NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2011

Zach Hayes is an RTC editor and contributor.

We’re down to sixteen teams, so it’s time to visit with each of our regional experts and analyze what happened in each of the four regions and what should be expected this coming weekend.  Every one of these predictions is guaranteed to be absolutely and totally correct.

Region: East

The Rock Hosts a Blue-Chip Crew This Weekend

New Favorite (Same as the Old Favorite?): #1 Ohio State, 34-2. The Buckeyes travel to Newark maintaining the favorite status that their #1 overall seed would indicate. An easy win over UT-San Antonio and a thrashing of George Mason did nothing to alter conventional wisdom.

Horse of Darkness: #4 Kentucky, 27-8. John Calipari knows deep down that his Wildcats, chock full of McDonalds All-Americans but light on experience, has the talent to dethrone the mighty Bucks. A starting lineup that starts three freshmen also knocking off either North Carolina or Marquette two days later is quite the task.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #11 Marquette, 22-14. The only double-digit seed still alive was the last team to be granted inclusion out of the 11-team Big East. Marquette finished just 9-9 in conference play but outlasted Xavier and Syracuse to reach their first Sweet 16 since Dwyane Wade graced the blue and gold.

Completely Expected (1st Weekend): #2 North Carolina, 28-7. The Tar Heels” first two rounds went almost exactly as anticipated. UNC posted 100+ points against fast-paced Long Island and then survived a Washington team most anticipated would be a formidable foe for Roy Williams’ team. Led by 24 Kendall Marshall dimes, Carolina scored 188 points in Charlotte.

I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient: #11 Marquette, 22-14. Yours truly touted Marquette last week as the under-seeded team of the region, citing numerous close losses to elite competition and signature wins over Notre Dame, Syracuse, Connecticut and West Virginia. The Golden Eagles then went out and knocked off #6 seed Xavier and upended #3 seed Syracuse for the second time this season.

Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: #6 Xavier, 24-8. It wasn’t so much the Musketeers as a whole, but my prediction of Tu Holloway potentially carrying Xavier to the second weekend didn’t quite turn out as anticipated. Flummoxed by Jimmy Butler and a stable Marquette defense, Holloway scored five points on 1-8 shooting after posting over 20 per contest during the regular season.

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Kentucky Escapes and Saves the State of Kentucky

Posted by nvr1983 on March 17th, 2011

After watching Brandon Knight being scoreless for nearly 40 minutes few fans would have been surprised if John Calipari had opted to put the ball in the hands on a hotter hand. Instead he let his freshman point guard keep the ball for what was essentially the Wildcats final shot of regulation. With the clock running down and the score tied at 57 after Princeton got a huge jumper from Dan Mavraides the Wildcats chose to run the clock down before Knight made his move.

Following Knight’s driving lay-up the Tigers seemed confused and inbounded the ball before calling a timeout. Following the timeout the Tigers weren’t even able to get the ball to mid-court before firing a prayer that would have been late even if it went in. A loss here would have likely sent Kentucky into a catatonic state after Louisville was eliminated less than an hour before by Morehead State. The Wildcats were able to survive despite Knight’s 1-for-8 performance thanks to Josh Harrellson‘s 15 points and 10 rebounds and Darius Miller‘s 17 points. The win sets up a rematch of last year’s East Regional final where West Virginia knocked off a heavily favored Kentucky team.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.06.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 6th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

What a Saturday it was. The final day of the regular season for BCS teams is today while another ticket will be punched, this time out of the Missouri Valley. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#22 Kentucky @ Tennessee — 12 pm on CBS (****)

Knight Could ruin UT's Senior Day If He Gets Hot

Tennessee likely locked up a bid Thursday night at South Carolina but a loss today would drop them to 8-8 in the SEC. A win in the conference tournament would be advisable but their solid non-conference resume and strong schedule should probably be enough to push the Volunteers over the top.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.01.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 1st, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Welcome to March, the best month of the year for all hoops fans. It’s a huge night for bubble teams across the country, with a few having a chance for that elusive marquee win that may put them over the top. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#19 Vanderbilt @ #22 Kentucky – 9 pm on ESPN (****)

Tonight, Josh Harrellson Will Be the Lone Kentucky Player Honored By the Senior Night Playing of "My Old Kentucky Home"

This is the only game in tonight’s preview that doesn’t feature a bubble team as both of these clubs are solidly in the field. They’re both projected to get 5-seeds and are actually right next to each other on the S-curve. The Commodores won the first meeting in Nashville by means of a strong shooting night on which they hit 55% from three. Kentucky held Vanderbilt to 41.2% shooting inside the arc in that game, however, and that’s something the Wildcats do very well on the whole. They rank fifth nationally in two point defense and block percentage, plus they rebound well with Terrence Jones and Josh Harrellson up front. Both teams have the ability to get silly from beyond the arc, so this game could very well come down to interior play.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.08.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 8th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

An intriguing non-conference game, Bruce Pearl’s return and an ACC bubble battle headline tonight’s schedule. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Xavier @ Georgia – 7 pm on ESPNU (***)

Mack Is Still An Underrated Coach, In Our Opinion

These teams last met in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament, the year Dennis Felton’s Georgia team made an incredible run through the SEC Tournament to steal the automatic bid. Xavier has won eight of nine games coming into tonight’s matchup while Georgia has won two straight after starting 3-4 in SEC play.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.04-02.06

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

On paper, this isn’t the best weekend of games. However, this is college basketball where anything can happen. You just never know what could happen and it may end up being a thrilling couple of days, anyway. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

West Virginia @ #12 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Yet another big game in the Big East features two teams tied for third place at 6-3 in league play. The winner will tie second place Notre Dame, just a game and a half behind first place Pittsburgh. West Virginia has won seven of nine games and rebounding has been a big reason why. The Mountaineers have not been out-rebounded by an opponent since a New Year’s Day game at Marquette, plus their defense has been solid. West Virginia has scored only 58 PPG over their last four games (three of them without leading scorer Casey Mitchell) but has held opponents to an average of 50 PPG over the same stretch, culminating in holding Seton Hall to 44 points on Wednesday. Bob Huggins’ team is #5 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage but will have to bring their A-game on the glass against Villanova. The Wildcats rank 20th in keeping opponents off the offensive boards and were led by the interior duo of Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou in their most recent win over Marquette. They combined for 32/15 and have been huge factors this season as Jay Wright isn’t counting exclusively on his guards to win games anymore. Although West Virginia has rebounded the ball extremely well of late, they still rank only #291 in opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage, allowing teams to grab 35.6% of their misses. Villanova will likely miss a lot of long range shots against West Virginia’s #2 ranked three point defense (allowing 27%) so offensive rebounding will be important for both teams, especially the Wildcats, in this game. Coach Huggins used 6’7 John Flowers on Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell in their last game and he successfully shut down the Pirates’ gunner. Might we see the same thing on Villanova’s Corey Stokes? It’s a good possibility, though Flowers may be needed inside more often to double Pena and Yarou. Flowers leads the Big East in blocked shots and needs to have another good defensive game against a Villanova team that can score in bunches. The Wildcats score 25.6% of their points from the foul line and attempted 33 free throws against Marquette. Villanova is very difficult to beat when they get to the stripe because they shoot 78% and get there so often. Dribble penetration from Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns leads to good looks inside and plenty of free throw opportunities. West Virginia has to do a good job defending the dribble drive and Kevin Jones will be a key player in doing so. Jones is a taller player who, along with Flowers, will form the second line of defense if the Wildcat guards are able to get into the lane. Jones is also a warrior on the glass, going for 13/12 in his last game. With the status of Casey Mitchell still uncertain, West Virginia will have to stick to typical “Huggy-ball” more than ever, and that’s physical defense and great rebounding. Villanova is 16-0 when they score at least 70 points but only 2-4 when they fail to do so. With the way West Virginia is rebounding and playing defense right now, it’s very possible that this game could be in the 50’s or 60’s. We’re going to go with the upset and take the Mountaineers on the road in this game.

#10 Kentucky @ Florida – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

With a win on Saturday night, Florida can really create some separation between themselves and Kentucky. With a win against the Wildcats, Florida will hold a two and a half game lead over UK and remain ahead of Tennessee, a team they beat on the road already. Quite simply, a win here puts Florida in a commanding position in the SEC East. Of course, that won’t be so easy against the nation’s fourth ranked team in eFG% defense. The Gators have won 9 of 11 games but Kentucky will be their toughest test since a meeting with Ohio State back in November. The Wildcats are coming off a loss at Ole Miss earlier this week, a game in which they committed 18 turnovers and didn’t defend the three point line well at all. Freshman point guard Brandon Knight had six of those turnovers and needs to do a better job tonight. Young teams can’t turn it over and expect to win on the road no matter how talented they are and Kentucky is finding out the hard way. With a 2-4 record in true road games, the Wildcats need to grow up quick if they want to play deep into March. Knight needs to create shots for himself and others, taking advantage of UK’s 40% shooting from deep. With Doron Lamb shooting the ball very well recently, Kentucky has plenty of threats to win this game. A key battle in this game will be at the forward spot as Kentucky’s freshman Terrence Jones goes up against Florida senior Chandler Parsons. Jones averages 18/9 and had 22/12 at Ole Miss while Parsons has been on an absolute tear on the glass of late. Controlling the boards will be critically important in a game that could be all about pace. The Gators would like to slow the game down and work in the half court while the Wildcats are comfortable at a quicker pace. To keep the tempo in their favor, Florida has to win the rebounding battle and make shots. The Gators are #10 in offensive rebounding percentage but the matchup between Jones and Parsons, as well as Vernon Macklin and Josh Harrellson at the center position, will likely determine who controls the glass in this game. If Harrellson can shut down Macklin (Festus Ezeli of Vanderbilt did a good job of this in the last game), the onus will be on Parsons to carry the Gators yet again. With Erving Walker hitting only 7 of his last 33 threes (21%), Florida will work the ball inside even more than they already do. The Gators get 56.8% of their points from two point range but will face the #4 interior defense in the country. Kentucky allows opponents to shoot only 41% from two point range while Florida is making 50.5% of their two point shots. This should be a physical game and whoever controls the interior will likely come out on top. Despite their road woes, we think John Calipari’s team will be ready to play tonight and hand the Gators their fourth home loss, disappointing the big crowd sure to be at the O-Dome for ESPN Game Day.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.18.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 18th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

A few teams face key road tests tonight, one night after the home squads went 3-1 in the season debut of ESPN’s Big Monday. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#19 Michigan State @ #18 Illinois – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

A Top 50 Rebounder, Green Has Been Solid Of Late For MSU (Excepting That 2-10 Against Penn State)

The Spartans needed overtime to dispatch their last two opponents at home, Wisconsin and Northwestern. Michigan State is doing just enough to get by as Korie Lucious and Durrell Summers have struggled lately. Lucious went 0-8 from the floor against Northwestern while Summers has scored just seven points in the last two games. For MSU to have any sustained success going forward, Tom Izzo must get these two players going somehow. Luckily for them, Draymond Green has stepped up, averaging 21/8.5 over the last two games.

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Morning Five: 01.06.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on January 6th, 2011

  1. Do you recall the incident from this past Saturday in which Rick Majerus collided with a couple of  players who were diving for a loose ball, knocking him into the scorer’s table and putting a gash in his left leg? If you saw it, you might remember that the leg bled pretty badly (he’s on blood thinners), and Majerus missed the rest of the game as he received treatment in the locker room. Well, now the leg is infected, and Majerus missed tonight’s A-10 opener against Dayton. He’ll also miss the Billikens’ next two games (Sunday at Temple, Wednesday at Duquesne) while he recovers. Get better soon, coach.
  2. Twelve games in, freshman guard Gary Franklin has decided that he’s had enough of being a California Golden Bear, and will transfer. Not the most efficient option, Franklin didn’t start, but was fourth on the team in minutes and fifth in scoring (8.2 PPG in 25.7 MPG). One interesting fact from that article: that’s seven transfers by players from Santa Ana Mater Dei in the last five seasons.
  3. Even among Kentucky fans, all people cared to know about Josh Harrellson before this season was that he was a backup center and…well, that he was not Enes Kanter. Now, he’s a BMOC (at least in the Bluegrass) and leads the Wildcats in seven different statistical categories, if you throw some tempo-free ones in there. The Frankfort State Journal checks in on him to see how he’s handling his exponentially increased celebrity. Hard work on the boards and 23/14 in a thumping of arch rival Louisville will do that for you in Lexington.
  4. Nobody told Fran McCaffery things were going to be easy at Iowa, and his efforts just took another hit. When sophomore guard Cully Payne went out with a sports hernia (surgeons also repaired a torn oblique muscle) after only five games this season, there was still hope that he would be back later in the schedule. McCaffery painted a less encouraging picture, though, earlier this week. Last year, Payne led the team in assists (3.8 APG) and was fifth in scoring (8.7 PPG), and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.1 to 1 was tops on the Hawkeyes this year.
  5. It was almost a year ago that Texas was the top-ranked team in the land. At that point in the season, we can only assume that Oklahoma and Texas A&M supporters everywhere began sticking pins in their Longhorn dolls, as UT subsequently went 7-10 to end the year. Senior forward Gary Johnson remembers those days: “If you watch any film from last year, the will of being a team just wasn’t there,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. More importantly, he makes a great case as to why he sees no such swoon in store this season for his squad, which seems to be playing progressively better each week.
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The Week That Was: Dec. 28-Jan. 3

Posted by jstevrtc on January 4th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

Introduction

Happy New Year everyone! TWTW hopes that you all had a great and safe NYE and then had a better time recovering on your couch over the following couple of days with some college hoops on the flat screen. And TWTW won’t judge if your condition forced you to watch said games on mute — that’s just a casualty of the season.

What We Learned

Harrellson Is Most Valuable As a Glass Cleaner, But Has a Solid Stroke As Well

It looks like Kentucky is headed toward another 14-2 type run through the SEC this season, and a perfect 16-0 record in conference play isn’t out of the question. That statement isn’t as much based off of how the Wildcats are playing (though TWTW was very impressed with how UK dismantled Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center on New Year’s Eve) but it’s a reflection of just how putrid the rest of the conference seems at this point. The Wildcats are the only SEC team ranked in the AP Top 25. Tennessee’s reputation has dropped faster than Goldman Sachs’, going from a chic dark horse Final Four pick to a team on the bubble. Losses to Oakland, Charlotte and College of Charleston coupled with unimpressive wins over Belmont and Tennessee-Martin will do that to you. Now the Vols face Memphis in their last game before Bruce Pearl’s eight-game suspension. Cross Tennessee off your list of possible teams that could challenge Kentucky. That leaves us with Florida and Vanderbilt as Kentucky’s top competition. TWTW is not a fan of Florida, who recently lost to Jacksonville, so if we were to circle a possible first conference loss for Kentucky we’d have to choose Feb. 12 at Vanderbilt. That game is the last of a three-game stretch in which the Wildcats travel to Florida and host Tennessee. Vandy took Missouri down to the wire in an overtime loss on Dec. 4 and the Commodores beat North Carolina during the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Don’t be shocked if Vanderbilt hands Kentucky its first conference loss that night.

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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2011

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference

A Look Back

Now that non-conference play is all but over, I thought we should take a look at the biggest surprises and disappointments thus far, as well as a couple other notes from around the conference.

Biggest Surprise – Vanderbilt

Having lost AJ Ogilvy and leading scorer Jermaine Beal, Vanderbilt looked to be a team that would have a tough time in the stacked SEC East, but the holdovers from last year have stepped up and made this Vanderbilt team even better than last year’s.  No one has improved more than junior Festus Ezeli, who has gone from 3.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game last year to 13.1 and 7.1 respectively.  Vanderbilt finished the pre-conference season 11-2 with quality wins over Nebraska, North Carolina and Marquette and losing only to West Virginia and Missouri.  Even more impressively, the Commodores outscored opponents by 16 points per game.  Look for the ‘Dores to finish second in the SEC.

Biggest Disappointment – Tie, Tennessee/Mississippi State

Both of these teams leave me shaking my head.  Tennessee started the season 7-0 against teams that are a combined 65-27 including Big East powers Villanova and Pittsburgh.  Since that time, Tennessee has gone 2-4 against teams that are a combined 48-37, and Bruce Pearl hasn’t even started his suspension yet.  They have all the same players they started with and the schedule has gotten easier.  I just do not get it.

As far as Mississippi State, this is a team that started the season as a possible SEC championship contender once Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost became eligible.  Then Sidney was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team after playing only one game and suspended again after his second game in a Bulldogs uniform for a fight with Bulldogs senior Elgin Bailey.  In Sidney’s defense, the other players say it was mostly Bailey’s fault.  But mostly doesn’t help Mississippi State, who desperately needs Sidney on the court if they are to salvage this season and have any chance at making the NCAA tournament.

Other Notes

  • It appears that the NCAA delights in antagonizing Wildcat fans by dragging their feet through the procuess surrounding the appeal of Enes Kanter’s ineligibility ruling. The NCAA was able to declare Cam Newton eligible in a day, but has been considering the Enes Kanter case for the better part of seven months now. The NCAA declared Kanter permanently ineligible for receiving benefits over and above actual expenses while playing for a Turkish professional team as a teenager but has allowed Kentucky to resubmit their case in light of the Cam Newton case as a precedent. There were some that thought a decision would come quickly, but after two weeks of standing around and patting themselves on the back for its near endless display of inconsistency, the NCAA announced this week that no decision would come before the New Year. In the meantime, Enes Kanter’s father, stated that if declared ineligible for this season but allowed to play next year, a la Renardo Sidney, Enes Kanter would indeed return to school next year and play, rather than declare for the NBA, again making the case that Kanter’s desire all along has been to play “amateur” college basketball in the United States under coach John Calipari.
  • You will perhaps recall that I previously lamented the lack of quality matchups in the SEC/Big East Invitational which this year involved Arkansas, Kentucky, Auburn, Tennessee, Seton Hall, Notre Dame, Auburn and Pittsburgh.  It was announced around the holidays that beginning in 2011, six SEC teams and six Big East teams will participate in an annual event whose title will alternate between the BIG EAST/SEC Challenge and SEC/BIG EAST Challenge.  I for one can’t wait to see the matchups.  Cross your fingers for Kentucky/Syracuse, Tennessee/Georgetown, Vanderbilt/Louisville, Mississippi State/Pittsburgh.

Power Rankings

  1. Kentucky (11-2) Kentucky is winning games by a league-leading 17.5 points per game, including 23.3 over the last six which includes wins over Notre Dame and in-state rival Louisville.  Speaking of Kentucky’s win over Louisville, senior center Josh Harrellson scored a career high 23 points and 14 rebounds in 37 minutes of play.  Contrast that with last year, when he played a total of 88 minutes and scored 28 points and pulled down 27 rebounds in 22 games. Kudos are also in order for Doron Lamb, who led the Cats with 32 points making seven of eight threes and setting the freshman scoring record for Kentucky against Winthrop. That record was previously held by Jamal Mashburn, who on February 3, 1991 set the previous record at 31 against Georgia.
  2. Vanderbilt (10-2) Vanderbilt scored a good win over Marquette and then an easy 80-52 win over Davidson without leading scorer John Jenkins (concussion) and starting forward Andre Walker (twisted ankle).  Vanderbilt has played a tough early schedule with multiple injuries and come out of it very well.  I expect a great SEC season for the Commodores.
  3. Florida (10-3) In hindsight, Florida’s loss to Central Florida doesn’t look so bad as Central Florida is now 13-0 with wins against Florida, Miami and likely Southern Conference challenger Furman.  Florida is playing well, having gotten a tough road win over Xavier this week, but they still need better shooting out of Kenny Boynton and a better assist to turnover ratio out of Erving Walker.
  4. Georgia (11-2) Georgia is 11-2, but they’re not winning by much, only 6.7 points per game.  That said, they are on an eight-game winning streak, the longest in the conference, albeit against decidedly weak competition.  What can be said about the Bulldogs however is that they’re beating the teams that they should and not losing to the teams that they shouldn’t. Dustin Ware (7 points in his last three games) and Gerald Robinson (18 in the same span) are sputtering badly.
  5. Arkansas (10-2) While the Razorbacks don’t yet have a big win, they do have a 14.3 point per game scoring margin in their favor, meaning that when they win, they win decisively and they currently have the best record in the SEC West.
  6. Mississippi (11-3) Like Georgia, Mississippi hasn’t really lost to anyone bad, but they haven’t really beaten anyone good, either.  Mississippi is going to need at least 10 SEC wins to get to the NCAA Tournament and maybe 11.
  7. Alabama (7-6) Alabama had five players in double figures in an easy 83-60 win over Pepperdine in the Tide’s only game this week.  While not as disappointing as Tennessee’s and Mississippi State’s preseason, the Tide has certainly underperformed with losses to St. Peter’s and Iowa.  This was supposed to be a better team than last year, but they played an easier preseason schedule and came out with a worse record than last year when the Tide was 11-4 going into conference play. Senior Charvez Davis, who came off the bench to score 22 points on 5-6 from deep against Lipscomb, had a night to remember while his team has had a lot of them to forget.
  8. Tennessee (9-4) I usually like to say you can throw out the first seven games of the season because teams aren’t yet in a rhythm and they’re still getting used to new personnel or coaches.  It looks like Tennessee literally “threw out the first seven games.”  After getting great wins over Villanova and Pittsburgh, the Volunteers have been terrible, losing to Oakland, Charlotte and Southern California and then barely beating Belmont and Tennessee-Martin before losing to College of Charleston.
  9. South Carolina (8-4) The Gamecocks are in free fall mode after starting 7-1. A loss to Ohio State may be understandable, but not losing to Furman for the first time in 30 years. Poor shooting (37 percent) and 19 turnovers led to a weak seven-point victory over 2-12 Jacksonville State.  Follow that with a home loss to Boston College and the Cocks are losers of three of four.  Now comes the hard part, conference play.
  10. LSU (8-7) The Tigers have lost five of seven and not necessarily to stellar competition either (no disrespect to North Texas, who thumped LSU by 20).  Let’s run down the list here: College of Charleston, Wichita State, North Texas, Rice and Virginia.  Trent Johnson has no seniors, four freshmen, and five sophomores, so we can hope that with experience and a good recruiting class, the Tigers will be better next year.
  11. Mississippi State (8-6) To recap a little of what I said earlier, this team has been a serious disappointment.  The Bulldogs have lost two straight including four of five.  That’s their third two game losing streak in their first 14 games.  Not exactly what we expected when this season started.
  12. Auburn (6-7) Auburn is on a three-game win streak, its longest so far this season, but even with that short streak and Mississippi State’s woes, I still say the Bulldogs beat Auburn handily, so here Auburn sits, at the bottom of the heap.

A Look Ahead

  • Arkansas @ Texas, Jan. 4. This is the Razorbacks’ chance to get a quality win over a non-conference foe on the road.  Do that and an NCAA berth is very likely in a weak Western division.
  • Tennessee @ Arkansas Jan. 8. I want to see how the Volunteers do without Coach Pearl at the helm.  In the preseason, it appeared that wins against Eastern division teams would be hard to come by; as Tennessee has been disappointing of late, this a prime opportunity for Arkansas to score one.
  • Mississippi @ Florida Jan. 8. Well, Mississippi kind of walked through the non-con portion, but may be the best team in the West.  Florida was tabbed as the preseason favorite in the East.  This will be a good game to gauge where these two teams really are.
  • Georgia @ Kentucky, Jan. 8. Last year, an overachieving Bulldog team led by first year head coach Mark Fox ran with the Cats for a half.  I’m interested to see what this improved Georgia team can do against a new litter of Cats led by freshmen Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.
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Set Your Tivo: 12.31.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 31st, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

A really good schedule awaits college basketball fans today on your New Year’s Eve. The Battle of the Bluegrass gets things going right away with an early noon tip, a game tailor made for Gus Johnson. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#12 Kentucky @ Louisville — 12 pm on CBS (*****)

Louisville will be shorthanded in this game but is favored according to the Vegas odds. The Cardinals, still without Jared Swopshire, will also be missing the services of Rakeem Buckles and Mike Marra this afternoon. Still, this is a game you must watch with Gus Johnson on the call. It is a unique rivalry that doesn’t get enough press and has only heated up with the addition of John Calipari and the switch of Rick Pitino from Kentucky blue to Louisville red. It started almost 100 years ago in 1913 but the teams have only met 41 times prior to today with Kentucky holding a 27-14 edge. These teams did not meet for 24 years from 1959 until an elite eight NCAA Tournament game on March 26, 1983. They have met every year since then with UK leading 18-11 in the modern era. One interesting fact is that Kentucky has never failed to win at least two games in a row after winning one throughout the entire history of this series. With the Wildcats on a one game winning streak entering the game today, that statistic, though ultimately meaningless, would suggest a UK win. Expect this game to feature a lot of threes, a big part of each team’s offense. Kentucky actually has five guys who can knock down a triple, much more than the average team. Doron Lamb and Preston Knowles are the big shooters for their respective teams with Lamb being the better of the two so far this year. The freshman has connected on 54% of his treys including a seven for eight performance against Winthrop, a large part of Kentucky’s #13 three point percentage. Knowles is Louisville’s leading scorer and a good defender who teams with Peyton Siva to really disrupt opponents on the defensive end. That will be a big factor against Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight, averaging almost four turnovers per game. Rick Pitino loves the zone press so expect a lot of trapping and aggressive on-ball defense from the Cardinals, trying to get Knight out of a rhythm and make him turnover-prone. As a whole, Kentucky takes remarkably good care of the ball with only 11 turnovers as a team. Calipari needs a good point guard to run his dribble drive offense and Knight is often the key to their success. He had an awful game in a loss to Connecticut and fouled out after committing six turnovers in UK’s loss to North Carolina. In the front court, Kentucky has the best player on the floor in Terrence Jones. The 6’8 freshman can score from almost anywhere on the floor and uses his superior athleticism effectively to create space. Another T.J., Terrence Jennings, has to have a good game defensively for Louisville. He’s a good shot blocker and must neutralize Jones inside. Despite their reliance on the three pointer, the Cardinals get a lot of points inside as well, the seventh best two point shooting team in the country. With Buckles out however, Louisville may turn even more towards the trey in order to win. Kentucky lacks a true scoring center as Josh Harrellson rebounds well but doesn’t look to score much, attempting just four field goals per game. Expect Kyle Kuric to step up in the absence of Marra and Buckles. He’s played more minutes lately and scored 25 points against Morgan State on Monday. Quite simply, this game is going to be a war. The fans hate each other, the coaches do too and even the players got into it right away last year. Most rivalry games are close and despite Louisville’s personnel issues, we expect this one to be as well. However, depth could rear its ugly head if the Cardinals get into foul trouble. Louisville fouls a lot and Pitino has to ensure that doesn’t become an issue. Even though they’re on the road, Kentucky is the better team and has to get the edge here. Take the Wildcats and the points today.

#13 Minnesota @ #18 Michigan State – 4 pm on Big Ten Network (****)

A critical game for both teams, the loser will face some tough questions going forward. With a loss today, Minnesota faces the real possibility of starting Big Ten play at 1-3 with a game at Ohio State next Sunday and Indiana in between. Michigan State would drop to 8-5 overall with a loss today, making Monday’s game at Northwestern a huge one for the Spartans. For Tom Izzo’s team, the three point line is critical in this matchup. Minnesota doesn’t defend it well at all (#260) and the Spartans shoot 40% behind a trio of capable long range bombers. Durrell Summers leads Michigan State in scoring and is arguably their best shooter from deep while Kalin Lucas and Korie Lucious can also knock down the trifecta. Tubby Smith likes to play a zone but that may hurt the Gophers in this matchup. Unless Minnesota extends their defense beyond the line, Michigan State can easily shoot right over it. Of course when you extend a zone there will be holes inside. Minnesota’s big men must lay down the law in the paint and force MSU to beat them from the outside. A strong defensive game will really limit the Spartans offensively and turn this into a rebounding battle, one Minnesota should feel confident in their ability to win. Michigan State has not been a vintage Izzo team in terms of defense and rebounding, a bad sign against a tall and talented Minnesota team. Trevor Mbakwe could be deadly against the Spartans today with his quickness and long arms around the tin. With Mbakwe inside and Blake Hoffarber outside, the Gophers will keep Michigan State on their toes all game long. Al Nolen must play better for Minnesota. Wisconsin shut him down on Tuesday night held the Minnesota offense in check en route to a victory. Turnovers will again be the story for the Spartans, averaging 16 per game. Extra possessions only enhance the Gophers chances. Michigan State looked awful against Syracuse and the Gopher bigs are even taller than Syracuse’s. Despite the KenPom prediction and the Vegas odds, we’re going against the grain and feel this game will come right down to the very end. This is anyone’s ballgame in East Lansing this afternoon.

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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 8th, 2010

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.

A Look Back

  • Count me as one who didn’t see Festus Ezeli coming.  Vanderbilt’s player with the coolest name in the Southeastern Conference was named SEC player of the week for his superior play against Western Kentucky and Belmont, averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks including a 24/10 performance against Belmont.  He now sports numbers of 13.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and two blocks per game.   And he’s doing it in only 21.3 minutes an outing.   He also leads the SEC in field goal percentage at 67.7%.  No bad for a guy who last year averaged 3.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per contest.  I for one was critical of Vanderbilit in the preseason claiming they would be weak inside after losing AJ Ogilvy.  Uncle Festus has done a fantastic job thus far and will be pivotal in some of the close SEC contests that Vanderbilt is likely to face in the stacked SEC East.
  • Speaking of Vanderbilt, three different Vanderbilt players — Brad Tinsley, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli — have been named player of the week.  Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson is the only other player in the league to be given the honor.  Also, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones and Tennessee’s Tobias Harris have been trading off freshman of the week honors.  If the pattern holds, it’s Jones’ week, a sight Wildcats fans would welcome after Jones’ horrendous 3-17 foul-out performance against North Carolina on Saturday.
  • In other Wildcat news, after Auburn football’s Cam Newton was declared eligible by the NCAA, the University of Kentucky opted to re-submit their case for Enes Kanter’s eligibility from a different angle rather than go through the appeals process.  The NCAA explained their decision to allow Newton to play by stating that there was no evidence that Newton had any idea that his father was shopping his skills to universities for pay.  In the NCAA’s eyes, as Newton was unaware that there was any issue with his amateurism, he should remain eligible to play.  UK hopes that the NCAA will hold form in what it sees as a similar case with a precedent and pass down a favorable ruling on Kanter, who is a Turkish national that received benefits above expenses while playing for a professional team in his homeland.  Kanter, his family and the school maintain that Kanter intended to play college basketball all along and did not intentionally violate any rules.  The NCAA allows foreign players to play on professional teams and maintain their amateurism so long as they do not receive benefits above expenses.
  • Auburn and Missisippi State have yet to play a road game.  Auburn at least will head to Pittsburgh to play Rutgers in a neutral site game as part of the SEC/Big East Invitational.  Mississippi State, however, will be relaxing at home this week as they won’t hit the road until December 18, when they face Virginia Tech.  Hey, isn’t that when Renardo Sidney finally plays?

Power Rankings

  1. Tennessee (6-0): Tennessee is the lone undefeated team in the SEC.  Plus they didn’t play this week, which means their record went untarnished.  The Volunteers are taking an 11-day break while they prepare for Pittsburgh.  I guess it’s kind of tough to recover after facing Middle Tennessee at home.
  2. Vanderbilt (7-1): Vanderbilt just keeps climbing.  Their only loss is to West Virginia.  No shame in that, and should they beat Missouri on Wednesday, they are all but guaranteed a top 25 ranking – A pleasant surprise for a team that was picked to finish fifth in East by the media, this writer included.
  3. South Carolina (6-1): Like Vanderbilt, South Carolina continues to impress.  Their sole blemish is a hard-fought loss to Michigan State in their second game of the year.  Again, no shame in that.  This week, they beat Delaware State and then beat Clemson in a 64-60 thriller that came down to the final minute, just the way you like to beat an in-state rival.
  4. Georgia (6-2) After two straight tough losses to Notre Dame and Temple, Georgia has won three in a row.  One of those is a three-point win against Manhattan, a team that is now 2-6 and hasn’t made the Tournament since 2004.  Georgia followed that up with a 66-64 win over UAB and a 73-72 close call against rival Geogia Tech.  With Trey Thompkins playing better after a couple of unsteady early games, all should be back on track in Athens.  Thompkins is averaging 19.7 points and 7.7 rebounds and shooting well after scoring 13 in each of his first two games on 37% from the field.
  5. Kentucky (5-2): What to do with Kentucky?  They lost to North Carolina in their only game this week, so perhaps they should go lower than some other teams on this list, but to drop them to sixth or below seems absurd.  Kentucky had no answer for Tyler Zeller on Saturday and the hole inside became a gaping chasm on Saturday when big men Terrence Jones, Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas combined for 15 fouls, 3 turnovers, 1 assist and only 13 points on 5-19 shooting.  I can hear the “Free Enes” chants coming from UK’s campus even with my headphones blasting Smashing Pumpkins.  (Hey, I’m a nineties kid).
  6. Arkansas (5-1): Arkansas went 2-0 this week against Oklahoma and Troy.  But then again, who in the SEC hasn’t beaten these teams?  Kentucky beat Oklahoma and the Sooners have lost four since and the SEC is beating up on Troy left and right.  The Trojans have already taken their licks from Alabama and Mississippi State and now Arkansas.  Their lone win is against Division-II Huntington (AL).  Coach Pelphrey, I’d love to rank you higher this week, but I can’t against these teams.  Come back with a couple more wins next week and we’ll talk.
  7. Florida (6-2): The Gators lost to Central Florida after eking out a close one against Florida State.  I know they went and pummeled American just after that and I know UCF is now 7-0, but I also know that a team with Florida’s talent shouldn’t be dropping games like that.  When starting forwards Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons combine to go 1-14 against much smaller competition, there are problems.  Furthermore, I didn’t think it was possible, but Kenny Boynton is even worse from three this year than last year.  He is currently shooting 26.5 percent, compared to 29.4 percent in 2009-10.  Dreadful.  I wasn’t convinced this group of Gators was much better than last year’s, when the media was picking them to win the SEC and possibly make a Final Four run and they are proving me the wiser.  Step it up, Florida.  There’s a lot of work to be done before conference play starts.
  8. Mississippi (4-2): Luckily for the Rebels, Chris Warren can make those off-balance threes when they matter.  Well, at least against Southern Mississippi he can.  He’s only shooting 28 percent on the year from three, but he shot 4-9 from deep against Southern Miss in his best game this season.  That’s a good win for Mississippi against a quality opponent.  Look for Southern Mississippi to do good things in Conference USA this year.
  9. Mississippi State (4-1): The Bulldogs didn’t play this week, but Ravern Johnson still leads the SEC in scoring at 25.4 per game, and he’s got plenty of breathing room.  Kentucky’s Terrence Jones is second at 19.0 points per game.  Additionally, Kodi Augustus continues to lead the league in rebounding at 10.8 per game.
  10. LSU (5-2): Also didn’t play anyone this week.  The Tigers have been on the road exactly once so far, against South Alabama. They return to the Maravich to square off against the Central Michigan Chippewas in the second of seven straight home games. Show me something, Trent Johnson.
  11. Auburn (3-4) Well, this is the first week Auburn hasn’t been in last place.  I’m not totally sure they deserve the honor, if you want to call it that.  It’s never impressive to see a Division-II team on the schedule.  Auburn beat Georgia Southwestern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff this week, both at home.  I guess when you’re playing the tough ones, you want to give yourself that homecourt advantage.
  12. Alabama (4-4) The Tide beat South Alabama 72-50 and then got worked over by Purdue 66-47 in a game in which they went 0-9 from three.  I really thought Alabama was going to be better than this.  The three-point shooting is terrible and they turn the ball over too much.  And it’s not like they’ve played the toughest competition.  Purdue is the first team Alabama has played that should have had a shot at beating the Tide.  On the bright side, I’m sure they’ll jump back in front of in-state rival Auburn next week.

A Look Ahead

The SEC/Big East Invitational is this week and can I just say that this event has turned out to be a major disappointment on the part of the conference’s planners.  Here is the lineup this year:

  • 12/8: Arkansas vs. Seton Hall, Kentucky vs. Notre Dame
  • 12/11: Auburn vs. Rutgers, Tennessee vs. Pittsburgh

As my father used to say about my shoddy yardwork, “This ain’t cuttin’ it.”  Can we please get some kind of a legitimate invitational here?  The matchups in this series are continually disappointing.  We’re lucky that Notre Dame has been surprisingly good this year, or the Tennessee/Pitt game would be the only one worth watching.  There are 28 teams between these two conferences and these are the eight teams they schedule?  Where are Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt?  Where are Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville, Georgetown, and Villanova?  Instead of providing us with some marquee publicity-generating matchups, we are given perennial cellar dwellers Auburn, Rutgers and Seton Hall.  Really?  As I said, it ain’t cuttin’ it.

Other Important Games this Week

  • 12/8 – Vanderbilt at Missouri: If Vanderbilt picks up a win here and wins the games they are supposed to through the rest of the preseason, they’ve probably all but assured themselves an NCAA Tournament bid.  All that’s left is the seeding.
  • 12/11 – Kentucky vs. Indiana: Twelve championships between them and a long-standing history of hoops tradition. What’s not to like?
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