RTC Summer Update: Summit League

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 12th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. The newest update comes from our Summit League correspondent, Charlie Parks.

Reader’s Take – Almost every team in the Summit has its star this year, but to win this conference and have a legitimate shot at upsetting a powerhouse in March, you need a #2 option that is just as reliable in a big situation.

IUPUI appears to have the most talent with Alex Young and Leroy Nobles, as either guy can get you 20-plus easy-looking points at any given moment. But keep in mind, its not just the most talented duo, but also the two guys that give you the best opportunity to win. What doesn’t always show in the stat column can and often does show up in the win column (that little bit of Bobby knight-wisdom was for free).

Summer Storylines

  • Coaching Carousel – There have been a few key coaching changes this offseason in the Summit League. The one that could affect the balance of power the most in the conference is the departure of Ron Hunter  from IUPUI. After 17 years leading the Jags, Hunter took the job at Georgia State. His longtime assistant, Todd Howard, was promoted to fill the vacancy. Hunter led IUPUI to its only NCAA berth back in 2003, but you could sense a change was needed and that Hunter had taken IUPUI as far as it was going to go under his direction. He is a solid coach, but the new scenery may be beneficial for the Jags.
  • More Carousel.  The other coaching change of note is the departure of Dane Fife from IPFW. Fife moved on to accept a position on Tim Izzo’s staff at Michigan State. The move is a big bummer for the Mastodons, who have been steadily improving over the last six years under Fife, culminating in last year’s 18-12 record. His baby-faced assistant, Tony Jasick, now has the challenge of taking IPFW to the next level. IPFW may have taken a small step back in its ongoing quest for a conference title.
  • Sutton Returns to Coaching.  One team that improved with a new coaching change has to be Oral Roberts who hired former Oklahoma State coach Sean Sutton. Sean served at ORU last year in an unofficial manner but he wasn’t able to really interact with players. But this year, the son of one of the legendary coaches in college basketball will try to bring the Golden Eagles back to the top. Sean was known as one of the best recruiters in the country during his long tenure as assistant coach under his father at Oklahoma State, so it will be interesting to see what kind of talent he will be able to attract to Tulsa.
  • Rolling Out The Welcome Mat – Two new teams have joined the Summit League, and Division I: South Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha. Personally, I was hoping for an already established D-I school to join the fray, but The Summit obviously has an agenda by grabbing these start-up teams. UNO is the new “ooey-pooey” of the Summit League, at least as far as nicknames go. South Dakota will begin play this year, whereas UNO will start next season.
  • Keith Benson Goes League – Keith Benson became the first Oakland player ever drafted when he was taken in the second round (48th overall) of the NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. Reviews for Benson have so far been mixed, but he will definitely get his opportunities assuming the NBA plays basketball again.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Keith Benson

Posted by rtmsf on May 20th, 2011

Over the course of the next month until the NBA Draft on June 23, RTC will be rolling out comprehensive profiles of the 35 collegians we feel have the best chance to hear their names called by David Stern in the first round that night.  There won’t be any particular order to the list, but you can scroll back through all the finished profiles by clicking here.

Player Name: Keith Benson

School: Oakland

Height/Weight: 6’11/230 lbs.

NBA Position: Power Forward/Center

Projected Draft Range: Early second round

Overview: Not only the top player hailing from the Summit League, but also one of the best mid-major talents throughout the course of the season, Keith Benson led the Oakland Golden Grizzlies to two straight conference championships and a near upset of 4th-seeded Texas in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The ultra-athletic and versatile forward from Michigan posed numerous match-up problems for the opposition this year as he was the main reason Oakland was an offensive juggernaut averaging 85.5 points per game. It is not all too often that the Summit League turns out legitimate NBA prospects, but not too long ago IUPUI also sent George Hill to the League as the San Antonio Spurs selected him with the 26th pick in the 2008 draft. One of the most decorated players in Oakland history, Benson has averaged a double-double the past two seasons averaging 18 and 10 this year, and 17 and 10.5 in the 2009-10 campaign. After Oakland’s upset victory over Tennessee last December—Benson poured in 26 points and corralled 10 rebounds—the Golden Grizz and Benson made a real splash onto the national scene. Even though they came up just short against Texas on the national stage, Benson will have his time to shine many more times at the next level.

Benson is Still a Bit Unknown at This Point

Will Translate to the NBA: Benson is one of the most athletic big men in this year’s draft as he runs the floor like a small forward and has the leaping ability to alter and block shots. He blocked 3.6 shots per game this past season, and no doubt altered many more along the way. Although he was a great scorer in college, his role in the NBA will be more on the defensive and rebounding ends.

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Season in Review: By the (Jersey) Numbers

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is an RTC contributor.  When he’s not traveling all night to get to Vegas, Los Angeles, Tucson or Anaheim to cover games in the southwestern quadrant of the country, he’s acting as the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and writing about whatever strikes his basketball fancy.

When it comes to wrapping up a college basketball season, I have a hard time doing an All-American team, because, for one, it just seems hard to narrow down four and a half months of basketball to just five names (or even ten or 15 if I add a second or third team – although, I’ll probably do that too). Instead, in the interests of recognizing more of the players that filled up my brain this season, what I’ll do here today is take all 37 possible uniform numbers (only digits zero through five are possible uniform numbers in NCAA basketball, to aid referees in calling fouls and the foulers) and pick one player for each jersey number.  Note that I am not always going to pick just the best player here. My own prejudices and likes/dislikes will factor in, plus I want to be able to pick a guy that I will most remember from this season. And, in the case of a tie, a senior will get the nod. So without further ado, here is my list of Players of the Year by uniform number.

A Famous Man Once Said We're All Rooting For Laundry, Ultimately

0 – Jacob Pullen, Sr, Kansas State – As I said before, tie goes to the senior, and in this case, the freshman Jared Sullinger gets beat out by a guy who left his heart on the court in his final game as a Wildcat, scoring 38 amazing points in a loss to Wisconsin in the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament. Pullen goes down in history as the all-time leading scorer in Kansas State history, and his exploits in March will be talked about there for years to come.

00 – Rick Jackson, Sr, Syracuse – As far as the scorekeeper is concerned, there is no difference between 0 and 00, but I see two big zeroes on Jackson’s back, and opponents saw a double-double machine for the majority of the season. He posted 17 double-dips on the season and, despite fading a bit down the stretch, was one of the most improved seniors in the country this year.

1 – Kyrie Irving, Fr, Duke – Irving’s college career is complete as he declared for the NBA Draft on Wednesday.  You won’t find his name on any all-timer lists in Durham, as he played just 11 games in his time as a Blue Devil due to a toe injury. When he was on the court, however, he was among the handful of the best players in the nation, with quickness, awareness and maturity rarely seen among freshmen.

2 – Nolan Smith, Sr, Duke – His college career ended with one of the worst games of his career, but for huge swaths of this season, Smith was in the conversation for National Player of the Year. He took over the point guard role when Irving went down with his injury and did a fantastic job of balancing his team’s need for a creator with its need for Smith to score.

3 – Jeremy Lamb, Fr, Connecticut – Jim Calhoun’s precocious freshman earned this honor almost entirely in March. Sure, he had a streak of eight-straight double-digit scoring games in January and early February, but in March, Lamb took his game to a new level and became a consistent second option to Kemba Walker. From the start of the Big East Tournament straight through to the National Championship game, Lamb never failed to score in double figures and averaged 15.3 points per game over that stretch.

4 – Jackson Emery, Sr, BYU – Aaron Craft almost got the nod here, but once again we’ll give the upperclassman the benefit of the doubt. And make no mistake, Emery is very deserving on his own merits, regardless of class, averaging 12.5 points and 2.7 steals per game as Jimmer Fredette’s sidekick in the Cougars’ playmaking backcourt. Emery goes down in history as the career steals leader at BYU.

5 – Kendall Marshall, Fr, North Carolina – I’m not sure Marshall is the best player in the country wearing a single five on his back, but he was likely the most important one – and the biggest story at that. He took over the starting point guard position in Chapel Hill in mid-January and led the Tar Heels to a 17-3 record from there, averaging 7.7 often spectacular assists per game and kick-starting much-heralded freshman wing Harrison Barnes along the way.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.19.2011

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 19th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

East

  • George Mason took out a fizzling Villanova in the first round, and continues to carve its own identity separate from the 2006 Final Four squad. The Wildcats’ season is over, and considering it lost 11 of its last 16 games, including its final six, perhaps it’s for the best.
  • The blistering performance Marquette put on Xavier Friday night sent a big message to its doubters. The Golden Eagles shot 57% on their end, and put the clamps on star Musketeer Tu Holloway. Next for Buzz Williams‘ team is Syracuse, a team Marquette beat earlier this season.
  • The Tar Heels broke out in the second half to pull away from Long Island. The high-scoring final outcome, 102-87, didn’t take long to become a polarizing talking point between tempo-free stat-heads (UNC gave up 0.89 points per possession) and traditional analysts (87 points allowed to a lower-tier mid-major)
  • Syracuse stuck to its game plan of feeding Rick Jackson and polished off Indiana State. The game ended at 12:41 AM local time in Cleveland (more on this later), and set up an intra-conference battle with Marquette on Sunday (this too).
  • For Lorenzo Romar and company, winning away from home has been a large concern, but it shook off the stigma, if only for one night, in their win against Georgia. Is it open season on Bulldogs head coach Mark Fox?
  • West Virginia may mix in a 1-3-1 look on defense today when the Mountaineers clash against Kentucky. The game is a rematch of last season’s regional final in Syracuse, when WVU bested John Calipari‘s team in the Carrier Dome.

Southeast

  • The Southeast region has a full slate on Saturday, including a battle between Florida and UCLA. Though the rosters have turned over, UCLA can exact revenge from elimination at the hands of the Gators in the 2006 and 2007 Final Fours.
  • Gonzaga faces the same question posed to the 35 teams on BYU‘s schedule to this point – how do you stop Jimmer Fredette? It seems like there’s nothing out of the realm of possibility from 30 feet in for Fredette, so Gonzaga’s defenders need to be on high alert.
  • Free throw proficiency has been a major factor to Wisconsin‘s success this  season, which is on the line in Saturday’s game against Kansas State. The Wildcats need to show patience in defending Wisconsin’s attack, and play smart defense.
  • Butler guard Ronald Nored had to swallow his pride and accept a late-season move from a starting to role to a contributor off the bench. Will he provide a spark against the top-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers?
  • For all the attention Jacob Pullen receives (and deservedly so), Rodney McGruder is one of Frank Martin‘s more underrated players. Six-foot-four guards who average six boards a game don’t fall out of the sky.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.18.2011

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 18th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

East

  • Ohio State standout Jared Sullinger has basketball in his blood. If you recall, his older brother, JJ, pieced together a solid career for the Buckeyes in the early 2000’s
  • Marquette head coach Buzz Williams believes Xavier guard Tu Holloway would receive acclaim similar to Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette if he played in a major conference. A high compliment, but it might be a bit of an exaggeration.
  • With the memory of his late mother always in his mind, Indiana State guard Jake Kelly has led the Sycamores all season. It is tough not to root for a kid like Kelly, as he has battled through all kinds of adversity throughout his career.
  • Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim believes that freshman big man Fab Melo is the Oranges’s “X-Factor” in this season’s tournament. This is a bit stunning to me, as Melo spent most of the conference campaign relegated to the bench.
  • Georgia head coach Mark Fox may get a chance to battle his mentor, UNC head coach Roy Williams, if both teams advance to the second round. Fox got his start in the coaching world as a volunteer assistant at Kansas.

Southeast

  • Florida guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton were key in the Gators’ rout of UC-Santa Barbara. The duo has battled inconsistency all season, but yesterday might be a sign of good things to come.
  • After a fairly below average start to the regular season, Gonzaga is finally starting to look like the team they were thought to be. The Zags proved this in their upset of St. John’s.
  • Pittsburgh big man Gary McGhee will seek revenge on his prep nemesis, Matt Howard, when the Panthers battle Butler in the second round. During the Indiana high school basketball and AAU seasons, McGhee never won a game against Howard.
  • Wisconsin got a big contribution from forward Mike Bruesewitz in the Badgers’ victory over Belmont. The sophomore forward recovered from a late-season injury to provide Bo Ryan‘s squad the necessary spark off the bench.
  • UCLA head coach Ben Howland will not rest following his squad’s victory over Michigan State. The Bruins have a big matchup with Florida on Saturday.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.14.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with all the chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.  We hope to have these up each morning starting Tuesday, March 15, but don’t kill us if it sometimes slips to the early afternoon.

East

Southeast

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Set Your Tivo: 03.08.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 8th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Only two games affect the bubble tonight, but four of the five listed here are for auto-bids or will go towards deciding one. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Princeton @ Pennsylvania – 7 pm on ESPN3.com (***)

Coach Sydney Johnson Will Gladly Take Another 25 From Mavraides -- As Long As It Results In a Win

The formula for Princeton is simple: win tonight and beat Harvard in a playoff on Saturday (4 pm at Yale) to earn the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Should the Tigers lose tonight, Harvard will claim the title and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

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O26 Primers: Big Sky, Summit League and Sun Belt Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 6th, 2011

RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.

Three more conferences begin things tonight. The Big Sky and Sun Belt look to be very competitive with multiple teams capable of getting hot at the right time and running away with the title, while the Summit League features the Oakland Golden Grizzlies at the head of the pack and everyone else trying to keep up. All three conferences are definite single-bid leagues meaning all games will be played with a great sense of urgency; the agony of defeat and glory of victory becomes that much more apparent as well.

Big Sky

The Favorite: Northern Colorado has played the best ball in the Big Sky over the course of the past month and they also have arguably the league’s best player in Devon Beitzel on their side. Montana will have their chance to prove me wrong, but right now it is the Bears who are the favorite.

Dark Horse: Any team that is proficient at shooting the three ball cannot be discounted in a game. Despite having a middle of the road 9-7 record within the conference, Northern Arizona can stroke it with anyone. Cameron Jones, Gabe Rogers, and Eric Platt all shoot well over 40% from downtown.

Who’s Hot: Northern Colorado has won eight of their last nine games and 15 of 18 to enter the Big Sky tournament as the hottest team.

Player to Watch: Cameron Jones has had his way with Big Sky teams this year as he is averaging just shy over 20 points on the year and has scored in double figures in every game save one. He’s got Northern Arizona playing well entering the tournament as the Lumberjacks have won four of five games with the lone loss coming to Northern Colorado by a point.

First-Round UpsetEastern Washington over Weber State. Although they have struggled for most of the season, Eastern Washington is riding a modest two game winning streak entering the Big Sky tournament with their last win coming against the team they will do battle with in the tournament’s first round: Weber State.

How’d They Fare? It was one of the most heroic performances that you have never heard of in college basketball. Anthony Johnson’s performance in the second half of the Big Sky Championship game against Weber State propelled Montana to the NCAA Tournament where they narrowly lost to #3 seed New Mexico. Montana was trailing 40-20 at the intermission, but Johnson scored 34 of his 42 points in the decisive half to defeat the Wildcats. If Johnson’s unbelievable performance carried over to the New Mexico game, Montana advances to the second round. Instead, they were defeated by the Lobos 62-57.

Interesting Fact: Not an interesting fact, but simple one of the greatest moments—if not the very greatest—in Big Sky history came in the 1999 NCAA Tournament. North Carolina fans, close your eyes:

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Summit League Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 5th, 2011

Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League. Tournament action tips Saturday in Sioux Falls, so get up to speed on all things Summit League and get a leg up on your Big Dance upset research.

Summit League Tournament Predictions

Saturday, March 5:

  • Oakland 91, Southern Utah 72Keith Benson and company will make a statement in the opening game, leaving no doubt who the top dog in the conference is.
  • Oral Roberts 77, North Dakota State 70—Michael Tveidt, in his swan song, will do his best to help his Bison rise up one last time. In the end, ORU is just too deep and too much to handle.

Sunday, March 6:

  • South Dakota State 82, IPFW 75—the first upset of the conference tournament. Home cooking and a “why not us?” mentality carries South Dakota State to victory.
  • IUPUI 80, UMKC 75— Alex Young goes off, IPFW can’t find an answer.

Monday, March 7:

  • Oakland 88, South Dakota State 85—What a great matchup this would be… Oakland has too much firepower, and outpaces The Jackrabbits in a nail-biter.
  • Oral Roberts 81, IUPUI 71—Oral Roberts is playing like a team that wants it just as bad as anyone else. They will get revenge on last year’s elimination by the Jags.

Tuesday, March 8:

  • Oakland 80, Oral Roberts 79—It will come down to who has the deeper bench, the smarter players, and the more reliable players in crunch time. Oral Roberts has one or two guys like that. Oakland has four or five. The experience will be the difference. We knew it would come down to these two since day one. I think we are in for a classic battle. Winner goes dancing, loser goes home. See you at the Summit.

Power Rankings and Postseason Preview

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Checking in on… the Summit League

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2011

Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.

A Look Back

It’s been a crazy few weeks in the “race for the Summit.” Oral Roberts and UMKC have been gunning for IPFW’s shaky #2 spot, and I expect one of these three teams will have it locked up by early February, and South Dakota State is also in the mix as well. Oakland is still rolling, almost on a boring clip, still unblemished in league play. They set a league mark of 17 consecutive conference wins, and are now 34-1 in conference play the past 35 games, good for tops in the nation. I could pretend that there are four or five teams still in this race, but in reality, Oakland will win this with ease barring a Hindenburg-sized collapse. If the ultimate goal is a berth in the NCAA Tournament, Oakland is the only threat.  But there is still plenty of ball to be played, and a month to go in the season, so we will see how this thing continues to unfold.

Oakland fans will be pleased to know they were ranked #9 on the collegeinsider.com mid-major poll– Just one spot below their preseason rank. Keith Benson was also named player of the week for the Summit League, his third such award this season.

Power Rankings

1. Oakland (11-0, 16-8)— they have won 34 out of the last 35 conference games, and they are closing in on all kinds of conference records. Keith Benson is not the only stud on this team, as Reggie Hamilton and Will Hudson have been stellar, and they clearly have no excuse to lose a conference game. But if you are one of those pessimistic Oakland fans (likely a Detroit resident), then let’s look at the ORU game.  A three-point home win against an inferior ORU team is hardly dominant or impressive. It is just a little seed of doubt in the minds of the players and fans, and it is motivation for the next time—should they face each other in South Dakota. But that is just getting picky. They get scoring from all over the floor. Hopefully Larry Wright will be healthy for them down the stretch. Any lengthy absence from him could be damaging.

2. IPFW (8-3, 14-7)—I still don’t think the Mastodons can hold on to second place. They are just not a very good team. They got run by SDSU 87-52. Good teams don’t get blown out.  They have been looking to Ben Botts to carry them, but it seems that every night someone else steps up to give them just enough punch to pull out a win (as in their three-point victory over Oral Roberts). But how long can that last?  For awhile, it looked like IPFW was on the brink of a collapse. Two games up with eight to go, plus now holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over Oral Roberts is a strong lead.

3. Oral Roberts (6-5, 9-14)—there were three positives ORU could take away from the loss at Oakland: 1) It was a three-point loss on the road to a seemingly unbeatable conference foe. What will the game be like the third time they play, this time on neutral ground? 2) They got great production from both of their guards –Warren Niles and Ken Holdman—a big reason they have won four of their last six games. They have clearly become a more complete team since their 5-10 start. 3) They appeared to have solidified their low post presence, which has been a difficult task since the loss of Mike Craion to injury. The one glaring problem still remaining for ORU is the defense. Scott Sutton is a defensive coach, but it seems like his players are not buying in to his system.  It’s definitely crunch time after their loss to IPFW late. One other note: where is the leadership coming from on this team? It’s hard to lead from the bench, so that cancels out Kyron Stokes and Craion. Who will step up for this team?

4. UMKC (6-5, 13-9)—they showed us what they are capable of last week, beating IUPUI in double-overtime on the road, and nearly shocking ORU in a thriller. In my eyes, they surpassed SDSU with a rare road win on Thursday. Continuing their month of close games, the ‘Roos went on to drop a double-overtime thriller at North Dakota State. They try beating you with the three-point shot. If those are off target, they slash inside with Jay Couisnard, with Spencer Johnson crashing the boards. Their lack of size will likely keep them from winning this conference, but nobody in the Summit really wants to face the Kangaroos.  They are tied with Oral Roberts with one more home game against them in two weeks—never say never.

5.  South Dakota State (6-5, 14-8)— The numbers would suggest they have just as dangerous an offense as Oakland, but they have had some very tough losses in the conference so far. Nate Wolters and Clint Sargent can carry them; but they both have to be bringing their best for SDSU to beat the top 5 teams. Simply put: this is a dangerous offensive team, but they lack experience and defensive problems have dragged them down as of late.

6. IUPUI (7-3, 13-10)— This team has really underachieved in most Summit fans’ minds. They have the scoring thing down, but to win in the Summit, you need good defense and solid guard play. They have the guard play, now they just need to add the defense. Surrendering just 45 points against Western Illinois was a nice start, but not much to glean into considering the Leatherneck’s struggles. They’re third in the conference standings, but haven’t been impressive.

7. North Dakota State (4-6, 10-10) —it is virtually impossible for this team to get a win on the road, but credit the Bison for halting a four-game skid and then edging out the ‘Roos on Saturday. Wins over Centenary and Oral Roberts this week could bring them closer to the top of the middle-tier. This team is one of the better three-point shooting squads in the conference, so NDSU fans, pray for the basketball gods to send rain.

8. Southern Utah (3-8, 6-15)—at this point, SUU just needs to stay above Western Illinois and hope the weather in Montana is better than the Dakotas next year.

9. Western Illinois (2-8, 7-14)— A half-game behind SUU and still a month remaining in the season.  The Hunt for March! It’s on!

10. Centenary (0-11, 0-23)—The gents are currently 0-22, and closing in on many, many NCAA records.  and their manhood was recently brought into question with this ESPN article. The Centenary Gents, in my opinion, are by far the worst D-I team in the history of basketball as they bring up the rear of KenPom’s rankings.  We are all witnesses.

A Look Ahead

Almost every game from here on out is an important one in the Summit, especially with everyone bunched together in the middle. Keep an eye on IPFW’s schedule; they take on IUPUI February 3 and they get a crack at Oakland February 12. If they knock off IUPUI, the race for second could see an early end. On February 10, ORU will visit UMKC for a rematch of their OT thriller from a couple weeks ago, and IUPUI will visit South Dakota State on the same night. We should see some pretty decent basketball here in the Summit over the next two weeks.

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The Other 26: Week 11

Posted by KDoyle on January 28th, 2011

Introduction

We are just about halfway through the conference schedules and the true contenders are beginning to reveal themselves, while the pretenders are wallowing away after deceiving the country for so many weeks. Take a team like Central Florida, for instance. They looked like a legitimate top 25 team and a definite candidate for an at-large berth after breezing through the non-conference with an unblemished record, but their 1-5 record in Conference USA makes that great run in the non-conference all for naught. Conversely, take a gander at Duquesne. The Dukes went a modest 8-5 in the non-conference with losses to Robert Morris and George Mason, but have gone onto take the Atlantic 10 by storm. Suffice to say, it is hard to gauge just how good some teams are based solely on the non-conference. Some coaches will elect to challenge their team by scheduling a tough OOC schedule, while others will stockpile a bunch of cupcakes to pick up easy wins. The distinction between the pretenders and contenders will continue to be illuminated all the way up until the conference tournaments. Up until then, we sit and watch teams rise above expectations heading into conference play and watch others flounder.

The Other 26 Rankings

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Set Your Tivo: 12.23.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 23rd, 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.

Not a bad set of games tonight but nothing that jumps out at you as a must watch. The best games of the night may very well be in paradise as opposed to Memphis. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#11 Baylor vs. Washington State (in Honolulu, HI) – 6:30 pm on ESPNU (****)

A Rare Klay Thompson Sighting on National TV Tonight

The theory that good guard play wins in college basketball will be put to the test in this game from the Diamond Head Classic. Washington State’s guard-heavy lineup goes up against Baylor’s powerful front court, though the Bears have a star guard in LaceDarius Dunn. The Cougars have surprised this year and sit at 9-1 with wins over Gonzaga and Mississippi State in addition to a close home loss against Kansas State. Washington State shares one common opponent with Baylor, that’s Gonzaga. Baylor lost to the Bulldogs this past Saturday in Dallas while Washington State rolled the Zags 81-59 at home ten days earlier. Baylor’s offense has struggled a bit against the two decent teams they’ve played, Gonzaga and Arizona State. Combine that with the fact that Washington State defends the three exceptionally well, the Bears should look to use their strength and athleticism inside and pound the ball into the paint. Rebounding is a concern for the Cougars, especially against a Baylor team that averages 41 RPG. Even if the Bears miss some shots inside, they’re sure to get a bunch of put-back chances against the WSU front line. For Washington State, DeAngelo Casto must have a good night on the glass in order to contain Baylor’s front court, led by Perry Jones and Quincy Acy. The Cougars must look to their back court for scoring and they’ll feel comfortable knowing they have Klay Thompson on their team. Thompson had 28 points against Mississippi State on Wednesday and will be in the running for Pac 10 POY honors. In addition to Thompson, Faisal Aden has enjoyed a terrific season so far. Aden and Thompson form a strong guard duo capable of draining three’s with regularity. Washington State is very good inside the arc as well but Baylor’s interior defense poses the toughest challenge the Cougars have faced so far. They need to be clicking from deep or else it could be a long night. Baylor’s back court isn’t too shabby either with Dunn and A.J. Walton, but each player struggles with turnovers. Washington State enjoys a great turnover margin and that’s how they’re going to get extra possessions against the turnover-prone Bears. With the expected rebounding problem, Washington State has to create turnovers to win this game. Expect Baylor to have an edge at the free throw line as well, enjoying a nice free throw rate on both ends of the floor. The Bears also shoot five percent better from the line than Washington State. The Cougars are a good team but Baylor has something to prove after falling to Gonzaga. We’ll take the Bears behind a big game from Acy inside.

#9 Georgetown @ Memphis – 8 pm on ESPN2 (***)

With the departure of Angel Garcia, the injury to Wesley Witherspoon and their struggles on the court, Memphis is going through some adversity. How Josh Pastner gets his young team to overcome that will determine how far he can take his talented group of players. The Tigers have had three close calls against bad teams and are struggling a bit offensively. Memphis averaged 85 PPG in its first seven games but that number has dropped to 69 PPG over the last three contests. Memphis is not a particularly great shooting team but they get to the charity stripe often and do make up some points there. The pregame story is whether or not Witherspoon will play, as Pastner did not rule him out and said he was day-to-day. If he doesn’t play, the guard-laden Tigers will be severely undersized and thin overall. If he does play, they’ll still be undersized but at least will have a scorer capable of pulling the Georgetown big men away from the basket. For the purposes of this preview, we’ll go on the assumption that he doesn’t play and wouldn’t be near 100% even if he does. Memphis already struggles rebounding the basketball and that’ll be a huge problem against a Hoya team with good rebounding guards and two strong post men. Look for Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson to own the paint with Witherspoon out. For Memphis, Will Coleman and Tarik Black have to make their presence known, otherwise Georgetown will focus its defense on the Tiger guards all night. A freshman, Black has had a tough time adjusting to a bigger role on this Memphis team. Tonight is a huge opportunity to assert himself and make himself a strong option for his head coach. The story for Georgetown is obviously their terrific trio of guards. They account for 57% of their points and all are great three point shooters. Point guard Chris Wright is also averaging seven assists per game during his senior season in the nation’s capital. Jason Clark is one of the most underrated players in the game today and has the potential to break out at any time. Austin Freeman is their rock. The preseason Big East POY leads the team in scoring and is a lights out three point shooter. When Freeman is hot, Georgetown is incredibly difficult to beat. The Hoyas are third nationally in offensive efficiency, first in effective field goal percentage and fourth in two point percentage, showing they can get it done both inside and out. It’s no surprise Georgetown hoists a lot of three’s, getting a third of their points from the arc. Memphis has to do a good job defensively on the perimeter otherwise Georgetown will shoot them out of the building. The Tigers also have to worry about turnovers, currently averaging 16 per game with Joe Jackson accounting for almost a quarter of those. Jackson is another freshman who’s incredibly talented but a bit undisciplined at this point in his career. He needs to play well and also get Chris Crawford and Charles Carmouche involved from the arc. With almost all of their players being guards, Memphis is going to have to try to match Georgetown’s outside shooting and get to the foul line. The Tigers will be in this game if they can disrupt the flow and score by getting to the stripe but Georgetown is just too experienced and talented for the young Tigers to overcome. Expect the Hoyas to pick up a nice road win at the FedEx Forum tonight after missing an opportunity at Temple a couple weeks ago.

A few other games to monitor:

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