2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by zhayes9 on August 27th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

After dissecting a trio of Big 12 teams in prior weeks, more and more elite programs are releasing their 2010-11 schedules to the masses. Let’s continue with Kentucky, a squad that reloaded following the departure of an astounding five first round draft picks.

With so much turnover, Calipari has another tough coaching job on his hands

Team Outlook: A fan base as rabid and fanatical as Kentucky’s surely awaited this week’s announcement with tremendous anticipation. Big Blue Nation has expectations for their Wildcats that perennially surpass any other program in the nation. Their point guard and this April’s #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, John Wall, will be replaced by Brandon Knight, whose high school accolades and ranking matches those of his predecessors under John Calipari. If deemed eligible by the NCAA, Enes Kanter will fill the post presence left by the ultra-productive DeMarcus Cousins. Similarly to Kanter, Terrence Jones spurned Washington and headed to Kentucky, a 6’9 wing very capable of matching the offensive production provided by Eric Bledsoe a season ago. The key word for Kentucky and Calipari since he took the helm: replenish. And if Knight, Kanter and Jones are history next April, three more top-ten recruits will fill the void. It’s a tall task for Knight and Kanter to match the contributions of Wall and Cousins, two of the top three players in the sport last season. Still, with such talent abounding, a wide open SEC, and the true dribble-drive offense back into high gear, to expect a giant step back from Big Blue and underestimating the coaching prowess of Calipari would be a grave mistake.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 7.5. A program with the visibility and significance of Kentucky should challenge themselves at every chance. Forced out of necessity more than choice to load up in November and December at Memphis, Calipari has utilized that same strategy in Lexington. The potential is there to face fellow powerhouses at least in terms of college basketball history: North Carolina, Michigan State, Louisville, Indiana, Notre Dame, Washington and Oklahoma, although these teams remain at varying degrees of competitiveness. Kentucky will surely attract an enormous contingent to Maui where they could face a top-ten team in the semifinals in Washington and a top-two team in the finals, Michigan State. North Carolina is still working its way back up to elite status following last year’s NIT berth, but the young Wildcats’ trip to the Dean Dome won’t be any sort of cakewalk. The same theory applies to Louisville on New Year’s Eve, the next chapter of one of the fiercest rivalries the sport knows. A matchup with possible NCAA squad Notre Dame should also prove competitive. Kentucky gets everyone’s best shot, and it’s no relief for Calipari that up to seven non-conference contests will be either on true road or neutral floors.

Cupcake City: Two notable cupcakes travel to Lexington when Mississippi Valley State and Coppin State make the trip for what should be 40-point blowouts, but other than that Calipari did a solid job limiting the scrubs. East Tennessee State returns their top three scorers from an NCAA Tournament team that was blown out in the first round by, you guessed it, Kentucky. I’m not saying the Wildcats are vulnerable to lose to the Buccaneers, but they will not be a total walkover. Winthrop rode a Big South Cinderella run to an NCAA bid and is on the slate. Boston University with John Holland and Jake O’Brien is halfway decent, while a Maui tune-up in Portland against the rebuilding Pilots will provide a raucous atmosphere. Last season, Kentucky did struggle a bit early in the campaign against Miami (OH), Stanford and Sam Houston State while Calipari determined roles and rotations for a plethora of new players. If the same holds true a year later, Portland and BU could be pesky opponents.

Toughest Early Season Test: It’s far from a guarantee that Kentucky downs Washington in the Maui semifinals. After all, the Huskies return the majority of their backcourt led by Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton and Abdul Gaddy with a frontcourt anchored by Matthew Bryan-Amaning and a talented newcomer in Terrence Ross. Plus, they should have plenty of motivation to knock Kentucky down a few pegs following the Kanter and Jones situations that have been rehashed continuously. If the Wildcats can survive Washington, and I have a sneaking suspicion they will, Michigan State awaits in the final if the Spartans can knock off Connecticut or Wichita State (unless they pull a Virginia against Chaminade). The Spartans return their entire Final Four squad with the exception of Raymar Morgan and Chris Allen. Containing Kalin Lucas is baptism by fire for green Brandon Knight, while wing Darius Miller may have the unenviable task of chasing around three-point bomber Durrell Summers. The Spartans will likely be ranked number two in the nation behind Duke at this point. Win or lose, the learning experience will certainly be valuable for the young Wildcats.

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 03.28.10

Posted by THager on March 28th, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Michigan State (Tom Hager)

  • Michigan State’s victory on Sunday is not without controversy.  Tennessee’s J.P. Prince, who committed the crucial foul with less than two seconds left, went over to the scorer’s table after the game and said that he did not believe there was a foul.
  • Although this is Tom Izzo’s sixth trip to the Final Four in twelve years, he makes sure not to take it for granted.  According to Izzo, reaching the Final Four is the greatest aspect of coaching because of the work involved in getting there.
  • The trip to the semifinals is even more impressive considering former MSU star Magic Johnson did not even believe that this was a Final Four team a month ago.
  • Perhaps the reason for Izzo’s success is his perfectionist attitude.  During one point in the game on Sunday, Draymond Green asked if he could make a mistake, and Izzo told him not at this crucial time of year.
  • Kalin Lucas is still the hero for Michigan State, as fans chanted his name and players carried him up to the rim to cut the nets.

Duke (Patrick Sellars)

  • The Washington Post looks at the brotherhood of the Duke Blue Devils in this article. Coach K has a team back in the Final Four for the first time since 2004.
  • Was Scott Drew’s coaching inexperience exposed in the Elite Eight matchup Sunday? Here is a look at how Drew may have cost Baylor the game and a shot at the Final Four.
  • Everyone is happy in Durham. Jon Scheyer said “It’s a dream come true. To get that win, we had to work our butts off for it, and it felt great.”
  • There was a lot of emotion in the Baylor locker room after their loss on Sunday. It was a sad end to a dream season. “You don’t want it to end,” a teary-eyed Tweety Carter said, “and you want to do whatever it takes to make it go on.”

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ATB: Tennessee Vanquishes Sweet Sixteen Demons and Evan Turner

Posted by rtmsf on March 27th, 2010

Blah Night of Games.  So given the way this Tournament has gone through the first three rounds, we should be heading into two classics on Saturday evening in the West following by the East Regional finals.  On consecutive Thursdays we had an incredible set of games followed by a rather pedestrian Friday set.  Last Saturday was another blockbuster, while Sunday was relatively tame.  Don’t let us down, K-State, Butler, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Midwest Region

NPOY Evan Turner Couldn't Get His Three to Tie Off (AP/J. Roberson)

Tennessee 76, Ohio State 73.  On Selection Sunday, every pundit talked about how great the teams were at the top of the Midwest Region, but they may have forgotten the Volunteers who were grossly underseeded. Now they are showing the Selection Committee and the rest of the nation just how good they are. In a rematch of a 2007 Sweet 16 game that ended with Greg Oden blocking a shot by Ramar Smith that could have won the game for UT, the Volunteers got their revenge in a similar fashion. This time it was Tennessee’s J.P Prince who saved the day, blocking a desperation off-balance three by NPOY Evan Turner that could have tied the game at the buzzer. While this game wasn’t quite as spectacular as the Kansas State-Butler game last night, it certainly lived up to the expectations we would have of a Sweet 16 game as neither team was able to open up more than a seven-point lead and for most of the last 35 minutes of the game it was a one-possession difference. Thanks to a strong performance by Wayne Chism who had 22 points (18 in the second half) and 11 rebounds the Volunteers were able to overcome another phenomenal performance by Turner who finished with 31 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Unfortunately for Turner, Thad Matta was unable to coax similar performances out of any of Turner’s teammates who were 3-16 from the field during the second half when Turner scored 21 of his 31 points. Perhaps it was the ridiculous minutes that Matta made his rotation play recently, but the Buckeyes just didn’t see to have the necessary spark. Without the necessary support, Turner was forced to try win the game in the final minutes when David Lighty hit consecutive baskets to give OSU a 70-68 lead. After Chism responded with four straight to give the Vols a 72-70 lead, Turner hit a three that put OSU up one and had everybody believing that maybe, just maybe, he could be enough to carry his team to Indianapolis. Those hopes were dashed when Brian Williams converted a tip-in with 32 seconds to go and Turner was unable to make a driving layup with the ensuing loose ball ending up in Tennessee’s hands. After Tennessee converted a pair of free throws, the stage was set for Turner to etch his name into Tournament lore, but after missing a good look with a little over five seconds left he chased down the ball only to have an off-balance shot blocked by Prince. Despite the disappointing finish, this year will go down as Turner’s year in the minds of everyone who watched him this season. Although Turner says he isn’t sure what he will do with regards to the NBA Draft, we suspect that he will be headed toward NBA millions very soon. Next up for the Volunteers (playing in their first Elite Eight in school history) will be Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans. With the Vols on the verge of a Final Four trip less than three months after their season fell apart on New Year’s Day during the Tyler Smith fiasco, we have to ask the question that we asked almost a month ago: How is Bruce Pearl not mentioned as a legitimate National Coach of the Year candidate? Nobody has overcome more adversity than the Vol coach and yet he didn’t even finish in the top two in his own conference voting (behind Kevin Stallings and John Calipari).

MSU Just Squeezes the Life Out of Teams in March (AP)

Izzo Does It Again. #5 Michigan State 59, #9 Northern Iowa 52.  It’s starting to feel like Tom Izzo could take a group of circus animals, screw around with them for a few months and then have them all come together just in time to make a run to the Final Four.  With tonight’s win over Cinderella and Kansas-slayer Northern Iowa, Izzo’s team will return to the Elite Eight for the seventh time in his fifteen years at the schools (he’s 5-1 in this round).  It’s especially amazing considering just how banged up his Spartans are and how inconsistent they’ve been throughout this season.  But MSU did what they do, which is play inspired defense, make just enough plays on offense to put together a mini-run and squeeze the life out of the game in the final minutes to seal the victory.  Northern Iowa is just another victim on a long, long list of teams that have fallen as a result of this strategy.  As usual, the Spartans shut down the key players for UNI, with last weekend’s hero shooting a rough 2-9 from the field and contributing only nine points, Adam Koch struggling to get the ball in the right places and adding only 13 in 18 foul-plagued minutes, and Jordan Eglseder coming up with only nine himself.  The Panthers shot only 39% from the field, which is on par with what they were able to hit against Kansas last weekend, but they were unable to force as many turnovers against MSU and they were absolutely ice cold during the last quarter of the game (zero FGs in the last ten minutes of action).  Northern Iowa was undoubtedly one of the best stories of this year’s Tournament, and they have nothing to be ashamed of in losing a defensive grinder with the team that wrote the template.  Any of a number of other surviving teams in the Elite Eight could have been challenged by the Panther defense and style of play, but it was quite simply a bad matchup for them.  Even a battered and beat up Michigan State team isn’t going to allow another team to out-Izzo them, which is what would have had to happen for UNI to win this game tonight.

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.26.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 27th, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Midwest Region (Tom Hager)

  • Kalin Lucas, who has a torn ACL, had his jersey hung from the cieling of Michigan State’s locker room.
  • According to Durrell Summers of Michigan State, Lucas is still motivating his teammates and giving Korie Lucious advice on playing point guard.  Lucas has put off surgery in order to stay with the team.
  • The key for Michigan State was their second-half rebounding where they dominated the glass 22-9.  The Spartans average over 39 rebounds per game.
  • Tennessee’s J.P. Prince is convinced that his block on Ohio State’s Evan Turner was clean.  The block helped the Vols advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.  Turner, who along with his other teammates did not shake hands with the Tennessee players, said that he can’t dwell on the call any longer.

West Region (Andrew Murawa)

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Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis: Friday Night

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 2010

Over the next two days, RTC will break down the regional semifinal games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are Thursday night’s games from the East and West Regionals.

7:07 pm – #2 Ohio State vs. #6 Tennessee  (Midwest Region)

We know the Buckeyes have had three full days of rest since their second round game against Georgia Tech.  But Thad Matta has shortened (and by “shortened,” we mean “set on fire and forgotten about”) his bench so much late in the season and in this tournament that you have to even wonder if that’s enough time for the Buckeyes to recover.  Jon Diebler has played every minute of the Buckeyes’ first two tournament games.  William Buford has missed two minutes of action TOTAL out of the possible 210 minutes of game time in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.  David Lighty and Evan Turner have only sat for five minutes in that same time span.  The only starter who sits for any amount of time is big man Dallas Lauderdale, and he still plays at least 30 minutes a game.  Yet, the Buckeyes keep rolling.  The only thing Jon Diebler seems tired of is finding himself open behind the three point line.  He’s 11-22 in OSU’s two tournament games, and a lot of these things aren’t monitor-checkers.  They were deep.  And of course Turner has shown us his usual excellence.  There aren’t any surprises with the Buckeyes.  Tennessee, though, is a different story.  You never know whose night it’s going to be.  Scotty Hopson, Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince…any one or two of these guys can get hot, but then you have to worry about players like Brian Williams or Melvin Goins or Bobby Maze stepping up with a 15 point or 12 rebound night.  OSU’s four-forwards-and-Turner (who’s officially listed as a forward!) will be able to keep the Volunteer guards from getting too out of hand, but can they guard and rebound against the slightly taller Tennessee bigs?  As a team, rebounding is one of the few Buckeye weaknesses, and Tennessee has shown the capability to dominate the glass this year when they put their minds to it.  Both teams are among the nation’s best when it comes to guarding the three, but it’s OSU that gets a little more of their offense from the long ball.  On paper, the matchups are not favorable for OSU.  And the Tennessee kids are the kind who will relish the fact that they’re “supposed” to lose this game.  We doubt it’ll be a blowout, and remarkably both of these teams are fantastic in games decided by ten points or less.  In those games, OSU is 10-5 this season, and Tennessee is 13-2.  It’s gonna be a fun one.

The Skinny:  If both teams guard the three well, it will hurt OSU more than Tennessee.  Factor in the possibility that all those minutes could be catching up to the Buckeyes, and you have the makings of an upset.  It’s not easy taking the Volunteers in this game, because of how they can sometimes take nights off between the ears.  But Tennessee has had two chances to underestimate their opponent in this tournament, and didn’t either time.  They won’t here; they know what OSU can do.  Wouldn’t be surprised to see the Volunteers emerge.

7:27 pm – #3 Baylor vs. #10 St. Mary’s  (South Region)

The Gaels come into this game as one of the tournament’s Cinderellas, but this time Cinderella is actually the Tournament’s giant with Omar Samhan who has been the most dominant big man in the field so far after dominating Richmond and Villanova to the point where analysts were ripping Jay Wright for not doubling down on Samhan fo abusing Villanova’s interior players. In Wright’s defense, doubling down on Samhan would leave the St Mary’s guards open on the perimeter where they rank fourth in the country from beyond the arc. Scott Drew probably won’t be saddled with that dilemma since he has a center in 6’10 Ekpe Udoh who is every bit as good as Samhan. Even if Samhan does get the edge on Udoh here he will have to deal with 6’10 Anthony Jones, 7′ Josh Lomers and 6’7 Quincy Acy. With such a strong interior defense, the Bears block more shots than any other team in the NCAA Tournament at more than seven blocks per game so don’t expect Samhan to dominate the Bears like he did the Spiders and Wildcats. In addition to the challenge for Samhan on the offensive end, he will also be under pressure on defense going against a likely first rounder in Udoh. After hearing that you might be forgiven for thinking that this game will be decided solely on what happens on the inside, but you would be wrong. The matchup of guards featuring LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter against Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova could be the key to the game with the Bears having the edge in athleticism and the Gaels having the edge in shooting. Saint Mary’s will need their perimeter players (especially McConnell who is a ridiculous 75-145, or 51.7% from 3 this season) to hit treys against Baylor’s zone to open up space for Samhan to operate. If McConnell and Delledova can keep Dunn and Carter in front of them most of the time, the WCC might get its first team in the Elite Eight since 1999 when Gonzaga made it their before losing to eventual champion UConn (yes, that is the last time the Bulldogs made it that far).

The Skinny: Everyone will be talking about Baylor coming into this game with the homecourt advantage since the game is being played in Houston (a little over 180 miles away from Baylor’s campus in Waco), but Baylor doesn’t have a strong following like other schools in the state do. In fact, we might get a “Duke at Greensboro” situation where UNC fans (or in this case Texas and Texas A&M) root against the local team. Still the combination of Udoh, Dunn, and Carter should be enough to get it done as Samhan’s beastly NCAA Tournament run comes to an end.
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on January 12th, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.

1. Other than Kansas students, graduates, former players and all former or current residents of Lawrence, was there anyone in this fine country of ours rooting for the #1 Jayhawks to beat a depleted Tennessee team, a group of kids and a stunned head coach that just dealt with the suspension and/or dismissal of four of its regular rotation players? All of the events that occurred in that two-hour window in Knoxville Sunday was a release of pent-up frustration and anxiety from a tumultuous week in which Tennessee was considered a prime threat to upend favorite Kentucky in the SEC one day and counted out as a SEC contender that must scratch and claw the final two months for an NCAA berth the next. Renaldo Woolridge banking in a three, the Vols maintaining their lead with Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince on the bench with four fouls, the coach’s son Steven taking a critical charge, a miracle Skyler McBee (one of three walk-ons playing substantial minutes) leaning trey that iced the game, and coach Bruce Pearl aiding the Volunteer mascot in waving the orange Tennessee flag while the sounds of Rocky Top reverberated throughout Thompson-Boling Arena summed up what college basketball should be about. Bill Self pointed this out after the game, but there are some moments during a season when a team officially becomes a team instead of a group of individuals. Even though Pearl would gladly reset the timer to New Year’s Eve and prevent four scholarship players from getting in that car, sometimes it takes a catastrophic occurrence that truly tests the mettle of a unit for them to band together and accomplish lofty goals. I think it’s fair to say Tennessee became a team Sunday night.

2. As long as Mike Anderson is employing his Forty Minutes of Hell hellacious press on demoralized opponents, especially on a home floor where his team has won 30 consecutive games, Missouri should never be totally counted out of the Big 12 race. Losing DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence from an Elite 8 squad isn’t easy to overcome, and certainly the ceiling for the Tigers isn’t nearly as high, but the ultra-talented and quick Mizzou backcourt should have enough firepower to carry them to an NCAA berth. Missouri carried an impressive 12-3 record into their Big 12 opener with #10 Kansas State Saturday, yet their overall resume wasn’t incredibly awe-inspiring with their best wins over Old Dominion, Illinois, Georgia and Oregon and opportunities lost in defeats at the hands of Richmond, Vanderbilt and Oral Roberts. The win Saturday was clearly a statement that Missouri will be a contending force in the Big 12 for that #3 spot behind Texas and Kansas. Anderson looks to have a workable combination with experienced seniors J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor (evident by Taylor’s tie-breaking 3 with under a minute to play) making plays in late-game situations, a promising sophomore backcourt duo of Kim English and Marcus Denmon carrying most of the scoring load, and a defensive unit that ranks seventh overall in D efficiency, first in turnovers forced and gives Missouri a fighting chance on any night.

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What You Missed While Watching College Football…

Posted by zhayes9 on January 8th, 2010

Zach Hayes is RTC’s resident bracketologist plus author of the weekly Ten Tuesday Scribbles and Bubble Watch columns.

With college football crowning another faux-national champion Thursday night in Pasadena, the college sports scene can officially shift its axis to basketball. While a number of college basketball diehards such as yours truly were knee-deep in mid-major box scores and enthralling non-conference tournaments since the season tipped off in mid-November, it’s perfectly understandable for our college football-fan brethren out there to have been entranced in the gridiron scene during this time. For many folks out there, college basketball truly begins when a football champion is crowned and conference play heats up, when Rece and the gang show up on our TVs every Saturday morning at 11 AM and the bubble begins to take its early shape. For those people, you sure missed plenty of exciting hoops action. To get you caught up in what has gone down thus far on the hardwood, here’s a summary for your enjoyment, divvied up into the six major conferences and all the rest:

ACC

What we’ve learned: There was much back-and-forth debate entering this season whether Duke or North Carolina represented the class of this conference. After two solid months of play, it’s fairly evident Duke has separated themselves from their bitter rival as the class of the ACC. While the Tar Heels may top Duke skill-wise up front, Carolina simply does not boast the backcourt to even contend with the Dukies’ tandem of Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith. The primary knock on Duke heading into this season was point guard play with Elliot Williams transferring to Memphis. As a true sharp-shooting 2-guard who creates his shots coming off screens in Redick-like fashion, could Scheyer handle the responsibility of running the Duke offense? The answer has been resounding in the affirmative: 19.7 PPG, 46% FG, 92% FT, 43% 3pt and an otherworldly 4.8 A/TO ratio that currently leads the nation. Another key to Duke’s early season success has been Coach K’s willingness to adjust his defense to fit his roster. Rather than employing the normal Duke on-ball pressure attack, Krzyzewski is utilizing more of a sagging defense that plays into the frontcourt depth Duke enjoys with six players that receive time at 6’8 or taller.

Scheyer Has His Devils Looking Great This Season

What’s still to be determined: After Duke and Carolina (and let’s not go overboard following the Heels loss to Charleston, they’re still clearly the second best team in this conference), who will emerge as the third contender behind the top two dogs? An ever-shifting proposition, the current edge probably goes to Florida State despite their utter lack of point guard play. The Seminoles are one of the tallest teams in the nation and have a few capable long-range shooters that get open looks when defenses collapse on Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton. Plus, they’re off to a head start with a December win at ACC foe Georgia Tech. Plenty of folks think Clemson could be that team behind powerful big man Trevor Booker, but they lack a second scoring option and I can’t stop thinking back to their collapse at home to an inexperienced Illinois squad. It would be unwise to count out Gary Williams, and the jury’s still out on Virginia Tech and Miami due to their soft schedules, so I’ll give the current edge to Wake Forest as that third team. The road win at Gonzaga’s on-campus arena stands out, Ish Smith has turned into a fine point guard and Al-Farouq Aminu has as much pure talent as anyone in this conference.

NCAA Locks: Duke, North Carolina.

Likely bids: Clemson, Florida State, Wake Forest.

Bubble teams: Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami (FL), Virginia Tech.

Make other plans for March: Boston College, North Carolina State, Virginia.

Big East

What we’ve learned: The NCAA picture is shaping up quite similarly to last season when Louisville (regular season champion), Pittsburgh and Connecticut all received #1 seeds. There will be much back-and-forth debate about whether the top three teams this season — Syracuse, West Virginia and Villanova -- holds the edge in this conference, but does it really matter? Right now you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think Kansas, Texas, Kentucky and Purdue are the likely #1 seeds (of course plenty could change, we have two months of games left), while those top contenders in the Big East are likely all on the second seed line. Even of greater importance though is the obvious revelation that Jamie Dixon can coach basketball. You wouldn’t be alone if you counted out Pittsburgh following a near-loss to Wofford, a 47-point output at home vs. New Hampshire and a second half butt-kicking at the hands of Indiana, but those losses came without their most athletic player, Gilbert Brown, and their best defender, Jermaine Dixon. Those two have returned to action with the most improved Big East player Ashton Gibbs (who recently broke the all-time Pitt record for consecutive free throws made) as a fearsome trio that has carried the Panthers to road wins over previously-undefeated Syracuse and fringe-top 25 Cincinnati. If Dixon is able to coax his Panthers into a NCAA Tournament team after losing such enormous production and leadership in Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields, there is little debate on his merits as National Coach of the Year.

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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by rtmsf on January 5th, 2010

Paul Jordan of Wildcat Blue Blog is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.

STANDINGS

EAST

  1. Kentucky       15-0    
  2. Tennessee      10-2
  3. Florida       11-3
  4. Vanderbilt         11-3
  5. South Carolina       8-5
  6. Georgia         7-5

WEST

  1. Mississippi State      12-3
  2. Mississippi      11-2
  3. Alabama      10-4
  4. LSU        9-5
  5. Auburn         8-6
  6. Arkansas       7-7

NEWS & NOTES

  • The big story in the SEC this week was the arrest and indefinite suspension of four Tennessee basketball players — Tyler Smith, Melvin Goins, Cameron Tatum and Brian Williams.  The group was arrested on a myriad of drug and weapon charges.  Some of the charges were felonies, and given the recent problems with UT’s football program, it is hard to imagine any scenario in which the players may step back on the court this season.  It is a big loss for the Vols, as the players had accounted for 33 points a game.  Elsewhere, South Carolina dismissed forward Mike Holmes from the team for repeated rule violations.  Holmes is the second starter lost this season for the Gamecocks as Dominique Archie was also lost for the season due to injury. 
  • Kentucky continues to be the class of the SEC in the rankings, holding onto their #3 ranking in both the AP Top 25 and the ESPN/USA Today poll.  Tennessee is #15 in the ESPN/USA Today poll and #16 in the AP Top 25.  Mississippi remains the third ranked team at #14 in the AP poll and #16 in the ESPN/USA Today.  Florida is hovering just outside the top 25 and may re-emerge with another strong week or two. 
  • Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins was named SEC Player of the Week again after averaging 18.5 points and 15.0 rebounds in two Wildcat wins.  Cousins also won the Freshman of the Week award last week for his double-double performances against Drexel and Long Beach State.  This week, that honor goes to Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins, who averaged 17.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3 assists in a pair of Commodore wins.  

WHAT TO LOOK FOR THIS WEEK

The parade of cupcakes ends later this week as SEC play officially gets underway.  What else really needs to be said?  As of right now, the SEC has seven teams with 10 wins already, and you have to consider each strong tournament teams right now.  Let’s see how these teams hold up as it goes within the conference from here on out.

  • 1/5 – #2 Texas (13-0) @ Arkansas (7-7) – 7:00 PM – ESPN2
  • 1/5 – #17 Georgia Tech (11-2) @ Georgia (7-5) – 7:00 PM – ESPN360
  • 1/6 – Charlotte (10-3) @ #15 Tennessee (10-2) – 7:00 PM – ESPN360
  • 1/9 – Florida (11-3) @ Vanderbilt (11-3) – 12:00 PM – ESPN2
  • 1/9 – Mississippi State (12-3) @ #16 Mississippi (11-2) – 1:30 PM – ESPN360
  • 1/9 – Alabama (10-4) @ LSU (9-5) – 5:00 PM
  • 1/10 – #1 Kansas (13-0) @ #15 Tennessee (10-2) – 4:30 PM – CBS

TEAM UPDATES (ratings are AP, ESPN/USA Today)
 
EAST

  • Kentucky (#3, #3)John Wall set a UK record for assists with 16 as UK crushed the Hartford Hawks 104-61 on Tuesday night.  DeMarcus Cousins added 19 points and 12 boards and Darius Miller scored a season high 16 points to key the  ’Cats win.  On Saturday, Kentucky endured a sluggish first half and then pulled away in the second half to defeat bitter in-state rival Louisville 71-62.  Cousins led the way with 18 points and 18 rebounds.  Patrick Patterson and John Wall both had 17 points.  Kentucky, at 15-0, is off to their best start in 40 years. 
  • Tennessee (#16, #15)Wayne Chism had 15 points and nine rebounds, and Tennessee dominated inside for a 66-59 victory over Memphis on New Year’s Eve.  JP Prince and Tyler Smith had 12 and 11 to lead the Vols in the rivalry game.
  • Florida—Florida breezed to a 43-13 halftime lead against Presbyterian and then coasted for a 79-38 win.  The Gators outrebounded the Blue Hose, yes, the Blue Hose, by a 48-24 margin.  Chandler Parsons led the way with 21 points off the bench and Alex Tyus had 16 points and 13 boards while Erik Murphy had a double-double (16 pts, 11 boards) off the bench.  Chandler Parsons hit a dramatic 75-foot shot as time expired in OT to give the Gators a 62-61 win over NC State.  The three-pointer was Parson’s only FG of the game.  Vernon Macklin had 14 points and Erving Walker 13 to lead the Gators in scoring. 
  • Vanderbilt—Freshman reserve John Jenkins scored 15 points to lead Vanderbilt to an 86-48 victory over Manhattan.  Eleven players scored for the Commodores, the third straight game that Vanderbilt had at least 10 players score.  AJ Ogilvy also came off the bench to add 12 points.  John Jenkins scored a career-high 20 points to lead Vanderbilt in an 82-46 rout of Southern Mississippi.  The freshman guard was 6-of-6 from 3-point range and the Commodores shot a season-high 64.3 percent (9-for-14) from beyond the arc. Jeffery Taylor had 14 points off the bench and Ogilvy had 10 points in his return to the starting lineup as Vandy blasted Middle Tennessee 73-53.  Vanderbilt proves to be one of the SEC’s deeper teams as five players scored in double figures. 
  • South Carolina—The Gamecocks battled back from a 21-point halftime deficit, but it was not enough as they fell short to the Boston College Eagles 85-76.  Devan Downey had 29 points and Brandis Raley-Ross 13, but SC fell to 8-4 on the season.  Baylor made a clean sweep of its two games in the SEC, this time stopping the Gamecocks 85-74.  Downey had 20 points and Lakeem Jackson 19 but it was not enough to stop the Gamecocks’ second loss of the week.   
  • GeorgiaTrey Thompkins had 12 points and 13 rebounds as the Bulldogs dusted the Pepperdine Waves 64-47.  Travis Leslie and Ricky McPhee also scored in double digits for the Bulldogs.  The Bulldogs were no match for the Missouri Tigers on Saturday as they were routed 89-61.  Leslie was the only Bulldog in double digits with 18 points as the Bulldogs had only 6 assists against 23 turnovers.

WEST

  • Mississippi (#14, #16)—Ole Miss set a school record for three-pointers with 14 as they beat Jackson State 90-75.  Terrico White hit 7 of 10 from beyond the arc and scored 29 points to lead the Rebels.  Zach Graham added 14 points. 
  • Mississippi State—Jarvis Varnado scored a season-high 23 points and tied his career-best 17 rebounds as Mississippi State won its ninth straight with a 77-68 victory over San Diego on New Year’s Eve.  The Bulldogs used their superior inside game to take control of the game late in the first half and maintained its lead throughout the game.  Kodi Augustus added 17 points.  MSU also suffered a tough loss at the hand of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 55-52.  Jarvis Varnado had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Bulldogs and Dee Bost added 13 off the bench. 
  • AlabamaJaMychal Green scored 19 points and had eight rebounds to lead Alabama to a 77-65 victory over Tennessee State.  Senario Hillman added 15 points and six assists for the Crimson Tide, who have won three of their past four games.  Mikhail Torrance scored 19 points to lead Alabama over Toledo 67-50 on Monday night for their third straight win. Justin Knox added 14 points and Green had 12 for the Crimson Tide who have put together a three-game winning streak for the third time this season.
  • LSU—LSU is starting to look like a team that will not be able to compete in the SEC as they got thumped by Xavier 89-65.  LSU has gotten blown out of a couple of matchups against NCAA-level teams so far this season.  Bo Spencer, Tasmin Mitchell and Storm Warren accounted for 49 of the Tigers 65 points.  The Tigers also blew a 12-point second half lead in the second half and went down to Utah, 61-59.  Warren (21 points) and Mitchell (19 points) accounted for over two-thirds of the Tiger’s points.  LSU snapped their three game losing streak with a 83-60 romp over McNeese State.  Mitchell and Spencer had 19 and 18 points, respectively, to lead the Tigers. 
  • AuburnLucas Hargrove had 20 points and 13 rebounds as Auburn overcame a sluggish start to beat Charleston Southern 77-62 on Tuesday night.  The Tigers fell behind 22-15, but turned up the pressure and forced 22 turnovers.  Frankie Sullivan added 10 points and six steals for Auburn.  Brendon Knox scored 18 points and 11 rebounds for his first career double-double and Auburn defeated Georgia Southern 95-75.  The Tigers shot a season-high 54.2 percent from three-point range (13 of 24), including a 4-5 effort by Sullivan who finished with 15 points.
  • Arkansas—The Razorbacks had a chance to get a good statement win but were blown out at home by Baylor, 70-47.  Jemal Farmer, Rotnei Clark and Marshawn Powell were the only Razorbacks to show up as they scored 38 of Arkansas’s 47 points.  Arkansas had a chance to redeem themselves against #24 UAB but suffered a heartbreaking 73-72 loss as UAB scored at the buzzer.  The Hogs got good games from Powell (22), Washington (18), and Clark (16) but those three accounted for 56 of Arkansas’ 72 points. 
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2009-10 Conference Primers: #5 – SEC

Posted by rtmsf on November 3rd, 2009

seasonpreviewPaul Jordan of Wildcat Blue Blog is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish:

SEC EAST

  1. Kentucky  (13-3)
  2. Tennessee  (11-5)
  3. South Carolina  (10-6)
  4. Vanderbilt (10-6)
  5. Florida (7-9)
  6. Georgia  (2-14)

SEC WEST

  1. Mississippi State (10-6)
  2. Mississippi (9-7)
  3. Arkansas (9-7)
  4. Alabama (7-9)
  5. LSU  (6-10)
  6. Auburn (4-12)

All-Conference Team:

  • John Wall (G), Kentucky
  • Devan Downey (G), South Carolina
  • Tyler Smith (F), Tennessee
  • Patrick Patterson (F), Kentucky
  • Jarvis Varnado (F), Mississippi State

6th Man. Terrico White (G), Mississippi

Impact Newcomer. John Wall (G), Kentucky

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What You Need to Know.  After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 16 years, the Kentucky Wildcats are poised to regain their role at the top of the SEC, having added the number one recruiting class and top coach John Calipari. This year looks to be a year of redemption and resurgence not only for UK but for the whole SEC which placed just three teams in the NCAA last year.  Tennessee, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are very strong, experienced teams in the East that should go dancing.  Mississippi State hopes to win the West behind Jarvis Varnado and Mississippi and Arkansas look to be much improved and can give any team in the SEC fits.

Predicted Champion. Kentucky  (NCAA Seed:  #1).  Kentucky returns Patrick Patterson and the core group of the team that won 22 games last season.  The main loss for UK was junior Jodie Meeks who went to the NBA, but in his place, UK added the number one recruiting class and hired head coach John Calipari.  Obviously, Calipari faces the task of instilling a new offense with six new faces, but the Cats are so deep that freshman Daniel Orton, a top 25 player, will have to battle for significant playing time.  The Wildcats achilles heel last year was at point guard and UK added two of the top four freshman points in John Wall and Eric Bledsoe.  Talent and depth alone make this a top 10 team and if Calipari can install his DDMO effectively, this is a legitimate Final Four team.

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RTC 2009-10 Top 65 Games: January

Posted by zhayes9 on October 22nd, 2009

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Last Monday we broke down the top games of November and December as part of our season preview here at Rush the Court. As we examine the best games of the month of January, keep in mind what games during this crucial portion of the season usually represent: separating the contenders from the pretenders. With conference play heating up, the true top-seed players emerge from the pack and leap up their conference standings, while teams that may have overachieved or floated along on a cupcake-filled slate during the first two months begin to fall apart. Here are the games of great importance to circle on your calendar for January:

Ed. Note: we are not including projected matchups from the preseason tournaments in these 65 games because those will be analyzed separately.

January 1- West Virginia at Purdue (#7 overall)- The top game in the entire month of January will be played on the first day of 2010. You won’t find a more bruising, rugged and intense contest played all year with Bob Huggins and Matt Painter’s teams battling it out in East Lafayette. West Virginia is led by the shooting ability of Da’Sean Butler, the super-athletic Devin Ebanks, the two headed point-guard combo of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant and impact JC transfer Casey Mitchell. Purdue will be entering their third full season with the core of E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and Keaton Grant intact.

January 2- Louisville at Kentucky (#23 overall)- This game has been circled for fans of Big Blue since the details emerged of Rick Pitino’s affair and subsequent extortion mess. They’ll be on Pitino relentlessly for these transgressions because they know their ultra-talented Wildcats can back up the berating on the court. Kentucky fans will also be eager for revenge after Edgar Sosa’s stunning game-winning three a season ago crushed Kentucky in Freedom Hall. Sosa will have to handle sensational freshman John Wall this time around.

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January 9- Kansas at Tennessee (#12 overall)- If Tennessee gets into an offensive rhythm, they can hang with the Jayhawks. Look for Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism to utilize their versatility to move Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson and other Kansas bigs away from the basket while allowing their wings — Scotty Hopson, J.P. Prince -- to penetrate inside and draw fouls while Kansas has to recover. This could be an electric, high-scoring affair that may be decided at the foul line.

January 9- West Virginia at Notre Dame (#24 overall)- How about four top-25 games to kick off the month of January? This Big East clash is one of West Virginia’s toughest road tests in their quest of a conference title. Notre Dame recently had a long home court winning streak and the West Virginia forwards Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith and Deniz Kilici have to deal with the likely BE POY Luke Harangody. Whether the Irish can receive production from their guards is the key.

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RTC 2009-10 Impact Players: Mid-South Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 7th, 2009

impactplayers

Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South and Deep South) are located here.

It’s time for the fifth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of landlocked states that produce some really good basketball players – the Mid-South.   Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season.  Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five  in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation.  Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man.  We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off.  The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?

Mid-South Region (KY, TN, MO, AR, OK)

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  • James Anderson – Jr, F – Oklahoma St. An obvious and unanimous choice for our Mid-South list, James Anderson cannot be blamed if he has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder right now.  Let’s see:  he’s the third-leading returning scorer in the Big 12  for the upcoming season; last year the guy averages 18.2 points, 5.7 boards, shoots over 48% from the field as well as over 82% from the line and 41% from beyond the three-point line… and he gets left off the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list.  Anderson has coolly acknowledged his surprise at this slight, and we think he’s well within his right to do so.  No doubt this will provide motivation for the versatile forward as he embarks upon his junior season for a Cowboys squad that needs him in the leadership role.  Gone are Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris, leaving only Anderson and Obi Muonelo in terms of returning double-digit scorers.  That’s over 27 points a game for which to compensate, so Anderson will get the touches, without question.  Last year was the first trip to the NCAA Tournament for Oklahoma State in the last four years, and despite the aforementioned losses, Cowboy fans are most assuredly expecting another bid this season.  If it’s going to happen, it will be on Anderson’s shoulders.  We know that making our Impact Players list for the Mid-South region isn’t the same as making the preseason Wooden Award Top 50.  But at least we can say… hey James… we got your back, man.
  • Patrick Patterson – Jr, F – Kentucky. Patrick Patterson didn’t need a ton of motivation to return for a junior season in Lexington. The potential NBA riches were surely enticing, but with the news of John Calipari’s hire and subsequent commitments of a recruiting class for the ages, Patterson found himself in a spot where another season at Kentucky may mean a national championship, a far cry from the tumultuous two campaigns he spent in the Bluegrass State under the tutelage of Billy Gillispie. Patterson is a physical specimen in the paint for Kentucky and coach Cal has to be absolutely salivating at the thought of pairing Patterson and diaper dandy DeMarcus Cousins there to complement John Wall, Darius Miller and Eric Bledsoe on the perimeter (just think if Jodie Meeks had stuck around). Patterson nearly finished with a double-double last season at 17.9 ppg and 9.3 rpg, including a dominant 22/15 performance at future #1 seed Louisville, a 19/16 vs. Miami and 21/18 vs. Auburn. In fact, Patterson led the SEC with 15 double-doubles in 2008-09 and was the only player in the conference to finish in the top five in scoring and rebounding. A wildly underrated part of Patterson’s game is his 77% ft to go along with an efficient 60% from the field overall. Most NBA scouts think Patterson will only get stronger and continue to improve with another season in college, a scary thought for opposing SEC coaches and forwards, and a delightful proposition for Calipari. The 6’8″ big man already possesses an NBA-ready frame, a beast on the blocks that loves to bang inside and fight for any rebound in his vicinity. If Patrick Patterson gets the ball deep, he will score. Period. And with John Wall, possibly the top point guard in the nation this season, making those entry passes, Patterson should be able to average a double-double for Kentucky, only adding to the 1,000+ points he’s already totaled as a Wildcat. Barring injury (which isn’t a certainty as PP battled a stress fracture in his ankle in 07-08), Patterson seems about as surefire as anyone in the country to earn national accolades this season. But with realistic hopes of a Final Four at Kentucky for the first time in Patterson’s career, it won’t be about personal accomplishments for the determined forward; it’ll be all about wins.

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RTC Class Schedule 2009-10: Purdue Boilermakers

Posted by zhayes9 on September 7th, 2009

seasonpreview 09-10

Ed. Note: for all of the posts in the RTC 09-10 Class Schedule series, click here.

The Final Four in Indianapolis sets up a dream scenario for Purdue coach Matt Painter. Much like Michigan State last season, who cruised through Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Detroit en route to the national title game, Purdue has the potential to set a goal of playing in front of their Indiana faithful at Lucas Oil Stadium for Final Four 2010. With a first/second round site in Milwaukee and the Midwest Regional located in St. Louis, Purdue could go the route of their Big Ten rivals a year ago by garnering a #1 seed on Selection Sunday.

Does Purdue have the tools to reach such lofty goals? Absolutely. For the second straight season, the core of the Boilermakers return to try and make the next step in March after falling in the second round in 2008 and in the Sweet 16 in 2009. You know the names by now- 6’10 forward JaJuan Johnson, whose numbers improved drastically from his rookie campaign, Chicago scoring guard E’Twaun Moore, team leader and potential Big Ten POY Robbie Hummel, defensive stalwart Chris Kramer and the emerging young point Lewis Jackson to compliment Keaton Grant. In addition, Painter lured in four talented Indiana recruits.

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In order to reach Indianapolis, the Boilermakers must trek through this challenging schedule:

Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 7.5. The non-conference schedule is fairly demanding for the Boilermakers. One of the best non-conference games of the year takes place on New Year’s Day between two of the most rugged teams in the nation- Purdue and West Virginia. The Mountaineers return Devin Ebanks, Da’Sean Butler and Darryl Bryant for a team that could contend for a Big East crown.  Purdue also plays in the Wooden Tradition on December 19 against an unknown opponent (it’s getting late, kids) and takes on Wake Forest at home in the ACC/Big Ten challenge a year after Duke entered West Lafayette and dominated. Painter and Co. must also travel to Tuscaloosa to take on new coach Anthony Grant and Alabama. The real tests could come in November at the Paradise Jam.

Cupcake City: Not too many cupcakes for Matt Painter this non-conference season which makes sense given his team’s talent level. Purdue faces Memphis’ favorite team, Cal State Northridge, to open the campaign with an easy first round Paradise Jam game and Central Michigan rounding out November. Ball State, Valparaiso and SIU-Edwardsville rounds out the cupcake list.

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