Sun Belt Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 5th, 2011

Daniel Spewak is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference. With SBC tournament action set to tip on Saturday, get up to speed with RTC’s preview and regular season wrap-up.

Tournament Preview

The Favorite: The Sun Belt Conference tournament is what ESPN’s Championship Week is all about. There is no talk of “bubble” in the Sun Belt. The only team in the league with a chance at avoiding a 16-seed is Florida Atlantic, a team with a strong overall record and several quality wins. And even that’s a long shot. The Owls are the easy favorite to cut down the nets next Tuesday, but they’re not invincible. Just two weeks ago, they scored 42 points in a loss at Denver and fell at home to Louisiana-Lafayette.

On Fire: The last time Louisiana-Lafayette lost, Egypt was still an authoritarian country, the NFL was still playing and Michigan State was actuall yranked! The Rajun’ Cajuns don’t at all resemble the team that started 3-14, which is why the 11-game winning streak isn’t necessarily a fluke. They’re only one of two teams to win at FAU in league play this year, and a rematch may await next week.

The Sleeper: Sure, there’s an argument to be made that North Texas and Western Kentucky are strong “sleeper” picks, because underachievers often feel like they have new life once the conference tournament starts. We’re going to stray away from those teams, though, and pick Denver as the SBC sleeper. Of course, DU’s been an underachiever since that undefeated start in league play, but the Pioneers are in a different situation. After losing star Nate Rohnert, Joe Scott’s team wasn’t expected to compete in the West this year. Denver has exceeded expectations, in spite of the poor finish, and it has the pieces to win four games in a row. As we said earlier, Denver plays one of the nation’s slowest tempos and thrives when its methodical, Princeton offense can create open threes and layups. As long as the shots are falling and DU’s offense is executing, this team has a shot to pull a shocker.

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RTC Live: WKU @ Murray State

Posted by rtmsf on December 18th, 2010

Game #77.  A regional rival rekindles tonight as mid-major power Western Kentucky visits mid-major power Murray State.

Western Kentucky and Murray State will meet on Saturday night for the 148th time, and it could be the last for the foreseeable future. Murray coach Billy Kennedy told reporters earlier this week that the series wasn’t likely to continue past this season. WKU coach Ken McDonald refuted that, saying instead that official talks haven’t happened in regards to continuing the series. Either way, meeting No. 148 could mean a lot to the Racers (6-4) or the Hilltoppers (5-5) when the teams meet at 8:30 p.m. ET at Murray. Forward Juan Pattillo, WKU’s leading scorer and rebounder, has practiced this week but might not play, as McDonald said Pattillo is “going through some personal things that he has to handle right now.” Enter Teeng Akol, an Oklahoma State transfer who at 6-foot-11 is the tallest player on the Hilltoppers’ roster. Akol will be eligible for the first time for Saturday’s game. The Racers feature a balanced attack, as only two players average double figures, and at 12 points per game, guard Isaiah Canaan leads the team.

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RTC Live: WKU @ Memphis

Posted by rtmsf on December 4th, 2010

Game #59. RTC Live is happy to visit Memphis for its first game at the FedEx Forum today.

Saturday’s Western Kentucky-Memphis game marks a homecoming for WKU senior Sergio Kerusch, who grew up in Memphis. Appropriately, Kerusch tweeted on Friday that “the gym will be filled and I won’t disappoint” in Saturday’s game, which tips at 7 p.m. CT. For the Hilltoppers (3-4) to have a shot at host No. 14 Memphis (6-0), they’ll need all they can get from Kerusch, the Sun Belt Conference’s Preseason Player of the Year. Both teams enter off mid-week performances they’d like to forget. WKU lost 82-62 at Vanderbilt, and it took overtime for Memphis to dispatch Arkansas State 78-71 on Wednesday. Oklahoma transfer Juan Pattillo leads the Hilltoppers in points per game (16.9) and rebounds per game (10.6). A trio of Tigers — Wesley Witherspoon, Will Barton and Joe Jackson — all average double figures for Memphis.  Join us this evening for RTC Live from the banks of the Mississippi River.

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RTC Live: WKU @ Vanderbilt

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2010

Game #53.  RTC Live heads to Nashville for a regional battle between two teams with NCAA hopes this season.

Western Kentucky is stuck in a familiar spot facing a familiar opponent. A year ago, the Hilltoppers picked up a signature win over Vanderbilt on a neutral court in Nashville after coming out of the gates early. WKU’s looking to notch a similar win in Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium at 8 p.m. CT tonight, as the Toppers enter having lost three of their last four games. But this might be WKU’s toughest test yet. The Commodores, who won two of three games in the same Puerto Rico Tip-Off where WKU lost two of three, dominate with size. Vanderbilt starts three players 6’7 or taller and none shorter than 6’3. Sophomore guard John Jenkins leads Vanderbilt with 19.7 points per game. Juniors Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli each average 11.3 points per game. WKU is headed up by senior forward Juan Pattillo, an Oklahoma transfer who has scored in double figures along with senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew in every one of the Toppers’ six games.  Join us tonight for another great edition of RTC Live.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.18.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 18th, 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.

Tonight’s SYT games come from the 2K Sports Classic in New York City and the Puerto Rico Tipoff in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Maryland vs. #5 Pittsburgh — 7 pm on ESPN2 (***)

Ashton Gibbs Has Been Nothing Short of Spectacular This Season

Maryland would have been here regardless but a shaky effort against College of Charleston last week has to give Terp fans some second thoughts about their team this season. It doesn’t get any easier against Pittsburgh this evening in the Big Apple. Pe’Shon Howard’s heroics bailed the Terps out against Charleston but they’re going to need solid contributions from many more players in order to compete with Pitt. After a bit of a rusty start against Rhode Island, the Panthers have obliterated their cupcake opponents on the backs of leading scorers Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker. Pittsburgh is an incredibly deep team, with the rotation sometimes dipping into the ninth or tenth man on the roster. Jamie Dixon has an outstanding rebounding team which will present major problems for Maryland. The Terrapin front court, led by Jordan Williams, is really good and can hang with Pitt on the glass. The problem lies in the backcourt where Pitt’s guards and wings are tremendous rebounders for their size. Maryland has a couple good rebounding guards but this is where the depth of the Panther lineup will really flex its muscle. Dixon can rotate fresh players in and out all night and still have enough manpower to control the boards. Pitt is the second ranked offensive rebounding team so far in the young season. The other glaring issue for Maryland is turnovers. The Terps have had problems handling the ball so far, averaging 20 turnovers per contest. By contrast, Pittsburgh controls the ball well with Gibbs and Travon Woodall off the bench and is fairly successful at getting steals. If the Panthers are prone to one thing it’s three point shooting. Unfortunately for Maryland, they are not a particularly good three point shooting team to begin with so they’ll need an above average shooting performance from their guards to take advantage of this. Even so, it’s hard to see Maryland having enough to win this one. You know Gary Williams will have his troops ready and playing hard but the depth, talent and coaching of Pittsburgh should be too much for Maryland to overcome in Madison Square Garden, Pitt’s second home.

Western Kentucky vs. Minnesota — 7:30 pm on (***)

This game from the Puerto Rico Tip Off is intriguing because it features a mid-major sleeper and a major conference sleeper picked by some to win this tournament. Last Friday, Western Kentucky went into Philadelphia and absolutely demolished St. Joe’s by 28 points led by 31/9 on 11-15 FG from Sergio Kerusch off the bench. WKU has shot the lights out in their two games this year, averaging 56% from the floor. Remarkably, that’s better than their percentage from the free throw line (52%). The Hilltoppers now face some stiffer competition in Puerto Rico this weekend. Minnesota is 2-0 but didn’t exactly blow the doors off either of their opponents. The Golden Gophers haven’t shot it well from the arc or the free throw line in the early going but are making up for it in the paint. The trio of Ralph Sampson III, Trevor Mbakwe and Colton Iverson is going to be extremely difficult for the undersized Hilltoppers to handle. Ken McDonald’s team has only one contributor tall enough to match Minnesota inside and that is Cliff Dixon. He won’t be able to do it alone so barring foul trouble, expect Minnesota to dominate this game in the paint. Western Kentucky needs to make up for that on the wing as their three leading scorers, including Oklahoma transfer Juan Pattillo, are all 6’5 or 6’6 and play off the ball. On defense they may even be drawn inside to help guard Minnesota’s formidable front line. Any foul trouble for these players would only make it tougher for WKU. Minnesota needs to get Blake Hoffarber going from deep. The dead-eye senior shooter has struggled thus far, hitting only 4-13 from the three-point line. He’s made up for that by getting others involved, dishing out 13 assists in his first two games. Just like their opponent, Minnesota also struggles from the free throw line. This is a hard game to predict because if the Hilltopper wings get hot early they may be able to sustain that late into the second half. Minnesota needs to establish the paint early and get some WKU players into foul trouble. Western Kentucky may stay within reach for most of the game but Minnesota should be able to pull away and win comfortably.

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RTC Conference Primers: #21 – Sun Belt

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 14th, 2010

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish


  1. Western Kentucky (12-4)
  2. Florida Atlantic (11-5)
  3. South Alabama (11-5)
  4. Middle Tennessee State (6-10)
  5. Troy (4-12)
  6. Florida International (4-12)


  1. North Texas (12-4)
  2. Arkansas State (11-5)
  3. Denver (8-8)
  4. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-8)
  5. Arkansas Little-Rock (6-10)
  6. Louisiana-Monroe (3-13)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Josh White, North Texas (14.5 PPG, 3.5 APG)
  • G: Ray Taylor, Florida Atlantic (14.2 PPG, 5.9 APG)
  • F: Sergio Kerusch, Western Kentucky (14.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG)
  • F: Steffphon Pettigrew, Western Kentucky (14.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG)
  • F: Brett Royster, Florida Atlantic (10.0 ppg, 7.4 RPG, 3.0 BPG)

6th Man

  • Tim Williams, South Alabama (15.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG)

Impact Newcomer

  • Fred Brown, Louisiana-Monroe. The transfer from Kansas State appeared in two postseasons as a Wildcat, including an NCAA Tournament in 2007-08 alongside superstar Michael Beasley. Brown’s perimeter shooting and defensive ability will earn him immediate playing time for the Warhawks, who return just five players and introduce a rookie head coach in Keith Richard. Brown edges former Oklahoma defensive standout Juan Pattillo in this category, who joins East division favorite Western Kentucky, as well as Louisiana-Lafayette’s David Perez, a streaky shooter from Centenary.

What You Need to Know

  • Tightening Up: The Sun Belt Conference may have lost New Orleans to the Division III ranks, but the rest of the league stayed intact for 2010-11. Moving to a 16-game format from an 18-game schedule with the Pioneers’ departure, the conference figures to be stronger than ever. North Texas represented the Sun Belt in the NCAA Tournament last year after winning 24 games and returns all but one starter. Western Kentucky graduated its top scorer and said goodbye to an NBA Draft pick, but coach Ken McDonald welcomes a promising class of newcomers to team with two potential All-Conference forwards. Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic and South Alabama could all be in the mix for postseason bids and will compete in their respective divisions.
  • Never a Dull Moment: Several Sun Belt teams dealt with offseason drama. Arkansas State coach John Brady saw stud guard Brandon Reed transfer to Georgia Tech after earning SBC Freshman of the Year honors—and then made harsh statements about his departure. That wasn’t the only transfer Brady dealt with. Former Nebraska and Jacksonville State guard Jay-R Strowbridge stayed in Jonesboro for two weeks before leaving, citing a possible postseason ban, which the school denies. Perhaps the most notable drama came from Florida International. Divisive head coach Isiah Thomas agreed to help the New York Knicks as a consultant, but backed down after public criticism. His top recruiting class also took a hit during the offseason, thanks to the first-semester ineligibility of elite recruits Dominique Ferguson and Phil Taylor. Their status for the second semester is unknown. South Alabama coach Ronnie Arrow kicked off two newcomers before they ever played a minute of basketball, including Kentari Nettles, a forward who garnered high-major interest out of junior college.
  • Musical Chairs: The conference also introduces two new head coaches. Richard replaces Orlando Early at Louisiana-Monroe, while Louisiana-Lafayette hired the established Bob Marlin away from Sam Houston State. Interestingly, Robert Lee, the former Ragin Cajuns’ coach, now works for Richard at ULM as an assistant.

With a loaded roster, it’s time for Johnny Jones and North Texas to make some noise in March. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Predicted Champion

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Shocker: Blake Griffin declares for the NBA Draft

Posted by nvr1983 on April 7th, 2009

With all the suspense on college campuses about whether or not underclassmen will be leaving perhaps the least suspenseful announcement of the week came earlier today when everybody’s national Player of the Year Blake Griffin announced that he will forgo his final 2 years of eligibility to enter the NBA Draft. In his second year at Oklahoma, Griffin became the 3rd straight national player of year from the Big 12 (save your e-mails and comments UNC fans; we both know that Michael Beasley deserved it last year).

Blake Griffin dunk

Griffin, who averaged 22.7 PPG and 14.4 RPG, was clearly the best player in college this season and was only derailed in the Elite 8 by eventual champion UNC when his Sooner teammates went 2/19 from 3-point range. Even in defeat, Griffin showed everyone why he will be the most clear-cut #1 pick since LeBron James in 2003 as he dominated Tyler Hansbrough and the other UNC interior players. Griffin finished the year with 30 double-doubles (second all-time to only David Robinson‘s 31) and 504 rebounds (second all-time to only Larry Bird‘s 505).

While everyone knows that Griffin will go #1 (assuming some brain-dead NBA GM doesn’t do something completely insane–not outside the realm of possibilities), the big question is what will happen in Norman where Jeff Capel turned down numerous job offers to stay as the Oklahoma head coach. The Sooners will be losing Taylor Griffin, Austin Johnson, and Omar Leary with only the first 2 contributing significantly. Although the Sooners will certainly take a step back next year, they can still compete in the top half of the Big 12 next year if freshman Willie Warren can resist the temptation of the money that comes with being a lottery pick and sticks around Norman for another year (or two). With a nucleus of Warrnen, Tony Crocker, and Juan Pattillo, Capel has a team that should challenge Kansas and Texas next year.

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Checking in on the… Big 12

Posted by nvr1983 on March 1st, 2009

Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley and Big 12 Conferences.

Current Records and My Standings (Conference Standings) (Last Week)

  1. Kansas (24-5)(13-1) (3)
  2. Oklahoma (26-3)(12-2) (1)
  3. Missouri (24-5) (11-3) (2)
  4. Oklahoma St. (19-9) (8-6) (6)
  5. Texas A&M (21-9) (7-7) (8)
  6. Texas (19-9) (8-6) (5)
  7. Kansas St. (20-9) (8-6)(4)
  8. Nebraska (16-11) (6-8) (7)
  9. Baylor (17-11) (5-9) (9)
  10. Iowa St. (14-15) (3-11) (11)
  11. Texas Tech (13-16) (3-11)(10)
  12. Colorado (8-18) (1-13) (12)

There has been a lot of movement this week in the Big 12. With Blake Griffin out the Sooners looked vulnerable. Bill Self appears to be doing one heck of a coaching job this season as Kansas sits atop the Big 12 with wins over Oklahoma and Missouri this past week. As we head into the last week of the regular season, let’s sort of see where all the Big 12 teams are at this point.

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Checking in on the… Big 12

Posted by nvr1983 on February 2nd, 2009

Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 and Missouri Valley Conferences.

Current Records and my standings (Conference Standings) (Last Week)

  1. Oklahoma (21-1)(7-0) (1)
  2. Kansas (17-4)(6-0) (3)
  3. Missouri (18-4) (5-2) (4)
  4. Texas (15-5) (4-2) (2)
  5. Texas A&M (17-5) (3-4) (7)
  6. Baylor (15-6) (3-4) (5)
  7. Nebraska (13-7) (3-4) (9)
  8. Kansas St. (14-7) (3-4)(11)
  9. Oklahoma St. (13-7) (2-4) (6)
  10. Iowa St. (12-9) (1-5) (10)
  11. Texas Tech (11-10) (1-5)(8)
  12. Colorado (8-10) (1-5) (12)

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