SEC M5: 12.19.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on December 19th, 2012

SEC_morning5

  1. Several members of the national media have been quick to criticize Kenny Boynton in the days following his disappointing performance at Arizona. The criticism is hard to argue with, as the senior guard scored only five points on 10 attempts from the field. SI‘s Andy Glockner got in on the act, publishing an article in which he asks whether Boynton will be a help or hindrance for Florida come Tournament time. I fall squarely in the former camp. His high-volume three-point shot totals aren’t as reliable as a what a dominant post player or steady ball-handler brings to the table, but Boynton is the type of player who has the ability to win you games in March that you otherwise have no business winning. He hit the 20 point-mark in 12 games last year, not to mention the three times thus far in his senior season. Boynton could very well be the culprit in an early postseason defeat for the Gators, but without him in the picture, Florida simply isn’t a team with realistic Final Four aspirations.
  2. Georgia didn’t make much progress toward finding a secondary offensive option last night, but the Bulldogs did enough of the defensive end to earn their third win of the season over Mercer, 58-49. The visiting Bears mustered only 16 field goals, including a miserable 6-of-26 from beyond the arc. “Today was important and we needed to win,” said head coach Mark Fox. “We won the game today because we played such a physical schedule early. We had to be sound for 40 minutes to win this game because [Mercer isn't] making very many mistakes.” Fox is certainly still tinkering with his rotation, as 11 players saw the court for 10 minutes or more in Tuesday’s victory.
  3. The cupcake-heavy home schedule bothers the season ticket holders in Lexington, but Jerry Tipton believes that Kentucky will ultimately benefit from these breather games. Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson, who played at Rupp last Saturday, agrees. “The chance to work on execution without the distracting consideration of winning or losing,” says Sanderson. “The label of ‘guarantee games’ refers to a payment the lesser team receives for its service as a sacrificial lamb. But the greater team in these match-ups is all but guaranteed of a victory.” While I believe that the Wildcats probably needed to recalibrate some things after losses to Notre Dame and Baylor, I think a nearly month-long break from quality competition is too long. A mentally-prepared Kentucky team doesn’t stand much of a chance at the Yum! Center in Louisville anyway — I won’t be surprised if the young and rusty ‘Cats struggle mightily against the tested Cardinals.
  4. Jabari Brown stole the headlines in his first game in a Missouri uniform, but it was a big night for Laurence Bowers as well, as the senior forward joined the Tigers’ 1,000 point club. Bowers is especially pleased to now be mentioned in the same class as former teammates Kim English and Marcus Denmon. “I’m kind of in competition with those guys, to be honest,” Bowers said. “I know that I might not surpass them as far as scoring points, but I definitely want to surpass them as far as the season they had.” Team success will be harder to guarantee than points, however. Bowers combines with Alex Oriakhi to form a fearsome frontcourt, and point guard Phil Pressey is one of the nation’s best lead guards, but no wing player has stepped up and shown any consistency through the early part of the schedule.
  5. Mike Anderson and his high-intensity style produces the need for a lot of bodies, but Arkansas won’t be able to count on Brandon Mitchell this season. The two-sport football star would have served as an athletic backcourt option off the bench, but with new football coach Bret Bielema converting Mitchell from wide receiver to quarterback, basketball will have to take the back seat. “He told me his focus is on football right now,” Anderson said. “It makes sense. We have got a new coaching staff and he has got to get ready for Coach B. He did a good job for us but football is what he is here for.”
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Assessing The Rising NBA Draft Prospects Who Could Land In First Round

Posted by EJacoby on June 27th, 2012

As part of our NBA Draft series, we have been breaking down in full scouting reports all the top prospects who could hear their names called in the first round on Thursday. Included in our profiles are the 35 top prospects as consensus-ranked back in mid-May. But now we’re a day away from the draft, and there’s been plenty of movement around the bottom end of those consensus rankings. Teams have gotten to see the prospects go through measurements, tests, and interviews at the Chicago Combine as well as individual and group workouts in private practice settings. As always, there are some guys moving up at the last minute who weren’t in the mix six weeks ago but could find their way into the first round. Who will become this year’s Norris Cole, the guard from Cleveland State who shot up draft boards late in the process last year and got selected #28 overall? We’ll detail these rising prospects who didn’t make our original cut and we didn’t get a chance to break down in full.

Athletic guard Jared Cunningham is gaining some first round buzz (Pac-12 photo)

Some of the players we detailed back in May who were fringe first-rounders at the time are now falling as likely second-rounders. Scott Machado, Kevin Jones, and Darius Miller, especially, are all projected outside of the top 35 by Draft Express and NBADraft.net at this time. That doesn’t mean these guys won’t get selected in the first round, but the buzz simply isn’t as strong leading up to draft night as some other prospects that we overlooked. Three names – excluding foreign players – who are now rising above these players in terms of consensus rankings heading into draft night are Jared Cunningham, Kim English, and Miles Plumlee. We’ll detail each prospect with a quick and dirty breakdown, including what has caused each player to rise in the past few weeks.

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Grading the Big 12’s 2011-12 Season: Bottom Half

Posted by dnspewak on April 5th, 2012

With the 2011-12 campaign now just a memory, it’s difficult to actually remember all of the drama and agony the Big 12 experienced during the last five months. Kansas’ thrilling loss to Duke in the Maui Invitational seems like ages ago, as does the Jayhawks’ first loss to Kentucky at Madison Square Garden. Remember when Missouri and Baylor were only a few of the remaining unbeaten teams in college basketball? Or when Texas found a way to lose game after game in the most heartbreaking fashion? These memories are hard to digest, but you’ll probably never forget the Border War drama between Kansas and Missouri, nor will you forget Iowa State’s rise thanks to the brilliant play of Royce White. The Big 12 kept playing until the final game of the 2011-12 season, ending with Kansas’ loss to Kentucky in the title game on Monday. And with the conclusion of this wild campaign, the final grades are in. Kansas earns an A+. Big surprise. Texas A&M earns an F. Big surprise, too, but for different reasons. The other eight teams settled into a grade somewhere between those two extremes.

We’ll cover the bottom half of the league today, and the top half tomorrow.

10. Texas Tech (8-23, 1-17)

Gillispie's First Year in Lubbock Wasn't Great

FINAL GRADE: D

The Red Raiders get a free pass in Billy Gillispie‘s first season. Playing almost exclusively with newcomers, Texas Tech had no chance this year. Robert Lewandowski was the only senior on the roster, but not even he could lead this team to any sort of success. Their inexperience was just too much to overcome. The Red Raiders were plagued by turnovers all season and they never got consistent point guard play. Jordan Tolbert emerged as the leading scorer in the frontcourt, and he played the most consistent basketball on the team from November through February. Still, even after a last-place finish, Texas Tech should not worry about the state of this program. Gillispie’s success at UTEP and Texas A&M proves he can win in this state, and he’ll have almost everybody back next season.

9. Texas A&M (14-18, 4-14)

FINAL GRADE: F

Sorry, A&M. You fail. Picked in the pre-season to win the Big 12, the Aggies suffered through a nightmare year, though there are extenuating circumstances to consider here. Coach Billy Kennedy learned of a Parkinson’s diagnosis in the fall, which kept him sidelined for fall practice and away from his team during critical teaching moments. As a first-year coach, Kennedy never had the chance to establish himself to his new players. Adding to the woes, many of those players missed time themselves with injuries. Star wing Khris Middleton had surgery on his knee in November and sat out part of Big 12 play. Point guard Dash Harris missed a handful of games, too, and his backup Jamal Branch transferred before conference play. Kourtney Roberson played only nine games before his season ended due to injury as well. As the troubles mounted, the losses began to pile up. The Aggies simply could not score because of all the roster turnover and the lack of creators on the offensive end. We thought this team could muscle its way to a Big 12 title by playing with the principles former coach Mark Turgeon instilled, but that never happened. Now, Kennedy must revamp this program and forget about the 2011-12 nightmare.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 03.16.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on March 16th, 2012

  1. First, for your disturbing, what-is-wrong-with-the-world news, the Southern Miss band apparently chanted a racial/xenophobic slur at Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez. Several things strike us about this particular incident. First of all, it’s shameful a visible group like the band would involve itself in these sorts of shenanigans. Second of all, chanting “Where’s your green card?” to Rodriguez actually makes no sense, considering he’s from Puerto Rico (learn your geography). Third of all, we wonder if these people would have had the guts to chant this at Frank Martin, who is of Cuban heritage, but was born in Miami. We’re guessing that’s a no.
  2. Frank Haith has worked his magic at Missouri all year, partly because of his businesslike demeanor. You will often hear Kim English, for example, talk about Haith’s preparation and attention to detail. Whether you’d like to give Haith or Mike Anderson credit for this dream season, you can’t deny Haith has done a masterful job taking someone else’s players and adapting them to his own coaching style.
  3. Marcus Denmon and Kim English are nursing minor injuries, but they seem to be nothing more than small distractions. At this point, everybody is banged up. It’s still worth mentioning that Denmon is dealing with a foot problem and English has sore quads. Ever the comedian, English said coach Frank Haith will need to erase his lob play from the playbook. As if English could ever throw down an alley-oop off a lob– not that we could even come close, of course.
  4. Billy Kennedy has a message for you: don’t worry about him at Texas A&M. He says he’s here to stay in College Station, less than a year after a Parkinson’s diagnosis. After a disastrous first season, Kennedy will bring back a few starters and must now rebuild his program to fit his image and personal style. Now that his health is improving, that should be an easier task.
  5. Tad Boyle‘s a smart guy. That’s why he coaches Colorado and has them in the NCAA Tournament. Still, it’s a little humorous to see him make a statement like this in regards to the Big 12 vs. the Pac-12: “All I can tell you is coming from the Big 12, which is a heck of a league, and coming into the Pac-12, which is a heck of a league, the difference in respect factor is huge,” Boyle said. “The difference in talent and ability and quality of play is small.” Um, no. Not this year.
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SEC NCAA Tournament Primer: Friday/Sunday Games

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 16th, 2012

On Friday, Florida and Alabama open their NCAA Tournament runs facing Virginia and Creighton, respectively. Here we preview the Friday/Sunday possibilities for the Gators and Crimson Tide.

SEC NCAA Tournament Friday/Sunday Capsules

WEST Region 

  • #7 Florida: Tournament appearances: 16; Record 32-14; Best Finish: National Champion – 2006, 2007; Final Four appearances: 4; How Qualified: At-Large, SEC; Last Appearance: 2011 – L, Regional Final
  • #10 Virginia: Tournament appearances: 16; Record 22-16; Best Finish: Final Four – 1981, 1984; Final Four appearances: 2; How Qualified: At-Large, ACC; Last Appearance: 2007 – L, Second Round
  • #2 Missouri: Tournament appearances: 24; Record 22-23; Best Finish: Elite Eight – 2009, 2002, 1994* (vacated by NCAA), 1976, 1944; Final Four appearances: 0; How Qualified: Automatic Bid, Big 12; Last Appearance: 2011 – L, First Round
  • #15 Norfolk State: Tournament appearances: 0; Record 0-0; Best Finish: N/A; Final Four appearances: 0; How Qualified: Automatic Bid, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference; Last Appearance: N/A
All-Time Meetings
  • Florida vs Virginia: Virginia leads 1-0; Last Meeting: March 30, 1992 (Virginia 62, Florida 56)
  • Florida vs Missouri: Never met
  • Florida vs Norfolk State: Never met

The Gators Have A Tough Road To Get To The Sweet Sixteen

A Starting 5 of the Top Players Florida Could Face
  • Kyle O’Quinn, Norfolk State, Sr. C: O’Quinn is the anchor for a Norfolk State team excited for its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. If the Spartans could somehow make it past Missouri, Florida’s Patric Young would battle O’Quinn in the post. The beast of the MEAC averaged 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
  • Mike Scott, Virginia, Sr., F: The Gators will have their hands full with one of the ACC’s top talents. Scott finished the year averaging 18.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game earning him first team All-ACC honors. The forward has been on a tear of late, finishing with a double-double in his last three outings. He scored 28 against Florida State, 35 against Maryland and wrapped up with 23 points in his final game against North Carolina State.
  • Kim English, Missouri, Sr. F/G: English lit it up from three-point land this season, shooting 47.3 percent from downtown. English’s overall shooting percentages improved from 36.6 percent a year ago to a cool 53 percent this season. The improvements he’s made in his offensive game have the Tigers thinking about their first ever Final Four.
  • Marcus Denmon, Missouri, Sr. G: Denmon has shown he can do a little bit of everything. The 6’3″ guard averages 17.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game to lead a balanced Tigers attack in scoring. Denmon has been consistent, shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc on the season.
  • Phil Pressey, Missouri, So. G: Pressey is just a sophomore, but he is the court general for the poised Missouri Tigers. Pressey is averaging 10 points, 6.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and over 2 steals per game. He doesn’t always score in bunches, but finds ways to get his teammates involved in the game as evidenced by his double-digit assists in seven games this season.
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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by AMurawa on March 12th, 2012

Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), South (11 AM), Midwest (2 PM), West (4 PM). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Andrew breaking down the West Region here.

West Region

Favorite: Michigan State, #1, 27-7. This is the fourth time in the Tom Izzo era that Michigan State has earned a #1 seed. The previous three times (1999, 2000, and 2001), they advanced at least to the Final Four, winning the national title in 2000. Led by likely All-American senior forward Draymond Green, this is, almost without question, the best Spartan team since those teams at the turn of the century. They do have to go forward without injured freshman Branden Dawson, out for the year with a torn ACL, but senior Brandon Wood stepped into his starting spot and he shot the ball well in the Big Ten Tournament this weekend. You can say that there are more talented teams in this region (Missouri and Marquette come to mind), but beating Izzo in March is always easier said than done.

Draymond Green And Michigan State Are The Team To Beat In The West Region (AP)

Should They Falter: Missouri, #2, 30-4. While the Spartans are the favorite, the Tigers are a solid 1-A. The Selection Committee had Mizzou as the #8 overall seed, but they have been excellent all season long behind the most efficient offense in the nation. The Tigers are undersized (only two players taller than 6’6” are in the rotation) and lack depth (they only play seven guys), but head coach Frank Haith gets every last drop out of the guys who do play. And with guards like Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Phil Pressey, and Michael Dixon, they have enough talent on the perimeter to cause plenty of trouble.

Grossly Overseeded: BYU, #14 (First Four), 26-8. I don’t have a whole lot of problems with any of the seeding this year; I think the Selection Committee by and large did a pretty good job. But I’m not sure why BYU is in the tournament. Their lone quality win of the season is over Gonzaga, a team who doesn’t have much in the way of quality wins itself. I would rather have seen a team like Drexel or Oral Roberts (teams admittedly without a ton of big wins either) get the Cougars’ spot. The Dragons and Golden Eagles both had better records against top 50 RPI teams, and both excelled in their conference regular season. I will even take Iona, their First Four opponent, over the Cougs despite a complete lack of quality wins on the Gaels’ resume. The committee gave Iona credit for scheduling a tough non-conference slate, and their strength of schedule out of conference even exceeds BYU’s.

Grossly Underseeded: Missouri, #2, 30-4. I’m having trouble working up a whole lot of outrage about anything in the bracket, but Missouri should not have dropped to the #8 overall seed. To me, they were right in the conversation with Kansas for the #5 overall seed (and I might have given Missouri the edge, although the committee docked them for a relatively tame non-conference schedule). The only difference for the Tigers in terms of their placement in the bracket is that had they earned the #5 overall seed, they would have been dropped in the St. Louis regional instead of being shipped West. But the good news is that they still are in the bracket with the lowest #1 seed. It all works out.

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Missouri States Its Case For A #1 Seed With Big 12 Tournament Win

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2012

Missouri 90, Baylor 75

An underwhelming non-conference schedule strength could keep the Tigers out of the hunt for a #1 seed, but Missouri may have changed the selection committee’s outlook with a 90-75 win over Baylor in its last game as members of the Big 12. After a hallmark performance by his team’s heralded guard-heavy rotation on both ends of the court, the Tigers started chanting “one seed, one seed” in the postgame celebration. Senior guard Kim English openly lobbied (albeit misguidedly) to ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi in the postgame presser, pleading: “If you’re watching, look out for us.” Missouri head coach Frank Haith took on a calmer demeanor. “We’re happy that we’ve had a great regular season and (won) a Big 12 Championship, but that stuff will work itself out.”

English & The Tigers Made Their Case For A #1 Seed

Their next stop is out of their hands, but the Tigers can take solace in the fact that they did everything in their power to get to the top of their region this weekend, beating Oklahoma State, Texas and Baylor in three consecutive days. English went a masterful 29-40 from the floor in the conference tournament, including 8-12 from the three-point line to take home Most Outstanding Player honors. The Missouri rotation may be thin, but it was potent Saturday night, with all five starters scoring at least 15 points and Michael Dixon adding 17 from the bench. The Tigers closed out the final seconds with Missouri fans chanting “S-E-C! S-E-C!,” taking pride in the team’s departure from the Big 12, though not without some hardware.

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ATB: Power Conference Round Up – All Leagues Now in Tournament Action, Big East Works Overtime

Posted by EJacoby on March 9th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Thursday was a transition night during Championship Week from small-conference finishes to power league beginnings. Most mid-major tournaments are now completed, as the automatic bids came flying in over the past five days. Check our Bracket Prep posts to get the scoop on all of the lesser-known teams that have qualified for the Big Dance and will fill out the lower seeds in the bracket. But Thursday night included no tournament finals and instead was a jam-packed day of mostly power league teams dueling to keep their seasons alive, work their way off the ‘bubble,’ or jockey for NCAA Tournament seeding. There were also a few other smaller league tournaments that produced notable results as well. If you missed anything (with 49 games, you probably did), we’ve got you covered…

Your Watercooler Moment. Cincinnati Spectacle – Bearcats Victorious in Double-Overtime

Cincinnati is All Smiles After Thursday's Clutch OT Victory (AP Photo)

The Big East Tournament has been catching some flak for the fairly boring games taking place during the nightcaps on ESPN, but the NYC tourney produced fantastic results during the afternoon on Thursday. Following a hard-fought game between Connecticut and Syracuse, the Bearcats and Hoyas did battle for 40+ minutes, extending all the way into two overtimes in what looked like could have been an even longer game. Georgetown led for most of regulation in the game, but Cincy stormed back in the second half with a strong defensive effort and plenty of big plays, many by the veteran forward Yancy Gates. Although being played at a low-scoring, slow pace, this game was full of clutch shots and crisp basketball plays at the end of regulation and both overtimes. In order to extend the game both times, Georgetown needed to make shots on a final possession while down by two points. First, Otto Porter tied the game in regulation and then it was Henry Sims in the first overtime with a beautiful swooping layup as time expired. But in double-OT, the Hoyas were down two once again with the ball and this time went for the win. Sims’ three-pointer wouldn’t go down and the Bearcats were victorious behind Gates’ 23 points and eight boards. They move on to play Syracuse tomorrow in the Big East semifinals.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Marshall and Tulsa Play Three! If you thought the Cincinnati-Georgetown game was crazy, you’ll want to hear about this one in Conference USA. Marshall was the lower-seeded team and had played yesterday but is probably the more talented squad than Tulsa, who was higher-seeded thanks to a better record in the C-USA season by one game. These two teams did not want to go home empty handed, as they combined to score 205 points in 55 total minutes of play. In three overtimes, Marshall star DeAndre Kane went for a career-high 40 points including nearly all of the big plays down the stretch of the extra sessions. Kane also piled up seven rebounds, three assists, and three steals and played all but one minute of the entire game. Four Tulsa players scored at least 14 points and the Golden Hurricane led by at least three points in all three overtimes, but they could not contain the Thundering Herd’s desperate comeback efforts that resulted in the win from sheer passion and effort. Marshall lives to play another day, but who knows how much it has left in the tank for Friday.
  • Jamaal Franklin For the Win. San Diego State struggled to put away pesky Boise State in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament, but the Aztecs happen to have the conference Player of the Year who’s made great plays all season long. Franklin had 19 points in the game but it was his incredible long-range heave at the buzzer that stole the show and won the game for SDSU. Head coach Steve Fisher described this final play call as, “Give him [Franklin] the ball and let him make a play.” Check out the footage below.

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Insider’s Practice Report: Missouri

Posted by dnspewak on March 7th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage from the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak

The second they took the floor at the Sprint Center this afternoon, the Missouri Tigers started talking. And they didn’t stop talking until their 40-minute practice window ended. “Let’s be crisp this whole time,” Kim English told his teammates at the very beginning. “No mistakes.” With a top seed in the NCAA Tournament on the line this weekend and a potential Border War finale with Kansas on Saturday, the Tigers can’t afford to lose focus. They vocally encouraged each other and practiced with great tempo, completing each drill with a purpose and running from spot to spot with a hop in their steps.

Ever The Comedians, Missouri Joked Its Way Through Practice

Of course, whenever they caught a free moment, the Tigers became comedians. As Marcus Denmon worked on throwing a hail mary/long release pass off an inbounds play at the baseline, he likened himself to Peyton Manning. English started singing. Michael Dixon pretended to shoot a game-winning three with nobody covering him, and assistant Tim Fuller caught slack for throwing a terrible pass in a drill. Frank Haith actually had to use a few choice words at one point to settle his team down, and he urged them not to take this Big 12 Tournament for granted. “I emphasize this to the guys all the time: some players have unlaced their shoes for good already,” Haith said after practice. “The Big 12 Championship is a priority.”

The practice only reached moderate intensity in the final few minutes, when Haith ran a defensive shell drill. Listen to the communication by each defender:

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Big 12 Morning Five: Leap Day Edition

Posted by dnspewak on February 29th, 2012

  1. Before the season began, Iowa State was one of the Big 12’s most intriguing cases. After a losing season, coach Fred Hoiberg banked on four transfers to lead him to the promised land. It worked. The Cyclones are all but headed to the NCAA Tournament now, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still an underdog. Royce White, a major part of Team Transfer this year, say it’s a role the team enjoys playing. That’s a good thing, especially since ISU will visit Missouri on an emotional Senior Day tonight.
  2. Hoiberg isn’t the only coach not afraid to take transfers. His opponent tonight, Frank Haith, has a Team Transfer of his own set to become eligible for the 2012-13 season. Of course, I wrote about this very topic a few months ago, and it’s interesting to revisit. In terms of “The Transfer Effect,” Iowa State has clearly reaped the benefits of Division I transfers. Maybe it will work for Haith, too. We’ll just have to find out.
  3. In addition to several transfers, MU will also welcome back Laurence Bowers to its frontcourt next season. Unfortunately, that’s because he’s sitting out this season with a knee injury. The forward will now watch his fellow senior class compete at Mizzou Arena for the last time tonight, and it has to be difficult to watch his graduating class move on without him. He says the ride this year has been somewhat bittersweet, only because he cannot compete against Big 12 foes with seniors Kim English, Marcus Denmon, Steve Moore and the rest of the team.
  4. Sick of Iowa State/Missouri talk? So are we. With a disappointing Big 12 season winding down, Oklahoma fans may be looking to next season– and Amath M’Baye in particular. His teammates and coaches love him, and they say he’ll make a major impact when he becomes eligible next season after transferring from Wyoming. M’Baye, who averaged double figures with the Cowboys, seems to be able to do just about everything on a basketball court. With the bulk of a young team returning next year, M’Baye may be the missing piece for Lon Kruger.
  5. Here’s an interesting nugget: Apparently Kansas and Nebraska have been in very preliminary talks to start up a non-conference game in the near future. Scroll down to the bottom of this article to learn a little more. It sounds like the two sides had simply talked casually about the possibility, and it’s not going to happen as of right now. Still, considering KU’s refusal to play Missouri because it left the Big 12, it’s odd to read that the school still considered playing the Cornhuskers of the Big Ten.
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Set Your TiVo: 02.24.12 – 02.26.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 24th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Somewhat unbelievably, the second-to-last regular season Saturday is upon us. Plenty of big time and bubble games are on the schedule as the stretch run really heats up.

#3 Missouri @ #4 Kansas – 4:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (*****)

  • The final Border War game promises to be another terrific display of basketball between two top five teams that really don’t care for one another. Missouri won the first meeting between these teams, but to do it again it will have to defend at a higher level. Both teams shot over 50% at Mizzou Arena three weeks ago, but Kansas has been the better defensive team all season long. Now playing at home in virtually impenetrable Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks have to like their chances in this one. Kansas has a huge rebounding and size advantage in the paint with Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey going up against Ricardo Ratliffe. While Ratliffe is a great finisher around the bucket, he was held to six points in the first meeting, limited by foul trouble in only 20 minutes of action. Kansas can neutralize Ratliffe and force Missouri to make shots. Missouri hit 10 threes in the first meeting, led by Marcus Denmon’s six. Kansas will have to tighten up a three point defense that ranks #173 nationally in order to prevent that from happening again.

    Can Denmon & The Tigers Rebound?

  • Denmon’s 29-point effort against Kansas on February 4 lifted him out of a slump and his high level of play has continued since then. Denmon and Kim English have to make shots or else Kansas will have a significant edge in this game. The Jayhawks should be dominant inside with Robinson going against Ratliffe with Withey by his side. Kansas is one of the best teams in the nation in two point percentage. Defensively, Bill Self has to be worried about the three point line. While Kansas is a very efficient defensive team, they can be beaten from the arc. Missouri is certainly a team capable of doing that as it moves the ball well and has a multitude of deep threats lining the perimeter. Frank Haith needs a good game at point guard out of Phil Pressey, otherwise Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor could take over the game quickly as they did against Baylor at the Phog. Taylor has had an outstanding senior season but is vulnerable to turnovers. Look for Missouri to target him defensively in order to prevent him from getting into a rhythm and setting up the Jayhawk offense.
  •  The big question mark here is can Missouri defend at a high level against an elite opponent on the road? The Tigers are last in the Big 12 in three point defense and their overall efficiency rating leaves a lot to be desired. Kansas is going to get its points inside but is not a particularly great outside shooting team. However, Taylor poses a big threat and must be held in check if Missouri is going to beat Kansas in a place where almost nobody wins. Until proven otherwise, we can’t pick against the Jayhawks in such an emotionally charged game as this one.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.11.12 – 02.12.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 10th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Plenty of top 25 games are on Saturday’s slate while conference races heat up and bubble teams look for key wins.

#20 Virginia at #5 North Carolina – 1:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (****)

  • Coming off the crushing home loss to Duke on Wednesday, how will the Tar Heels respond? Without P.J. Hairston (sore foot) in the lineup, things could get a little dicey for #5 UNC. Hairston’s absence severely limits Carolina’s already thin back court depth. This game is going to be all about pace. Virginia plays at one of the slowest paces in the nation while North Carolina is one of the fastest teams. Point guard Kendall Marshallhas to get his team running as much as they can but we’ve seen time and time again how it is much easier to slow a game down than it is to speed it up. Wisconsin did this effectively at the Dean Dome earlier this season and you’re going to see the same blueprint from Virginia. The Cavaliers do a great job defending the three-point arc so UNC will likely get almost all of its points from inside or the free throw line. The Tar Heels are among the bottom five teams in America in terms of threes attempted to begin with and get 61.8% of their points from two-point range on average. Marshall and his teammates must be able to penetrate and move the ball well against Virginia’s strong half court defense.

    How Will Marshall & The Tar Heels Respond To Tuesday's Last Second Loss?

  • Virginia’s biggest strengths are its defense and play of forward Mike Scott. At 60.3% from the field, Scott is among the best interior players in the nation, but will have to receive some help from a thin UVA front line in this game. Led by Tyler Zeller and John Henson, North Carolina has a ton of height up front that could give Scott a lot of problems. With Assane Sene still out with an ankle injury, the burden of helping Scott against UNC’s imposing front line falls to Akil Mitchell. His presence will be needed more on the defensive end to limit Zeller and Henson but Virginia is not going to win if Scott doesn’t score. Mitchell must be enough of a threat to prevent quick double teams on Scott, allowing him to maneuver around the UNC trees. Defensively, Virginia will look to pack its defense in and prevent Marshall from penetrating and dishing to Zeller and Henson. Making opponents take tough shots is something Virginia does really well and the Cavaliers will need to do it again. Harrison Barnes will likely oblige but Mitchell and Scott must force Zeller and Henson into shots outside the paint or falling away from the basket. If you allow those guys to receive the ball in the paint, you’re finished.
  • Even though Virginia will likely slow the game down to a pace of its liking, the Cavaliers still must score the basketball. Sammy Zeglinski is five for his last 19 from the floor over the past three games and Jontel Evans has to have a good game at the point guard position. Virginia can’t turn the ball over and fuel the Carolina transition attack. It would also help if Joe Harris was knocking down triples, especially if Zeglinski can’t get out of his funk. Keep an eye on rebounding. North Carolina did a great job against Duke, showing some toughness on the glass that we haven’t always seen this year. Virginia is fourth nationally in defensive rebounding percentage but the Cavs really struggle on the offensive end. If the shots aren’t falling, Virginia will have a lot of one and done possessions if it can’t do a better job on the offensive glass. Good rebounding also helps a team control tempo and that’s exactly what Virginia needs to do in order to win this game on the road.

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