Misperceptions and Missed Perceptions: Reviewing Some Preseason Predictions

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 5th, 2013

With four weeks of basketball now in the books, it’s time to take a quick glance back at some of the things we thought we knew in the preseason. Some notions have proved accurate, but early results have tested a slew of preseason hypotheses that we once felt confident in. Here are a few examples, on both sides of the ledger:

We Thought We Knew…

Andy Enfield Was the New Coach Bringing Exciting Offensive Basketball to LA

There Has Been Nothing Slow About Steve Alford's And UCLA's First Four Weeks

There Has Been Nothing Slow About Steve Alford’s And UCLA’s First Four Weeks

We weren’t the only ones who thought it was USC, with Andy Enfield now at the helm – and not UCLA, with new head man Steve Alford — which was going to be lighting up Pac-12 scoreboards in the City of Angels this winter. Back in October, Enfield told his players, “if you want to play slow, go to UCLA.” Well, USC isn’t playing slow – they are 33rd nationally in possessions per game –but they are playing slower than the Bruins, which are six spots ahead of them in that category. And if this first month means anything, perhaps Enfield should have also advised any of his players who enjoy scoring, winning, or both, to plan that transfer across town. USC is 5-3, with just one win against a team in KenPom’s top 230 (!!!) and an offensive efficiency that ranks them 170th nationally. UCLA, on the other hand, is 8-0 and averaging more than 90 PPG behind the 7th-most efficient offense in the country. Now, there is a necessary asterisk here: Alford inherited significantly more talent at his disposal than Enfield did. Even so, it was Enfield – not Alford — who invited the cross-town comparisons. The Dunk City architect better have something besides his mouth working by the time USC visits Pauley Pavilion on January 5; otherwise, his Trojans are firmly at risk of getting run out of Westwood, and contrary to popular belief, there would be nothing slow about it.  

The Complection of the Top of the Big 12

At this point, expecting Kansas to win the Big 12 generally equates to peeping out a Southern California window and looking for the sun in the morning. The Jayhawks may not have played their way out of the preseason expectation to win the Big 12 again this year, but they should have company at the top this time around. Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State, post play deficiencies aside, have looked every bit the part of Big 12 title contenders themselves, and many would now peg the Cowboys as Big 12 favorites (including yours truly). Kansas State and Baylor were next in line after the Pokes and Jayhawks a month ago, but the Wildcats have suffered through a miserable opening month, while Baylor has looked as shaky as a 7-1 team with two top-40 victories can look, with two of those wins coming against non-D-I competition and three of the other five earned with a final margin of victory of five points or fewer. Iowa State now looks like the team ready to take a step up in class. The Cyclones, 7-0 with a pair of top-40 victories of their own, could easily enter the Big 12 season undefeated and prepared to further shake up a suddenly unpredictable conference race.

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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume III

Posted by Jesse Baumgartner on December 4th, 2013

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…. Arizona‘s balance. So far, this year has been all about the fantastic freshmen and the individual talents that have really driven early-season interest in the college game. But I have yet to see a team that looked as consistently balanced across the floor as the Wildcats did against Duke last Friday night, particularly down low with stud freshman Aaron Gordon and veterans Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. That tripod of length, skill and athleticism spells two things — high quality shots in the paint, and rebounds galore. And it’s really cleaning the glass that will be toughest on opponents in March and April, as we saw with Louisville’s run last season.

I LOVED…. a reasonable contract extension. Dana Altman has done a great job at Oregon, no question about it — he’s brought the Ducks back into the national picture, won NCAA Tournament games, and really put an exciting roster on the floor in Eugene (and hey, let’s just assume for argument’s sake that he had absolutely nothing to do with that horrific floor design). But while it seems like we see so many contracts these days that give out too much money/years on just a season or two of success, Altman’s three-year extension seems just right. Good job, here’s a cookie, and more to come as the program keeps growing.

Dana Altman Remains One of the Most Quietly Effective Coaches in the Country

I LOVED…. UMass back in the AP rankings for the first time in 15 years. You know, just another one of those programs John Calipari hit and ran on. Somewhere, someplace, Dr. J is smiling.

I LOVED…. seeing Villanova put in a solid performance in the Bahamas to outlast Kansas. I’ve always liked Jay Wright as a coach, and it seems like he’s nearing the point where he needs a solid NCAA Tournament run to reinforce that the program isn’t too far removed from the 2009 Final Four squad. For Kansas, that game seems to just reaffirm what is true for so many of these uber-talented, uber-young teams — any given night they can go down.

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Big East M5: 12.04.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 4th, 2013

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  1. What was supposed to be a promising season for a young, talented Providence team has gone off the rails a bit as suspensions and injuries have reared their ugly heads. Ed Cooley lost Kris Dunn to injury for Sunday night’s showdown with national power Kentucky, while freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock remain suspended indefinitely. All three players, especially Dunn and Austin, were expected to be major contributors for a Friars squad looking for an NCAA berth, but for now Cooley has to dance with the players that brought him: “I’m going to coach the team that’s on the bus.”
  2. So Feast Week was fun, right? Well next year’s slate of exotic star-studded tournaments should also be a good one. Georgetown and Butler have signed on to play in next year’s Battle 4 Atlantis, where they will have a chance to face North Carolina, UCLA, Florida, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and UAB.  This is the second straight year where there will be some potential for all-Big East tournament match-ups, after Creighton and Marquette nearly faced off in the finals of this year’s Wooden Legacy. Conference realignment is the gift that keeps on giving, it appears. While UNC, Florida, UCLA and the like are tough potential opponents, one Casual Hoya commenter looked on the bright side of this slate:gtown NE atlantis
  3. God’sgift Achiuwa hasn’t made a huge impact for St. John’s on the court this season — the forward is averaging 1.4 points in 7.7 minutes per game for the Red Storm — but he’s doing great things off the court in his community. ‘Gift’ is among 201 nominees for the 2014 Allstate NABC and WBCA Good Works Teams. A St. John’s release further details all of the great things that Achiuwa and the rest of the Red Storm are involved in around New York City:”In 2012-13 Achiuwa and members of the men’s basketball team participated in more than 131 hours of community service, volunteering their time at the St. John’s Bread and Life Soup Kitchen, the San Francisco Food Bank, the annual Red Storm Dribble For The Cure benefiting the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, the St. Nicholas of Tolentine Men’s Shelter and in the Community Mayor program. The 2013 Dribble For The Cure raised $70,000 for pediatric cancer research in the New York area bringing its three-year total to $120,000.”

    While basketball is why we’re all here at Rush the Court, it’s always great to hear about the human stories and incredible acts of charity that so many of these players are involved with.

  4. Butler wasn’t picked by many to finish very high in the Big East this season, but the Bulldogs have done a great job managing a tough schedule thus far. Indy Star took a look at how each of the Big East teams have fared so far this season, and how the Bulldogs stack up, relatively speaking. At 5-2 with the ‘2’ being a two-point overtime loss to LSU and a near take-down of a star-laden Oklahoma State team, Butler has impressed: “Butler accomplished something in Orlando, even if it won’t show up in their season record: They proved they can play with anyone in the country. Simply put, they looked like an NCAA Tournament team, and that’s something few expected to hear about this Bulldog team.”
  5. Villanova is the talk of the conference right now coming off an impressive Battle 4 Atlantis win over a possible national championship contender in Kansas and another ranked team in Iowa. The Wildcats have a deep group of talented perimeter players, headlined by Kansas-game hero Ryan Arcidiacono and swingman James Bell, who is having a breakout season, but Jay Wright believes it is Rice transfer Dylan Ennis who has made all the difference for his club: “He shocked me. He played with great composure. He didn’t force shots. He was really impressive.” Ennis averaged 12 points, three rebounds, and two assists at Atlantis — his first three games of the season — and was especially effective from long range, knocking down eight of his 12 three point attempts.  Nova’s schedule now becomes very Philly-centric, with games against Penn, Saint Joseph’s, and La Salle over the next few weeks, but the biggest match-up for Ennis comes on December 28 when he travels to the Carrier Dome for a showdown with his little brother Tyler, who has been excellent so far this season as the starting point guard for the Orange.
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After Toppling Kansas, Villanova Beginning To Look The Part Of Big East Title Contender Again

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 30th, 2013

It’s not too difficult to conjure up memories of recent Villanova glory days. Just three and a half years ago, Jay Wright had his Wildcats heading to the NCAA Tournament as a #2 seed, his program fresh off a Final Four appearance the year before. The Cats had won 12 NCAA Tournament games in the five years prior, and the 2010 team was both deep and young: Of the 11 Wildcats to average eight minutes a game that year, only two were seniors. The future was bright. And then Robert Morris happened. Villanova survived the #15 seed Colonials on that fateful March day (by the thinnest of margins: 73-70 in OT), but Jay Wright is still seeking his next Tournament victory. Saint Mary’s dispatched the Wildcats from the Dance two days later, and the three years since have witnessed a program mired in mediocrity. After a detour to the NIT in 2012, last year’s plucky group managed navigate its way back to the Tournament, but nobody was mistaking those Wildcats for the talent-laden teams of the early Wright era. A team built upon a similar foundation was expected this season – a gritty, defensive minded group that would be capable of stealing wins on their homecourt. All those things may yet be true, but after a convincing win over Kansas on Friday, it may be time to add one more descriptor to the 2013-14 Villanova Wildcats – Big East title contenders.

James Bell, JayVaughn Pinkston, And The Rest Of The Wildcats Gave Kansas Fits On Friday Night -- Will Iowa Be Subject To The Same Torture Tonight?    (Photo Credit: USA Today Sports)

James Bell, JayVaughn Pinkston, And The Rest Of The Wildcats Gave Kansas Fits On Friday Night — Will Iowa Be Subject To The Same Torture This Evening? (Photo Credit: USA Today Sports)

Last year’s Villanova’s team scored more than its fair share of big wins. They knocked off four of the Big East’s five best teams (all of whom were ranked in the top 20 at the time of defeat), but each of those victories came on the Wildcats’ home floor. Furthermore, when you remove that quartet of signature victories, Villanova went just 2-12 against teams that finished in in the top 75 of the Pomeroy Ratings. Throw in a charity stripe festival or two at the Wachovia Center – a +34 free throw differential assisted in the Nova upset of then #5 Georgetown – and you can see why last year’s team never quite established themselves as an upper-echelon Big East club.

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First Impressions From the Big East Openers

Posted by Todd Keryc on November 12th, 2013

College basketball opened play over the weekend and we got our first glimpse at the 10 Big East teams this season. Now that we’ve seen each team in action, here are some initial takeaways from a few of them.

PROVIDENCE – 100% COTTON

Bryce Cotton (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

Bryce Cotton (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

Bryce Cotton led all Big East players in scoring last year and he will have an opportunity to repeat the feat this season. But if Providence wants to take the next step into the NCAA Tournament, it will need to find some consistent support for him. In the Friars’ Friday night win against Boston College, Cotton was his usual self, deftly finding his way into the paint and finishing over much bigger defenders, but he struggled from the perimeter. Last year he averaged more than eight three-point attempts per game but limited himself to just four against the Eagles. His ratio of 3FGA to FTA will be a telling statistic this season in his personal development. However, the well-dressed Ed Cooley needs to find his star some help. With Kris Dunn sidelined by a shoulder injury and two freshman wings (Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock) suspended, it was again the Cotton show.  If the Friars want to improve upon their .500 finish in conference play last season, they will need those players back to create a depth that was lacking in their season-opening win.

GEORGETOWN – HEART & SEOUL

Georgetown opened its season practically across the world in South Korea against Oregon and it was UCLA transfer Josh Smith who stole the show in a loss. The big man showed off an array of post moves and had his way in the paint against the smaller Ducks. Georgetown was ice cold from deep and still had chances late against a ranked team, albeit one missing a couple of key players. Assuming the Hoyas shoot better in future big games (and realistically, they could not shoot much worse), Josh Smith’s presence will make an enormous difference and put Georgetown in contention for a Big East title.

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The RTC Interview Series: Big East Preview with Jon Rothstein

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. To read through the entire 2013-14 preseason interview series, click here. As part of our national preview with the Big East, RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Big East expert in CBS Sports Network College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein.

Jon Rothstein Shares His Big East Preseason Thoughts With Us

Jon Rothstein Shares His Big East Preseason Thoughts With Us

Rush the Court: The new Big East has formed with its roots based almost exclusively on basketball. What will that do for the conference’s reputation from a national standpoint?

Jon Rothstein: I think we are going to have to wait and see how these schools that are left in the conference perform on a national level. From the periphery, I think everyone is looking at the Big East as a conference that can send either five or six teams to the NCAA Tournament. That would put the Big East probably on the same par as the American Athletic Conference. A lot of its reputation is going to be formed by how many teams the Big East will send to the Tournament on a consistent basis.

RTC: Marquette has been the popular preseason pick to win the league. The Golden Eagles lost Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue and Trent Lockett from last season’s Elite Eight team, so what is it about this season’s squad that makes it so formidable?

Rothstein: This is the deepest and most talented frontcourt that Buzz Williams has had since he has been the head coach at Marquette. On the other hand, this is also going to be the least experienced backcourt that he has had. I initially picked Marquette to win the Big East at the start of the offseason, but going back on it now, I wish I had picked Georgetown to win the league.

RTC: What makes you believe Georgetown has the talent to win the league?

Rothstein: To me, Georgetown replenishes talent as well as any team in the country. The thing about the Hoyas that is interesting to me is that they are able to win with different styles. You saw them feature a perimeter attack when they had Chris Wright, Jason Clark and Austin Freeman. You saw them use an inside attack with Henry Sims leading the way. Last season, we saw Otto Porter really blossom and do a bit of everything. Georgetown always finds a way to win consistently, but it does it in different ways.

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Big East M5: 10.21.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 21st, 2013

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  1. New York Times writer Zach Schonbrun experienced a sense of relief among the various schools at last week’s Big East Media Day in Manhattan. After many seasons played under the shroud of conference realignment, culminating with the awkwardness of last season’s farewell tour for Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame, the Big East is now a settled, basketball-driven league focused on private schools in metropolitan markets. While the conference’s new members — Butler, Creighton, and Xavier — are all located in the Midwest, they fit into the league quite well culturally. St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin actually thinks the new schools fit in better than some of the public universities that have moved on to the American Athletic Conference, and the schools who left for the ACC for largely football-based reasons: “It’s not like a ‘Sesame Street’ deal — which one doesn’t belong… You’ve got a tree, a bush, some seaweed and then a truck. It just didn’t fit. I think now we have a league that’s more similar.”
  2. Georgetown lost an excellent player to the NBA Draft in standout forward Otto Porter, but guard Markel Starks thinks that the Hoyas are more than just one player and that his team will look to prove that this season: “We play as a unit… We play as a group. Obviously, we just lost a great player. Even still, with or without him, we play as a unit. … I think we can still be a very dangerous team.” Starks, now a senior, will probably bear much of the weight of Porter’s absence in the scoring column, after averaging 12.8 points per game last season. He will be joined in the backcourt by D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who proved capable of exploding for big point totals last season. Smith-Rivera scored at least 14 points in three of his last four regular season games last season, and dropped 33 in 34 minutes against DePaul on February 20.
  3. One of the major changes fans will notice in the conference this year is a lack of legendary coaches on the sidelines, although the Big East will not be hurting for talent in that spot. Gone are Hall of Famers like Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino, but rising stars like Marquette’s Buzz Williams and Georgetown’s John Thompson III are poised to lead the conference into this new era. Thompson agrees that the coaching talent in the league is very high: “If you look around the room, the quality of coaching is outstanding. Yes, we lost some Hall of Fame coaches, but I don’t think too many teams want to go up against the guys in this room. Every game is going to be a battle. That was true last year; that’s going to be true this year.” Williams also believes in the overall quality of the league, and thinks it stands up with the best conferences in college basketball: “Every coach is going to say they play in the best league, but if you objectively study the numbers, I think what this league has done the last five years speaks for itself. I think this year that will hold firm, too.”
  4. Even without the likes of Syracuse, Louisville, and UConn, many are excited about the prospects of the Big East, especially those at the league’s three new schools: Butler, Creighton, and Xavier. Between the television contract with Fox Sports 1 and the ability to play at Madison Square Garden, the Big East provides a great increase in exposure for the former Horizon League, Missouri Valley Conference, and Atlantic 10 teams. Rumble in the Garden‘s Chris Ronca caught up with Xavier’s Chris Mack and Creighton’s Greg McDermott, who were both very excited about these new possibilities. Mack says his players are excited about playing at MSG:  “Playing for your conference championship in the Mecca is an amazing opportunity for Xavier fans and players.” McDermott talked about the league’s TV contract and it’s impact on the Creighton program: “[Creighton's] fans have longed for this for awhile.” McDermott went on to say that “with Fox [Sports] 1, it’s very exciting for the program… there’ll be a lot of new ideas with how [Creighton's] product is shown nationally.”
  5. Sports Illustrated‘s [and RTC's] Chris Johnson’s “Stock Watch” series sets its gaze on the Big East, and he’s quite bullish on Villanova, while throwing a bit of shade on Butler. Johnson cites Villanova’s surge in the middle of last season, where the Wildcats knocked off top five Louisville and Syracuse outfits in a a five-day stretch, as evidence that Jay Wright’s club is very dangerous. He likes the combination of Ryan Arcidiacono, JayVaughn Pinkston, and Daniel Ochefu, and believes that if the team continues to get to the free throw line and play stingy defense, it can push for the top of the league standings. As for Butler, Johnson believes that the loss of Brad Stevens in conjunction with an increase in the difficulty of conference play will hurt the Bulldogs, as will the departures of Rotnei Clark and Andrew Smith as well as the injury to Roosevelt Jones.
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Season In Review: Villanova Wildcats

Posted by mlemaire on May 6th, 2013

After an incredibly disappointing 13-19 finish to last season, coach Jay Wright was starting to hear murmurs of discontent from a Wildcats’ fan base that had watched their team slowly fade into obscurity following a 2009 run to the Final Four. Entering this season the pressure was on Wright to prove that he could get the program headed in the right direction again, and he rose to the challenge… barely. The Wildcats finished 20-14 on the season and 10-8 in conference play, which was good enough to slot them eighth, but they made the NCAA Tournament on the backs of three wins over the conference’s three best teams — Louisville, Georgetown, and Syracuse — and there was still plenty to be concerned about in Nova Nation. They will be looking to take another step forward next season, but first let’s take a trip back and review Villanova’s 2012-13 season.

Preseason Expectations

Coming off that ugly season and losing their two best offensive players — Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek — the Wildcats were not expected to make a lot of noise this year. Both the coaches in the conference and our writers here at the microsite pegged Villanova as the 12th-best team in the Big East because of question marks about where the offense would come from and how quickly the new faces would get adjusted. Most who followed college basketball knew that the Wildcats had more veteran talent than some of the other squads ranked ahead of them, but after watching them falter with much of the same talent the year before, it was tough to believe that Villanova was capable of finishing in the top half of the conference.

Freshman Guard Ryan Arcidiacono Was Instrumental In Getting Villanova Back To The NCAA Tournament (U.S. Presswire)

Freshman Guard Ryan Arcidiacono Was Instrumental In Getting Villanova Back To The NCAA Tournament (U.S. Presswire)

The Good

There were plenty of positives for both individuals on the Villanova roster and the team itself, but if we were ranking them in order of their importance, the two-game stretch where they beat Louisville and then Syracuse in late January basically saved the Wildcats’ season. They had lost three straight conference games heading into that brutal stretch, and even though they were both home wins, they were still crucial to making ‘Nova believe they could hang with anyone. The team itself had its good pieces and its bad ones. The defense ranked in the top 30 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and the offense got a boost from the fact that the Wildcats were the very best in the country when it came to free throw to field goal ratio. Wright also knew that certain players would need to step up if the Wildcats were going to be a factor this season, and luckily some players rose to the occasion. Senior center Mouphtaou Yarou (9.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 47.8%FG) capped a solid career on the Main Line with a dependable senior campaign, improving his free-throw shooting by nearly 10 percentage points and crashing the boards even harder in conference play (9.7 RPG). It took sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston (13.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 46.6 FG%) half a season to find his footing,  but once he did, he consistently scored in double figures and became a match-up nightmare for opposing teams. Freshman point guard Ryan Arciadiacono (11.9 PPG, 3.5 APG, 34.3% FG) averaged 34 minutes per game and proved he was more than capable of being a Big East point guard.

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Big East M5: 04.04.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on April 4th, 2013

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  1. After a disappointing single season in Pittsburgh, Jamie Dixon says 6’5″ shooting guard Trey Ziegler is transferring again in hopes of finding “a chance to be more involved” in his final year of eligibility. Ziegler failed to replicate the production he’d demonstrated in two seasons playing for his father at Central Michigan, registering career lows in almost every major statistical category. Ziergler probably wasn’t going to thrive at Pitt next year, but with only six scholarship players returning, he would have provided much needed depth and experience in the backcourt off the bench. Cardiac Hill notes Ziegler is the sixth player to transfer from Pitt in two years.
  2. Less than two weeks after insisting he would return for his sophomore year, Pitt center Steven Adams reversed course Tuesday and announced he would declare for the NBA Draft. Adams’ draft projection fell from top five in the preseason to mid-to-late first round after his production (7.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG) failed to reflect his athletic, punishing 7’0 frame. Even before an underwhelming freshman campaign,  Jamie Dixon had evidently alluded to a “four-year plan” Adams had envisioned for himself, which included getting his master’s degree at Pitt. But Adams is one of 18 children, and Dixon implied the wish to provide for his family outweighed Adams’ ambitions in school: “It’s tough, I think he really loved it here. He loved his teammates… I know what he was saying but I also know what his family was saying at the same time.” With Dante Taylor graduating and Marcus Gilbert transferring, Talib Zanna is the only real frontcourt presence Dixon returns next year.
  3. On the topic of reversing coarse, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti fired Mike Rice less than 24 hours after publicly defending his basketball coach on ESPN. Pernetti was contrite in a statement on Rice’s release: “Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December and I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate [Rice], but I was wrong.” The loose end here is confusion over the involvement of President Robert Barchi, who distanced himself from the scandal yesterday when a spokesperson reiterated that Barchi hadn’t seen the damning practice footage until Tuesday. The problem? Pernetti had initially implied to ESPN that the president was aware of the tapes’ content in December and signed off on his efforts to “rehabilitate” Rice. Don’t be surprised to see Barchi throw Pernetti under the bus and weather the storm. Meanwhile, Adam Zagoria reports that Bob Knight is a long-shot candidate to replace Rice. Which is so unconscionable that it must be a late April Fool’s joke.
  4. USA Today and Forbes have updated the usual financial stats on program revenues and coaching salaries, and Sean Keeley at TNIAAM points out that Syracuse is getting a seriously good deal with Jim Boeheim. The Orange coach ranks number 17th (on a list that omits several more highly paid coaches), raking in $1.9 million per year in base salary. That’s less than Big East peer coaches JTIII ($2.2 million), Jay Wright ($2.3 million), and Rick Pitino ($4.8 million). Looking at Forbes’ comparison of basketball program revenues in the Final Four, Keeley observes that while Boeheim and John Beilein earn about the same salary, Michigan basketball earns just over a third ($9.9 million) what Boeheim’s program makes ($26 million).
  5. Yesterday the leftovers of the Big East were finally named the American Athletic Conference. The UConn Blog is pleased with the inoffensive title, which lends itself to the edgier AmeriCon abbreviation and should, if nothing else, put a stop to the geography jokes everyone suffered through last year. “It’s fine. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s not worse, and on the scale of UConn‘s conference realignment news, that makes this a resounding victory.”
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Pac-12 M5: 03.25.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 25th, 2013

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  1. On Saturday evening, word began to trickle out through various national reports that UCLA had fired head coach Ben Howland. Later that night, UCLA issued a statement disputing those reports. And then Sunday evening, the school officially announced his firing. It counts as “news” only in the strictest sense of the word, as exactly nobody was surprised by the announcement, but it does open up what should be an entertaining coaching search as the Bruins shoot for the stars and then wind up with… Mike Brown? Certainly, Jeff Goodman has better sources than I as to the UCLA coaching search, but if Mike Brown is the next UCLA head coach, I’ll walk down Sunset Boulevard in my boxers. Right after I join the UCLA fans rioting and looting with pitchforks and torches at the Morgan Center. Most reports indicate that Shaka Smart is the first choice for UCLA, though it remains to be seen whether he is interested. Other names associated with the search include Brad Stevens, Jay Wright and Washington’s Lorenzo Romar.
  2. The college basketball guys at CBS Sports also have their opinions on who will wind up with the vacant USC coaching job and, as we learned this weekend, it isn’t going to be Jamie Dixon. Other candidates for the job include Smart (apparently on everyone’s wish list), Memphis’ Josh Pastner and Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins, although with the UCLA job open, it may be awhile before the USC decision is made.
  3. Certainly by now you all know that Arizona and Oregon are still marching along, while California, Colorado and those Bruins have all bowed out of the NCAA Tournament. But what about those lesser tournaments? Well, after winning the NIT title last season, Stanford’s attempted run to a second-straight lesser title ended on Saturday at Alabama. Arizona State, likewise, bombed out in the second round of the NIT in a barnburner at Baylor, while Washington got dropped by BYU in the first round.
  4. The other thing we see this time of year when teams’ seasons begin to end are players announcing their intentions for the NBA Draft. Oregon State’s Eric Moreland became the first Pac-12 player to officially declare (aside from Shabazz Muhammad having Howland declare for him, that is) his intentions to explore his NBA appeal without the help of an agent, leaving him with a chance to return to Corvallis. However, speculation is that Moreland’s time at OSU is done and that he’ll be playing for pay next season. While there’s little chance that the offensively raw Moreland will earn a guaranteed first round money even in what is considered a weak draft class, his athletic ability could earn him a second round flyer or, more likely, D-League or overseas offers.
  5. Meanwhile, Arizona State fans will have to sweat out Jahii Carson’s decision over the next couple weeks. Carson expects to consult with the NBA to suss out his draft status and “test the waters,” but depending on what he hears back, he could return. Carson’s got the speed, athleticism and moxie to be a very good NBA player, but at the end of the day, right now he’s a sub-6’0” point guard who lacks a completely reliable jumper. The odds are in favor of Carson returning for his sophomore season, but all he needs is one NBA GM to profess his undying love to convince Carson to follow the money. Stay tuned.
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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by KDoyle on March 22nd, 2013

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#2 Georgetown vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast – South Region Second Round (at Philadelphia) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS

Florida Gulf Coast is one of the better stories in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Only in their sixth year as a Division 1 program, the Eagles are riding their first winning season in history thanks to the hiring of former Florida State assistant Andy Enfield. In Enfield’s first year, they finished 15-17, but were a game away from the NCAA Tournament as they lost to Belmont in the Atlantic Sun finals. This year, Florida Gulf Coast has been the team to beat, and it began with an early season win over Miami (FL). FGCU’s style of play greatly differs from today’s opponent, the Georgetown Hoyas. The Hoyas are predicated on a stingy zone defense that rarely allows for clean looks at the basket, and they play at a snail’s pace. Led by Otto Porter, Georgetown has a legitimate star that can carry them deep into the NCAA Tournament. FGCU very much likes to get up and down the floor with Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson leading the attack. If FGCU is able to get out in the open floor and score in transition, they’ll keep it close for much of the game. Problem is that not many teams control the pace of a game quite like Georgetown—that’s what makes them such a difficult opponent as they force the opposition to play their style of game. Historically, Georgetown has struggled in the NCAA Tournament under John Thompson III as they’ve failed to reach the second weekend in four of six appearances under him, but many believe this is a different Hoya team. FGCU is playing with house money and expect them to make a game of this, but in front of a heavy Georgetown crowd in Philadelphia the Hoyas are simply too much in the end.

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

The RTC Certified Pick: Georgetown

#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Iona – West Regional Second Round (at Dayton, OH) – 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS
One of the nation’s most balanced teams, the knock on the Buckeyes for the longest time this season was that they didn’t have a secondary scorer to help out junior DeShaun Thomas. We’ll get to that in a second, but let’s just say that Iona never had such a problem. Senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones has always been the main offensive weapon on this team, never afraid to look for his own shot, but the Gaels have always trusted guard Sean Armand and forward David Laury to chip in heavily in the scoring column. And as a result, the Gaels have one of the most efficient offenses in the mid-major ranks. The problem for Tim Cluess’ team is the complete inability to stop teams on defense; only nine times all season have they held an opponent below one point per possession in a game. Given that Ohio State is one of the best defensive teams in the nation (sixth in defensive efficiency per KenPom.com), you can expect the Buckeyes to at least slow Iona’s prolific offense. And given that Thad Matta has been getting significantly improved offensive play out of guys like Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson, you can expect the Bucks to take advantage of that buttery soft Gael defense. While Momo Jones, et al. have the ability to make some exciting plays when they’ve got the ball, their inattention to details defensively will allow the Buckeyes to have more than their share of exciting offensive plays as well.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State Read the rest of this entry »

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The ACC in the NCAA: Previewing UNC vs. Villanova

Posted by KCarpenter on March 22nd, 2013

Villanova is like Michigan State or Kansas to North Carolina. For whatever reason, these teams just feel fated to meet in the tournament. The last two times these teams met in the tournament were 2009 and 2005, with UNC headed towards a National Championship both times. Though hopes are not nearly so high for either of these teams this year, this match-up feels very familiar, even if all the players have changed. In a normal year, this Villanova team would be very well-equipped to deal with a Roy Williams coached North Carolina team. Jay Wright‘s squad is tough on the interior, allowing very few easy inside buckets and rebounding on their own glad with quite a bit of skill. Offensively, the team relies heavily on penetration to get to the foul line more than any other team in the country. It’s not hard to see how a team like this would frustrate the likes of Sean May, for example, with tough defense and eventual foul trouble.

Carolina Fans are Ready For Another March Run (Photo credit: Getty Images).

Carolina Fans are Ready For Another March Run (Photo credit: Getty Images).

Of course, this year’s Tar Heel squad is starkly different from the typical squads Williams has fielded in the past decade. Tough interior defense is all but irrelevant to a UNC team that attempts (and makes) more threes than just about any Carolina line-up of the Williams era. This perimeter oriented squad happily bombs away, using drives more than post-ups to earn a little space from the defender, and unfortunately for Villanova, this team isn’t particularly well-suited to handle this approach.

The Wildcats are an abysmal team against the 3-pointer with opponents converting 36.8% of attempts, good for 299th in Division I. Now, a clever critic might point out that 3-point defense is really more about limiting attempts than how many treys the opponent can successfully make, but this clever critic would be disappointed by this measure too. Villanova’s opponents have been able to take a rather high proportion of threes, attempting long bombs on 35.7% of field goal attempts. Offensively, it looks like the Tar Heels are a good fit to exploit the Wildcats’ flaws.

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