Checking in on… the MWC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.

A Look Back

Last Wednesday, after Wyoming, in front of their home crowd, improbably stuck right with the #7 team in the nation, BYU, for 39-plus minutes, MWC fans were treated to an epic battle between two very good teams, one with its ticket all but punched for the NCAA Tournament, the other with its resume still very much in doubt. In the end, D.J. Gay’s clutch shot as the clock wound down followed by his play on Colorado State’s last-ditch effort sealed the road victory for San Diego State, just the latest in a streak of big plays at crunch time for the wily senior. The Rams, however, bounced back on Saturday with a closer-than-expected road win of their own over Wyoming. Elsewhere around the conference, New Mexico beat Air Force in Colorado Springs on Tuesday and Air Force came back with their own road win – their second in a row following 20 straight conference road losses – with their win over Utah on Saturday. If you’re not counting at home, that makes five road wins in eight conference games this week, but in the end, the teams at the top of the conference by and large keep piling up the wins, giving the MWC five times who at least have aspirations for at-large NCAA Tournament selections. With talented veteran rosters across the conference, this may be the high water mark for the conference, with stalwarts Utah and BYU (and TCU, a non-factor basketball-wise) heading to higher ground next season. And, on Monday, we got news of the firing of Wyoming’s head coach, Heath Schroyer, an announcement that was only potentially surprising because of the timing. With Utah and TCU also struggling through some recent hard times on the hard court, and with their impending departure, Jim Boylen and Jim Christian have to be looking over their shoulder as well.

Team of the Week: BYU – It’s hard to pick out one team this week, but we’ll go with the Cougars largely on the strength of their impressive handling of UNLV at the Marriott Center on Saturday. BYU built up a 12-point halftime lead, then coasted through much of the second half behind 29 points from Jimmer Fredette on his way to grabbing the mantle of the all-time leading scorer in Mountain West history, passing San Diego State’s Brandon Heath. Fredette also added seven assists and made all 16 of his free throw attempts as the Cougars prevailed in a game that was not exactly a thing of beauty. Couple that win with their surprisingly difficult win over Wyoming on Wednesday and it’s just another 2-0 week for the Cougars.

Player of the Week: Kawhi Leonard, Sophomore, San Diego State and Jimmer Fredette, Senior, BYU – Nobody in the conference came out and stole this week’s award, so I’m going to split the recognition between the two candidates for MWC Player of the Year (yes, I know Fredette’s winning this thing going away right now). At the surface, both of these guys had great weeks. Fredette scored 55 points in his two games, while Leonard had 23 points and 25 rebounds on the week. But closer examination reveals flaws for each. Leonard made just ten of his 27 shots, turned the ball over as many times as he handed out assists and missed both of his three-point attempt, while Fredette was just 13-35 from the field and 3-16 from deep, and had nine turnovers to his eight assists. And despite those flaws, these two share the Player of the Week award, in recognition not only for the things they did well this week, but also all that they’ve done well over the season.

Newcomer of the Week: Hank Thorns, Junior, TCU – It hasn’t been a fun season in Fort Worth, but Thorns has been a bright spot. The 5’9 transfer from Virginia Tech leads the conference in assists, with 6.4 dimes per game. This week he added eight more assists in a seven-point loss at San Diego State, but he’s also been adding more of a scoring punch, in the wake of the suspension of the Horned Frogs’ leading scorer, Ronnie Moss. This week Thorns had 16 points, and while TCU is in the middle of a six-game losing streak, Thorns has averaged 12 points and nine assists in the three games since Moss’ suspension.

Game of the Week: San Diego State 56, Colorado State 54 – Playing in front of an emboldened Moby Arena crowd, the Rams were out to prove that they were no pretender. And for 39 minutes and about 50 seconds, they fought the #6 team in the nation to a draw. And then D.J. Gay broke the hearts of the Rams and their 7,353 screaming fans. I linked to it above, but it is good enough to watch again. After CSU’s Travis Franklin tied the game at 54 with a strong move to the basket with 10 seconds left, Gay took the inbounds pass, calmly dribbled up court, and, in front of head coach Steve Fisher who had opted to let Gay go to work on his own rather than call a timeout, he knocked down a step-back jumper in the face of CSU’s Dorian Green. And then, not to be outdone, he got back on defense and intercepted Adam Nigon’s Hail Mary pass as time expired, reminding everyone around the conference why Gay is so important to his team.

Game of the Upcoming Week: New Mexico (16-7, 4-4) at Colorado State (16-7, 6-3), 2/12, 6PM PST, The Mtn. – On a day when San Diego State visits UNLV, I’ll take this game as the more important game, the more competitive game and the more exciting game. I may have been a little slow to the party, but I’m finally on board with the Rams as a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender, and I’ve also been waiting on the Lobos to turn the corner as well. At this point, all signs point to the corner having been turned, so we could be in for a serious battle here. The possibility of a Drew Gordon-Andy Ogide battle up front should be enough to get any college hoops fan interesting, but it could be the battle between Lobo senior point Dairese Gary and Ram sophomore guard Dorian Green that could decide things. Green surprisingly got the best of Gary in the first go-round, holding the Lobo leader scoreless in 34 minutes, but it was Gordon’s 16-rebound dominance on the glass that put the Lobos over the top at The Pit. This time around, the Rams will have the home court advantage, but it is unlikely they’ll be able to shutout Gary again. The winner here sneaks ahead in the battle for the MWC’s potential fourth Tournament bid, but people around the conference have been whispering giddily about the possibility of five teams in the Big Dance.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (23-1, 8-1): While the Aztecs did come out of the week with two wins, they also got a bit of a scare on Saturday night when starting guard Chase Tapley and reserve forward Tim Shelton both left the game in the first half with injuries – Tapley’s a sprained ankle and Shelton’s a foot injury. Neither player returned to the game and both sat on the bench with protective boots on their feet in the second half, but later X-rays revealed no broken bones in either player’s case. Shelton, who has had knee injuries end two seasons in his time in San Diego, underwent an MRI on Monday to determine if there was any ligament or tendon damage.

A look ahead: The Aztecs host Utah tonight before traveling to UNLV for a big collision on Saturday.

2. BYU (22-2, 8-1): In recent weeks, this space has turned into a “Cougars Who Aren’t Named Jimmer” section, and we’ll go back to that well here. While Jackson Emery continued his strong play (27 points, five threes and seven steals this week), Saturday’s win over UNLV featured a strong showing from sophomore forward Stephen Rogers, who went for 12 points, a career-high eight rebounds and two three-pointers in 21 minutes. Rogers’ chance at significant playing time came after freshman Kyle Collinsworth and junior James Anderson both left the game with injuries – Collinsworth a concussion and Anderson a separated shoulder. While Brandon Davies was a huge factor in the Cougars win over Wyoming on Wednesday, with 20 points and nine rebounds, he was limited by foul trouble on Saturday and struggled home to just four points, his only non-double-digit scoring effort since conference play began.

A look ahead: Sneaky week for the Cougars, with a trip to Air Force on Wednesday and then a visit from Utah for the final MWC edition of the basketball version of the Holy War on Saturday.

3. Colorado State (16-7, 6-3): The Rams played two games decided by five total points this week, and came away with a 1-1 split and a host of believers around the MWC. Rather unbelievably, CSU actually outrebounded the Aztecs, holding them to a mere five rebounds and a 14.3 offensive rebounding percentage. Andy Ogide led the way with 12 rebounds to go with his 18 points, but the Rams were done in by their ability to score against the suffocating SDSU defense, posting just a 38.5 effective field goal percentage. Against Wyoming on Saturday, there was a little bit of a hangover in effect, as Ogide was in foul trouble throughout and scored just 11 points, as the Ram starters combined to go 14-38 from the field. However, they were bailed out by their depth, as CSU’s bench outscored the Wyoming reserves by a 23-3 margin. Sophomore Pierce Hornung led the way with ten points and 11 rebounds, his first career double. As a whole, the bench combined to make ten of their 17 field goal attempts.

A look ahead: The Rams get a mid-week bye in advance of their battle with New Mexico on Saturday.

4. UNLV (17-6, 5-4): It’s a good thing for the Rebels that they took care of business against Utah on Wednesday, because they never had a chance against BYU on Saturday afternoon. While the Rebs were impressive on the glass against the Cougars (they grabbed almost 40% of all available offensive rebounds, and were solid on the defensive glass), their inability to hit shots on a consistent basis continues to plague them. Against BYU they posted just a 35% effective field goal percentage, and for the season they are just a shade above 50% in that category, good for 110th in the nation. Worse yet, they are shooting less than 30% from three, 318th in the nation. Their defense continues to be elite (they’re ninth in the nation in defensive efficiency), but unless they can somehow start putting the ball in the hoop, they’re a non-entity come March. Quintrell Thomas led the way against Utah with 15 points and 16 boards, while Anthony Marshall’s 16 points, 12 rebounds and four assists against BYU was the only good thing the Rebs had going that day. Chace Stanback continues to be the leading scorer on the team, and he’s scored in double figures in six straight games, but UNLV fans keep waiting for last year’s Tre’Von Willis to show up. In his four games back since a knee injury kept him out of a couple games, he has only shot 35.9% from the field and averaged 12 points per game, and his quickness and ability to challenge defenders and get to the line is a pale imitation of the Willis from ’09-’10.

A look ahead: The Rebels visit TCU on Wednesday, with a chance to build up their confidence before heading into a huge home game with the Aztecs on Saturday. If the Rebels are going to get their mojo back, it has to start on Saturday by breaking SDSU’s three-game win streak in the series.

5. New Mexico (16-7, 4-4): After a terrible 1-4 start in conference play, the Lobos have now strung together three straight wins to get back to .500. This week they went to Air Force and looked impressive in helping head coach Steve Alford to his 400th career win, before getting a weekend bye. Drew Gordon led the way with 17 points and six rebounds, Dairese Gary added eight assists and the Lobos won by 14.

A look ahead: The Lobos host Wyoming on Wednesday in what is bound to be an emotional game for the Cowboys in their first game without head coach Heath Schroyer. If the Lobos can get through that game, their battle with Colorado State on Saturday will be huge.

6. Air Force (13-9, 4-5): In the home loss against New Mexico, the Falcons were just outclassed. But on Saturday, they played a strong game at Utah and came away with a five-point win. Against the bigger and stronger Utes, the Falcons went against type and hit the glass hard and effectively, grabbing a sparkling 90.6% of all defensive rebounds and a solid 24.3% of the offensive rebounds. Sophomore Zach Bohannon impressed, posting career highs in points (12), rebounds (8) and assists (5) and the Falcons led every step of the way after ripping off a 14-2 run to break a 2-2 tie early in the game.

A look ahead: Air Force’s sole game of the week is a visit from BYU on Wednesday night. They slow it down, ugly the game up and try to control Fredette in the hopes of keeping in contact as far as the under-four timeout. If they can do that much, anything can happen down the stretch.

7. Utah (10-13, 3-6): The head coach at Utah prior to Jim Boylen was Ray Giacoletti. He won a MWC championship in his first season and advanced the Utes to a Sweet 16. Two straight 6-10 years later, he was the ex-Utah coach. This is Boylen’s 4th season as the head coach in Salt Lake City. In his second year, his Utes won the MWC championship before losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Last season, they finished 7-9. But with the Utes stepping up to the Pac-10 next season, last season’s mass exodus of players not too far back in the rearview mirror, and with history saying the Utah athletic department isn’t fond of consecutive losing seasons for its basketball program, it might be a good idea for the Utes to finish this season strongly if Boylen expects to be back next year. This week’s two losses, especially the home loss against Air Force on Saturday during which the home crowd did not hesitate to show its displeasure, did not do Boylen any favors. Yes, he’s had to deal with a nearly complete roster overhaul that has been exacerbated by injuries, and he’s a well-respected man in his profession, but if the Utes don’t finish this season strongly, you can bet the athletic department will be entertaining thoughts of a new head coach.

A look ahead: Given the above, this week is absolutely brutal. A trip to San Diego State tonight, a trip to Provo to face BYU on Saturday, and in all likelihood, a 3-8 conference record come Sunday morning.

8. TCU (10-14, 1-8): Much like the Utes, the Horned Frogs have a transition to a higher level of basketball in the near future, as they’ll join the Big East in ’12-’13. With head coach Jim Christian, now in his third season, having never posted a winning record in Fort Worth, he can’t be resting all too comfortably, especially given the fact that he has just suspended his best player in Ronnie Moss, a player who in all likelihood will not wear a Horned Frog uniform again. The fact is, this roster is pretty devoid of talent, and doesn’t compare favorably with even some of the truly bad teams at the bottom of the Big East. If TCU decides that Christian isn’t the man for the future of this program, do they decide to go a different way immediately, giving the new head coach a couple years worth of recruiting before being thrown into the Big East gauntlet? Or does Christian get one more year to turn it around, with the Horned Frogs using a new head coach in 2012 to generate some type of buzz before heading into the Big East? My educated guess? Given that Christian still has four years on his contract – after receiving a two-year extension following his first season in Fort Worth – given that the basketball is clearly a distant second in importance to the TCU football program (and may even be third behind baseball), and given that the previous head coach left the program in total disarray, I suspect Christian will get another season. An added bonus: if the Horned Frogs do wind up with a new head coach in their first year in the Big East, that’s a good excuse for their inability to keep up with the big boys of college basketball.

A look ahead: UNLV visits Fort Worth on Saturday, then the Frogs visit Laramie in a spectacular preview of the 8/9 game at the MWC Tournament.

9. Wyoming (8-15, 1-8): At Wyoming, they no longer have the same decision to make that the two programs above have to make. Schroyer is gone, assistant coach Fred Langley has been promoted to interim coach and the only decision that remains to be made is who is next. The early leader is BYU associate head coach Dave Rice, but Wyoming has a nice head start on searching for a new head man. As for the Schroyer era, the final tally stands at 49-68 over the course of almost four years, but his lasting legacy may be cleaning up the academic and off-court performance of the team. Given the substandard facilities at Wyoming, Schroyer was fighting an uphill battle the whole way, but he never got any momentum going. It was somewhat surprising that he was fired in the middle of the season, as all indications were that any decisions about his future would be made after the season, but there was no real suspense as to whether he would return or not. The ironic part is, this firing came after a week in which the Cowboys played BYU down to the wire, then gave Colorado State all they could handle before coming up short.

A look ahead: Wyoming travels to New Mexico for their first game in the Langley era, then return home to host TCU on Saturday.

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Checking in on… the MWC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.

A Look Back

The Mountain West goes national – at least for a night. On Wednesday, the much-anticipated MWC clash between BYU and San Diego State took the nation by storm, and Jimmer Fredette and the Cougars certainly did not disappoint. After a pretty standard first eight minutes, during which Fredette “only” had five points, he exploded for BYU’s final 15 points of the first half, then picked up right where he left off after the break, scoring nine of the first 12 Cougar points on his way to a total of 43 on the night. And when the final buzzer sounded on a 71-58 BYU win, the fun was just beginning. Over the next 24 hours, Fredette’s name popped up all over, and not just among the typical college basketball dorks. ESPN couldn’t get enough of him, Kevin Durant called him the “best scorer in the world,” and Fredette, with his new horribly unimaginative update of his nickname (really, adding a “The” to “Jimmer”? come on…) was just about as close to a household name as a college basketball player can be. And so, our secret is out. Tucked away in our little corner of the college hoops world, we seemingly had Fredette all to our own for the last few years. To most of the rest of the average casual college basketball fan, Fredette was just that good shooter tucked away on The Mtn. and other backwoods channels who they might get a chance to watch a time or two a year. For us, we knew there was more. We’d seen him knock down the deep threes, but we’ve also seen him power by defenders to get into the lane and finish in absolutely ridiculous ways. We’ve been calling Fredette must-see TV for most of this season, and while there is maybe a bit of bittersweetness to losing that little secret that MWC hoops fans had, we’re far more apt to be happy that the rest of the college basketball world gets it now: Fredette is as fun of a player to watch as ever comes down the pike and hoops fans should be taking advantage of every opportunity to see him play in what is now his final nine games of his college career. And, for the MWC fan who still wants to be in on a secret that the rest of the country doesn’t know about yet, there’s still Kawhi Leonard who is somewhat undervalued nationwide. There’s Jackson Emery. There’s D.J. Gay, Dairese Gary, Andy Ogide, Malcolm Thomas, Billy White and Tre’Von Willis. And you know what? We’ve likely got just over a month remaining in each of those players’ great college careers. MWC fans are very lucky right now.

Team of the Week: New Mexico – While BYU handing SDSU their first defeat of the season was the big national story of the week, the Lobos were the big winner this week as they got back on track in conference play. After destroying TCU on Wednesday night in the shadow of Jimmermania, the Lobos were able to perhaps take advantage of BYU’s ride back to earth and score a big nine-point win in The Pit. The Lobos are still a game below .500 in the conference, and I’ve been wrong before in saying that Steve Alford had this thing turned around, but New Mexico is now getting contributions from all over their roster. Dairese Gary has been the sure thing the last couple of years, but now there’s plenty more help. Drew Gordon is on a roll with double-figure scoring in his last six games and double-digit rebounding in five of those games. Philip McDonald has been inconsistent during his career, but he’s averaging over 14 points a game in the last six. While it looked for a while that Kendall Williams had hit the freshman wall, he’s scoring more than 12 a game over that stretch, while still adding four assists a night. And against BYU, freshman Tony Snell offered up by far his biggest contribution of the season, scoring a career-high 16, with five threes – including two big ones down the stretch – and a pretty solid performance while guarding Fredette. I’ve made the comparison before, but the Lobos have the potential to be this year’s San Diego State at the conference tournament. They’ve struggled on their way to building a cohesive team, but as the Lobos come barreling down the final stretch of highway in March, don’t be surprised if they’re playing their best basketball of the season at exactly the right time.

Player of the Week: Jimmer Fredette, Senior, BYU – With apologies to Andy Ogide, there is no way this can go to anyone else but Fredette this week. The loss on Saturday is a pretty major blemish on the resume, but really when we look back at the college basketball season when all is said and done, this will go down as The Week of Jimmer. When you average 37.5 points per game on 26-50 shooting and 11-17 from behind the arc, you’re very much on the short list for player of the week in any conference. When you do that in a week when your name is on the lips of sports fans across the country, when the mere mention of your name incites smiles, disbelieving head shakes and looks of wonder, when you vault yourself right up to the top of the leaderboard for potential National Player of the Year candidates, you’ve got the little old MWC POTW award in the bag.

Newcomer of the Week: Drew Gordon, Junior, New Mexico – A couple weeks back when we gave Gordon this award, it was on the heels of a spectacular week. (Seriously, have you checked this out yet?) This week was perhaps a more pedestrian week, but Gordon was still incredibly effective. Over the course of the week, he went for 27 points, 23 rebounds, four blocks and 65% shooting from the field. There are still plenty of places where Gordon needs to improve his game (um, he’s averaging one assist every 111 minutes this season), but if he can keep being a ferocious rebounder and a reliable post scorer for the Lobos, he can help turn this squad into a scary matchup for teams across the conference.

Game of the Week: BYU 71, San Diego State 58 – Usually here we detail a particularly close and dramatic game. This week, while Air Force did play in a couple of games decided by a total of four points, the game of the week was obvious. While there was no real drama in the last four minutes or so, this was the MWC’s turn in the national spotlight. And it was good. Sure, the Aztec team that we’ve seen all season was a shadow of its usual self, and sure there were stretches where the defenses seemed to be significantly ahead of the offenses, but this was a completely enjoyable way to spend a weeknight hour or two. Fredette gets all the publicity (and rightly so), but Leonard was amazing as well, despite playing with the flu, notching 22 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Maybe next time these two teams meet in San Diego, we’ll get the down-to-the-wire, white knuckle finish we were hoping for, but just because we didn’t get that on Wednesday night doesn’t mean we watched anything short of a completely compelling spectacle.

Game of the Upcoming Week: San Diego State (21-1, 6-1) at Colorado State (15-6, 5-2), 2/2, 6PM PST, CBS College Sports – While this won’t have the national panache that the game of a week earlier had, this battle could have just as big an effect on the conference title picture. The Aztecs and Cougars are tied atop the conference with just one loss, but just a game back looms CSU, a veteran team that still has to prove that they belong in the conversation with the big boys in this league. Against BYU a couple weeks back, they kept the game close for the better part of 40 minutes before letting the game slip away at the end, but they did score a win over UNLV. Right now the Rams sit on their own mini-tier in the conference, not quite having yet posted the credentials to earn them consideration alongside the two teams above them, but surprisingly ahead of the rest of the conference. However, in their quest to prove that they are deserving of NCAA Tournament consideration, a win over the Aztecs would be a huge feather in their cap. For their part, the Aztecs still have a bad taste in their mouth after their less than stellar performance against BYU, and even a 39-point win over Wyoming on Saturday hasn’t yet washed that away; they’ll be looking to re-establish their place in the conference.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (21-1, 6-1): I’m leaving the Aztecs as my pick in the conference based on BYU’s loss to New Mexico and the fact that SDSU’s hosts the next matchup between the teams on February 26. But, beyond that, the loss on Wednesday night did reveal, or highlight, some flaws here. We’ve talked about it before, but as good as the Aztecs have been on the offensive glass all season long, they’re just average on the defensive glass. Some of that comes from their aggressiveness in trying to challenge shots on the defensive end, but a bit of it comes from the lack of effort at times. That portion of it is eminently fixable. More concerning was the complete absence of any positive effect on the game from D.J. Gay. Gay has been a rock for the Aztecs, knocking down big shots, playing solid defense and just generally willing his team to victories in tight games since the middle of last season. On Wednesday night, he was largely invisible, other than being in the frame when Fredette was knocking down jumpers. He wound up with two points on 0-7 shooting, and seemed to lose confidence as Fredette ascendance continued. For the Aztecs to live up to their potential, they’ll need Gay to be the tough-nosed bulldog that he has been over the past year.

A look ahead: The Aztecs travel to Fort Collins for our Game of the Week on Wednesday, then return home for a relative breather against TCU on Saturday.

2. BYU (20-2, 6-1): Believe it or not, there is more than one player on this Cougar team, and there are plenty of good ones. Among them, sophomore forward Brandon Davies has taken a huge leap forward this season, a very positive development for this squad, given that at the start of the year he was very much a question mark. There was no doubt about his talent, but his effort and basketball IQ were sometimes questioned, leaving him riding the pine for large portion of the Cougars first two games. However, of late he has earned a valuable spot in the rotation and has come through, scoring in double figures in the last seven games and in 13 of their last 14. While his best years are still ahead of him (I’ll put him on by 2011-12 Preseason All-MWC team right now), he’ll be a big factor for the Cougars down the stretch. Another intriguing frontcourt player is 6’10 junior James Anderson. Against the Aztecs he came out of nowhere to block five shots in the game, just one shy of his total in the other 146 minutes he’s been on the floor this year. His minutes have been up and down this year, and he’s most apt to get run only when there are injuries or foul problems up front, but he showed on Wednesday that when called upon, he’s capable of providing quality minutes.

A look ahead: The Cougars travel to Laramie for a win at Wyoming, then return home to welcome the Runnin’ Rebels as the second time around the conference begins.

3. Colorado State (15-6, 5-2): After a couple of good wins against some sneaky-tough middle-of-the-pack MWC teams this week, the Rams can look back at the first half of their conference schedule and feel good that they’ve at least beaten the teams that they should have beaten. Mix in a loss at New Mexico, a home loss to BYU and a road win at UNLV and Tim Miles has to feel pretty good about the fact that he’s got his CSU team in the conversation for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. There is still work to do, however, and as happens every year, the bubble is bound to shrink come March as teams steal bids, but the Rams are at least in a place where this is a doable thing. If senior forward Andy Ogide keeps playing the caliber of basketball that he currently is, not only will he have a spot saved for him on the first team All-MWC, but he should be able to get the Rams over the hump. In a tight win over Utah on Saturday, Ogide went for a career-high 28 points, ten rebounds and three three-pointers, the latter a jaw-dropping number given that he had made exactly four other threes in his entire collegiate career.

A look ahead: CSU travels to UNLV on Wednesday, then hosts BYU on Saturday. Good luck.

4. UNLV (16-5, 4-3): The Rebels just had one game this week, and given the way they played in the early-going of their game in Laramie, they seemed like that were interested in taking the whole week off. Luckily, their offense got going late in the first half and then the Rebels ripped through a 51-34 second half to ease away from the Cowboys late. Tre’Von Willis, Oscar Bellfield and Chace Stanback each went for 17 points in the game and Anthony Marshall led the team in both rebounds (11) and assists (5).

A look ahead: A tough week awaits the Rebels, with a visit from a vastly improved Utah squad preceding a visit to Provo for an attempt at paying back the Cougars for their conference-opening loss in Las Vegas.

5. New Mexico (15-7, 3-4): We talked about the Lobos above in our team of the week section, but to sum it up: Lobo fans are hoping that their team has turned the corner.

A look ahead: The Lobos have a winnable road game at Air Force tonight, but they’ll need to earn it with a good performance against an improved Falcon squad. They’ve got a bye on the weekend before beginning their second run through the conference with a visit from Wyoming next Wednesday.

6. Utah (10-11, 3-4): The Utes gave Colorado State all they could take on Saturday, but after scrapping back to tie the game late at 68, they gave up the final six points of the game and slid back below .500 in conference. Will Clyburn continued his strong play with 19 points and ten rebounds, but also turned the ball over six times, a weakness that has plagued the Utes all season long.

A look ahead: Utah wraps up the first half of conference play with a trip to Las Vegas, then start the flip side by hosting Air Force on Saturday.

7. Air Force (12-8, 3-4): The Falcons played two games they can be proud of this week; unfortunately, the record still reads 1-1 on the week. Against CSU on Wednesday, sophomore Mike Lyons did his best to bring the Academy back late, with seven points in the last 30 seconds, but every time his heroics brought the Falcons a step closer the Rams had an answer. Against TCU on Saturday, it was junior Taylor Stewart with a layup with 15 seconds left in overtime that provided the final margin in a 66-65 win.

A look ahead: The Falcons host New Mexico on Wednesday, then travel to Utah for what should be a very evenly matched game.

8. TCU (10-13, 1-7): TCU has wrapped up the first half of their conference schedule, given that they have a mid-week bye this week, and with just one win on the season, they are assured to be at least tied for last place in the conference. We knew coming in that this would be a tough year for the undersized and inexperienced Frogs, but this has been above and beyond what was expected. Aside from two additional losses last week, there was a third, big loss: the indefinite suspension of junior guard and leading scorer Ronnie Moss. Moss was suspended by head coach Jim Christian on Friday for “a failure to adhere to the standards of the program” and the feeling around Fort Worth is that he has played his last game for the team. Combined with the dismissal of junior college transfer Sammy Yeager at the beginning of this month, it has been a rough January for a program that seemed to be making some strides in the non-conference schedule. But now, the program seems to be back to square one, a proposition that has to have Christian, in his third year as the Horned Frog coach, questioning his future in Fort Worth with a move to the Big East imminent.

A look ahead: Things are going to get worse before they get better for the Frogs, with a visit to San Diego State due up on Saturday.

9. Wyoming (8-13, 1-6): While things are bad for TCU and Jim Christian, they can be thankful they are not Wyoming and Heath Schroyer. After playing UNLV pretty good for a half on Tuesday, SDSU took out their frustrations on the Cowboys in a big way on Saturday, scoring the first 14 points, 33 of the first 44 and building a 53-22 halftime lead. The only big question remaining for the Cowboy program this season is when they fire Schroyer and who they look to as a replacement.

A look ahead: Wyoming hosts BYU and Colorado State this week, at least giving the home crowd a chance to see what a good team looks like.

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RTC Conference Primers: #8 – Mountain West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 29th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. San Diego State (13-3)
  2. BYU (12-4)
  3. New Mexico (11-5)
  4. UNLV (11-5)
  5. Colorado State (9-7)
  6. Wyoming (6-10)
  7. Utah (6-10)
  8. TCU (3-13)
  9. Air Force (1-15)

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

  • G: Jimmer Fredette, Sr, BYU (22.1 PPG, 4.7 APG)
  • G: Dairese Gary, Sr, New Mexico (13.1 PPG, 3.9 APG)
  • G: Tre’Von Willis, Sr, UNLV (17.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
  • F: Afam Muojeke, Jr, Wyoming (16.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
  • F: Kawhi Leonard, Soph, San Diego State (12.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG)

6th Man

Billy White, Sr, San Diego State (11.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG)

If you aren't already, get used to seeing and hearing about Jimmer Fredette.

Impact Newcomer

Drew Gordon, Jr, New Mexico – Gordon left UCLA midway through the Bruins awful season last year after never meshing with Ben Howland and his system, and as a result, he won’t be eligible for Steve Alford until after the first semester. But Gordon showed enough talent in his years in Westwood that he will be a welcome addition for what was an undersized Lobo team last season. However, Gordon did tear the meniscus in his right knee in mid-October and, although he is not expected to miss any game action, he may miss out on valuable practice time leading up to his expected December 17 debut.

What You Need to Know

  • Best In The West? Given the Mountain West’s history as a contender for the title of the top non-BCS conference in the nation, and given that the Pac-10 is at its lowest point in memory, it’s quite possible that, at least for 2010-11, the MWC may be the best conference in the West. Last season, four MWC teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and in just over a decade of existence, only once has the MWC failed to place more than one team to the Big Dance (2000-01). However, major changes are afoot in the conference, as Utah and BYU, both consistently strong basketball forces, will be leaving for the Pac-10 and WCC, respectively. Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada will join the conference, but while those teams are capable of putting together strong seasons (Nevada, in particular, has  recent success on the court), they’ll be hard-pressed to replace the production of the two Utah schools.
  • Familiar Faces: When you look around the conference this season, there will be a lot of veterans up and down the rosters, as 70% of the players that averaged more than five points per game last season return. Only Utah, of the nine conference teams, will look drastically different, as they lost two starters to graduation, a third starter to transfer, and five additional bench players to transfers as well. Bolstering the general experience around the league is a flood of incoming transfers: Drew Gordon and Emmanuel Negedu at New Mexico, Quintrell Thomas at UNLV, Hank Thorns at TCU, Wes Eikemeier at Colorado State and James Rahon at San Diego State. Not only will there be a lot of recognizable players on the court, there continues to be a lot of stability on the sidelines, as for the second consecutive year, every head coach in the MWC returns.
  • Non-conference Boost: Last season seemed to mark the first year of a new era in non-conference scheduling in the MWC. After earning a reputation as a conference whose teams would play consistently tough games, they slipped out of the top 20 in non-conference strength of schedule for a stretch from the 2006-07 season through the 2008-09 season. However, last year, the MWC addressed this in several ways. First and foremost, their teams were able to go out and get games against Pac-10 and Big 12 competition, but they were also able to get their teams in some good early-season tournaments, and they began the MWC/MVC Challenge, guaranteeing every team in the conference a matchup with a team from the Missouri Valley. That MWC/MVC Challenge will continue (the two conferences signed a four-year agreement), as will the involvement of conference teams in early-season tournaments (for instance, New Mexico plays in the Las Vegas Classic, UNLV in the 76 Classic, Colorado State in the Cancun Governor’s Cup, BYU in the South Padre Island Classic, Utah in the Diamondhead Classic, Wyoming in the Cancun Classic and San Diego State in the CBE Classic – and yes, the people that run these tournaments need to consult a thesaurus for an alternative to “Classic”). Additionally, the tougher non-conference scheduling continues, with conference schools making trips to places like Spokane, Berkeley, Logan, Ann Arbor, El Paso, Dayton, Tulsa, Louisville and Kansas City over the course of the non-conference slate.

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Where 2010-11 Happens: Reason #17 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 19th, 2010

Shamelessly cribbing from the clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present you with the 2010-11 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we ramp up to the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube.  If you want to have some fun while killing time, we encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.  Enjoy.

#17- Where Stillwater Runs Deep Happens

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2010 NBA Draft Winners and Losers

Posted by zhayes9 on June 25th, 2010

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

Now that the Draft is complete, time to look back at Thursday night’s winners and losers, from coaches to NBA teams to players to conferences and everything in between:

Paul George saw his stock skyrocket all the way to #10 and the Pacers, Al Bello/Getty Images

Winners:

Big 12 – One of the premier college basketball conferences has gained quite a surge of momentum in the last few weeks. Big 12 commish Dan Beebe convinced Texas it was in their best interests to keep the league in tact even after the defections of Colorado and Nebraska, two of the more downtrodden BCS-conference hoops programs in the country. After chopping off those two anchors, a ten-team, 18-game round robin format has been agreed to starting in 2012. The Big 12 momentum only continued at the draft on Thursday where an astonishing seven of the top 24 selections reside from the conference (and Kentucky isn’t even a member). Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh, Kansas’ Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry, Texas’ Avery Bradley and Damion James, Oklahoma State’s James Anderson and Iowa State’s Craig Brackins, not to mention Cyclone transfer Wes Johnson, were all nabbed in the first 24 picks. The Big 12 barely trailed the ACC in terms of overall conference strength last season and the results of the first round only confirmed those numbers.

John Calipari - As Fox Sports Jeff Goodman astutely pointed out, expect plenty of John Calipari mug shots in near future drafts unless he bolts for a dream NBA job. Five of his Kentucky Wildcats from one recruiting class were taken in the first round on Thursday, from John Wall at #1 overall to Daniel Orton at #29. Next year could see two more Kentucky players announced early in the draft in center Enes Kanter and point guard Brandon Knight with forward Terrence Jones another potential first rounder. In 2011-12 when Marquis Teague, Michael Gilchrist and another top ten recruit TBD join Big Blue Nation, it’ll be the same Calipari hugging his revolving door of players on a June night in NYC. Don’t think this is just Calipari doing this for his departing players or that recruits are not noticing. He’s fully aware of what his face constantly showing up on ESPN’ s cameras means: furthering his reputation of sending talented players to the riches of the NBA. And quickly.

Paul George - It’s been a quick ascension for George, a workout wonder who saw his draft stock shoot up in the last few weeks until he landed to Indiana at #10. It’s doubtful even George saw this coming after being lightly recruited out of Palmdale, Calif, and settling on Fresno State for his college choice. George saw both his FG% and 3pt% plummet from his freshman to sophomore seasons and he only upped his PPG by 2.5 and RPG by 1.0 along with very low assist totals. He also played for a 15-18 WAC team against far more inferior competition than, say, Kansas’ Xavier Henry, who went one pick later to Memphis. Henry averaged 13.5 PPG, shot 46% from two and 42% from three on a team filled with players who needed touches.

Greivis Vasquez’ reaction - I don’t think anyone who watched Greivis Vasquez play four years at Maryland was surprised when they saw the emotional Venezuelan surrounded by family and friends in the crowd at Radio City Music Hall waiting for his name to be chosen. Vasquez has been projected as an early-to-mid second round pick- a scorer, leader and improved floor general that simply lacks the lateral quickness to defend NBA guards. Yet rumblings surfaced that Memphis loved Vasquez at #28. Sure enough, when he was pegged at that exact spot, the only outward, raw emotion we saw Thursday night emerged as Vasquez pumped his fist, hugged his family and practically sprinted to shake David Stern’s hand on the draft stage. Congratulations to Greivis.

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Official RTC 2010 NBA Mock Draft

Posted by zhayes9 on June 23rd, 2010

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

I love the NBA Draft.

The Stage Rarely Changes, but the Players Do

There’s something gratifying and enjoyable about seeing the college players that we discuss, watch and evaluate move on from the collegiate game and find a home at the next level. There are no cliffhangers when it comes to the NBA Draft. Barring late summer dealings or undrafted snubs, Thursday will be the day we’ll find out where each of our favorite elite college players are going to play pro ball next winter, almost like watching your kids go off to school for the first time. It’s a grand conclusion to a celebrated (albeit, in plenty of cases, very short) college career and a transition to the riches of the NBA.

We’re all prognosticators and experts on Draft night. Opinions are thrown around as David Stern announces each choice. Emotions are prevalent when your favorite NBA squad picks, those moments and heartbeats before the selection that could change the course of a franchise forever. Or it could be Renaldo Balkman. Either way, Draft night for us hoops nerds is one of intrigue and interest.

Here’s my best shot at forecasting how the first round will play out. As someone that has watched these players intensely at the college level, someone that pays attention to the strengths/weaknesses of each NBA club and has been soaking in all of the Draft info since the Final Four ended in April, I’m honored to bring you the official Rush the Court 2010 NBA Mock Draft (RTC draft profile linked to each name):

1) Washington Wizards – John Wall, PG, Kentucky

The Consensus #1 Pick (WaPo/J. Newton)

This was a lock the moment the Wizards won the Lottery in mid-May, a stroke of unexpected luck for a city on the sports rise and the perfect face of the franchise-type player to lead this team out of the cellar. Wall could pair with a focused Gilbert Arenas in a potent backcourt and the Wiz may even shell out some money to bring in an intriguing free agent wing. He may be a top-five point guard in the NBA in only three years time if the jump shot improves. He’s that skilled and talented.

2) Philadelphia 76ers – Evan Turner, SG, Ohio State

I’m hearing the Sixers front office is enamored with Turner while newly minted coach Doug Collins would prefer big man Derrick Favors. In the end, I see Turner as the surer prospect emerging as the pick, and even the Sixers website prepared for that very possibility last Friday. Philly won’t trade the pick unless some team agrees to take on Elton Brand’s contract, an unlikely scenario. Turner could be the next Brandon Roy, a prospect just too mouth-watering to pass up on.

3) New Jersey Nets – Wesley Johnson, SF, Syracuse

Nets fans were positively crushed on Lottery night when they lost a chance to nab Wall. An underwhelming workout for Derrick Favors, one in which he was thoroughly outplayed by DeMarcus Cousins, gave the Nets brass pause after it was assumed for months Favors would be the selection at #3. The Nets have needs at both forward spots, so it would make sense for them to peg Johnson here and go after one of the big free agent power forwards with new owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s checkbook- Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer or Chris Bosh.

4) Minnesota Timberwolves – Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech

This is a tricky situation for the Wolves. With Al Jefferson and Kevin Love already in the fold, the last thing Minnesota needs is another power forward. They covet both Turner and Johnson, so it’s extremely likely they try to persuade either Philly or New Jersey to let them move up a few spots in exchange for their pick at #16. It’s rumored the Minnesota brass isn’t too high on Favors, but Cousins has publicly expressed displeasure with playing in the Twin Cities.

5) Sacramento Kings – DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kentucky

Cousins has sent hinted messages that he wouldn’t be too thrilled if Sacramento (or Minnesota or Golden State) calls his name and he’d much prefer to end up in Detroit. The Pistons could very well move up a few spots to grab Cousins, but the workout Cousins just finished in SacTo apparently convinced ownership that his game outweighed any character concerns. I would take Cousins over Monroe (and maybe even Favors) in a heartbeat, and it’s my feeling that the Kings agree even with the recent Sam Dalembert acquisition.

6) Golden State Warriors – Greg Monroe, PF, Georgetown

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: James Anderson

Posted by nvr1983 on June 22nd, 2010

Over the course of the next month until the NBA Draft on June 24, RTC will be rolling out comprehensive profiles of the 30-35 collegians we feel have the best chance to hear their names called by David Stern in the first round that night.  There won’t be any particular order to the list, but you can scroll back through all the finished profiles by clicking here.

Player Name: James Anderson

School: Oklahoma State

Height/Weight6’6″, 210 lbs

NBA PositionShooting guard

Projected Draft RangeMid-to-late first round

Overview: The casual college basketball fan may not be as familiar with Anderson as they are with many of the bigger names higher up the Draft board, but that does not mean he is any less prolific a scorer as the Cowboys junior guard averaged 22.3 PPG last season on his way to Big 12 POY Honors and a 1st team All-American selection (by The Sporting News). The questions for Anderson come for the other areas of his game beyond his ability to score from the outside and that will most likely keep him out of the lottery. Although he lacks the requisite athleticism to get one of those goofy draft labels Anderson has shown that he has the ability to get to the basket at times during the past season in Stillwater.

We know that Anderson can do this, but what else can he do?

Will Translate to the NBA: A solid shooting guard with great range. Anderson’s game is a pretty well-known entity to most scouts with a relatively narrow floor and ceiling. Anderson already has all the tools he needs to become that sort of player right away in the right setting, but will need to work on some of his weaknesses (see below) if he wants to fulfill the promise he showed at times in Stillwater.

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Comings & Goings: James Anderson & Tommy Mason-Griffin Leaving OSU & OU

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2010

We’ll try to update these nightly or as needed as they start coming fast and furious over the next month.

James Anderson – Jr, Oklahoma State – SG.  Anderson, the Big 12 POY in a conference filled with all-americans, averaged 21.9 PPG and 5.8 RPG, and is a prototypical NBA shooting guard in the mold of James Harden or Marcus Thornton.  He has the ability to score in volume with his shooting ability, but he  is somewhat limited off the dribble and either cannot or chooses to not play defense.  Anderson will hire an agent and is a lock for the first round of the draft, currently projected in the middle (#14-#20) of that round.

Tommy Mason-Griffin – Fr, Oklahoma – PG.  Bad decision, thy name is Mason-Griffin.  According to the Tulsa World, TMG has already left Oklahoma, packing his bags up at spring break and moving back home.  It’s presently unclear whether Mason-Griffin intends on entering the NBA Draft (he is not on anybody’s draft board) or transferring to another school, but his career at OU appears to be over.  There are rumblings that two other prominent Sooners, guard Willie Warren and forward Tiny Gallon, will also be elsewhere next season.  Warren is expected to turn pro after a disappointing sophomore campaign, while Gallon may have his hand forced by a recent report from TMZ.com linking him to a $3,000 benefit from a financial advisor.

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: First Round 03.19.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2010

Alright, we’re through with three-fourths of the first round, and it’s time for the Friday night session.  This round of games always has some interesting television matchups as CBS tries to maximize interest in the after-work crowd.  We’re going to be tracking all of the games but we’ll move around to the most interesting ones as appropriate.  Here’s the lineup:

  • #8 Gonzaga vs. #9 Florida State
  • #7 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Georgia Tech
  • #1 Duke vs. #16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff
  • #5 Michigan State vs. #12 New Mexico State
  • #1 Syracuse vs. #16 Vermont
  • #2 Ohio State vs. #15 UC Santa Barbara
  • #8 Louisville vs. #9 California
  • #4 Maryland vs. #13 Houston

Let’s tip it off and see where it takes us…

7:15:  FSU-Gonzaga has already started and Gus Johnson is just waiting to explode over something.  I think that he senses this game might be his best chance tonight, with Vermont-Syracuse at his venue next.  One piece of news is that Norm Roberts has been fired at St. John’s, making him the second NYC-area Big East coach to be let go within the past few days.

7:21: So far, Gonzaga offense >> FSU defense.  A 9-0 run by the Zags has given them a nice early margin.  Georgia Tech is pitching a shutout over on the other channel, 6-0 so far.  With both of those ACC teams, you’re never really sure what you’re going to get.  So far it looks like “good” GT and “bad FSU.”

7:31: Goodness, the Seminole offense is ugly.  If they get themselves down too far here, they’re never going to be able to come back.  Quick aside, I was just thinking about this and they confirmed it.  The Big 12 is 5-1 right now, with the lone loss coming with Texas in overtime against Wake Forest.  The others: Big East (3-3), SEC (2-2), Big Ten (3-1), A10 (1-2), MWC (2-2), ACC (1-1).

7:37: The Zag offense is smokin’ hot right now – well over 50% from the field.  This one isn’t looking very good for FSU whatsoever.  Focusing over on Ga Tech-Oklahoma State for a while, which is at 15-15 at the moment.  Our sense on this game was that it would be a close game with OSU pulling it out at the end.  We’ll see whether that rings true.

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First Round Game Analysis: Friday Evening

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Friday evening games.

7:10 pm – #8 Gonzaga vs. #9 Florida State  (Buffalo pod)

This is a very tough game to call, so let’s start with what we know about it.  The Zags, no stranger to cross-country travel, come into Buffalo after an 11-day layoff where St. Mary’s took Mark Few’s team behind the woodshed and beat them handily in the WCC Tournament championship.  Florida State comes in having dropped its quarterfinal game against NC State in an effort that had their fans shaking their heads in disgust.  So needless to say, both teams are looking for a fresh start here.  The Zags are always dangerous, and this year’s squad led by Matt Bouldin and Elias Harris has the offensive firepower to score with just about anyone in America.  Merely an ok three-point shooting team, they tend to rely on the drives of Harris and mid-range game of Bouldin to create offense.  However, they don’t tend to respond well to teams that crowd and push them around, but unfortunately, FSU is just such a team.  The Seminoles enjoy the nation’s top defensive efficiency, and while they have the opposite problem of finding points, they should have no problem putting the clamps down on the Zag scoring options.  The question here comes down to whether the FSU defense, anchored by 7’1 Solomon Alabi and 6’9 Chris Singleton’s combined four blocks per game, is better than the Gonzaga offense, and we think that it is.  And as up/down as the Seminoles were in the ACC, they never came close to losing to the likes of Loyola Marymount and San Francisco, as Gonzaga did this year.

The Skinny:  The Zags this year aren’t quite as good as they usually are, and they’re facing a team that will shut down their biggest strength.  FSU wins this one by eight points to get a date with Syracuse.

7:15 pm – #7 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Georgia Tech  (Milwaukee pod)

Here’s another one that’s got people confused.  For good reason, too.  All year long we’ve been waiting on Georgia Tech to do something with all that talent, and now they’re playing better basketball, just in time.  Oklahoma State’s showing against Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament will cost them some support, but we’re going to excuse that performance.  That was a tired basketball team, playing their third game in a six day span with K-State at the end of it — and the Wildcats were coming off of a five-day rest.  Georgia Tech is going to go inside to Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal like crazy, but when the Yellow Jackets actually shoot the three, they shoot it well.  Defending the three is a glaring OSU weakness, so it will be interesting to see how often Georgia Tech eschews their big men in favor of launching it from the arc, because those shots will be there.  So…good outside shooting, great inside players…sounds pretty good for Tech, right?  The question will be whether or not they can get to that point in their offense.  Georgia Tech ranks in the bottom twenty of Division I teams in terms of turning the ball over.  Can the Jackets, then, find a way to keep James Anderson from shredding them or Keiton Page from raining threes?

The Skinny: Oklahoma State won’t have to exert too much energy guarding the three, since Tech’s propensity to turn the ball over will take care of some of that.  The Cowboys have been getting more and more help from their role players, and we feel 9-7 in the Big 12 is better than 7-9 in the ACC this year.  It’ll be a great first round game, but we like Oklahoma State in a close one.

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RTC Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by jstevrtc on March 15th, 2010

This is the fourth of our four quick-and-dirty region breakdowns. This will serve to help the quick triggers who like to fill out their brackets first thing on Monday morning. For the rest of you, we’ll be providing more detailed game-by-game analysis throughout the rest of the week.

Edward Jones Dome Hosts the Midwest Regional

Region: Midwest

Favorite: Kansas, #1-seed, 32-2. The overall #1 seed.  The experts say there are no dominant teams this year, but for our money this year’s Jayhawks are just as dominant as North Carolina was in 2008-09.  Top-flight weapons at every position.  A solid bench.  Excellent coaching.  Youth.  Experience.  Any way you prefer to be beaten, they’ll beat you.  That switch they flipped to put Texas A&M away in the Big 12 Tournament was scary, but that’s the sort of command of which they’re capable.

Should They Falter: Ohio State, #2-seed, 27-7. We all know how special Evan Turner is.  But teams seem to make the mistake of thinking that this team has no other weapons.  David Lighty, Jon Diebler, and William Buford are all capable of big games.  They defer to Turner, yet Turner enjoys sharing the wealth.  As a team, they almost never take a bad shot, a trait that will serve them well even more this time of year.

Grossly Overseeded: Northern Iowa, #9-seed, 28-4. Northern Iowa’s only win in the NCAA was 20 years ago.  I know that has nothing to do with now, but the last four times they’ve been to the Tournament, they’ve been a popular upset pick and have always come up short.  To be honest, based on their body of work, they’re probably seeded where they should be, it’s just that there are a few teams seeded lower than them that are playing a little better brand of basketball right now.  If UNI can give us some results in the Tournament, then we’ll be happy to put some chips on their square in the future.

Grossly Underseeded: Michigan State, #5-seed, 24-8. At this point, we should all be used to Tom Izzo overachieving in the NCAA Tournament.  This team went 14-4 in the extremely tough Big Ten.  After that stretch in which they dropped three straight (at Wisconsin, at Illinois, and Purdue), everyone forgot about them.  Then they won five of six to end the year before the conference tournament, the only loss coming against surging Ohio State.  Don’t ever sell the Spartans short in the Big Dance.

Sweet Sixteen Sleeper: Houston, #13-seed, 19-15. Aubrey Coleman is the nation’s leading scorer at 25.0 PPG, and it looks like he and Kelvin Lewis have finally started to put it together.  Honestly, we thought we’d see more out of the Cougars this year.  They’ll be a tougher out for Maryland than everyone thinks.  Houston is second in the nation in turnovers per game (8.8), and 12th in turnovers forced (16.8), nice numbers when you have a pair of guards who can scoop up those turnovers and score quickly.

Final Four Sleeper:  #5 Michigan State. They can own a game through their work on the boards.

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Big 12 Tourney Daily Diary: Quarterfinals

Posted by jstevrtc on March 12th, 2010

After two days of hoops at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, what’s all the talk?  The rocking of chalk.

I don’t just mean the Jayhawk victory over Texas Tech.  The crowds in KC are definitely enjoying themselves and taking in some high-quality hoops, but they’re wondering where the upsets are.  So far, the only real upset we’ve had so far was the first round toppling of Missouri by Nebraska.  As I was talking to some Kansas State fans about this in a local restaurant after the game, one of them spoke the truth:  “Upsets are great, as long as it’s not happening to your team.”

Upsets or no, I’ll say this:  these flyover country folks know how to enjoy college basketball.  It’s obvious from being here how much everyone who’s taken over downtown KC this week, from the fan with the worst seat in the Sprint Center to the highest Big 12 administrator, loves college hoops.  My spot on media row is right beside ESPN’s (and Big 12 Network’s) Holly Rowe, who couldn’t be nicer, and is probably a bigger overall sports fan than anyone in the arena.  Like most experts, she says it’s coming down to Kansas and Kentucky in the final, but also is high on Ohio State.  And when I asked her about certain colleagues of hers who are appearing on certain ABC dancing shows later this year, she smiled, suddenly turned serious, and said, “I’m the better salsa dancer.  That’s all I’m saying.”

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