2008-09 Quarterly Report – Midseason

Posted by rtmsf on January 13th, 2009

The regular season is flying by.  Believe it or not, we’re only nine weeks away from having an official NCAA Tournament Bracket to review and obsess over.  We also happen to be nine weeks removed from opening night, so yesterday marked the official midpoint – 63 days on each side – of the regular season.  Which means, of course, for all you folks who have been busy with the holidays, busy with the bowl games, busy with the NFL Playoffs…  let’s get you caught up.


From now until the first tip in Dayton March 17th on the Road to the F4 in Detroit (ugh), roughly 150 or so teams are realistically jostling for position to be selected as one of the Chosen 65.   As we nestle into the familiarity of conference play (only the Ivies have yet to begin) and America once again wakes up to our game, weaknesses will be exposed, experienced teams will try to avoid complacency and young teams will start to figure it all out.  Come Selection Sunday, many of these prospective bracketeers will have fallen by the wayside, but there will be 50 or so at-large teams holding NCAA-caliber resumes, even though only 34 will be taken.   Before we jump in with both feet into the fun that the next two months will bring, let’s take a look back at the first two months to see what we’ve learned.

Carolina is Not Unbeatable, but Are the Heels Still the Favorite? A mere month ago we wrote that North Carolina was playing like  a team with plans to lose no more than a couple of games (if that many) all season.  Then the last eight days happened.  First, UNC lost at home to an underwhelming BC team, followed by a road loss at Wake Forest last night to start 0-2 in the ACC.  So what’s going on – how can this juggernaut of a team with nearly everyone returning look so… mortal?  It’s easy, really.  So far, UNC’s defense hasn’t been up to snuff.  It’s more efficient as a whole than last year’s version, but their statistical profile is elevated on the defensive end by forcing turnovers which in turn fuels their lethal fast break.   In a halfcourt set, as Wake and BC repeatedly and effectively showed, UNC can be penetrated and exposed.  The key to playing with the Heels is limiting those TOs that Ty Lawson turns into the quick strikes that overwhelm teams.  Is it a fatal flaw?  It could be (how’s that for a hedge?).  Teams that can’t consistently make stops don’t win championships, but we really don’t see why UNC’s defense shouldn’t be able to make the commitment to improve over the next two months.  The 2005 title team only became legit once Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May got serious about stopping people in addition to outscoring them.  Can the 2009 Heels – specifically, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Deon Thompson – do the same?  Stay tuned.

These Guys Have to Commit to Better Halfcourt Defense
These Guys Have to Commit to Better Halfcourt Defense
The Big East Should Have Its Own Region. Seriously, let’s just rename the E. Rutherford Region this year and invite every Big East team.  Or at least the top 12.  Of course, if we did that, it would prohibit the possibility of the conference placing four teams in the Final Four this year – a plausible scenario.  Tell us that you couldn’t envision a situation where four of the following teams – Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse – would reach Detroit in April.  Throw in Villanova, Marquette and West Virginia and you might just have nine of the Sweet Sixteen.  The top half of this conference is really that good.  So who is the best of the best?  It depends on when you ask the question.  Two weeks ago it was UConn.  A week ago Georgetown.  Now it’s Pittsburgh.  Next week…  probably Syracuse.  The point is nobody knows.  UConn has the most raw talent, but they’ve exhibited problems putting it together consistently.  Georgetown, haven’t you heard, has rebounding issues.   Pittsburgh isn’t reliable from behind the arc.  Syracuse has a tendency to lose to teams like Cleveland St. on miracle shots.  Louisville spends much of its time looking for its ass with both hands.  Notre Dame has a maddening tendency to play defense with its hands.  Marquette and Villanova are too guard heavy.  West Virginia has Bob Huggins.  And on and on.   All we can say for certain is that the quality of play in the seemingly-nightly matchups between Top 25 teams is top-shelf, and it makes up for all those other nights where we’re stuck watching Auburn-Ole Miss.
The Big Ten Doesn’t Suck This Year. Now don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying that our friendly midwestern conference is on par with the Big East, or even the ACC, but it’s a lot stronger in the middle of the pack than it has been in recent years.  Not much was expected out of Minnesota (15-1), Illinois (14-2) or Michigan (13-3) this year, but each of them are playing excellent ball and have marquee wins over the likes of Louisville, Missouri, Duke and UCLA in their pockets.  Combine their success with the standard good seasons expected from Michigan St. (13-2), Purdue (12-4), Ohio St. (11-3) and Wisconsin (12-4), and you have a competitive six-bid conference. Even traditional cellar dweller Penn St. (13-4) has shown signs of life this year.  Heck, they even made the ACC/Big Ten Challenge competitive (losing 6-5) this year!
Our Midwestern Friends Have Been Practicing
Our Midwestern Friends Have Been Practicing

They’re Putting It Together. Now that Tom Izzo once again has a full complement of players with Goran Suton back in the fold, Michigan St. has looked much better since their abysmal performance in the ACC/B10 Challenge against UNC.  They’ve run off nine in a row with wins at Texas, at Minnesota and Ohio St. – everyone wrote this team off after that UNC game, but they’ll be heard from in March.  UCLA is also quietly going about its business, also reeling off nine in a row (including a 3-0 start in road games in the Pac-10) since their loss to Texas in mid-December.  Ben Howland is getting production from eleven players, and if anyone really thought the Bruins were going to have a ‘rebuilding’ season, they need to have their head checked.  This team will win close to 30 games again.   It’s amazing how a series of close games that go your way can make or break a team’s confidence.  After Louisville had dropped tight ones to Minnesota and UNLV in late December, everyone was ready to write off the Cards.  Now that they’ve won three of their lost four on the last possession, they sit at 3-0 in the Big East (with two road wins) and appear to be in relatively good shape compared to some of the other Big East contenders (UConn, ND, and Georgetown in particular).  We’ll see just how good they can be when #1 Pittsburgh visits on Saturday.

Pleasant Surprises. Obviously, Wake Forest is a pretty big surprise – we expected them to be pretty good, but nobody saw a top five team coming from Dino Gaudio this year.  What about Syracuse? – at 16-1 and the lone loss to Cleveland St. from 75 feet, Jim Boeheim’s crew has as much talent as just about anybody in the country.  Clemson is pulling its annual ridiculous start, but there are signs that this Tiger team is legit – they have a balanced attack, they’re strong at both ends of the court, and they have good road wins at Illinois, South Carolina and Miami (FL) so far.  Butler is a HUGE surprise, although we shouldn’t ever be surprised with that program.  The Bulldogs sit at 14-1 and two of their top three players are freshmen, yet they once again appear to be the class of the Horizon and a top mid-major.  Tubby Smith has Minnesota playing great ball, and the Gophers are on a fast track to the NCAA Tournament at least a year ahead of schedule.  Coaching matters – Mike Montgomery also has California playing hard for the first time in a decade.  The Bears look like a top three team in the Pac-10 at this point.

Syracuse Has the Look of a Team Built for March
Syracuse Has the Look of a Team Built for March

Disappointments. Since the Q1 update, Gonzaga has done nothing but crap itself, losing games to Arizona, UConn, Portland St., and Utah.  They did get a key OT win at Tennessee last week, and their defense is still stronger than in recent years, but for some reason or another, the Zags are having trouble putting it all together.  USC is destined to become this year’s NC State (a preseason ranked team that won’t make the NCAA Tourney).  The SECTennessee, Florida and Kentucky – have all been various shades of disappointing.  Between the cream of the SEC East, there’s what, three quality wins?  On the other side of that conference, only Arkansas has even been mildly interesting, with big home wins over Oklahoma and Texas.  At the mid-major level, Southern Illinois (6-8 ) and Wright St. (9-8 ) have a long way to go before they’ll turn their seasons around.

RTC Midseason All-Americans. We’ll take some heat for not putting defending NPOY Tyler Hansbrough on our first team, but his numbers, particularly his rebounding average, are off from last season.  Granted, he’s still probably recovering from a stress reaction injury, so he’ll have time to recover his (rightful?) place on the 1st team, but for now, we like Griffin (obvious choice) and Harangody in our frontcourt.  Curry and Harden are also easy choices in the backcourt, but we’re making a leap of faith choosing Teague – his last two games against BYU and UNC were very impressive performances (he averaged 32/5/4 assts on 59%) and we’re riding on the Wake bandwagon right now.

  • Jeff Teague, G – Wake Forest (21/4/4 assts on 54%/54% 3fg shooting)
  • Stephen Curry, G – Davidson (29/4/7 assts/3 stls on 45%/37% 3fg shooting)
  • James Harden, G – Arizona St. (23/6/5 assts on 56%/42% 3fg shooting)
  • Blake Griffin, F – Oklahoma (23/14/3 assts on 65% shooting)
  • Luke Harangody, F – Notre Dame (25/13 on 51% shooting)

Knocking on the Door (2d Team).

  • Tyler Hansbrough, F – North Carolina (22/8 on 54% shooting)
  • Patrick Patterson, F – Kentucky (19/9/3 assts on 71% shooting)
  • Dejuan Blair, F – Pittsburgh (15/13 on 61% shooting)
  • Manny Harris, G – Michigan (19/8/5 assts on 44%/31% 3fg shooting)
  • Ty Lawson, G – North Carolina (15/3/6 assts on 53%/42% 3fg shooting)

All-Freshman Team. Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest), Jrue Holiday (UCLA) and Gordon Hayward (Butler) were tough to leave off this list.

  • Greg Monroe, C – Georgetown (14/6/3 assts on 57% shooting)
  • Sylven Landesberg, G – Virginia (19/6/3 assts on 49%/30% 3fg shooting)
  • Tyreke Evans, G – Memphis (16/6/4 assts/3 stls on 45% shooting)
  • Seth Curry, G – Liberty (20/4 on 45%/40% 3fg shooting)
  • Paul George, F – Fresno St. (16/7 on 54%/46% 3fg shooting)

RTC Greatest Hits (Q2).

Big Games (Q3). Here are the top 10 games of the next month.

  • Syracuse @ Georgetown – 01.14.09
  • Pittsburgh @ Louisville – 01.17.09
  • Georgetown @ Duke – 01.17.09
  • Wake Forest @ Clemson – 01.17.09
  • Texas @ Baylor – 01.27.09
  • Duke @ Wake Forest – 01.28.09
  • California @ UCLA – 01.29.09
  • Connecticut @ Louisville – 02.02.09
  • Duke @ Clemson – 02.04.09
  • Michigan St. @ Minnesota – 02.04.09
  • Notre Dame @ UCLA – 02.07.09

Extremes. This won’t last much longer, as we fully expect all three of the unbeatens to have a loss by this time next week, if not sooner.  That’s what conference play does to you.  NC Central will get a win against a D2 squad soon, but poor little NJIT has no relief in sight.  They’re sitting on 49 in a row and, according to KenPom’s projections, 60+ in a row is within reach.   Memo to NJIT coach Jim Engles – take a page from the NC Central playbook and schedule some JV High School D2 teams.

Unbeaten (next possible loss)

  • Pittsburgh (Big East): 15-0 (@ Louisville 1/17)
  • Wake Forest (ACC):  14-0 (@ BC 1/14)
  • Clemson (ACC): 16-0 (v. Wake Forest 1/17)

Winless (next possible win)

  • NJIT (Ind): 0-16 (Bryant 1/21)
  • North Carolina Central (Ind): 0-18 (D2 Central St 1/16)
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Checking in on the… Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on January 3rd, 2009

Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference.

Conference Notes.

  • Last week’s player of the week, UCLA’s Michael Roll, was back in a reserve roll and scored five points in 26 minutes.
  • Early on in the Pac-10 schedule will dictate if the Arizona St. Sun Devils are for real, as , their first two games are at Stanford and Cal.  Four of Arizona State’s wins have come against teams with two wins or fewer,  including winless Mississippi Valley State.
  • In Arizona’s win Chase Budinger played 40 minutes for already the fifth time this season, In all of last year he only played 40 minutes or more four times.
  • Cal is shooting a nation best 50.6 percent from three-point range.  Theo Robertson leads the country at 61.5 percent and Jerome Randle is in fifth at 56.1 percent.
  • Stanford is one of only six teams still undefeated in Division I competition.

Player of the week- Calvin Haynes – Calvin Haynes of Oregon State scored 24 of the Beaver’s 59 points in the victory over Seattle.  He shot 6-for-9 from the field and went 10-for-12 from the stripe.

Honorable Mention: Jrue Holiday of UCLA who scored 12 points, had 10 rebounds, and had 5 assists in the Bruin’s win.  James Harden of Arizona State who scored 24 points this week for the Sun Devils.

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ATB: Is Michigan Back?

Posted by rtmsf on November 21st, 2008


Game of the Night. Michigan 55, UCLA 52. Remember our stat from last week about Ben Howland’s UCLA teams going 1-2 on the eastern seaboard in his five seasons there?  After tonight’s semifinal matchup with Michigan, make that 1-3.  It’s true that his teams don’t seem to play well back east, but there’s more to it than that.  One of the few  coherent things that Vitale said during tonight’s game was that we all had rated UCLA based on Ben Howland and his ridiculous freshman class rather than the current experience and skills of players he is actually putting on the court.  There’s some validity to that, and it showed tonight. UCLA will end up being a good team, but they have serious offensive flaws in their frontcourt (6-17 tonight).  Even though they defended and rebounded well (holding Michigan to 43% from the field), in close games they have to depend on their playmakers Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday to produce points because their frontcourt players simply aren’t reliable in that role (yet).  And what about John Beilein’s Michigan team?  The backdoor cut by Deshawn Sims (18/5) that led to the dunk effectively ending the game was classic Beilein.  Manny Harris also contributed 15/5/4 assts, but the key takeaway here is that Michigan is 3-0 and is showing signs of putting together a good season regardless of what happens tomorrow night vs. Duke (who will likely kill Michigan).  The victory tonight over UCLA was the program’s biggest in twelve seasons (#1 Duke in 1997).  It is absolutely incomprehensible to us that a program with the prestige and resources of the University of Michigan hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998.  With John Beilein’s system already beginning to bear fruit in Y2 of his rebuild, it won’t be long before we see the Wolverines playing in the March again.  (Yes, we realize that former coach Tommy Amaker played deep into March several times… in the NIT.)  For more detail on the partisan side of things, check the UM Hoops and Bruins Nation writeups.

Tale of Two Halves.

  • Duke 83, S. Illinois 58. The other half of the CvC semifinals was a decent game for twenty minutes until Duke’s Gerald Henderson woke up and delivered his best performance of the year (see below) in the form of several timely threes and nasty dunks, and the rest of his teammates stopped throwing the ball to SIU (17 first half TOs).  A few things struck us in this game:  first, Duke had 17 turnovers in the first half and still went into halftime with a 6-pt lead.  How?  SIU head coach Chris Lowery had the answer – The Blue Devils spent the final nine minutes of the half parading to the free-throw line, where they had just as many tries (19) as field-goal attempts. “That killed us,” Lowery said. “We felt we had a good game plan going in, we just didn’t expect to be in that kind of foul trouble.” – stop us if you’ve heard this before.  Duke shot 47 FTs to SIU’s 19.  Maybe this is explained by SIU’s tendency to foul, right?  Nah.  In their first two games this season, they’ve allowed 49 total free throws.  In two games.  Next, Duke’s defense continues to be as good as ever.  The Devils held SIU to 35% from the field, and only two Salukis made it into double figures.  Third, Duke’s presumptive center, Brian Zoubek, will never be confused with Bill Walton, but he doesn’t have to be.  What he needs to be, though, is merely serviceable.  Tonight he was – 10/6 in 19 minutes was one of the best games of his Duke career.  Duke will play the upstart Michigan Wolverines tomorrow night for the CvC Championship.  Final comment on this game: Bob Knight’s first shot at commentator was a good effort.  His coaching insights are invaluable to students of the game (esp. when he says something like “Duke has only gotten 1 of their last 5 possible points.”), but his demeanor is a little more boring than his role as studio analyst.  Perhaps he’ll get a little more animated as he grows into this position.


  • Seton Hall 63, USC 61. This also doubles as the Upset of the Night, but we wanted to use both of these screen grabs showing the tale of two halves.  Rough night for the Pac-10, losing to two unranked teams, but USC under Tim Floyd has made a habit of these early losses. to unranked teams  Seton Hall worked its way back from a late first-half 15-pt deficit when USC seemed to fall asleep (see below).  Daniel Hackett missed a three at the buzzer which went along with his otherwise miserable shooting game (0-7), while Taj Gibson had 19/18 in a losing effort.  The Hall was led by John Garcia’s 11/18, and at 3-0 might be an early surprise out of the Big East.


Puerto Rico Tipoff. Xavier will meet Virginia Tech and Memphis will play Seton Hall on Friday in the semifinals of the PR Tipoff.

  • Memphis 83, UT-Chattanooga 71. Memphis opened the Puerto Rico Tipoff with a late first-half surge to put UTC away.  UM shot 52%, led by Doneal Mack’s 19 and Shawn Taggart’s 16/11, but they once again really struggled from long range (Mack hit 5-9, but the rest of the team was 1-14 from three).  UTC was led by Stephen McDowell’s 27 pts.
  • Xavier 75, Missouri 71. The Muskies came back from a seven-pt deficit with seven minutes to go in the game behind Terrell Holloway’s perfect game (10-10) from the line.  DeMarre Carroll led Mizzou with 17 pts.  Xavier severely outrebounded Missouri in this game 39-24.
  • Virginia Tech 74, Fairfield 57. AD Vassallo had 24/4 in his home ‘state’ and Jeff Allen 18/8 as the Hokies rolled over Fairfield by shooting 56% for the game.

Ridiculous Score of the Year. Texas Tech 167, East Central 116. Apparently Pat Knight decided to beef up his schedule this year with a high school team – what, Riverdale or Poly was already booked?  But seriously, a 77-pt first half followed by a NINETY-point second half?  The Red Raiders shot 59% while putting an absurd TEN players into double figures tonight.  We definitely feel bad for TT freshman guard Tyree Graham, who was the only player of fourteen who did not score for the Red Raiders tonight (0-5 in 18 mins).


Other Games of Mild Interest.

  • Florida 64, S. Utah 50. It took 39:37 for Florida to hit a three to keep its streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer (546) alive.  The Gators went 1-16 from three, but 22-34 otherwise and managed to stay just enough ahead of S. Utah to avoid an upset possibility.
  • Illinois 69, Vanderbilt 63. Another home loss for an SEC team.  Illinois shook off a poor shooting night by hitting its threes (10-19) and FTs (11-11) and capitalized on a late 7-0 run to beat Vandy in Memorial Gymnasium, no small task.  Good night for the Big Ten.
  • Ohio St. 70, Delaware St. 42. We only show this score because we couldn’t believe that the OSU court was doubling as a volleyball court (see below).  We know OSU can afford to not do this, so what gives?  It looks terrible.  Oh, and BJ Mullens had 7/3 in his debut.


On Tap Friday (all times EST):

  • Xavier v. Virginia Tech (ESPNU) – 1:30pm  (Puerto Rico Tipoff)
  • Miami (FL) (-7) v. Southern Miss – 3pm  (Paradise Jam)
  • S. Illinois v. UCLA (ESPN2) – 5pm (CvC)
  • USC v. UT-Chattanooga (ESPNU) – 5pm  (Puerto Rico Tipoff)
  • San Diego (-6) v. Valparaiso – 5:30pm  (Paradise Jam)
  • Ole Miss (-2) v. Utah – 6:30pm
  • Duke v. Michigan (ESPN2) – 7pm (CvC)
  • Syracuse v. Oakland – 7pm
  • Memphis v. Seton Hall (ESPNU) – 7pm (Puerto Rico Tipoff)
  • Pittsburgh (-21) v. Akron (ESPN FC & 360) – 7pm
  • Davidson v. Winthrop – 7pm
  • Connecticut (-16) v. Lasalle – 8pm
  • Maryland v. Vermont – 8pm
  • Tennessee (-10) @ Middle Tennessee St. – 8pm
  • Notre Dame (-21.5) @ Loyola Marymount – 10pm
  • UNC (-17.5) @ UC Santa Barbara (ESPNU) – 10pm
  • Wisconsin (-16) v. Iona – 10:30pm  (Paradise Jam)
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After the Buzzer: UCLA’s Fab Five Debut

Posted by rtmsf on November 12th, 2008


Story of the Night.  UCLA’s freshman class.  Last year’s freshman class arguably boasted the best player in the country in Kevin Love, but this year’s version, while lacking in equivalent star power, may more than compensate for Love’s loss with its depth and diversity of skills.  Jrue Holiday was the only rookie starter tonight in UCLA’s win against Prairie View A&M, but his four classmates (Drew Gordon, Malcolm Lee, Jerime Anderson and J’Mison Morgan) each came off the bench and contributed aplenty.  The quintet accounted for 41% of the minutes, 44% of the points, 44% of the rebounds and 43% of the assists tonight in the 82-58 win.  Ok, and 54% of the turnovers, but still, not a bad start for this freshman class of Bruins.  As for the game itself, it appears that UCLA still knows how to rebound (41-18) and the defense is still stingy – Prairie View was held to a mere 23% shooting in the first half; the fact that they shot 42% for the game indicates that either UCLA lost focus in the second half or Prairie View settled down – we’re leaning toward the former as an explanation.  Darren Collison led the way as he hit five threes en route to a 19/3/4 asst night.  The Bruins will play Miami (OH) tomorrow night in the second round of the CvC in a game that should combine for about 50 total pts.  Once again, ESPN isn’t allowing embedded videos so we’ll have to settle for linked highlights

Other Games.  S. Illinois 80, UMass 73.  We thought this would be the best game of the night, and it looks like we were right, as S. Illinois got themselves down nine at halftime to UMass before storming back behind nine threes in the second half to pull away in the last few minutes to win another home game.  Bryan Mullins had a huge night for SIU, going for 16/13/4 stls for the home team, but Kevin Dillard’s four threes in the second half didn’t hurt.  UMass was led by Ricky Harris with 24/5, but the stat that jumped off the Minutemen’s page was starting PG Chris Lowe’s TEN turnovers (with zero assists).  Michigan 76, Northeastern 56.  Gotta admit that we thought this game had upset potential, and we couldn’t have been more wrong.  Michigan’s Manny Harris followed up his impressive season debut with nearly a trip-dub (26/10/8 assts), as UM held Northeastern to 29% shooting (17% from three) for the game.  UM Hoops points out that, if Michigan is going to threaten this year, they’ll need to shore up their work on the boards.  Northeastern grabbed twenty offensive rebounds tonight (amazingly, they only had 29 total boards), and with UCLA looming on the horizon next week in MSG (probably), the Wolverines will need to repair that deficiency.  Miami (OH) 70, Weber St. 66.  So in the other half of the Westwood bracket, Miami (OH) won a game on a three by Kenny Hayes (24 pts) with 1.7 seconds left on the clock, despite losing nearly every major statistical category in the game.  The Redhawks were outshot (by 10% FG), outrebounded (by 7), outassisted (by 3), and yet they still prevailed.  How?  Turnovers, kids.  Seven additional TOs by Weber St. gave Miami just enough extra possessions to sneak by.  Miami will play UCLA tomorrow night for the right to play at MSG, and we expect Charlie Coles to have something up his sleeve to make this game interesting for a while. 

On Tap Thursday (all times EST). 

  • UCLA (-15) v. Miami (OH) on ESPNU- 11pm
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A Few More Exhibitions of NCAA Basketball Action

Posted by rtmsf on November 9th, 2008

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #4 – Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2008

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. UCLA (25-4, 15-3)
  2. Arizona St. (20-8, 11-7)
  3. USC (17-11, 10-8)
  4. Washington St. (17-12, 10-8)
  5. Washington (18-12, 9-9)
  6. California (14-15, 8-10)
  7. Arizona (13-16, 8-10)
  8. Oregon (11-17, 7-11)
  9. Stanford (12-17, 6-12)
  10. Oregon St. (7-22, 3-15)


WYN2K.  This is not the same Pac-10 conference as last year, plain and simple.  Gone are lottery picks OJ Mayo (USC), Russell Westbrook (UCLA), Kevin Love (UCLA), Brook Lopez (Stanford) and Jerryd Bayless (Arizona).  Gone are Robin Lopez (Stanford) and Ryan Anderson (Cal), also first-rounders.  Gone are Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (UCLA) and Davon Jefferson (USC), who went in the second round and not at all, respectively.  This year’s Pac-10 transition isn’t just limited to players.  There are new coaches at Oregon St. (Craig Robinson), Stanford (Johnny Dawkins), Cal (Mike Montgomery) and Arizona (Russ Pennell).  It’s safe to say that no other major conference will look as significantly different from last year as the Pac-10 in 2008-09. 

Predicted Champion.   UCLA (NCAA #1)Perhaps the only consistency in the Pac-10 this year will be he continued dominance of Ben Howland’s UCLA Bruins over the rest of this conference.  After three straight Final Fours and another superb recruiting class matriculating in Westwood, Howland has built his program to the enviable point where he can lose two lottery picks and another starter as early entries to the NBA Draft and not expect his program to suffer major slippage.  While we don’t believe that this version of UCLA will be as good of a team as the 2007-08 edition, the Bruins’ position relative to the rest of the conference may actually be stronger this time around.  He returns an all-american PG, Darren Collison, who has played in three F4s and led the nation in 3FG% last year (.525, min. 80 attempts).  More importantly, Collison has a chip on his shoulder after a miserable national semifinal performance against Memphis last year (2 pts, 5 tos, 5 fouls) – when he’s directing his team effectively, there are few teams in America that can overcome their bruising defense and efficient offense.  The national #1 recruiting class is headlined by all-world guard Jrue Holiday, who is expected to start from day one.  His talent, along with a cadre of perimeter (Malcolm Lee, Jerime Anderson) and inside players (J’Mison Morgan, Drew Gordon), will give Howland numerous lineup options to throw at opponents.  Furthermore, UCLA returns a finally-healthy Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya to provide experience and a steady hand at crunch time.  As we said before, we don’t believe this UCLA team will be as good as last year’s squad, but it probably doesn’t have to be.  The Pac-10 has dropped in talent significantly, and UCLA should be able to roll through to another fantastic record and possible high RPI rating to garner another #1 seed out west.  Here’s a pretty good indication of why Darren Collison is so important for this team.

NCAA Teams.  We’re not sure that we see more than four NCAA teams in the Pac-10 this year, which sent six to the Big Dance last season and arguably deserved seven (Arizona St.).  In the best-case scenario, things come together for certain teams and the league hopes for five on Selection Sunday, but there’s a more realistic chance that there will only be three NCAA selections made on that day. 

  • Arizona St. (NCAA #4)Herb Sendek’s coaching resume shows that once he gets a program to the 20-win plateau for the first time, it typically stays there.  In other words, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that ASU, who is returning its top eight players from a 21-13 NIT quarterfinalist, will regress this season.   The key player, of course, is James Harden, a coulda-been-one-and-done, who lit up the conference for 18/5/3 assts, including 41% from behind the arc (and 53% overall).  Harden is a future lottery pick in a league where the only other potential such picks are freshmen (DeRozan, Holiday).  Pac-10 teams are not going to enjoy their trips to Tempe this year.
  • USC (NCAA #8) – We struggled in making this selection, but the thing that pushes USC into the top three of the Pac-10 is simply, talent.  Other than UCLA, no other program has as much pure talent that it can put on the floor.  Undisciplined, maddening talent – sure – but that’s Tim Floyd for ya.  Demar DeRozan wll be a highlight reel for his one year in LA, but he has considerable help next to him, assuming they can all learn to share the ball and play together.  Daniel Hackett, Taj Gibson and Dwight Lewis are all talented players, and if UNC transfer Alex Stepheson is deemed eligible to play for the Trojans this year, USC has enough talent to make a run at the Pac-10 title.  We don’t expect that to happen because Ben Howland is Ben Howland and Tim Floyd is Tim Floyd, but the talent differential excuse doesn’t hold water anymore. 
  • Washington St. (NCAA #10) – We’re taking a bit of a risk with Wazzu at fourth and a bubble team for the NCAAs, but we truly believe that Tony Bennett is a system coach.  Like Bo Ryan at Wisconsin, the names on the backs of the jerseys are largely irrelevant to the success of the program.  They’re going to run their slower-than-Xmas stuff no matter which faces are running around out there, and in so doing, dare the rest of the Pac-10 to figure it out.  Now we’re not saying that the losses of Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and Robbie Cowgill won’t hurt – after all, that trio was the most decorated group of players in Washington St. history; but with center Aron Baynes returning along with guard Taylor Rochestie and small forward Daven Harmerling, Bennett has more than enough experience to continue confounding skeptics up in Pullman. 

NIT Teams.

  • Washington (NIT) – This program has seemed to be in a funk ever since Brandon Roy left the dreary environs of Seattle.  If the Huskies are going to take advantage of a weaker Pac-10 to make a run at the NCAA Tournament (or the NIT), they’re going to have to get another superb season from PF Jon Brockman (18/12 on 54% FG).  But that won’t be enough without improved performances from Quincy Pondexter and Justin Dentmon on the perimeter.  Freshman Isaiah Thomas is getting some hype from Husky fans – perhaps he can push them over the top. 


  • California – The story here is obviously Mike Montgomery’s return to college coaching at his former employer’s bitterest rival.  Had Cal held onto star player Ryan Anderson, we would have considered the Bears as a bubble NCAA team.  We do think Monty will get there eventually, as he did at Long Beach St. and Stanford (not exactly powerhouses when he arrived), but he’s not a quick-fix guy and it will take time to undo the culture of mediocrity left by Ben Braun. 
  • Arizona – On talent alone, with Chase Budinger, Nic Wise and Jordan Hill, the Wildcats should be a top three Pac-10 team.  However, with the fiasco that unfolded last month and the eyebrow-raising hire of the fomer Arizona State radio announcer Russ Pennell as the head coach, we’re not sure anyone will actually want to play for UA this season.  Putting them seventh was a gift. 
  • Oregon – We still can’t figure out how Ernie Kent got a big contract extension, but we suppose it doesn’t take much to satisfy people in Eugene.  At least until Mark Few takes an interest in coaching in the Pac-10.  With only one significant player returning, the 5’6 Tajuan Porter, and nine new faces, we just don’t see the Ducks making a return trip to the NCAAs this season.
  • Stanford – We think Johnny Dawkins is in for a surprise in Palo Alto this season.  Nobody has any clue as to how good of a coach he will be, but we can say with a degree of certainty that the only thing keeping the Cardinal afloat last year was the interior presence of the comical Lopez twins.  The guardplay was relatively abysmal (39.5% shooting), and oh, well, now the Lopezes are gone.  Good luck with that, JD. 
  • Oregon St. – Hey, did you guys hear that new head coach Craig Robinson is Barack Obama’s bro-in-lawWe hadn’t either.  Screw Corvallis, with Robinson’s financial resume, he should be in DC helping Barry fix the economy.  Seriously though, last year, OSU might have been the worst major conference team we’d ever seen (Indiana has a shot at bettering that this year).  Ferguson had success at Brown, though, which is a herculean task in its own right, so maybe he can get a few Ws in Corvallis this season.  Three or four would be miraculous. 

RPI Boosters.

  • Washington v. Kansas  (11.24.08)
  • UCLA @ Texas  (12.04.08)
  • USC @ Oklahoma  (12.04.08)
  • Arizona @ Texas A&M  (12.05.08)
  • Gonzaga @ Washington St.  (12.10.08)
  • Arizona v. Gonzaga  (12.14.08)
  • Kansas @ Arizona  (12.23.08)
  • Notre Dame @ UCLA  (02.07.09)

Important Games.

  • UCLA @ USC  (01.11.09)
  • Arizona St. @ UCLA  (01.17.09)
  • USC @ Washington St.  (01.24.09)
  • USC @ UCLA  (02.04.09)
  • USC @ Arizona St.  (02.15.09)
  • Washington @ UCLA  (02.19.09)
  • Arizonan @ Arizona St.  (02.22.09)

Neat-O Stat.  The Pac-10, with only ten conference members, is the only BCS league that plays a true round-robin schedule of home/away games with every other team.  We like this because it gives a true measure of the strength of each team relative to one another in the conference.  There are no plans on the horizon to expand the Pac-10 to twelve members (for football reasons, the NCAA requires twelve teams to have a postseason championship game). 

65 Team Era.  The Pac-10 has traditionally been the weakest of the six major conferences in its NCAA Tournament performance, going 127-96 (.570) over the era.  The league simply doesn’t put as many teams into the Tournament as its peers, earning 4.1 bids per year – the next lowest is the Big 12 with 4.8 per year, and the “Super Six” average is 5 bids per year.  As might be expected as a correlation to that fact, the Pac-10 is also last among the six conferences in #1 seeds (12), S16s (36) and F4s (9).  UCLA can’t do it all, folks!

Final Thoughts.  UCLA has led the re-emergence of the Pac-10 conference as a basketball powerhouse the last several seasons, but turmoil among several previously consistent programs (Arizona, Stanford) has put the possibility of UCLA and the Nine Dwarves back into the conversation.  One thing that we can be certain of is that Ben Howland will win and win big as long as he’s residing in Westwood.  He hasn’t won a national title yet, but it seems a foregone conclusion that one of these years he’ll break through and win the brass ring.  The rest of the Pac-10 is going to have to figure out a way to recruit on par with UCLA as well as perform in March before this league will be considered a national power again.  We know that Pac-10 schools can attract star talent across the spectrum, but can they be coached up to taste national success?   

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Some Exhibition Nonsense

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 2008

We don’t put any much stock in Exhibition Games, because, well, they’re exhibitions.  But maybe we should – last year, Findlay defeated Ohio St. and Grand Valley St. beat Michigan St., and both of those teams had worse seasons than expected (OSU in particular – NIT).  Someone should do a correlation on this.  Anyway, here are some exhibition tidbits for the discerning fan…

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Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #29 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 5th, 2008

Shamelessly cribbing from last spring’s very clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present to you the Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we gear up toward the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube. 

#29 – Where Freshman Phenom Happens

Demar DeRozan (USC)

Jrue Holiday (UCLA)

Samardo Samuels (Louisville)

Tyreke Evans (Memphis)

Al Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest)

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