ATB: Code Red at Notre Dame

Posted by rtmsf on January 27th, 2009

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News & Notes. A couple of really bad ideas tonight…

  • Please make this stop immediately.
  • One game?!?! Dude stepped on Chase Budinger’s FACE.  CUSA should be ashamed of itself for this penalty.   Well, he was sorry, guess that makes it all better.

Notre Dame is in Serious Trouble. Marquette 71, Notre Dame 64. The Irish are now sitting at four losses in a row, with the following four games on tap: @ Pitt, @ Cincy, @ UCLA, Louisville.  Ridiculous.  This is the kind of stretch that can derail an entire season.  At 12-7 (3-5) after tonight’s second straight home loss, Notre Dame is staring the NIT right in the face if they can’t come out of this tailspin soon.  Kyle McAlarney is most to blame for this downslide, as he has shot a putrid 14-45 in the last three games – without more production from him, the Irish aren’t going anywhere.  The Big East isn’t for the faint at heart, and it appears that Georgetown and ND have been the most negatively affected by its strength to date.  As for Marquette, who had the Warriors Golden Eagles at 7-0 in this conference?  They just continue to surprise, getting big nights from any one of their four stars in a given game (tonight’s stud was Jerel McNeal with 27/4).  And the Eagles may not be done yet – with their upcoming schedule, it’s not preposterous to imagine that Marquette could be 13-0 going into its last five conference games on Feb. 21 (which are very tough).  We still wonder what will happen to MU when they play someone with legitimate size (their studs average 6’3 in height), but it hasn’t hurt them yet.

Oklahoma is Getting No Love From the MediaOklahoma 89, Oklahoma St. 81. In tonight’s Bedlam game, Oklahoma continued its relatively quiet march through the Big 12 (now 6-0) with efficient precision, shooting a ridiculous 58% and withstanding twelve threes from OSU to win its twentieth game of the year.  Why isn’t this team getting more attention?  They have arguably the best player in the country in Blake Griffin (who had his 17th dub-dub tonight with 26/19), they are highly efficient on both ends of the floor and they rebound like maniacs.  Oh, and they haven’t had a close game in their last eight (since the anomalous Arkansas loss four weeks ago).  OSU put up a good fight, cutting the Sooners’ 14-pt lead to only one with seven minutes remaining, but OU responded with what else – going to their NPOY candidate time and time again for kickouts and foul opportunities.   OU should continue its winning ways for at least three more games until a trip to Baylor on February 11th.

On Tap Tuesday (all times EST).

  • Kentucky @ Ole Miss (ESPN) – 7pm. It really wouldn’t surprise us if UK went 16-0 in the SEC this year.  Really.  The league is that bad.
  • Maryland v. Boston College (ESPN2) – 7:30pm. This is an interesting matchup of potential ACC bubble teams.  Both need this one badly.
  • Texas @ Baylor (ESPN360) – 9pm. Baylor’s looking a little shaky of late (losing 3 of 6); they need to protect their home court.
  • Purdue @ Wisconsin (ESPN) – 9pm. Two teams heading in opposite directions – can UW salvage their season?
  • VCU v. Northeastern (ESPNU) – 9pm. Game of the Night that nobody can watch.  The top of the CAA is up for grabs.
  • BYU @ Utah (The Mtn) – 10pm. Act 1 of the Holy War.
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Stat Nerds of the World, Unite.

Posted by rtmsf on December 29th, 2008

If you know anything about us here at RTC, you know that we love numbers.  We love breaking down game stats and looking for secrets in the offensive and defensive efficiency ratings that will help us better understand why Team X is playing so poorly or why Team Y is much better than their ranking.  We also love statistical oddities – little factoids of generally meaningless but still interesting data that we can bring up at RTC office parties and cocktail functions so that we’ll seem edumacated and wicked smart about the ins and outs of college basketball.  Or at least so that we can impress Dickie V when we next run into him at a spring training Rays game.  Yeah, that.

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So here are a few of the statistical items that we find interesting as we approach conference season – perhaps you will also.  (all stats furnished by basketballstate.com)

  • These guys had better avoid foul trouble. UAB’s Robert Vaden, Texas’ AJ Abrams and Virginia Tech’s AD Vassallo each average over 36 minutes per game for their teams.
  • Get these men the ball! Among players scoring 15+ ppg, St. Joseph’s Ahmad Nivins (74.2%), Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson (71.5%), Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin (67.9%) and Michigan St.’s Raymar Morgan (65.3%) are burning up the nets.
  • Double-Double Trouble. Of the 19 players averaging double-figure rebounds, all of them also average double-figure points.  But only two of them are 20/10 guys – Blake Griffin (23/14) and Notre Dame’s Luke Harongody (23/12).  Patrick Patterson is just a whisker shy of 20/10 (19.6/9.5).
  • Betcha Didn’t Know That…
    • Stephen Curry leads the nation in scoring (30.0), but Tyler Hansbrough puts up the most points per 40 minutes (34.4)
    • North Dakota State’s Ben Woodside, he of the 60-pt explosion two weeks ago, is #2 in the nation in assists (7.6 per game).  Or that Davidson’s Mr. Curry is 12th nationally in dime-dropping.
    • Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks is averaging 24.2 ppg so far this season.  The last Wildcat to average that many points per game was Dan Issel in 1969-70 (33.9).
    • VMI’s brother tandem Travis and Chavis Holmes are 1-2 nationally in pilfering the ball (4.0 and 3.7 spg).
  • Tempo Free Stats.
    • UNC is the most efficient offensive team in the nation (1.19 points per possession), but did you know that Purdue is the most efficient defensive team around (0.79 ppp)?
    • The tops of the ACC and Big East have extremely efficient teams on both ends of the court – UNC, Wake Forest, Duke, UConn, Pittsburgh and Georgetown all have large differentials (approaching or above 0.3 ppp) resulting in an extra point every three or four possessions down the court.
    • The slowest paced “good” team is Wisconsin, with 61.4 possessions per game.  UNC, unsurprisingly, is averaging 79.3 possessions per contest.
    • Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and West Virginia own the boards, each team getting at or nearly 60% of the available caroms.  It’s difficult to find a “good” team that can’t rebound the ball, but Creighton is the best candidate for this award, only getting its Blue Jay hands on 48.2% of rebounds.
    • Notre Dame only turns the ball over one of every eight possessions (13%), but Kentucky gives it away nearly a quarter of the time (24%) and has still managed to go 10-3 thus far.  Incidentally, the Irish also rarely foul opponents (#1 in the nation with only 11.8 per game).  Tennessee, with all of its reaching and grabbing pressure defense, garners 21.3 fouls per game.
    • Georgetown, Connecticut, Xavier and Oklahoma live at the foul line, each getting a quarter or more of its points from the charity stripe.  Illinois, on the other hand, only gets about 14% of its points from the line.
    • The best offensively efficient performance by one team in a legit game this season so far was UNC  vs. Notre Dame, where the Heels averaged an astonishing 1.53 ppp in that demolition.

Got any others?  Feel free to pass them along in the comments!

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2008

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

With conference play starting next week, four teams have emerged as the favorites to win the league – UConn, Georgetown, Pitt and Syracuse. After that, it is a mess of talented but enigmatic teams. Notre Dame, Marquette, West Virginia, Louisville and Villanova have all shown flashes of dominance, but have also had their flaws exposed on national TV.  By far the biggest disappointment has been Louisville. The Cardinals were a top 5 preseason team on pretty much everyone’s list, but unless Santa leaves a jumpshot under the tree for their each of the perimeter players, it could be a long year for the ‘Ville.

I’m at a cross roads right now. Is the Big East really not as good as they were made out to be, or were expectations for this conference so high that they could not have possibly lived up to them?  Clearly, Louisville is not who anyone expected them to be. Notre Dame has struggled, but they are still a top 15 team. Marquette, Villanova, and West Virginia were all borderline top 25 teams in the preseason, and not much has changed six weeks into the season.  I guess what I’m saying is that while the conference has hit a few bumps in the road, it is still as good as any conference I can remember. One thing is for sure – any Big East team that reaches the dance is going to be battle-tested.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: AJ Price, UConn

AJ Price was the reason that UConn rose from a middle of the pack Big East team to a conference title contender and a top 15 team last season. But coming off of off-season ACL surgery, Price has not been himself. Going into the Gonzaga game, he had no confidence in the strength of his knee, which is why he was not penetrating like he did last year. He was playing so poorly that Jim Calhoun was actually considering benching him (the same guy that was a top 5 point guard in the country in the last three months of the ’07-’08 season) for freshman Kemba Walker. Against Gonzaga, he returned to the Price of old. He finished with 24 points and 10 assists, getting to the line eight times (three less than he had the rest of the season combined) and hitting big shot after big shot. He hit six threes, including four in the last 11 minutes of the game. UConn’s biggest knock is their lack of perimeter shooting, which combined with their quick guards and finishers inside means that a lot of teams are going to go zone against the Huskies. Having an AJ Price that can penetrate and create against a zone makes them a much more balanced team.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Syracuse

The Orange proved a lot to me with their win over Memphis on Saturday. I’ve been up and down on the ‘Cuse team this season, mainly because of their inability to start a game strong. It happened again versus Memphis, as Syracuse found themselves down 19-9 early on before coming back to win. What was most impressive about the come back is how they did it. Eric Devendorf missed the game (but had his season long suspension reduced, maybe to as short as two games) which meant that Jonny Flynn was their only ball handler against a tough Memphis defense. Flynn, despite finishing with 24 and 6 dimes, had an up and down game where he took some ill-advised shots and made some bad passes. Neither Arinze Onuaku or Andy Rautins played all that well. Kristoff Ongenaet played just a few seconds in the first half after being benched for Rick Jackson. Outside of Jackson, no one (except maybe Paul Harris) played their best game. And Syracuse still beat a pretty good Memphis team. One more note, if Rick Jackson can emerge as another scoring threat in the post, it makes Syracuse so much tougher. Onuaku is one of the best big men in the Big East, but he has a tendency to fade during games. It almost seems as if he is pouting because of a lack of touches on the inside. Jackson has averaged 12.7 ppg and 7 rpg in the last three.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2008

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

There are a lot of people out there that will call themselves college basketball experts, myself included (although I may be the only one to think that way). And these so-called experts keep telling you how good the Big East is this year. Once again, myself included.

If the Big East is so good, then where are all the marquee wins?

The Big East only has three really good wins – Notre Dame beating Texas in Maui, Syracuse beating Kansas in a de facto home game, and Georgetown beating Memphis at home. Even in those three, Georgetown won at home and Kansas is, well, not all that good right now.

It isn’t like they aren’t getting the chances either. West Virginia and Villanova lost to Davidson and Texas in the Jimmy V Classic. Marquette lost to Tennessee. So did Georgetown. Seton Hall lost to Memphis. Cincinnati lost to Xavier. Notre Dame lost to Ohio State and UNC.

As far as I’m concerned there are two schools of thought on this. One is that the Big East is actually even better than we expected. As a result, they are beating good teams, which in turn knocks those teams down in the rankings. Case in point, Wisconsin. The Badgers have two losses on the season (UConn and Marquette) which is part of the reason they aren’t ranked. Along those same lines, when lesser teams actually do get an upset of the Big East teams, they end up getting ranked too high.

The other is that the Big East is just a really big conference chock full of pretty good, but not great, teams. Look at the facts – UConn and Pitt are undefeated, but Pitt hasn’t played anyone and UConn has been so inconsistent; Villanova, Louisville, Georgetown, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Marquette all have fatal flaws as a team; Syracuse has been playing well, but struggles to keep their focus at times and will most likely be losing Eric Devendorf for the season.

So what does this mean? Are the ACC and the Big XII creeping up? No, not just yet. Let me ask you this question – if a healthy West Virginia team (Alex Ruoff and Joe Mazzula sat) beat Davidson and a healthy Luke Harangody helped knock off UNC and/or OSU, who we even be having this conversation?

Probably not. Now that is done, let’s get on to the good stuff.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 10th, 2008

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

The Big East lost three of their four marquee games this week as Notre Dame lost to Ohio State and West Virginia and Villanova were swept in the Jimmy V Classic (Marquette did pick up a win at home against Wisconsin). Even teams like UConn (four point win over Buffalo) and Syracuse (came back from down 16 against Cornell) barely avoided being upset. Right now, the only team that is playing well and has played well through out the season is Pitt.

If the first quarter of the season taught us anything, it isn’t that the Big East is weaker than expected as much as the rest of the country is not as far behind as it seemed. Look at those three losses listed above. Notre Dame, a team that is not quite as good as they were expected to be, lost to a better-than-expected Ohio State team in Luke Harangody’s first game back from pneumonia (yea, he had 25 and 16, but you have to factor in the adjustment other players – i.e. Kyle McAlarney, who was 3-11 for 6 points – have to make when he comes back). West Virginia, playing without Joe Mazzulla and Alex Ruoff, lost to Davidson. Villanova lost to a very good Texas team.

While the teams may be a little different than expected, the numbers still break down basically the same way. Four teams look like Final Four contenders, three teams are all but locks to make the tourney, and another four have put themselves in excellent position to earn an at-large bid.

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ATB: Beilein > Rodriguez

Posted by rtmsf on December 7th, 2008

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Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.  Look, we really do like the idea of this series – two quality conferences providing juicy matchups such as UCLA-Texas, Arizona-Texas A&M, and Wazzu-Baylor (among others).  But the promoters of the Hardwood Series need to figure a way to get this thing on national tv and make it a mandatory event over the course of two or three nights.  Ideally, ESPN’s family of networks would pick it up during the same week as the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, and we’d get fantastic matchups from 7pm EST until past midnight every weekday.  As it stands now, most of the games aren’t televised nationally, and there seems to be very little coverage of the games as an “event” of any kind.  Furthermore, three of the games occur outside the most recent Thurs-Sun window (Stanford already defeated Colorado two weeks ago and has an upcoming tilt with Texas Tech, and KU’s game with Arizona is in another two weeks), which also sucked because it got completely lost amidst all the weekend football coverage.  So whoever is in charge of this “event,” take our advice and actually take the proper steps to turn this thing into something that Big 12 and Pac-10 fans will look forward to on an annual basis (similar to ACC and Big 10… uh, well, ACC fans).  Diatribe over.  Now, even if we count Stanford’s win, the Big 12 has already clinched at least a push in the Hardwood Series this year with a 6-4 record and two games remaining.  Nine of the twelve games were this weekend.  Let’s take a quick look at some of the highlights (the first three games were already covered in Thursday night’s ATB).

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 3rd, 2008

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

Some of the Big East elite stumbled this week. Notre Dame, Louisville, Georgetown, West Virginia, Marquette, and Cincinnati all picked up their first loss of the season since the last time we checked in with RTC. Should Big East fans be worried? Was all that talk about the Big East being the best conference ever nothing but talk? In a word … maybe? Look, the bottom line is that each one of the aforementioned teams that suffered their first loss got beat by a good team. I mean, Notre Dame losing by 15 to UNC when Luke Harangody in is the early stages of pneumonia is not the same as losing by 18 to Maryland (sorry to all Spartan fans – I know Roe and Suton were hurt and Morgan was being a punk in foul trouble, just trying to make a point). Even the Louisville loss, which is inexcusable for a team of their talent (probably why Pitino apologized), was to a Western Kentucky team that looks to be hitting their stride (they have won three straight games against Southern Illinois, the ‘Ville, and Georgia, and lost one game without leading scorer AJ Slaughter in his first game back). Let’s look at it like this – Tennessee, UNC, and Dayton are all going to be NCAA tourney teams. Western Kentucky, Florida State, and Kentucky are all going to garner attention as bubble teams. While this is a startling number of losses to occur in the span of one week, it is not like UConns are losing to Delaware States, and it doesn’t change the fact that there are a number of Big East teams (UConn, Pitt, Syracuse, Villanova) that are rolling through competent competition.

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ATB: pre-Thanksgiving Pass/Fail

Posted by rtmsf on November 27th, 2008

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We’re really not in the mood for this tonight, so it’s going to be short/sweet.  Either you pass or fail, that’s the deal.

Game of the Night. UNC 102, Notre Dame 87.

  • Notre Dame. EPIC FAIL.  Carolina shot 58% on you.  Just.  Go.  Home.
  • Tyler Hansbrough. PASS.  He’s back (34/5 on 13-19 shooting).
  • Kyle McAlarney. PASS.  39 pts on 10 threes, many of which seemed from halfcourt.  The only ND player who came to play tonight.
  • Luke Harongody. FAIL.  13/7 and thoroughly outplayed by Psycho-T.
  • Rest of College Basketball. FAIL.  If Carolina is going to play like this…

Preseason NIT. Oklahoma 77, UAB 67 & Purdue 71, Boston College 64.

  • Blake Griffin. PASS.  Another 32/15 and an OU win.  POY.
  • Paul Delaney III. PASS.  23/6 on 10-14 shooting for UAB.
  • UAB Finishing. FAIL.  With 5:09 to go, UAB was ahead.  The Blazers scored two more relevant points.
  • Robbie Hummell and E’Twaun Moore. PASS.  29/11/8 assts combined.
  • Purdue Down the Stretch. FAIL.  A 19-pt lead with 6:30 to go shouldn’t go to two possessions that quickly.

Anything Else?

  • Oregon St. FAIL.  Another close loss 82-79 in overtime.  To Montana State.
  • Arkansas. PASS.  A solid win 79-77 at South Alabama for one of the worst SEC teams.
  • Indiana. PASS/FAIL.  A pass for getting another win (there won’t be many more).  A fail for barely skating by D2 Chaminade 81-79.
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ATB: Stephen Curry “Held” Scoreless

Posted by rtmsf on November 26th, 2008

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Indiana & Kelvin Sanctions (cont.). The big news of the day was of course that Indiana managed to avoid postseason sanctions even though they’ll formally be on probation for the next three seasons.  Kelvin Sampson, to his credit, took responsibility for the complete lack of oversight at Indiana ‘while on his watch,’ but at least once Tom Crean gets this program moving in the right direction again, the Hoosiers won’t also be burdened by the crimson scarlet letter of postseason sanctions.  Recruits can still be sold on the basis of playing in the postseason at Indiana (although admittedly, that seems farfetched at this point, even within three years).  Sampson is now working for the Milwaukee Bucks as an assistant, but he’s now effectively barred from coaching in the NCAA for the next five years as part of a ‘show cause’ restriction (a school would have to show cause for the NCAA to allow it to hire him).  Frankly, this seems to us like a penalty that was ‘easy’ for the NCAA to prove, but one that doesn’t necessarily fit when we know of so many other obvious recruiting violations that are simply untidy for prosecution and therefore ignored.

Games of the Night. We had two great games today, for the first time all season.

  • Notre Dame 81, Texas 80. This game was nearly everything we expected, and a little more (featured by Justin Mason, below).  Notre Dame was led by Luke Harangody’s 29/13 and a 40-footer at the shot clock expiration to what seemed like a solid win with a minute to go, up 79-71.  Then the bricks started – Tory Jackson missed two from the line; Zach Hillesland missed two from the line; then Harongody missed both with five seconds left, leaving the door open for Texas to win the game with a two (ND was only up 81-80 at that time).  Luckily for Notre Dame, AJ Abrams’ 60-footer at the buzzer was just a bit short (but right online).  Good performances abound – ND’s Kyle McAlarney had 19/5 including five threes, and Texas’ was led by AJ Abrams’ 23/5 and Damion James 11/12.  Both of these teams are top ten worthy, in our opinion, and we expect Notre Dame to give Carolina all they want tomorrow evening.

  • Syracuse 89, Kansas 81 (OT). This was a phenomenal game with enough eye-popping plays to cause Beetlejuice to take notice.  Kansas appeared as if they were going to blow the game open in the mid-second half until Jim Boeheim changed his trapping defense up and seemingly stole the ball a dozen straight times for dunks and layups.  This 13-2 run led to a tight game down the stretch which was capped by Jonny Flynn’s (25/5 assts) dagger three with 6.4 seconds remaining (see below) to effectively send the game to overtime.  Cuse continued its hot shooting in the OT – Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf combined for six threes in the game – and KU appeared to lose its confidence in the extra period.  KU’s Cole Aldrich (15/14) and SU’s Arinze Onuaku (19/12) both showed a strong skill set in the post as each tried to one-up the other during the game.  Both of these teams are going to be very good this season.

What’s Wrong with Steph Curry? Davidson 78, Loyola (MD) 48. Nothing, that’s what.  As in Steph Curry put up a donut tonight in the points column (get a good look below because we doubt you’ll ever see it again).  The word is that Loyola head man Jimmy Patsos strategized to take Curry completely out of the game by double-teaming him on every offensive possession, anywhere he went on the court.  Curry, happy to let his teammates play every possession 4-on-3, stood in the corner and watched as they got open look after open look (14 threes went down).  Remember, Jimmy Patsos is the coach who decided to leave the bench last week during a game to sit in the stands.  We’re starting to seriously worry that he could be losing his mind.  We’re not sure if a player averaging over 35ppg has ever had a scoreless game, but jeez, Steph, what happened on the three shots you missed?

curry-zero-pts

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11.13.08 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on November 13th, 2008

This is long overdue…

  • Injury bug.  Va Tech forward JT Thompson will be out 4-6 weeks with a herniaTyler Hansbrough appears “extremely doubtful” for UNC’s opener against Penn on Saturday.  Ole Miss guard Trevor Gaskins tore his ACL and will miss the entire season.   
  • Nevada’s sticky-fingered trio of Brandon Fields, London Giles and Ahyaro Phillips will be held out of the season opener against Montana St. on Saturday.  Not sure why Fields is still suspended, his charges were dropped.
  • UCLA’s Nikola Dragovic got into a dispute with his girlfriend last week and was arrested for misdemeanor battery.  He did not dress during last night’s game against Priarie View A&M. 
  • Tennessee freshman PG Daniel West was ruled academically ineligible to play for the Vols this season, leaving juco transfer Bobby Maze and junior JP Prince as the only two legitimate ballhandlers to run Bruce Pearl’s attack this season.
  • Georgia Tech senior guard Lewis Clinch is also academically ineligible, but he can earn his spot back on the team after the semester ends.  He’ll miss a minimum of seven games though. 
  • Don’t expect any slicing or dicing of the current 16-team Big East arrangement on his watch, says newly voted Commish John Marinatto, who will begin next July 1.  He takes over for uber-successful commisioner Mike Tranghese.
  • More meaningless exhibitions.  Stephen Curry (41 pts on 15-19 FGs) appeared rusty in an 84-54 Davidson win over Lenoir-Rhyne.  The defending champs, led by Sherron Collins (22 pts) and Cole Aldrich (17/10), handily defeated Emporia St.   Wisconsin plowed through a slogfest to win 64-47 over UW-WhitewaterUConn’s Jerome Dyson and his 18 pts led the Huskies past UMass-Lowell 82-63.  Luke Harongody’s 21/10 helped Notre Dame to an easy win over Stonehenge Stonehill 79-47 last weekendPitt’s Sam Young filled the stat sheet with 18/7/4 blks in an 82-30 mauling of La Roche as well on Sunday.
  • Jeff Goodman gives his version of preseason bracketology, and he also went with the upset over UNC in the finals (Michigan St.).  We see ya with your #15 Belmont (over Tennessee) and #14 Portland St. (over Purdue). 
  • RTC correspondent Baker (he covers the A-Sun and the SoCon) has launched his new site, Mid Major Review, which got off with a bang this week with his podcast interview of Belmont head coach, Rick Byrd, and we expect will provide great substance and analysis of the mid-major world throughout the season.  Welcome to the blogosphere, MMR.   
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2008-09 Conference Primers: #1 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2008

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

Predicted Order of Finish (from the coach’s pre-season poll, released at Big East media day):

  1. Connecticut (9)
  2. Louisville (3)
  3. Pitt (3)
  4. Notre Dame (1)
  5. Villanova
  6. Marquette
  7. Georgetown
  8. Syracuse
  9. West Virginia
  10. Providence
  11. Cincinnati
  12. Rutgers
  13. Seton Hall
  14. St john’s
  15. DePaul
  16. South Florida

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WYN2K. You hear that? You know what that is? That’s the sound of RTC stealing my thunder.  I’m not much of a statistician myself, but just by looking at that pre-season poll I can tell you this – the Big East is loaded.  If you live outside of Big East country, then you are probably sick of hearing about how good the conference is, year in and year out. But facts are facts. Four teams are legitimate Final Four threats. Another six teams are, depending on who you ask, expected to be a part of the 65 team field. Three more teams have an outside shot at punching a ticket to the dance if they can catch a few breaks (transfers getting cleared, freshman getting eligible, etc.).  So in this day and age of college basketball, where “early entry,” “parity,” and “mid-major” have become household terms, how did one conference manage to stockpile so many good teams? Well, as you can see, the Big East is HUGE. There are sixteen teams spanning from Rhode Island to Wisconsin to Florida and everywhere in between. When you have that many teams in one conference, there are bound to be years where there are a lot of good teams, especially when so many of the schools have a rich basketball tradition.  This just happens to be one of those years where the Big East got lucky. Last season, 32 players were named to an All-Big East team (1st, 2nd, honorable mention, all-rookie), and only two of those players (WVU’s Joe Alexander and Syracuse’s Donte Greene) declared for the draft with eligibility remaining. Would Pittsburgh be as good as expected if Sam Young left? What about UConn without Hasheem Thabeet? Those two, and a number of other players, probably would be on NBA rosters right now if they left, but for whatever reason (a loaded draft class last year, smarts enough to know they weren’t ready, boosters offered them more than what they would get paid on a rookie’s salary) they decided to head back to campus.

So without further ado, here is your conference breakdown:

Cellar Dwellars.  DePaul, St. John’s, South Florida, Rutgers

  • There are some talented players on these teams. Sophomore Dar Tucker of DePaul is a poster waiting to happen. South Florida’s Dominique Jones scored 17.1 ppg as a freshman. St. John’s has senior Anthony Mason Jr. and sophomore Justin Burrell to carry the load. But with the depth of the Big East this year combined with the loss of some talented seniors, none of these three teams really look like they have a shot at doing much. Rutgers might have the best shot of the group to make some noise, as Fred Hill has landed back-to-back talented freshman classes. Don’t be surprised if you hear the names Gregory Echenique and Mike Rosario (RU’s first Mickey D’s all-american) quite often during the season.

We Should Have Bribed The NCAA.  Cincinnati (NIT), Seton Hall (NIT)

  • Both the Pirates and the Bearcats are awaiting the NCAA’s word on whether or not they will have some key players in their rotation. After struggling with the remnants of the Cincy program in the wake of Bob Huggins, Mick Cronin finally has the program heading in the right direction. He brings back Deonta Vaughn, who is one of the most explosive scorers in the country, and gets former Texas forward Mike Williams back from an Achilles injury. Adding two talented freshman in Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright only helped matters. But Wright tore up his knee in the first week of practice, meaning that Vaughn is, once again, their only real backcourt threat and that they must rely heavily on their front line, which could be bolstered by the addition of 7’2” center John Riek. The Sudanese refugee, who was considered one of the best prospects in the country two years ago but has battled knee problems, is dealing with eligibility issues but could be in uniform by December. 
  • Seton Hall’s situation is a little different. The Pirates lose leading scorer Brian Laing (18.6 ppg) but return a solid nucleus of Eugene Harvey, Jeremy Hazell and John Garcia. Bobby Gonzalez had also hoped to add transfers Herb Pope (New Mexico St.) and Keon Lawrence (Missouri) without having to wait the mandatory one year for a transfer by having each kid apply for the NCAA’s hardship waiver. Pope’s been denied, Lawrence’s application will wait until after the first semester, and freshman Melvyn Oliver is still waiting to be cleared academically, meaning the Pirates currently have only eight scholarship players.

Pretenders or Contenders?  Providence (NIT), West Virginia (NCAA #7)

  • I know what you’re thinking. Providence? Really, Rob? They haven’t been good since the days of Ryan Gomes and Donnie MacGrath (and even then, good might have been pushing it). But the Friars have the horses to sneak up on some people this year. They were as balanced as any team in the Big East last year, with six guys (five returners) that averaged at least 8.7 ppg.  PG Sharaud Curry, arguably their best player, is back from a stress fracture in his foot and they have added Keno Davis, last year’s national COY at Drake, as the head coach. Davis should have some success in his first year with the Friars if they follow the same spread floor style that was so successful at Drake. One key reason for that is big man Geoff McDermott, who is adept at playing on the perimeter and is a stat stuffer (10 ppg, 8 rpg, 5 apg, 1 spg, and 1.5 bpg). Remember, this Providence team, who battled the injury bug all year, swept UConn and beat Temple and Arkansas last seaso. The talent’s there, but consistency and healthy players will be the key to their season.
  • The Mountaineers are a different story. They really came on towards the end of the season, thanks in (very) large part to the emergence of Joe Alexander, who was probably the best player in the conference (maybe the country) for the last month-plus of the season and is now a forward with the Bucks. Left are a bunch of very good role players that fit into Huggy Bear’s system and play hard. Guys like Joe Mazzula, Alex Ruoff and Da’Sean Butler. There are two major questions for the Mountaineers – who is going to play in the post and who is going to fill to void of “go-to guy” with Alexander gone. Freshman Devin Ebanks may be able to fill Alexander’s shoes with time, but the rest of the Mountaineers front line will be small (especially for the Big East) and inexperienced.

Worst of the Rest.  Syracuse (NCAA #7), Georgetown (NCAA #7), Marquette (NCAA #6), Villanova (NCAA #5)

  • I’ll be completely honest with you. I’m a UConn fan. I hate Syracuse. Despise them. I even hate the color orange. I didn’t even rank them in my top 25. Call it being biased, call it homerism, call it what you like. But I’ve had an epiphany – this team is really talented. Jonny Flynn is one of the best point guards in the country. Eric Devendorf is a very talented combo guard. Andy Rautins can flat out stroke the three. Paul Harris is a linebacker playing basketball. Arinze Onuake is a beast on the block. And this year, they actually have a deep bench filled with role players and hustle guys. They’re not quite in the top four, but Boeheim has himself his most talented team since Melo.
  • Georgetown lost a lot of very important players to graduation (Roy Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace, Patrick Ewing Jr) and transfers (Jeremiah Rivers, Vernon Macklin). They are left with just four guys who were in their rotation last year – guards Chris Wright, Jessie Sapp, Austin Freeman and forward DaJuan Summers. They do add a great recruiting class, headlined by big men Greg Monroe and Henry Sims, but it will still be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Hoyas. Part of the reason is that John Thompson III may have to change up his style of play from the Princeton Offense. Hibbert, Wallace, and Ewing were perfectly suited to a slowed down game, where as Sapp and Wright are quick guards that can make plays in the open floor.
  • Marquette has a new coach, but they will be the same team. By now, you must know about their three great guards – Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews – who, when combined with Maurice Acker and David Cubillan, make up one of the deepest, most explosive backcourts in the country. But, much like Villanova and West Virginia, Marquette needs someone to step up inside. It’s great when you have a bunch of guards that can score and make plays, but will Dominic James 40” vert help him against the likes of Luke Harangody or DeJuan Blair? Dwight Burke is going to have to make some big strides as a senior, or else the Golden Eagles will have to rely on a freshman and two JuCo transfers inside.
  • Remember that Villanova team from a few years back? The one with Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye, Allan Ray and Mike Nardi? Well this ‘Nova team is going to be similar to that squad. Led by scoring machine Scottie Reynolds, ‘Nova has one of the best backcourts in the conference. But the key to their success this year will be the front court. Dante Cunningham, an athletic, 6’9 PF, has proven himself as a capable frontcourt player in the Big East, but the rest of the Wildcats frontline will need to step up if Jay Wright’s club wants to crack the top four.

Crème de la Crème.  Notre Dame (NCAA #5), Pittsburgh (NCAA #3), Louisville (NCAA #2), UConn (NCAA #1)

  • Notre Dame returns basically the entire team that finished tied for second in the Big East, including reigning Big East player of the year Luke Harangody. While I can’t help but comment on his resemblance to a pot-bellied pig, you can’t argue with his production last year (23 ppg and 11 rpg in conference). While he is built like one of Charlie Weis’ lineman, he is actually incredibly nimble and has great feet and balance, which is one of the reasons he is able to scorer against bigger, more athletic defenders. Surrounding him will be shooters Ryan Ayers and Kyle McAlarney (who was a 1st team all-conference performer), as well as Tory Jackson, who is one of the more underrated PGs in the league. Notre Dame is going to be a fun team to watch if you like games with a lot of scoring and a lot of threes.
  • Pitt is going to be a typical Pitt team, with a lot of big, strong, tough kids that are going to play rugged, in your face defense. Sam Young, who developed a deadly jumper out to around the three point line, and DeJuan Blair, a 6’7 270-lb mammoth inside, provide one of the toughest frontcourts to match up with in the country. The biggest questions for Pitt surround their backcourt. When will Levance Fields return from foot surgery, and will he be healthy? Can anyone on this team replace the three point shooting of Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin?
  • Louisville, along with Pitt, is probably going to be the toughest defensive team in the conference. It starts with their backcourt, where they have five guys (Edgar Sosa, Andre McGee, Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles, Reginald Delk) that will really get after you on the perimeter. Earl Clark and Terrence Williams (who is coming off a torn meniscus and should be out another month or so) are both athletic, versatile players. T-Wills is more of a perimeter player and is the Cardinals best creator offensively, averaging more than 4.5 apg last year. Clark is more of a combo forward that will get his points off of fast breaks and cutting to the basket. Louisville loses their entire front line from last year, but they bring in a solid recruiting class, the star of which is Samardo Samuels, probably the best post recruit in America this year.
  • Last, but certainly not least, is UConn. The Huskies probably won’t be at full strength until December, as AJ Price is coming off of a torn ACL and freshman Ater Majok and junior Stanley Robinson (who was last seen on a poster) are both going to be made eligible (hopefully) after the first semester ends. Regardless, UConn is loaded with talent. 7’3” junior and shot blocking machine Hasheem Thabeet returns, as does Jeff Adrien, the Huskies leading scorer and rebounder. Price will be joined in the backcourt by talented but troubled junior Jerome Dyson and Mickey D’s all-american Kemba Walker. UConn’s biggest question mark right now – can they win a big game? They were 8-8 on the road or on a neutral court last year, and are 0-3 in the Big East and NCAA tournaments the last two years.

RPI Boosters.  The Big East RPI is going to be high enough, but here are some of the must-see non-conference match-ups (ignoring the possible match-ups in pre-season tournaments):

  • Wisconsin @ Marquette  (12.06.08)
  • Villanova vs. Texas and Davidson vs. West Virginia in NYC at Jimmy V  (12.09.08)
  • Cincinnati vs. Xavier  (12.13.08)
  • Memphis @ Georgetown  (12.13.08)
  • Marquette @ Tennessee  (12.16.08)
  • Gonzaga vs. UConn in Seattle  (12.20.08)
  • Syracuse @ Memphis  (12.20.08)
  • Kentucky @ Louisville  (01.04.09)
  • Georgetown @ Duke  (01.17.09)
  • Notre Dame @ UCLA  (02.07.09)

65 Team Era.  The Big East earned its chops as a basketball conference in the 80s, and that tradition persists to this very day despite the expansion of the league to it’s current sixteen-team iteration.  Last year the league earned eight bids to the NCAAs, and it’s difficult to envision a future scenario where the conference would ever get less than six bids again.  This obviously will skew their future numbers on a whole scale, but their stats to date are nothing to sneeze at (206-126, .620, 11 F4s, 4 titles).  With the power at the top of this year’s league, we could potentially see another 1985 F4 on the horizon (3/4 of the F4 were Big East teams – Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s). 

Final Thought.  The Big East is wide open this year. Every night is going to be a dog fight. One thing you can be sure of, however, is that any team from this league that makes it to the postseason is going to be battle-tested.

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Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #4 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2008

Shamelessly cribbing from last spring’s very clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present to you the Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we gear up toward the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube. 

#4 – Where Virtually Unstoppable Happens

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