Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference.
My checking in on the Pac-10 this week is a breakdown of each teams’ chances at postseason.
Overall: 19-4 Conference: 8-2
Home: 13-1 Road: 4-2 Neutral: 2-1
Last 10: 8-2
Good Wins: at USC, Arizona, California, USC
Bad Losses: Michigan (neutral),
The Bruins have really picked it up under Ben Howland and won 15 of their last 17. This is the team that was ranked four in the country in the preseason. Darren Collison is leading this tear, while freshman Jrue Holiday scored in double figures three straight games for the first time this season before facing Notre Dame. They have held home court with only Arizona State beating them at the Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins are in the driver’s seat in the Pac-10 the rest of the way. They have won their last four games by an average of over 22 points a game. Out of the four losses Michigan is the only inexcusable one, at Texas, at Washington, and even at home against Arizona State are not big deals. At this point they are just fighting for seeding, right now I would have them at a three seed.
Overall: 17-6 Conference: 8-3
Home: 12-2 Road: 5-3 Neutral: 0-1
Last 10: 7-3
Good Wins: USC, UCLA, at Arizona State
Bad Losses: at Portland
Only one loss out of first place is not a bad situation for the Huskies. They have held home court well in the Pac-10 going 3-1, with the only loss a triple overtime game against California. They have managed to go 5-2 on the road in the Pac-10 so far. The early season losses to Florida and Kansas will hurt them, but only when it comes to seeding. Isaiah Thomas is going to be a force for years to come. Right now I would put them at a six seed.
I’m not sure why everyone complains about February. Sure the NFL season is over, but at least we don’t need to hear about steroids, holdouts, and whether or not both feet were in bounds. There isn’t a blockbuster “Game of the Year” match-up today, but there are several solid games for the hoops aficionado. So just settle into your favorite spot on the couch and dig in. In the spirit of promoting healthy habits, we suggest that you try to have some vegetables today so use some ketchup on your food today.
#20 Syracuse at #16 Villanova at Noon on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The appetizer for a great day of basketball. This isn’t necessarily a must win for either team, but a win today would probably boost their NCAA seed by at least a spot on Selection Sunday. Both teams have virtually assured themselves a NCAA bid (particularly with Syracuse’s relatively easy remaining schedule in the Big East). One of the more interesting aspects of this game is that if the Orangemen lose, there is a decent chance that they will drop out of the top 25 leaving the Big East with only 5 teams in the top 25 after having as many as 9 teams earlier this season. Anyways, back to the game. Watch the match-up at point guard featuring Jonny Flynn against Scottie Reynolds. The winner of that match-up will likely win the game barring an explosion by either Eric Devendorf or Dante Cunningham.
Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Cincinnati at Georgetown at Noon on The Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Georgetown is killing me this year. I saw them play in Orlando against Tennessee in the Old Spice Classic. They lost that game, but it was pretty clear to me that day that they had the talent to make it to the Sweet 16 at the very least. I never imagined that they might be in a position at this point in the season that they might not make the NCAA tournament. To be fair, at that time I was also operating under the assumption that Tennessee was good. The Hoyas were able to break their 5-game losing streak against Rutgers and will need to beat the Bearcats if they want to get some momentum heading into their game against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. If John Thompson III is able to figured out a way to keep Deonta Vaughn in check, the Hoyas should be able to ride Greg Monroe and DaJuan Summer to a victory.
Notre Dame at #12 UCLA at 1 PM on CBS: The Irish are desperate for a victory having lost 6 straight games. They will have to end their losing streak in one of the rare non-conference match-ups this month. Everybody knows Luke Harangody is going to get his (25.3 PPG and 13.2 RPG), but Notre Dame will need Kyle McAlarney to break out of his prolonged shooting slump and get a great game out of Tory Jackson, who will be matched up against the Bruins veteran PG, Darren Collison. Look for UCLA to pull away in the 2nd half behind Collison, Josh Shipp, and Jrue Holiday.
Miami (FL) at #3 Duke at 1:30 PM on Raycom, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: I’m fully expecting Duke to come back strong at home after the massacre at Littlejohn on Wednesday night, which is something that rtmsf actually predicted before the game (sort of), but nobody picked up on until after the game. (Ok, nobody has really picked up on it yet.) On the other hand, Miami was on the right side of the other blowout upset beating Wake Forest by 27. Look for Kyle Singler to rebound with a strong game after a weak “effort” against Clemson that was plagued by foul trouble. Coach K will likely use Gerald Henderson, the only Blue Devil who showed up against Clemson, on Jack McClinton in an attempt to slow down the mercurial Miami star. If Singler and Henderson can contain or at least equal Dwayne Collins and McClinton, respectively, the Blue Devils should return to their winning ways. Well at least until UNC invades Cameron on Wednesday night.
#17 Texas at Nebraska at 2 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Texas will be looking to rebound after back-to-back losses on the road. Today, they return to Austin to take on the Cornhuskers. Look for A.J. Abrams and Damion James to have big games as Rick Barnes‘s squad will definitely be motivated in this one after falling 3.5 back of conference leader Oklahoma. If Abrams and James have big games that should be enough to hold off Nebraska’s balanced attack.
Michigan at #1 UConn at 6 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This is a game that the Huskies should be able to win fairly convincingly particularly with the game in Gampel Pavillion, but as this year has taught us never expect too much out of the #1 ranked team in the country. A Michigan win would obviously do wonders for their NCAA tournament chances, but it will tough particularly with John Beilein‘s recent changes in his rotations including bringing DeShawn Sims off the bench in their 71-51 win over Penn State in their last game. The new lineup, which is still led by Manny Harris, may provide some match-up problems for UConn and their big men. I expect UConn to pull this one especially with the recent play of Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, but Michigan could give them problems and Beilein certainly knows all about the Huskies dating back to his days as the coach at West Virginia.
Charleston at Davidson at 6 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Most people will tune in just to watch Stephen Curry, but this could actually be a realtively close game (a rarity for the Wildcats in the weak Southern Conference). When these teams met earlier this season, the Wildcats escaped with a 4-point win on the road after Charleston had a chance to tie it with a 3 with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game. This is particularly meaningful as the Wildcats haven’t lost a Southern Conference game since January 20, 2007 (a 43-game winning streak). As an added bonus, you can see Bobby Cremins (former head coach of Georgia Tech) try to come up with a scheme to guard Curry. Cremins is one of the few coaches in the country who has had a player who was at Curry’s level or even above that as he coached Kenny Anderson (along with Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver aka “Lethal Weapon 3″) to the NCAA Final 4 in 1991.
Florida State at #10 Clemson at 7 PM on NESN and Fox Sports: I’m actually more interested in this game than the others for my own selfish reason since I’ll be doing another RTC Live when Clemson comes to Boston College on Tuesday night. It will be interesting to see if the Tigers have returned to Earth after their beatdown the hated Blue Devils just a few days ago. Oliver Purnell‘s squad had better be ready because the Seminoles are a fairly dangerous team (ask Roy Williams, who needed a Ty Lawson 3 at the buzzer to pull out a win against FSU). This is a classic letdown game so it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on it especially if Toney Douglas gets hot or if either Trevor Booker or K.C. Rivers isn’t on his game after the celebrations following the Duke win.
#19 Minnesota at Ohio State at 8 PM on The Big Ten Network: Minnesota will be licking its wounds after getting crushed by Michigan State at the Breslin Center earlier this week. Unfortunately for Tubby Smith, the Gophers have to head to Columbus to take on a Buckeye team that just knocked off Purdue. If Evan Turner is hot, the Buckeyes could make a move into the top 25 with a win here knocking the Gophers out in the process.
#23 Arizona State at Oregon State at 8:30 PM on Fox Sports: James Harden and the Sun Devils will be looking to complete the Oregon sweep against Craig Robinson‘s Beavers. [Ed. Note: Isn't Robinson related to some famous guy? I thought I heard something about it on the news.] The Beavers, who were undefeated following Barack Obama‘s Inauguration, finally lost to Arizona ending Oregon State’s hopes of riding Obama-mania to an undefeated term. If the Sun Devils can contain Calvin Haynes, they should hand the Beavers a second consecutive defeat.
No, Mr. President. I’m not Reggie Love.
#15 Memphis at #18 Gonzaga at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Spokane is the site of ESPN GameDay today and it features a match-up of two highly regarded programs that hit rough patches this season, but have rebounded well. Gonzaga appears to have used their victory over Tennessee in Knoxville as a catalyst for their resurgence (Patty Mills‘s injury didn’t hurt either). Memphis, on the other hand, appears to have found its rhythm again with John Calipari‘s decision to move freshman Tyreke Evans from shooting guard to point guard (the kid is lost when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands). Evans has responded with his best play of the season and the Tigers have not lost since the move. Interestingly, both teams dominance in their leagues means that this is a huge game for each in terms of NCAA seeding. A win today would probably be worth 2 seeds on Selection Sunday assuming both teams are able to run the table for the rest of the regular season. Despite the fact that both teams have pretty balanced scoring attacks (4 starters in double figures for each team), the key to this game will likely be the PG match-up of Evans versus Jeremy Pargo. If the more experienced Pargo can outplay Evans, the Bulldogs should be able to run away with this one. If he isn’t, we could be in for a hard-fought game.
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference.
News and Notes
Arizona State‘s Rihards Kuksiks leads the nation in 3-point percentage, but is only third in the Pac-10. How is that possible? Well NCAA statistical leaders need to make a minimum of 2.5 per game from three-point range to qualify, while Pac-10 needs to make one per game and play in 75 percent of the team’s games. Theo Robertson is shooting 56.2% and Michael Roll is shooting 54.5%, both ahead of Kuksiks’s 46.7%. Either way Kuksiks has had a tough time the past two games going 3-for-20 from behind the arc.
Ben Howland‘s 13-4 record against California is his best against any team in the Pac-10.
UCLA’s recent victory over Stanford was UCLA’s largest victory over Stanford at Pauley Pavilion in over 30 years. It was also UCLA’s highest scoring game under Howland. UCLA shot 73% from 3-point range and only 62% from the free throw line. Maybe they should start taking their foul shots from behind the arc.
California, the best three-point shooting team in the nation at 47%, shot 2-for-16 from three-point range against USC.
UCLA dominated teams this week. The Bruins went 3-0 with average margin of victory over 21 points.
Darren Collison, who earlier this year broke the UCLA record for consecutive free-throws with 43, is shooting 94.4% from the line, which leads the nation.
Craig Robinson has turned it around for Oregon State. The Beavers have four wins in the first half of the Pac-10 schedule for the first time since 2002-03.
After another week of ups and downs in the Pac-10, there are really only two locks for the tournament at this point: UCLA and Washington. Four others (Arizona, Arizona State, California, and USC) still have work to do.
California 86, Washington 71. Saw most of this game – great win for the Bears to keep a recently-wobbly shop afloat. What struck us was how terrible UW’s defense was in this game – Cal nailed open shot after open shot in the second half and hit 52% for the game – we counted at least twelve possessions in a row where the Bears scored on their second-half run to put the game away. Washington has a nice collection of talent, but Jon Brockman (4/15) didn’t show up on the offensive end tonight, and they really need him to be productive to become a good team.
Arizona St. 66, Oregon 57. It would be difficult for us to fathom, but could Oregon be this year’s Oregon St. and go 0-18 in the Pac-10? The Ducks sit at 0-10 after tonight, and unless they can nip Arizona, Stanford, Cal or OSU at home, they might just join their state rival in ignominy. James Harden came back from a 15-pt game last outing with a 36-pt explosion. ASU, for the fifth time in conference play this season, had only two players in double figures. This will be a serious problem for the Sun Devils in March.
Some Other Games on Your Thursday Night.
Gonzaga 93, Portland 78. With this road win, the Zags are well on their way to another conference regular season title. Gonzaga now owns a two game lead over Portland and St. Mary’s, with tiebreakers over both. All five starters hit double figures tonight.
Michigan 71, Penn St. 51. Michigan got a much-needed win over the suddenly-dangerous Nittany Lions tonight, behind 28/6/7 assts from Manny Harris.
Davidson 75, UNC-Greensboro 54. Steph Curry Watch – 28/8 tonight in Davidson’s 43d conference win in a row.
Xavier 83, Temple 74. XU keeps rolling in the A10, now 8-0 after BJ Raymond had his fourth straight 20+ pt outing (24 pts).
Butler 66, Detroit 61. Butler withstood a late Detroit rally behind Gordon Hayward’s 22 pts, including a late three (4-4 on the night) that gave the Bulldogs just enough breathing room to hang on.
Arizona 56, Oregon St. 53. OSU nearly got itself another win tonight, but Roeland Shaftenaar’s three to tie it at the buzzer rolled around the rim and came out. Still, it’s safe to say that this Craig Robinson guy can coach a little, eh?
Wisconsin 63, Illinois 50. UW broke its six-game losing streak against an Illini team that shot only 33% from the field tonight. The Badgers’ Jason Bohannon had 20/6 on 6-7 from three.
Utah St. 78, New Mexico St. 59. USU moved to 10-0 in the WAC with another easy win behing Gary Wilkinson’s 18/11. NMSU’s Terrance Joyner did not play due to his arrest for carrying joints in his luggage at the airport. Brilliant.
There isn’t any game that really stands out as being head and shoulders above the rest so I won’t have a game of the day per se, but there are quite a few good games worth watching.
#22 Notre Dame at # 3 Pittsburgh at Noon on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This should be an interesting game with Pittsburgh coming off a 10-point loss at Villanova and Notre Dame coming in having lost 4 in a row including back-to-back losses at home after coming in with a nation-leading 45-game home winning streak. The big match-up here is obviously Luke Harangody versus DaJuan Blair on the inside. I’m thinking Pitt should win this game relatively easily in the second half. If Mike Brey wants to have a chance to steal one on the road and get back into the Big East race, he will need Kyle McAlarney to regain his touch from the outside.
Michigan at #17 Purdue at 1 PM on CBS: It is amazing that just 2 months ago, the Wolverines were the talk of college basketball having knocked off UCLA and Duke. Now, they are 4-5 in the Big Ten and look like they might not make the NCAA Tournament. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims will need to have a big game if they want to steal one against Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore, and the Boilermakers who come in having won 5 straight in the Big Ten after dropping their first two games in conference.
#23 Georgetown at #8 Marquette at 2 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: I’m not sure what to say about Georgetown. They are undoubtably one of the most talented teams in the country, but they have played themselves out of the top 25 in the past 2 weeks. On the other sideline, after their big win on Monday night at Notre Dame, the Golden Eagles will have a chance to move into the top 5 with a win over a Hoya team that is falling apart right now. The Hoyas have lost 4 (?) straight games and DaJuan Summers, their leading scorer, was injured in their last loss. John Thompson III will need a big game out of Greg Monroe, Austin Freeman, and Summers (presumably healthy) to snap the Hoyas out of their skid. However, if Buzz Williams can get a solid game out of Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews the Golden Eagles should be able to pull off the win.
Stanford at # 16 UCLA at 3:30 PM on ABC, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: I don’t think this one is of particular interest especially with the way Stanford has played so far in the Pac-10, but I think it should be worth watching for our East Coast readers who don’t stay up past midnight to watch some of the mediocre teams out West play.
Providence at #2 Connecticut at 4 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: Assuming UConn wins this, they will be your new #1 team on Monday. Keep an eye on this one because Providence has been playing well lately including a victory over a depleted Syracuse team on Wednesday night.
Washington at #14 Arizona State at 5:30 PM on FSN: Ok. I took my requisite West Coast shot earlier when discussing the Stanford-UCLA game, but this one is acutally worth watching. I’m still unsure why Washington wasn’t in this week’s top 25 after knocking off USC and UCLA last week, but maybe the voters knew something as the Huskies followed up those 2 big wins with a loss on the road at Arizona. The Sun Devils will be looking to bounce from a shocking loss at home against Washington State on Thursday night. I’ll be watching the match-up of the star guards in this one: Isaiah Thomas for Washington and James Harden for Arizona State
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference.
News & Notes.
California’s 66.7% from the field against Oregon was the best any Pac-10 team has registered in conference play this year. Theo Robertson of the Golden Bears still leads the nation in 3-point percentage shooting at a 55.2% clip. Patrick Christopher is just 13 points shy of 1000, at 987. Jerome Randle is right behind at 957. Randle also is ninth in career 3-point field goals made at 125, and tenth in career assists with 313. Randle is also first in career free-throw percentage at 85.7%.
This is just the third time Washington has started 6-1 in the last 25 years. Washington has won 13 out of their last 14 games. It is the first time the Huskies have been in sole possession of first place in the Pac-10 since January 2005. It is just the third time Washington has started 6-1 in the last 25 years. The only time the Huskies ever had a better start through seven games was 1953 when they went 7-0. Last week Washington averaged getting to the free throw line 41.5 times a game. If they keep getting to the line this much they will be hard to beat.
Arizona forward Jordan Hill’s 30 points and 18 rebounds against Houston, was his first game of his career that he broke the 20 point and 15 rebound plateaus. Blake Griffin on the other hand has put together 10 such games so far this year. Aubrey Coleman’s face stomp of Chase Budinger was the most classless act I have seen in years. He should have been suspended multiple games for that. Each high-five he got while leaving the game, should have added a game to it.
Oregon State’s three victories so far match their total of the last two seasons combined.
Joe Lunardi currently has Arizona State, California, UCLA and Washington getting in the dance. It is hard to see any other Pac-10 teams really making a push. USC has been too inconsistent still and they are the only other team with a shot in my mind.
This is a huge day here at RTC. Not only will we be blogging with you all day with this BGTD nonsense, but we’ll also have a presence at ESPN GameDay live from Chapel Hill where our man on the ground will be taking questions and comments from you, the readers, so that you can finally ask Erin Andrews what shampoo she uses and where, exactly, does she find such perfectly fitted tops. Or anything else you guys may want to know (within reason, of course).
RTC Live: Miami at UNC will be a sticky at the top of the page all day, so be sure to stop by and check it out as you put off going outside into the semi-Arctic environment known as the East CoastMidwestSouthMountains USA this lovely Saturday.
As for this post, we’ve got the three-tv setup ready to roll, and with Notre Dame-Syracuse starting off the day in a few hours, we should probably try to get some sleep. We’ll be back for that one (and all the others), but in the meantime, feel free to peruse our SYT preview of today’s big games.
11:52am – And we’re back. Let’s get going. Quick note – lamest sign just spotted at GameDay in CH – Everyone Still Predicts National championship? Wow, props for creativity there, er, not.
Noon – What’s on your tv right now? There’s an interesting mid-major on ESPN2 (N. Iowa at Drake). The Noon FC games aren’t too exciting (Maryland at FSU; Ga Tech at NC State; USF at WVU) – we’ll keep an eye on each, but it’s looking mostly like Cuse-ND and UNI-Drake here.
John Thompson III might want to think about asking the AD at Georgetown for a new schedule maker. I can understand wanting to get your team ready for the tournament, but this is ridiculous. Coming off a brutal start to their Big East schedule (Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Notre Dame, and Syracuse), the Hoyas get a respite by heading out of conference with a leisurely trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium where the Blue Devils have a 67-game home non-conference winning streak. Normally a trip to Cameron would be a major focus of any team’s season, but with the Hoyas’ recent schedule it will be interesting to see if they have anything left in the tank.
This has the potential to be an entertaining game with great matchups all over the floor. The most interesting matchup will be Greg Monroe against Kyle Singler. While Monroe has more potential and will be a higher NBA Draft pick, Singler is quite talented too and plays at a high level more consistently. I’m not sure how Duke will open up because I don’t think Brian Zoubek has a chance against Monroe, but with Monroe’s tendency to coast it might not be such a big issue for stretches of the game. The matchup will be made more interesting by the fact that Duke was the front-runner for Monroe (the #1 high school recruit at times last year) for most of the recruiting season before committing to Georgetown. If Monroe had joined Singler in the middle, Coach K could have had a legitimate title contender.
If Coach K decides to put Zoubek on Monroe, Singler will end up playing against DaJuan Summers who has really stepped up his game this year (15.1 PPG on 53.8% FG and 44.4% 3FG). Either way, it should be an interesting match-up on the inside. Singler probably has the most complete game of any of the 4 bigs in the starting lineup, but Zoubek is still the weakest link of the Duke starting lineup despite his tremendous improvement since he has been at Duke. Singler’s ability to shoot from outside brings up another intriguing aspect of this game about whether Monroe can come out and defend Singler if necessary. The Hoyas might be best served to put Summers on Singler to keep Monroe out of foul trouble because they will need Monroe to play 30+ minutes if they hope to pull off the upset in Cameron. In the end, it might be the battle on the inside and who controls the boards that will determine outcome of the game despite the talented guards on both sides.
The backcourts also provide some interesting match-ups: Nolan Smith vs. Chris Wright, Jon Scheyer vs. Jessie Sapp, and Gerald Henderson vs. Austin Freeman. All of these are intriguing match-ups with solid players who are capable of taking over a game at any time. Keep an eye on Henderson in this one since he’s the one world-class athlete on the Duke team and he has stepped it up recently including taking over the 2nd half of the game against FSU last Saturday.
John Stevens is featured columnist for RTC. His columns will appear on Tuesdays throughout the season.
Ask any college basketball coach what a team needs to succeed in March and you’ll get a variety of answers — solid point guard play, a big inside threat, conditioning, luck, a guarantee that John Stevens will NOT bet on you – all popular answers. A “go-to” guy is also a popular response, but I think history has shown that simply one standout player will not prove sufficient. These days you have to have a balanced squad in addition to having at least two players you can call actual “go-to” guys. A viable third option can have you breathing rarified air, indeed. This season has proven incredibly interesting in that we have a lot of teams that are being seemingly led — whose very identities are made — by a couple of standout players. In addition, if these teams that are led by Dynamic Duos see a helpful third option emerge — watch out. There’s at least one of these teams in each of the major conferences, so let’s take a look at them.
ACC — Miami (FL)
True, the Hurricanes’ schedule is a little bland, but you can’t ignore a team with tough wins both at Kentucky and at Boston College. Jack McClinton (16.9/2.8/3.1) and Dwayne Collins (12.1/7.8/1.3) have propelled this Miami team that has eleven guys who average at least 10 minutes a game which means that they have many options in terms of developing that third option. Cyrus McGowan is an efficient player who provides 7.2/6.1 and he does it averaging 5 minutes less than the other significant scorers on that team, but the most likely candidate here to step up as the third option is James Dews, who averages 9.2/2.7 but upped his game in those big wins above against UK and BC by contributing 18 and 12, respectively. You gotta give props to a guy who elevates himself in the big games.
Big 12 — Missouri
On their way to a 13-3 record so far, Missouri hasn’t exactly been sleeping on the job schedule-wise, tallying wins against USC and a surprising California side and losing a tough one to Xavier. To that end, DeMarre Carroll (16.1/6.6) and Leo Lyons (14.6/6.2) have been a true Dynamic Duo for the Tigers because after that the production falls off to Matt Lawrence (9.6/2.3), especially in terms of rebounding (note: of course, Lyons needs to get this recent traffic thing sorted out). Along with J.T. Tiller, Lawrence represents the most likely candidate to be the next option; Tiller averages the third most minutes on the team but Lawrence is actually more productive despite playing 4 fewer minutes per game.
I bet Demarre can beat me at curls. (photo credit: kansan.com)
Big East — Notre Dame
I know I don’t have to tell you about Luke Harangody; despite the special player he is I personally find more excitement watching Kyle McAlarney (16.6/2.6/3.4) because the man just has locker-room range. Seriously, he’d shoot from his dorm room if they’d let him. And even then you better get a guy on him. ND might not seem like a Dynamic Duo-led team because they have two other starters — Tory Jackson and Ryan Ayers — averaging over 30 minutes a game (Jackson actually plays more than Harangody, by the numbers), but the offensive dropoff is certainly evident after McAlarney and the team is defined by those top two fellows. Jackson is the obvious third option candidate, here; he puts together a good floor game on the whole (4.6 rpg/5.9 apg/1.5 spg). It’s not like he doesn’t do enough, but if he became even more of a third scoring option to take even just a little of the heat off of the Harangody/McAlarney exacta, Notre Dame will become an even bigger Final Four threat come March.
Big Ten — Michigan State
People still seem to be defining the Fighting Izzos by that rectal-exam-with-an-audience that UNC gave them a while back. This is a mistake. Raymar Morgan (15.1/7.1) and Kalin Lucas (13.9/5.9 apg) have been the Dynamic Duo for Sparty so far, as everyone knows, but these guys have reeled off nine straight since getting tuned-up by the Tar Heels and they basically have their third option back, now, in the form of Goran Suton, already averaging 9.2/6.8 in only nine games back. This will likely continue to rise. It makes Michigan State a team you cannot ignore as we enter the second half of the season. They’ve obviously put the North Carolina game behind them. Everyone else should, too.
Pac-10 — Arizona State
We all know James Harden (23.1/5.8/4.7) and we’re getting to know Jeff Pendergraph (13.6/7.1). After that, the offensive production and glasswork drops off a little to Richard Kuksiks (10.9/3.6), the apparent choice for presumed third option, here. He’s up to playing even more minutes than Pendergraph on the average, and he’s shooting a pretty tasty 53% from 3-point range. I am, however, going to anoint Derek Glasser as the best option for third-man-in; he’s only contributing 6.4 points (fifth on the team) but he’s a great distributor of the ball (5.3 apg, leads team), has shown a tendency to come up with a timely pilfer, and is darn reliable at the line (81.1%, second on team) — all important qualities during tournament time. Even the slightest increase in his point production would make ASU even more dangerous than they already are.
SEC — Kentucky
The textbook Dynamic Duo team. Probably not a better example in all of college basketball this season. We’re not even going to talk about Jodie Meeks’ (24.2/3.4, 90.1% FT) legendary performance last night and Patrick Patterson (18.9/9.3) is creeping up every online NBA mock draft, a bittersweet fact for Wildcat fans. After that, the offensive production falls all the way down to Perry Stevenson at 7.1ppg. Heck, Patterson is actually third on the team in assists (2.6). As far as possibilities for third-option status, with this team that’s a tough question. They are absolutely loaded with pure, talented athletes, but UK followers have waited all year for a third player to assert himself. Still hasn’t happened. It has to for this team, because Meeks can’t score 54 every night and there will probably be more than one night where Meeks goes cold and Patterson is well-defended (or vice-versa). My choice for third option for this team is DeAndre Liggins, the team’s assist leader at only 3.6 apg. If he can cut down on freshman mistakes and provide even a small increase in his point production, Kentucky will be formidable — and that means this year, not next year. Without a third option, Selection Sunday might get a little tense for this Kentucky team.
It will be especially interesting to see if Miami (FL), Missouri, and Kentucky eventually see a third player emerge for them, since they’re…well, it’s too early to use the “b-word,” but let’s just say they’re fighting for tournament entry right now. Even if it isn’t the player I’ve predicted, if any of these squads see a third person elevate his game in hopes of providing more assistance to the Dynamic Duo already leading them, you best keep an eye out for them. These teams are close to making the jump, even now. Adding a good third option to their particular Dynamic Duo will improve them exponentially, and I wouldn’t want to see any of them in my sub-bracket.
The regular season is flying by. Believe it or not, we’re only nine weeks away from having an official NCAA Tournament Bracket to review and obsess over. We also happen to be nine weeks removed from opening night, so yesterday marked the official midpoint - 63 days on each side - of the regular season. Which means, of course, for all you folks who have been busy with the holidays, busy with the bowl games, busy with the NFL Playoffs… let’s get you caught up.
From now until the first tip in Dayton March 17th on the Road to the F4 in Detroit (ugh), roughly 150 or so teams are realistically jostling for position to be selected as one of the Chosen 65. As we nestle into the familiarity of conference play (only the Ivies have yet to begin) and America once again wakes up to our game, weaknesses will be exposed, experienced teams will try to avoid complacency and young teams will start to figure it all out. Come Selection Sunday, many of these prospective bracketeers will have fallen by the wayside, but there will be 50 or so at-large teams holding NCAA-caliber resumes, even though only 34 will be taken. Before we jump in with both feet into the fun that the next two months will bring, let’s take a look back at the first two months to see what we’ve learned.
Carolina is Not Unbeatable, but Are the Heels Still the Favorite? A mere month ago we wrote that North Carolina was playing like a team with plans to lose no more than a couple of games (if that many) all season. Then the last eight days happened. First, UNC lost at home to an underwhelming BC team, followed by a road loss at Wake Forest last night to start 0-2 in the ACC. So what’s going on – how can this juggernaut of a team with nearly everyone returning look so… mortal? It’s easy, really. So far, UNC’s defense hasn’t been up to snuff. It’s more efficient as a whole than last year’s version, but their statistical profile is elevated on the defensive end by forcing turnovers which in turn fuels their lethal fast break. In a halfcourt set, as Wake and BC repeatedly and effectively showed, UNC can be penetrated and exposed. The key to playing with the Heels is limiting those TOs that Ty Lawson turns into the quick strikes that overwhelm teams. Is it a fatal flaw? It could be (how’s that for a hedge?). Teams that can’t consistently make stops don’t win championships, but we really don’t see why UNC’s defense shouldn’t be able to make the commitment to improve over the next two months. The 2005 title team only became legit once Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May got serious about stopping people in addition to outscoring them. Can the 2009 Heels – specifically, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Deon Thompson – do the same? Stay tuned.
These Guys Have to Commit to Better Halfcourt Defense
The Big East Should Have Its Own Region. Seriously, let’s just rename the E. Rutherford Region this year and invite every Big East team. Or at least the top 12. Of course, if we did that, it would prohibit the possibility of the conference placing four teams in the Final Four this year – a plausible scenario. Tell us that you couldn’t envision a situation where four of the following teams – Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse – would reach Detroit in April. Throw in Villanova, Marquette and West Virginia and you might just have nine of the Sweet Sixteen. The top half of this conference is really that good. So who is the best of the best? It depends on when you ask the question. Two weeks ago it was UConn. A week ago Georgetown. Now it’s Pittsburgh. Next week… probably Syracuse. The point is nobody knows. UConn has the most raw talent, but they’ve exhibited problems putting it together consistently. Georgetown, haven’t you heard, has rebounding issues. Pittsburgh isn’t reliable from behind the arc. Syracuse has a tendency to lose to teams like Cleveland St. on miracle shots. Louisville spends much of its time looking for its ass with both hands. Notre Dame has a maddening tendency to play defense with its hands. Marquette and Villanova are too guard heavy. West Virginia has Bob Huggins. And on and on. All we can say for certain is that the quality of play in the seemingly-nightly matchups between Top 25 teams is top-shelf, and it makes up for all those other nights where we’re stuck watching Auburn-Ole Miss.
The Big Ten Doesn’t Suck This Year.Now don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying that our friendly midwestern conference is on par with the Big East, or even the ACC, but it’s a lot stronger in the middle of the pack than it has been in recent years. Not much was expected out of Minnesota (15-1), Illinois (14-2) or Michigan (13-3) this year, but each of them are playing excellent ball and have marquee wins over the likes of Louisville, Missouri, Duke and UCLA in their pockets. Combine their success with the standard good seasons expected from Michigan St. (13-2), Purdue (12-4), Ohio St. (11-3) and Wisconsin (12-4), and you have a competitive six-bid conference. Even traditional cellar dweller Penn St. (13-4) has shown signs of life this year. Heck, they even made the ACC/Big Ten Challenge competitive (losing 6-5) this year!
Our Midwestern Friends Have Been Practicing
They’re Putting It Together. Now that Tom Izzo once again has a full complement of players with Goran Suton back in the fold, Michigan St. has looked much better since their abysmal performance in the ACC/B10 Challenge against UNC. They’ve run off nine in a row with wins at Texas, at Minnesota and Ohio St. – everyone wrote this team off after that UNC game, but they’ll be heard from in March. UCLA is also quietly going about its business, also reeling off nine in a row (including a 3-0 start in road games in the Pac-10) since their loss to Texas in mid-December. Ben Howland is getting production from eleven players, and if anyone really thought the Bruins were going to have a ‘rebuilding’ season, they need to have their head checked. This team will win close to 30 games again. It’s amazing how a series of close games that go your way can make or break a team’s confidence. After Louisville had dropped tight ones to Minnesota and UNLV in late December, everyone was ready to write off the Cards. Now that they’ve won three of their lost four on the last possession, they sit at 3-0 in the Big East (with two road wins) and appear to be in relatively good shape compared to some of the other Big East contenders (UConn, ND, and Georgetown in particular). We’ll see just how good they can be when #1 Pittsburgh visits on Saturday.
Pleasant Surprises. Obviously, Wake Forest is a pretty big surprise – we expected them to be pretty good, but nobody saw a top five team coming from Dino Gaudio this year. What about Syracuse? – at 16-1 and the lone loss to Cleveland St. from 75 feet, Jim Boeheim’s crew has as much talent as just about anybody in the country. Clemson is pulling its annual ridiculous start, but there are signs that this Tiger team is legit – they have a balanced attack, they’re strong at both ends of the court, and they have good road wins at Illinois, South Carolina and Miami (FL) so far. Butler is a HUGE surprise, although we shouldn’t ever be surprised with that program. The Bulldogs sit at 14-1 and two of their top three players are freshmen, yet they once again appear to be the class of the Horizon and a top mid-major. Tubby Smith has Minnesota playing great ball, and the Gophers are on a fast track to the NCAA Tournament at least a year ahead of schedule. Coaching matters – Mike Montgomery also has California playing hard for the first time in a decade. The Bears look like a top three team in the Pac-10 at this point.
Syracuse Has the Look of a Team Built for March
Disappointments. Since the Q1 update, Gonzaga has done nothing but crap itself, losing games to Arizona, UConn, Portland St., and Utah. They did get a key OT win at Tennessee last week, and their defense is still stronger than in recent years, but for some reason or another, the Zags are having trouble putting it all together. USC is destined to become this year’s NC State (a preseason ranked team that won’t make the NCAA Tourney). The SEC – Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky – have all been various shades of disappointing. Between the cream of the SEC East, there’s what, three quality wins? On the other side of that conference, only Arkansas has even been mildly interesting, with big home wins over Oklahoma and Texas. At the mid-major level, Southern Illinois (6-8 ) and Wright St. (9-8 ) have a long way to go before they’ll turn their seasons around.
RTC Midseason All-Americans. We’ll take some heat for not putting defending NPOY Tyler Hansbrough on our first team, but his numbers, particularly his rebounding average, are off from last season. Granted, he’s still probably recovering from a stress reaction injury, so he’ll have time to recover his (rightful?) place on the 1st team, but for now, we like Griffin (obvious choice) and Harangody in our frontcourt. Curry and Harden are also easy choices in the backcourt, but we’re making a leap of faith choosing Teague – his last two games against BYU and UNC were very impressive performances (he averaged 32/5/4 assts on 59%) and we’re riding on the Wake bandwagon right now.
Jeff Teague, G – Wake Forest(21/4/4 assts on 54%/54% 3fg shooting)
Stephen Curry, G – Davidson (29/4/7 assts/3 stls on 45%/37% 3fg shooting)
James Harden, G – Arizona St. (23/6/5 assts on 56%/42% 3fg shooting)
Blake Griffin, F – Oklahoma (23/14/3 assts on 65% shooting)
Luke Harangody, F – Notre Dame (25/13 on 51% shooting)
Knocking on the Door (2d Team).
Tyler Hansbrough, F – North Carolina (22/8 on 54% shooting)
Patrick Patterson, F – Kentucky (19/9/3 assts on 71% shooting)
Dejuan Blair, F – Pittsburgh (15/13 on 61% shooting)
Manny Harris, G – Michigan (19/8/5 assts on 44%/31% 3fg shooting)
Ty Lawson, G – North Carolina (15/3/6 assts on 53%/42% 3fg shooting)
All-Freshman Team. Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest), Jrue Holiday (UCLA) and Gordon Hayward (Butler) were tough to leave off this list.
Greg Monroe, C – Georgetown (14/6/3 assts on 57% shooting)
Sylven Landesberg, G – Virginia (19/6/3 assts on 49%/30% 3fg shooting)
Tyreke Evans, G – Memphis (16/6/4 assts/3 stls on 45% shooting)
Seth Curry, G – Liberty (20/4 on 45%/40% 3fg shooting)
Paul George, F – Fresno St. (16/7 on 54%/46% 3fg shooting)
Big Games (Q3). Here are the top 10 games of the next month.
Syracuse @ Georgetown – 01.14.09
Pittsburgh @ Louisville – 01.17.09
Georgetown @ Duke – 01.17.09
Wake Forest @ Clemson – 01.17.09
Texas @ Baylor – 01.27.09
Duke @ Wake Forest – 01.28.09
California @ UCLA – 01.29.09
Connecticut @ Louisville – 02.02.09
Duke @ Clemson – 02.04.09
Michigan St. @ Minnesota – 02.04.09
Notre Dame @ UCLA – 02.07.09
Extremes. This won’t last much longer, as we fully expect all three of the unbeatens to have a loss by this time next week, if not sooner. That’s what conference play does to you. NC Central will get a win against a D2 squad soon, but poor little NJIT has no relief in sight. They’re sitting on 49 in a row and, according to KenPom’s projections, 60+ in a row is within reach. Memo to NJIT coach Jim Engles – take a page from the NC Central playbook and schedule some JVHigh School D2 teams.
Unbeaten (next possible loss)
Pittsburgh (Big East):15-0 (@ Louisville 1/17)
Wake Forest (ACC): 14-0 (@ BC 1/14)
Clemson (ACC):16-0 (v. Wake Forest 1/17)
Winless (next possible win)
NJIT (Ind): 0-16 (Bryant 1/21)
North Carolina Central (Ind): 0-18 (D2 Central St 1/16)
In our attempt to provide you with the best college basketball coverage on the Internet, RTC is starting the “Boom goes the dynamite!” project. Yes, it’s a blatant rip-off of Deadspin’s Hugh Johnson Project for college football, but we have found someone who does something similar for college basketball, which is a vastly superior sport. This will be an evolving project so you may see a complete different format next week or even tomorrow as we figure out how to make this better. One thing you may notice is that my coverage of the games on TV may be a little spotty at times, but that’s partially a result of there being 5 early games being broadcast on my TV and the fact that the RTC East Coast HQ only has one television. [We're the fiscally responsible RTC office.]
For those of you who are totally confused by the title, it’s a reference to one of the greatest sports news videos of all-time featuring Brian Collins, then a freshman at Ball State, trying his hand at broadcast journalism. The hilarious result:
For our opening weekend, we’ll primarily be covering top 25 games (due to our lack of resources) unless something notable happens in another game.
Noon Games #11 Clemson def. NC State, 63-51: NC State was able to keep this game close for 25 minutes (tied at 33 at that point) before Clemson went on a 24-10 run to blow the game wide open. A pretty ugly game overall with NC State shooting 31.5% from the field and having only one player (Courtney Fells) scoring in double digits with 10 points. Trevor Booker was the only good player on the court with 23 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 blocks. Not much else to say here since the game was at Littlejohn Coliseum and I don’t think NC State is that good (all of their most impressive games this year have ended in losses). If you want to know what we think of the Tigers, check back with us after the 17th when they play Wake Forest.
#21 Louisville def. #17 Villanova, : After the Cardinals led by as much as 11 points in the 2nd half, Villanova came storming back to cut it just 3 point game with just under 6 minutes left. Louisville was hurt by its inability to connect from long range (3-for-25) and Samardo Samuels (15 points and 4 rebounds) fouling out with 4:43 left. For the next 2 minutes, the game continue at a frenetic pace before Dante Cunningham (a game-high 21 points) hit a 15-footer from the corner to give Villanova their first lead all day at 58-57 with 3:06 left. Rick Pitino immediately called a timeout to tell his entire team they could transfer calm down his team. The final 3 minutes were “highlighted” by both team’s inability to hit shots until Terrence Williams (12 points, 15 rebounds, and 6 assists) made a driving lay-up with 12 seconds left that must have bounced around the rim for 2-3 seconds. After that huge basket, Louisville tried to double-team Scottie Reynolds on the inbounds, but Villanova was able to find a streaking Corey Fisher who found himself with a 2-on-1 and dished it to Antonio Pena (solid with 14 points and 8 rebounds) who was fouled with 4.9 seconds left. Pena missed both FTs, but Louisville was unable to handle the rebound and Villanova got the ball back with 4 seconds left. They ran a good play coming out of a timeout finding Cunningham underneath for a contested layup, but he missed that and his teammates missed 2 more tips giving the Cardinals a hard-fought road win.
#15 Marquette def. #22 West Virginia, 73-55: This game was a lot closer than the final score indicates. The Golden Eagles only led 51-48 with 7:55 left then went on a 22-7 run to close it out. Jerel McNeal was the best player on the court with 26 points and 7 rebounds. The Golden Eagles also had a big edge at the FT line going a Duke-like 24-for-27 from the line compared to the Mountaineers 6-for-10. Bob Huggins will have 2 easy games (Marshall and USF at home) to get the Mountaineers playing well again before returning to the Big East gauntlet with games against Georgetown and Pittsburgh.
#25 Tennessee def. Georgia, 86-77: This was a game of big runs. Fortunately for Bruce Pearl, his team had the last one. The Volunteers, who will likely be out of the top 25 in the next poll, had to come through down the stretch after the Bulldogs took the lead 74-73 with 3:17 left. Tyler Smith led the Vols to victory with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Bruce Pearl will need his team to step it up as their next 7 games are tough (by SEC standards). After coming into the season as the heavy favorites to win the SEC, the Vols have failed to live up to expectations and will likely face a tough challenge from an underrated Arkansas team.
1 PM & 2 PM Games #2 Duke def. FSU, 66-58: You’ll have a hard time finding a stranger game. After the ugliest first half you will ever see, Duke led 19-14 at break. After that the Blue Devils came out on fire in the 2nd half opening up a 46-21 lead with 12:48 left. Then FSU came back to cut it to 50-40 with 6 minutes to go. Duke held on to win, but FSU earned a lot of respect with that near comeback. Gerald Henderson led Duke win a career-high 25 points. Jay Bilas was correct in pointing out that this year’s Duke team has a lot higher ceiling than last year’s team because of Henderson’s development. Teams should watch out for the Seminoles who played #1 Pittsburgh tough earlier this year. Am I the only one who heard the douchebag behind the ESPN announcers yelling “The Cameron Crazies suck!” and “We want Paulus!”? I guess when you go to a school with girls as hot as they have at FSU you shouldn’t expect to have the most intelligent crowds.
#6 Oklahoma def. Kansas State, 61-53:Blake Griffin is a beast. That’s about all there is to say about this game. Griffin put up 29 points and 15 rebounds. I would have liked to have seen the #6 team in the country win this game by more, but it’s a conference road game so I guess the Sooners still have to be happy. It’s too bad we couldn’t see Griffin matched up against Michael Beasley, who is having fun coming off the bench in Miami this winter. Monday will be the big test for Oklahoma as Texas comes up to Norman in a match-up that will help determine the best team in the Big 12.
#8 Michigan State def. Kansas, 75-62: After a slow start the Spartans opened up a big lead (37-18 at half) and continued to hold it for most of the 2nd half, but the Jayhawks showed a lot of poise at coming back to make it a close game. Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan helped the Spartans counter a strong game from Sherron Collins (25 points and 8 assists, but 8 turnovers).
#10 Georgetown def. Providence, 82-75: Georgetown had to rally to win this game as they trailed by as many as 9 in the first half. After a quiet first half, Greg Monroe ended up having the type of solid all-around game that makes NBA scouts drool (13 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals, and 2 blocks).
#13 Notre Dame def. Seton Hall, 88-79: This was actually a tie game with 8 minutes left, but the Fighting Irish were able to pull out another win at the Joyce Center. Luke Harangody had a rough day from the field (8-for-24) but ended up with 30 points and 16 rebounds to lead Notre Dame to the win.
#16 Arizona State def. Oregon, 76-58: Not much to say here except that it’s amazing how far Oregon’s program has fallen. A solid if unspectacular game from Pac-10 POY candidate James Harden (19 points).
#20 Butler def. Detroit, 54-50: Butler came out flat in this one falling behind 26-22 at half to a team that came into the game 4-10. The scarier thing is that they were at home for this too. Matt Howard was the only player in double figures with 15 points. If there was ever a time you should have your ranking drop because of a win, this would be it. If I voted in the BlogPoll, I would kick Butler out of the top 25 for this “win”.
#23 Baylor def. Texas Tech, 73-61: Nice win for Baylor here as they were led by Kevin Rogers with his 14 points and 14 rebounds. They look like a solid #3 in the Big 12 after Texas and Oklahoma.
This’ll be quick one today because our usual writer is busy inviting a bunch of dudes over to his pad for some game involving another collegiate sport tonight. A sport that tends to have trouble deciding who the most worthy teams are for its championship just about every year. Our opinion of that faux-championship game is below.
When Does Utah Play in the Finals?
As for the rest of your evening, while you’re not watching Oklahoma and Florida throw balls all over the field en route to a 65-63 finish, enjoy a warm post-coital buffet of some college hoops. There’s a surprisingly tasty slate on tap for tonight, with four games involving Top 25 teams.
- Wright St. @ Butler on ???. Wright St. appears to be coming out of the fog that enveloped its team during the first two months of the season, as they’ve won 8 of 9 games with the only loss coming at #4 Wake Forest. Butler, on the other hand, continues to roll along, but the Bulldogs have had trouble with WSU, losing seven of their last ten against the Raiders including their last two when ranked. The big question is whether this game’s total will outscore the BCS game’s.
- Minnesota @ Iowa on ESPN2. Iowa hasn’t gotten much publicity this season, but the Hawkeyes are 9-0 in their home arena, a place where Minnesota has lost seven of their last eight visits. Minny’s only other true road test was a one-point win over Colorado St., so we’re a little skeptical about the validity of Tubby’s 13-1 record (best start since 1996-97). Still, if Minnesota can get a road win in a place they traditionally don’t play well, it would go a long way toward establishing itself as one of the upper elite of Big Ten teams this year.
- Oregon @ Arizona on FSN Regional. This is a battle between teams who were swept in their first Pac-10 tilts last weekend. The difference is that at least Arizona was on the road in the Bay Area when they went 0-2. Oregon plays defense like most teams enjoy suicide sprints; in other words, not at all. Arizona should have a field day of open looks and easy layups for Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and others to take advantage of. They just need to make sure that Jamelle Horne is nowhere near the floor at the end of the game.
- Oregon St. @ Arizona St. on FSN. Arizona St. may be without the services of forward Jeff Pendergraph tonight, but that shouldn’t stop you from checking in on Herb Sendek’s team for a quick glance at possibly the most complete guard in America, James Harden (23/6/5 on 55%/44% shooting). OSU is coming off of its first Pac-10 win in nearly two years vs. USC, but that was at home. Still, OSU has been much more competitive this year.
- Stanford @ Washington on FSN Regional. UW is a team that hasn’t been talked about much this year, and why would we? They’re 10-3, but they’ve lost to nearly every good team they’ve played (Portland, Kansas, Florida). Stanford got its comeuppence last weekend when Arizona St. dominated them in Maples. But the Cardinal did recover to beat Arizona, and UW had a nice win over its in-state rival Wazzu, so this could make for an interesting contest. Both teams have low-grade NCAA aspirations, so they need to win these types of games.
- Cal St. Fullerton @ Cal Poly on ESPNU. The BCS game should be ending around 12:30am due to all the passing and timeouts, so turn this one on for the last five minutes to see CSF’s Josh Akognon play for the first time in your life. His Titans (6-8 ) aren’t very good, so it’s unlikely you’ll see him in March – this might be your last opportunity to see this fantastic collegian while still in school.