Set Your Tivos: 02.04.09

Posted by nvr1983 on February 4th, 2009

Set Your Tivos
After last night’s relatively weak slate of games, we’re back to normal tonight with a great set of games.

Game of the Day
#3 Duke at #10 Clemson at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Our second top 10 match-up of the week. Once again the road team is the higher ranked team, but I feel like this time they are also the favorites coming in to the game. All of you know about Duke by now thanks to their frequent appearances on national TV so I will keep it brief. Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson have emerged as their two most consistent players. Usually that is enough to get them by most teams even if they only get minimal support from the rest of the team. However, when that happens against quality teams the result isn’t always that good (even if they come really really close). The key for the Blue Devils in this game and for the rest of the season will be the play of Brian Zoubek (go ahead and snicker Duke haters) and Nolan Smith. Zoubek merely needs to be a mediocre 7-footer and Coach K and the rest of the Blue Devils staff will be happy. Smith, who replaced Greg Paulus in the starting lineup, has to improve his decision-making. He must have one of the worst assist-to-turnover ratios (1.03 to 1) of any starting PG on a top team in the nation. On the other side of the ball, Clemson may be the most under-appreciated team in the country. I’m not sure if it is the Tigers’ recent history of falling apart down the stretch, but I never hear anybody mentioning them as a team that could make a run in March despite the fact that they probably have the most reasonable losses of any team in the country (Wake Forest and at UNC). The key for Oliver Purnell‘s team will be to have Trevor Booker dominate on the inside. I doubt that Duke will let him play against Zoubek so he will probably have to do it against Singler, which could make for an interesting match-up. If Booker can win that match-up, Clemson will have a shot. After that they will need a strong game out of K.C. Rivers and hope to contain Duke’s outside shooters (particularly Jon Scheyer). I think Clemson will keep it close until midway through the 2nd half when Duke will go on a run and pull away to win by about a dozen.

Worth Watching
West Virginia at #20 Syracuse at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Mountaineers are a a perfect example of why it is so hard to read Big East teams. They are only 4-4 in the conference, but all 4 of those losses were to top 10 teams (UConn, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Marquette). Likewise, Syracuse comes in having lost 3 straight and 4 of 5, but 3 of those losses have been on the road (Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and Providence) and the other to one of the hottest teams (Louisville) in the country. The Orangemen should be able to break their recent skid if they can contain Da’Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff, but a lot of that will have to do with whether or not they will have their full compliment of players available. Mookie Jones is done for the year with a hip injury, but someone will have to step up as Jim Boeheim can’t expect to get 62 points from Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf every game (and even that didn’t work in their last game).

#19 Minnesota at #14 Michigan State at 8:30 PM on The Big Ten Network: What is going on with the Spartans? Tom Izzo‘s team has lost back-to-back games at the Breslin Center to pretty weak competition (Northwestern and Penn State). Just two weeks ago everyone was talking about this team as a potential Final 4 contender with the return of Goran Suton. Unfortunately for Izzo, the Spartans will be without Raymar Morgan, who is out with “walking pneumonia”. To turn things around, the Spartans will need improved play out of Kalin Lucas, who still boasts an impressive 3.09 to 1 assist to TO ratio, but most of that is from his early season play. They will have to do it against a Gopher team that held Illinois to a ridiculous 36 points in their last game. Keep an eye on Al Nolen and Ralph Sampson III in this one for the Gophers as they will be matched up against Lucas and Suton respectively.

#6 Wake Forest at Miami (FL) at 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Wake needs to develop some consistency if they want to be a national championship contender. We know that they can beat the big boys as they knocked off UNC, Clemson, and Duke in a three week stretch. The question is why they can’t maintain that level of play when they go up against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech (both losses). Dino Gaudio will need to figure this out if he wants to get this team up to the level of Duke and UNC at the end of the season. Maybe it’s just a focus thing, which hopefully shouldn’t be an issue in March. Either way, this trip to Miami should be a nice challenge for the Demon Deacons. Jeff Teague will be matched up against Jack McClinton and Al-Farouq Aminu will be up against Dwayne Collins. I think Miami may be able to hold its own in those match-ups. Unfortunately for Frank Haith, the Hurricanes run into depth problems after their top 2 while the Demon Deacons run much deeper. Perhaps Haith should look into giving more PT to his ridiculously athletic freshman DeQuan Jones.

#16 Villanova at Providence at 8 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: Villanova finally got the signature win we were asking for by beating Pittsburgh last week in the last college basketball game at the Spectrum. This time they will have to do it on the road against a Friar team that was playing well before they ran into the UConn buzzsaw. Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds will need to have solid games if Jay Wright‘s crew is going to pull out a rare Big East road win against a Providence team that is actually above them in the Big East standings. Providence will need a solid effort out of its 8-deep rotation including Weyinmi Efejuku and Jonathan Kale to defend its home court tonight.

Keep an Eye On
Notre Dame at Cincinnati at 7:30 PM on ESPN360.com: Mike Brey
needs  Kyle McAlarney to snap out of his funk and start helping Luke Harangody out or the Fighting Irish might be looking at trip to the NIT this year. This is a game Notre Dame needs to win if they expect to make the NCAA tournament.

Tennessee at Arkansas at 8 PM on Raycom, Fox Sports South, and ESPN360.com: Can freshman Scotty Hopson be the one to reenergize the Vols who have struggled to play up their pre-season #8 ranking? Bruce Pearl might want to give him some more PT against the confusing Arkansas team that beat Texas and Oklahoma (the Sooners only loss), but is just 1-5 in the SEC.

Texas A&M at #2 Oklahoma at 9 PM on The Big 12 Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Watch this one for Blake Griffin, who will be your national Player of the Year barring some freak injury or sketchy voting. I guess the Aggies played Oklahoma close at College Station so this could be a decent game, but since it is in Norman I doubt it will be that close after the half unless the Sooners are already looking ahead to Texas and Kansas two weeks from now.

USC at #12 UCLA at 10:30 PM on Fox Sports: Ben Howland‘s will be going for a sweep of the California Pac-10 teams at Pauley Pavilion against their cross-town rivals. The Trojans are my pick for secretly good team that nobody is talking about, but could make a run in March. Watch this one for the battle of the freshmen: DeMar DeRozan and Jrue Holiday. They won’t be matched up against each other, but it should be fun to see Josh Shipp guard DeRozan. As an added bonus, you might get to see Lil’ Romeo (ok, maybe not).

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Set Your Tivos: 01.30.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 30th, 2009

Set Your Tivos
There isn’t any game that really stands out as being head and shoulders above the rest so I won’t have a game of the day per se, but there are quite a few good games worth watching.

#22 Notre Dame at # 3 Pittsburgh at Noon on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This should be an interesting game with Pittsburgh coming off a 10-point loss at Villanova and Notre Dame coming in having lost 4 in a row including back-to-back losses at home after coming in with a nation-leading 45-game home winning streak. The big match-up here is obviously Luke Harangody versus DaJuan Blair on the inside. I’m thinking Pitt should win this game relatively easily in the second half. If Mike Brey wants to have a chance to steal one on the road and get back into the Big East race, he will need Kyle McAlarney to regain his touch from the outside.

Michigan at #17 Purdue at 1 PM on CBS: It is amazing that just 2 months ago, the Wolverines were the talk of college basketball having knocked off UCLA and Duke. Now, they are 4-5 in the Big Ten and look like they might not make the NCAA Tournament. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims will need to have a big game if they want to steal one against Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore, and the Boilermakers who come in having won 5 straight in the Big Ten after dropping their first two games in conference.

#23 Georgetown at #8 Marquette at 2 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: I’m not sure what to say about Georgetown. They are undoubtably one of the most talented teams in the country, but they have played themselves out of the top 25 in the past 2 weeks. On the other sideline, after their big win on Monday night at Notre Dame, the Golden Eagles will have a chance to move into the top 5 with a win over a Hoya team that is falling apart right now. The Hoyas have lost 4 (?) straight games and DaJuan Summers, their leading scorer, was injured in their last loss. John Thompson III will need a big game out of Greg MonroeAustin Freeman, and Summers (presumably healthy)  to snap the Hoyas out of their skid. However, if Buzz Williams can get a solid game out of Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews the Golden Eagles should be able to pull off the win.

Stanford at # 16 UCLA at 3:30 PM on ABC, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: I don’t think this one is of particular interest especially with the way Stanford has played so far in the Pac-10, but I think it should be worth watching for our East Coast readers who don’t stay up past midnight to watch some of the mediocre teams out West play.

Providence at #2 Connecticut at 4 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: Assuming UConn wins this, they will be your new #1 team on Monday. Keep an eye on this one because Providence has been playing well lately including a victory over a depleted Syracuse team on Wednesday night.

Washington at #14 Arizona State at 5:30 PM on FSN: Ok. I took my requisite West Coast shot earlier when discussing the Stanford-UCLA game, but this one is acutally worth watching. I’m still unsure why Washington wasn’t in this week’s top 25 after knocking off USC and UCLA last week, but maybe the voters knew something as the Huskies followed up those 2 big wins with a loss on the road at Arizona. The Sun Devils will be looking to bounce from a shocking loss at home against Washington State on Thursday night. I’ll be watching the match-up of the star guards in this one: Isaiah Thomas for Washington and James Harden for Arizona State

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on January 28th, 2009

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

I’m not sure if anyone actually noticed, but Checking in on the… Big East was absent from RTC last week (amazing the blog could survive, right?). Long story short, I work in the restaurant industry in DC, and last week there was some big, citywide party for some guy who just won some election or something. Did anyone hear about that? Needless to say, I was a bit short on time, which meant my blogging efforts took a serious hit.

But you can sleep easy kiddies and kiddettes. Your favorite RTC correspondent is back to fill you in on the inner-workings of the biggest and baddest conference in all the land. We’re going to mix things up a bit this week, as a lot has happened in the past two weeks and, frankly, I was a little bored with the old format. So without further ado, let’s get you caught up on all the Big East action:

The way that I see it, there are ten teams that can seriously be considered for a spot in the NCAA’s. Of those ten teams, there are essentially two tiers they can be broken into – UConn, Louisville and Pitt (and maybe Marquette, but more on this in a second) in one; Syracuse, Villanova, Georgetown, Providence, West Virginia and Notre Dame in the other.

To be completely honest, the teams in that second tier all are beginning to look very average. The question I am stuck trying to answer is whether these teams are actually mediocre on a national scale, or if it just seems that way because they are getting pounded by excellent teams night in and night out in the Big East.

Take Notre Dame as an example. Once thought to be a top ten team, the Irish have dropped out of the AP Poll after four straight losses. But those losses are to Louisville, Syracuse, UConn and Marquette and the Irish also own a win over Texas and Georgetown (again, more on the Irish in a bit).

As the conference season moves on, one thing everyone needs to be keeping in mind is the way the Big East Tournament is going to work this year. All 16 teams are going to reach Madison Square Garden, but it is not going to be a typical 16 team tournament. The way it is scheduled is that teams ranked 9-16 will all play on Tuesday (9 vs. 16, etc.). On Wednesday, the winners of the Tuesday games will play the teams ranked 5-8 (8 vs. 9/16 winner). From there on, the tournament bracket is normal (1 vs. 8/9 winner, etc.).

Looking at the conference standings, it is going to be tough for anyone to crack the top four and get the double bye.

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Conference Over- and Underachievers

Posted by jstevrtc on January 28th, 2009

John Stevens is a featured writer for Rush The Court.  His column appears on Tuesdays throughout the season.

All right, now we’re talking.  We’re several games into conference play, now, and the leagues are starting to take shape.  We’ve known the fates of some teams for a long time, both the good (your Carolinas and Dukes, Oklahomas and UConns, etc), and the bad (no need to pile on, here).  The most interesting part of it all, to me, are those teams which are doing a little better than they expected and may be making tenuous hotel reservations for a very large dance in March…and others that are becoming quickly aware that they are only one or two losses away from being tossed into the dustbin of NIT-worthiness.  Even worse, many squads are realizing that they may not even have THAT to worry about, that there will be no post-season, that the only thing they have waiting on them after the basketball season is over is — horror of horrors — going to class.

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Many teams know this is all they have to look forward to in March. (photo credit: photobucket.com)

So who’s not behaving like we expected?  Who has both surprised and disappointed us, in terms of conference play?  Without further delay, I give you…our early-conference edition of Over- and Underachievers.

ACC

Overachiever:  Virginia Tech (14-5, 4-1)

As much as their win over then-#1 Wake Forest turned heads, I think people were just as surprised (at least I was) that they avoided the usual post-big-victory letdown by going to Miami (FL) four days after the Wake win and knocking off what I still think is a very capable Hurricane squad.  I know it’s early.  But right now it’s the Hokies who sit second in the conference, a game behind new national #1 Duke.  Victories like the ones they’ve enjoyed so far can sometimes set the tone for a great season, or they can make you overconfident so that you screw up the rest of your conference schedule.  We’ll see how far they can take it, but you’ve got to give them props to this point.

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Greenberg and Vassallo, Overachievers. (photocredit: daylife.com)

Underachiever:  Georgia Tech (9-10, 0-6)

Whew.  What happened here?  After starting 7-2, something happened just before Christmas and the Jackets just haven’t gotten up from it.  Maybe the competition just got a little better, but with all the talent on this team and a coach like Paul Hewitt there’s just no excuse for going one-for-2009.  Their only victory of this year?  A 5-point win at home against Georgia, a bottom-feeder team in a terrible SEC.  To be completely honest, I’m already tired of talking about them.  Maybe next year Derrick Favors will bring the antidote this program needs.

Big 12

Overachiever:  Missouri (17-3, 4-1)

Hands up, who had Missouri at 17-3 after 20 games?  Yeah, me neither.  The Tigers have great individual talent but have succeeded this year by being the epitome of unselfishness, which has led to efficiency.  They average 19.4 assists per game (2nd nationally), just a ridiculous number.  The only question mark…only three true away games so far.  Probably the only reason they aren’t well-entrenched in the Top 25 right now.

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Missouri’s DeMarre Carroll, a large human, happy about overachieving. (photo credit: daylife.com)

Underachiever:  Texas A&M (15-5, 1-4)

That 14-1 start was lookin’ pretty good, then conference play started.  12 assists per game just isn’t going to get it done (248th in the nation).  Donald Sloan averages the most dimes per game on this team at a mere 3.2.  We’re pretty sure Mark Turgeon is a fine coach, but right now the Aggies are giving the NCAA Tournament committee reasons to deny them entry in March.  They’d best learn to stay afloat for the rest of Big 12 play.

Big East

Overachiever:  Marquette (18-2, 7-0)

Winners of 10 straight.  RPI of 15.  7-0 in a monster conference.  The coolest thing about Marquette is that they’ll beat you any way you wish to get beaten — they can play slow, half-court basketball and cut you to pieces, and they’re also more than happy to outrun you and get it up near triple-digits.  And Monday night was telling — I bet Maurice Acker followed Kyle McAlarney to class today.  McAlarney couldn’t have gotten have rid of him even if he’d cut the brake lines on Acker’s car.  The Jerel McNeal/Wesley Matthews/Lazar Hayward three-headed monster has turned into one of the most fearsome in the game.  DO NOT forget this team when filling out your bracket in the office pool in a month and a half.

Underachiever:  Seton Hall (10-9, 1-6)

The Pirates raised some eyebrows when they started off 9-3 including wins versus Southern Cal and Virginia Tech, and then — sense a trend, here? — conference play began.  Boom, six straight losses.  I think the Georgetown game really showed us something closer to who the real Seton Hall team is, but this conference is going to end up being just too vicious overall for them.

SEC

Overachiever:  Kentucky (16-4, 5-0)

According to a number of my Wildcat connections, before this season, UK supporters were basically ready to give Billy Gillispie another “free-pass” sort of season, inasmuch as a coach can actually have that at Kentucky.  Doesn’t look like Gillispie needs it.  This team is an interesting statistical mix.  They rank 3rd in the country in FG% (50.2%) and 2nd nationally in FT% (79%).  We know about the potency of the Jodie Meeks/Patrick Patterson tandem.  Defensively, they hold opponents to 36.4% a game from the field, which is 3rd best in the nation; and they rank second in the country in blocks per game with 7.5 (and, oddly, second in the conference as well behind Mississippi State’s 8.0/game).  So…great offense, great defense…what’s the problem?  Well, how about 18.1 turnovers per game?  That’s 338th out of 341 Division One teams.  Egad.  Nobody — even Kentucky fans, I don’t think — saw Kentucky improving this fast with so many unknowns starting the year.  Clean up the turnovers and you’re a top five team.

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Class of the SEC? We’ll see… (photo credit: daylife.com)

[Ed. note:  since this was written, Kentucky was defeated by Mississippi on Tuesday night to give UK its first loss in the conference and take them to 5-1.  I think, however, that UK still qualifies for Overachiever status in the SEC so far for reasons outlined above.   --J.S.]

Underachiever:  Arkansas (12-5, 0-4)

If you look at the win-loss pattern on Arkansas’ schedule, you’d say, “Yep, conference play, again.”  I don’t think you can’t say that, here.  It’s baffling, because in an eight-day span less than a month ago, John Pelphrey’s Razorback squad knocked off both Texas and Oklahoma, not exactly a couple of pansies.  It makes absolutely no sense that beginning conference play in a WAY-down SEC (6th in conference RPI, and probably falling) would cause Arkansas any problems at all, but here they sit at 0-4 in the conference, including an inexcusable 22-point home court butt-smoking at the hands of Auburn.  Arkansas is another team that is just loaded with great athletes, and if they straighten up a little the committee will remember those two earlier big wins.  Arkansas reminds me of Avril Levigne.  I’m pretty sure there’s something attractive there…but they’re doing whatever they possibly can to screw it up and make themselves ugly.

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Avril has a message for Mr. Stevens (photo credit: radaronline.com)

This is not a complete list, by any means.  But I think it shows us how breezing through questionable non-conference opponents might not be the best recipe to impress the committee, as attractive as it is to post a nice big number in the pre-conference ‘W’ column.  Everyone knows that late losses simply mean more, that the committee likes you to finish strong.  You can’t allow yourself to be a conference underachiever.  Conference play will give you a bellyache if all you’ve been doing is loading up on cupcakes.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.26.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 26th, 2009

Set Your TivosA really weak set of games tonight and only one really worth watching. To be honest, this is a surprisingly weak week of games. I would say there are only a handful of games that I would consider worth watching this week, but I’ll get to that in another post.

Game of the Night (The only one worth watching)
#10 Marquette at #19 Notre Dame at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This game might answer some of the questions I posed this weekend about the Big East. I think the conference is not as good as everyone says they are. I think there are only 3 great teams (Pittsburgh, UConn, and the reborn Louisville Cardinals) and a whole bunch of borderline teams. I am actually starting to think the ACC would match-up pretty well against the Big East if you account for the Big East having approximately 1/4th of D-1 in the conference.

While Marquette has an impressive record (17-2), they have not faced a good team all year (Villanova is questionable and that game was at home). A win at Notre Dame would certainly erase some of the doubts that many in the media have. Do I count as the media? Even though Notre Dame’s aura of invincibility in South Bend went up in smoke on Saturday against UConn, winning there will still be quite challenging. Buzz Williams, who has done a good job replacing Tom Crean, will need big games out of Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, Lazar Hayward, and Dominic James if he wants to steal one in South Bend and have his Golden Eagles stake a legitimate claim as a Big East title contender.

That said, how likely is it that the Irish, who had a three-year, 45-game home winning streak snapped on Saturday night by UConn, would lose two in a row at home?  Not very.  Mike Brey’s team went stone cold in that game, shooting a miserable 33%, highlighted by Kyle McAlarney’s 12 bricks in a row (after starting 3-3) and a combined 2-15 from Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers.   Luke Harangody was the only scorer that showed for ND in that game (particularly in the second half when UConn’s defense was spectacular), so I expect that we’ll see a much-better Irish team tonight.  They sorta have to win this game – they’ve already lost their last three and a trip to Pittsburgh looms next.  A five-loss losing streak could crush this team’s confidence. 

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 01.24.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 24th, 2009

dynamite1After my trip to Chapel Hill last weekend where rtmsf handled all of the duties for Boom Goes the Dynamite while I mingled with ESPN personalities and college basketball stars, I will be in charge of today’s edition while rtmsf does relationship stuff with his significant other. Pretty weak if you ask me. . .

11:00 AM: Although we are a men’s college basketball site, we feel that it’s appropriate to mention the passing of Kay Yow, the former NC State coach, to breast cancer (or more precisely complications related to breast cancer). We can’t really do justice to her impact on the women’s game so it’s probably better just to refer you to a chronology of her life.

11:10 AM: The Notre Dame GameDay crowd looks a lot larger than what I saw last weekend at UNC. I am not sure if it is just a bunch of camera tricks by the GameDay crew, but they definitely have more signs. It may be that UConn is much, much better than Miami was last week or that the UNC crowd may be a bit jaded, but the Chapel Hill crowd was not as into the GameDay experience as I expected them to be.

11:45 AM: Digger Phelps has been doing a good job of working the crowd, which he also did last week at Chapel Hill (even off camera), taking the homer pick of Luke Harangody as his choice of tough player after the other analysts picked Blake Griffin, Tyler Hansbrough, and Stephen Curry to boos. As expected the crowd went wild with Digger’s pick. A little later in the show, the crowd gave the stereotypical college crowd response to a Duke segment by chanting “overrated”. Not surprisingly, the analysts all defend Duke. Appropriately enough, Bobby Knight calls out the Notre Dame students by questioning their education. It looks like he is getting more comfortable with his role on ESPN.

11:50 AM: Another awful half-court shot. Where does ESPN find these guys? He deserved to be embarrassed like that on national TV for popping his collar. Someone should tell him that hasn’t been cool since. . .actually it has never been cool. Congrats on the airball.

Noon: Wow. All of the GameDay guys except Knight picked LSU to beat #13 Xavier. I guess it’s in Baton Rouge, but Xavier is definitely the better team. Least surprising pick of the day: Digger picks Notre Dame. Knight abstains from picking a team.

12:15 PM: Duke is off to a good start against Maryland after Jon Scheyer opens the game with two 3s. What’s going on with Brian Zoubek? He actually looks like a legitimate center today. I have seen him play several times this year and he certainly has improved from last year, but he has never played like this. If he can do this even for spurts this year, Duke might have a legitimate chance to win the title this year instead of their usual great regular season and flop in March.

12:20 PM: Villanova is tied at 10 with USF 6 minutes into the game. Dante Cunningham has 8 of Villanova’s 10 points. I don’t have much else to say about this game since I don’t have ESPN360 available since I am out of town. If anybody has this game on TV, let me know if anything interesting happens.

1:00 PM: Duke goes into halftime with a 25-point lead despite having one of the ugliest possessions I have ever seen to end the half. Do you remember when the Duke-Maryland games used to be the best games of the season? I still remember trying to figure out where I could go to watch the game on TV my freshman year of college. (My school didn’t believe in providing cable to dorm rooms.) Meanwhile in Tampa, Villanova is struggling against USF (tied at 32 at halftime).

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Set Your Tivos: 01.24.09 & 01.25.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 23rd, 2009

Set Your Tivos

Check in with RTC on Saturday all day long as we piggyback the slowly burning wick of Boom Goes the Dynamite, your virtually live weekly journal of notes and observations about the day’s biggest games. 

Saturday
Game of the Day
#3 UConn at #19 Notre Dame at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Irish will be looking to bounce back from consecutive road losses (at Louisville and at Syracuse), but that will be a tall task (insert Hasheem Thabeet joke here) against UConn–a team that many consider the best in the Big East (not just based on ranking). Reigning Big East POY Luke Harangody will have his hands full on the inside battling Thabeet and Jeff Adrien. The match-up on the outside should be even more interesting with the Irish backcourt of Kyle McAlarney, Tory Jackson, and Ryan Ayers battling A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson, and Kemba Walker. I’m not sure if the Irish have anybody to contend with slashing ability of UConn, but the key to this game will likely be the production of Price and Walker.

Although UConn is clearly the superior team in this match-up, they will have a tough time in South Bend as the Fighting Irish come into the game with a NCAA-best 44-game home winning streak. Mike Brey desperately needs this game if he wants to establish his team in the upper half of the league. A win for UConn would solidify their place as the Big East favorites and build on their already strong resume. It will be a hard-fought game, but I think in the end Jim Calhoun‘s squad will end the streak tonight.

Others to Watch
#11 UCLA at Washington at 4 PM on FSN: After a slow start (2-3), the Huskies have rallied to win 11 of their last 12 with their only loss coming by 3 points in OT to Cal. I’m not sure what clicked up there in Seattle, but now they are looking like a Pac-10 contender. If they want to challenge for the league title, they will have to knock off UCLA, the current kings of the Pac-10. I’m sure that Ben Howland has been all over his Bruins for their awful execution down the stretch last Saturday in their loss at home to Arizona State. It does not look like the Bruins have fully recovered from that meltdown as they nearly lost in Pullman to Washington State Thursday night and only survived thanks to a career-high 20 points from Nikola Dragovic. UCLA will need more consistent play from its perimeter players (Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, and Jrue Holldiay) or hope they find an inside game if they want to make yet another Final 4 appearance. For those of you who haven’t been following the Huskies, keep an eye on their diminutive freshman point guard Isaiah Thomas (15.8 PPG and 3.2 APG). It looks like is a future star in the Pac-10. Let’s hope that he isn’t charge of personnel moves/recruiting.

#23 Baylor at #5 Oklahoma at 4 PM on ESPNU: This is a match-up of two of the top 3 teams in the Big 12 (at least according to the polls). The Bears rely on a balanced attack with 5 players averaging double figures led by Curtis Jerrells, who averages 17.1 PPG. Scott Drew will need all 5 guys to hit their averages and hope for a little luck to steal one in Norman as Oklahoma is the clear favorite in the league. They are led by national POY candidate Blake Griffin who comes in averaging a ridiculous 22.3 PPG and 13.6 RPG. If he can get consistent support from Willie Warren and Tony Crocker this Sooner team could make deep run in March because I don’t think anybody in the country can guard Griffin.

Keep an eye on
Maryland at #2 Duke at Noon on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Even though this has traditionally been a heated rivalry I normally would not keep this game here except for the fact that if Duke wins they will be your new #1 team in the country. If they do get to #1, John Stevens is pretty sure that you will hear about it.

UW-Milwaukee at #17 Butler at Noon on Time Warner Sports 32, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Butler is clearly the class of the Horizon League, but UW-Milwaukee may be the second best team in the conference so if anybody is going to knock Butler off in their conference tournament and create total chaos on Selection Sunday it may well be the Panthers.

#24 Memphis at Tennessee at 3:30 PM on CBS: It’s amazing that this match-up, which featured two powerhouses last year, has been reduced to this level. Memphis has the excuse of losing Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts. The Vols certainly lost some key players, but after coming into the season ranked in the top 10, this has to be a very disappointing start for Bruce Pearl. This would be a good way to start to resurrect the Vols’ season.

Wisconsin at #24 Illinois at 4 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Bruce Weber will be looking for his Fighting Illini to continue their impressive start against a Badger team that is coming off 3 straight losses with the last 2 coming in OT.

#13 Xavier at LSU at 8 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Normally I would hype this game as a mid-major team trying to steal one against the mighty BCS, but I can’t really do that this year with Butler ranked 13th and the SEC’s conspicuous absence from the polls (Florida is ranked in one, but will be gone with that awful loss to South Carolina). Ignoring that, this would be a great win for Xavier to add to their already strong resume for Selection Sunday, but they shouldn’t be overconfident heading into Baton Rouge as the Tigers having been playing well this season and are undefeated at home. [Yes. I realize I just warned Xavier not to be overconfident heading into a road game against a SEC team.]

Sunday
Game of the Day
#12 Louisville at #8 Syracuse at Noon on Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Finally we have a great game on Sunday. After several weekends with loaded Saturdays followed by a set of duds on Sunday, we get the hottest team in the Big East (Louisville) traveling to play at the team with the most to prove (Syracuse). We at RTC had been critical of Rick Pitino‘s Cardinals when they started slowly but they seem to have turned it around although it seems like the nation did not seem to take notice until they knocked off then #1 Pittsburgh. On the other sideline, Jim Boeheim‘s squad will be looking to bounce back from a difficult stretch where they lost games on the road to Georgetown and Pittsburgh with a win at home against Notre Dame sandwiched between those losses.

This game will likely come down to which team’s strength wins out. Syracuse has the edge on the outisde with Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Andy Rautins having the upper hand in their match-up Earl Clark and Edgar Sosa. Louisville will have the edge on the inside with Samardo Samuels and Terrence Williams going against Arinze Onuaku and Paul Harris. I think these two teams are pretty evenly matched with Syracuse’s advantages being perimeter play and home court while Louisville’s advantages being inside play and momentum. I’ll go with the easy 2s and momentum and take Louisville to continue their current hot streak.

Others to Watch
#7 Michigan State at Ohio State at 3:45 PM on CBS: OSU had been playing better before its trip to Illinois the other night.  Still, West Virginia is the only team to get them on their home court this season, so Michigan St. had best bring a better game than it brought Wed. night against Northwestern, or they’ll be staring at 2 Ls this week.

#4 Pittsburgh at West Virginia at 4 PM on Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: This game suddenly became even more interesting considering how dominant the Mountaineers looked tonight in DC against Georgetown.  Pitt recovered nicely with a home win against Syracuse, and they match up very well with the undersized WVU team, but so did Georgetown.  One thing you can be sure about in this one – most players will leave this one black and blue.

Virginia Tech at Miami at 5:30 PM on FSN: Anyone want to lay odds on which Virginia Tech team shows up coming off their victory over #1 Wake Forest on Wednesday?  Will it be the Hokie team that lost to Seton Hall and Georgia, or the one who led Wake from start to finish?  We’re betting it’s the SH/Georgia version.

Georgia Tech at #9 Clemson at 7:45 PM on FSN: This is a really weak set of FSN games this weekend (frankly the entire weekend is disappointing).  Still, if you’ve got nothing else going on, you can spend a couple of hours watching Paul Hewitt try to save his job and Oliver Purnell try to convince you that the Tigers are legit.

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 01.17.09 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 17th, 2009

dynamite1

This is a huge day here at RTC.  Not only will we be blogging with you all day with this BGTD nonsense, but we’ll also have a presence at ESPN GameDay live from Chapel Hill where our man on the ground will be taking questions and comments from you, the readers, so that you can finally ask Erin Andrews what shampoo she uses and where, exactly, does she find such perfectly fitted tops.  Or anything else you guys may want to know (within reason, of course).

RTC Live: Miami at UNC will be a sticky at the top of the page all day, so be sure to stop by and check it out as you put off going outside into the semi-Arctic environment known as the East Coast Midwest South Mountains USA this lovely Saturday.

As for this post, we’ve got the three-tv setup ready to roll, and with Notre Dame-Syracuse starting off the day in a few hours, we should probably try to get some sleep.  We’ll be back for that one (and all the others), but in the meantime, feel free to peruse our SYT preview of today’s big games.

11:52am – And we’re back.  Let’s get going.  Quick note – lamest sign just spotted at GameDay in CH – Everyone Still Predicts National championship?  Wow, props for creativity there, er, not.

Noon – What’s on your tv right now?  There’s an interesting mid-major on ESPN2 (N. Iowa at Drake).  The Noon FC games aren’t too exciting (Maryland at FSU; Ga Tech at NC State; USF at WVU) – we’ll keep an eye on each, but it’s looking mostly like Cuse-ND and UNI-Drake here.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.17.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 16th, 2009

Set Your Tivos

Game of the Day #1

#12 Georgetown at #2 Duke on CBS at 1:30 PM

John Thompson III might want to think about asking the AD at Georgetown for a new schedule maker. I can understand wanting to get your team ready for the tournament, but this is ridiculous. Coming off a brutal start to their Big East schedule (Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Notre Dame, and Syracuse), the Hoyas get a respite by heading out of conference with a leisurely trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium where the Blue Devils have a 67-game home non-conference winning streak. Normally a trip to Cameron would be a major focus of any team’s season, but with the Hoyas’ recent schedule it will be interesting to see if they have anything left in the tank.

This has the potential to be an entertaining game with great matchups all over the floor. The most interesting matchup will be Greg Monroe against Kyle Singler. While Monroe has more potential and will be a higher NBA Draft pick, Singler is quite talented too and plays at a high level more consistently. I’m not sure how Duke will open up because I don’t think Brian Zoubek has a chance against Monroe, but with Monroe’s tendency to coast it might not be such a big issue for stretches of the game. The matchup will be made more interesting by the fact that Duke was the front-runner for Monroe (the #1 high school recruit at times last year) for most of the recruiting season before committing to Georgetown. If Monroe had joined Singler in the middle, Coach K could have had a legitimate title contender.

If Coach K decides to put Zoubek on Monroe, Singler will end up playing against DaJuan Summers who has really stepped up his game this year (15.1 PPG on 53.8% FG and 44.4% 3FG). Either way, it should be an interesting match-up on the inside. Singler probably has the most complete game of any of the 4 bigs in the starting lineup, but Zoubek is still the weakest link of the Duke starting lineup despite his tremendous improvement since he has been at Duke.  Singler’s ability to shoot from outside brings up another intriguing aspect of this game about whether Monroe can come out and defend Singler if necessary. The Hoyas might be best served to put Summers on Singler to keep Monroe out of foul trouble because they will need Monroe to play 30+ minutes if they hope to pull off the upset in Cameron. In the end, it might be the battle on the inside and who controls the boards that will determine outcome of the game despite the talented guards on both sides.

The backcourts also provide some interesting match-ups: Nolan Smith vs. Chris Wright, Jon Scheyer vs. Jessie Sapp, and Gerald Henderson vs. Austin Freeman. All of these are intriguing match-ups with solid players who are capable of taking over a game at any time. Keep an eye on Henderson in this one since he’s the one world-class athlete on the Duke team and he has stepped it up recently including taking over the 2nd half of the game against FSU last Saturday.

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Dynamic Duos in Search of a Third Wheel

Posted by rtmsf on January 14th, 2009

John Stevens is featured columnist for RTC.  His columns will appear on Tuesdays throughout the season. 

Ask any college basketball coach what a team needs to succeed in March and you’ll get a variety of answers — solid point guard play, a big inside threat, conditioning, luck, a guarantee that John Stevens will NOT bet on you – all popular answers.  A “go-to” guy is also a popular response, but I think history has shown that simply one standout player will not prove sufficient.  These days you have to have a balanced squad in addition to having at least two players you can call actual “go-to” guys.  A viable third option can have you breathing rarified air, indeed.  This season has proven incredibly interesting in that we have a lot of teams that are being seemingly led — whose very identities are made — by a couple of standout players.  In addition, if these teams that are led by Dynamic Duos see a helpful third option emerge — watch out.  There’s at least one of these teams in each of the major conferences, so let’s take a look at them.


 
ACC — Miami (FL)
 
True, the Hurricanes’ schedule is a little bland, but you can’t ignore a team with tough wins both at Kentucky and at Boston College.  Jack McClinton (16.9/2.8/3.1) and Dwayne Collins (12.1/7.8/1.3) have propelled this Miami team that has eleven guys who average at least 10 minutes a game which means that they have many options in terms of developing that third option.  Cyrus McGowan is an efficient player who provides 7.2/6.1 and he does it averaging 5 minutes less than the other significant scorers on that team, but the most likely candidate here to step up as the third option is James Dews, who averages 9.2/2.7 but upped his game in those big wins above against UK and BC by contributing 18 and 12, respectively.  You gotta give props to a guy who elevates himself in the big games.


 
Big 12 — Missouri
 
On their way to a 13-3 record so far, Missouri hasn’t exactly been sleeping on the job schedule-wise, tallying wins against USC and a surprising California side and losing a tough one to Xavier.  To that end, DeMarre Carroll (16.1/6.6) and Leo Lyons (14.6/6.2) have been a true Dynamic Duo for the Tigers because after that the production falls off to Matt Lawrence (9.6/2.3), especially in terms of rebounding (note: of course, Lyons needs to get this recent traffic thing sorted out).  Along with J.T. Tiller, Lawrence represents the most likely candidate to be the next option; Tiller averages the third most minutes on the team but Lawrence is actually more productive despite playing 4 fewer minutes per game.

I bet Demarre can beat me at curls. (photo credit: kansan.com)

Big East — Notre Dame
 
I know I don’t have to tell you about Luke Harangody; despite the special player he is I personally find more excitement watching Kyle McAlarney (16.6/2.6/3.4) because the man just has locker-room range.  Seriously, he’d shoot from his dorm room if they’d let him.  And even then you better get a guy on him.  ND might not seem like a Dynamic Duo-led team because they have two other starters — Tory Jackson and Ryan Ayers — averaging over 30 minutes a game (Jackson actually plays more than Harangody, by the numbers), but the offensive dropoff is certainly evident after McAlarney and the team is defined by those top two fellows.  Jackson is the obvious third option candidate, here; he puts together a good floor game on the whole (4.6 rpg/5.9 apg/1.5 spg).  It’s not like he doesn’t do enough, but if he became even more of a third scoring option to take even just a little of the heat off of the Harangody/McAlarney exacta, Notre Dame will become an even bigger Final Four threat come March.


 
Big Ten — Michigan State
 
People still seem to be defining the Fighting Izzos by that rectal-exam-with-an-audience that UNC gave them a while back.  This is a mistake.  Raymar Morgan (15.1/7.1) and Kalin Lucas (13.9/5.9 apg) have been the Dynamic Duo for Sparty so far, as everyone knows, but these guys have reeled off nine straight since getting tuned-up by the Tar Heels and they basically have their third option back, now, in the form of Goran Suton, already averaging 9.2/6.8 in only nine games back.  This will likely continue to rise.  It makes Michigan State a team you cannot ignore as we enter the second half of the season.  They’ve obviously put the North Carolina game behind them.  Everyone else should, too.
 
Pac-10 — Arizona State
 
We all know James Harden (23.1/5.8/4.7) and we’re getting to know Jeff Pendergraph (13.6/7.1).  After that, the offensive production and glasswork drops off a little to Richard Kuksiks (10.9/3.6), the apparent choice for presumed third option, here.  He’s up to playing even more minutes than Pendergraph on the average, and he’s shooting a pretty tasty 53% from 3-point range.  I am, however, going to anoint Derek Glasser as the best option for third-man-in; he’s only contributing 6.4 points (fifth on the team) but he’s a great distributor of the ball (5.3 apg, leads team), has shown a tendency to come up with a timely pilfer, and is darn reliable at the line (81.1%, second on team) — all important qualities during tournament time.  Even the slightest increase in his point production would make ASU even more dangerous than they already are.
 
SEC — Kentucky
 
The textbook Dynamic Duo team.  Probably not a better example in all of college basketball this season.  We’re not even going to talk about Jodie Meeks’ (24.2/3.4, 90.1% FT) legendary performance last night and Patrick Patterson (18.9/9.3) is creeping up every online NBA mock draft, a bittersweet fact for Wildcat fans.  After that, the offensive production falls all the way down to Perry Stevenson at 7.1ppg.  Heck, Patterson is actually third on the team in assists (2.6).  As far as possibilities for third-option status, with this team that’s a tough question.  They are absolutely loaded with pure, talented athletes, but UK followers have waited all year for a third player to assert himself.  Still hasn’t happened.  It has to for this team, because Meeks can’t score 54 every night and there will probably be more than one night where Meeks goes cold and Patterson is well-defended (or vice-versa).  My choice for third option for this team is DeAndre Liggins, the team’s assist leader at only 3.6 apg.  If he can cut down on freshman mistakes and provide even a small increase in his point production, Kentucky will be formidable — and that means this year, not next year.  Without a third option, Selection Sunday might get a little tense for this Kentucky team.


 
It will be especially interesting to see if Miami (FL), Missouri, and Kentucky eventually see a third player emerge for them, since they’re…well, it’s too early to use the “b-word,” but let’s just say they’re fighting for tournament entry right now.  Even if it isn’t the player I’ve predicted, if any of these squads see a third person elevate his game in hopes of providing more assistance to the Dynamic Duo already leading them, you best keep an eye out for them.  These teams are close to making the jump, even now.  Adding a good third option to their particular Dynamic Duo will improve them exponentially, and I wouldn’t want to see any of them in my sub-bracket.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.12.09 & 01.13.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 12th, 2009

Set Your TivosBecause of the weak schedule the next two days, I’m doing a 2-for-1 edition of Set Your Tivos covering both Monday and Tuesday night for you today.

Monday
#13 Notre Dame at #20 Louisville at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: After a tough victory at Villanova on Saturday (best game of the day), Rick Pitino will be looking to have his Cardinals build on the momentum as the reigning Big East POY Luke Harangody comes to town. The Cardinals will have their hands full with the experience of the Fighting Irish to go along with the inside play of Harangody (24.5 PPG and 12.7 RPG) and the outside shooting of Kyle McAlarney (16.5 PPG on 46.3% from 3). While Harangody gets all the hype (for good reason), Mike Brey‘s chances of taking Notre Dame deep into March will likely ride on the shooting of McAlarney, who may be the best pure shooter in the nation (Stephen Curry fanatics: feel free to flame away in the comment section). However, the Irish’s chances tonight will depend on the play of PG Tory Jackson (11.8 PPG, 5.9 APG, and 4.5 RPG). If Jackson can outplay the enigmatic Edgar Sosa, Notre Dame has a good chance at pulling out a win tonight. If Sosa is having an off night, Louisville will need strong performances from their interior guys (Earl Clark, Samardo Samuels, and Terrence Williams) against Harangody and hope that McAlarney doesn’t go off. We keep waiting for Louisville to play to their “potential”. Will this be the night?

- #11 Texas at #5 Oklahoma at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: A match-up of teams that couldn’t beat Arkansas. Blake Griffin will probably end up with another ridiculous 20/20 and Texas doesn’t have anybody who can match-up with (nobody in college does) so the Longhorns will need to focus on limiting Willie Warren (the diaper dandy who has been surprisingly consistent this season). If Rick Barnes wants to get the victory, he will need strong games out of A.J. Abrams and Damion James. [Side note: What is going on with Connor Atchley? His numbers are down across the board.] I’d like to give Texas a chance here with Abrams bouncing back from his awful effort against Arkansas, but I’m going to have to with the Sooners since Griffin is a double-double machine and my gut feeling that Warren will go off.

Tuesday
Memphis at Tulsa at 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Tulsa remains a bit of a mystery with an 11-5 record, but their best player (and one of the best in Conference USA) Jerome Jordan has played very poorly in several of their losses. I’m not really expecting Tulsa to beat the Tigers here, but it will be interesting to see if anybody in Conference USA can challenge Memphis, who is down this year as Tyreke Evans hasn’t played to the level that many expected him to after all the hype that he has received.

- Kentucky at Tennessee at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: It looks like these two disappointing teams will be battling for the SEC East title this year. Regardless of the relatively slow starts for both teams, this should be an interesting one from a rivalry perspective and whethere Kentucky’s dynamic duo of Jodie Meeks (24.2 PPG) and Patrick Patterson (18.9 PPG on a ridiculous 70.9% FG and 9.3 RPG) can do enough to match Tennessee’s superior depth (headed by Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism). I’d normally call this one a toss-up, but the home court should give the Vols the edge.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on January 7th, 2009

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

We are just a week into Big East play, and it is already obvious how much fun this conference is going to be. UConn was supposed to be the best team in the country outside of UNC, but the Huskies lost their Big East opener to Georgetown. At home. And loss isn’t quite the right word. Embarrassed is better. Once everyone was firmly entrenched on the Hoyas jock, they went out and lost back-to-back games to Pitt and Notre Dame. Pitt is the new #1 team in the country, but the Irish were coming off a loss to … St. John’s?

No one is going to make it through this league unscathed. I’d be surprised if anyone finished the season with less than five Ls in league play. If you are one of the nine ranked teams (yes, nine Big East teams are currently ranked), then there are three things you will need to do if your plan on reaching the NCAA tourney:

1) Win your home games. With so many quality teams in the league, defending your home court will guarantee you at least a .500 record in the league. Regardless of your opponent, the top nine teams will almost universally be the favorite when playing at home which leads me to my second point.

2) Beat the teams you are supposed to beat. The top nine (and maybe ten if you include Cincy) are going to beat up on each other all season. I doubt the committee is going to want more than a quarter (8 of 31) of the at-large bids to go to one conference. So if all nine (or ten) want in, they need to take care of business against the South Floridas and DePauls and Rutgers.

3) Pray! Like I said, I doubt that the NCAA wants to have one conference send so many teams to the tourney. If nine Big East teams are going to make it, they will need to catch some breaks during the season. The top four in the ACC need to run through the league (UNC didn’t help on Sunday losing to BC – did anyone else notice that win sent BC from unranked to #17?). The top three in the Big XII need to roll. Likewise for the Pac Ten, Big Ten, and SEC (well, only Tennessee in the SEC). Teams like Davidson, Gonzaga/St. Mary’s, Butler, Xavier, and Memphis need to win their conference tournaments. Essentially, they need to hope that there are as few teams on the bubble as possible.

When it comes down to it, every Big East team is going to have an opportunity to knock off numerous top ten and top twenty teams during the conference play. If any of them finish league play below .500 and without a marquee win in conference, then frankly, they probably are not good enough to deserve a bid.

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