AAC Weekend Preview: College GameDay Comes to the AAC

Posted by CD Bradley on January 18th, 2014

Heading into a busy weekend of action, here are some key thoughts from a number of scheduled games around the AAC.

Shabazz Napier (left) and Russ Smith have been the two best players in the AAC this season, and they will square off Saturday night.

Shabazz Napier (left) and Russ Smith have been the two best players in the AAC this season, and they will square off Saturday night.

Game of the Weekend: ESPN’s College GameDay has something special planned for its 10th season premiere — broadcasting its morning and evening shows from the sites of two different games. While both involve AAC teams (more on that in a moment), it’s the nightcap that matters most here, with Louisville visiting UConn. Both teams are coming off Thursday night victories – UConn got a big win at Memphis, while Louisville won big over Houston – and the two preseason favorites need this game. For Louisville, it would bolster a weak resume with no decent road wins. For UConn, a win would get them back over .500 in AAC play after starting 0-2. In addition to all of that is the showdown between the conference’s two best players: Shabazz Napier, the only player in America leading his team in scoring, assists and rebounds, and Russ Smith, following up his spectacular junior season with an even better senior campaign.

Best of the Rest:

  • Cincinnati, picked to finish fourth in the preseason, sits atop the AAC at 5-0. It will look to keep its spotless record with a visit to South Florida, a team trying to right its season without its best player. Junior point guard Anthony Collins has been troubled with left knee problems all year, and is now considering sitting the rest of the year and applying for a redshirt. Without him, the Bulls have lost five of seven.

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Is UMass Finally Ready To Bust Out?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 14th, 2013

Trendy sleepers only stay trendy for so long. After receiving preseason love as an Atlantic 10 darkhorse before each of the last two seasons, the UMass Minutemen watched that buzz quiet a bit this time around. That’s not to say UMass was expected to struggle this season – they were picked a respectable fourth in the A-10 Preseason poll – but the familiar makeup of this group of Minutemen left many wondering how they could possibly carve out a different, happier ending from that of years past. Well, fast forward a week into the season and take a nice whiff of the optimism emanating from Western Massachusetts. Opening week victories over BC and LSU don’t make UMass anyone’s team of the week, but they do show this team’s capability (thus far, at least) to do something their predecessors could not – handle their business in the non-conference. March fates are rarely decided in the second week of November, but take notice, even if it is a year or two past schedule: That sleeper may finally be waking up in Amherst.

Chaz Williams Has One Final Chance To Lead UMass Back To The NCAA Tournament For The First Time Since 1998; Does A Strong Opening Week Mean Williams And Company Are Ready To Make It Happen?

Chaz Williams Has One Final Chance To Lead UMass Back To The NCAA Tournament; Does A Strong Opening Week Mean Williams And Company Are Ready To Make It Happen?

A couple of 9-7 records in Atlantic 10 play (UMass’ finish in both 2012 and 2013) are rarely part of the recipe for an at-large bid to the Dance, but in each of the last two seasons, the more damning portion of the Minuteman resume was not their so-so in-conference performance. Two years ago they posted just one top-130 victory before January (a home win over Davidson), while striking out on opportunities against top-50 foes Florida State and Miami (FL). Last season’s non-conference effort was marginally better, but wins over Harvard, Providence and Ohio should not be the pre-conference highlights for a team with serious NCAA Tournament aspirations – especially one from a non-BCS conference. Making matters worse, the chances were again there for Derek Kellogg’s club, but losses to NC State, Tennessee, and Miami (FL) all came by double figures. Once again, those touting the Minutemen were quickly made to look too ambitious.

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AAC M5: 11.01.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 1st, 2013

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  1. In an annual milestone promising that tip off looms ever closer, ESPN released its full TV schedule for the 2013-2014 college basketball season on Thursday. More than 1,500 games will be shown across the ESPN family networks, including ESPN3, and more than 100 of them will feature teams from the American. Among the highlights are three GameDay sites featuring AAC teams: an opening day doubleheader with the morning show emanating from Temple-LaSalle in Philadelphia and the evening edition from Louisville at UConn on January 18, as well as a visit to Memphis when the Tigers host Gonzaga on Febuary 8. ESPN2 will have an AAC triple-header on New Year’s Eve, the first day of conference play: Louisville at UCF at 5 PM., Memphis at USF at 7 PM., and UConn at Houston at 9 PM.
  2. Jeff Borzello at CBSSports.com ranked the best backcourts in college basketball, and AAC teams dominated the list: Memphis was #1, Louisville was #2, and UConn was #4. It’s no coincidence that these three teams are the clear top echelon of the AAC in its first season. But the strength of the teams’ backcourts is in contrast to the issues each has up front. Memphis will rely on sophomore Shaq Goodwin, who showed flashes during an inconsistent freshman campaign, and freshman Austin Nichols. Both were highly touted recruits who the Tigers will need to live up to their billing. Louisville lost rim protector Gorgui Dieng to the NBA and Chane Behanan to his bad habits, at least temporarily. And UConn’s frontcourt woes are well documented; it was one of the nation’s worst rebounding teams a year ago, a problem which may well persist. Their great backcourts make it easier to paper over weaker frontcourts, but each will need their big men to step up to reach their goals this year.
  3. One of the most important big men in the American this year promises to be Montrezl Harrell, who is taking on a leadership role in his sophomore season at Louisville. “He wouldn’t talk last year,” Rick Pitino joked to NBC Sports.”You thought he was just a shy kid from rural North Carolina, and now we can’t get him to shut up.” Pitino even named Harrell a co-captain, the first time he’s so honored a sophomore during his Louisville tenure. “I look around at these guys and they all really want to work and really get better,” Harrell told NBC Sports. “So looking at that and looking at myself and how I’m willing to do whatever role that Coach can think of, that’s kind of the overall feel for things. The way that Coach has a passion for the game, that’s something that really helped me out as a player.” Harrell showed flashes last season, particularly during a dominating performance in the Big East title game win over Syracuse and his frequently highlighted alley oop dunk in the national championship game. Harrell was a man among boys in Tuesday’s exhibition win over Kentucky Wesleyan, and will need to play up to his potential if the Cardinals are to achieve their lofty goals.
  4. Hall of Famer Larry Brown faces an interesting challenge in his second season at SMU: all his starters return, and he added several highly touted newcomers. Brown says he’s still note sure what the starting lineup will look like, but that it will probably include incumbents Shawn Williams and Nick Russell as well as juco transfer Yanick Moreira. “We do have a different set of circumstances than last year,” Brown told the Dallas Morning News. “Last year anybody could have walked in our gym and picked the starting lineup.You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist. You could watch for five minutes. You could even watch us eat.” Times are very different in Dallas this year. “The biggest challenge we have is getting a group of kids to give up their egos and do everything they can to make the team better. … Right now we have 13 guys who think they’re one and done.” Figuring out how to balance playing time this season will be the key factor in whether the Mustangs can fulfill the dark horse (see what I did there) potential some analysts see in them.
  5. Shaquille Thomas showed off some of the skills that excite Cincinnati fans about the youngster in the NCAA tournament in March, scoring 12 points (on 6-of-9 shooting) and grabbing four rebounds in a loss to Creighton. The nephew of former Villanova star Tim Thomas is hoping to build on that performance in his sophomore season as he moves into the starting lineup for Cincinnati. “Coming out of high school I was (considered) one of the best athletes in the country, so I knew coming in what I had to do,” Thomas told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s high standards, but I set high standards for myself to go out there and perform.” Coach Mick Cronin called Thomas a gifted athlete. “We need to let him get the ball to the paint and to the rim.”
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A Quick Examination of the AAC Non-Conference Slate

Posted by CD Bradley on October 28th, 2013

Highlighted by the annual renewal of college basketball’s best rivalry, the American has plenty of compelling games to offer before its first in-conference games tip off on New Year’s Eve. The conference’s teams also play a number of games, that while they might not be showcased on national TV, could prove just as crucial if not more so when the NCAA Tournament field is selected and seeded in March. Let’s take a look at four intriguing match-ups as well as four under-the-radar games that AAC teams will be involved in during the non-conference part of the season.

ESPN.com John Calipari (left) and Rick Pitino might not be all smiles when their teams square off Dec. 28 in Rupp Arena.

John Calipari (left) and Rick Pitino might not be all smiles when their teams square off December 28 in Rupp Arena.

Four most intriguing AAC non-conference games

  • Memphis at Oklahoma State, 8 PM, November 19, ESPN. This match-up of two of the nation’s best backcourts, with Marcus Smart and company squaring off against the Tigers’ fleet of guards, has to be considered among the highlights of the season’s first two weeks. It will also provide, fair or not, an early barometer of how these teams and leagues stack up.
  • Louisville at Kentucky, 4 PM, December 28, CBS.  It’s the two best teams in the country. The last two national champions. It’s the most important annual sporting event – yes, even bigger than the Kentucky Derby — in a state where college basketball is the most important sport. It’s Russ Smith vs. the Harrison twins, Montezl Harrell vs. Julius Randle, and, of course, Rick Pitino vs. John Calipari.
  • Florida at UConn, 7 PM, December 2, ESPN2. Connecticut has one of the best guard tandems in the country in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Florida has talent all over the floor, led by senior center Patric Young. Can the Huskies overcome the Gators’ interior advantages to get the kind of marquee win their non-conference schedule offers few opportunities for? The answer could be key to their March chances.
  •  Gonzaga at Memphis, 9 PM, February 8, ESPN. This rare February inter-conference matchup is one of two visits to AAC homecourts by ESPN’s College Gameday this year (Louisville at UConn on January 18 is the other). The Zags entered last year’s NCAA Tournament as the nation’s #1 team, but reached only the round of 32 before bowing out to Wichita State. This game should provide crucial insight into whether Gonzaga can begin to approach last year’s success.

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Where 2013-14 Happens: Reason #24 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 24th, 2013

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Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2013-14 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. For the next three weeks, you’ll get two hits of excitement each weekday. We’ve captured what we believe were the most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. To see the entire released series so far, click here.

#24 – Where A Southwest Philly Floater Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-12, and 2012-13 preseasons.

 

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New Memberships in the A-10 and Mountain West: Can These Leagues Sustain Success?

Posted by BHayes on October 10th, 2013

Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) is an RTC national columnist.

The tumult of conference realignment has hit few conferences harder than it has the Mountain West and Atlantic 10, but as we prepare to set sail on the 2013-14 season, both leagues again loom as the best college basketball has to offer outside the now “power seven” conferences. We touched on each league a little bit in yesterday’s Morning Five, but storylines abound in two leagues that have generated plenty of national buzz in recent years. Both are expected to maintain holds in the upper echelon of the mid-major hierarchy, but offseason membership changes have left things less certain than usual, especially in the A-10. The constant churn of programs jumping from conference to conference has left leagues in varying states of disarray, and 2013-14 finds both the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 at a crossroads. The challenges are different in each situation, but with the relatively uncertain future of today’s college basketball’s climate, another strong season in comparison with the high-majors would go a long ways towards stabilizing each of these traditionally strong conferences.

Kendall Williams And New Mexico Are Just One Of Many Teams With High Hopes In The Mountain West

Kendall Williams And New Mexico Are Just One Of Many Teams With High Hopes In The Mountain West

This season’s iteration of the Mountain West is bigger, but is it better? The preseason poll released Tuesday offered confirmation of the general consensus surrounding newcomers Utah State and San Jose State: Stew Morrill and the Aggies should be a factor in the top half of the conference, while the Spartans, despite their eye-catching new floor, are likely to be MW doormats. But even if Utah State matches or exceeds expectations in their conference debut, the conference as a whole will struggle to replicate the success of 2012-13 – those good old days when the MW was number one in conference RPI (no typo). The trio at the top of this year’s preseason poll all have a chance at replicating, or even improving upon, their successful campaigns of a year ago.

The return of preseason MW POY Kendall Williams and first teamer Alex Kirk has left New Mexico as the conference’s presumptive favorite: the Lobos earned all but one of 24 first place votes. A talented but overhauled UNLV squad scooped up that final first place vote, while Boise State’s return of nearly every key contributor earned the Broncos enough acclaim to tie for second with the Rebels in the poll. The Morning Five highlighted another talented San Diego State roster that sits behind those three teams in the eyes of the media, and let’s face it — it’s probably time we start giving Steve Fisher the benefit of the doubt – the Aztecs are an annual factor out west. But behind the Aztecs and Aggies (Utah State was picked to finish fifth) lies much of the intrigue in this year’s MW. A season ago, the four non-Tournament teams (Air Force, Wyoming, Fresno State and Nevada) were all extremely competitive, especially on their home floors. Their strength was a big reason for that heady conference RPI. This year’s bottom half again appears feisty, with a couple of teams – Nevada (#9) and Fresno State (#8) appearing especially undervalued in the preseason evaluations. Nobody – inside our outside the league — is expecting the MW to finish atop the conference RPI again this season. But another solid campaign, on the heels of that banner season of a year ago, would be awfully sound validation of a league unprepared to leave the national consciousness anytime soon.

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Season In Review: Villanova Wildcats

Posted by mlemaire on May 6th, 2013

After an incredibly disappointing 13-19 finish to last season, coach Jay Wright was starting to hear murmurs of discontent from a Wildcats’ fan base that had watched their team slowly fade into obscurity following a 2009 run to the Final Four. Entering this season the pressure was on Wright to prove that he could get the program headed in the right direction again, and he rose to the challenge… barely. The Wildcats finished 20-14 on the season and 10-8 in conference play, which was good enough to slot them eighth, but they made the NCAA Tournament on the backs of three wins over the conference’s three best teams — Louisville, Georgetown, and Syracuse — and there was still plenty to be concerned about in Nova Nation. They will be looking to take another step forward next season, but first let’s take a trip back and review Villanova’s 2012-13 season.

Preseason Expectations

Coming off that ugly season and losing their two best offensive players — Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek — the Wildcats were not expected to make a lot of noise this year. Both the coaches in the conference and our writers here at the microsite pegged Villanova as the 12th-best team in the Big East because of question marks about where the offense would come from and how quickly the new faces would get adjusted. Most who followed college basketball knew that the Wildcats had more veteran talent than some of the other squads ranked ahead of them, but after watching them falter with much of the same talent the year before, it was tough to believe that Villanova was capable of finishing in the top half of the conference.

Freshman Guard Ryan Arcidiacono Was Instrumental In Getting Villanova Back To The NCAA Tournament (U.S. Presswire)

Freshman Guard Ryan Arcidiacono Was Instrumental In Getting Villanova Back To The NCAA Tournament (U.S. Presswire)

The Good

There were plenty of positives for both individuals on the Villanova roster and the team itself, but if we were ranking them in order of their importance, the two-game stretch where they beat Louisville and then Syracuse in late January basically saved the Wildcats’ season. They had lost three straight conference games heading into that brutal stretch, and even though they were both home wins, they were still crucial to making ‘Nova believe they could hang with anyone. The team itself had its good pieces and its bad ones. The defense ranked in the top 30 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and the offense got a boost from the fact that the Wildcats were the very best in the country when it came to free throw to field goal ratio. Wright also knew that certain players would need to step up if the Wildcats were going to be a factor this season, and luckily some players rose to the occasion. Senior center Mouphtaou Yarou (9.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 47.8%FG) capped a solid career on the Main Line with a dependable senior campaign, improving his free-throw shooting by nearly 10 percentage points and crashing the boards even harder in conference play (9.7 RPG). It took sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston (13.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 46.6 FG%) half a season to find his footing,  but once he did, he consistently scored in double figures and became a match-up nightmare for opposing teams. Freshman point guard Ryan Arciadiacono (11.9 PPG, 3.5 APG, 34.3% FG) averaged 34 minutes per game and proved he was more than capable of being a Big East point guard.

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Alabama Positions Itself to Make a Run at an NCAA Bid

Posted by David Changas on March 15th, 2013

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Friday afternoon’s game between Alabama and Tennessee at the SEC Tournament in Nashville.

Some called today’s SEC Quarterfinal match-up between Tennessee and Alabama a “play-in” game for the NCAA Tournament. The reality was, though, that it was more likely a play-in for Tennessee. Most observers agreed that a win by the Volunteers would put them in the Big Dance, as they would have notched their 10th win over an RPI top-100 team. Most agreed, too, that Alabama would need to do more to make itself worthy of a spot in the field. What the Crimson Tide’s 58-48 victory, which came as the result of stifling defense that held Tennessee to 32% shooting from the field, did was put them in a position to secure a bid. Alabama, which currently sits at No. 62 in the RPI and owns only one victory over a top-50 RPI team (against No. 48 Kentucky), will now get a shot at a big one.

Alabama Held On to Come Out On Top Regardless

Alabama Held On to Come Out On Top Regardless

It takes on SEC regular season champion Florida, which sits at No. 7 in the RPI, in Saturday’s first semifinal. Given the difficulty other teams firmly on the bubble have had with taking advantage of their respective positions this week, the door is open for Anthony Grant’s team to make a run. Just today, the likes of Virginia, LaSalle, and, of course, Tennessee, all considered to be in the “Last Four In/Last Four Out” merry-go-round, lost. Earlier in the week, Boise State and MTSU, also among that group, lost. Ole Miss and Kentucky have yet to play here, but Alabama’s path to the field of 68 is clearer than it could have anticipated coming into the tournament.

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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on March 8th, 2013

setDVR

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

With the first tickets to the Big Dance being given out this weekend and regular season titles still up for grabs in the Big East, Big Ten, ACC, and A-10, it should be one amazing weekend of college hoops. It’s the most amazing time of the year, so sit back and enjoy. Let’s get to the breakdowns!

#17 Syracuse at #6 Georgetown – 12:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN (****)

Better Make It a Double.

Boeheim is looking for answers at Syracuse.

  • Syracuse broke a three-game losing streak this week against DePaul while Georgetown lost for the first time in 11 games against Villanova. With the loss, the Hoyas dropped into a three-team tie for first place in the Big East with Marquette and Louisville. The Orange have struggled recently and had a tough time against the Hoyas defense two weeks ago at the Carrier Dome. Jim Boeheim’s team only went 4-20 from downtown and could not get anything going from their guards. The Hoyas struggled on offense as well but were able to rely on Otto Porter once again who put in 33 points. In order for Syracuse to snap out of this funk, they need to get more production from guards Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams. If both players can take better shots by driving the ball to the hoop, we will see a completely different Syracuse team. Georgetown put Villanova on the foul line 42 times earlier this week. Given the size of Triche and Carter-Williams, both players should be going straight to the basket in an attempt to draw fouls or get lay-ups. Keep a close on both players, as they are the keys to this game. If they are settling for jumpers, Syracuse is going to struggle again.

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Night Line: Butler the Latest Casualty of an Unpredictable Atlantic 10

Posted by BHayes on January 24th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

Last weekend belonged to the Butler Bulldogs. With College Gameday in town and the national spotlight shining brightly on Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Dogs delivered as dramatic a victory as you will ever see when Roosevelt Jones coaxed in a floater at the horn to defeat Gonzaga. It was a transcendent moment that will stand alone well after this season ends, but it also vaulted Butler into the top 10 of both polls – rarefied midseason air, even for Butler. But the intoxicating high was short-lived in Indy, as Butler dove back into A-10 play tonight, coming up short in a 54-53 loss to La Salle. The Bulldogs weren’t the only team to be smacked in the face with the reality of this rough-and-tumble version of the A-10; St. Joseph’s fell at home to St. Bonaventure, while Xavier’s first Atlantic 10 loss came at the hands of surprising Charlotte – all further evidence that nights off aren’t an option in one of the deepest conferences in America.

LaSalle And Ramon Galloway Showed Butler That Life On The Road In The Atlantic-10 Is Rarely Easy

LaSalle And Ramon Galloway Showed Butler That Life On The Road In The Atlantic-10 Is Rarely Easy

A chaotic night in the conference indeed, but don’t mistake the happenings at La Salle as any sort of major upset. The Explorers were actually favorites in Vegas for this one, although an available Rotnei Clarke may have altered that. Either way, this has to be John Giannini’s most significant win at La Salle, and it adds some real legitimacy to his team’s at-large case. Lots of wins still need to come his way, but at 13-5 overall and 3-2 in the conference, this team undoubtedly will have the opportunity to play their way into the field.

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The Other 26: The New A-10 Asserts Itself

Posted by IRenko on December 21st, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

When the A-10 added Butler and VCU to its ranks this past offseason, we knew that the two teams would strengthen the now 16-team conference. The two schools, each of which has had recent improbable Final Four runs, were expected to join the ranks of Xavier, Temple, St. Louis, and Dayton, and, along with a resurgent St. Joseph’s, UMass, and LaSalle, make the A-10 the deepest and, arguably, most exciting non-BCS conference in the country. But after the past week, it’s become clear that not only are these two programs going to add depth to the A-10, they may very well conquer it in their first year.

Rotnei Clarke’s Sharpshooting Helped Butler to a Big Upset of Top-Ranked Indiana (Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)

Rotnei Clarke’s Sharpshooting Helped Butler to a Big Upset of Top-Ranked Indiana (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)

By now you know that Butler took down top-ranked Indiana 88-86 in a thrilling overtime win last Saturday. What was most surprising about the win, though, was how Butler did it. It wasn’t their vaunted defense, which gave up 1.13 points per possession to Indiana’s full-throttled attack — the second most this year for the Bulldogs and well above their averages during the Brad Stevens era. Rather, it was Butler’s efficient offense, which registered 1.16 points per possession. Part of that was their three-point shooting (11-24, 48.1%) with Rotnei Clarke leading the way (5-11). We have come to expect that from Butler, which often relies on the three-point shot as a great equalizer. But the more surprising, and perhaps more significant, elements of Butler’s offense were its willingness to attack the basket and its prodigious output on the offensive glass.  Sophomore wing Roosevelt Jones led the attack, often exploiting a favorable matchup against Jordan Hulls, en route to 16 points on 6-10 shooting (no threes). And the Bulldogs rebounded nearly half of their own misses — 48.7%. To some extent, the Bulldogs took advantage of sloppy block-outs by Indiana, but this reflects a season-long strength and a marked shift from the early years of Brad Stevens’ tenure. In Stevens’ first four seasons, Butler never averaged an offensive rebounding percentage of more than 32.8 percent. But last year, the Bulldogs hauled in 35 percent of their misses, and this year, it’s up to 39.4 percent.

As impressive as Butler’s win was, VCU quietly made waves of its own this past week as they pummeled Alabama and Western Kentucky by a combined 51 points. In both games, VCU went for the kill early, jumping out to big leads on the strength of their Havoc defense. The Rams did not allow Alabama to score a field goal until 10:44 had elapsed, en route to a 33-18 halftime lead that they would convert into a 73-54 final score. Alabama finished the game with 18 turnovers — a season high, as it often is for teams facing VCU’s defensive pressure. Four days later, VCU suffered no letdown from its BCS beatdown, whipping on Western Kentucky, one of the Sun Belt’s top teams and last year’s Tournament participant. After jumping out to 15-3 lead, the Rams would head into halftime up 42-16, cruising the rest of the way to a 76-44 win.  VCU forced a whopping 32 turnovers, including one on each of Western Kentucky’s first three possessions.

The old Bulldogs may be learning new tricks while the Rams thrive on the tried-and-true, but regardless of how they’re doing it, both teams have vaulted themselves to the top of A-10 heap.  Don’t take my word for it, ask the computers. Any of them — Butler and VCU are the A-10’s two highest ranking teams in the RPI, Sagarin ratings, and Pomeroy ratings.  The A-10’s mainstays have not distinguished themselves. Temple was routed badly by Duke in its first real competitive game of the year and just lost to Canisius at home by 10 points; Xavier is trying to replace five starters; St. Louis is trying to get their feet under them after losing their coach and then their star point guard to injury; and St. Joe’s, UMass, and Dayton have struggled to find consistency. As a result, there is a good chance that the A-10 will crown a champion it has never crowned before.

On to this week’s Top 10 and more …

Top Ten Rankings

RTC -- TO26 (12.21.12)

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ATB: North Texas Struggles, Duke Wins on Back-to-Back Nights, and Memphis Gets Pushed To The Brink By Lipscomb…

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 21st, 2012

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Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. Holiday Break Brings Another Scheduling Dry Spell. Last week, we lamented the scheduling lull brought about by final exams. Players were off studying for those pesky calculus or English or economics exams, writing Shakespeare papers and completing voluminous problem sets, and viewers were left with – gasp! – professional basketball, or Thursday night football or that episode(s) of Homeland you happened to miss during the show’s scheduled airtime. Some even resorted to holiday shopping. Games of interest were few and far between. Then came Saturday’s spate of excellent action, which brought us Butler’s upset of No. 1 Indiana and Arizona’s thrilling win over Florida, and a host of other interesting results. Just one week later, another stretch of boredom is upon us, as teams play out their final games before heading off for holiday break. Saturday’s slate features plenty of enticing fixtures, but the next few days, right up to Christmas, are a barren landscape of hoops nonexistence. If you thought tonight’s offering was inchoate – and it most definitely was – just wait until early next week, when Christmas music and shopping obligations will consume your daily activity, and college basketball won’t be there to offer a convenient diversion. First, let’s savor what did take place Thursday night, and hope that Saturday’s schedule brings enough quality matchups to hold us over through the holidays.

Your Watercooler Moment. McCollum-less Mountain Hawks Add To North Texas’ Misery.

The Mean Green have NBA talent, but as a team, they lack chemistry and coherence (photo credit: US Presswire).

The Mean Green have NBA talent, but as a team, they lack chemistry and coherence (photo credit: US Presswire).

It was easy to buy into the idea of North Texas making a run at the at large pool this season. Not only was future lottery pick and multifaceted forward Tony Mitchell returning for a sophomore season, but the Mean Green returned a capable cast of characters around him. Provided they could handle business against Creighton, Saint Louis, Virginia and Lehigh – winning two or three of these games, depending on league play, would have sufficed – North Texas had a clear shot at a Tournament entry. Creighton destroyed the Mean Green on college hoops’ opening night, which – given the Blue Jays’ impressive season to date – was not all that foreboding. Consecutive defeats at Virginia and Saint Louis all but erased their at large hopes. A home matchup with Lehigh, who announced Thursday afternoon that an ankle injury would force star guard C.J. McCollum to the sidelines (and thus trolling the livelihood of the reported 57 NBA scouts expected to attend), offered a perfect chance for North Texas to get back on track and build some momentum before Sun Belt play. Lehigh picked apart North Texas without its most recognizable stud, thanks primarily to 28 points from senior forward Gabe Knutson and 25 from junior guard Mackey McKnight. Give credit where credit’s due: this is a nice win for the Mountain Hawks. It’s also a huge disappointment for North Texas, who has completely underperformed thus far this season, and isn’t close to the Sun Belt favorite we expected to see heading into the season. Mitchell is an extremely talented player with a bright future, but the pieces around him simply aren’t clicking right; as a result, North Texas will need to brave the vagaries of the Sun Belt tournament to broach the tourney field. That is not what most had in store for the Mitchell-led Mean Green.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • Two Days, Two Games, No Problem. Playing its second game in as many days, Duke welcomed Elon to Cameron Indoor, got 21 points and 15 rebounds from All America hopeful Mason Plumlee and ensured a comfortable victory to set off a nine-day holiday break and tie a bow around one of the most impressive early nonconference bodies of work in recent memory. Unless Duke botches its Jan. 2 neutral court date with Davidson, the Blue Devils should enter ACC play with the No. 1 record intact. One development of note: redshirt freshman Marshall Plumlee, the youngest family big man, was resigned to the sidelines after playing just two minutes in Wednesday night’s game against Cornell thanks to reported discomfort caused by the orthotics in his shoe. If Plumlee gets right, the Blue Devils can throw another talented frontcourt player alongside Ryan Kelly and older brother Mason. Read the rest of this entry »
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