Morning Five: 08.22.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 22nd, 2011

  1. The best Team USA can now finish at the World University Games in Shenzhen, China, is fifth place after a close weekend loss to Lithuania, 76-74, in the tournament quarterfinals.  We mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the Americans would have to produce from outside, given their lack of relative size on the interior, and through the round-robin, that’s exactly what they did (41.7% from the three-point line coming into the quarterfinals).  In the loss against Lithuania, though, Team USA combined to shoot an icy 5-30 from three (0-14 in the second half), and missed all five of its shots down the stretch of a tight game to ensure the loss.  The team recovered to handily beat Romania, 94-73, on Sunday, and will play Germany today for the right to claim fifth place this year in the WUG.  Without question, finishing fifth or sixth represents another disappointing finish for the Americans.  After winning six tournaments in a row from 1989-99, the squad has only won gold once more since then (2005).
  2. On Friday afternoon, Connecticut announced that its embattled athletic director, Jeff Hathaway, also the current chair of the 2011-12 NCAA D-I Men’s Basketball Committee, has retired.  As part of his separation agreement, he received a rather lucrative buyout of his contract that will pay him as much as $700,000 next year.  An early report suggested that Hathaway was presented with an all-or-nothing deal in that he would have been fired had he not accepted the terms of this buyout, but both he and UConn have since denied this claim.  Despite the unprecedented success of Husky sports since 2003 on his watch, particularly the men’s and women’s basketball programs but also including the football program, Hathaway has been under fire as a result of his management style, poor fundraising, and a chilly relationship with head coach Jim Calhoun.  UConn has named Paul Pendergast as the interim AD but is expected to perform a national search to find his successor in Storrs.  How this will impact his chairmanship is anyone’s guess, but the NCAA released a statement over the weekend that they would work with Hathaway to “determine the best approach regarding the balance of his term,” whatever that means.  For much more detailed coverage of this situation, we suggest you read this article by Jeff Jacobs in the Hartford Courant — he pretty much gets to the bottom of everything.
  3. By now, everyone has seen the wild and violent scene that unfolded in Beijing last week involving the Georgetown basketball team while on its overseas tour of China.  Hoya head coach John Thompson, III, said over the weekend that he met with the Chinese team’s coach and a few of its players on Friday to smooth things over, and that he felt that the melee did not have any particular political undertones.  A few commentators last week argued differently, as in this Fox News piece suggesting that the Bayi Rockets’ aggression represents a newfound China, one that is aggressively flexing its geopolitical clout by disavowing its previous “fighting without fighting” mantra.  Others were less political in their analysis, suggesting that the brawl was a result of game-long chippiness and nothing more, but the very best take coming out of all of this was from Sean Pendergast at the Houston Press, who hilariously wrote that the mythology of Hoya Paranoia abruptly ended during the brawl last week: “If this game took place in 1985, there would have been 15 bloody, mangled Chinese basketball players scattered unconscious on the floor with Patrick Ewing, Reggie Williams, David Wingate and Michael Graham all standing over them with their hands raised amidst a shower of jettisoned half full beers and sodas and debris.”  Priceless.
  4. Saint Mary’s rewarded its longtime head coach Randy Bennett with a 10-year deal to keep him in Moraga challenging for WCC championships with BYU and Gonzaga for years to come.  Prior to Bennett’s arrival in 2001, the school had won only 10 games in the previous two seasons and had only reached the NCAA Tournament three times in its history.  Bennett has rebuilt the program to the point where the Gaels have reached three more NCAAs during his tenure, including a run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2010, and have averaged 26.3 wins over the last four seasons.  A native of the west coast, his name regularly comes up when Pac-12 schools have job openings but so far the tiny Catholic school in the East Bay hills has been able to hang onto him.  This deal (and presumably a hefty buyout) will make it even more difficult when major conference schools come poaching (and they will).
  5. It’s been over a year since the Wizard of Westwood passed away, but for at least one man, John Wooden’s longtime caretaker Tony Spiro, the hollow feeling inside has not yet subsided.  Spiro looked after Wooden in a progressively greater capacity for nearly half of the 61-year old’s life, and it’s inarguable when you read this piece by the LA Times‘ TJ Simers that the man some 40 years Wooden’s junior eventually grew to became his best friend.  It’s a fascinating read, and one that reminds us all just how important it is to have people who care about you around in your later years — the heartbreak and loneliness of aging and dying alone is something that even one of the greatest coaches in all of sports may have suffered had it not been for the charity and good heart of Spiro.
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Dick Vitale Goes Off On The Dan LeBatard Show

Posted by nvr1983 on August 19th, 2011

Yesterday, Dick Vitale went on The Dan LeBatard Show to discuss the scandal at Miami and the implications it could have on college sports. After LeBatard started off the interview with a few fairly benign questions about the Miami scandal, to which Vitale gave the expected media-speak answers (other than his assertion that Donna Shalala must step down as president of the University of Miami), LeBatard asked him about John Calipari and the scandals that have followed him at Massachusetts and Memphis. Vitale brushed it aside, saying that the NCAA has never implicated Calipari. LeBatard’s co-host Jon Weiner (aka Stugotz) then chimed in with the statement/question: “Best guess, Dick. Best guess. I know you are friends with him, but best guess. John Calipari has cheated at some point in his life.” Vitale responded first with silence, then said “Alright, let’s go to the next point.” After some discussion where LeBatard cleared up the fact that it was his co-host who had asked the question, Vitale suggests that there should be laws against boosters like Nevin Shapiro.

When Vitale went on to state that none of the major coaches he knows would have tolerated what happened at Miami (citing Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, and Bob Knight as examples), Stugotz suggests that every coach or program has committed at least one NCAA infraction even if only unknowingly. After Vitale got upset at him and brought up the prostitutes, Stugotz clarified by saying that he never implied that other programs were using prostitutes or doing things as big as Miami is accused of doing. Despite this clarification, Vitale becomes increasingly infuriated at the radio hosts and hangs up. Partial clip below:

While Kentucky fans are widely applauding Vitale for defending Calipari, it seems more like Vitale is on a crusade to defend college basketball, or college sports as a whole, instead of a single coach or program. Although Stugotz’s initial question/statement about Calipari was indelicate, his follow-up questions about programs unknowingly violating rules are valid ones. Unfortunately, it seems that Vitale was so incensed by the earlier question or the storm surrounding the NCAA right now that he was unwilling to hear it. Perhaps if Vitale had stayed on the phone long enough to engage in a reasonable conversation, they could have discussed Krzyzewski’s “controversial” phone call to Alex Poythress or Sam Gilbert’s association with John Wooden‘s UCLA dynasty (OK, maybe that would have set him off). In any event, although many college basketball fans (particularly Kentucky fans) will support Vitale in this case, he does come off as petulant and condescending here.

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Around The Blogosphere: June 7, 2011

Posted by nvr1983 on June 7th, 2011

If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com. We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.

General News

  • Big Ten tournament to rotate between Chicago, Indianapolis: “When Indianapolis’ five-year contract as the host of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament expires in 2012, the event will begin rotating between the United Center in Chicago and Conseco Fieldhouse.” (Inside the Hall)
  • Pat Chambers: From Wildcat to Lion: The former Boston University coach and Villanova assistant takes over at Penn State. (VU Hoops)
  • Dre Winston Jr. Transferring From WSU, Ken Bone Searching For Backup Point Guard Tree: The rising sophomore guard has decided to transfer. (Coug Center)

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Morning Five: 06.06.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on June 6th, 2011

  1. The weekend started off with Penn State finding themselves a basketball coach. Pat Chambers will leave Boston University to take over the Nittany Lions, with Penn State AD Tim Curley announcing that Chambers brings “proven success, an appreciation of and commitment to Penn State ideals, and the energy and enthusiasm required to compete at the highest level” to the table. The third of those is true. We’ll take his word on the second. But the first? “Proven success?” We suppose it’s technically true, since in his two seasons as a head coach at BU, Chambers posted a 42-28 record and took the Terriers to two postseasons (CBI in 2010, NCAA in 2011). It’s just strange hearing someone at Penn State described as having “proven success” after two seasons as a head coach, considering the old guy who’s currently got his feet propped up over in the football coach’s office.
  2. What’s this? Bill Self in a shiny silk green shirt and a gold chain? His wife in a rainbow dress and go-go boots? Fear not, Jayhawks, your coach and his wife haven’t lost their minds nor their fashion sense. The occasion for such sartorial splendor was Bill’s Basketball Boogie, a charity event co-chaired by Mrs. Self that offers attendees the chance to break out their disco-era garb. Sounds like it was hoppin’, with around 700 guests, but the one who stood out the most was not in costume at all. Rather, he donned his customary shirt-and-tie, just like he did on his recruiting visit (this is rare) to Kansas. Naadir Tharpe sounds like one of those kids for whom it’s easy to root.
  3. Can you believe it’s been nearly 25 years since Indiana won its last national title? Upon his arrival in Bloomington, Tom Crean was handed the keys to a Hindenberg-esque pile of wreckage and was asked to make it fly again. If you’re around the guy for even a few seconds, you can tell how much he cares about his players as individuals and about reviving the winning tradition at IU. And with a nice little recruiting class coming in, maybe this is the year that things start to turn for the Hoosiers. If it doesn’t, we’ll bet that Crean’s/IU’s detractors and rivals will throughout the year be repeating a quote that operates as part of the headline to this story from a Louisville television station: “All that’s left is the winning.”
  4. As the basketball world knows, Shaquille O’Neal formally retired from hoops on Friday with a legacy as one of the greatest big men to ever play the game.  We’ve been on record as saying we’ve never before or since seen a combined package of power, agility and athleticism as canned in one player at 17 years old as we did in 1989 when Shaq hit the LSU campus.  This piece from the Monroe (LA) News-Star gave a brief glimpse into the player Shaq was to become at the LSU media days event when O’Neal was still an unknown freshman — some 22 years later, we can’ t say that we’re surprised that Shaq was already commanding the center of attention.
  5. It’s been one year since the great John Wooden passed, and as Victoria Sun writes in this piece, UCLA’s Black Alumni Association hosted a private fundraiser on Saturday to commemorate the Wizard’s progressive view on race relations.  Even at this point, we’re still learning about the greatness of this man’s life.  It turns out that in 1946, nearly two decades before the national civil rights movement resulted in the banishment of Jim Crow, Wooden stood up for one of his players — a black player — named Clarence Jackson whom NAIA officials would not let play in their national tournament in Kansas City.  He was a bench player — not a star by any stretch — and yet Wooden, cognizant of the injustice of such racism decades before most of his peers, pulled his team from the tournament.  This may just seem trite to some of our readers too young to know the difference, but let’s be explicit about this — as hard as it was to take a stand like this in the mid-60s at the height of the civil rights movement, it was nearly unheard of in the 1940s.  Most people simply didn’t think that way at that time, and the fact that Wooden not only sensed the unfairness but did something about it speaks volumes about the character of this man.  A national treasure, he.
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Where Does Jim Calhoun Rank Historically?

Posted by nvr1983 on April 7th, 2011

We realize that Jim Calhoun hasn’t decided to retire yet and there is still a pretty good chance that he will come back for at least one more season given his frequently stated desire to always look for a fight. Still we think that it is reasonable to suggest that even if he doesn’t retire during this off-season he will be retiring in the near future given his age (he will turn 69 in May) and well-documented medical history. So we ask the question that has been on the minds of many journalists during the past few days: where does he rank historically?

Calhoun already has quite a legacy

By almost any measure (ignoring the opinions of some rival fans) Calhoun would be considered a top 10 coach all-time putting him into a category that includes such luminaries as John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, Bob Knight, Phog Allen, and others. That much is obvious, but once you get into that group the measures used to differentiate those coaches gets more subtle. Certainly a coach would need to have longevity and a consistent record of putting winning teams on the floor, which could be measured by the career wins. A good bar to set there would probably be 600 wins. If you want to argue for a higher standard be careful because the legendary John Wooden “only” had 664 career wins, a number that many current number-crunching analysts would deem paltry compared to others in this group. Winning championships is certainly important, but as this season clearly demonstrated it doesn’t necessarily reflect having the best team, which Northern Arizona coach Mike Adrus indicated with his vote in the final coaches’ poll. Still at some point that is what the sport boils down to. When we look back at this season we will remember UConn’s tournament run more than Pittsburgh‘s excellent regular season. Setting the bar at 2 NCAA titles narrows the group down to 13, but includes individuals like Billy Donovan, who picked up his championships in back-to-back years, and would have a hard time making a list of top 10 active coaches much less top 10 all-time. It also leaves much to be desired when you consider that highly successful coaches like Jim Boeheim and John Thompson only have one championship each despite having a much bigger historical impact on college basketball than Donovan (at least to this point). The next factor would probably be a coach’s impact on the program and the game, which is a more nebulous concept and consequently impossible  to quantify. Still all other things being equal you would probably have to give the nod to someone who turned a program from an also-ran into a national power over someone who took over at a traditional power and continued to win even if that coach did bring the program up a notch or two. Others have undertaken the endeavor of trying  to rank coaches in order with The Sporting News being the most notable among them, but that isn’t our objective (at least not for today). Instead we will focus on Calhoun, his legacy, and his place in the history of the game.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.03.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 3rd, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

Connecticut

  • Kemba Walker finally admitted what most onlookers believed: he’s getting tired. While his supporting cast has stepped up, he’ll need to reach back for just a little more on Monday.
  • Elite company awaits Jim Calhoun if the Huskies beat Butler. With one more win, Calhoun would become just the fifth coach in NCAA Tournament history to win three titles. The others are John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight and Adolph Rupp.
  • Shabazz Napier cooly made the decisive free throws to put Connecticut up four with two seconds to go. As a freshman at the Final Four, it takes a lot of guts to succeed in a pressure situation like that.
  • UConn’s freshmen starred alongside Kemba Walker, but senior big man Charles Okwandu has fought perhaps harder than anyone in the Huskies locker room for his spot on the team.
  • The news of Nate Miles‘ willingness to speak with the NCAA about his recruitment comes at an inconvenient time for UConn, and at least one columnist believes the gesture is reprehensible and that any new information revealed will be tough to vet.
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If UConn Wins The Title Will Jim Calhoun Retire?

Posted by nvr1983 on April 1st, 2011

As he nears the conclusion of his 39th consecutive year as a coach at the Division 1 level and 25th at UConn a single question looms above Jim Calhoun and the program that he helped build: What will he do?. After sanctions were handed out against against UConn and Jim Calhoun a month ago stemming from the Nate Miles fiasco there was quite a bit of speculation that Calhoun’s days in Storrs might be coming to an end particularly given his numerous health issues over the past few years. Less than a month later UConn’s surprising run through the Big East Tournament and now the NCAA Tournament has shifted the focus and now instead of calling for Calhoun to step down the media has been heaping praise upon Calhoun calling this year the most impressive coaching job of his career. With his Huskies sitting just two games away from Calhoun’s third national title, which would tie him with Bob Knight in fourth place for most NCAA championships for a coach, the question has become whether this would be the ideal time for Calhoun to retire when he is at the pinnacle of the sport.

Calhoun has a lot to think about

 

Having coached at the college level since 1972 when he first arrived at Northeastern Calhoun has compiled an exemplary resume only finishing below .500 on four occassions with the last occurring during his first season at UConn (1986-87). Since that time Calhoun has only failed to guide his team to the post-season once (in the 2006-07 season when the Huskies finished a disappointing 17-14), but that doesn’t mean his career has not been through its share of ups-and-downs. One of Calhoun’s defining characteristics has been his resiliency as demonstrated by the fact that he rebounded from a first round exit in the NIT in 1993 to make 3 straight Sweet 16s or another NIT bid in 1997 to make an Elite 8 the following season before winning his first NCAA championship the following season with a histroically underated team led by Richard Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin.

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Morning Five: 03.16.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 16th, 2011

  1. Every year there are a few lucky individuals who beat the odds and end up on top of national pools through a variety of reliable methods (based on team color, mascots, or personal allegiance) for picking their bracket. Other individuals get their brackets analyzed just because of who they are. Two individuals who fall in that latter category are LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Barack Obama. While James and Wade announced their brackets already (picking Ohio State and Marquette, respectively), President Obama will reveal his on the noon edition of SportsCenter today although it has already been revealed that he has gone with chalk again selecting all four #1 seeds to make it to Houston.
  2. If you are looking for a more intellectual way of filling out your bracket we highly suggest that you check out the latest from Luke Winn who goes through each region looking at the offensive and defensive efficiency stats for the top four seeds in each region with a particular focus on the top seed in each region.
  3. For nearly every event there is an individual who spends most of their time ripping apart the way things are because they prefer the way things were. Despite being one of the most beloved events in American sports the NCAA Tournament is not immune to this phenomenon as Michael Wilbon uses his new platform on ESPN.com to take plenty of shots at the NCAA and college basketball in general. Wilbon actually used the same exact argument(s) on both PTI and The Tony Kornheiser Showso much so that it feels like certain passages are lifted directly from one of those appearances. Or is it the other way around? While Wilbon makes a few valid points (who wouldn’t love to have had John Wall or Blake Griffinhang around for all four years?) he lacks any reasonable arguments for how to turn things “back to the way they were” without infringing on the liberties of the individual players that he defends so vigorously on-air. What drives us even more crazy is the argument by Jay Bilas that so many 11+ loss teams making the field is clear evidence that this is the weakest field ever. It seems pretty clear to us that Bilas hasn’t been spending much time in court (and if he has his clients probably haven’t been winning much) as that argument would fall apart in any Logic 101 class. Let’s just move on…
  4. Most of the news in the past few days has been about the NCAA Tournament and coaching firings, but we also expect to see quite a few fairly big names transfer schools. These are often hyped recruits who failed to live up to expectations and are looking for a fresh start. In other cases it is a player who performed well at a smaller school and is looking to try his talents at a higher level of college basketball. Sam Maniscalco appears to fall into the latter category. Although he will graduate from Bradley in May, the 6′ guard, who averaged 13.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game last season still has another year of eligibility left. Following the firing of coach Jim Les10 days earlier, Maniscalco opted to transfer to Illinois although he refused to explicitly state that as the reason. Maniscalco’s toughness and experience could be a big boon for Bruce Weber, who will enter next season without an experienced point guard following the graduation of the enigmatic Demetri McCamey. Maniscalco is expected to be eligible to play for the Illini next season because he will be transferring into a master’s program at Illinois.
  5. For those of you who have a few extra dollars, you may want to keep your eyes out for an upcoming auction that will feature the original round center section of Pauley Pavilionthat was used between 1965 and 1982. During that period UCLA won 8 men’s national championships. The section is currently owned by a UCLA alum and was signed in 1998 by John WoodenKareem Abdul-Jabbar Lew Alcindor, Bill Walton, Sidney WicksWalt Hazzard, and many other UCLA legends. The auction is expected to run between April 15th and 30th (likely found on the company’s website at that time) with the majority of the proceeds going towards medical research.
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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 3rd, 2011

 

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

A Look Back

A week ago, the conference was all but won. Arizona had a two game lead, and even with a Los Angeles road trip looming, it looked like it would take a complete collapse for the Wildcats to lose their grip on the Pac-10. But a week later, USC is riding a four-game winning streak, UCLA has won eight of its last nine, Arizona has dropped two in a row and now we’re left with the Wildcats and the Bruins tied atop the conference. And yet, this is still the Wildcats’ conference to lose. While UCLA heads north to visit the Washington schools this week, Arizona heads back home to host the Oregon schools. If the ‘Cats can take care of business in the McKale Center, UCLA would need to complete a road sweep of the Huskies and Cougars in order to seal the tie at the top of the conference. More importantly, with Selection Sunday just a week and a half away, both UCLA and Arizona have basically sewn up at-large bids, but Washington, once considered the obvious favorite in the Pac-10 and a shoo-in for NCAA inclusion, has put its NCAA at-large candidacy back in question. A closer look at their resume reveals only a home win over Arizona and a road win over UCLA as wins to hang their hat on, with their win over Long Beach State their only other win over likely participants in the NCAA Tournament. While the bubble at the back of the line is probably soft enough for the Huskies to still get in, they surely want to wrap up the season in style with wins over UCLA and USC in order to ease their worried minds.

  • Team of the Week: UCLA – Back from the dead, the Bruins now sit back where Westwood expects them to sit: atop the Pac-10 standings. After last year’s disastrous 14-18 season, the Bruins worst season since Ben Howland’s first year of rebuilding after the Steve Lavin era ended in ruins, after a frightening home loss to Montana to cap a four-game losing streak back in December, after the fourth consecutive loss to cross-town rival USC in their first meeting this season, the Bruins being tied atop the Pac-10 in March seemed exceedingly unlikely. And while this Bruin team looked decidedly ordinary over the course of the Pac-10 schedule, all of a sudden they are playing their best ball of the year. Without a doubt, the Bruins’ 22-point thrashing of Arizona in the final game at Pauley Pavilion before it begins renovations, a game in which John Wooden’s great-grandson, Tyler Trapani, scored the final basket ever recorded in the building’s grand history, was the best Bruin performance in the past two seasons. While they still have a lot to prove in the coming days and weeks, the fact that this team is beginning to gel just as the calendar turns to the most important month in the sport is of great comfort to Bruin fans.
  • Player of the Week: Nikola Vucevic, Junior, USC – In the story of the Trojans’ sudden rebirth, Vucevic is the leading man. While the junior from Montenegro has been very good all season long, averaging 17.5 PPG and 10.3 RPG, over the Trojans four-game winning streak he has been nothing short of excellent. In that span he has averaged 21.3 points and 11.5 rebounds, has knocked down eight of his twelve attempts from beyond the arc and has scored over 30% of USC’s points. If Vucevic can keep his Trojans on their winning ways in Washington this weekend, USC may be just good enough to sneak back into bubble conversations in advance of the Pac-10 Tournament.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California – Well, I think he’s back. After sparkling through much of the first 11 games in the conference season, Crabbe’s excellent rookie campaign hit a major speed bump when he suffered a concussion against Washington on February 10. He missed the rest of that game, two more games and was clearly not back to full strength when he did return against UCLA, but this week he proved that he is ready to go forward at full strength. This week he scored 45 points, knocked down ten of his 16 three-point attempts and grabbed eight rebounds in helping his Golden Bears to a sweep of the Oregon schools.
  • Game of the Week: USC 65, Arizona 57 – There were nine games this week, and none closer than USC’s eight-point upset win over the Wildcats on Thursday night. While this was by no means a thing of beauty (the teams combined for six assists on 40 field goals, the Trojans went 1-10 from three and shot just over 40% from the field, and still won with relative ease), the result did send shockwaves around the conference, as Bruin fans were forced to admit that they were pulling for the Trojans – and hard. In the end, USC got two big blocked shots by Alex Stepheson and Marcus Simmons after the Wildcats came back to tie the game at 56, and the Trojans converted those defensive plays into four made free throws on the offensive end. Vucevic led the way for the Trojans with 25 points and 12 rebounds, while junior point Jio Fontan had by far his best game since his first week of eligibility, posting 21 points and adding three assists. But the big key for the Trojans had to be limiting Arizona’s Derrick Williams to just 3-11 shooting, just two free throw attempts (seven below his season average) and just eight total points – his first game of the season in which he failed to score in double figures.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: UCLA (21-8, 12-4) at Washington (19-9, 10-6), 3/3, 6pm PST, ESPN2 – Between the two teams tied at the top of the conference heap, the Bruins have by far the toughest road remaining. The Huskies have lost just once at home all season, and just four times in the last three years, and UCLA hasn’t won at the Hec Ed since 2004. But, they’ve got to assume that they need two wins in their remaining two games in order to tie for the Pac-10 title, and if they’re to rise to that challenge, it starts here. In the first matchup, the Huskies strung together a 27-10 run spanning halftime to break open a close game and propel them to an eventual 11-point win at Pauley. In that game Joshua Smith fouled out in a relatively ineffective 22 minutes, Lazeric Jones was completely absent, nobody off the Bruin bench made a field goal and the Huskies shot the Bruins out of the gym. For UCLA to get this win, Howland would like to see Smith stay out of foul trouble, pound the Huskies in the paint and get some offensive contributions from Jones. Even if UCLA can pull off this difficult road win, they’ll need to back it up with a win at Washington State on Saturday to ensure a Pac-10 title.

Power Rankings

 1. Arizona (23-6, 12-4): I’ve been saying all year long that if opponents can limit Williams offensively, the ‘Cats don’t have enough firepower on the rest of their roster to beat good teams. We learned this against BYU and we learned this against Oregon State. Of course, then Arizona and Momo Jones and Kevin Parrom shot that theory down in dramatic fashion in triple overtime against Cal, but in the back of my mind, I still didn’t buy this Wildcat squad as an elite team. Fast forward to the last week in February, when USC and UCLA held Williams to 23 points on 8-22 shooting and just six total free throw attempts in handing the Wildcats a oh-for-L.A. weekend. No other Wildcat was able to score more than 12 points in his place over the weekend (Jesse Perry had 12 against USC, Parrom added ten in that game and Kyle Fogg had ten against UCLA) and the rest of the roster combined to shoot a less-than-impressive 32.9% from the field. This is still a good Arizona team, but the concept of this squad being a top ten team (where it was ranked last week) is ludicrous. The concept of this squad even being a top 25 team (where it is still ranked) is still a stretch.

Looking ahead: The Wildcats return to the McKale Center this week, and need to stop the bleeding immediately by avenging their opening weekend loss to Oregon State on Thursday. Then they wrap up the season on Saturday by hosting Oregon. Arizona needs both of these games.

2. UCLA (21-8, 12-4): Sometimes basketball is a pretty simple game. Sure, you’ve got to make your shots, and you can have cold shooting nights that doom you or hot shooting nights by opponents that do the same. But the fact of the matter is, if you play tough defense, rebound well and don’t turn the ball over, you’re most of the way there. And, in those areas, the Bruins are suddenly looking good. At the start of the year, their defense was not up to par. In particular, the loss to Virginia Commonwealth in Madison Square Garden was abysmal, the type of defense that Bruin fans hated seeing last season. But in conference play, things have turned around and now this UCLA squad is excellent defensively. But the biggest factor this weekend in the Bruins’ sweep of the Arizona schools may have been their total of 16 turnovers for the weekend. Considering that the Bruins turned the ball over 18 times against Cal, 19 times in their win over St. John’s and their loss at Arizona, and even 26 times in their win over Oregon State, the eight turnovers that they posted in each game this weekend was a critical improvement. In order for the Bruins to be a serious threat come the NCAA Tournament, they’ll need to keep those turnover totals similarly low.

Looking ahead: Washington on Thursday night and Washington State on Saturday, a pair of games that make up the toughest road trip in the Pac-10. And the Bruins need to win both to secure a conference title.

3. Washington (19-9, 10-6): The Huskies have this rationalization to fall back on, following their home loss to Washington State on Sunday: they didn’t play that bad. The Huskies dominated the offensive glass, grabbing 23 rebounds, exactly 50% of every missed shot that came off the rim on the offensive end. But, they turned the ball over 16 times, missed far too many of the put-back attempts and shot a lowly 36.6% from inside the three-point arc. All in all, Lorenzo Romar and company have to forget about this game and take care of business this week against the hot Los Angeles schools that are coming storming through Seattle. Anything less than a sweep and the Huskies are limping into the Pac-10 tourney.

Looking ahead: UCLA on Thursday, USC on Saturday.

4. USC (17-12, 9-7): Out of nowhere, a four-game winning streak (they had not won more than two-in-a-row all season) and a newly formidable Trojan squad. Vucevic has been excellent all year, but USC is at its best when his frontcourt mate Stepheson is a major contributor. During the four-game winning streak, he has average 13 points and nine rebounds a game, while during the seven Pac-10 losses he has averaged just over seven points and rebounds per game. The Trojans are 11-4 when he scores in double figures, just 6-8 when he does not. The numbers are clear: Kevin O’Neill needs Stepheson to provide a threat alongside Vucevic for USC to be at its best.

Looking ahead: If USC can continue its streak and get wins at Washington State and Washington, you’d have to say their resume (which would then include wins over Texas, at Tennessee, UCLA, Arizona and at Washington) would be superior to the Huskies. A couple more wins in the Pac-10 tourney could be enough to get them dancing.

5. Cal (16-13, 9-8): I think a lot of people would probably go with Washington State as the next best team in the conference, but Cal has proven to be the more dangerous, more balanced team over the course of conference play. Despite a four-game swoon in February that coincided rather clearly with Crabbe’s four-game absence (Crabbe’s concussion overlapped with three of the four losses), the Golden Bears have been impressive this season under Mike Montgomery’s excellent guidance. Junior Jorge Gutierrez has improved dramatically from the hustling role-player that he portrayed in his first two years on campus, and stepped it up even more spectacularly of late, scoring in double figures in his last ten games and averaging 20.3 PPG, 5.4 APG and 4.2 RPG over that span. Crabbe, too, has shown rapid improvement under Montgomery; after taking a couple months to get comfortable, he has been clearly the best freshman in conference play, averaging 18.4 PPG (excepting the two games around his concussion) since the abrupt transfer of fellow freshman Gary Franklin after the first Stanford game. Likewise, sophomore Brandon Smith, who averaged less than seven minutes per game last year, has been transformed into a solid Pac-10 level point guard since the Franklin departure, averaging 11.4 PPG and 5.1 APG in the 16 games since. And with Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp doing yeoman’s work up front, this is a seriously tough Cal team that could cause a lot of problems in the Pac-10 tourney.

Looking ahead: The Bears wrap up the season with a visit from Stanford on Saturday.

6. Washington State (18-10, 8-8): The mere fact that I’m putting a team as good as this Cougar team as the sixth best team in the conference indicates that while the Pac-10 is not back to the glory days of Kevin Love, the Lopez twins, James Harden and O.J. Mayo (among numerous others), this conference has come a long ways since last year’s mediocre conference. However, the fact that a team this talented is just .500 in the conference raises some other questions. We’ll save those for later, however, as the Cougs are coming off an big win over Washington on Sunday, a game during which they got to the line 36 times and made a mighty impressive 32. Sure, they turn the ball over too much, and they still can get killed on the glass (witness the 23 offensive rebounds they gave up Sunday), but Klay Thompson is one of the best scorers in the nation, DeAngelo Casto is a big, bouncy forward who has turned it on lately (15.5 PPG and 8.0 RPG over the last six games) after an injury-riddled start to the season and Ken Bone is blessed with plenty of willing role players. Much like USC and Cal, this team may need to win the Pac-10 Tournament to get invited to the NCAA Tournament (so far their resume consists of a win over Gonzaga and a season sweep of Washington), but they’re very capable of doing so.

Looking ahead: The Cougars host USC and UCLA this weekend, and they’ll need to prove in those games that their win at Washington wasn’t just a one-off blip before anyone should take them too seriously.

7. Oregon (14-14, 7-9): Home losses to the Bay Area schools this week put a damper on the buzz surrounding the Ducks, but head coach Dana Altman has still done a fantastic job with an undermanned roster. This week the concept of defense escaped Oregon, as they allowed Cal to post a 64.7 effective field goal percentage, only to get worse, as Stanford shot 65.7%. On the week, the Ducks allowed 1.22 points per possession.

Looking ahead: Oregon’s season concludes with a visit to the Arizona schools, where they’ll need to make up ground on WSU in order to avoid the opening round games in the Pac-10 tournament, a possibility that now seems remote.

8. Stanford (15-14, 7-10): The Cardinal came out of Oregon with a split, an acceptable if not enthralling outcome, that nevertheless leaves them without much hoping of earning a bye in the Pac-10 tourney. Jeremy Green did re-establish his hot streak, however, knocking down 15 of 24 shots for 39 points on the Oregon trip. He continued that run in the final non-conference regular season game of the Pac-10 schedule with 22 more points on seven-of-nine shooting in an 11-point win over Seattle on Tuesday.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal travel to Berkeley on Saturday to wrap up the regular season against Cal.

9. Oregon State (10-17, 5-11): The good Beavers were back for a spell this week, knocking off Stanford before posting a come-from-ahead loss against Cal on Saturday. In the Cal game, OSU actually won the battle of the boards and forced twice as many turnovers as they committed, but allowed the Bears to shoots a 71.7% efg. Against the Cardinal, five Beavers scored in double figures and OSU came from behind at the end, outscoring Stanford 13-5 in the final 2:18 to win by seven.

 

Looking ahead: Oregon State travels to Arizona on Thursday, then ASU on Saturday.

10. Arizona State (10-18, 2-14): Another week, another couple of losses by an average of 17 points. Against UCLA on Thursday, no Sun Devils scored in double figures, Ruslan Pateev led the team with five rebounds and Ty Abbott led the team with four assists. While Trent Lockett, the team’s leading scorer with 13.7 PPG, is a nice piece, Herb Sendek has to look awful hard at this team to determine  how to get back from here to competitiveness. Among next year’s possible returnees, besides Lockett, only freshman Chase Creekmur, a relatively one-dimensional shooter, has posted an offensive efficiency number above 100. It’s a long way back from here.

 

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils finish up an awful season with two winnable games at home against the Oregon schools. Here’s hoping the ASU seniors finish things off right with a win over Oregon State on Saturday. Or not. Have they really earned it?

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ATB: February Parity Turns to March Mayhem

Posted by rtmsf on February 28th, 2011

The Lede.  It was the last weekend in February, and as we come out of it, we’re less clear about who the favorites are to cut down the nets in early April than we have been at any point this season.  RTCs went down in Blacksburg, Boulder, Springfield and more, befitting the stress, pressure and expectations of a season reaching its regular season terminus.  As usual, after a weekend like this, there’s a lot to cover, so let’s jump right in with some of the major moments…

 

An RTC Kinda Weekend

Your Watercooler MomentParity is This Year’s Dominance. It was another weekend where many of the top teams came away with losses.  #2 Duke (#1 AP/#1 ESPN) went to Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia, on Saturday night and left with a lighter load. #3 Pittsburgh (#4 AP/#6 ESPN) dropped a tough Big East road battle at Louisville for the second straight weekend.  #4 Texas (#5 AP/#5 ESPN) suffered a ridiculously bad second half at Colorado and headed back to Austin with two Ls in its last three outings.  #5 San Diego State (#6 AP/#4 ESPN) suffered the ignoble embarrassment of getting Jimmered in its own building by the only team to have proven it can beat the Aztecs this season.  Shuffle the deck for another week and repeat.  The only top teams to come out unscathed this weekend were #1 Ohio State (#2 AP/#3 ESPN), #6 Kansas (#3 AP/#2 ESPN) and #7 BYU (#7 AP/#7 ESPN) — and both the Buckeyes and Jayhawks were part of last week’s poll carnage.  The point we’re making is a simple one: the field is completely wide open this year.  It wouldn’t surprise us nor should it surprise you if none of the eventual #1 seeds make it to the Final Four — the difference between the top seven named above and the next tier of teams is not large.  The four teams we would put on our top line as of tonight — Ohio State, Pitt, BYU and Kansas — are all strong candidates to lose at least one more game between now and Selection Sunday, now only fourteen days out.  This kind of parity among the top teams makes for an exciting NCAA Tournament, but it shouldn’t shock anybody if the seeds that make it to Houston in April add up to a total well into the teens (e.g., 2, 3, 6, 8).

Your Watercooler Moment, Pt. IIThat Stupid Louisville Cheerleader.  If Rick Pitino were a little younger and brasher (say, the Knicks or early Kentucky eras), the Louisville cheerleader who grabbed the ball and tossed it up into the air after what appeared to be Kyle Kuric’s game-sealing dunk would already be encased in concrete in the Ohio River locks.  Instead, the older and somewhat more forgiving head coach will likely only have a horse’s head delivered to the cheerleader’s bed for making his gaffe with 0.5 seconds remaining on the clock.  The sophomoric ball-toss resulted in two technical FTs for Pitt taking a five-point lead down to three, and the Panthers put up a decent half-court heave at the buzzer that would have tied the game.  We can understand a little confusion with respect to the last half-second of time running off the clock, but why touch the ball at all?  That should be the province of the players and game officials, nobody else, and the cheer people should understand that better than most.  Here’s the question on everyone’s mind, though: will Cheer Dufus be back in action or will Pitino have him removed (we’re not sure what “The male cheerleader is coming to an end” means exactly)?

Your Watercooler Moment, Pt. IIITyler Trapani Shuts Down Pauley With an Assist From the Ghost of John Wooden.  It was the last game in Pauley Pavilion, the House That Wooden Built, before it undergoes massive renovations over the next year-plus to bring the building seemingly mired in the 1960s into the modern era.  UCLA was throttling league-leading Arizona and the Bruin partisans were rocking out with every Reeves Nelson dunk, Josh Smith twirl and each  long-range brick from Arizona.  With just a few seconds remaining in garbage time, UCLA’s Jack Haley, Jr., missed a corner three badly short; standing directly under the basket to catch it and lay it in as the final points scored in the “old” Pauley was walk-on Tyler Trapani, The Wizard of Westwood’s great-grandson.  The bucket represented his only two points of the entire season, and it seemed a fitting tribute to finishing off the old barn in its current state.  Pauley Pavilion is one of the temples of the sport, so we’re glad to hear that UCLA is finally updating it — it’s our opinion that modernizing a terrific old venue is much preferred to building an austere and lifeless new one.

This Weekend’s Quick Hits

  • Virginia Tech and Colorado’s RTCs.  Coverage of the court was quick, complete and rowdy, befitting how you should RTC when you take down a top five team in your building.  Virginia Tech’s crowd was fantastic the entire evening, as the below video clearly illustrates (move ahead for the RTC, and here’s a bird’s eye view if you’re into that).  As the second video shows, Colorado’s was also quite good (here’s another from within the maelstrom at center court).  Perhaps more importantly, the huge wins keep both teams’ hopes alive for an at-large NCAA bid in two weeks.  Much was expected from both of these schools prior to season tipoff, but they’ve had myriad ups and downs along the way.  These two huge wins will go a long way toward finding the right side of the bubble in fourteen days.

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Past Imperfect: The Reign of Doughnut Man

Posted by JWeill on February 3rd, 2011

Past Imperfect is a new series focusing on the history of the game. Every Thursday, RTC contributor JL Weill (@AgonicaBoss) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the sine-wave career arc of Doughnut Man.

It’s still one of the NCAA tournament’s most indelible moments: disheveled Princeton coach Pete Carril grinning in disbelief moments after his backdoor-cutting Tigers stunned defending national champion UCLA in the first round of the 1996 NCAA tournament. Replayed over and over through the years, the moment resonates because it captures the essence of what college basketball’s great March tradition is all about: little guy beats big guy, Cinderella at the dance, etc. But lost in all those good vibes for the white-haired coaching legend is that the other side in that game, the losing coach seen congratulating Carril on his career-defining victory, in its own way represents college basketball, too. In many ways, perhaps more so.

Pete Carril and Sydney Johnson celebrate the win over UCLA.

No one fathomed at the time that the upset loss would be Jim Harrick’s last as head coach of the UCLA Bruins. A year removed from the school’s first national title in two decades, flush with a contract extension, with a bevy of blue chip recruits on the verge of replenishing his team’s talent level for years to come, Harrick looked to have it all working. Then, in the course of a few months, it was all over. Harrick was out. Assistant Steve Lavin, with no head coaching experience at all, was in as interim coach.

How did it all go south so quickly? The answer is a tale of two coaches, of lies and deception, of risks taken and undying myths writ large. It’s an ugly story, without much grace and lacking humility. It is, in short, the story of college basketball at the highest levels.

*      *      *

It is amusing now to go back and look at statements of outrage former coach Jim Harrick made about his abrupt dismissal by UCLA in 1996. At the time, Harrick was the man who’d brought UCLA back from the ether. The West Virginian had been all smiles hoisting the national championship trophy along with Ed O’Bannon, Tyus Edney and the victorious Bruins. And rightfully so. Harrick had taken a job a slew of previous coaches had tried to tame and done the only thing he’d been hired to do: win a national title again. Favorite sons Walt Hazzard, Gary Cunningham and Larry Farmer didn’t do it. Future coaching legends Gene Bartow and Larry Brown couldn’t do it, either. But the onetime UCLA assistant – the guy who never even played college basketball – did it. And he did it his own way, with style.

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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume VII

Posted by jbaumgartner on January 18th, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor.  In this piece he’ll spend each week reviewing the five things he loved and hated about the previous week of college basketball. This week, Jesse gives props to the Hopson coiffure and reveals his man crush on Jay Wright — then alienates the entire city of Pittsburgh. We’re sorry…ya Yinzers.

The Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…..listening to a Pac-10 nail-biter – that’s right, listening – on a radio this week since the game wasn’t televised. Everything in today’s media market is so visual and video-based, and you can get almost any game on the tube with the right cable package. But there was something very appealing about trying to picture exactly what was happening on the court with 2.5 seconds left using just a single voice and the crowd noise during the Washington vs Stanford game. I’d argue it even upped the drama.

I LOVED…..how I found myself wondering just how in the world Villanova coach Jay Wright always has short, athletic guards every year who can do it all. Every. Freaking. Year. Corey Fisher, Scottie Reynolds, Randy Foye, Allan Ray, and so on. While I always have to pick against ‘Nova in the tourney because I think they’ll run into someone too big, you have to appreciate the fearless perimeter play that Wright gets from his small guys.

Fisher Is Yet Another Product of the Jay Wright Short Athletic Guard Factory

I LOVED…..Scotty Hopson’s Scottie Pippen haircut. So classic. When you have by far the best name ever for a basketball player, it’s important that you back it up with the best basketball haircut of all time – the unbeatable fade. Props to you Scotty, you’re doing Pippen and Will Smith proud with the ‘do.

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