CIO… the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by CNguon on February 20th, 2013

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Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

*Ed. Note: the statistics in this column were aggregated prior to Tuesday night’s St. Louis-VCU game.

Looking Back

Difference Margins in Conference Games: The offense/defense difference margins are beginning to “behave” as teams with winning records (Charlotte and Temple excepted) have positive difference margins, while teams with losing records (Dayton excepted) have negative difference margins. Temple, with a 5-5 record, has a -0.001, just two one-thousandths under “positive.” Tiers within the winning and losing groups continues to be messy, and occasionally explains why a team is succeeding or failing.

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Looking over the “standings” this week a few things jump out…

  • Fordham and Duquesne are losing contact with the rest of the conference, and that includes 3-8 Rhode Island. For the Dukes, with a new coach and a program in disarray, the trend is not surprising as wins are hard to come by. Fordham, coming into the season with senior all-conference forward Chris Gaston and a promising young backcourt, has to be a disappointment to fans and university administrators. Granted, Gaston has struggled with injuries and extended absences, but the current late season fade continues a pattern established over the last five seasons.
What's that you say? Jim Crews and Saint Louis is running away from the rest of the conference. (AP)

What’s that you say? Jim Crews and Saint Louis are running away from the rest of the conference. (AP)

  • Saint Louis appears to be running away from the rest of the league. If the Bilikens’ numbers hold up over the course of this week (they play Butler next, after eviscerating VCU last night), expect coach Jim Crews’ squad to emerge with the #1 seed going into Brooklyn and up in the NCAA field where they are currently seeded in the #9-#11 range.
  • Temple’s -0.001 efficiency margin reflects the fact that the Owls have had a series of one-point decisions (more in Temple’s team report below) against both stronger teams (Charlotte) and weaker teams (Duquesne).

Going, going… The topic touched on during virtually every Division I basketball game over the last week is “Who is in?” usually accompanied by a discussion of bubble teams – right side/wrong side, S-curves and “What happened to…”. Alhough the field is still under construction and opinions vary as to whether the Atlantic 10 will have six bids (Jerry Palm as of February 17) or four (Joe Lunardi and RTC’s own Daniel Evans), there is an emerging consensus that several preview “contenders” are in the field, somewhere on (or near) the bubble and clearly out of the conversation entirely. Some quick takes on the “bubble… sort of’s” and those who are “out”:

  • Charlotte – Jerry Palm lists the 49ers as a #11 seed and well beyond the “Last Four In” category. Daniels lists them on his bubble watch of February 18 while Lunardi remains silent. Can good conference wins versus Butler and Xavier really negate double-figure losses to Richmond, George Washington and Saint Louis? More than any A-10 team not named Temple, winning their last five games going into the conference tournament will make or break this resume. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2013

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Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic-10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Looking Back

The Conference Within a Conference - Another round of Philadelphia’s historic City Series, better known as the Big 5, was played at Saint Joseph’s Hagan Arena Saturday night. At one time every game in the round robin series was played in the Palestra, the landmark arena located on campus of the University of Pennsylvania. In true Big 5 fashion, Saint Joseph’s beat Temple by a single point, 70-69, rallying from a nine point deficit to take the lead, 68-66, on a C.J. Aiken layup with 0:25 left on the clock. A shot at the buzzer by Temple’s Khalif Wyatt clanged off the rim as the Owls fell to 3-4 in (A-10) conference play and a 2-1 tie in the Big 5. With a two games left in the series (Saint Joseph’s vs. La Salle and La Salle vs. Temple), only La Salle – should the Explorers sweep – can still win outright. The “standings”:

Team

W

L

Pct.

La Salle

2

0

1.000

Saint Joseph’s

2

1

0.667

Temple

2

1

0.667

Villanova

2

2

0.500

Pennsylvania

0

4

0.000

Efficiency Margins, Week 5 – With two-to-three more conference games on the books, the margins continue to provide insight on how the conference will evolve. With a few exceptions, teams with a winning record have positive (offensive-defensive) difference margins while teams with losing records have negative margins. “Order restored” or so it would seem. The exceptions do tend to draw our attention, however (records through Tuesday, February 5):

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  1. St. Louis’ two wins last week, the most impressive over Butler last Wednesday, helped the Billikens leapfrog both Butler and VCU (and three other teams…) to the top of the chart. The conference SOS, however, suggests the Bills have more work to do.  Butler, with the best conference record and the strongest conference SOS, is still the team to beat going into the second half of conference play.
  2. Dayton was ranked #2 on the difference margin chart last week, even though the Flyers were two games under 0.500. Their drop in the difference rankings this week, the result of another loss, suggests their difference margin will begin to dovetail with their record (rather than the record upgrading to coincide with their difference margin). The outlook for coach Archie Miller’s squad is not good.
  3. When Charlotte loses in conference, it is a rout. The 49ers’ average winning margin is 6, while their average losing margin is 24. Ouch. Coach Alan Majors’ squad has played the easiest schedule so far according to Pomeroy’s conference SOS, which suggests there are more losses ahead.

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Saint Louis Provides Blueprint For Rattling Brad Stevens and Company

Posted by dnspewak on February 1st, 2013

Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this from Chaifetz Arena following Saint Louis’ 75-58 victory over Butler.

The world’s leading scientists have two theories on Butler coach Brad Stevens. The first is simple. He is a robot. The second is a bit more complicated — that Stevens is technically a human being, but he intentionally bottles up his emotions on the sidelines and plays up his poker face to keep his basketball team under control in all situations. Not even Einstein’s quite sure how the 36-year-old coaching prodigy’s brain works, but every hypothesis concludes with the same result. Brad Stevens is a mastermind. He is a genius with an unshakeable demeanor, a fierce general who leads with his actions not his words. He never screams, never yells, never loses his cool, never argues with the officials, never lashes out at reporters and does not even offer a fist-pump when his team wins on the most improbable of buzzer-beaters. Nothing rattles Brad Stevens.

Except for the Saint Louis defense. Oh, those Billikens defenders could send General Patton running for the hills. As he watched his team turn the ball over time after time after time after time during a humbling 75-58 loss at Chaifetz Arena on Thursday night, Stevens showed his human side on more than one occasion. When Khyle Marshall threw the ball away under his own basket in the first half and gave Saint Louis two free points – one of 16 turnovers before the break – Stevens called a timeout and lit into his junior forward. Freshman Devontae Morgan was the next victim of verbal abuse after some sort of indiscretion on the defensive end. Stevens chased around official Ted Valentine at times, and in the postgame press conference, he fully admitted his ninth ranked team looked like a disaster for 40 minutes. “It was an absolute joy to watch one team play,” Stevens said. “Problem was, it wasn’t the team I was coaching.” It wasn’t as though Stevens put on a show with his antics on Thursday night. Compared to the rest of the hooligans roaming the sidelines in Division I basketball, he looked like Mother Theresa. Still, Stevens showed noticeable frustration as his team suffered through a 26-4 Billiken run in the first half. The Bulldogs had difficulty getting the ball up the court and running even a single set in the halfcourt.

SLU Players Got to Celebrate Too

SLU Players Got to Celebrate Too During the Rush The Court

It was oddly reminiscent of another vintage performance by Saint Louis back in December, when the Billikens held New Mexico to fewer points (13) in the first half than turnovers (16). They punish teams with picture-perfect help defense, and they have quick forwards who may not block a ton of shots but certainly disrupt opponents with their foot speed. Wing Dwayne Evans’ hands are all over the place. Cory Remuken is the shot-blocker and hustle player in the frontcourt. Jordair Jett is like the Tasmanian devil in the backcourt. They are fast, tough, smart and almost impossible to score against when they are at their best, but Saint Louis stepped it up a notch against the Atlantic 10 newcomers. “We’re just getting stop after stop, just converting on offense, but it started on the defensive end,” Jett said. “We’re just thinking, ‘Step on it. Make the lead bigger.’”

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Night Line: In Wake of Majerus Passing On, His Billikens Push On

Posted by BHayes on January 11th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

No team endured a more difficult first month of the season than the Saint Louis Billikens. November was a struggle on the court, as they listlessly stumbled to a 3-3 beginning. Not the opening that the preseason Atlantic 10 favorites had hoped for, but all that mattered little on December 2 when news came that former coach Rick Majerus had passed away. The controversial Majerus’ legacy is still being sorted out, but what cannot be denied is the SLU basketball revival he oversaw. More importantly, as he had done at each of his previous coaching stops, the charismatic Majerus profoundly impacted many of his players’ lives along the way. His passing left this Saint Louis basketball season at a crossroads; a disappointing year could easily head into complete freefall, or a core that Majerus brought to SLU could use their old coach’s passing as inspiration for a turnaround. Nine wins and zero losses later, it appears quite clear which direction the Billikens have chosen.

Saint Louis Is Happy To Have Kwamain Mitchell Back

Saint Louis Is Happy To Have Kwamain Mitchell Back

Majerus’ death will be a motivator for St. Louis right up until the moment their season ends, but there are practical reasons for the turnaround as well. For starters, none of the three early season losses look especially bad anymore, now that Santa Clara has surprisingly continued its winning ways (12-5 on the year) with the Broncos even giving Duke a scare at Cameron Indoor Stadium at the end of 2012. The December schedule also relented somewhat for the Billikens, as their next six games came in the friendly confines of Chaifetz Arena, and only one pitted St. Louis against a top-200 team (Valparaiso). Six straight wins had to help their confidence before the Billikens’ next real test, and SLU responded against a solid New Mexico team, delivering a resounding 60-46 New Years’ Eve victory. Also making things easier against the Lobos was the return of senior guard Kwamain Mitchell, who had made his season debut just three days earlier. Mitchell may not have been his sharpest self against New Mexico (or even tonight against UMass), but SLU head man Jim Crews has to feel better with his star player back on the floor.

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CIO…the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2013

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Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic-10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Looking Back

Another Saturday, Another Scalp: Reeling from an inexplicable 10-point loss to Canisius (72-62) on December 19, Temple bounced back with a stunning 83-79 upset of #3 Syracuse, all the more surprising given that it happened in the confines of Syracuse’s “second home”, Madison Square Garden, on December 22. The Orange, notorious for not leaving the state of New York before the start of conference play, were unable to contain Khalif Wyatt and sophomore center Anthony Lee as both scored career-high points. Wyatt, a slasher who can play either guard spot in addition to the small forward was a perfect 15-of-15 from the line on the way to scoring 33 points. Lee was manhandled by Duke’s Mason Plumlee two Saturdays before, schooled fellow Philadelphian Rakeem Christmas and his teammate James Southerland to grab nine rebounds to go with his career-high 21 points. Butler traveled to Nashville the next Saturday and housed the Commodores of Vanderbilt by 19 points, 68-49. The Bulldogs’ backcourt paced the team with 40 points (Rotnei Clarke – 22, Kellen Dunham – 12, Alex Barlow – six) while Khyle Marshall missed a double-double by a single point (nine points and 11 rebounds).

Versus Other Conferences

With nearly 98% of the non-conference schedule on the books (as of January 1), the Atlantic 10 has compiled an outstanding 64.3% winning percentage (126-70). Bettering their 2011-12 winning percentage of 62.6% (107-64), the conference posted a number of superb wins over power conference teams in the process.

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The mark is not without a few blemishes, especially with respect to the seven power conferences where the A-10’s conference-wide record declined over their mark last season. Especially disappointing was the conference mark versus the ACC (3-10, 0.231) and Big East (6-11, 0.353). While they continue to dominate against those non-power conferences with whom they share a similar profile (the CAA, Mountain West, Missouri Valley, West Coast Conference, and Western Athletic Conference), the overall record masks losing records versus the Missouri Valley Conference (3-4, 0.429) and the West Coast Conference (1-3, 0.250).

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

The teams largely wrap up non-conference play over the mid-winter break, with only a few standings-changing games on the last and this week.  Games/records are through January 2.

  1. Butler (9-2, #18 AP) – The defense of 2011-12 is starting to round into form for the Bulldogs. Coach Brad Stevens’ squad has allowed opponents on average 0.93 points per possession in the six (Division I) games since their loss to Illinois on November 21. After five starts, freshman Kellen Dunham returned to his sixth man role and appears to be thriving. If Player of the Year polling commenced today, transfer Rotnei Clarke would garner more than a few votes outside of Indianapolis, but as much as the newcomers (Clarke and Dunham) have sparked the Bulldogs, the contributions of the front court, Roosevelt Jones, Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith are key. Though not the focal point of the offense, Smith and Marshall are a devastatingly efficient combination, contributing over 1.1 points per possession on offense while hauling in over 12% of the offensive rebounds apiece when they are on the court. Butler will host Penn and New Orleans before opening conference play on the road against Saint Joseph’s (see below) on January 9. Read the rest of this entry »
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Nightmare Against St. Louis Aside, New Mexico is in Fine Position in Mountain West

Posted by dnspewak on January 2nd, 2013

Danny Spewak is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report following Saint Louis’ 60-46 victory over New Mexico at Chaifetz Arena. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak

For 20 minutes, Steve Alford watched in silence as his New Mexico team suffered through a nightmare of a first half against Saint Louis on Monday night. Sixteen turnovers. Five field goals. Thirteen points. In one series of possessions, the Lobos coughed the ball up seven times in a row. Alford could have torn off his jacket, stomped his feet, berated his players or, god forbid, thrown a chair like his mentor Bob Knight did, but he instead sat obediently on the bench and hardly made a sound. At the conclusion of the half, Alford glided slowly to the locker room with his head down. No words, no outward emotion.

It was like he was preparing for something.

Our amateur cell phone camera captured Steve Alford walking to the locker room after an ejection.

Our amateur cell phone camera captured Steve Alford walking to the locker room after an ejection.

Fast-forward to the 9:26 mark of the second half, when Alford signaled for a timeout. It was the last thing he did all night. “We came out of a timeout and the coach was gone,” SLU forward Cody Ellis said. “I don’t even know what happened.” He wasn’t the only one confused.  “I did not see a thing,” said Jim Crews, the Billikens’ interim head coach. They were too busy huddling up and discussing how to continue pulverizing 20th-ranked New Mexico en route to a 60-46 victory. On the other end of the floor, though, Alford’s calm demeanor had turned into a full-fledged temper tantrum. Immediately after the timeout, the first whistle blew. Technical number one. Seconds later, the second whistle blew. Technical number two. The official then burst his right hand into the air, clenched his fist and signaled for an ejection of Alford, leaving New Mexico in the hands of associated head coach Craig Neal. “I’ve been doing this for 22 years,” Alford said.” I’ve never seen anything like it. There’s nothing I can say. Obviously, if I say things, I get suspended, so I’m obviously not doing that.”

Then, he said things:

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CIO… the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by CNguon on December 19th, 2012

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Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Looking Back

Conference Records: Previews in September and October offered rosy predictions on the number of teams that could/would qualify for the NCAA Tournament. If the previews were too exuberant, a poorly timed loss or two has brought that pendulum back in the opposite direction… with a vengeance.  How is the conference really doing relative to last season? Compiling the games through December 17 of this and last season puts the progress in a different light.

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The conference has won 65% of its games this season, a modest increase over its 62% winning percentage at this point last season. The conference has played games with teams from 29 of the 30 other conferences and independents in Division I, even if the mix has changed. Nearly 30% of the opponents have come from power conferences, about the same as last season (28%), although the winning percentage has declined (50% down to 41%). A-10 teams are dominating the other, non-power conference opponents, winning over 75% of games from both conference with a similar profile (Conference USA, the Colonial Athletic Association, the Missouri Valley Conference, the Western Athletic Conference, the Mountain West Conference and the West Coast Conference) and those with a lower profile.

A few quick observations:

  1. A-10 teams have a winning record (5-3) against the SEC and compliments of Butler’s upset over #1 Indiana last Saturday, a 5-3 record versus the Big Ten. Three of those SEC wins came against a now-struggling Alabama team.
  2. The A-10 has cleaned the CAA’s clock for the second year running, compiling a dominant (18-1) record versus the CAA that bested even last season’s impressive 11-3 record. Although Bernadette McGlade did successfully raid the CAA for Virginia Commonwealth University, the CAA still has a recent Final Four participant (George Mason) and a relatively deep conference. Losing records versus the West Coast Conference (0-2) and the Missouri Valley Conference (2-3) balances strong records versus the CAA and Conference USA (4-0). Conference teams have two more games versus the WCC.

Crossroads at the Crosstown? When they last met in the Crosstown Classic (nee’ “Shootout”), Xavier was 8-0 and hitting on all cylinders. Cincinnati was, on the strength of a 5-2 record that included a home loss to lowly Presbyterian, searching for the chemistry to ignite their season. The 23-point Xavier thrashing of Cincinnati that culminated in a bench-clearing brawl, however, threw each program on a very different path last season. Xavier finished the year with a so-so 15-13 run while Cincy compiled a 21-8 record and earned an NCAA bid that seemed all but impossible on December 11, 2011. The court will be neutral this time (a change negotiated to insure each school had 50% of the tickets, a measure to keep the crowd “balanced”), and Cincinnati appears to have the momentum, sporting a 9-0 record to Xavier’s uncharacteristically “average” 7-2.

Officials changed the name of the Xavier-Cincinnati cross-town classic in an attempt to disassociate the game from the ugly brawl last season involving Xavier\'s Kenny Frease and others (Icon SMI)

Officials changed the name of the Xavier-Cincinnati cross-town classic in an attempt to disassociate the game from the ugly brawl last season involving Xavier’s Kenny Frease and others (Icon SMI)

There is more than one game being played on the floor of the U.S. Bank Arena, however, as the fate of the Big East looms large in the plans for both schools. Week-long rumors that the Catholic 7 intends to dissolve the conference and reconstitute a basketball-first entity (with the NCAA distributions, the exit fees and the rights to Madison Square Garden for the conference tournament as potential endowments), Cincinnati has to wonder where it will play ball (foot- and basket-) in those athletic facilities it has raised millions of dollars to renovate. Xavier on the other hand, appears to top the list of schools the Catholic 7 intends to invite into the reconstituted conference to bring the membership to 10 or 12.

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CIO… the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 28th, 2012

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic-10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Looking Back

  • The (Early Season Invitational) Returns Are In – Thirteen of the conference’s 16 teams are participating in early season invitational tournaments this season. While several tournaments continue play through this week, 11 of the higher-profile tournaments finished play over the Thanksgiving Weekend. Conference teams (see below) took a first-place, three second-places, two fourth-places and two fifth-places. Versus the field in those nine tournaments the conference posted an 18-17 (0.514) record, below their 60% winning percentage overall. Charlotte (Great Alaska Shootout), Butler (Maui Invitational), Saint Joseph’s (Coaches vs. Cancer) and Saint Louis (CBE Classic) reached their respective tournament championship games. Charlotte (see story below) swept the field in Anchorage, Alaska, to take first place and preserve their undefeated record.
  • Pride of the A-10 – Entering their last season of conference play, the Charlotte 49ers’ men’s basketball team seems at last to have caught fire, completing the first fifth of its 2012-13 schedule with a perfect 6-0 record, taking the Great Alaska Shootout title Saturday night with a win 67-59 over Northeastern of the CAA. Since moving over from C-USA, the 49ers have dominated A-10 sports, as 11 of Charlotte’s 16 sports programs have garnered a total of 30 titles — either regular season championships or conference tournament titles – in the school’s eight-year run. The move to the A-10, basketball-driven for the most part, was resisted by more than a few fans (and former men’s basketball coach Bobby Lutz), due largely to the conference’s more northern and eastern focus. That the men’s hoops program, a source of pride for the school, could only muster a mediocre 48-64 (0.429) in conference play has been a huge disappointment, taken by some as a confirmation that the move from the southern and western-centric C-USA was ill-considered. Charlotte’s 6-0 start matches the 1975-76 club’s 6-0 opening of their 24-6 campaign.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

Phil Martelli Sits Atop the Power Rankings at This Early Point of the Season

  1. Saint Joseph’s (3-1) – The Hawks easily handled a Harvard squad that earned an NCAA bid last March 75-66, before breaking for the Thanksgiving Weekend. Junior forward Ronald Roberts was named the Player of the Week for the A-10 Conference for his work at the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament over the November 17 weekend. The six man nucleus — Carl Jones, Langston Galloway, Chris Wilson, Ron Roberts, Halil Kanacevic and C. J. Aiken – has done a tremendous job sharing the touches and scoring so far. The squad goes back into action Wednesday when they host American. The Creighton game Saturday should be a featured game next weekend.
  2. Temple (3-0)Scootie Randall continued his comeback by playing 38 minutes as the Owls downed Delaware Saturday 80-75. Randall and backcourt mate Khalif Wyatt chipped in 18 points apiece (45% of the Owl’s total point production), notching an efficient 51% eFG%. Better yet, the two combined for 10 assists to five turnovers, as they helped each other and their front court teammates. Fans who held their breath last season as then-freshman center Anthony Lee stepped in for then injured senior Michael Eric are seeing the benefits now. The sophomore has become a rebounding workhorse, grabbing an astonishing one in three of the opponent misses while he is on the court. Fifth year senior Jake O’Brien has garnered impressive numbers on the Owls’ offensive boards. The next two games, versus Buffalo (Wednesday) and Wagner (Saturday) should bump the win total to five. Read the rest of this entry »
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ATB: Bruins Fall in Brooklyn, Chaminade Beats Rick Barnes Again, and Indiana Finds Other Scoring Options…

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 20th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC National Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. Shabazz Muhammad Gets A Harsh Welcome. In light of Friday night’s 11th hour news of freshman super-prospect Shabazz Muhammad’s reinstatement, an immediate upward revision of UCLA’s season expectations was very much in order. After all, Muhammad is, depending on your source, arguably the top freshman in the country, and a huge difference-maker for the Bruins’ chances of a major rebound to the upper echelon of the Pac-12 after several uncharacteristically down seasons. We got our first look at the Bishop Gorman product tonight, and the results were mostly what you’d expect from a guy getting his first taste of major college hoops. The potential was readily there — Muhammad scored 15 points in 25 minutes; the polish – that’ll come in time, with more game action and meaningful repetitions. The larger takeaway from Monday night wasn’t Muhammad’s debut. It was Muhammad’s team, and the way it dropped the ball in its first showcase game of the season. How did the Bruins, No. 1 recruiting class in tow, get worked at the Barclays Center? We shall explore…

Your Watercooler Moment. UCLA Not A Finished Product.

The debut of the No. 1-ranked recruit in the country, Muhammad, was overshadowed my Georgetown’s offensive execution (Photo credit: Getty Images).

The obligatory modifier for college hoops teams at this time of the year is one you’ve heard time and again: it’s still early. Teams need time to develop, to guess at different schematic adjustments and lineups, to grow comfortable in their respective offensive and defensive systems. This logic applies for most every team, but most of all for young and inexperienced ones. Which brings us to UCLA, and the Bruins somewhat surprising loss to Georgetown. The Hoyas spoiled Shabazz Muhammad’s debut by shooting over 50 percent from the field, getting 23 points from junior Markel Starks and unleashing sophomore Otto Porter from relative medical obscurity to great effect (18 points, 11 rebounds). UCLA looked disengaged and unorganized defensively. The Bruins didn’t click on the other end of the floor. Muhammad’s debut brought the mostly expected reality that this year’s No. 1 recruit is not – despite what this UCLA fan’s widly popular t-shirt solidarity might have you believe – a LeBron James-type basketball destroyer of worlds. If this was the Pac-12 championship game, or an NCAA Tournament contest, all measures of criticism and conclusion-drawing would be fair game. In this instance, UCLA’s first real run with a new roster against quality competition, chalk it up as a learning experience. UCLA will tighten things up defensively – Ben Howland’s coaching track record is a documental embodiment of defensive improvement. And Muhammad will learn how to play with rising star Jordan Adams. Missing out on a potential Final matchup with No. 1 Indiana isn’t the outcome Howland had in mind. It’s also not a doomsday scenario. Not in the least.

Also Worth Chatting About. Buzzer-Beating Madness in Maui. It didn’t take long for college hoops to provide us the first truly memorable slice of buzzer-beating hysteria. This one came courtesy of Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke, whose uncharacteristically poor shooting streak (he finished 7-of-21 and 4-of-14 from three) did a complete 180 when Butler needed it most. Butler trailed Marquette by two with eight seconds remaining in regulation when Clarke received the inbound pass, drove the length of the floor and netted a one-handed off-balance leaner – after which his teammates, expectedly, piled on to celebrate. The dismissal of Chrishawn Hopkins late this offseason left Butler with a dearth of perimeter scoring. It made Clarke’s transfer even more crucial. He may not own Hopkins’ ability to create and score off the bounce. What he does have is a lethal three-point stroke, and apparently one that glosses over whatever struggles felled him the previous 40 minutes.

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Morning Five: 09.07.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 7th, 2012

  1. Thursday’s buzz revolved around two head coaches who are no strangers to controversy — let’s start with the much more successful of the two, Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun. In a piece provided to SI.com by Mark Blaudschun about the venerable head coach, Calhoun said that he plans on making a decision whether he will return for his 27th season in Storrs in the next couple of weeks. And according to the author describing his body language in the interview, Calhoun may be leaning toward hanging up his whistle. We plan on looking deeper into Calhoun’s legacy a bit later today, but our stance on his retirement has always been one of ‘we’ll believe it when we see it.’ Of course, his team in 2012-13 is shut out of both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments (although the school is still lobbying for inclusion in the conference tourney), so the motivation that he had which caused him to come back last season might be missing this time around.
  2. The other head coach (for now) who has been in the news cycle all week long is Texas Tech’s Billy Gillispie. After six days holing up in a Lubbock hospital as he dealt with stress-related health issues, the much-maligned head coach was released on Thursday afternoon and presumably headed home. We actually don’t have a very good feeling about all of this, but we’d expect that the university will be speaking with him as soon as possible and will announce its position regarding his term of employment very quickly. Regardless of what happens with respect to Gillispie, the reeling program received more bad news this week when it learned that transfer forward Aaron Ross has torn his ACL and will miss the upcoming season. Too soon to joke that Gillispie will have him running stairs tomorrow?
  3. After two years of domino-tipping, could conference realignment be reaching a sort of stasis? The reason we say this is because the Big 12 is reportedly set to announce a new monstrosity of a $2.6 billion television contract with ABC/ESPN and Fox that will cover the next 13 years of broadcasts. So what, right? The difference is that this deal — similar in scope to the Big Ten and Pac-12 contracts  — in that each member institution must sign over its “grant of rights,” which is essentially a legal term that gives the conference ownership over each school’s media properties. So if, say, Texas or Oklahoma were to go sniffing around for a better deal elsewhere in the next 13 years, their media revenue in the new league would stay with the Big 12. This extreme disincentive to give away one’s media rights should all but ensure that those three stalwart leagues keep their members from jumping ship. Given that the Big 12 in particular has already been very close to disintegration, their newfound steadying influence in the nation’s mid-section may ultimately put an end to some of the craziness of the last couple of years.
  4. Remember that Rick Pitino guy? The Louisville head coach must have enjoyed his 2012 Final Four team so much that it left him (mostly) speechless over the summer. We’ve gotten used to the guy making news pretty much year-round, but there’s been nary a peep out of him lately. Yesterday he made the national news circuit with his comments to WDRB.com that, in light of the fact he has a veteran team with national championship aspirations returning, he wants his players to avoid playing pick-up basketball and only spend 45 minutes per day working on their games. If you read the article, Pitino goes into a long-winded explanation about how he implements his system as a whole versus its parts, but what’s unsaid here is that his teams over the last several years have been often walking M*A*S*H units. The message between the lines here is that Pitino wants his players to be fresh and healthy for the 2012-13 season, with the knowledge that if his group can remain that way into March, the Cardinals will have a great chance at cutting the nets down in Atlanta. This is actually a solid strategy, even if Pitino has trouble coming right out and stating it that way.
  5. While on the subject of Louisville, Lindy’s has released its preseason Top 10 and the anti-pick-up Cards sit at the top of the heap. Indiana, the other team that will probably share with UL the top spot in many polls, came in at #2. The surprise pick was at #3, with John Beilein’s Michigan Wolverines getting the nod, but we have to ask the question whether the choice of St. Louis at #9 was made before or after the news of Rick Majerus’ layoff. No disrespect to interim head coach Jim Crews, but that’s a lot to ask from a guy who has never so much as sniffed the Top 25, much less the rarefied air of the Top 10.
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Morning Five: 08.27.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 27th, 2012

  1. Worrisome news was released on Friday from Saint Louis University when the school announced that its head coach, Rick Majerus, will be taking a medically-related leave of absence next season, leaving top assistant coach Jim Crews in charge. According to SLU, Majerus is currently hospitalized in California “undergoing evaluation and treatment for an ongoing heart condition.” As we wrote after the news was released, this is the sort of thing that could mark  a turning point in the longtime head coach’s professional career. Majerus is well-known as a guy whom you can only keep out of the gym by padlocking its doors, so it’s no joke that he’s choosing to give up the thing he loves most in order to take care of his health. We wish him nothing but the best on this latest twist in his journey, and certainly hope that even if he never coaches another minute of college basketball, he has a number of productive and fulfilling years still ahead of him. As for his Billiken program, with the core of a Round of 32 team returning to St. Louis, Andy Glockner writes that Crews will inherit a squad with both significant expectations and the added specter of Majerus’ health hanging over the team. Crews had some success at Evansville a decade or more ago, but there is reason to question whether he’s up to the task of running what is undoubtedly a team with Top 25 talent.
  2. The other big news on Friday was the announcement from Marquette that assistant coach Scott Monarch had been dismissed and that head coach Buzz Williams will suffer a self-imposed one-game suspension for what are admittedly rather mild recruiting transgressions — Monarch gave team gear and transportation to an unnamed recruit. To be clear, there is no evidence that Williams himself knew about the illegal recruiting benefits — his suspension derives from the coach’s duty to monitor staff compliance. According to the Marquette athletic director, Larry Williams, Monarch’s mistakes became compounded when he allegedly lied about them during the school’s internal investigation — had he been truthful from the beginning, he’d probably still be employed at MU today. This shows once again that the old adage is almost always true — the cover-up is more damaging than the underlying crime. Maybe someday someone will actually find themselves in such a situation and take this sage advice — it might end up saving his job.
  3. In recent days, the conviction of Oklahoma State forward Darrell Williams for allegedly sexually assaulting two female students at a party in December two years ago has come under fire by some in the non-sports national media. In the especially tense arena of national racial politics, a case like Williams’ where a black man was accused of heinous felonies by two white women and convicted by a nearly all-white jury is bound to raise some eyebrows. On Friday, an Oklahoma judge delayed Williams’ sentencing hearing on those convictions, citing a defense motion that new and possibly exculpatory evidence has been found that could force the judge to throw out the convictions and order a new trial. There’s no way of knowing whether the claim of new evidence has any merit, but with Jesse Jackson, Jr., in town and many commentators outside the sporting realm taking a curious interest in this case, it will be very interesting to watch how this unfolds.
  4. The NCAA made its ruling on former Connecticut and current UNLV forward Roscoe Smith‘s transfer waiver request on Friday, and the decision to deny the waiver — meaning Smith will become eligible in 2013-14 — could be a blessing in disguise for both the Runnin’ Rebels and Smith himself. UNLV already boasts a loaded lineup next season and the 6’8″ big man, who has two years of eligibility remaining, would be well  situated to slide into a starting spot in the frontcourt most likely vacated after Mike Moser’s presumptive last season as a collegian. Smith, as you recall, was a frequent starter on the 2011 UConn championship team (averaging 6/5 in 25 MPG), but like many of his Husky teammates, backslid a bit in his sophomore season (5/3 in 18 MPG). Still, there’s no questioning his talent when bought in and completely focused, so Dave Rice’s team will look forward to Smith’s leadership and skill in what they hope are the immediate years following UNLV’s first Final Four run in two decades.
  5. UNLV’s Smith may not see the court for another year, but another offseason transfer, Memphis’ Charles Carmouche, has enrolled at LSU and will join the Tigers for his senior year next season. This is actually Carmouche’s third transfer — the wiry guard from New Orleans began his career at hometown University of New Orleans, but decided to transfer upriver to Memphis when it appeared that UNO would downgrade from Division I athletics. After a solid junior season at UM in 2010-11, though, Carmouche’s senior season was derailed because of problems with his knees. Still, despite receiving medical clearance in January, he chose to not suit up again, and after graduating he was then free to use the grad-transfer loophole to go anywhere who would take him. Enter LSU, where new head coach Johnny Jones will welcome the scoring punch that Carmouche brings to Baton Rouge. It’s been a wild and woolly ride for Carmouche over the past four years, but we’re guessing that he’ll need to make the most of this final season, as his eligibility is unlikely to extend to yet another transfer destination.
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Rick Majerus Takes A Leave Of Absence From Saint Louis

Posted by nvr1983 on August 24th, 2012

With a potential top 25 team next season thing were looking bright at Saint Louis, but those aspirations took a hit today when the school announced that head coach Rick Majerus would miss the upcoming season while dealing with health-related issues. Majerus, who has a 517-215 record, is probably best known for his time at Utah where he led the Utes to Elite Eight and National Championship Game in consecutive seasons. He has also battled health issues for years with the most notable and public events being related to his heart dating back to a coronary artery bypass graft (open-heart surgery) in 1989 and most recently missing some time early last season after undergoing another cardiac procedure. At the present time, Majerus is “in a California hospital undergoing evaluation and treatment for an ongoing heart condition” according to Director of Athletics Chris May.

We Hope This Is Not The Last Time We See Majerus On A Sideline

For the time being this leave of absence is being listed as temporary by the school with Jim Crews acting as the interim head coach for the 2012-13 season. Crews has compiled a 354-348 record as a head coach at Evansville and Army before joining the Billikens’ staff prior to the start of last season. We hope that this is not the last that we have seen of Majerus on the sideline, but given his mounting health concerns it is a very real possibility that we may not see one of the most iconic coaches in college basketball on a sideline again.

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