#rushthetrip Day One: The Pit Delivers

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 6th, 2014

RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.

New Mexico’s famed stomping grounds “The Pit” marked the first stop on my #rushthetrip. Considering I tacked on some 600 miles to the journey with this eastern loop into New Mexico, getting to Albuquerque was quite clearly a priority. And why wouldn’t it be? The Pit has long been one of college basketball’s most-prized stages, and Sports Illustrated even ranked the Lobos’ home floor as the 13th greatest venue of the 20th century – not just in college basketball, mind you, but in all of sports. I think the relatively obscure location also offers an element of intrigue – The Pit possesses that hidden gem feel to it, what with Albuquerque’s relatively isolated post on New Mexico’s high desert and the wide open spaces all around. End summary: this was a place I had to find a way to get to.

Even A Little Snow Couldn't Keep Things Quiet Inside The Pit

Even A Little Snow Couldn’t Keep Things Quiet Inside The Pit

Oh but the weather gods didn’t make it easy. A rare New Mexican snowstorm (or so I heard) turned a seven-and-a-half hour drive into something closer to 10, but I arrived at the arena with a few minutes to spare. Emphasis on few. Honestly, though, the later arrival time probably worked out for the best, as walking down the ramp to the floor into an already-buzzing Pit offered a truly imposing first impression. When Deshawn Delaney led the home team down onto the floor (an odd leader, I agree), I couldn’t help but harken back to a John Feinstein observation after he visited there, when he likened the combatants to Roman gladiators, “emerging into a wall of sound.” The snow may have been falling outside and the opponent was a less-than-intimidating Wyoming team, but the combination of arena noise and the emerging-out-of-nowhere, sharply descending gateway to the floor, created an entrance fit for Spartacus.

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Bracket Prep: Louisville, New Mexico, Ohio, & Mississippi Valley State

Posted by EJacoby on March 11th, 2012

As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket. In this post, we have your Big East, Mountain West, MAC, and SWAC conference champions. Here’s what you need to know about these recent bid winners.


Peyton Siva was Named Big East Tournament MVP (AP Photo/F. Franklin)

  • Big East Champion (26-9, 14-8)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #18/#20/#18
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +11.5
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #4-#5

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Louisville might be one of the toughest teams in America to project for the NCAA Tournament, by virtue of the fact that they’ve had such a schizophrenic season full of ups and downs. After winning 11 games in a row to start the season, the Cardinals then dropped five of seven. Then, after going on another hot streak to win six Big East games in a row, Louisville dropped four of its final six regular season contests before its most recent four-game surge to win the Big East Tournament. So which team should we expect to show up next week? The story will be told in the type of opponent that Rick Pitino‘s team draws.
  2. Louisville has almost no offensive firepower to speak of — six players average between nine and 14 points per game, but they can’t shoot straight (48% from two; 31% from three) and have trouble avoiding long scoring droughts — rather, the Cardinals have won 26 games through its exceptionally tough defense (ranked #2 in defensive efficiency). They cause over 15 turnovers per game and force teams into tough shots both on the interior and beyond the three-point line. In the Cardinals’ last 10 games, their opponent has only reached 60 points three times. It’s somewhat instructive, though, that Louisville went 6-4 in those games because they broke the 60-point barrier only four times themselves.
  3. We’d suggest that you be careful in presuming that a Big East Tournament champion is poised to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament just because they’re the Big East champion. Marquette was the only solid offensive team that the Cards defeated this week, and they’re likely to face teams that can really cause them some problems in the first two rounds. As a potential #4 or #5 seed, Louisville could be matched up against a dangerous team like Long Beach State (and Casper Ware) in the first game and a team like Creighton (and Doug McDermott) in the next round. While Pitino’s defense is likely to keep the Cards in either game, they’ll have significant trouble scoring enough points down the stretch to pull out a victory, while the other teams have players who can make plays. For that reason, this is a team that you’ll want to think carefully about putting deep into your bracket — the Cardinals can be successful playing other offensively-challenged teams, but those teams tend to not play very far into March and will be few and far between.

New Mexico

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Night Line: Meet New Mexico, the Mountain West’s Most Complete Team

Posted by EJacoby on February 16th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

In a two-day span, the entire complexion of the Mountain West conference has changed. Those who don’t think that’s a big deal should consider that the MW is actually the fifth strongest league in the country according to cumulative conference RPI, ranking above both the Pac-12 (no surprise there) and the ACC. It appeared as if UNLV was the team to beat in this league, but a shocking loss to TCU on Tuesday night left the door open for the winner of Wednesday’s showdown between the other two top competitors to get a leg up in the race. New Mexico wound up victorious in this matchup, winning at Viejas Arena over No. 18 San Diego State to add a huge road win to its resume and move into sole possession of first place in the conference. The Lobos host UNLV at home this weekend in the final matchup between the Mountain West’s ‘big three’ teams, and a win in The Pit will make the title race theirs to lose. The only MW team of the three that’s not currently ranked in any top 25 poll, Steve Alford‘s squad may actually be the most complete team of the bunch.

Steve Alford's Lobos are Rising to the Top of the Mountain West Conference (AP Photo/I. Brekken)

Wednesday night was a revenge victory for the Lobos, who were thoroughly beaten by San Diego State in Albuquerque back on January 18. New Mexico returned the favor by jumping out to an early lead and extending it to double digits in the second half to a point where the home team could not mount a big enough comeback. Shockingly, the Lobos got it done this time while seeing nothing from their top playmaking guard, Tony Snell, who was held scoreless in the game after he had only scored three points in their first matchup. But that’s what separated these two teams on this night — SDSU got virtually nothing from its top guard Chase Tapley, and the Aztec offense completely stalled for long stretches. New Mexico, meanwhile, was just fine without Snell as their other stars shined and a multitude of other players added important contributions. UNM certainly proved that they were the deeper and more complete team on Wednesday night.

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Set Your TiVo: 01.18.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 18th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are lots of good conference matchups tonight across the country. We will give you full breakdowns of the two best games to watch, including a big-time Big East matchup early in the evening. Check the comments section for other games to track tonight!

Cincinnati at #12 Connecticut – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Yancy Gates and UC Are Trending Up, Up, Up (AP)

  • Cincinnati is an impressive 4-1 in true road games this season, including victories at Georgia, Pittsburgh, and Georgetown. They have played at an increasingly high level and are 9-1 since the brawl against Xavier that left several players suspended. At full strength now, the Bearcats will not be intimidated in Gampel Pavilion and will look to establish their physical defense early in the game. Mick Cronin’s team gives up just 58.8 points per game on the season and is strong with the ball, averaging a +5.5 in turnover margin. On the offensive end, Sean Kilpatrick has developed into a true scorer this season (16.2 PPG) and will look to establish an inside-out game with Yancy Gates (12.3 PPG, 8.9 RPG) to put the UConn defense in a difficult position. Establishing their brand of physical game early on will give Cincinnati a chance to win another big road game.
  • UConn has had their ups and downs this season, though the Huskies are still undefeated at home and have perhaps the most talented roster in the Big East. It’s looking like Ryan Boatright will not be available tonight as he’s being investigated by the NCAA, which could be a significant blow to the Huskies’ offense. The freshman, averaging about 10 points, three rebounds, and three assists per game, is adept at creating his own shot, but then again UConn has been dealing with suspensions and off-court issues all season and should be fine without him. Stud big man Andre Drummond continues to improve and gain confidence, averaging 15 points, 12 boards, and 2.5 blocks in his previous two games. Going inside early and often has been working for the Huskies, allowing Jeremy Lamb (17.9 PPG) to create his own shot without the defense keyed in on him all the time. Allowing just 36.8% field goal shooting in conference, UConn can match the defensive brand of basketball that Cincinnati brings to this game.
  • There are some great matchups to watch in this game, including Kilpatrick vs. Lamb on the wing as explosive scorers and Gates vs. Drummond inside as a clash of interior styles. Who wins tonight could come down to who is making the most shots, which seems obvious, but really applies here between two teams with similar physical defenses and offensive playmakers. Give Connecticut the advantage at home.
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