Morning Five: 07.29.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 29th, 2013

morning5

  1. We have no idea what is going through P.J. Hairston‘s head these days, but whatever it is it is not good. The beleaguered (we can use that word at this point, right?) North Carolina guard was suspended indefinitely on Sunday night after receiving a citation for speeding and reckless driving on Saturday afternoon. Hairston was reportedly pulled over in a 2008 Acura TL driving 93 mph in a 65 mph zone. Hariston, who has been under public scrutiny since a June arrest for possession of marijuana with a gun assigned to nobody that the legal system in North Carolina is apparently comfortable sweeping under the rug, has been under “investigation” for his dealings with Haydn “Fats” Thomas, but has managed to escape any punishment until last night. Our definition of punishment may differ from what Roy Williams has in mind as Hairston still has until October for Midnight Madness and November when regular season games start. We keep on saying this, but at some point it would appear that Roy needs to cut ties with Hairston or risk incurring punishment for the program down the road. If he decides to keep Hairston it will be interesting to see how long he sits Hairston given their early-season schedule.
  2. TCU got a big boost on Friday when the NCAA cleared incoming freshman Karviar Shepherd to play this season. Shepherd had been waiting to hear from the NCAA regarding his eligibility because of questions regarding his academics at Prime Prep Academy, but apparently whatever paperwork was submitted was good enough for the NCAA to sign off on him. Shepherd may not be one of the nation’s elite incoming recruits (77th in ESPN’s rankings), but the addition of a 6’10” center should be a welcome addition for a Horned Frog program that finished last in the Big 12 last season.
  3. Late July might seem like a strange time to rework a college basketball coach’s contract, but that is what Loyola (IL) did as it extended Porter Moser through the 2017-18 season. We typically are a little bit leery of extending young coaches who just finished their second season (particularly if we are not aware of them being hot names for coaching vacancies), but Moser has done a nice job helping turn around the Ramblers who went 15-16 last season after going 7-23 in his first season. Of course some of this could be due to the increased maturity of his squad, which still ranks among the youngest in Division I. However, with 10 players returning this season and a new contract extension the pressure will be on Moser to perform soon.
  4. When we heard that Indiana State was building an on-campus statue for Larry Bird our first reaction was to wonder what took so long. Bird, who led the Sycamores to the 1979 NCAA Championship Game, will reportedly be in attendance as he will be honored with a 15-foot statute before the team’s first game of the season against Ball State on November 9. While there are certainly more iconic college basketball players we doubt that there is anybody who is intimately associated with a school as Bird is with Indiana State. With the relative resurgence the Sycamore program has seen in recent years it should be a nice added boost for the team to have the greatest player in the program’s history return to kick off their home opener.
  5. It has been 10 years since Lefty Driesell officially coached, but he made a return to the sidelines on Saturday to coach a team of former Maryland players in what is essentially a legends basketball league. Over the years supporters of Driesell have expressed their displeasure with how the school has treated his legacy in comparison to that of Gary Williams so it was nice to hear that Driesell is still associating himself with the school even if some of his supporters are still angry. We are rapidly approaching 30 years since Driesell last coached at Maryland so we are not sure that he will ever get his due there, but those who have actually followed the game and do not have an agenda are well aware of his contributions to the game and the school.
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Morning Five: 04.16.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 16th, 2013

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  1. I will start off today with a few words about Boston. We have been running this site for approximately six years now and there have been plenty of significant events/tragedies that we have not really talked about in this space for a variety of reasons, but this one hit closer to home for the primary reason that Boston was actually our home (at least for one of the two of us that run this site) for 11 years. I have not been back since leaving at the end of June for a new job, but was already planning on doing so this coming June well before the tragedy that transpired yesterday. I just want to send my condolences to those who lost loved ones yesterday and wish for a speedy recovery for all of those who were injured.
  2. We knew it was coming, but yesterday Nerlens Noel made it official that he would be entering the NBA Draft. Some pundits may argue that Noel should spend an extra year in college to rehab from a torn left ACL, but we do not see the benefit. Noel, who was considered by many to be the #1 pick before he tore his ACL, is still considered a potential #1 overall pick depending on which team gets that pick. As crazy as it sounds the potential #1 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft might get overshadowed on next year’s Kentucky team particularly if he is not 100% when he returns. There have not been many cases where an underclassman leaves early with such a significant injury, but these are exceptional circumstances.
  3. Plenty of people have mocked the NCAA’s new academic standards, but for many recruits those numbers can be hard to meet, which has led to a rise in the number of recruits who pursue alternative routes to college including junior college. As the article points out New York City only produced one Division I men’s basketball player who was academically eligible and the standards are about to get tougher. As John Infante points out the new standards will also alter the calculus of eligibility for players who do not go straight from high school to Division I basketball. This might seem like a small story now, but it could become a big issue once the new standards go into effect.
  4. Last season the Missouri Valley Conference was one of the best conferences in the country, but after it was announced that Creighton would be leaving we knew they were set for a downgrade. Yesterday we found out it would be a big downgrade as it was announced that Loyola (IL) would be replacing Creighton. Nothing against Loyola, which appears to be making attempts at improving its program by upgrading its facilities and hiring new coaches (unfortunately we are more familiar with their women’s coach than their men’s coach), but going from one of the top “mid-major” teams in the country to a 5-11 Horizon League team is a huge drop-off. Now the conference still has its fair share of heavyweights, but with this type of replacement we would not be surprised to see some other conferences try to poach some of the Missouri Valley Conference’s top programs.
  5. One of the few bright spots for Purdue last season was how young they were. Their fans could ignore their 8-10 Big Ten record as merely growing pains for an extremely young team. They can still have those hopes, but while they maintain their top underclassmen the Boilermakers have been losing quite a bit of their supporting cast with the most recent departure being Anthony Johnson who asked for and was granted a release by the school. Johnson put up decent numbers as a sophomore (4.9 points and 2.9 rebounds), but shot a putrid 36.2 percent from the floor and was expected to see his minutes decrease with most of the team’s top players returning.
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Morning Five: 07.25.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 25th, 2012

  1. Louisville has made headlines recently with their abundance of scholarship players and the need to cut down and they managed to do so yesterday for one player as incoming freshman Terry Rozier will be spending next season in prep school at Hargrave Military Academy with the apparent reason being to straighten out his academic standing. Rozier will also get to know Anton Gill, another Louisville commit, who will be spending next season at the same prep school. While this may seem like bad news for Louisville fans it is good news for the rest of us in that Peyton Siva’s backup at point guard will be Russ Smith and we all could use a little more Russ Smith in our lives.
  2. North Carolina State fans who have been waiting to see what has been expected to be a loaded Wolfpack team may have to wait until after the team’s summer trip to Europe to see their full arsenal as Mark Gottfried has indicated that injured point guard Lorenzo Brown may not play during the team’s trip to Spain as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery. The decision is not surprising as Gottfried says Brown is still only “between 75 and 80 percent healthy”. Given the goals of this Wolfpack team, which is a legitimate Final Four threat, this seems entirely reasonable although we are sure that Brown would love to take the court with his new teammates.
  3. A little over a month ago we mentioned the attempt by Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis to get Mississippi State and Loyola (IL) to play a rematch of their 1963 Regional semifinals in Jenison Field House to commemorate the game, which the Bulldogs played despite a court order forbidding them from playing a team containing African-Americans. Unfortunately for Hollis, the schools were unwilling to commit to playing at an off-campus site, but they were willing to schedule a home-and-home series with the first match-up occurring on December 13 in Chicago. While the games probably won’t mean much in the context of the two seasons they could serve as an important way to educate many people about a significant event and highlight the ability of sports to stand for something more than just the outcome of a game.
  4. The first game will be without the services of Mississippi State freshman Jacoby Davis, a 6’1″, 185-lb point guard who was new head coach Rick Ray’s first signee. Davis tore his ACL on Monday during individual workouts and will most likely miss the entire 2012-13 season. Ray was already facing a precarious backcourt situation with only Davis and juco transfer Divonte Bloodman projected as point guards next season — now with Davis out of the lineup, the Bulldogs will have to depend on Bloodman and hope for the best unless Ray can find another point guard in the bushes somewhere. Mississippi State was for a while one of the most reliable SEC programs under Rick Stansbury, but it appears like it’s going to be some time before the Bulldogs get back to that level of success.
  5. SEC basketball coaches often feel like they’re the stepchildren of the conference in a region and among local cultures that value college football exponentially more than their sport on the hardwood. So imagine how they felt this week when they received an email from the league offices telling them that their conference schedules — the ones that they had all agreed to in June — were changed. According to this report from Gary Parrish, the conference’s 14 coaches weren’t even informed that changes were afoot — their first notification on the matter came in the email. So what does it mean? Last month the coaches agreed to an 18-game schedule where each school would play a permanent rival twice, four other schools in home-and-homes, and the other eight teams once. This report says that the home-and-homes have changed, meaning that some schools’ schedules have gotten considerably harder (oh, we play Kentucky twice now?), while others have gotten easier. For a league that likes to tell anyone who will listen that they have the most money, the most success, the most everything… it sounds like Mike Slive’s group might want to invest in a communications liaison. Folks aren’t happy.
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Around The Blogosphere: December 12, 2010

Posted by nvr1983 on December 12th, 2010

If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com.

Top 25 Games

  • #11 Tennessee 83, #3 Pittsburgh 76: “Tennessee just DISMANTLED the #3 team in the nation on what was essentially their home court a day after learning a player they were counting on and practicing around wasn’t going to be available. Ho hum. Just another day in the life of Bruce Pearl and the Tennessee Volunteers. Don’t let the score fool you. After Pitt scored the first basket, it was All Vols. For the first eight minutes or so, it was a kind of stealthy ravaging. Up one. Up three. Up six. Eight. And then, with a little over twelve minutes to play in the first half you suddenly noticed that Tennessee was simply having its way with the Panthers and that it wasn’t a fluke. They were just beating them like it was what they were designed to do. And it looked almost effortless.” (Rocky Top Talk)
  • #4 Kansas 76, Colorado State 55: “The Jayhawks move to 9-0 tonight and head for a long week off before playing Southern California next Saturday.  The game had a few scares but they weren’t provided by the Rams.  Marcus Morris missed a large chunk of the first half after rolling his ankle under the basket.  Elijah Johnson also missed time due to an injury of some sort, theories included a separated shoulder, a torn tricep, and maybe a hangnail was ripped off.  Both players logged significant time in the 2nd half, so neither appears to be very serious at this point. As to the actual game, it was kind of a “we’re better than you, so please quit causing us problems” type of game.  Intensity came and went throughout.  The Jayhawks had trouble finding their rhythm in the high/low offense and didn’t have Marcus Morris to bail them out.  Colorado Sate had the lead cut down to 5 early in the second half and appeared to have raised Bill Self’s blood pressure.  The effect of that was for Kansas to go on their typical run and building a 15 point lead for the next several minutes.  As time went on, Kansas just continued to build the lead and won by 21.” (Rock Chalk Talk)
  • #5 Kansas State 68, Loyola (IL) 60: The Wildcats won a close game in what was Jacob Pullen’s homecoming.  (Bring on the Cats)
  • #6 Michigan State 77, Oakland 76: Taking a look from the Golden Grizzlies’ perspective about a pair of losses this week to Michigan State and Illinois. (Golden Grizzlies Gameplan)
  • #14 Syracuse 100, Colgate 43: “45 years ago, Syracuse and Colgate staged an epic game. Today, Colgate didn’t even score 45 points. Every single player on the Syracuse roster played and the Orange held the Raiders to a mere eight points in the first half as they enjoyed a 100-43 breather after the big Michigan State win. It was a one-sided affair, to say the least.” (Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician)
  • #16 Purdue 77, North Florida 57: “Purdue enjoyed a delicious cupcake at home tonight and played Purdue basketball for one half and then simply put it on cruise control in the second. JaJuan Johnson had 25 for the Boilermakers while E’Twaun Moore had 21 and the rest of the team napped on the bench.” (Boiled Sports)
  • #18 Minnesota 71, Eastern Kentucky 58: “Braving blizzard-like conditions and hitting the floor without one of their leaders, the Gophers overcame a slow start against a pesky 1-3-1 zone to take down Eastern Kentucky in game that was expected to be a blowout from the beginning.” (From the Barn and The Daily Gopher)
  • #21 Kentucky 82, Indiana 62: “The very best thing I can say about this game is that we won.  Let’s be honest, this was not Kentucky’s best game, but I will say that this was the best they have finished a game all year.  They were struggling against an inferior but dangerous opponent, and I have seen UK teams fail open in that situation like a burnt-out circuit breaker.  But not this team. In the end, the way they finished this tough rivalry game is encouraging.  The way Kentucky played 32 of the 40 minutes is a bit disconcerting, but as the old golf saying goes, “It isn’t how, it’s how many.”  This team got it done in the end when other teams haven’t in similar situations.” (A Sea of Blue and Inside the Hall)

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Jacob Pullen Calls Out Kansas State Fans

Posted by nvr1983 on December 12th, 2010

The relationship between players and fans has always been a delicate one. Fans by definition are fanatical and have mood swings that outsiders might view as worthy of institutionalization. They swing from highs after big wins to lows after closer-than-expected wins or, even worse, a loss. Historically, these relationships and the emotions that accompany sports have been arbitrated by sports media professionals who determine what interactions fans and athletes have. With the increase of social networking, and Twitter in particular, the wall created to separate fans from athletes has grown even thinner and may have disappeared in many cases. Typically, athletes stay above the fray with assistance from their coaches or athletic department. In some cases, however, those mechanisms of protection are not enough to prevent incidents from happening online.

One such example of that happened last night when Kansas State preseason All-American Jacob Pullen decided to vent on Twitter after he caught wind of the criticism being leveled against the team on various message boards following the Wildcats’ eight point victory over Loyola (IL) in a game that was not expected to be that close.

Fear the Beard: Pullen Calls out Wildcat Fans

While we can understand Pullen’s point of view, particularly after what was an emotional week culminating in what amounted to a homecoming game for Pullen, who had not played in his hometown of Chicago since he joined the Wildcats, we do not imagine that this series of Tweets will go over too well with Frank Martin when he hears about them. We suspect that when word gets back to Manhattan, Pullen will either have to issue an apology, limit who can see his account, or take down his account, a ban which would likely be extended to the entire team.

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RTC Live: Butler @ Loyola (Chicago)

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2010

Game #52.  RTC Live heads to Chicago for an early-season tilt between Horizon League foes.  Unbelievably, conference play is already here. 

Coming off a shocking loss to Evansville the Butler Bulldogs will open Horizon League play at the Gentile Center in Rogers Park, Chicago against the surprising Loyola (IL) Ramblers. You can catch the game on the Horizon League Network. Loyola is off to a 7-0 start after a narrow escape versus San Francisco on Saturday. Having returned their top seven scorers, the Ramblers have been able to get out of the gate quickly this season – and have played especially well at home. Butler has struggled a bit to replace Gordon Hayward and work some talented new freshman into the rotation and it showed on Saturday as the Bulldogs dropped a 71-68 overtime decision to the Purple Aces. Point guard Ronald Nored missed the game against Evansville due to a head injury he suffered against Siena, and it’s questionable whether he will be able to return for this game. Last season, this matchup went down to the wire with Butler pulling off 48-47 victory only after Loyola missed two shots in its final possession. The Ramblers are a team-oriented outfit with five players scoring in double-figures. Senior Geoff McCammon leads the way with 14.4 points per game. Join John Templon of Chicago College Basketball at 6:45 p.m. CT as we attempt to discover if Loyola has what it takes to be a force in the Horizon League this season, or if Butler will not relinquish the crown without a fight.

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Horizon League Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

The Horizon League finished its regular season on Saturday. The first round matchups for the tournament are all set. Of course the favorite to win the conference tournament is Butler. The Bulldogs went a perfect 18-0 in conference. The Bulldogs played without star forward Gordon Hayward – the assumed Horizon League Player of the Year – and still managed to defeat Valparaiso on the road on Friday. Butler will be playing at home and receives a double-bye into the semifinals.  The team joining Butler with the double-bye on the other side of the bracket? Wright State. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet. Much more on the Horizon League Tournament, the season that was, and everything else.

How did they/I do? Here is the media’s preseason poll compared with what actually happened this season in the Horizon League. For fun, I’ve also included what I said in preseason.

Preseason (Media/John)

  • 1/1. Butler
  • 2/2. Wright State
  • 3/4. Cleveland State
  • 4/3. Milwaukee
  • 5/5. Green Bay
  • 6/8. Detroit
  • 7/9. Youngstown State
  • 8/7. Valparaiso
  • 9/10. UIC
  • 10/6. Loyola

Actual

  1. Butler
  2. Wright State
  3. Green Bay
  4. Milwaukee
  5. Cleveland State
  6. Valparaiso
  7. Detroit
  8. Loyola
  9. UIC
  10. Youngstown State

Everyone knew who the top two teams were going to be coming into the season. Wright State returned a veteran team and Butler is a monster with its talent. After that it gets murky. Apparently both the media and I overrated Cleveland State just a smidge. I’m happy though that I had every school within two places of where the actually finished. Green Bay outperformed expectations a bit and since the Phoenix get Youngstown State at home to start, expect to see them in Indianapolis.

More about the HL Tournament

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on February 19th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings

  1. Butler 17-0
  2. Wright State 11-5
  3. Green Bay 10-6
  4. Valparaiso 10-7
  5. Cleveland State 9-7
  6. Milwaukee 8-8
  7. Detroit 7-9
  8. Loyola (IL) 5-11
  9. UIC 2-14
  10. Youngstown State 2-14

Top Storylines

  • The quest for perfection: Butler is now one game away from perfection during the regular season in the Horizon League. The final game is at Valparaiso next Friday. Before that, though, Siena will test the Bulldogs in the BracketBuster game on Saturday. It is the first nationally televised game at 11:00 AM EST.
  • The hot team: Now the hot teams are Wright State and Milwaukee. The Raiders have moved into a convincing second place in conference, but they still have two road games remaining. Milwaukee has climbed into the sixth seed in conference and has two games in Chicago after it’s BracketBuster game to improve its seeding. The Panthers lost to Loyola at home earlier this season, so they’ll be looking for revenge at the Gentile Center.
  • The most exciting team: Valparaiso is probably a season away from being a top contender in the Horizon League, but the Crusaders sure do play an entertaining style of basketball. They’ve haven’t played a game in the 60s points-wise since going to UIC on January 21.
  • The race for #2:  Technically four teams can get to 11-7 in conference still and capture the double-bye in the Horizon League tournament opposite of Butler. Here are the four teams still trying to capture that spot. If Wright State wins out they’ll obviously take the top spot, but that might be more difficult than it seems. The game at Cleveland State is a big pothole.

Team: Remaining League Games, Predicted Record

  • Wright State: @Youngstown State, @Cleveland State, 12-6
  • Green Bay: @UIC, @Loyola, 11-7
  • Cleveland State: Detroit, Wright State, 10-8
  • Valparaiso: Butler, 10-8

And a projected first round:

  • #10 Youngstown @ #3 Green Bay
  • #7 Detroit @ #6 Milwaukee
  • #9 UIC @ #4 Cleveland State
  • #8 Loyola @ #5 Valparaiso

The 5-8 and 6-7 games in this scenario would be excellent. Valparaiso just held off a furious late-game charge from Loyola to force the Ramblers onto the road for the first playoff game. Also, because of Detroit’s fall from grace they’d now have to play at Milwaukee in the first round. That’s a big switch.

A Possession-Free World

I keep possession-free statistics for the entire Horizon League. Here are some superlatives at this moment in conference.

  • Best Offense: Butler (#2 is Valparaiso)
  • Worst Offense: UIC
  • Best Defense: Butler (#2 is Detroit)
  • Worst Defense: Valparaiso
  • Luckiest: Green Bay
  • Unluckiest: Detroit

Another fun possession-free fact is that there are four teams bunched together now in the middle of the league. While Butler is the clear top dog, Wright State is number two, Detroit is number three (contrary to what their record says) and then there is a bunch. Milwaukee, Green Bay, Cleveland State and Valparaiso all get it done in different ways, but they’re essentially the same in terms of play in conference. Milwaukee plays a little more defense than the others, Valparaiso has a bit more explosive offense — but when you get down to it they all score about 0.1 points per possession more than their opponents in the league.

Finally, Bracket Busters is this weekend. My predictions for the 10 games.

  1. Siena vs. Butler – Bulldogs squeak out a close one
  2. Wright State at Ohio – Raiders should win, even on the road
  3. Indiana State vs. Green Bay – Phoenix are tough to beat at home
  4. Toledo vs. Cleveland State – Vikings should crush Rockets at home
  5. Valparaiso at Bowling Green – A tough game on the road, Crusaders might fall
  6. Niagara vs. Milwaukee – Panthers with a tough game against a MAAC foe, but at home
  7. Eastern Michigan vs. Detroit – The Titans can get back on track with a win
  8. Loyola at Creighton – A very tough match-up, Ramblers should fall in Omaha
  9. Youngstown State at UC Riverside – Tough trip west for the Penguins
  10. UIC at Evansville – Flames struggle on the road, might lose this bottom feeder battle

Overall it looks like the Horizon League could go 7-3 in BracketBusters this weekend. It will be a lot of fun to watch – well at least what few games are available on tv. Butler is the only Horizon League team on national television this season.

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on February 12th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings

  1. Butler 15-0
  2. Cleveland State 9-4
  3. Green Bay 9-5
  4. Wright State 9-5
  5. Valparaiso 8-7
  6. Detroit 7-7
  7. Milwaukee 5-8
  8. Loyola (IL) 4-10
  9. Youngstown State 2-12
  10. UIC 2-12

Top Storylines

Going for perfection: Butler is 15-0 and has officially clinched the Horizon League regular season. This comes with two benefits. 1) The tournament will be played in Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, and 2) The Bulldogs will be one of two top seeds that receive a double-bye. The Bulldogs have a 66.5% chance of finishing the regular conference season undefeated. A game at home against Siena in the Bracket Busters could be fun.

Streaking Vikings: Cleveland State is the Horizon League’s second hottest team. The Vikings have won their last six Horizon League games. Now of course they have to play Butler on Saturday, but it’s been a very good run.

Chicago showdown: UIC and Loyola are near the bottom of the league standings, but it won’t stop their rivalry game on Saturday night from being a heated affair. The Ramblers went to the Pavilion and took down the Flames in the last match-up. Now they get a return game in Rogers Park.

The race for #2:  As you can see there are now 6 teams that are holding out hope of making the #2 spot in the conference standings and earning a double-bye opposite Butler. Here’s my best guess at their chances from what I’ve seen this season:

Team: Remaining Games, Predicted Record

  • Wright State: Green Bay, Detroit, @Youngstown State, @Cleveland State; 12-6
  • Cleveland State: Butler, @Green Bay, @Milwaukee, Detroit, Wright State; 11-7
  • Green Bay: @Wright State, Cleveland, @UIC, @Loyola; 11-7 (would lose tie-breaker to Cleveland State)
  • Valparaiso: @Youngstown State, Loyola, Butler; 10-8
  • Detroit: Milwaukee, @Wright State, @Cleveland State, @Youngstown State; 9-9

Of course the Horizon League is almost impossible to predict, so who knows if this is actually how it would play out. But if it did the first round would be:

  • #10 UIC @ #3 Cleveland State
  • #7 Milwaukee @ #6 Detroit
  • #9 Youngstown State @ #4 Green Bay
  • #8 Loyola @ #5 Valparaiso

The other race in the conference, besides that race for second place, is the race for fifth. Avoiding that 6-7 game would be a good idea for any team that wants to keep playing past the first round. It is going to be a very difficult game combining two teams that will be frustrated to be in that position. After Detroit’s home loss to Green Bay on Thursday, the Titans appeared to be headed towards that game.

Why Can’t Detroit Win the Close Ones?: Detroit is now 7-7 in the Horizon League. The Titans’ seven losses are by a combined 21 points. Yes, they’re losing their games by an average of three points per game in conference (and that includes both Butler games). Detroit also has close losses to Tennessee State and DePaul out of conference. Why can’t the Titans break out and win a close one? They survived against UIC at home on January 30th for their only victory by five points or fewer this season.  It will be interesting to see if this trend continues to haunt Detroit down the stretch and ultimately doom their chances of making some noise in the conference tournament. The ironic thing is that Detroit might be the team best equipped to knock Butler off. The Titans have a big frontline that has resulted in a 2-point overtime loss at home and a 5-point road loss to the Bulldogs this season.

Player of the Year Race:  It’s Gordon Hayward of Butler and no one else is particularly close. He’s fourth in the league in scoring and rebounding, but that doesn’t begin to describe his value to the Bulldogs. He just seems to have a knack for making the big play exactly when Butler needs it. It’s worth noting though that he’s scored fewer than 10 points in four conference games. Of course he also scored 22 points and grabbed 17 boards as the Bulldogs officially captured the league regular season title against Youngstown State on Thursday.

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings

  1. Butler 12-0
  2. Wright State 8-4
  3. Cleveland State 7-4
  4. Green Bay 7-5
  5. Detroit 7-5
  6. Valparaiso 6-6
  7. Milwaukee 5-6
  8. Loyola (IL) 4-8
  9. Youngstown State 2-10
  10. UIC 1-11

Top Storylines

  • A difference of opinion: Butler might be the 18th team in the nation (according to the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll) or they might be the 23rd team (according to the AP poll), but the Bulldogs have really confused people this season. Pomeroy thinks they’re only 28th. The rest of the Horizon League schedule isn’t going to provide us with any answers either.
  • Light Bracket Busters schedule: the Horizon League got some good matchups when the Bracket Buster lineup was announced. There is a made-for-TV game between Butler and Siena, but after that there are a bunch of winnable games. One tough one might be Loyola (IL) at Creighton.
  • Last chance?: Saturday might be UIC’s final chance to get a win during regular season Horizon League play. The Flames have four road games and two tough home games against the Wisconsin schools remaining on the schedule after they play Youngstown State at the Pavilion. If the Flames fall to the Penguins then a winless 2010 is a possibility.

Team Breakdowns

  • Green Bay. The two Wisconsin schools had off on Thursday because they’re gearing up for a rematch of the 71-51 beatdown the Panthers handed the Phoenix on Saturday, January 9. Green Bay has slipped lately. The Phoenix lost two home games last weekend against Butler and Valparaiso. The game against the Crusaders was particularly painful as Valparaiso is climbing up the Horizon League standings. How Rahmon Fletcher goes determines how the Phoenix go in general. He scored just seven points on 2-10 shooting against Valparaiso. The junior guard still ranks third in the conference in scoring.
  • Milwaukee.  The Panthers are also preparing for their local rival. Squeaking out a narrow victory over Valparaiso last weekend kept Milwaukee in the hunt for a middle of the standings spot. The Panthers are still a little behind at 5-6, but they still have a game versus Youngstown and a weekend in Chicago to make up ground. The big game will be February 18th against Cleveland State. Ricky Franklin is another lead guard excelling in conference play. The senior is sixth in the league in scoring and fourth in assists.
  • Butler.  The Bulldogs are two-thirds of the way to an undefeated regular season in the Horizon League. But winning the regular season hasn’t been a problem for the Bulldogs in the past. It’s been taking care of business in the conference tournament, which is played on Butler’s home court. With a weakening bubble the Bulldogs probably could get in without the automatic bid, but to be sure they’ll have to take care of business in Indianapolis. The Bulldogs are led by Gordon Hayward, a sophomore who ranks fourth in points, third in rebounds and fifth in FG% in the conference. He is currently #30 in the 2011 Mock Draft on NBADraft.net but Chad Ford has him as a mid-to-late first rounder this season. Butler’s march through the Horizon League continues on Saturday when Wright State comes to town.
  • Valparaiso.  At .500 in conference Valparaiso has been one of the surprises of the season in the Horizon League. They’ve steadily improved as the season has gone on. A loss on Thursday at home to Wright State put some damper on the party, but there’s still a lot of potential here. Their leading scorer, and the leading scorer in the Horizon League, is Brandon Wood. He is just a sophomore. He’s complemented by junior forward Cory Johnson who ranks fifth in points per game and second in field goal percentage in the conference. Valparaiso’s slow start hurt their Bracket Buster match-up as they were given a game at Bowling Green.
  • Youngstown State.  The Penguins are a veteran team that just hasn’t figured things out this season. Part of the problem is the lack of a dominant talent. Seniors DeAndre Mays – 11th in points, 11th in assists, and Sirlester Martin – 11th in rebounding, are very good complementary parts, but there is no superstar to drive the engine. Vytas Sulskis comes off the bench to give the Penguins some more scoring power, but it hasn’t been enough. Youngstown had Loyola on the ropes on Thursday before falling in overtime. Their Bracket Buster game will take them all the way to Riverside, California, to take on the UC Riverside Highlanders.
  • UIC.  UIC’s game against Youngstown on Saturday is going to be one of the more interesting game of the Horizon League season. These two teams are essentially playing for last place in the conference. The Flames have lost some heartbreakers lately, including a 3-point loss to Detroit and a 5-point loss to crosstown rival Loyola, but that’s not cutting it. The Flames haven’t won in 2010 and might finish the new year without a victory if something doesn’t change soon. Their Bracket Buster game in Evansville will be a tough but winnable game. A scary thought – UIC could be worse next season after Horizon League assist leader Spencer Stewart graduates.
  • Loyola (IL).  The Ramblers used to be one of the deepest teams in the Horizon League, but injuries have destroyed that depth. Talented sophomore swingman Jordan Hicks is out for the season with a broken foot and Aric Van Weelden has missed the last six games. Without them the Ramblers have really had to tighten up their rotation. After Terrance Hill was ejected early from the game against Youngstown State guards Courtney Stanley and Geoff McCammon both played almost the entire game. Stanley ranks second in the Horizon League in assists and when he’s on Loyola shoots much better from the field. Also, senior Andy Polka is first in the conference in rebounding. He should be back next season too after receiving a medical redshirt for his junior year.
  • Cleveland State.  After playing a killer non-conference schedule the Vikings have slowly started to get on track in the Horizon League. They’ve won their last five games and have a three-guard attack that is really humming along. Still, they’re at 11-12 overall, so the Vikings need to keep piling up wins. The leader of the charge has been junior guard Norris Cole. He ranks second in the conference in scoring. Jereme Montgomery and Trevon Harmon also average double-figures. Cleveland State drew a terrible Toledo team from the MAC as their Bracket Buster game, and it’s not really going to help them at all.
  • Detroit.  The Titans have proven they can beat the bottom tier of the conference, but they’ve really struggled against the top teams. They lost two close games to Butler, lost a home game against Wright State and lost at Green Bay. In order to keep their place in the top half of the conference the Titans have to win at Valparaiso on Saturday, which will be no easy task. Detroit is going to play Eastern Michigan in the Bracket Busters. This might be a good time to point out that while the Horizon League is down this season, it’s not the MAC. Central Michigan, which sits in second in the MAC, lost to both Wright State and Detroit on the road earlier this season. Sophomore forward Eli Holman is second in rebounding and 1st in field goal percentage in the conference.
  • Wright State.  The Raiders don’t have anyone that really wows you statistically, but they work great as a team. Junior guard Vaughn Duggins has returned from injury to become one the of the top guards in the Horizon League. He’s currently ninth in the conference in scoring. Other than him Wright State gets it done with good defense and a balanced attack. They’ve won their last four games and might be the toughest test Butler has remaining in conference. Their game on Saturday should be a good one. If anyone has a right to be angry about the Bracket Buster game it’s Wright State. The Raiders needed a good opponent in order to bolster than NIT credentials, but were given Ohio (12-10, 3-5 in MAC). Close losses at Washington and Nebraska really sting right now, as well as an inexplicable loss to Miami (OH). Change those results and Brad Brownell’s team might be looking at the bubble.
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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by jstevrtc on January 23rd, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings:

  1. Butler 8-0
  2. Green Bay 6-2
  3. Detroit 5-3
  4. Wright State 4-4
  5. Valparaiso 4-4
  6. Milwaukee 3-4
  7. Cleveland State 3-4
  8. Loyola (IL) 3-5
  9. Youngstown State 2-6
  10. UIC 1-7

Top Storylines:

  • Home team domination. It is tough to win on the road in the Horizon League. Home teams are 29-8 in league play this season. That’s why you see so many teams bunched up right around .500. The only teams that seem to be bucking this trend are Butler and UIC. The Flames are having problems winning anywhere (though their one victory did come over Detroit at the Pavilion) and the Bulldogs play well anywhere. Even Butler’s two closest games have come on the road at Loyola and Detroit.
  • Hot button tournament. The Horizon League Tournament format is raising some ire lately. The tournament features double-byes for the Top 2 seeds and forces everyone except those two teams to play on back-to-back nights at some point. This can be troubling for a team trying to win its way into the NCAA Tournament (especially considering the tournament is played on the home court of the highest seed). A real premium is placed on the 18-game regular season conference schedule which uses a true home-away series.

Team Breakdowns:

I’m going to do things a little differently this week. This will probably be an every-other-week sort of thing. I keep detailed “per possessions” results of all the teams in the Horizon League during conference play and I wanted to share some insights about the conference that come from those numbers.

  • The Luckiest: In conference play, that award goes to Green Bay. This is a function of the fact that the Phoenix suffered a bad loss to their rivals at Milwaukee. Green Bay plays much better at home than they do on the road and five of their eight games have been at the Resch Center.
  • The Unluckiest: Detroit is the winner here. The Titans are the second best team in the Horizon League according to the numbers, but they managed to lose an unbelievably close game to Butler at home and lost squeakers to UIC and Green Bay on the road. There is no more margin for error for Ray McCallum’s team if they want to be in the top two. Wright State comes to Detroit on Saturday for another key game.
  • Burning up the nets: Of course, Butler leads the league in points per possession. The Bulldogs have a ton of offensive talent. Also, Green Bay with Rahmon Fletcher and Bryquis Perine are second. What might surprise people is that Valparaiso ranks third. The Crusaders are led by the Horizon League’s leading scorer, Brandon Wood. The sophomore scores more than 18 PPG. Of course Valparaiso also makes every Horizon League team look like the Bulldogs on offense, which explains the Crusaders’ 4-4 conference record.
  • Making life difficult for opponents: Detroit has the best defense in the league. It is even better than Butler’s on a per possession basis during conference play (the Bulldogs rank second).  The Titans have a huge front line that is forcing opponents to shoot a lot of contested shots. Milwaukee is in the middle of the conference pack regarding defense, as well. The Panthers have tons of trouble scoring, but a tight defense has kept them in games all season.
  • The frontrunner: Oh yes, you know this is Butler. The Bulldogs have the best offense (by far) and the second best defense in the league. Their efficiency margin per possession is twice as good as any other team. This is a team that could run the table. Now, there will be hiccups along the way, like Thursday’s near-miss against Loyola. Detroit is a solid second, but Green Bay currently holds the edge by a game in conference record. The race for second, which might also include Wright State, is going to be exciting to watch. Typically, that’s the team that gets the chance to knock off Butler in the championship game, so I’m sure everyone in the conference will be paying close attention.


Saturday’s Games (times Eastern):

  • Wright State @ Detroit – Saturday at 2 p.m.
  • Valparaiso @ Loyola – Saturday at 4 p.m.
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ATB: Where is the Louisville Defense?

Posted by rtmsf on January 22nd, 2010

Louisville Joins UNC on the Early BubbleSeton Hall 80, Louisville 77.  We realize of course that Louisville has had a tendency in the Pitino era to start off slowly and finish strong, but we have a feeling that isn’t going to happen this year.  The problem is with a Pitino staple, their defense, the efficiency of which is currently the worst in the last five years for his teams.  The Cards allow a very average 46% from two and 35% from three, which mitigates the robust amount of turnovers that they   force in their trapping defense.  And tonight’s game against Seton Hall is a good example of the defensive struggles that Louisville is enduring this year — the Pirates shot 53% from the field, put all five starters in double figures, and even the human cannon known as Jeremy Hazell (25/5) hit a good percentage (9-12 FG) against the Card defense.  So what’s the answer?  We’re not sure that there is one with the personnel Pitino has at his disposal.  In the last three games (all losses), the Cards have given up greater than 1.15 points per possession against teams that do not typically do that well in that regard.  This loss puts Louisville at 12-7 and 3-3 in the Big East, but we could easily see seven or eight more losses in the conference for the Cards should they not tighten up that defense in the next few weeks.  An 8-10 record, even in the loaded Big East, may not be enough given that really hasn’t beaten a “good” team all season (and only three in the KenPom top 100!).  Seton Hall should be proud of itself for stepping up to take this game, which they very nearly let get away from them in the last few minutes.  Having lost four of five, the Pirates could have easily folded up the tent and allowed Louisville to steal a much-needed road win, but Bobby Gonzalez’s group instead showed their mettle and put came out with a win in one of their best performances of the season.

Seton Hall Didn't Back Down From Louisville (AP/Bill Kostroun)

Um, Who? UCLA 62, Washington 61. Someone named Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, a reserve guard who had taken only 22 shots all season coming into tonight’s game, received the ball at halfcourt with three seconds remaining on the clock and does what all players who are thrust in that position do: three dribbles, rise and fire.  His shot from the top of the key at the buzzer was all net, and UCLA earned a hard-fought win over what has to be one of the most disappointing teams (other than these very Bruins) in the country in UW. (see below at 1:00)  We’ve stopped trying to predict the crazy Pac-10 this year, but given just how poorly UCLA has played on both ends of the floor this season, Washington has no excuse for dropping this game, even in Pauley Pavilion.  Quincy Pondexter had 23/6, but he didn’t get much help with Isaiah Thomas only adding 11 and nobody else in double figures.  For a team averaging nearly 80 PPG, they were well below their normal offensive output.  As for UCLA, all we can say is that when a player like Abdul-Hamid is taking your game-winning shots, even if he’s making them, you have tremendous problems to solve.  All that said, it wouldn’t shock us if Washington ran off ten straight in this league now that we’re piling on them here.

Super Mids Keep Rolling.  #10 Gonzaga and #20 Butler got scares in their respective conferences tonight, but as usual, they both came out with another win.

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