ATB: CJ McCollum’s Injury, Illinois Thrashes Ohio State, and Cincinnati’s Big Letdown…

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 7th, 2013

ATB

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

The Weekend’s Lede. This weekend brought a comforting turn in the hoops calendar. It was the first weekend spent in the throes of conference play. On Saturday, starting at 11am ET with Pittsburgh at Rutgers and on through Sunday night, high-quality games could be found on various networks. There were upsets, blowouts, and predictable results – all of which we’ve seen at different stages this season. But there’s a different vibe when it comes to conference play, to me at least, and it was refreshing to take it all in. Gone are the days of high majors beating down cupcakes. Most conference games are real, competitive, no-sleep-walking-allowed basketball games. And they’re here to stay, at least until April. This put me in an especially rosy mood, which is a good sign for what lies ahead in 2013, and an even better sign for college basketball in general. League competition is already shaking perceptions and standings in noticeable ways, and we haven’t even yet broken free of the college football fever. Just wait until February; I can hardly hide my excitement. So let’s recap the first conference weekend. It was a good one.

Your Watercooler Moment. CJ McCollum Breaks His Foot.

After bursting on the scene during last season's upset over No. 2 Duke, McCollum could very well have seen his last sample of NCAA Tournament basketball (Photo credit: AP).

After bursting on the scene during last season’s upset over No. 2 Duke, McCollum could very well have seen his last sample of NCAA Tournament basketball (Photo credit: AP).

Twice this season C.J. McCollum has left NBA Scouts looking for refunds on game tickets. The first time was a minor medical ailment. McCollum sprained his ankle and couldn’t suit up for a Dec. 20 game against North Texas. Saturday’s injury was far more severe. What’s truly saddening about McCollum’s broken foot isn’t the lengthy eight-to-ten-week recovery or the implications for his NBA draft status. It’s the fact that McCollum made the move most college basketball fans wish future first-round picks would make more often. McCollum eschewed guaranteed millions to play out his eligibility. In April, he penned a reflective piece explaining his decision. The SportingNews’ Mike DeCourcy dug up one of McCollum’s pivotal justifications: “By returning for my senior year, I give myself a chance to complete my degree at a prestigious university, while putting myself in a position to be successful no matter what happens in my future.” McCollum will still accomplish those goals, but the basketball component of his senior year won’t go as planned. Passing up the professional game for another year in college is always risky business. Many players wind up hurting their “draft stock” and regretting their decisions. McCollum should be back before the end of the season, and I have little doubt he can redeem whatever shine he may lose during his recovery, whether that be in the midst of a late-season Tournament surge or in draft workouts. McCollum is a preternaturally gifted scorer. He belongs in the NBA. This will do little, if anything, to hurt his draft prospects – provided he returns to his pre-injury form. It’s a tough setback, but nothing McCollum, a determined, clear-headed and driven individual, cannot overcome.

Also Worth Chatting About. Nothing Will Come Easy In The Big Ten.

The Illini didn't need hot three-point shooting to dominate Ohio State in Champaign (Photo Credit: Getty Images).

The Illini didn’t need hot three-point shooting to dominate Ohio State in Champaign (Photo Credit: Getty Images).

The formula to Illinois’ early success was flawed. It depended heavily on the three-point shot, which is an inherently risky way to win basketball games, but even more perilous when you don’t have a reliable source of interior scoring. Which Illinois didn’t…..until Saturday. The Illini’s win over Ohio State wasn’t surprising. It was the way Illinois bombarded the Buckeyes not with long-range shots, but with effective low post play. Sophomore forward Nnanna Egwu was slowly, surely coming around of late, but he came up small in this week’s loss at Purdue, and one was starting to get the sense he was still a year or two away from contributing in meaningful ways. On Saturday, he showed up, and boy, does Ohio State wish he hadn’t. Egwu finished with 16 points and eight rebounds to bail out Illinois’ again poor three-point shooting (8-for-27). Illinois showed it doesn’t need the long-ball to knock off good teams – at least not when Egwu’s holding fort in the paint. The same problems remain with Ohio State: Can anyone help DeShaun Thomas shoulder the scoring load? Is Aaron Craft that guy? Will Shannon Scott, Laquinton Ross and Sam Thompson pick up steam as the season rolls along? This will give John Groce’s team boatloads of confidence for an upcoming home date with Minnesota, but the way the Gophers have looked thus far, it may need to recapture its hot three-point shooting stroke to spring the upset.

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The Other 26: Cowboy-ing Up

Posted by IRenko on January 5th, 2013

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.

College basketball has just four undefeated teams left. You can likely recite the identity of the first three:  Duke, Michigan, and Arizona, who occupy the top three spots in the AP rankings. But you may be surprised to learn that the fourth team is the Wyoming Cowboys. Larry Shyatt’s squad sits at 13-0 after a successful non-conference season that featured solid wins over Colorado, Illinois State, and Denver.

Leonard Washington Has Led Wyoming to a Surprising Undefeated Start (Troy Babbitt / US PRESSWIRE)

Leonard Washington Has Led Wyoming to a Surprising Undefeated Start (Troy Babbitt / US PRESSWIRE)

Last year, the Cowboys finished sixth in the MW. Then in the offseason, they graduated three of their five starters. So how have they managed to reel off 13 straight victories to start the year? Wyoming is very strong defensively, but they were just as good, if not better, last year. The biggest difference is a major improvement on offense, as their adjusted efficiency has gone from 0.99 points to 1.08 points per possession. That may not sound like a big difference, but when you realize that a single game is composed of dozens of possessions, it adds up to a substantially better offensive performance. This increased efficiency has been driven by the Cowboys’ ability to get to the free throw line and to convert on two-point opportunities. Senior forward Leonard Washington deserves the credit for leading the team in both respects. The 6’7″ tweener is shooting 63.7 percent on two-point field goals and draws 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes — one of the higher rates in the country.

The second significant factor in the Cowboys’ improvement is the offseason development of senior Derrious Gilmore and sophomore Larry Nance, Jr. (yes, the former NBA player’s son). Gilmore has rewarded Larry Shyatt’s decision to hand him the starting point guard spot by improving his per game averages from 3.1 points and 1.1 assists per contest to 11.8 points and 3.2 assists per game. He averages more than 32 minutes per game, second most to Washington. Nance, meanwhile, has gone from averaging 4.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest to 11.2 and 6.8, respectively.  He shoots over 60 percent on two-point attempts and 84.2 percent from the free throw line. Add in the contributions of returning starter and senior guard Luke Martinez (14.5 points, 42.2% 3FG) , and the Cowboys have a feature a surprising amount firepower.

Despite their undefeated mark, it remains an open question as to how good the Cowboys really are. Last year, they got off to 14-2 start during non-conference play but crumpled to a 6-8 record in the Mountain West. This year’s record is even more impressive to be sure and, as noted above, features some solid if unspectacular wins. But the strength of schedule is about to kick into a higher gear, as they enter conference play against a very deep and talented Mountain West. If they can maintain their offensive improvement through the rest of the year and continue to get contributions from a range of players, they may be Dancing for the first time since 2002 and just the second time in 25 years.

Let’s move on to this week’s Top 10, the performances that caught our eye this past week, and the games to watch in the week ahead.

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RTC Top 25: Week 7

Posted by KDoyle on January 2nd, 2013

Apologies that we are a bit tardy in rolling out our Top 25; with the holidays behind us and the New Year officially upon us, we plan on hitting 2013 running. A fairly light week of hoops resulted in little movement in the RTC25. Duke remains #1 for the sixth straight week, Minnesota cracks the Top 10 for the first time, and NC State jumps back into the poll after making a departure for several weeks. In perhaps the most exciting game of the week, Gonzaga shot back up to #10 after a big road win in Stillwater against Oklahoma State. The Quick n’ Dirty after the jump.

Week 7

Quick n’ Dirty Analysis.

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The 10 Biggest CBB Stories of 2012 — #3: Norfolk State and Lehigh Shock the World

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 30th, 2012

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

College basketball gave us plenty of memorable moments and stories in 2012. After sorting through the main headlines, we’ve come up with the 10 most consequential items and, for the sake of maintaining publishing sequence symmetry, releasing two per-day over the next five days to lead into the New Year. It was an excellent year for the sport, though I can’t promise you won’t regret reliving at least one or two of the choices. In any case, here’s to summing up a great year and to hoping that 2013 is better than the 365 days that preceded it.

The ocean of opportunity that awaits mid and low-major programs in the NCAA Tournament is typically stifled by the superior talent, resources and coaching acumen of high-major powerhouses. Upsets do happen – you can usually bank at least one 7-10 or 8-9 or 5-12 shocker each year, and it feels like we’re seeing more and more close games in putatively uneven first-round draws – but the gap between a #15 seed and a #2 seed is so far as to draw into question the fairness of even playing the game in the first place. You usually get a national contender from a power six conference going up against a minuscule hoops entity from a lesser league, many of which just happened to get hot enough at the right time to barrel through a conference tournament and into the Big Dance.

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CIO… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 28th, 2012

CIO header

Mitch Goldich is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find more of his work online at The Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchgoldich for more updates.

Looking Back

  • Bucknell’s At-Large Hopes Take a Hit: Bucknell and Lehigh both entered the season with a chance to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid. To do so, each needed to be nearly flawless against the weaker foes in the non-conference schedule, and pick up a couple signature wins along the way. Lehigh’s chances looked bleak after early losses to Baylor and Pitt, but Bucknell kept its hopes alive with an 11-1 start. Saturday’s loss to Princeton, however, was a major step back. The Bison may need to win on January 5 at #7 Missouri to have any chance of an at-large bid, or else they’ll have to win the Patriot League Tournament to make the Big Dance. Lehigh would almost surely need to beat VCU on that same date to get back in the conversation. That game represents Lehigh’s last chance to get a true signature win before the games against Bucknell.
  • Scouts Show, McCollum Sits: One of the most anticipated match-ups of the season was over before it started. More than 50 NBA scouts, including several general managers, traveled to Denton, Texas, to see two potential lottery picks in Lehigh’s CJ McCollum and North Texas’ Tony Mitchell. Just minutes before game time, Lehigh announced that McCollum would not dress due to a sprained ankle. To add insult to injury, Mitchell was held out of the starting lineup because of a violation of team rules. He still posted 22 points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes off the bench. Scouts who wanted to see McCollum instead learned that Lehigh’s well-rounded attack is more than a one-man show. Gabe Knutson hit four threes en route to 28 points, and Mackey McKnight added 25 more. Lehigh cruised to a 19-point halftime lead on its way to a 90-75 win. Coach Brett Reed described McCollum’s injury as “mild” which seemed like damage control, not wanting to incite a panic that his preseason All-American would be out very long. McCollum, though, tweeted at The Allentown Morning Call’s Tom Housenick after the game that he’s never missed a game because of a mild injury. It was a lighthearted exchange, and all signs point to McCollum being at full-strength for the January 5 showdown against VCU.
Lehigh's offense gets a ton of well-deserved attention, but don't overlook their defense. (AP Photo)

Lehigh’s offense gets a ton of well-deserved attention, but don’t overlook their defense. (AP)

  • Historic Starts for Bucknell and Lehigh: The Patriot League’s two premier teams have lived up to lofty preseason expectations, and find themselves ranked in a slew of mid-major rankings and polls. Before they battle each other for the league championship, both teams are already battling some of the best squads in their programs’ histories. Bucknell’s 11-1 start was its best since the 1907-08 season. Even with the loss to Princeton, Bucknell’s 11-2 mark is still second-best in school history through 13 games. Lehigh is 9-2 for the first time since the 1925-26 campaign. Its current eight-game winning streak is also longest since that season. Both teams still have a chance to reach 12 non-conference wins in the regular season, a feat achieved by only two teams in Patriot League history: Fordham in 1990-91 and Lehigh last season.

Reader’s Take 

 

Power Rankings

  1. Lehigh (9-2) – If my power rankings were designed to answer the question of who has the stronger resume, I’d have to give Bucknell the top spot. But if I’m determining who is playing better basketball right now, I’ll give Lehigh the edge. The Mountain Hawks’ aforementioned win over North Texas was their sixth straight by double digits. Lehigh now leads the nation in three-point shooting (44.4 percent) and is making 8.7 threes per game. While the Mountain Hawks get a lot of credit for their offense, they also have a very pesky defense. McCollum, McKnight and Holden Greiner are all among the top five in the Patriot League in steals per game. Read the rest of this entry »
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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

ATB

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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CIO… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2012

CIO header

Mitch Goldich is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find more of his work online at The Huffington Post.  Follow him on Twitter at @mitchgoldich for more updates.

Looking Back

  • Lights-Out Lehigh: CJ McCollum continues to lead the nation in scoring, now with 24.9 points per game, but he is hardly doing it by himself. Gabe Knutson is scoring over 16 points per game, and Mackey McKnight and Holden Greiner are both averaging double figures. The Mountain Hawks are second in the country in both free throw percentage (80.5 percent) and three point shooting (44 percent).  Those efficient numbers have helped boost Lehigh to 16th in the country at 80.8 points per game.
  • Muscala Racks Up Career Numbers:Bucknell’s Mike Muscala is having an excellent senior season, and is staking his claim as one of the most dominant big men in the history of the conference. Adonal Foyle is still the only player the Patriot League has ever sent to the NBA, and Muscala recently joined him as the second player in conference history with 1,500 career points and 800 career rebounds. Foyle even tweeted that he was happy to have company in the club. Muscala is sixth in the nation with 11.4 rebounds per game. He and Duke’s Mason Plumlee are the only players averaging at least 18 points and 11 rebounds.
  • Conference Ranking Is Improving: According to Ken Pomeroy’s indispensable site kenpom.com, the Patriot League finished last season rated 22nd toughest out of the 33 D-I conferences.  This year, the Patriot League is up to 16th, leapfrogging the CAA, Ivy, Sun Belt, Big West, Atlantic Sun and Summit leagues.  While Bucknell and Lehigh are certainly responsible for a large part of that jump, the conference is definitely stronger top to bottom as well. The eight schools have a cumulative record of 43-39, despite several mismatches against teams from the power conferences. The Bison and Mountain Hawks have also received attention from several individual polls. ESPN.com’s most recent Mid-Major Report listed Bucknell sixth and Lehigh eighth.  CBS Sports’ Mid-Major Power Pyramid had Bucknell ninth and Lehigh 12th.
Mike Muscala and the Bison escaped Columbia.

Mike Muscala and the Bison escaped Columbia.

Power Rankings

1. Bucknell (8-1) – The Bison survived a scare from Columbia in one of the most exciting games any Patriot League team has played this season.  The opponents shot out to a 25-8 lead after the opening tip and maintained a double-digit lead with under 15 minutes to go in the game.  Muscala would not let Bucknell lose and submitted a dominant 29 points and 19 rebounds in the win. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Burning Question: Who is the Conference’s Best Team?

Posted by mlemaire on December 11th, 2012

We admit it. We blatantly stole this topic idea from our colleagues over at the Pac-12 microsite but hopefully they’ll view this as somewhat of an homage to their creative topic ideas rather than lazy theft. Anyway, the season is more than a month old and there is a logjam near the top the Big East conference standings. Cincinnati and Syracuse are the last unbeaten teams, but are they truly the best?

 

Mike Lemaire: While I recognize that Cincinnati and Syracuse are the last two unbeaten teams in the conference, I still find myself gravitating to Louisville when I think of the conference’s best teams. The Bearcats have played almost nobody of note (does a buzzer-beating win over Alabama count?) and while the Orange throttled a solid San Diego State squad in the season opener, I wonder whether all of that young depth will hold up as the schedule gets more difficult and players start to wear down. Pittsburgh’s depth and incredibly efficient offense make them an excellent team, but their best win is against Lehigh and with the exception of the game against Michigan, their non-conference schedule has been embarrassingly easy (No. 257 in the country, according to KenPom). I recognize that Georgetown’s only loss was to the best team in the country and that Notre Dame has been excellent since losing to Saint Joseph’s, but the Hoyas’ offense is a mess and the Fighting Irish don’t play defense the same way that the Orange and Cardinals do.

Russ Smith Has Been Superb This Season (C. Hanewickel, US Presswire)

Meanwhile, Louisville boasts the nation’s most efficient defense, a top-25 offense in terms of efficiency, and its only loss came against Duke, who has been soundly beating everyone, and they were playing without defensive star Gorgui Dieng. Of course it hurts the Cardinals’ case that one of the best defensive players in the country will miss some time, but coach Rick Pitino expects him back before the new year, and a broken wrist, while probably painful, is not nearly as bad as an ACL or another knee injury. Even without Dieng, the Cardinals have depth on par with Syracuse and their bench is far more battle-tested. If mercurial scoring guard Russ Smith comes back to earth a little, Pitino’s offense might see a bit of a backslide, but until the Orange can sustain their success against better opponents, the Cardinals remain the class of the Big East.

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Checking In On… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 30th, 2012

Mitch Goldich is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find more of his work online at The Huffington Post.  Follow him on Twitter at @mitchgoldich for more updates.

Looking Back

  • The Hunt for an Automatic Bid: One of the most intriguing storylines at the outset of the season was whether an improved Patriot League could send two teams to the Big Dance in March. With both Lehigh and Bucknell receiving attention in various national mid-major rankings, it was possible that one or both could play itself into the at-large bid conversation. Lehigh squandered two of its best chances to impress the selection committee, dropping games at Baylor and Pitt. The Pitt loss was particularly damning because a win would have generated more chances against quality competition in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals and/or finals. The Mountain Hawks will have to win the Patriot League Tournament to get another shot to play with the big boys this March.  Bucknell, on the other hand, had a more difficult non-conference schedule to begin with and has held up its end of the bargain with wins over Purdue, George Mason and New Mexico State.  The Bison would likely need to win at Missouri on January 5 and submit a dominant conference season, but the door is still open. If the Bison win the Patriot League tournament, the point will be moot, but if they suffer an upset, the league could have two in the Field of 68.
  • Wins From Top to Bottom: While Lehigh and Bucknell captured the preseason headlines, it bears repeating that six other Patriot League teams entered the season with high aspirations of their own. The Patriot League is an improved conference this year, with teams from top to bottom earning non-conference wins. Through Wednesday, the league had a cumulative record of 29-26. Many of those losses came in mismatches against schools from the power conferences, as was to be expected.  But the league has been far from a doormat. The eight Patriot League schools have mopped up some of the other conferences on the East Coast, going a combined 23-5 against teams from the America East, CAA, Ivy League, MAAC, MEAC, and NEC.  So while Bucknell’s wins against the Big Ten and WAC help elevate the standing of the whole conference, other schools are doing their part as well.

There may be no hotter player in the country right now than C.J. McCollum, who has connected on 21 of his 38 three-point attempts this season.

  • McCollum Sets Career Mark, Leads Nation in Scoring:  Move over, Rob Feaster.  Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum broke Feaster’s mark of 2,224 career points, which had stood since he graduated from Holy Cross in 1995. The Preseason AP All-American broke the mark during a 26-point effort against Sacred Heart on Sunday. McCollum has more than 20 games to pad his record. After he poured in 25 in the second half at Quinnipiac on Wednesday night, McCollum’s 26.3 points per game lead the nation. Eighteen NBA scouts showed up for Lehigh’s opening game against Baylor.  And in case you think all 18 were there just to get a first look at Isaiah Austin, 20 more showed up for Lehigh’s second game against Robert Morris. Most preseason projections had McCollum as a first round pick in this summer’s draft, and his play so far has only helped his stock. Most notably, McCollum has improved his three-point shooting.  He has hit 21-of-38 shots from beyond the arc, good for 55.3 percent.

Reader’s Take

 

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ATB: Calipari On Duke’s Flopping, Harvard Heartbreaker, Appling Revival, and Poythress’ Putbacks…

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Hoops Marathon Ends With Basketball Royalty in Atlanta. The fifth iteration of ESPN’s College Hoops Marathon went from Spokane to Albuquerque to Honolulu to New Jersey to Indiana to Amherst to Ohio to NYC to Cincinnati to Atlanta, with 16 games of varying quality and competitiveness, but it finished at the Champions Classic with two hard-fought and generally well-played games befitting the assembled hoops royalty of Izzo, Krzyzewski, Calipari and Self. Last season’s inaugural event in Madison Square Garden featured Krzyzewski’s 903d all-time victory and the coming-out party of Calipari’s talented band of super-freshmen. This year’s set of games in Atlanta featured a Michigan State team finding itself after a surprising loss to a scrappy Connecticut team last week in Germany, while Duke was looking to shore up its perimeter defense to reclaim its usual spot among the nation’s elite as a national title contender. Tonight’s losing teams, Kentucky and Kansas, came away from the experience not feeling terrible, realizing that November games — while important to their resumes — are more a time for reflection and focused learning than worrying about finished products. Let’s jump into the day’s games…

Your Watercooler Moment. Calipari Calls Out Duke’s Flopping. 

What else could it be? In one of the better preaching to the choir moments in recent college basketball history, John Calipari told ESPN’s Andy Katz at halftime of the Champions Classic nightcap in a half-joking/half-serious manner that Duke’s players were “flopping all over the place.” The Twitter-verse immediately seized the moment because if there’s anything that gets Duke haters riled up, it’s the tendency for Coach K’s defenders to find their backs on the floor with the ball headed the other way. For what it’s worth, Calipari said after the game that he was just joking. Nevertheless… the head coach may have made some new friends tonight.

This Other ThingBoth Kentucky and Duke Impressed. Duke walked out of Atlanta as the clear winner of the event, knocking off the #2 Wildcats and showing that some of the defensive deficiencies that caused so many problems for the Blue Devils last season may be solved. Seth Curry (23 pts) was outstanding in his twin roles as leader and scorer, and his game-finishing drive to fake Nerlens Noel off his feet and drop in a right-handed layup was a thing of beauty. Mason Plumlee, when not in foul trouble, showed that he is an elite big man (18/3 on 7-8 FG) and the rest of the Duke cast was at least serviceable on this night. Coach K was not going to let the Kentucky perimeter beat his team, and a 9-25 shooting night from Kyle Wiltjer, Archie Goodwin and Julius Mays ensured that Duke wouldn’t have to get into an 80- or 90-point game to win this one. As for the Wildcats, we anticipated that John Calipari would get a much better effort on the glass, and he did (27 each) while also allowing his talented big men, Alex Poythress and Noel, to pick their spots and follow the fluidity of the game. The duo combined for 36 points and 16 rebounds, and the mere sight of those two flying around the airspace above the rim should send shudders throughout the rest of college basketball wondering how good they’ll be when they figure out the plays. Brian Joyce was at the game and provided his takeaways here from watching it courtside, but from the perspective of talent (Kentucky) and cohesion (Duke), it wouldn’t surprise us to see both of these squads matching up again in that very building next April.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On November Rituals, Head-Scratchers, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 13th, 2012

Brian Otskey is a regular contributor for RTC. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. In what seems to have become an annual November ritual, fans and members of the media tend to overreact in making bold statements about teams and players after just one or two games have been played. While I recognize that is the nature of the “what have you done for me lately?” society we live in, fans and the media alike must take a step back. While some early season wins may appear to be huge and some losses head-scratching, we all must remember that the college basketball season is a long, evolving process. The NCAA Tournament doesn’t begin for another four months. Most teams will play 12 non-conference games before they begin 16 or 18-game conference schedules.  It’s OK to say something nice about a team that came up with a great early season win or to be skeptical of a school coming off a loss you might never have expected, but making statements such as “Florida State is a bust because it lost to South Alabama!” is just plain foolish. While a loss like that certainly gives you pause, we’ve seen this movie before time and time again in November, especially as the college season has started earlier and earlier over the years. A loss to South Alabama is hardly a definitive indicator of how Florida State will perform in 2012-13. It’s just one of 30+ games the Seminoles will play this season. With that said, I do have a couple of questions about FSU. One, does the team miss the steady point guard presence of Luke Loucks from a season ago (nine assists, 17 turnovers against USA)? Two, is Leonard Hamilton’s defense not as strong as we are accustomed to seeing? South Alabama shot 9-of-15 from deep and Buffalo shot 50% overall from the floor in FSU’s second game on Monday. Those are examples of legitimate concerns, but not affirmative statements about how Florida State’s season will turn out. The Seminoles have plenty of time to come together and fix their weaknesses. Just don’t bury Florida State, or any other team for that matter, before Thanksgiving for crying out loud.

    How Much is FSU Missing Luke Loucks Right Now? (Reuters)

  2. There were quite a few of those aforementioned head-scratchers over the first four days of the season. In addition to Florida State, teams such as Mississippi State, Virginia, Rutgers, South Florida, Purdue, Drexel and Georgia all started the season on the wrong foot. Other schools including Oklahoma State, Texas and Providence struggled with inferior opponents but managed to hang on and win. In some circumstances like those faced at Mississippi State, Virginia, Georgia and Purdue, these are teams rebuilding after critical personnel losses. While it’s unfair to blast their November performance, these losses could be a sign of things to come. On the other hand, you could say a team like Drexel just had a bad night. The Dragons are a talented bunch and the overwhelming favorites in the depleted Colonial Athletic Association. Above all, however, the worst loss of them all belongs to North Texas. The Sun Belt favorites, who boast the talented Tony Mitchell, lost to Division II Alabama-Huntsville on Monday night. What does this mean? Not a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but it underscores how important it is for teams to put forth maximum effort every time out. The instances in which a team can get away with an off night have shrunk over the years due to parity and better talent assembled on non-power six rosters. When trying to analyze a team at this early stage of the season, don’t dismiss a disappointing loss but don’t throw the team under the bus at the same time. There is a very long way to go. Read the rest of this entry »
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After the Buzzer: On Aircraft Carrier Games, Kevin Ollie’s Debut, Top Five Dunks of the Weekend…

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 12th, 2012

This Weekend’s Lede. It’s time to put all that preseason chatter on the backburner, and start drawing first impressions, because the 2012-13 season officially got underway Friday night. Unlike the murmuring fizz of an opening that usually christens a new college hoops campaign, we were treated to several high-profile clashes over the weekend. College basketball set out to establish a definitive starting point, and this year (more than any other in recent memory), it succeeded. There are inherent risks to overanalyzing single-game sample sizes, but even after just one weekend’s action, we were able to learn quite a bit about some of the teams headlining the opening weekend. 

Your Watercooler Moment. Stick to Dry Environments (or, Why Naval Ship Games Need to Only Take Place in San Diego).

Things Started Off Well, But Quickly Deteriorated With These Games

When inclement weather forecasts pushed the Syracuse-San Diego State game from Friday to Sunday, you knew this year’s slate of naval ship games were off to a bad start. That game, which concluded Sunday evening with Syracuse pretty much dominating the hometown Aztecs (62-49) in one of the Orange’s rare non-conference games outside the state of New York, was played under gorgeous 60-degree San Diego skies. The two other scheduled match-ups – Ohio State-Marquette in South Carolina and Georgetown-Florida in Jacksonville – did not proceed as planned, as both games were called off when officials noticed condensation developing on both playing surfaces. The Florida-Georgetown game tipped off and ran into the half with minimal fuss. Up the coastline, though, the slick playing surface aboard the USS Yorktown prompted coaches and players from Ohio State and Marquette to mop the court in the hope that some good old-fashioned clean-up work could diffuse mother nature’s influence on their much-hyped shipside season-opener. As both teams quickly learned, the condensation kept coming back, and officials then made the logical move of calling the game off. Spiritually, emotionally and patriotically, the outdoor aircraft carrier games are an excellent idea. Last season’s Carrier Classic, played before gorgeous vistas and naval troops, and featuring two of the nation’s most respected programs in North Carolina and Michigan State, was a definite win. And there have been few times when a college basketball non-conference game to begin the season has drawn so much national attention. It was a special night. Logistically, though, playing basketball games outdoors in November on the East Coast is fraught with risk, and event organizers learned as much Friday. If the aircraft carrier trend is to continue, the games must be played on the West Coast, where a more favorable late fall climate will increase the chances of staging contests without conflict.

Also Worth Chatting About. Give That Man a Contract (Or, Kevin Ollie Has His Squad Playing Hard).

Kevin Ollie Cannot Escape His Former Coach’s Shadow, But With Wins Like These, He May Not Have To (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The long-term status of UConn’s head coaching job remains unresolved for the moment, but we gained some clarity on the issue Friday night. Its leading candidate, former assistant Kevin Ollie, made a resounding statement to open his one-season job trial by knocking off Big Ten contender Michigan State 66-62 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The Huskies lost the core of last season’s underachieving yet talented team, including two first round draft picks (Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond) and two transfers (Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith). Backcourt mainstays Ryan Boatwright and Shabazz Napier carried the torch Friday night against the Spartans, with Napier pouring in 25 points on 8-for-16 shooting and Boatwright adding 13. Highly-touted freshman Omar Calhoun logged 25 minutes but finished with just one point, two rebounds and two assists. The season could not have begun in a better way for Ollie, who faces the massive burden of proving athletic director Warde Manuel he’s the right man for the job, the right personality to succeed the legend that preceded him in Storrs. There were concerns as to whether UConn would lack motivation this season, given their ineligibility for the postseason, but that was hardly the case Friday night. The Huskies played inspired basketball against a top-tier Big Ten foe known for its toughness and grit. If I were to grade Ollie’s job candidacy one game into the season, nothing less than an A+ would suffice.

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