ATB: The Day After

Posted by jstevrtc on January 28th, 2011

The Lede. Hopefully everyone was over their Jimmer hangovers by the time the games started tonight. Judging by Twitter, and…well, pretty much every sports outlet in the nation, the transitive verb “to Jimmer” has entered the American sporting lexicon with some serious impact. We can’t remember when a college baller’s name has ever been used in this fashion; nobody ever said “You got Turnered/Walled,” or “He Morrisoned them,” or “They Hansbrough’d the heck out of that poor team.” And the only name we can think of that contains a reverent “The” at the beginning that’s in regular use today belongs to U2 guitarist The Edge, though — and credit to Seth Davis for starting the trend — “The Jimmer” is now commonplace usage in referring to just about everybody’s favorite player.

Darius Morris and Crew Start the Celebration (J.Gonzalez/Detroit FP)

But enough of that for now. We’ll have many chances to discuss him later. Tonight we saw three tough conference road wins, two of them in games involving bitter rivals. We have a couple of RTCs we have to weigh in on, and a pair of outstanding tweets from the Gonzaga vs St. Mary’s game. First, though, we start…with Sparty.

Your Watercooler Moment. On the halftime coverage of ESPN2′s St. Mary’s @ Gonzaga game, when asked about how dire the situation was for Michigan State this year after their loss to Michigan tonight, even the understated Dan Dakich hesitated for effect and said gravely, “Well…it’s pretty serious.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Set Your Tivo: 01.21-01.23

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 21st, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Almost all of the action is on Saturday but what a day it will be. A couple of huge games start us off right away at noon but the rest of the day will not disappoint. It’s very unfortunate but #21 St. Mary’s @ #23 Vanderbilt is not on television and neither is Belmont at East Tennessee State on Sunday, a battle for first in the Atlantic Sun. You obviously won’t be able to watch those games unless you’re attending but definitely check and see how they play out. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#1 Ohio State @ #18 Illinois – 12 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

Sylvester and the Buckeyes Had the Last Laugh When Illinois Was #1 in 2005

It should be a crazy environment in Champaign on Saturday when the #1 team in the land pays a visit. Illinois is having a good year but probably not as good as some of the more optimistic Illini fans would have hoped. That can change in a big way with a marquee win over the Buckeyes. You’ll recall what happened almost six years ago in Columbus. Illinois was #1 at 29-0 on the last day of the regular season and lost on a Matt Sylvester three with five seconds to play as the unranked Buckeyes knocked off the eventual national runner up. By the way: Gus Johnson was working that one in 2005 and he’ll be in Champaign on Saturday if you even needed another reason to tune in.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Past Imperfect: Major Losses, Mixed Results

Posted by JWeill on January 20th, 2011

Past Imperfect is a new series focusing on the history of the game. Every Thursday, RTC contributor JL Weill (@AgonicaBoss) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape.  This week: How teams over college basketball history have dealt with seemingly devastating injuries to star players.  The answer? It depends …

When freshman Duke point guard Kyrie Irving came down awkwardly in a game against Butler with what was a then-seemingly innocuous injury to his toe, the entire landscape of this college hoops season was altered, perhaps irrevocably.  Up to that point, there was little disputing who was the 2010-11 college basketball favorite. Not only was Duke the defending NCAA champion, it also returned most of the firepower from that title-winning side as well as adding the nation’s top point guard prospect in New Jersey’s Irving, at a position that was previously the only real soft spot on the Blue Devils roster.  With Irving out indefinitely, gone was the swagger of invincibility Duke had in droves in the early weeks of the season. Gone, too, was the sheer talent and ability of Irving, who had earned his accolades and then some with his performance in the season’s first eight games. Irving had saved Duke with 31 points in a win over Michigan State at Cameron Indoor and had reached double figures in points in all of his few games as a collegian.  Of course, Purdue would have gladly taken even eight games from its star, Robbie Hummel. Already rehabbing a rebuilt knee from an injury last season, Hummel lasted all of a practice and a half before coming down in a heap after blowing out the same knee. A trendy preseason Final Four pick, Purdue was left without its senior leader and second-leading returning scorer before the season had really even begun.

Kyrie Irving's Loss May Not Kill Duke's Chances in March

It remains to be seen whether Duke will shake off the likely loss of Irving’s freshman season and make a run to a second straight title or whether Purdue can find among the guys remaining the makings of a Final Four contender. Both teams have talent on the roster, if not replacements exactly. Teams in the situation Duke and Purdue find themselves in have historically had mixed results recovering. For every championship-caliber team to overcome a major personnel loss to injury there is one for whom the absence of a star player was devastating to its long-term NCAA hopes.  Much of that, it turns out upon review, is related to the timing of the injury, as well as just how crucial a role the injured player played on his team. For some squads, losing a player at midseason turned out to be, while never preferred, preferable to losing him just before or during March. For others, losing an on-court presence isn’t as much an issue as losing the club’s emotional leader.

In February of 1997, Rick Pitino’s defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats were ranked fifth in the nation, riding the stellar play of dynamic scoring wings Ron Mercer and Derek Anderson to a 15-2 record heading into a seemingly innocuous game against an overmatched Auburn team at Rupp Arena. At the time, Mercer and Anderson were the most explosive 1-2 combination in America. Then, during the game, Anderson twisted his knee awkwardly on a break and tore his ACL, effectively ending his career as a Wildcat.  “It’s like it’s October 15 again as far as our offensive execution is concerned,” Pitino said a few weeks later.  But partly because of roster depth and partly because they had time to work around Anderson’s absence, the Wildcats regrouped and managed only three more losses the rest of the season, the final one coming in a classic overtime NCAA championship game vs. Arizona. Anderson returned for just one brief moment, sinking a pair of free throws in zero minutes played in a Final Four win over Minnesota. Kentucky fans still maintain that had Pitino played Anderson even a few minutes in the final, the Wildcats would have taken the title.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Morning Five: 01.17.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 17th, 2011

  1. When we reported on Angel Garcia leaving Memphis to pursue a professional career in Spain approximately a month ago, we jokingly noted that it could be the start of a new trend. It turns out that we may be onto something as Kansas State recently announced that Freddy Asprilla, a transfer from Florida International, had opted to leave the school to pursue a professional career overseas. While it appears that Asprilla was having some difficulty to adjusting to playing under Frank Martin, his AAU coach states that the real reason he turned pro was to earn money to support his ill mother. We wish Freddy the best of luck in his professional career (particularly if the latter is true).
  2. We usually don’t pay attention to mock drafts or player ratings until the end of the season when players are deciding whether or not to go pro, but Chad Ford’s most recent Top 100 caught our eye because of how the top players are rated: (1) Perry Jones (talented, but very inconsistent — four points in a loss at FSU followed by zero points in a close win over Texas Southern); (2) Kyrie Irving (phenomenal, but injured with a toe injury that apparently cannot be described); (3) Harrison Barnes (the preseason #1, but very disappointing so far); (4) Enes Kanter (a talented inside player, but banned from playing this year); (5) Terrence Jones (phenomenal this season); (6) Jared Sullinger (your current national player of the year favorite). Outside of the dominance of freshman in the top six, we are struck by the fact that the two most productive players are rated below an inconsistent big man, a point guard with an injury that nobody can figure out, a massively disappointing freshman, and a Turkish big man who was given the NCAA’s equivalent of an individual death penalty.
  3. The New York Times takes a look at something that we mentioned earlier this season and we expect that many of you have also considered–the Kalin Lucas you see post-injury is not the same player you saw last year. We aren’t sure if it was just poor editing on the part of the The New York Times, but we were surprised by the fact that Tom Izzo was, in fact, surprised to realize that Lucas wouldn’t have the same explosiveness he had last year after a relatively short period of rehab. Our question all along has been how long will it take Lucas to return to a reasonable representation of what he was last year. The answer to that will likely hold the key to whether or not the Spartans can turn around their season in time.
  4. It technically isn’t college basketball, but we are assuming many of you tuned into ESPN2 on Friday night to catch Michael Gilchrist and Austin Rivers square off. Both players had solid games, but in the end Gilchrist and his St. Patrick team (ranked 2nd nationally) were too much for Rivers and his Winter Park squad. We are assuming that plenty of Kentucky and Duke fans tuned in to watch two players who are expected to be the next superstars for their programs. One thing that struck us was how so many of the St. Patrick players looked to at least be college players at some level while the Winter Park players looked more like high schoolers.
  5. Finally, in light of the struggles of many highly ranked teams on the road this season, we found the question — How many points is Cameron Indoor Stadium worth? — posed by Gary Williams to reporters on Friday to be particularly interesting. We know that the Vegas odds-makers probably have a number at least for general home team advantage if not team-specific home court advantages. So our question to you is how many points is the home court worth at some of the toughest places to play in country?
Share this story

Checking in On… The Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2011

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten conference.

RTC is interested in learning how to improve our Checking In On… series in each conference.  Let us know in the below poll where we can improve this weekly piece (feel free to add specific comments).  Thanks.

A Look Back

  • The Big Ten powers continued to dominate this week, as Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State are a combined 10-0 in conference. The other teams though are starting to look very vulnerable. Michigan State’s loss at Penn State revealed some problems with the Spartans’ attack, while Minnesota doesn’t seem to have the firepower to hang with the top teams in the conference. And where is Wisconsin going to be when this all shakes out? The Badgers are the conference’s biggest enigma.
  • Oh and Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament hopes? They were probably dealt their deathblow on national television at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Illinois. Matt Norlander wrote a lovely obituary over on CBS’ new college basketball blog. That said, maybe life support is the better analogy as the Wildcats did beat a reeling Indiana team on Sunday night.
  • Team of the Week: Purdue – Two blowouts over inferior opponents get the Boilermakers the team of the week award this week. If Saturday showed us anything it’s that winning on the road in conference isn’t easy and Purdue won at Penn State, where Michigan State went on to lose, and also blew out Iowa at home. This team is really coming together and looks to be a dangerous NCAA Tournament style squad.
  • Player of the Week: Rhyne Smith, G, Purdue: Smith scored a team-high 18 points on 6’9 three-point shooting in Purdue’s victory over Iowa. He also was leading scorer in the Boilermakers’ victory over Penn State with 20 points on 5-5 three-point shooting and 5-7 free throw shooting. He’s a catch-and-shoot scorer who thrives off the open looks that come from playing with two All-Americans.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Melsahn Basabe, F, Iowa – Basabe went for 22 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks on Tuesday against Ohio State. He was held to eight points, with four turnovers, against Purdue.

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (16-0, 3-0) – The Buckeyes are showing a disturbing trend of letting teams back into games. Iowa and Minnesota both played them close before falling late. This could come back to haunt Thad Matta’s team at some point. Jared Sullinger had a double-double in both games this week with 24 and 12 against Iowa and 15 and 12 against Minnesota. The first team to stop him is going to have a legitimate chance to knock off the Buckeyes.
  2. Purdue (15-1, 4-0) – Check out the player of the week section about Ryne Smith. Players like Smith, Lewis Jackson and Terone Johnson are starting to step up for Purdue and are making this team even harder to beat.
  3. Illinois (13-3, 3-0) – If the Illini continue to shoot as well as they have in Big Ten play, they’re going to be unbeatable. Northwestern got shellacked at Assembly Hall as Illinois shot 70.5 percent from the field. The one weakness for Bruce Weber’s squad is that they turn the ball over too much. Even in the 25-point victory, it was evident, as the Illini turned it over 22 times. Of course, Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey both had seven assists on the way to a team total of 25.
  4. Wisconsin (12-3, 2-1) – Jon Leuer gets a lot of the press, but Jordan Taylor is the guy that drives the Badgers’ offense. He’s in the mold of other Wisconsin point guards like Devin Harris and Trevon Hughes where he just gets his points. Taylor scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds in Wisconsin’s 66-50 victory over Michigan. That’s 66 points in 54 possessions, by the way. This offense is absolutely deadly.
  5. Michigan State (10-5, 2-1) – It’s time to accept that this Michigan State team isn’t that good right now. The Spartans barely escaped at Northwestern and then lost to Penn State. Kalin Lucas had an okay week scoring the basketball, but the assists aren’t there right now. If he doesn’t have more games like the one against Minnesota where he had seven assists and two turnovers, the Spartans are going to struggle in league play.
  6. Minnesota (12-4, 1-3) – While a three-point loss to Ohio State isn’t a big deal, the Golden Golphers suffered a bigger loss off the court when Devoe Joseph, who started 25 of 76 games in his Minnesota career, was granted his release by the team on Wednesday. Joseph clashed with head coach Tubby Smith. The versatile guard had averaged 11.2 points per game this season and his departure will prove to be a big loss moving forward. The team needs a lot of depth to play Smith’s system and doesn’t really have it right now. One player benefitting is freshman Maverick Ahanminsi, who had a total of 25 minutes of time in the games versus Indiana and Ohio State after just three total minutes in the games against Wisconsin and Michigan State.
  7. Michigan (11-5, 1-2) – Man are the Wolverines going to be wishing they beat Kansas come Selection Sunday, but still, a 67-60 overtime loss to the No. 3 team in the country isn’t bad. Zack Novak played a strong game with 12 points and 11 boards to follow up on a 15-point performance in the loss to Wisconsin earlier in the week.
  8. Penn State (9-6, 2-2) – Penn State seems to be a dangerous team in league play. The Nittany Lions really struggled in the non-conference, but they’re slowly getting better. Even though Talor Battle didn’t have his best game against Michigan State, Penn State still won because Jeff Brooks stepped up with 17 points and 12 boards. Of course, Battle eventually hit the clutch shots down the stretch that allowed Ed DeChellis to get a big league win. Big Ten teams are locking in on Battle, who shot 6-22 against Purdue and 3-14 against Michigan State, so someone else will have to continue to step up for the Nittany Lions.
  9. Northwestern (10-4, 1-3) – John Shurna’s ankle is still bothering him, but he did manage to drop 24 on Indiana. I’m sure all the Wildcats want to forget the game against Illinois, but freshman JerShon Cobb did score 18 points in that game and followed it up with 11, on 3-4 three-point shooting, against the Hoosiers.
  10. Iowa (7-8, 0-3) – While the Hawkeyes can be dangerous at home, they’re going to struggle on the road, especially when teams like Purdue can shut down Matt Gatens and force other players to score points. Before Penn State’s victory over Michigan State, Iowa near miss, 73-68, against Ohio State was the most shocking score of the week.
  11. Indiana (9-8, 0-4) – Not much is going right for Indiana right now. The Hoosiers were down big to Northwestern before making the margin more respectable. Freshman Will Sheehey played well against the Wildcats with nine points and another freshman Victor Oladipo started and scored 13, but it’s hard to win Big Ten conference games relying on freshmen. The game against Northwestern was Oladipo’s fifth in a row in double-figures.

A Look Ahead

While every game is big in conference play, here are the key match-ups to keep an eye on in the upcoming week (all times EST). It also includes one special non-conference CBS Sunday afternoon treat.

  • 1/11 – Wisconsin at Michigan State, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/12 – Ohio State at Michigan, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/12 – Northwestern at Iowa, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/13 – Purdue at Minnesota, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/15 – Illinois at Wisconsin, 3 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/15 – Michigan at Indiana, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/16 – Purdue at West Virginia, 1:30 p.m., CBS

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: Three teams, Purdue (0.27), Illinois (0.18) and Ohio State (0.13) have efficiency margins greater than 0.10 during conference play. That’s very impressive.  Of course, those numbers will come down once they start playing each other, but each has been dominant thus far. The Boilermakers are just tearing things up on a per possession level.  On the other end of the spectrum are three teams: Indiana (-0.17), Michigan (-0.18) and Iowa (-0.19), all below -0.10 per possession. Michigan is at the level even with a win because of two blowout losses. The Wolverines’ game against Wisconsin is especially troublesome because the 16-point loss came in just 54 possessions as the offense disappeared in the second half. Michigan has shown in non-conference play that it can be very competitive against elite teams, so maybe this is a hiccup that will be corrected as the conference plays some more games and things even out.

Share this story

Set Your Tivo: 01.03.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 3rd, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Two ranked teams take to the road this evening against a couple of clubs trying to crack the top half of their respective conferences. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#8 Georgetown @ St. John’s — 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Can Hardy And the SJU Boys Maintain Recent Gains Tonight Against the Hoyas?

Steve Lavin makes his Big East home debut tonight at Madison Square Garden as St. John’s looks to score a big win and move to 3-0 in conference play, already off to their best start since the 1999-2000 team began 4-0 in the Big East under Mike Jarvis. The Red Storm have looked like a different team over the last four games. Since an embarrassing loss at Fordham on December 11, St. John’s has won four straight over better competition. The offense started to click in the second half against Northwestern and they haven’t looked back at all. Lavin’s offense is on fire due to the inside play of Justin Burrell and Justin Brownlee, the former shooting 76% over his last three games, as well as Dwight Hardy on the perimeter. The 6’2 senior guard has scored 41 points over the last two games and is shooting 40% from three over the last three. Even with the improved shooting, Hardy is still under 30% on the year from deep giving you an indication of how much he was struggling before this hot stretch. St. John’s gets a lot of points inside (59% of their total production) and has only attempted 17 threes over the last two contests. They shoot 53.5% inside the arc and utilize their forwards and dribble penetration effectively.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Set Your Tivo: 12.31.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 31st, 2010

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

So… About Those Spartans?

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2010

In case you hadn’t noticed, Michigan State’s 52-game non-conference homecourt winning streak ended with an icy thud tonight as a young, athletic Texas team went into the Breslin Center and dominated Tom Izzo’s team, 67-55.  Before we get to the “problems” that the Spartans have, let’s consider a little bit of historical context with this program before we pull the alarm bells at the firehouse.  Since the last time MSU entered the NCAAs as a #1 seed in the 2001-02 season, Izzo’s teams have been to nine NCAA Tournaments with an average seed of #6 coming into the Dance.  Remember, seeding is a general reflection of a team’s season resume, and the standard profile of a #6 seed is something in the neighborhood of a 25-9 team that finished third or fourth in the Big Ten — a solid  above-average major conference team but nothing special.  In six of those nine years, the Spartans overplayed their seed expectation by a total of ten wins, which essentially means that if Izzo’s team was expected by seed to make the Sweet Sixteen, he usually took them to the Final Four instead (in two other years, MSU performed exactly to its seed, and only in 2006 did the Spartans perform below its seed).

No Need For Frowns, Fellas (DFP/J. Gonzalez)

So what’s happening here?  Is this a situation where the “real” Michigan State is the one that sleepwalks through much of the season, vulnerable to several head-scratching games a year despite a surfeit of talent on the floor?  Or is the actual team the one that shows up seemingly every March and plows through NCAA Tournament opponents as if they were #16 seeds with multi-directional names?  We’ve seen this Izzo dog-and-pony show long enough to have become fully convinced that it’s the former.  He recruits numerous good but not great players (only two first-rounders since 2002) who buy into his system and win a lot of games, but nobody will ever confuse Kalin Lucas with John Wall or Durrell Summers with Evan Turner — and yet, those MSU players have been to Final Fours while the others have not.  It comes down to this.  We believe that Izzo is such a fantastic motivator and game coach that when the NCAA Tournament arrives, he elevates his players to the point where a #6 seed from a talent/resume perspective starts playing like a #1 or #2 seed, and before you know it, Sparty is again booking tickets at the Final Four.

That collective disgust you heard tonight was the college basketball community once again throwing its hands up in the air as MSU looked slow, tired and generally unathletic against the much more aggressive and high-flying Longhorns.  The Spartan goals sphinctered up to the point where they shot only 29% for the game and 19% from deep while committing six more turnovers than the younger ‘Horns, including several from Korie Lucious that nearly made Jay Bilas get up out of his analyst’s chair and deliver a tirade at the Final Four point guard himself.  And as for that legendary Michigan State defense?  Well, it guarded the foul line well (11-21) and not much else tonight, as UT’s big four of Jordan Hamilton, Gary Johnson, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph went for 59 points on an array of dribble-drives and ensuing layups/dunks that often made the Spartans look cemented into the hardwood.  To a casual observer of this game, it would be extremely difficult to explain to that person why Michigan State is still the better bet in March, but riddle us this:  will anyone out there go on record to say that the Spartans definitely will not make it to Houston in April?  Or that Rick Barnes’ Longhorns will?  Yeah, didn’t think so — to do so would be to deny what we know to be true, that Izzo will figure out a way to make the magic happen again.

Here’s the takeaway from tonight’s loss to Texas.  There’s nothing wrong with Michigan State — they are who they are and who they will continue to be — an above-average team with above-average players who will lose some games and cause everyone to doubt them again during the regular season before making another shocking and completely unexpected run in March.  Sure, it’s annoying because we tend to celebrate greatness and denigrate unpredictability, but there’s really nothing unpredictable about MSU’s modus operandi.  They do this almost every year.  All we can say is, fool us once…

Share this story

Set Your Tivo: 12.22.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 22nd, 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 you’ll catch three really good games (including two heavyweight Big 12/Big Ten clashes) if you sit down, relax, and watch ESPN2 all night. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#25 Texas @ #12 Michigan State – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Like It or Not, Izzo and the Spartans Need This One

It’s always fun when two name-brand programs go at it and this one is no exception. This is a big game for both teams but especially so for the homestanding Spartans. A loss here would drop Michigan State to 7-4 against D1 competition and once again ignite the questions about this team’s ability over the long haul, regardless of Tom Izzo’s history. Speaking of Mr. Izzo, he’s back after serving a one-game suspension for employing someone connected to a recruit at his basketball camp. Sparty had no problems against Prairie View A&M but Texas poses a stern test for State. The Longhorns look like a better team this year, playing with good chemistry and stronger defense. Both of these teams rank in the top 15 nationally in defensive efficiency with Texas in the top three in defensive effective field goal percentage. Rick Barnes has a cohesive unit this year that can score as well. With Jordan Hamilton draining threes and Cory Joseph taking over at the point, Texas may just be starting to hit their stride. The key matchups in this ballgame are Hamilton against Durrell Summers and Joseph versus Korie Lucious. When he’s on, Summers can match Hamilton shot for shot. Izzo has moved Lucious to the point many times while shifting Kalin Lucas off the ball. It is essential that each point guard control the ball and get others involved, plus we’re curious to see how the freshman Joseph reacts to the intense environment of the Breslin Center. Each team is deep and talented so the point guards cannot expect to be the stars of the show. The problem for Michigan State all season has been turnovers, something Texas will be eager to force. The Longhorns are deadly when they get out in transition and Michigan State just can’t afford another game chock full of giveaways. Pay attention to the three point line tonight. Michigan State is a very good three-point shooting team, the least we’d expect from what Izzo called a “pretty-boy jump shooting team” after their loss to Syracuse. However, Texas is very good at defending the arc and even better inside it, ranked seventh in two-point defense. The Spartans have three legitimate deep threats and will look to put Texas on notice early and often. On the other end, Michigan State is not good at defending the three. That’s a potentially lethal situation when you have a gunner like Hamilton on the other side. This would seem to be a great time for Michigan State to turn the corner and re-establish itself as a contender with a convincing win over a solid Texas team. We see this game as a closer contest however and Texas can put themselves on the map for good this year with a strong road win. Michigan State is the favorite at home and we’ll take the Spartans by single digits.

#10 Missouri vs. #21 Illinois (in St. Louis) – 9 pm on ESPN2 (****)

The annual Braggin’ Rights game between these two border state rivals is always a must-watch, especially when the teams are good as they are this season. Plus, don’t you love seeing that dividing line right in the middle of the arena separating black and gold from orange? Each team is in the top 25 for the first time in seven years but both programs are dealing with a bit of adversity. The Illini are coming off a brutal loss to Illinois-Chicago while Missouri lost freshman Phil Pressey to a broken hand and will welcome Michael Dixon back from suspension in his place. The story of this game will be pace, essentially who establishes their style of play. Everyone knows Missouri loves to get out and run but Illinois can control this game by protecting the ball against the aggressive Mizzou defense, running efficient half court sets and playing to their strength, defense. Ranked #18 in efficiency, the Illini defense needs to always have a man between Missouri and the basket to stop the ball, otherwise the Tigers will carve them up in both the half court and in transition. Illinois will have success if they force Missouri to play half court offense, taking time off the shot clock and limiting possessions. The most important player in this game is Demetri McCamey. The Illinois senior runs their offense and can shoot the lights out from three. He has to take advantage of Missouri jumping the passing lanes and make good passes to his teammates leading to open looks. Bruce Weber’s team has to take advantage of the mismatch on the perimeter when they have the ball. Illinois ranks #19 in three point shooting while the Tigers are #215 in defending the trey. Meanwhile, Missouri can exploit a weak spot in the Illinois defense inside with Ricardo Ratliffe. Illinois’ interior defense is ranked #118 and the Missouri big man should be able to get Mike Tisdale and/or Mike Davis into foul trouble. Missouri has a bunch of scorers on its roster but, remarkably, they don’t get to the foul line often. Illinois is even worse when it comes to free throw rate but they may get there more often against the foul-prone Tigers. Expect a very close game between two fierce rivals with the outcome in doubt late into the second half. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a determined and focused Illinois team rebound from the UIC loss by knocking off Missouri this evening.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ATB: Tennessee Dominates Pitt Behind Scotty Hopson

Posted by rtmsf on December 13th, 2010

The Lede.  It was a relatively quiet weekend in college basketball, as most schools scheduled lightly because they are either already taking or heading into exams.  There was only one matchup between ranked teams, and most everybody else in the Top 25 rolled (17-2 this weekend).  In the two losses — UNLV and Washington — both squads played good teams in their own right in Louisville and Texas A&M on the road.  As we head into the holiday season, the next three weeks will be hit-and-miss (mostly miss) in terms of quality games, with the majority of the pre-conference tournaments finished and schools preferring to not kill themselves immediately before conference play.  Keep this in mind over the next few weeks, though.  With the onset of winter break, teams will have a couple of things going for them.  First, if they’re waiting on a key player who might have been a transfer or academically ineligible, guys such as New Mexico’s Drew Gordon or USC’s Jio Fontan or even Missouri’s Tony Mitchell, there’s a good chance that player will be back and ready to help his team soon.  Second, with classes over and NCAA hours restrictions lifted during the break, coaches can practice as much as they want.  It shouldn’t surprise you in the least if some teams that looked shaky during the first month of the season come back much more polished and stronger after the break.

The UT Defense Outdid Pitt's on Saturday (P-S/M. Freed)

Your Watercooler MomentTennessee Throttles Pitt on the Road.  You have to give it to Bruce Pearl.  When he perceives that his back is against the wall, he comes out with guns blazing, repeatedly doing things considered nearly impossible by those of us who remember how the Vols collapse when the burden of expectations is placed upon them.  Who can forget, for example, the victories over #1 Kansas and #2 Kentucky last season; or, the win at #1 Memphis in 2008; or, the victories over the back-to-back Florida teams in 2006 and 2007?  The man gets it done when he’s playing the role of woebegone underdog, and Saturday’s 83-76 victory over Pitt in their own backyard is just the latest example of this trend.  With Pearl set to miss the first eight games of the SEC season and still-untold penalties looming from the NCAA masters, he has his team believing in one another and they’re once again shocking the basketball world in the process.  So how are the Vols doing it this year?  Try defense and a junior who has finally reached his potential.  Pitt learned quickly on Saturday that this Tennessee team wasn’t just another soft SEC squad more interested in scoring than getting back and moving their feet on the other end — these Vols actually play defense.  With athletic size and length across the front line in the form of Brian Williams, Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson, the Pitt bigs had trouble finding openings, but it was the specific work that Melvin Goins put in on Pitt’s star Ashton Gibbs that made the biggest difference, holding the guard to 4-13 shooting.  On the other side, no Panther seemed to have a clue as to how to defend the lithe Hopson, who for the first time in his career on a national stage looked like the top ten recruit in the Class of 2008 he once was.  He was 10-13 from the field, hitting all three of his bombs and slicing and dunking his way to a 27-point performance befitting a significantly improved and more efficient player this season.  Sometimes it just takes certain players longer to figure out how to play this game at a high level, and Hopson’s better understanding of what a great shot is has been one of the primary reasons that UT sits at 7-0 and presumably in the top five at this point in the season.  With a light home-heavy schedule until the SEC season starts, Pearl has his team poised to remain unbeaten and near the top of the rankings when he goes on hiatus.

Quit Calling It a Court Storm!!!! Hehe, regardless of the chosen nomenclature, we had another RTC over the weekend as Fordham came back from 21 down in the second half to beat crosstown rival St. John’s.  The Johnnies suffered not one, but two separate 16-0 runs by Fordham (who, remember, only won five games the last two seasons) before succumbing down the stretch.  It was Fordham’s first win over a Big East team since the first Reagan administration (1982) and clearly a massive win for Tom Pecora’s program looking for some traction in a crowded NYC sports market.  Somewhere on the left coast, UCLA fans knowingly nodded in quiet unison…  (h/t to The East Coast Bias for sending along the clip)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ATB: Syracuse Keeps Winning… MSU Keeps Losing…

Posted by rtmsf on December 8th, 2010

The Lede.  It was another great year at the Jimmy V Classic, and RTC Live was privileged to have been there.  On nights like these, when the Garden is sold out, rockin’ n’ rollin’, a little tipsy and ready to party, it is truly one of the great venues in the entire sport.  Unfortunately, there have been far too many of the half-full, sleepwalking variety in recent years there, including the final rounds of the CvC and PNIT last month.  New York has always been a town that comes out to see the stars, and we don’t expect that’ll ever change; but, there are bona fide collegiate stars on teams other than Syracuse and Connecticut, so it’d be nice if those games were supported there at least half as well.

Syracuse Was Clearly Better Than MSU Tonight (P-S/R. Nett)

Your Watercooler MomentLet’s Stop Making Excuses.  There comes a time where all the statistical number-crunching and subjective analysis of matchups do not amount to anything once two teams actually take the court and play the game (another reason why we’re happy that computers don’t determine our championship round).  So it was with tonight’s Syracuse-Michigan State contest in the nightcap of the Jimmy V Classic.  For most of the season we’ve heard that Syracuse is overrated, a product of one mediocre performance after another en route to a deceiving 8-0 record.  We’ve also heard that Michigan State is a top five team despite losing to UConn and Duke over the past several weeks, a product of playing well in those “good” losses and the unquestioned pedigree of Mr. Final Four, Tom Izzo.  Shouldn’t we take a step back at this point and question those assessments?  Here’s what we saw:

  • Against by far the toughest opponent Syracuse has faced this season, it was the Orange, not MSU, who set the tone early with its aggressiveness and unobstructed forays to the rim for crowd-energizing dunks.
  • Despite having a lineup of predominantly juniors and seniors, Michigan State looked dazed, confused, befuddled and even at times bamboozled by the Syracuse 2-3 zone.  We know that they’ve seen such a thing before, yet it appeared as if they hadn’t.  They took too many threes (44% of their shots), hit too few (29%) of those attempts, and clearly failed to remember that a zone provides offensive board opportunities (only six all night).
  • The pregame news that Kalin Lucas is still not at 100% recovering from his Achilles injury last spring fits with what we saw tonight.  Eight points on 3-9 shooting with only two assists but six turnovers isn’t the Lucas who was Big Ten POY.  As he did last year, Korie Lucious was serviceable in picking up the slack, but for the Spartans to become a top seeded team in March, Lucas has to make it happen.
  • Senior Rick Jackson showed a tenacity on the glass (16 rebounds) that he’ll need to have as Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine grow into leadership roles.
  • Fab Melo was well on his way to Yinka Dare-esque assist totals before dropping two shocking dimes tonight.  He’d had one previous assist in his entire 108 minutes of action so far this season.  Well, it’s good to see that he can do something else other than foul people (0 pts, 0 rebs, 4 fouls).
  • Sometimes it’s just your night, as in when you throw an off-balance and probably ill-advised alley-oop, only to have the alley count for a bucket…

Certainly Syracuse will win a whole bunch of supporters after this game, and many people will hop off the Spartan bandwagon.  But it’s a long season, we all know that.  Right now the Orange are the better team and they’re playing better basketball.  But by March this could be a totally different story.  Syracuse didn’t need to hit threes tonight because they were defending so well and getting easy buckets inside, but they won’t have the same luxury of “surprise” with the 2-3 zone in the Big East that they had here.  Who will be able to knock down those shots when they need them?  The jury is still out on that question.  Similarly, Michigan State has yet to prove that they’re really a better team than the #5 seed that crashed Indianapolis last March.  They certainly appear to have the pieces in place, but all too often the Spartan offense seems to abandon the defense and they dig holes that they can’t quite climb out of.  Obviously, you can’t win a national championship without consistent scoring threats — who will that be for Tom Izzo if Kalin Lucas cannot get all the way back this year?  All we can definitively say is that Syracuse has earned their top ten ranking, while Michigan State has not.  It’s time to stop making excuses for both teams and rank them accordingly now.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Set Your Tivo: 12.07.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 7th, 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.

All eyes will be focused on the Big Apple this evening as four quality teams take center stage at Madison Square Garden in the 2010 Jimmy V. Classic. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

The Jimmy V is Outstanding This Year

#4 Kansas vs. #18 Memphis – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

This is quite an undercard but that’s why we love the Jimmy V. The classic 2008 championship game rematch happens for the second year in a row, this time in New York after playing in St. Louis last year. Memphis almost knocked off the powerhouse Jayhawks in the ‘Lou but fell short by two points. Kansas is just as good this year, but Memphis is better than they were. The young Tigers don’t have a true star yet, but Josh Pastner has a roster full of solid players who do a good, not great, job in most areas of the game. Combining all of that talent into an efficient unit has been a work in progress so far but you’d have to figure they’ll click at some point. Pastner faces a number of challenges in his first big test of the season under the bright lights of the big city and ESPN’s cameras. This should be an up-tempo game but Memphis doesn’t handle the ball very well. They average 16 turnovers per contest with Joe Jackson being the key culprit. The freshman point guard has a ton of talent but he’s just that: a freshman. With Jackson’s assist to turnover ratio at 1.19, Kansas has to be salivating at the prospect of quick transition buckets off turnovers tonight. Memphis is not a great three point shooting team and KU ranks second in the country in three point defense. Therefore the Tigers should be looking at their mid range game with Will Barton as well as in the paint with Wesley Witherspoon, shooting 61% on the year. The problem there is that Memphis doesn’t have a great rebounder to go up against Kansas’ Markieff Morris, plus the Tigers have little front court depth. Perhaps the best strategy is to go right at the Kansas bigs and get them in foul trouble. One thing Memphis does extremely well is get to the line. They rank #17 in free throw attempts per field goal attempts and shoot a respectable 73% from the line. In fact, Memphis gets 26% of their points from the stripe, attempting an average of 30 free throws per game. Aside from a bit of a slip up against UCLA, Kansas has looked outstanding. One story to watch is Jayhawk point guard Tyshawn Taylor returning to the New York area for the first time in a college game. Taylor played for Hall of Famer Bob Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony High School, right across the Hudson River in Jersey City, NJ. Taylor has been tremendous handling the ball for Bill Self, averaging almost seven assists a game with a 2.31 A/T ratio. We said Memphis should look to get Kansas in foul trouble but you can bet the Jayhawks will try to do the same on their end. If Marcus Morris can stretch the defense a bit, leaving brother Markieff to go one-on-one with the 6’9 Witherspoon, Memphis’ leading scorer may pick up a couple early fouls. Pastner may turn to Tarik Black or Angel Garcia to defend Markieff as Witherspoon is more of a face up player. Black played 27 minutes against Western Kentucky on Saturday, perhaps getting him prepared to face Kansas tonight. Kansas gets 60% of its production inside the arc and foul trouble for Memphis will only make it tougher for the Tigers to compete with the deep and talented Jayhawks. Memphis will hope to catch Kansas on another off-night defensively as UCLA and Arizona each put up over 75 points on KU, but the matchups really favor the Jayhawks in this game. We’d be surprised if Memphis won but this could be a close game for a while. In the end, expect Kansas to pull away and win by about ten points.

#6 Michigan State vs. #14 Syracuse – 9:30 pm on ESPN (*****)

As for the nightcap, what a matchup this is. Michigan State, tested three times already, faces a Syracuse team that hasn’t faced a top notch opponent but will be playing in front of what is sure to be a highly partisan crowd clad in Orange this evening. Syracuse is undefeated but they’ve struggled offensively. The Orange shoot just 43% as a team, second to last in the Big East. Syracuse’s strength is inside with Rick Jackson (13/12) and Kris Joseph (14/5) but they’ll face a Spartan defense that allows just 39% shooting inside the arc. That’s bad news for Syracuse, ranked #281 in three point shooting at just under 30%. The Orange must be able to score inside to win so they’ll need solid efforts from Jackson and Joseph along with Scoop Jardine driving and dishing. Jardine averages seven assists per game and has to create in order for poor-shooting Syracuse to get easy buckets. Defensively, Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone hasn’t been as airtight as last year’s edition. Syracuse defends the three well but opponents get 39% of their points from deep, probably because of the volume of shots put up trying to shoot over the top of the zone. The Spartans shoot 43% from three so look for that to be a key factor in this game. With Korie Lucious handling the point for the most part, Kalin Lucas had had more opportunities to shoot the three ball at the two guard position. Lucas is connecting at a 44% clip and Tom Izzo’s top four scorers are all threats from long range. Syracuse has to contain the three, otherwise they’ll have very little chance to win this game. The problem for Michigan State has been turnovers. They average 18 per game and 20 turnovers against Duke doomed them. Sparty let a huge opportunity against the Blue Devils slip by the wayside as they out-shot and out-rebounded Duke on their home floor. They had 21 giveaways against Bowling Green on Saturday and Izzo actually said his team is “tired” from all the tough games early on. Turnovers will only keep the Orange in the game, but Michigan State can use its rebounding prowess to their advantage. They’ll have an edge overall but specifically on the offensive boards. Izzo loves sending each player to the glass, one of his trademarks over the years. Syracuse is vulnerable on the glass in their zone, ranking just #154 in opponents offensive rebounding percentage. Michigan State should be able to work the ball into the free throw line and paint against the zone with their guards, enabling Draymond Green to go to work. The Orange defense is just #128 in defending the two and Green, at 6’6/235, can take advantage of that. Averaging 14/9/4 a game, the versatile junior will be a vital part of MSU’s offensive attack tonight. He’s also expanded his game this year, taking 24 three’s and hitting 54%, giving State yet another weapon on the wing. We don’t know if Izzo’s “tired” comment is an omen but Michigan State is the deeper team and should use that to its advantage. Syracuse will no doubt come out amped up in front of a big crowd at MSG but they have to shoot better than they have been if they hope to win. This game has the makings of a classic, especially if Syracuse is able to tap into the energy of the Garden crowd. Expect this game to come down to the last few possessions with free throws and coaching strategy playing a huge role. Neither team shoots it well from the line so this game won’t be decided until the buzzer sounds. It’s going to be a great night in New York.

Share this story