Checking In On… the Big West

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2011

David Gao is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference. You can also find his musings online at Zotcubed, a UC Irvine blog, or on Twitter @dvdgao.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was:

  • Thomason Sets Big West Win Record: Pacific coach Bob Thomason won his 406th game with the Tigers on December 3, surpassing former Long Beach State and UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian as the all-time winningest coach in the history of the Big West Conference. Pacific defeated Utah State 65-57 in the landmark win, the Tigers’ third of the year. Thomason is in his 23rd year as Pacific coach, and has perhaps his most difficult task before him this season with a team of newcomers and very little returning experience. So far, the Tigers are 3-3, but their win against the Aggies is their only win against a Division I opponent.
  • San Diego State Hangs On: Amidst rumors of San Diego State potentially joining the Big West in non-football sports due to its likely move to the Big East in football, the Aztecs went to overtime against Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara before beating both in a possible foreshadowing of match-ups to come. The 49ers, coming off their upset of #9 Pittsburgh, led by three at halftime and then battled back to force overtime before succumbing to the Aztecs 77-73. A similar storyline unfolded in Santa Barbara, when the Gauchos built up a lead at halftime before losing it and then forcing overtime with a late free throw. San Diego State came through in overtime once again however, defeating UCSB 76-75.
  • Growing Pains: The Big West is quickly sorting out into a top four and bottom five infrastructure, with the bottom five struggling mightily against some underwhelming opponents. Besides Pacific’s aforementioned one D-I victory, UC Irvine is 1-6 after going 0-3 in the Great Alaska Shootout including a loss to D-II Alaska-Anchorage by 14. UC Riverside is 2-4 with only one D-I win as well, albeit a decent win in the 76 Classic against Washington State. Worse off are Cal State Northridge and UC Davis, who together are a combined 2-13 with zero D-I wins on the year.   

Orlando Johnson Is Carrying A Heavy Load For The Gauchos, Playing 70% Of His Team's Available Minutes And Taking 34.9% Of The Shots.

Power Rankings

  1. Long Beach State (4-3) – The Big West darlings have yet to follow up on their triumph against Pitt, instead losing to Montana and #6 Louisville. While losing to the Cardinals is understandable, decent but unspectacular teams such as Montana have to be wins for Long Beach State if they want to make this season not merely good, but great. Interior defense has slipped as of recent, and turnovers and free throw percentage need improvement as well. A lot of that comes down to maintaining a high intensity throughout each and every game, regardless of whether it is in Pittsburgh or Missoula.
  2. UC Santa Barbara (4-2) – After a 4-0 start, UCSB has suffered two gut-wrenching losses to two very tough opponents in SDSU and UNLV. The SDSU game slipped away in overtime partly due to a timeout call when the team had none left, while the UNLV game went into a thrilling double overtime before the Rebels, fresh off their triumph over then #1 North Carolina, pulled out a 94-88 win. Any perceived gap between Long Beach State and UCSB has narrowed over the last two weeks, and it will be interesting to see if Orlando Johnson keeps up his torrid play. As a team, the Gauchos are at the top or near the top of every major statistical category. Read the rest of this entry »
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R.I.P. Armen Gilliam (1964-2011)

Posted by nvr1983 on July 6th, 2011

UNLV legend Armen Gilliam died on Tuesday night at the age of 47 after suffering an apparent heart attack while playing pickup basketball in a Pittsburgh-area gym. Gilliam’s death occurs just nine days after NC State legend Lorenzo Charles died in a motor vehicle accident in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Gilliam had a great college & pro career (Credit: David Petkiewicz/Arizona Republic)

Nicknamed “The Hammer” for his physical play Gilliam led UNLV to a 93-11 record during his 3 seasons there culminating in a 37-2 season in 1987 that ended in the Final Four appearance. Gilliam was named a 2nd team All-American and Big West Player of the Year while scoring 903 points (still a single-season record at UNLV) while averaging 23.2 PPG and 9.3 RPG as a senior. Following his senior year Gilliam was the 2nd overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft behind David Robinson. In his 13 seasons in the NBA, Gilliam averaged 13.7 PPG and 6.9 RPG while playing for 6 different NBA teams.

Gilliam’s jersey was inducted into the UNLV Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998 and had his jersey retired by the school in 2007. Upon hearing about Gilliam’s death, his former coach Jerry Tarkanian said, “He was one of the greatest Rebels ever and one of the best players we have ever had. In my ratings, I had Larry Johnson No. 1 and Armon No. 2. He was such a great person. Everybody loved him and he loved everybody. He was such a gentle person and such a caring guy. I am all shook up over it. I think the world of him and am just really shocked.”

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Morning Five: 05.17.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 17th, 2011

  1. Late last night news broke that Arizona point guard Lamont “Momo” Jones had decided to transfer and was likely headed back to the New York City area. Although Jones has not issued a statement about his transfer, Arizona coach Sean Miller has confirmed the reports that was indeed transferring. There has been plenty of speculation about why he was transferring, but much of it has centered around either his desire to go home to be near a sick family relative (reportedly his grandmother) or the logjam in a Arizona backcourt that will be loaded even without Jones, who averaged 9.7 PPG and 2.4 APG as a sophomore. We will have more on this story throughout the day as it develops.
  2. Later today Valparaiso is expected to name Bryce Drew as the successor to his father Homer Drew as the next coach of the program that he helped make famous. This is not the first time that Homer has stepped aside to let his son take over the program. In 2002, Homer stepped aside to let Scott Drew take over as coach at VU, but he stayed there just one year before leaving to take over at Baylor following the Dave Bliss era. Homer stepped back into his previous position where he has remained despite failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the past seven seasons. Bryce has served as an assistant at the school since 2005, but is best known for his miraculous shot against Mississippi in the 1st round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament and leading them to the school to its only Sweet 16 appearance.
  3. Last summer UNLV had to deal with domestic violence charges against its top returning scorer (Tre’Von Willis) and it appears that this summer it will have to deal with DUI charges against its top returning scorer (Chace Stanback). Stanback was arrested early on Friday near the Thomas & Mack Center on suspicion of driving under the influence. He is out of custody and is expected to appear in court on August 11. It will be interesting to see how new coach Dave Rice deals with the arrest both before and after the court appearance. Rice comes from a strict program at BYU (remember Brandon Davies), but he was also on the Jerry Tarkanian teams of the early 90s that had a more laissez-faire approach to punishment.
  4. One of the bigger stories in the college basketball world yesterday was Dana O’Neill’s story about former Villanova guard Will Sheridan publicly announcing that he was a homosexual. While we understand that this will be a big story and undoubtedly generate a lot of page views for ESPN, we are looking forward to the day when this isn’t even a story. The column itself is pretty interesting and takes an in-depth look at Sheridan’s life after Villanova, but the most interesting thing to us is that his teammates knew about it and didn’t seem to care. In our mind, that seems to be the biggest obstacle for a player “coming out” while they are still active. The fear of being ostracized seems to be within the realm of possibility and we have to applaud the Villanova players who were aware of it for how they handled “the news” and never let it get out or seem to bother them as we have seen with the recent Kobe Bryant controversy that there are still many ingrained attitudes about homosexuality that may be difficult to break in the world of sports.
  5. President Obama welcomed the national champion UConn Huskies to the White House. Unlike some recent championship ceremonies this one was without controversy although Kemba Walker apparently had a tough time getting there as he missed one flight and had another flight delayed before eventually finding his way to Washington, DC. The ceremony itself was fairly mundane except for a few jokes that Obama made about how UConn reminded him of his busted bracket (he picked Kansas to win) and his difficulty with the name of Adolph Rupp.
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Final Four Daily Diaries: Friday

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2011

RTC is at the Final Four in Houston, our sixth as a fan but our first as a member of the working media.  What that means, exactly, we’re still trying to figure out, but we think it has something to do with wearing a rectangular piece of plastic with our mug on it and nodding approvingly at the people in the NCAA blazers walking around the innards of Reliant Stadium.  Or maybe it means dropping dime on one of the coaches at the dais for one thing or another — we’re not sure.  Anyway, over the next four days of collegiate basketball activity here in H-town, we’ll be providing a daily diary in much the same way we’ve done with our correspondents throughout this year’s Tournament — equal parts observation and analysis, with a hint of the absurd.

Friday, April 1 – Houston, Texas

  • Houston sucks.  I’ve never been to a place that angers me more than this city.  Ok, maybe Vegas after a specific trip to the Luxor Hotel & Spa a few years back, but nowhere else I’ve been in this country enjoys such a harmonious mixture of horrendous traffic, non-walkability, preponderance of bad chain restaurants, paucity of natural beauty, unbearable heat, and a culture-less culture than this place.  I’ve been to most major US cities before, and there’s a reason I’d yet to make it to this one — now I know why (as I prep for my credential to be rendered invalid around 4 pm CDT tomorrow).  Credential or not, you’ve got three more days, Houston — my poison pen is raring.  Other than that, it’s great.

There Are a Lot of Roads That End Here, Not Just This One.

  • On to Final Four Friday, as it’s called in the local parlance.  Not to go all Negative Nancy on you all in this diary, but the four practices this afternoon couldn’t  have been more sleep-inducing.  I was lucky enough to bring the RTC Babe along for the ride this weekend, and she put it rather succinctly when asked about her impressions of the four-hour snorefest — “It was boring, but I did get to see Jimmer,” her voice lilting at the end.  That she did, and as she’s somehow managed to convince herself in the last three weeks that BYU’s Jimmer Fredette possesses a hotness that most mere mortals cannot reach, we say bravo.  After all, The Jimmer is in fact the guy we all want to be anyway, and it could be worse — she could have mentioned somebody like, ugh, Chandler Parsons.

Jimmer, Clearly Awkward But Playing Along...

  • Back to the practices, though, and although it was cool to be in the building and to look around, enjoy the decorations and speak with some colleagues, the practices were by and large worthless.  A few light drills, a lot of jump shooting, coaches and players taking it all in — these were the activities of the day.  No Big Country tearing the backboard down or Kevin Love hitting 100-footers or a horrific injury to a notable player today — just a lot of quiet.  Even the Kentucky fans were largely muted, a completely unexpected occurrence given that it’s been 13 long years since the BBN last saw a F4 Friday practice.
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Morning Five: 02.21.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on February 21st, 2011

  1. Love him or hate him, you have to admit that he was never boring, and the kid could fill it. On Sunday, Maryland honored former star (and current Memphis Grizzly) Greivis Vasquez by raising his number up to the Comcast Center rafters. And of course you know he loved getting another jab in on North Carolina, as seen in the report from the Baltimore Sun’s Tracking the Terps blog; when asked about how he thought Maryland would do in their last five regular season games, Vasquez predicted five wins, adding, “I think we can beat UNC at UNC anytime.”
  2. According to the Kansas City Star, Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen is a veritable bracket expert, often scouring the web for the latest bracket predictions and news. While making sure to note that he really just hopes his Wildcats get into The Dance, he projects KSU as a six-seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. We don’t know if Jacob is familiar with the work of RTC bracketologist-in-residence Zach Hayes, but we’ll make sure Pullen has Zach’s e-mail address in the event that he wants to lobby for his Wildcats or offer Zach a few choice words, heh heh. We’ll see where ZH has Kansas State (if anywhere) in his next bracket projection later today. In last week’s edition, KSU was one of the last four out, but it was released before the Wildcats’ win over Kansas on Monday night.
  3. You probably remember how full Cornell’s bandwagon got last year as the Big Red rolled to a 29-5 record, a 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament (way, way too low), and a Sweet 16 appearance. That was their third straight bid to the Tournament, a trifecta of appearances that came after a 20-year drought. Harvard is not impressed. The Crimson (20-4, 9-1) are a half game up on Princeton in the Ivy League standings with four games to play — remember, there’s no post-season tournament for the Ancient Eight, so the auto-bid goes to the regular season champ — and all that’s at stake for Tommy Amaker’s team is the program’s first NCAA bid…in 65 years. The last game on their schedule? Princeton. March 5th.
  4. You think Jerry Tarkanian, at age 80, has tempered his ire toward the NCAA with the passage of time? Right. You figure that $2.5 million dollar settlement check he received from them in 1998 diluted his anger? Think again. On Friday at the Palms in Vegas, HBO premiered a documentary about Tark’s UNLV days, and it’s obvious from his post-screening comments that this is one grudge he’ll never put down. He gets in some priceless digs (the strip club comment is hilarious) in this Tim Dahlberg/AP article we caught in the New York Times.
  5. Remember that play from Tuesday’s Michigan State vs Ohio State game where Aaron Craft ran down that errant Spartan pass that went into the backcourt, gathered it before it went out of bounds, then took it up strong for the and-one? A few seconds after it happened, we tweeted that that single effort told you a lot of what you needed to know about the impressive Ohio State freshman. Well, we were wrong. This article from the Akron Beacon Journal tells you even more. His sections in that “Party In the USA” viral video brought to mind the voice of the great Ralph Wiggum (full disclosure: HLN’s Rafer Weigel said that before we did), but Craft’s evidently got skills in about fourteen other sports…and that’s not counting what sounds like some serious expertise on the dance floor [h/t: Coach Jeff Boals].
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Even More Notes From the Mountain West, Atlantic 10 and WAC Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament, Joe Dzuback at the Atlantic 10 Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournaments, they will each post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for tonight’s pair of championship games and the A10 semis.

Mountain West Finals: San Diego State 55, UNLV 45

  • The only logical place to begin here is with Kawhi Leonard, who was dominant tonight. The line speaks for itself: 21 rebounds (a career high), including seven on the offensive end. 16 points. Holding Tre’Von Willis to 4/12 shooting from the floor (and at least two of those field goals came when SDSU inexplicably switched to zone at the start of the 2nd half). And throw in a couple assists and a couple steals for good measure. He definitely presents matchup problems for every team in the MWC, and he will present problems for teams across the country. Throw a smaller, quicker guy on him and Leonard will dominate in the paint; put a big man on him and he can step outside and use his face-up game. In the postgame press conference, UNLV head coach Lon Kruger was asked about the possibility of having to deal with Leonard for three more years, and the look that crossed his face (a combination of a knowing smile and a grimace) was priceless before he went on to spend a couple minutes singing Leonard’s praises. While New Mexico’s Darington Hobson and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette rightly are regarded as the best players in the conference, it is Leonard who is the most talented player in the conference.
  • Willis tweaked his ankle late in the game on Friday night, and while he played without incident tonight, he was likely not as explosive as he was earlier in the tournament. How much of that had to do with the ankle and how much was the Leonard factor is up for debate, but Coach Kruger of course brushed off any notion that Willis was hampered by the ankle.
  • The vaunted UNLV homecourt advantage turned out to be much less of an issue tonight than it was either last night or even on Thursday night in the quarterfinal. Maybe it was the earlier start, or maybe it was the Aztec fans’ inability to provoke the UNLV fans into a cheering confrontation as Utah and BYU fans did, but while the Rebel fans sure got loud when Larry Johnson and Jerry Tarkanian were shown on the scoreboard, they were never really a huge factor in the game.
  • Last night in this space I talked up UNLV junior center Brice Massamba quite a bit. Tonight? Um, who? Massamba’s totals: 18 minutes, five fouls, two rebounds, two turnovers.
  • Now, time for me to admit a couple areas where I was dead wrong. This doesn’t happen often (not me being wrong, I’m wrong a lot, I just rarely admit it – ask my wife), so soak it up.
  • First, sometime in the middle of the MWC season I wrote that San Diego State junior point guard D.J. Gay was holding his team back and that head coach Steve Fisher should make the move to freshman Chase Tapley at the point. Well, Gay proved me wrong and Fisher right more or less from that point on. While Gay still doesn’t shoot a great percentage from the floor, he has really cut down on the turnovers over the back half of the schedule, and more important than anything the numbers show, he is the leader on this team. Guys like Leonard and Billy White and Malcolm Thomas and even senior Kelvin Davis are all major cogs for this Aztec team, but it is Gay who makes this team go. Look at his numbers over the tournament, and they’re nothing special (in fact, they’re downright awful): less than 8ppg, six of 26 from the field, 10 assists, five turnovers. And yet, they probably don’t get out of the quarterfinals without him (when he hit two clutch free throws at the end to provide the final margin), they certainly don’t get through New Mexico without him and his seven assists and zero turnovers, and tonight it was Gay’s big three in the face of Oscar Bellfield under six minutes that extended the Aztec lead above one possession for the first time since very early in the second half. Throw in the fact that the guy played 119 of a possible 120 minutes in this tournament (and the minute that he was out the Aztecs looked lost) and its clear Gay brings more to this team than his numbers would indicate. And, just to extend my praise of the guy, he is also a well-spoken, funny kid.
  • The other place I was wrong is about Fisher. For several years now, I have been critical of some of Fisher’s in-game coaching and even his ability to bring along talent. While I thought his decision to open the second half in a zone for a couple of possessions was a similarly goofy decision, there’s really no questioning what he has done with this team. The vast improvement this team has made since opening night when they were absolutely drilled by St. Mary’s is clear and he has really gotten a talented team to buy into team over individual fully. Now, I’ll admit some of this may be because Fisher was just so charming and effusive in his press conferences that he won me over (tonight’s great Fisher quote, on winning the recruiting battle of Leonard over some Pac-10 schools: “we don’t need to get down on kneepads to recruit against the Pac-10.”), but the fact that he has taken a SDSU program with little history and put them in the postseason in seven of his 11 seasons, including now three NCAA visits, says all that needs to be said about Fisher’s ability to coach. The fact that he is just so likable is only a bonus.
  • I chose Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Leonard and Gay as my five for the all-tourney team, with Leonard as my MVP, although I felt awfully bad about not writing down White, Chase Stanback or Dairese Gary. The official tournament team was Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Stanback, White and Leonard (no fair they got to pick an extra one – I wanted my all-tourney team to have eight guys), with Leonard the MVP.

Atlantic 10 Semifinals

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Morning Five: 01.12.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 12th, 2010

  1. Fordham transfer player Jio Fontan has resurfaced all the way across the country at USC, and he will be eligible to play next season at the semester break.  This is a good pickup for Kevin O’Neill, as Fontan averaged 15/5 assts in a season-plus at Fordham and will be able to move into the PG slot vacated by Mike Gerrity.  Speaking of USC, the self-imposed sanctions on the basketball program may not become official until February, when the school will appear in front of the NCAA Infractions Committee.  Does this mean that, if the Committee imposes much harsher penalties than proposed that this year’s Trojans could actually still play in the postseason?
  2. Jerry Tarkanian never wasted an opportunity to take a shot at the NCAA, and his guns were blazing at a speech he gave in Arkansas Monday where he called the NCAA the “crookedest organization in this country.”
  3. Charlotte’s Shamarr Bowden, a freshman shooting guard averaging 5.7 PPG in ten minutes per game, will transfer from the school to a destination unknown.  Former Ohio State guard Walter Offutt has transferred to Wright State, and Georgetown forward Nikita Mescheriakov is enrolled at Wake Forest.
  4. Mike DeCourcy suggests that the problems at DePaul go well beyond Jerry Wainwright and indicts the administration itself.  His point about firing Wainwright in the middle of the season after an 0-18 Big East slate is a great insight.
  5. More aftermath from the Tennessee upset over #1 Kansas on Sunday, including Parrish’s take on Skylar McBee and how he’s living his dream at Tennessee.   As for Kansas, maybe they should have taken more half-court shots during the game.  They seem to be pretty good at making them.

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07.20.09 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on July 20th, 2009

Is there a worse time of year for roundball fans than July/August?  Well, is there?  Let’s see what’s been cooking over the last week or so…

  • Economics, NCAA Style.  Have you guys heard that we’re in a recession – that the economy may not exactly be whirring along at a blistering pace?  Inevitably, college athletic departments are starting to feel the crunch nearly as much as your local Citibastard – some are cutting expenses such as chartered flights and media guides, while even the venerable and uber-rich Stanford athletic department is cutting employees.  Meanwhile, schools such as UCLA, Cal, and others are instituting high-dollar seat licensing fees (we’re talking hundreds of thousands) to finance their stadium renovations and attend their games for the next quarter-century.  Crisis is another word for opportunity, and we’re wondering if the current economic climate will only provide leverage for the NCAA haves (Florida, Texas, Ohio St., UCLA, etc.) to exploit and exacerbate the widening gap between themselves and the have-nots by using private equity as the hammer.  The NCAA ADs have given lip service to construct a more equitable model of competition for its member institutions, but like the Yankees/Red Sox freight train in MLB, the arms race inertia is already accelerating downhill and moving too quickly to be stopped.  The final solution may ultimately have to be a separation of BCS schools from the remainder of D1, and to get there, you have to pay to play.   
  • 2009 ACC/Big Ten Challenge.  Last year we had very high hopes that the Big Ten would finally get off the mat and win one of these challenges.  Alas, MSU took its first of two emasculations at the hands of UNC last year in Ford Field, and the Midwesterners lost 6-5.  This year’s schedule is out, and unfortunately for the Big Ten, our first glance reveals that the odds are significantly in the ACC’s favor to win this event again.  The Monday and Tuesday night games (Nov. 30 and Dec. 1) favor home teams Virginia, NC State, UNC, Purdue and Iowa, but we’d expect the ACC to break serve by Maryland winning in Bloomington for an early 4-2 lead.  Even with a Dec. 2 slate that favors the Big Ten, with Michigan and OSU holding serve at home to match Clemson, we’d expect Minnesota to get a road win at Miami (FL) only for the league to fall on its face again when Duke does what it does and rips Wisconsin a new one in the Kohl Center.  The ACC wins again, 6-5.  We have it coming down to three road winners, with the ACC taking two of them (Maryland and Duke).  How do you see it?
  • UConn Savior?  This was quiet over the weekend but we find it to be a significant piece of news out of the UConn program, which is that the oft-confounding Ater Majok has committed that he will indeed play for Jim Calhoun’s Huskies next season.  Majok’s eligibility has been a wild ride for UConn faithful, beginning a year-plus ago with his verbal commitment and two semesters of classwork in Storrs, only to be followed by a flirtation with the NBA Draft (withdrawing) and lucrative professional options overseas.  The versatile 6’10 forward will help Calhoun shore up a somewhat inexperienced frontcourt led by returnees Stanley Robinson and Gavin Edwards, and if the reports of his potential are true, could provide an offensive force on the blocks to relieve some of the pressure from the very talented perimeter tandem of Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson.  Major good news for the UConn program, which has taken its share of hits the past few months.   
  • Quick Hits.  Noel Johnson: the former USC recruit will end up at ClemsonDave Bliss: resurfaces in Texas (not coaching, thank God).  Karen Sypher: no merit to her complaint against PitinoTark the Shark: his spinal surgery delayedKeno Davisextended through 2016Al-Farouq Aminu: looking to dominate in 2009-10Larry Sanders: thinking first round next season.  Renardo Sidney: Part 1 of the NCAA inquiryLance Stephenson: much ado about disorderly conductJared Sullinger: another in a run of Buckeye bigsHarrison Barnes: get used to that nameMichael Gilchrist: another World Wide Wes guy with no chance at a childhoodSeth Davis: analyzes the top players on the summer recruiting circuitSouth Carolina: in violation of impermissible snackage.
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RTC Bracket Championship Results: Best Team of the Modern Era (1985-2008)

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2009

Ok, we’re ready for the firestorm.  The four of you who are still reading this are going to swim the moat and scale the walls of the RTC castle after you read this post.  You’re going to want to string up those responsible by their testicles, and ritualistically flog them until they admit that a grievous error has been made.  We’re ready for it.

And the reason we’re prepared for such a thing is because the best team of the Modern Era is one that didn’t even win the championship in its given year (cringe).  Hell, they didn’t even make the final game!  But you need to hear us out, listen to what we’re saying, open your mind to the possibility, and it’ll all make sense soon enough.

Your RTC Modern Era Champions

Your RTC Modern Era Champions

For the full 64-team bracket, click here.  The championship game analysis is below the bracket.

ncaa-modern-bracket-final

Instant Analysis

#2 UNLV 1991 def. #1 Duke 1992.  You’re probably thinking… but RTC, we already saw this game, we know how it ends up.  It was played in the 1991 national semifinals with 90% of the same principal players and themes involved.  LJ, Augmon, Anthony, Hunt, Ackles vs. Hurley, Laettner, Hill, Hill, Davis.  Tark vs. Coach K.  Good vs. Evil.  Glitzy vs. Coldly Efficient.  Foot Stomps vs. Hot Tubs.  Clean vs. Dirty.  And you’d be right.  The 1991 match-up was the de facto national championship game, and it has gone down in NCAA Tournament lore as one of the greatest games of all-time.  Duke, of course, won the game with an 8-1 run to catch and finish off the Runnin’ Rebels, 79-77, after their floor leader Greg Anthony fouled out.

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RTC Bracket Final Four Results: Best Team of the Modern Era (1985-2008)

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2009

And we’re down to two…  the two teams, that in our highly-valued and respected opinion, are the most talented, battle-tested and worthy of the RTC Modern Era.

We’d be shocked if this didn’t inspire some debate, simply due to the fact that all four of these teams were damn near unbeatable in their primes.  Still, we had to choose two to advance into the Finals, and while the choices were far from easy, we made them and we’ll live with them.  Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), we’re left with one national champion and another team that didn’t even make the finals!

For the full 64-team bracket, click here.  The game analyses are below the bracket.

ncaa-modern-bracket-r2

Instant Analysis

#1 Duke 1992 def. #1 UNLV 1990 – Duke’s back-to-back champions featuring Laettner, Hurley and Hill visit the scene of the crime by playing the last team to beat them in the NCAA Tournament, the 1990 UNLV team featuring LJ, Augmon and Anthony.  Not only did that UNLV team beat them, remember, that team murdered them by a score of  103-73.  Of course, the 1991 Duke team then got its revenge against UNLV by pulling the unlikeliest of upsets against the 34-0 Rebels in the next year’s national semifinals.  Are you ready for Round Three?  The 1990 Duke team was young and played like it in the rout against UNLV – although they were led by senior Danny Ferry,  he never won anything Laettner was a sophomore and Hurley was a freshman.  They were still learning what it took to become a champion, as they had not yet developed the toughness to keep their heads and stare down a physical, athletic and intimidating squad like UNLV.  The 1992 Duke team had done exactly that.  In fact, they may not have lost a game all season had Bobby Hurley not broken his foot midway through the year – Grant Hill filled in admirably at point as Duke stayed afloat (losing only two games), but it was clear that Hill was still learning on the job.  Similarly, 1990 UNLV won the national title, but they weren’t quite the dominant entity that they were to become the following year when they rode a 45-game winning streak into the Final Four.  Under this context, Duke 1992 ran out to a quick early lead against the 1990 UNLV team, who came into the game cocky based on their previous thrashing of the Devils with many of the same faces on board.  Laettner, who by his senior year had developed a deadly three-point shot, repeatedly took George Ackles out to the three-point line, while a new wrinkle  by the name of Grant Hill kept causing matchup problems for Stacey Augmon, unaccustomed to having to guard someone even more athletic than the Plastic Man.  By halftime, Duke was shocking the overconfident Rebels by twelve points on the backs of Laettner and Hill.  Tarkanian lit into his team at the half, and the Rebels came out very aggressive on defense to force Duke into several uncharacteristic turnovers.  After a Larry Johnson dunk where he chin-upped on the rim afterwards, the Rebel fans were raucous and Duke appeared to be on its heels again, holding onto a 2-pt lead.  K called timeout and immediately referred his team back to a similar situation they had faced in the prelims against Kentucky (E8), and he ordered his team to once again focus on getting good shots and playing superb defense.  K’s admonitions worked, as Duke re-settled itself to slowly work its margin back up to eight points by the under-four timeout.  Tark tried to surprise Duke after that timeout by throwing a three-quarter court press on Hurley, but with the ‘point forward’ skills that Hill had developed midway through the season, Duke was able to capably dribble through the traps and throw over the top for several easy dunks  by Thomas Hill and Brian Davis that essentially salted away the game.  Afterwards, Coach K talked about the character of his charges for fighting through all the adversity of having to play a team they’d already played in the previous two tourneys, while Tarkanian went on a tirade about how the NCAA continually gives his Rebels an unfair shake because they’ hate him.

#2 UNLV 1991 def. #1 Kentucky 1996 – The other semifinal matched Tarkanian’s 1991 UNLV team against the other team widely reknowned as the best team of the 90s, the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats.  The odd thing about the 1991 UNLV team compared to their national champion 1990 counterpart is that by every reasonable objective measure, the 1991 version was the superior team.  They were 34-1 after the 79-77 upset against Duke, and they had beaten teams by an absurd 27 ppg during the season, including a statement-making game at #2 Arkansas’ Barnhill Arena that was much worse than the final score indicated (112-105 UNLV).  Had the Rebels run into any other team than Duke, whom they had humiliated by thirty pts in the previous year’s title game, they most likely would have gone back-to-back.  The Kentucky 1996 team was probably the closest thing to that 1991 UNLV team that exists in the Modern Era, with their devastating runs overwhelming teams with athletic, pressure defense from end to end.  In this one, UNLV clearly had something to prove from the tip, having lost in the prelims to Duke (F4), a team that to a man they felt they were much better than.  Kentucky was simply unaccustomed to facing a team with as many offensive and defensive weapons as UNLV had, and it was clear they were a little surprised by the aggressiveness and strength of the Rebel starters on the defensive end (mirroring themselves).  UK fought back behind Tony Delk’s three-point shooting (4 threes in the first half), but UNLV stilltook a 4-pt lead into the half, and Kentucky’s Rick Pitino thought he had the Rebs exactly where he wanted them.  Or not.  UNLV then went on a devastating 27-9 run to start the second half, fueled by repeated uncharacteristic turnovers from Anthony Epps (and the freshman Wayne Turner, once Pitino pulled Epps) leading to fast-break dunks by seemingly everyone on the UNLV roster.  Having faced only one major deficit all year (against UMass early in the season), Kentucky and Pitino were completely shellshocked.  Similar to 1995’s prelim loss to UNC in the Elite Eight, Kentucky began to panic, shooting threes nearly every time downcourt, many of which were altogether out of the structured offense.  With five minutes left in the game, Kentucky finally seemed to awaken from its self-induced slumber and went on a 12-0 run of its own to cut the lead back to six.  That’s when Larry Johnson called for the ball on three straight possessions, stared down Antoine Walker, went right around him all three times and either earned a layup or dunk-and-one in the process.  Ballgame.  UNLV moves on to the final game despite not having done as much in the prelims, and Big Blue Nation burns up the talk radio circuit demanding Pitino’s head for not having his team ready and losing to a team that Duke had already beaten.

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SharkBlog: Lute Olson is a Snivelling Two-Faced Scumbag*

Posted by rtmsf on October 16th, 2008

* not a direct quote

Did you know that Tark the Shark now has a blog called SharkBytes with the Las Vegas Sun?  We mentioned this earlier today in Fast Breaks, and a couple of other blogs (notably, Fanhouse and The Dagger) talked about how interesting this development not only is, but could be will be over the course of a season, especially given Tark’s penchant for outspokenness and rabble-rousing. 

Tark Is Not Friendly With Arizona (photo credit: AP)

But both of those blogs focused on what Tark wrote about recruiting against Kentucky in the good old days, regaling readers with a tale involving all-world prep prospect Sam Bowie and a Rodeway Inn in Pennsylvania.  A funny and interesting story, no doubt, but not nearly as compelling as what we found when we dug a little deeper into the post.  Consider, Tark wrote:

Other programs, like Arizona, would rip us behind our backs, telling recruits’ mothers that hookers would get her son or the mob would get them.  Mothers would call me and I’d have to fly back a second time to talk with her.  I’d tell parents, if a coach comes in and bad-mouths another program, I’d eliminate that coach right away. If your son gets hurt, you and your son will be bad-mouthed.  Once, the father of a kid in San Diego asked me what I thought of Arizona. I said, they have a good program. The dad pounds a folder on his coffee table. Coach, let me show you what they said.  The folder was filled with every bad article ever written about UNLV. Arizona had sent it to the father.

Now, Tark’s been around the west coast a long time – starting as head coach with Long Beach St. in 1968, and continuing at UNLV from 1973-92, but Arizona only became a real force in college basketball upon Lute Olson’s arrival in 1984.  UNLV and Arizona would have probably been recruiting the same caliber of player only after his landing in the desert.  So, who else other than Lute Olson could Tark be referring to here? 

We find it really interesting that, considering how long Tark’s been around, and all the things he’s seen in the game, that he decided to focus on and throw Lute Olson under the bus for playing dirty.  And yes, we realize the irony of Tark calling anyone, anyone at all, dirty.  Still, this is just another feather in the cap of Lute Olson’s 2008 Award Tour.   

Keep it coming, Shark!

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Breaking Down ESPN’s Prestige Rankings

Posted by nvr1983 on August 4th, 2008

Ed. Note:  Don’t like ESPN’s Prestige Rankings?  Provide your comment on how to improve them here.  We’re going to take this information and create a new set of rankings based on additional factors (and getting rid of the moronic NIT appearance = NCAA appearance (1 point) criterion). 

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that ESPN was trying to fill the dead space between the NBA Finals and the Olympics with yet another list. Normally I wouldn’t have even bothered to look at it because ESPN’s lists have been getting progressively more ludicrous (hitting its peak–or nadir–when John Hollinger put Dwayne Wade’s 2006 “Fall down 7 times, shoot 14 free throws” performance above every single one of Michael Jordan’s masterpieces). However, when I noticed that ESPN was trying to rank the most prestigious programs for college basketball in the 64-/65-team era, I was intrigued and figured it was worth some analysis.

Your #1 team of the era
Your #1 team of the era

The first thing I always do when looking at any list is to see the scoring system used and ESPN sure picked an interesting system. I’ll break it into segments with some analysis:

• National title … 25
• Title game loss … 20
• National semifinal loss … 15
• Elite Eight loss … 10

– All four of these things seems pretty reasonable. I think that most fans would value the post-season performances in a way that is pretty close to the points awarded although it seems like a Final 4 berth is considered a great accomplishment for any program (even for the Duke’s and North Carolina’s of the college basketball world). I probably would have bumped up the national title, title game loss, and national semifinal loss by 5 points to give a 10 point spread between an Elite 8 loss and a national semifinal loss.

• Best W-L record in conference’s regular season … 5
• 30-plus wins in a season … 5
• Sweet 16 loss … 5

– This is where the scoring starts to get questionable. I’m assuming the “Best W-L record in conference’s regular season” is lawyerspeak for regular season conference champion. I’m glad that ESPN has decided that the America East regular season champion deserves more points for their in-conference performance than the regular season runner-ups in the ACC, Big East, and SEC. The 5 points for the 30-plus win season may seem like a lot, but in fact they are very rare (Duke leads with 9 such seasons and I could only count/remember 16 programs with any 30-win seasons since the start of the 1984-85 season) so that seems reasonable (as does the 5 points for a Sweet 16 loss although 16 programs achieve are awarded this each season while approximately the same number have achieved it for a 30-win season during the entire era). My main question with the 5-point awards is if they really consider all regular season conference titles the same as it is easier to win certain titles than others. One interesting note about this methodology is that Princeton with 10 regular season Ivy League titles is awarded 50 points with this methodology while Duke with 9 30-plus win seasons is only awarded 45 points for that feat (ignoring the fact that Duke probably won the regular season conference title most of those years).

• Conference tournament title … 3
• AP first-team All-American … 3
• Losing in NCAA second round … 3

– I’m assuming that the Ivy League regular season champ automatically gets the 3 points for winning the conference tournament title since they don’t have a post-season tournament. This only further skews the points Princeton and UPenn get in this system as they receive 80 points and 96 points respectively for their Ivy League titles not to mention the 20-win seasons they racked up beating up on Cornell, Columbia, Harvard, and Brown. I’m perfectly fine with the AP 1st-team AA points as at most 5 teams a year will have a player earn that distinction. Perhaps they should have thrown in a National POY bonus as that player is the one who usually defines the season (Ralph Sampson, Christian Laettner, etc.). Likewise, I’m in agreement with the 3 points for the 2nd round NCAA tournament loss.

• Player in top 10 of NBA draft … 2
• NCAA first-round win as a 12-16 seed … 2
• NIT title … 2
• AP second-team All-American … 2

– This is where it starts to get really weird. Let’s get the reasonable things out of the way first. Top 10 pick worth 2 points? Ok. That seems fine even if the draft was dominated by high schoolers and Euros for a few years. In the future, the one-and-done rule might make this benefit the schools that are willing to take the one-and-done guys even if it does hurt their APR. That is unless those guys start going to Europe. Cinderella getting 2 points for a 1st-round upset? Fine with this too even if we will all remember the Hampton upset of Iowa State more than we will remember the annual 5-12 upsets. AP second-team AA worth 2 points? Ok with this one too even if I think once you start getting to the 2nd team the players selected start getting more dependent on the voters. I’m too lazy to check this out (perhaps rtmsf can do it), but I’d be willing to venture there is a lot more variation in the guys selected to the 2nd team by various publications/groups than there is with the 1st team. Now for the crazy one. . .Awarding 2 points for a NIT title? Maybe in the 1950s, but today winning the NIT only makes you the butt-end of every more successful team in your conference. How many message board threads have trolls made mocking the 65th (now 66th) best team in country? I’ll admit that the NIT champs would probably beat the 13-16 seeds most of the time, but is there really any pride in being the small fish (mediocre team) in the big ponds (power conference) that can beat up on the plankton (13-16 seeds)? I’d give the NIT champ 1 point overall, which leads into the next big problem. . .

• 20-29 wins in a season … 1
• NCAA tournament berth … 1
• Postseason NIT berth … 1
• AP third-team All-American … 1

– Let’s get the easy ones out of the way. No problems here with the 20-29 wins or AP 3rd team AA getting 1 point. I would probably differentiate between 20-24 wins, which is usually a solid season, and 25-29 wins, which usually will put you into consideration for a top 4 seed if you’re from a power conference. Like I said before the further down the AA list you go, the more variation you will have by publication/group, but it’s not really worth arguing about for 1 point. The thing worth arguing about is giving the same number of points for a NCAA tournament berth and a postseason NIT berth. To borrow an over-used phrase from John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious!” While I recognize that in this system the NIT team can only receive 2 points from the tournament (if they win), it is ridiculous to even consider invitations to the 2 tournament similar when the entire selection special is based on camera crews camping out in rooms with bubble teams to see if they got into the NCAA tournament. Maybe the ESPN stat whizzes have access to different camera feeds than I do, but it seems like the players, coaches, and families are happier when they get into the NCAA tournament than when they find out they are going to the NIT (even if Madison Square Garden is a slight upgrade from Boise, Idaho–unless we’re talking NBA). That’s just one man’s interpretation of the reactions I see although I could probably point out that a few years ago Georgetown declined an invitation to the NIT because they wanted to give their players more time to study for exams. . .in March. I wonder why Georgetown didn’t turn down its #2 seed this year. Do John Thompson III and the Georgetown AD not care about those same exams any more?

• NCAA first-round loss to a 12-16 seed … -2
• Losing season … -3
• Ban from NCAA tournament … -3

– No problem with the first two although I wonder if a losing season is counted against you if you have it expunged from your record and throw your long-time assistant coach under the bus? Also, I’d consider a 15-16 season a disappointment while I would consider 8-20 a complete embarrassment, so I’d probably make the less than 10-win season a significantly bigger penalty. I think the NCAA tournament ban should be a much larger penalty in this scoring system as the public (and press) reaction tends to be pretty bad (see below).

This is only a 3 point deduction per year?
This is only a 3 point deduction per year?

>> Minimum 15 seasons in Division I
** Ties are broken by overall winning percentage since the 1984-85 season

– After all the issues with the scoring system, I’m not going to complain about these minor qualifiers and tiebreakers. Both of them seem reasonable and none of the top 50 teams were tied.

Now that we’ve looked the methodology it’s time to pick apart the rankings to see what ESPN got right and what they screwed up. Duke is the run-away winner as even the most ardent Duke-hater (feel free to chime in here rtmsf) would agree that Coach K’s Blue Devils have been the most dominant program of the era even if their results have been underwhelming the past few years. The Blue Devils are followed by the Jayhawks in 2nd and the Tar Heels in 3rd. I’m not going to argue much with this although I would have UNC in 2nd just because I consider Kansas a team that historically underperforms in the tournament (Mario Chalmers’ shot and Danny and the Miracles not withstanding). Now onto the rankings I am utterly confused by.

Overated:
UNLV: 8th?!? I loved Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebs, who may have been one of the best college teams ever even if they lost/threw the 1991 national semifinal against Duke, but there is no way this has been the 8th most prestigious program in the country over the past 20+ years just like Memphis isn’t in that category. ESPN provides a pretty clear summary of why UNLV shouldn’t be in the top 10: “2 NCAA sanctions; 10 coaches since 1984-85; 0 NCAA tourney wins between 1992 and 2007″. I’d keep UNLV in the top 20, but they definitely don’t belong in the top 10 with that track record.
Xavier: The Muskeeters (at #17) have a nice Atlantic-10 program, but the fact that they have never made a Final 4 should automatically keep them out of the top 25. The Musketeers are buoyed by 21 combined conference titles, but have not really been a threat in the NCAA tournament having only racked up 15 NCAA tournament wins. Interestingly, Xavier came in 2 spots ahead of Cincinnati even though Xavier is widely considered the red-headed stepchild in the city.
Temple: I don’t mean to sound like Billy Packer ripping on the mid-majors (sorry, if you’re not a BCS conference, you’re a mid-major in my eyes), but the Owls never made the Final 4 despite five trips there under John Chaney. I think they’re a very good program, but like Xavier, Temple shouldn’t be in the Top 25 without a Final 4 appearance.
Murray State: Now this is the point where I rip the little guy. I was absolutely stunned when I saw this one. The Racers always seem to be one of those teams you see at the bottom of the bracket and maybe every once in a while you decide to take a chance on them to pull off the huge upset. Unfortunately, if you’re one of those people, you’ve only been rewarded once (1988 against 3rd-seeded NC State). The Racers piled up the points by dominating the Ohio Valley Conference racking up 22 (or 24 depending on your addition skills) conference titles and twelve 20+ win seasons (thanks to an easy conference schedule). Somehow this manages to put them above Villanova, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest.

Underrated:
Maryland: The Terps (28th) are killed by the fact that they play in the ACC and have lost out on a ton of points thanks to playing in the same conference as Duke and UNC. Although Gary Williams hasn’t had good teams the past few years, the Terps run especially in the Juan Dixon era should have been enough to propel them into the top 20. How does this program only rank 2 spots ahead of Murray State?
Utah: I don’t think the Utes would be able to move up much higher, but it would be interesting to see how high they would be on this list if they didn’t have the misfortune of playing Kentucky so many times in the 1990s. While the Utes benefited playing in a softer conference than some of their peers on the list (SEC and ACC), the Mountain West has been a fairly strong conference in recent years.
Florida: I’m not sure how much higher the Gators could move up because of their relative lack of success (not counting Lon Kruger’s 1994 Final 4 run) before Joakim Noah and company ran off back-to-back titles, but it seems like that alone should be enough to crack the top 20 especially when programs like Xavier and Temple are ranked ahead of them despite not making a single Final 4 appearance. The Gators probably belong in the top 15 although that may be more of a recency effect, but it just seems that there recent run puts them at a level that isn’t that much different than UNLV with its run with Larry Johnson.

Other points of interest:
– Coach K’s current program (Duke) ranks #1. The program he left (Army) comes in tied for 298th, or as it is more commonly referred to “DFL”. Hopefully the Duke athletic department program has a better succession plan in place than Army did when Coach K decides to leave the sidelines.
– I found this rather amusing from personal experience. Boston University comes in at 108th ahead of programs such as Clemson, Providence (with a Final 4 appearance), Washington, and USC.
– In the current SportsNation voting, Kentucky is in the lead (good work out of the Sea of Blue crowd) with Duke in 4th even though they have the most #1 votes (something tells me they were left off a lot of ballots or voted 25th). The three teams I singled out as being overrated in the top 25 were moved down quite a bit. Note: I thought they were overrated even before I saw the online voting.

No bonus points for Dream Teamers?
No bonus points for Dream Teamers?
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