he plays smart defense, and he doesn’t make mistakes. Hell, he has played well enough to garner attention from the NBA. I guarantee not one person thought this kid had a shot at the league after his first two seasons.
  • West Virginia’s point guard issues were exposed by Pitt. They couldn’t run any offense in the second half, committed far too many live-ball turnovers, and as a result dug themselves into a big hole as Purdue got layup after layup. But we knew that was going to happen as the Mountaineers dealt with injuries to Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla. The bigger concern may have been on the glass. Granted, there are few teams in the country as adept at boxing out as the Boilermakers, but WVU still managed just seven offensive rebounds. With how much this team struggles in the halfcourt offensively, they aren’t going to win many games without easy second-chance points.
  • We’ll talk about Pitt in a bit, but if you’re a Cuse fan, don’t read all that much into the loss to Pitt. I guarantee that Jim Boeheim will put a stop to that lackadaisical defense very quickly, and there won’t be too many games where the Orange goes 1-13 from deep while their opponents shoot 10-24.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Ashton Gibbs, Pitt.  Pitt thrust themselves back into the Big East conversation with wins over Syracuse and Cincinnati this week. (Oh, and should I mention they were both on the road? Well, they were.) And Gibbs was the biggest reason why, averaging 21.5 ppg. He wasn’t just scoring points either, he was scoring important points. Against the Orange, he knocked down a number of big threes in the second half as the oft-scoring-deficient Panthers posted 53 points to overtake the Cuse. In the Cincy game, Gibbs hit the important free throws down the stretch as the Bearcats were trying to mount a comeback. With Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown back for the Panthers, this team has a number of weapons on the perimeter and is playing as well as any Jamie Dixon-coached team has. But it is Gibbs’ leadership and scoring ability that is going to determine how far this team goes. When he’s efficient, they are good. When he isn’t, just go back and rewatch the Indiana loss to see what happens.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Pittsburgh Panthers.  I don’t like doing this. I don’t like giving the POTW and the TOTW awards to the same program. But who else deserves this? Georgetown went 2-0 this week, but beating St. John’s at home and DePaul shouldn’t get you a TOTW. Villanova won at Marquette, but is that anywhere near as impressive as Pitt winning at Syracuse and Cincinnati? West Virginia and Louisville both lost marquee non-conference games. Everyone else had a loss during the week. Marquette was two good defensive possessions away from being 2-0 with wins over two of the Big East favorites, but as it stands they went 0-2 on the week.  Which leaves us with Pitt. In the paragraph above, you already learned about Pitt’s two impressive road wins. Perhaps the key for the Panthers this week was their two mid-season additions. Jermaine Dixon scored 21 big points against Syracuse, while Gilbert Brown had 13 of his 17 points in the second half to hep the Panthers pull away from Cincy. What this means is that Pitt now has four or five legitimate scoring threats on their perimeter. While neither Dante Taylor, Nasir Robinson or Gary McGhee will be confused with an offensive force in the paint, the three provide toughness, defense, and the ability to finish at the rim. All of a sudden, the Panthers have enough offensive firepower to allow them win games with their defense. Is this just a flash in the pan, or is Pitt for real? I’m leaning towards the latter after this week.

POWER RANKINGS

1. Syracuse: 13-1, 1-1

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Pitt 72-82

This Week: 1/6 vs. Memphis, 1/10 vs. South Florida

2. Villanova: 12-1, 1-0

Last Week: 1/2 @ Marquette 74-72

This Week: 1/6 vs. DePaul, 1/9 vs. Marquette

3. West Virginia: 11-1, 2-0

Last Week: 1/1 @ Purdue 62-77

This Week: 1/6 vs. Rutgers, 1/9 @ Notre Dame

4. Pitt: 13-2, 3-0

Last Week: 1/2 @ Syracuse 82-72, 1/4 @ Cincinnati 74-71

This Week: N/A

5. Georgetown: 11-1, 2-0

Last Week: 12/31 vs. St. John’s 66-59, 1/3 @ DePaul 67-50

This Week: 1/6 @ Marquette, 1/9 vs. UConn

6. UConn: 10-3, 1-1

Last Week: 12/30 @ Cinci 69-71, 1/2 vs. Notre Dame 82-70

This Week: 1/6 vs. Seton Hall, 1/9 @ Georgetown

7. Cincinnati: 10-4, 2-1

Last Week: 12/30 vs. UConn 71-69, 1/2 @ Rutgers 65-58, 1/4 vs. Pitt 71-74

This Week: 1/6 vs. Cal St. Bakersfield, 1/9 @ Seton Hall

8. Louisville: 10-4, 0-1

Last Week: 12/30 vs. South Florida 73-52, 1/2 @ Kentucky 62-71

This Week: 1/6 @ Providence, 1.9 vs. St. John’s

9. Marquette: 9-5, 0-2

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Villanova 72-74

This Week: 1/6 vs. Georgetown, 1/9 @ Villanova

10. Notre Dame: 13-3, 2-1

Last Week: 12/30 vs. Providence 93-78, 1/2 @ UConn 70-82, 1/5 vs. South Florida 74-73

This Week: 1/9 vs. West Virginia

11. South Florida: 10-4, 0-2

Last Week: 12/30 @ Louisville 52-73, 1/5 vs. Notre Dame 73-74

This Week: 1/10 @ Syracuse

12. St. John’s: 10-4, 0-2

Last Week: 12/31 @ Georgetown 59-66, 1/3 vs. Providence 74-59

This Week: 1/9 @ Louisville

13. Seton Hall: 9-4, 0-2

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Virginia Tech 94-103 OT

This Week: 1/6 @ UConn, 1/9 vs. Cincinnati

14. Providence: 9-5, 1-1

Last Week: 12/30 @ Notre Dame 78-93, 1/2 @ St. John’s 74-59

This Week: 1/6 vs. Louisville, 1/9 vs. Rutgers

15. Rutgers: 9-4, 0-1

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Cincinnati 58-65

This Week: 1/6 @ West Virginia, 1/9 @ Providence

16. DePaul: 7-7, 0-2

Last Week: 1/3 vs. Georgetown 50-67

This Week: 1/6 @ Villanova

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RTC Live: Rutgers @ North Carolina

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2009

Hello everyone, we’re back from the holiday break and heading into New Years week with a pretty good match-up in Chapel Hill, NC, tonight between Rutgers and UNC.  This game will be simulcast on ESPN2 tonight, but we hope that you’ll join us for an interactive experience like no other while you’re watching the game on television.  The Heels come into tonight’s game sitting at 9-3, a record that makes UNC seem worse than they are considering that the three losses were to #2 Texas, #3 Kentucky and #5 Syracuse (two of which were road games).  Roy Williams is working through a number of new faces in his lineup but there’s clearly a bevy of talent at his disposal and we fully expect his team to be at or near the top of the ACC standings by March.  As for the visiting Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Fred Hill’s team comes in at 9-2 but even he will admit that their schedule has been less than impressive thus far (#346 according to KenPom).   Things aren’t looking up with the recent news that sophomore forward Gregory Echinique (13/8) will miss the remainder of the season with an eye problem, but the one player Hill has at his disposal who is capable of dropping thirty on any defense in America is Mike Rosario.  The 6’3 sophomore guard had a great summer overseas, and he comes into this game averaging 18/5 while shooting 38% from deep.  Given UNC’s lackluster three-point defense this season (34%), Rosario is definitely someone to watch tonight.  We hope you join us for another exciting edition of RTC Live, this time from one of the great venues in all of college sports, the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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Morning Five: 12.21.09 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 21st, 2009

  1. Iowa starting point guard Anthony Tucker was charged with public intoxication on the night of his team’s win over Drake, 71-67, and he will be suspended from the team immediately.  This is his second such charge, as he pleaded guilty to the same charge one year ago in Iowa City.
  2. According to Jim Calhoun, he and UConn are very close to signing a five-year extension to his current contract that will keep the acerbic coach in Storrs into his seventies.  Reportedly, Ken Kreyeske was his top negotiator in the discussions.
  3. Ohio State’s Evan Turner is on the record stating that his return will be on January 9 against Minnesota, a full four weeks ahead of initial projections.  Let’s hope he’s right, because the more Turner plays, the better for college basketball.  But let’s also make sure that he’s healthy, and we’re sure Thad Matta will have a say-so in that respect.
  4. This is a great story.  The NCAA granted Mike Gerrity’s waiver on Friday, making him eligible at USC immediately.  So what does he do?  Only drop 12/10 assts in the Trojans’ unreal (in margin) upset of top-ten Tennessee on Saturday evening, his first game in two years!
  5. Rutgers lost big man Gregory Echinique to eye surgery over the weekend, but he is expected to make a full recovery.  He was averaging 13/8 in seven games for Fred Hill’s Scarlet Knights.
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