Set Your Tivo: 01.14-01.16

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 14th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Another action-packed weekend awaits grateful hoop fans as we’re about two months away from March Madness. Conference play is really heating up and races are beginning to take shape. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#23 Vanderbilt @ Tennessee – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)

Often Overlooked, Ezeli Is A Workhorse For the Commodores.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.12.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 12th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

We’re going to mix it up today with this feature. With so many good games tonight (one of the best nights of the season thus far) here are some quick hitters on 10 important games you should be following this evening, including the top five teams in the land all playing on the road. Additionally, key conference battles are on tap throughout the night. Enjoy it, folks. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#2 Ohio State @ Michigan – 6:30 pm on Big Ten Network (***)

The Wolverines nearly knocked off Kansas on Sunday and they’ll get another crack at a top three team tonight when their rivals visit Ann Arbor. Michigan has to shoot the three well to win but that’ll be difficult against an Ohio State defense ranked in the top five in efficiency. Though Darius Morris (15.0 PPG, 7.0 APG) will try his best, Ohio State has too much talent and offensive firepower for Michigan to handle. Michigan needs their best defensive effort of the year combined with an off night for the Buckeyes in order to have a chance. John Beliein can rotate plenty of bodies on Jared Sullinger but that may be a futile effort against the uber-talented big man.

Sullinger, Lighty, and Co. Have Bucknuts Already Looking Forward to March (and April)

#5 Pittsburgh @ #19 Georgetown – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

The Hoyas are in serious danger of dropping to 1-4 in conference play as Pitt comes to DC. Georgetown hasn’t shot the ball well recently and has lost three of four as a result. The inconsistent play of point guard Chris Wright can certainly be blamed, but take a deeper look at the numbers. Georgetown’s defense is rated #61 in efficiency; not terrible, but it’s the lowest-rated Hoyas defense in six years (#66 in the ’04-’05 season). The Hoyas have given up 66.6 PPG, not a good number when your adjusted tempo is only 66.5 possessions and rated #228 in the country, indicating a slower pace. Georgetown’s dynamic guard trio has certainly struggled, a key reason why they’ve lost three of four, but the defense has also played a part and must get better. It’ll be put to the test against a Pitt offense rated the best in the land. The Panthers can punish you inside and out as well as on the glass. Yours truly has maintained for a while that this Pitt team is the best interior passing group in America and I see no reason to back off that statement. What Jamie Dixon has built in Pittsburgh year after year is quite remarkable but this may be his best offensive squad ever. The Panthers have played just one true road game all year (at Providence) but they’re experienced and so well-coached that it doesn’t figure to affect them all that much. Expect a desperate Georgetown team to come out ready to play, but we’ll take the Panthers here in a close one.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.

A Look Back

As we turn the corner on the non-conference portion of the college basketball season and head into conference play, we’re going to spend this week’s Mountain West check-in summing up what the teams around the conference have done so far and what we can expect from them here on out. As a whole, it has been a successful run through non-conference play for the MWC’s member institutions. San Diego State remains undefeated and is a top-10 team nationally. BYU has lost just once and remains in the top 25. UNLV had some early success before a couple of slip-ups dropped them out of the rankings for a time, but they are back in this week as our #25 team. Elsewhere around the conference, there have been ups and downs, although the ups have outweighed the downs. The schools have combined to post a 94-34 record and are the fifth rated conference in the RPI, ahead of traditional power conferences like the SEC and Pac-10.  Outside of the big three schools, a couple of other teams – New Mexico and Colorado State – have thrown their hats into the ring as potential NCAA Tournament teams, while the rest of the conference is more or less resigned to using the rest of the season to improve their teams and give their programs a jumping off point for future seasons.

Team of the Non-Conference Schedule:  San Diego StateIs there any other choice here? A 15-0 record, a #6 ranking in the most recent RTC poll, a school-record winning streak and the second longest winning streak in the country, behind defending champion and current #1, Duke? Of course they get the credit for the best Mountain West team in the non-conference slate. But a closer look reveals a chink or two in their armor. Last year, they were getting to the free throw line at a solid rate, but this year they have struggled to get to the line on a consistent basis. Last year, they were a dominant offensive rebounding team; this year, they are just very good. And while their three-point shooting has inched up a half-a-percent from last season, this is still a team that is capable of an 0-18 night from behind the arc, as they proved against Cal Poly. The other concern is that this team sometimes plays down to its level of competition, as they showed against San Francisco and IUPUI last week, when they were outrebounded in both games by inferior competition. They got away with that in non-conference play, but repeat performances against lower-tier MWC teams like Utah or TCU may result in losses instead of closer-than-expected wins. All that being said, when the Aztecs are going good, they are as fun as any team in the country to watch and have enough talent to make a run to Houston if everything breaks right.

Player of the Non-Conference Schedule:  Jimmer Fredette, Senior, BYU – Despite getting the attention of the opposition’s best defender (or two) every night, he’s averaging 24 points a night for the Cougars, shooting it at 47.5% from the field, while handing out a team-high 4.4 assists per game. What’s more, in close contests he’s upped his game, scoring over 28 points per night in those decided by ten points or less. And he’s done it all with a confidence and smoothness that has rubbed off on his teammates, as BYU has coasted to a 14-1 start. And with one final trip around the Mountain West, you get a feeling that he’s barely getting warmed up. With MWC guards having lived the nightmare of trying to stop Fredette in the past, you can bet coaches around the conference have spent hours over the summer trying to dream up ways to slow him down. While it remains to be seen how successful they’ll be (the odds are on “not very”), it sure will be fun to watch.

All Non-Conference Team

  • G Jimmer Fredette, BYU – 24.1 PPG, 4.4 APG, 3.2 RPG
  • G Dairese Gary, New Mexico – 13.1 PPG, 5.4 APG, 3.4 RPG
  • F Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State – 15.7 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 2.6 APG
  • F Will Clyburn, Utah – 19.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG
  • F Andy Ogide, Colorado State – 15.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG

Newcomer of the Non-Conference Schedule: Will Clyburn, Junior, Utah – While the non-conference slate has been an up-and-down affair for the Utes (with a lot of those downs coming lately), Clyburn has been a revelation. He leads the team in points, rebounds, steals, threes, minutes played and three-point percentage, has never failed to score in double figures and has notched four double-doubles on the season. With Jim Boylen’s club struggling through injuries and inexperience, one has trouble imagining where this Ute club would be without this junior college transfer. Even as Utah fights to get healthy, expect Boylen to keep leaning heavily on the versatile Clyburn throughout conference play.

Game of the Week: Dayton 76 New Mexico 73, 2OT – Not only did the Lobos and the Flyers play a pretty darn interesting game on New Year’s Day, they also played a pretty important one. With New Mexico lacking a truly good win and Dayton in no position to scoff at the possibility of another one, these two teams battled end-to-end for 50 minutes before a winner was decided. Dayton torched the nets from deep, with 13 three-pointers on the day, but at the end of regulation it was Lobo freshman Kendall Williams who was the star, stringing together several clutch plays to force extra time. Things slowed down in the extra periods, as both teams seemed to run out of gas, and in the second overtime, New Mexico only managed two points. The game was decided, fittingly, by a Dayton three, but the Lobos had a couple of good chances to even things up go by the boards. First, Dairese Gary lost track of the shot clock following a Steve Alford timeout, then on the next possession, Williams missed a driving shot on the other end. And yet, with three seconds left and down three, the Lobos got one final chance when Williams slammed the second of two free throws off the rim, grabbed his own board and was able to step back to the three-point line for one last attempt, which fell unceremoniously short at the buzzer.

Game of the Upcoming Week: BYU @ UNLV, 1/5, 6PM PST, CBS College Sports – Conference play kicks off today, and in the coming weeks you’re going to see a lot of the names BYU, UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico here. And while any matchup between any of those teams will be games to look forward to (and pretty much required viewing for readers of this particular check-in), there aren’t going to be a whole lot of games more appealing than BYU’s final regular season visit to the Thomas & Mack for one last go-round with the Rebels. You can bet the UNLV fans will be raucous and ready to go as they send BYU off with one last tussle in Sin City (before the MWC tournament, that is). On the court, the Rebels will throw wave after wave of athletic guards at Jimmer Fredette, with Oscar Bellfield, Justin Hawkins, Anthony Marshall and Tre’Von Willis all getting their shot at slowing the All-American candidate. The Rebels will pressure the ball and try to get it out of Fredette’s hands, hoping to force turnovers and get out in transition, but in the meantime perhaps opening the way for Jackson Emery to improve upon his 36% clip from behind the arc. Vegas has also been somewhat susceptible on the glass, so they’ll need to hit the boards hard if they’re going to knock off the Cougs for the ninth straight time at the Thomas & Mack.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (15-0): The perception is that the Aztecs are golden. They’ve looked spectacular in some of their big chances at grabbing the national spotlight, posting a win over Gonzaga at the end of ESPN’s 24-Hour Hoop Marathon, and tacking on strong wins over St. Mary’s, Wichita State and Cal in their other television games. With an insanely talented frontline of Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White, paired with the team’s bulldog, point guard D.J. Gay, when the Aztecs are going good, they are about as impressive as anyone in the country. Throw in guard Chase Tapley (the fifth member of the starting lineup), three-point specialist James Rahon and a handful of capable bench contributors and Steve Fisher has all the makings for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. There are some cracks related to inconsistent effort, and there is the concern that maybe this Aztec team is reading its own press clippings, so no one should be surprised if the Aztecs maybe drop a couple of games in the early going in conference play (with a surprising one perhaps mixed in there somewhere). But if Fisher can get this team to compete hard night-in and night-out, it will take a special attempt to knock this team off.  

A Look Ahead: The Aztecs get started in conference play with a trip to TCU on Wednesday and a trip to Utah on Saturday. Follow that up with a return home to host UNLV before a trip to The Pit to face New Mexico and I’m going to go out on a limb and call a 2-2 conference start for the Aztecs, although I have absolutely no idea which are the two wins and which are the two losses. Those potential losses could be good for SDSU in the long run, assuming that they get the attention of this talented squad. Nevertheless, this team was the favorite to win the conference at the start of the year, and it remains the favorite with conference play closing in.

2. BYU (14-1): The Cougars added four more wins since we last talked behind a few more sparkling Jimmer Fredette performances (28 points and five threes in a six-point win over Weber State, 25 points and four threes in a 21-point win over UTEP and 34 points, four threes and six assists in a eight-point win over Buffalo). The UTEP win was particularly impressive as BYU, after trailing 17-6 almost midway through the first half, caught fire after a Fredette spark to mount a 33-9 run to close the half. It all started with a Fredette three that was followed by a three from Noah Hartsock. Follow that up with another Fredette three, throw in a Fredette dunk and then another three and the Cougs had erased an 11-point deficit in no time on the way to a blowout win. And that’s been the story of the BYU squad to this point. Fredette has led the team in scoring in all but two games and is averaging 24.4 very efficient yet still often spectacular points. Jackson Emery has struggled a bit to find his shot (although he came alive with six threes to match his six steals against UTEP), but he’s still Fredette’s main wing man. However, sophomore Brandon Davies has taken a big step forward, averaging 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds thus far. There are plenty of other Cougars that make big contributions, however, as nine players average at least ten minutes per game. BYU looks pretty safe at this point in terms of NCAA positioning, but really wins over Utah State, Arizona and St. Mary’s are the only significant victories.  

A Look Ahead: Conference play kicks off in exciting fashion with the Cougars final regular season road-trip as a member of the MWC to the Thomas & Mack Center for a meeting with UNLV. On Saturday, the Cougars have their conference home-opener when Air Force comes calling, before the basketball edition of the Holy War tips off next Tuesday. Dave Rose’s squad remains the most likely candidate to step up into the running for the conference crown should SDSU falter.

3. UNLV (12-2): What was supposed to be a major test for the Runnin’ Rebels turned into an anticlimactic mess when Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly were suspended prior to their matchup with UNLV. The Rebels took advantage of their absence and pulled out a four-point victory in Kansas City in a game that bordered on unwatchable at times. Both teams combined to go 5-25 from deep while turning the ball over 35 times, but despite Vegas getting dominated on the glass (43-26), they got a big three by Oscar Bellfield late in the game to preserve their margin of victory. The Rebs followed that performance up by utterly taking apart Central Michigan last Thursday, forcing 24 Chippewa turnovers and holding them to 34% from the field. Lon Kruger’s club has had an up-and-down season to this point, looking quite impressive in skating to a 76 Classic championship before dropping back-to-back games against Louisville and UC Santa Barbara. The Rebels have made their way with pressure defense and balanced scoring (five players average more than nine points per game), but last year’s leader, guard Tre’Von Willis is just starting to round back into shape after missing a couple early games due to suspension. The Rebels hold wins over Wisconsin and Virginia Tech to go with the blemished K-State win, but remain a strong bet to get to the NCAA Tournament and at least contend for the MWC crown.  

A Look Ahead: The focus turns toward the visit from BYU on January 5 to get things started in conference play, with TCU due in Vegas on Saturday. The following Wednesday, the Rebels will travel to San Diego State for another big test early in the conference schedule, meaning that by the time UNLV has three conference games in the books, we’ll know a whole lot about them.

4. New Mexico (11-3): The last two weeks have been the most meaningful of the Lobo non-conference slate. With Drew Gordon getting eligible and some decent matchups in the Las Vegas Classic followed by tough two-game road trip, we’re starting to get a look at the defending champions at full strength and the early returns are of a good, not great, team. In the Las Vegas Classic, they looked strong in their semifinal win over Colorado, but then had to play from behind in the championship game against Northern Iowa and could never quite get over the hump. Then this week, UNM went to Lubbock and escaped with a one-point win against the Red Raiders before heading to Dayton  on New Year’s and losing a hard-fought double-overtime contest. Steve Alford continues to get production from all over his roster, with the main constant being senior point guard Dairese Gary, who nearly willed his team to a come-from-behind win against UNI (he scored the Lobos’ last eight points to get them within a point at 61-60, but a couple mistakes on either end of the court down the stretch sealed UNM’s fate) then kept the Lobos in it against Dayton by going for 19 points, eight assists and just one turnover in 47 minutes. To this point, the New Mexico resume is pretty light. Wins over Arizona State and Colorado are the best things on the slate, but they are still something of a work in progress, with Gordon still getting comfortable and freshmen Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk coming on fast. There has been some scary news out of Albuquerque though, as sophomore forward Emmanuel Negedu has been sidelined for the last two weeks after the defibrillator in his heart registered an irregular reading. Negedu has been ruled out for the next three weeks so that a cardiologist can do more tests on Negedu, but this is definitely a bad turn of events after he was just starting to become a force on the boards in early December.  

A Look Ahead: The Lobos wrap up their non-conference slate with a quickie against CS Bakersfield on Wednesday. After that, it is all conference play with a trip to Wyoming preceding visits by Colorado State and San Diego State. With little meat on the non-conference bones, the Lobos need to add some wins over SDSU, BYU and UNLV during conference play to be in play on Selection Sunday.

5. Colorado State (10-4): Just over two weeks ago, the Rams were sitting at an unimpressive 4-3, and were having trouble getting any traction. Losses to Sam Houston State and Colorado were the most representative outcomes on the resume, and this had the look of your typical middle-of-the-pack MWC team, rather than the potential contender CSU fans had hoped for. Over Christmas week, however, the Rams gave their followers a glimpse of the team they hoped for, ripping off three straight wins in the Cancun Governor’s Cup, including solid wins over Ole Miss and Southern Mississippi. Then last week, CSU traveled to San Francisco for the Hilltop Challenge and was on their way to another successful week before Hampton’s Kwame Morgan dropped 29 points and six threes on the Rams, including one with 0.8 seconds remaining to send Todd Miles and his team back to Fort Collins with a loss. With their non-conference play done, that win over Southern Miss remains the only thing they really have going for them, with three questionable losses in the record book. While CSU should certainly continue playing once the MWC Tournament is over in one postseason tournament or another, they’ll need to take down some pretty big scalps in MWC play to have a chance at the Big Dance.  


A Look Ahead: Conference play opens with a visit from Wyoming tonight before they get a week off to prepare for a visit to New Mexico for a big test for the two teams hoping to separate themselves out from the rest of the field as contenders for post-season inclusion.

6. TCU (9-6): It had been a quiet 17-day stretch for the Horned Frogs, with only a win over Northwestern State, in which four Frogs scored in double figures and Ronnie Moss led the way with 22 points and five assists. In that game, point guard Hank Thorns sustained a scary knee injury and had to be carried off the court, but later tests revealed just a sprain and Thorns was able to return this week for the Frogs when they got back to work with three games in six days. Unfortunately, while the TCU football team was making noise in Pasadena, the basketball squad limped to a 1-2 record on the week and lost Moss to injury. Moss sustained a concussion during TCU’s 69-66 loss at Tulsa, then sat out their nine-point loss at Rice.  Jim Christian’s team does have some relatively good wins on their resume, knocking off USC at home, Texas Tech on the road and Bradley on a neutral court, but losses to Nebraska, Rider, Massachusetts and Northern Iowa paired with this week’s losses likely doom the Frogs’ postseason hopes. 


A Look Ahead: It is a brutal San Diego State/UNLV two-fer to open the MWC schedule, and in order for TCU to have a shot, they’ll likely need to have Thorns and Moss at full-strength, a scenario which seems unlikely.

7. Utah (7-7): The Utes went to Honolulu last week with a chance to test their progress against some very good teams around the country. They limped back home to Salt Lake City with an 0-3 record in a tournament that started out bad and got progressively worse. An opening round loss to Butler in a hard-fought game was not an unreasonable result, but the Utes followed that up with a lost to the tournament’s host, Hawai’i.  And then, as a capper, the Utes posted an unacceptable loss to San Diego on Christmas Day, the Torreros’ first win against a Division I opponent on the season. This past week Utah wrapped up their non-conference play with a trip to Portland. But, after a strong first half, the Pilots shot 61% from the field in the second half and outscored the Utes by 17 to take down a nine-point win. Junior Will Clyburn was again the best player on the floor for Jim Boylen these last two weeks, averaging over 18 points and eight rebounds a game, but with injuries continuing to mess with Boylen’s rotation, he didn’t get consistent help. Senior Jay Watkins’ back injury again caused him to miss a couple games, and junior center David Foster was limited at times this week as well. There was some good news on the injury front as freshman J.J. O’Brien returned from a stress fracture, playing a combined 28 minutes in the Butler and San Diego games, but sitting out the middle game in Honolulu. With Utah’s big move to the Pac-10 looming in the offseason, with a 14-17 record in the rearview mirror and with Utah’s history of having a short leash on its basketball coaches, Boylen has to regard the rest of this season as a pretty serious exam. Two years back lies a MWC championship, but the Utah athletic department can’t be pleased with the trajectory of this program.

A Look Ahead: The Utes open conference play at Air Force on 1/5 before receiving consecutive visits from the top two teams in the conference, with San Diego State and BYU on their way to the Huntsman Center, making that opener at Air Force even more important.

8. Air Force (9-4): All things considered, for a team that lost to a Division III school (Colorado College) in their second game, the Falcons have had a pretty acceptable non-conference slate. Yes, their best win is over maybe, Evansville or CS Northridge, and there are some ugly losses there, but head coach Jeff Reynolds at least has a young core of players who have been making progress and, unlike last season, mostly staying healthy. Sophomore Taylor Broekhuis did miss two of the Falcons last three games with a concussion, but he is back now and he, along with fellow sophomore Mike Lyons and Todd Fletcher have all settled into starting roles. Junior Tom Fow and seniors Evan Washington and Derek Brooks provide veteran leadership on the team, and it seems everybody has the ability and opportunity to lead this team in scoring on any given night. This team is in no position to threaten for an upper-division MWC finish, and any post-season hopes are overly optimistic, but there are at least some pieces to grow on here, and with the ever-present Academy effort, this Falcon team will sneak up on somebody up top and surprise them. It just won’t happen often. A more realistic goal for Air Force is a seventh place finish – if they can get that, consider this a successful season.

A Look Ahead: Conference play begins, and the Falcons get thrown right into the fire: Utah, at BYU, UNLV, at San Diego State. Yikes.

9. Wyoming (7-7): After a three-game winning streak a couple weeks back, the Cowboys got back on track with a six-point home loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay before Christmas, before bouncing back with a win over Kennesaw State. Desmar Jackson extended his streak of double-digit scoring output to eleven straight games, and he has been a consistent offensive weapon for head coach Heath Schroyer, despite turning the ball over too much (3.3 turnovers per game) and shooting a low percentage from deep, where he is just four of 26 on the season. Wyoming players continuing to bomb from behind the arc has been a continuing theme this season, with eight players having taken more than 18 three-pointers on the season and only one of those players having hit more than 30% from back there (Francisco Cruz, 44.7%). In fact, there are only six schools in Division I shooting a lower percentage from behind the arc than Wyoming, yet they continue to shoot a third of their shots from distance. At this point in the season, the roster needs a makeover, as does the bench. Expect the Cowboys to limp along through the rest of the season, sew up last place before we turn the calendar into March, and clean house in the offseason.

A Look Ahead: Conference play starts at Colorado State, then back home against New Mexico, and by the middle of January, the Cowboys should be well on their way to a brutal conference record.

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The Other 26: Week Five

Posted by rtmsf on December 18th, 2010

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.


Oakland Had Reason to Celebrate (AP/W. Payne)

For about a four hour stretch on Tuesday evening, I was glued to my TV. Watching college basketball on the ESPN family of networks is a beautiful distraction during finals week. Somehow, watching Oakland shock Tennessee and then Drexel hand Louisville its first loss of the season was more appealing than writing a paper. To the average hoops fans, both of these games would be of little interest. I mean, the Summit League vs. the SEC and the CAA vs. the Big East? Call me crazy, but I greatly anticipated both of these matchups. Teams coming from obscurity that are comprised of players who were a mere afterthought when recruited excites me. When further investigating both Oakland and Drexel, it wasn’t inconceivable that an upset could happen. Oakland had just lost to Michigan State by a point, and Drexel had won six of seven games. The point being, there are many teams from the Other 26 conferences that when they catch a talented BCS team on an off night, can knock them off. This is, after all, the allure of the NCAA Tournament—watching the little guy win. Seeing the likes of Oakland and Drexel defeat the big kids on Tuesday night could be a preview of what is to come during March.

Tidbits from the Rankings:

  • Steady at the Top: Although UNLV lost to drop them in the rankings, San Diego State and BYU maintained their positions at one and two. A lot can happen this coming week though as both teams play three games each.
  • The Mountain West and Atlantic 10 lead the way in the rankings: #1 and #2 are from the MWC and #3 and #4 from the A-10.
  • There was not a whole lot of upward movement in the rankings, but two teams did have significant falls. UNLV, after losing two games, dropped five spots to number eight, and Virginia Commonwealth moved from #10 to #19 after Richmond beat them handily.
  • Cleveland State, at 12-0, is still outside of the top ten, but will have an opportunity to potentially crack it with a victory against West Virginia.
  • Two come and two go, again: Drexel and Southern Mississippi entered the top 20, while Dayton and Missouri State departed.
  • Breakdown: 4 (MWC), 4 (CAA) 3 (A10), 3 (CUSA), 2 (Horizon), 2 (WCC), 1 (MVC), 1 (WAC)

What team impressed the most?

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on November 23rd, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Pitt has a team capable of reaching that elusive Final Four

1. I had an opportunity to attend the consolation and championship games of the 2K Sports Classic last Friday and learned a great deal about the four teams participating- Pittsburgh, Texas, Illinois and Maryland. The Panthers were one of my preseason Final Four teams and did nothing to give me second thoughts on that prediction. Ashton Gibbs is a true playmaker at the end of the shot clock, Jamie Dixon has an incredibly deep frontcourt and the Panthers play heady, smart, hard-nosed basketball for 40 minutes. It’s possible we overrated Illinois a bit coming into the year. They lack a bruiser down low that can post up on the block and demand the basketball. Mike Tisdale’s the same player he’s been his entire career at Illinois, a capable mid-range jump shooter that lacks any sort of physicality and is often mired in foul trouble because opposing power forwards constantly out-muscle him. Maryland looks like a middle-of-the-pack ACC team that should sneak into the NCAA Tournament because Gary Williams always receives max effort from his teams and Jordan Williams is a force in the post, although he needs to avoid silly fouls and demand the basketball more often. The team that needed to convince me they were a contender after last season’s disaster is Texas. The Longhorns are a top-20 team with a duo of physical, lockdown defenders on the perimeter in Dogus Balbay and Cory Joseph, an athletic low-post presence in Tristan Thompson and an explosive scorer in Jordan Hamilton. A shortened rotation and accepted roles has helped Rick Barnes develop improved chemistry, as well.

2. The story of the first two weeks of college basketball might just be Minnesota. The Big Ten was the best conference coming into the season with Michigan State and Ohio State shaping up to be Final Four frontrunners, Purdue and Illinois mainstays in the polls and Wisconsin as solid as ever. Minnesota was a team that nobody could quite get a handle on, especially considering it was impossible to predict just how much the additions of Trevor Mbakwe and Al Nolen would help Tubby Smith.  After three statements wins in Puerto Rico over Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia, the Gophers appear to be yet another contender primed for a deep March run out of the absolutely loaded Big Ten. Al Nolen was superb in the championship game against West Virginia locking down the Mountaineer’s point guard duo of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant on defense and splitting the West Virginia defense with dribble penetration that either resulted in free throws (11-12 on the night) or open looks for sharpshooting teammate Blake Hoffarber. Where the Gophers have forged their identity, though, is inside with a plethora of size and length. Ralph Sampson, Colton Iverson, Mbakwe and big bodied Mo Walker provide Smith a frontline that can go toe-to-toe with any in the nation. Just wait till they get Devoe Joseph back.

3. The most crippling defeat for any team with NCAA Tournament aspirations could have come Monday afternoon at the Maui Invitational for Wichita State. The Shockers inability to contain Kemba Walker (29 second half points) cost them a chance to pick up a quality win over a Big East opponent and a shot at potential #1-seed Michigan State in the semifinals. Why is this so devastating? One, Wichita just blew their best chance for an RPI/SOS booster. The only other challenging non-conference game on the slate is a road trip to San Diego State, where it’s extremely unlikely the Shockers leave with a victory. Merely the addition of the Spartans on their schedule would improve Wichita’s power rating dramatically. Instead, it’s increasingly likely Gregg Marshall’s team will have to win the MVC Tournament. This task is very possible; after all, the Shockers are the prohibitive favorite, a senior-laden squad with talents like Toure Murry, David Kyles and J.T. Durley. Marshall’s goal in Maui was to pick up two quality wins for the resume in March. That chance has gone by the wayside.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.16.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 16th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Tonight’s slate is loaded with quality games, mostly from the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

#21 Virginia Tech @ #3 Kansas State – 4 pm on ESPN (*****)

Seth Greenberg decided to beef up his non-conference schedule this year after being left out of the last few NCAA Tournaments and this may be his team’s toughest test. The Hokies enter the Octagon of Doom looking to make a statement and ease any NCAA bubble worries, at least temporarily. Most prognosticators say Virginia Tech will be a lot better than the bubble but that thought has to creep into the back of some fans’ minds at times. Led by Malcolm Delaney, four seniors return and all are starters. Kansas State has had some problems early on as coach Frank Martin benched senior Curtis Kelly against James Madison on Friday for not practicing with energy and needing to be a better teammate. His status for today’s game is unknown. Point guard is also a question for the Wildcats as Denis Clemente has moved on. All-American candidate Jacob Pullen can play the point but is better off the ball. K-State seemed to play point guard by committee in their first game as Pullen, Nick Russell, Rodney McGruder and Martavious Irving combined for all 14 of the team’s assists. Kansas State shot only 53% from the free throw line, a problem that plagued them all of last season. Both teams like to play fast but also can get after it defensively as each finished in the top 20 in defensive efficiency last season. Virginia Tech is not a particularly good shooting team so that could play right into the hands of an active Wildcat defense encouraged by their energized crowd. The Hokies may have an issue with depth, especially early in the season when they’re trying to establish a rotation. With J.T. Thompson lost for the season and Cadarian Raines still out with a foot injury, Greenberg is down to seven major contributors. He’ll need freshman Jarell Eddie and Erick Green to step up and become threats off the bench. Kansas State needs to protect the ball and defend well in order to win. Va Tech was fifth nationally in steals and 36th in turnover percentage last year so they’ll be ready to exploit the uncertain K-State point guard situation. Virginia Tech may not have enough shooting to win this one but if Kelly is out, the door will be open for the Hokies to grab an important road victory.

#3 Ohio State @ #8 Florida – 6 pm on ESPN (*****)

ESPN wants to open Louisville’s new arena in prime time but this is really the marquee game of the Tip-Off Marathon. It features a Florida team that returns all five starters and is the trendy pick to win the SEC East and possibly make the final four. Ohio State, a final four favorite, returns four starters of its own and adds super impact freshman Jared Sullinger in the paint. Thad Matta’s Buckeyes have a good blend of youth and experience and are incredibly deep as a result of their terrific recruiting class. If you like three pointers then this is your game. Florida loves to shoot the three and so does the Ohio State backcourt led by Jon Diebler. The Gators struggled a bit in their opening win over UNC-Wilmington as they allowed the Seahawks to shoot 48% from the floor. Florida only shot 32% from behind the arc and they’ll need to do better than that if they hope to beat Ohio State. They’re also going to need players to contribute off the bench because as good as their starters are, you can’t rely on five players to carry your team. Erik Murphy should be the best bet, though a talented group of freshman should see their minutes increase as they settle into their roles in Billy Donovan’s system. Donovan, a Rick Pitino disciple, plays an up-tempo system that emphasizes pressing and three point shooting. For Florida to execute the press properly, they need a fresh stream of bodies coming in and out of the game. While that’s not as important in a single game, depth issues will take their toll as the season moves along. Ohio State is absolutely loaded with a powerful backcourt, frontcourt and bench. Diebler can flat out stroke it from deep and guys like Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty add toughness and experience to their rotation. Florida needs a good game from senior leader Chandler Parsons and they just can’t afford to have Kenny Boynton go without a three again as he did against UNCW. The Buckeyes throttled North Carolina A&T in their opener behind 24/8 from freshman DeShaun Thomas. Another solid game from him or another OSU freshman could push them to an impressive road victory in the hostile O-Dome. This will be an unbelievably competitive and hard fought game but Ohio State’s depth and talent advantage gives them a great shot to earn a road win that will help build their resume for a possible #1 seed.

#12 Butler @ Louisville – 8pm on ESPN (****)

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Boom Goes The Dynamite: ESPN’s 24 Hours Of Hoops Marathon 2010

Posted by jstevrtc on November 15th, 2010


For the third year in a row, ESPN is bringing us what we consider one of the great television events on the sports television calendar, the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon. That means that for the third year in a row, I’ll be live-blogging the whole thing from start to finish — and this year, we’re climbing this hoops blogger’s Everest without supplemental oxygen. That is to say…I’m going caffeine-free. More importantly, here is the schedule of games for this year’s marathon (all times Eastern):

  • 12:00 midnight — Miami (FL) at Memphis (ESPN)
  • 2:00 am — St. John’s at St. Mary’s (ESPN)
  • 4:00 am — Central Michigan at Hawaii (ESPN)
  • 6:00 am — Stony Brook at Monmouth (ESPN)
  • 8:00 am — Robert Morris at Kent State (ESPN)
  • 10:00 am — Northeastern at Southern Illinois (ESPN)
  • 12 noon — Oral Roberts at Tulsa (ESPN)
  • 2:00 pm — La Salle at Baylor (ESPN)
  • 4:00 pm — Virginia Tech at Kansas State (ESPN)
  • 5:30 pm — Marist at Villanova (ESPNU)
  • 6:00 pm — Ohio State at Florida (ESPN)
  • 7:30 pm — Miami (OH) at Duke (ESPNU)
  • 8:00 pm — Butler at Louisville (ESPN)
  • 9:30 pm — Belmont at Tennessee (ESPNU)
  • 10:00 pm — South Carolina at Michigan State (ESPN)
  • 11:00 pm — San Diego State at Gonzaga (ESPN2)
  • 11:30 pm — Pacific at UCLA (ESPNU)

The first attempt at this resulted in some hallucinations and arrhythmias as the hour got late (I had been up for 16 hours before starting the live blog) and I required a few caffeine-laden beverages. Last year, we had a technical glitch that kept us on our toes, but the live blog survived. This time, to raise the standard yet again, I’ll be sans caffeine. I know that without a webcam (we’re not that kind of site) you have no reason to believe that I’m not pounding sodas and cappuccinos and Five Hour Energy drinks by the blender-full. Since I believe RTC is the only site that’s done this all three years, well…you’ll just have to trust me. After two years, I think our relationship is in that kind of place. I hope you’ll join us right here (the live blog will continue in this post) a few minutes before midnight. Now, for my pre-live-blog meal. How’s a little turkey and wine sound?

11:47 PM Monday — Here we go. The high-def at the RTC Southern Compound is rockin’. We’ve checked the router and the internet connection to the building (which bit us in zee buttocks last year), and it appears solid. The football game is all but over (as it has been since halftime). Let’s go.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.13.10 & 11.14.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 13th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

There aren’t that many great games this weekend as most of that action was taken care of on Friday night. However, we’ve picked out three games this weekend worth monitoring. Unfortunately, two of them are not on television. Fear not however, those two games will be covered by RTC Live. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Saturday, November 13

#23 San Diego State @ Long Beach State – 7 pm (no TV, RTC Live) (***)

The Aztecs Can Compete With Almost Anyone Up Front

If you don’t know about Kawhi Leonard, you’d better get acquainted. Leonard led the Mountain West in rebounding (9.9 RPG) last year as a freshman and led his team in scoring at 12.7 PPG. A first team all-MWC preseason selection along with teammate Malcolm Thomas, Leonard may be able to vault himself into All-American territory with a great season. San Diego State was picked to win the Mountain West this year and Steve Fisher certainly has many reasons to be excited as the Aztecs return all five starters from their NCAA Tournament team. Long Beach State also had two of their players selected first team all-conference in T.J. Robinson and Casper Ware. The 49ers are led by former Gonzaga and Minnesota head coach Dan Monson and return four starters from a 17-win team. This is not a cupcake game for the Aztecs of SDSU and they’ll need to be ready to play from the get-go on the road. Ken Pomeroy predicts a five point victory for San Diego State. They should win, but you never know on the road in college basketball (especially early in the year). Leonard going up against Robinson should be a treat, though Leonard holds a 15 pound weight advantage. Robinson averaged a double-double last year and is one of the better mid-major players in the nation. Holding Leonard somewhat in check could be the key for the 49ers if they hope to score a huge upset in this one.

Weber State @ Utah State – 9 pm (no TV, RTC Live) (**)

This battle of in-state rivals may be overshadowed by the “Winning team! Losing team!” chant we saw from the Utah State crowd last year. Please excuse us if we’d like to hear that again. Utah State is the better team and returns four starters from last year’s NCAA team that won the WAC regular season. Weber State was picked to win the Big Sky conference this year behind point guard Damian Lillard who tore it up in his sophomore season to the tune of 19.9 PPG and almost four APG. WSU also returns starter Kyle Bullinger from last year’s 20-win crew. Stew Morrill has the Utah State Aggies in position to win the WAC again this year behind the senior experience of Tai Wesley (13.7/6.6/3.3 last year) and Nate Bendall (10.3/5.5). Should they not, they’ll actually have a chance to enhance their NCAA resume on the road at Georgetown. Those who follow this program know that Morrill hasn’t exactly been willing to schedule tough games away from Logan, Utah. Utah State leads the all-time series 37-25 and has won nine of the last ten. Weber State hasn’t won a game in Logan, about an hour’s drive north from Ogden, since the 1993-1994 season. We expect that to continue and if so we hope to get another earful from the Utah State fans.

Sunday, November 14

Princeton @ #1 Duke – 5 pm on ESPNU (***)

While this game doesn’t figure to be close, it’s your first opportunity to see Duke in real competition this season. Of course you’ll have many opportunities to catch the Blue Devils on one of the World Wide Leader’s networks this year, but there’s something cool about watching the defending champion and preseason favorite for the first time. Princeton enters the game at 1-0 after taking care of Rutgers in overtime on Friday night. The Tigers used only eight players and two of them didn’t even clock ten minutes of action. Their six man rotation is led by Dan Mavraides who dropped 26 points on Rutgers. He was 8-14 from the floor and a red hot 6-10 from the behind the arc. Duke will counter with just your typical college player in Nolan Smith at the two. Of course, Smith is anything by typical. An All-American candidate, the senior will team with Kyle Singler and crew in hopes of bringing back to back titles to Durham, just like the Dukies did in the early 1990’s. Duke should win this one easily but there are some things you should be watching in this game. One, the play of freshman star point guard Kyrie Irving. Two, the development of Miles and Mason Plumlee. Three, the contributions of Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins off the bench for head coach Mike Krzyzewski. These three things will be key if Duke hopes to repeat this season.

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RTC Conference Primers: #8 – Mountain West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 29th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. San Diego State (13-3)
  2. BYU (12-4)
  3. New Mexico (11-5)
  4. UNLV (11-5)
  5. Colorado State (9-7)
  6. Wyoming (6-10)
  7. Utah (6-10)
  8. TCU (3-13)
  9. Air Force (1-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Jimmer Fredette, Sr, BYU (22.1 PPG, 4.7 APG)
  • G: Dairese Gary, Sr, New Mexico (13.1 PPG, 3.9 APG)
  • G: Tre’Von Willis, Sr, UNLV (17.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
  • F: Afam Muojeke, Jr, Wyoming (16.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
  • F: Kawhi Leonard, Soph, San Diego State (12.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG)

6th Man

Billy White, Sr, San Diego State (11.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG)

If you aren't already, get used to seeing and hearing about Jimmer Fredette.

Impact Newcomer

Drew Gordon, Jr, New Mexico – Gordon left UCLA midway through the Bruins awful season last year after never meshing with Ben Howland and his system, and as a result, he won’t be eligible for Steve Alford until after the first semester. But Gordon showed enough talent in his years in Westwood that he will be a welcome addition for what was an undersized Lobo team last season. However, Gordon did tear the meniscus in his right knee in mid-October and, although he is not expected to miss any game action, he may miss out on valuable practice time leading up to his expected December 17 debut.

What You Need to Know

  • Best In The West? Given the Mountain West’s history as a contender for the title of the top non-BCS conference in the nation, and given that the Pac-10 is at its lowest point in memory, it’s quite possible that, at least for 2010-11, the MWC may be the best conference in the West. Last season, four MWC teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and in just over a decade of existence, only once has the MWC failed to place more than one team to the Big Dance (2000-01). However, major changes are afoot in the conference, as Utah and BYU, both consistently strong basketball forces, will be leaving for the Pac-10 and WCC, respectively. Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada will join the conference, but while those teams are capable of putting together strong seasons (Nevada, in particular, has  recent success on the court), they’ll be hard-pressed to replace the production of the two Utah schools.
  • Familiar Faces: When you look around the conference this season, there will be a lot of veterans up and down the rosters, as 70% of the players that averaged more than five points per game last season return. Only Utah, of the nine conference teams, will look drastically different, as they lost two starters to graduation, a third starter to transfer, and five additional bench players to transfers as well. Bolstering the general experience around the league is a flood of incoming transfers: Drew Gordon and Emmanuel Negedu at New Mexico, Quintrell Thomas at UNLV, Hank Thorns at TCU, Wes Eikemeier at Colorado State and James Rahon at San Diego State. Not only will there be a lot of recognizable players on the court, there continues to be a lot of stability on the sidelines, as for the second consecutive year, every head coach in the MWC returns.
  • Non-conference Boost: Last season seemed to mark the first year of a new era in non-conference scheduling in the MWC. After earning a reputation as a conference whose teams would play consistently tough games, they slipped out of the top 20 in non-conference strength of schedule for a stretch from the 2006-07 season through the 2008-09 season. However, last year, the MWC addressed this in several ways. First and foremost, their teams were able to go out and get games against Pac-10 and Big 12 competition, but they were also able to get their teams in some good early-season tournaments, and they began the MWC/MVC Challenge, guaranteeing every team in the conference a matchup with a team from the Missouri Valley. That MWC/MVC Challenge will continue (the two conferences signed a four-year agreement), as will the involvement of conference teams in early-season tournaments (for instance, New Mexico plays in the Las Vegas Classic, UNLV in the 76 Classic, Colorado State in the Cancun Governor’s Cup, BYU in the South Padre Island Classic, Utah in the Diamondhead Classic, Wyoming in the Cancun Classic and San Diego State in the CBE Classic – and yes, the people that run these tournaments need to consult a thesaurus for an alternative to “Classic”). Additionally, the tougher non-conference scheduling continues, with conference schools making trips to places like Spokane, Berkeley, Logan, Ann Arbor, El Paso, Dayton, Tulsa, Louisville and Kansas City over the course of the non-conference slate.

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Even More Notes From the Mountain West, Atlantic 10 and WAC Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament, Joe Dzuback at the Atlantic 10 Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournaments, they will each post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for tonight’s pair of championship games and the A10 semis.

Mountain West Finals: San Diego State 55, UNLV 45

  • The only logical place to begin here is with Kawhi Leonard, who was dominant tonight. The line speaks for itself: 21 rebounds (a career high), including seven on the offensive end. 16 points. Holding Tre’Von Willis to 4/12 shooting from the floor (and at least two of those field goals came when SDSU inexplicably switched to zone at the start of the 2nd half). And throw in a couple assists and a couple steals for good measure. He definitely presents matchup problems for every team in the MWC, and he will present problems for teams across the country. Throw a smaller, quicker guy on him and Leonard will dominate in the paint; put a big man on him and he can step outside and use his face-up game. In the postgame press conference, UNLV head coach Lon Kruger was asked about the possibility of having to deal with Leonard for three more years, and the look that crossed his face (a combination of a knowing smile and a grimace) was priceless before he went on to spend a couple minutes singing Leonard’s praises. While New Mexico’s Darington Hobson and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette rightly are regarded as the best players in the conference, it is Leonard who is the most talented player in the conference.
  • Willis tweaked his ankle late in the game on Friday night, and while he played without incident tonight, he was likely not as explosive as he was earlier in the tournament. How much of that had to do with the ankle and how much was the Leonard factor is up for debate, but Coach Kruger of course brushed off any notion that Willis was hampered by the ankle.
  • The vaunted UNLV homecourt advantage turned out to be much less of an issue tonight than it was either last night or even on Thursday night in the quarterfinal. Maybe it was the earlier start, or maybe it was the Aztec fans’ inability to provoke the UNLV fans into a cheering confrontation as Utah and BYU fans did, but while the Rebel fans sure got loud when Larry Johnson and Jerry Tarkanian were shown on the scoreboard, they were never really a huge factor in the game.
  • Last night in this space I talked up UNLV junior center Brice Massamba quite a bit. Tonight? Um, who? Massamba’s totals: 18 minutes, five fouls, two rebounds, two turnovers.
  • Now, time for me to admit a couple areas where I was dead wrong. This doesn’t happen often (not me being wrong, I’m wrong a lot, I just rarely admit it – ask my wife), so soak it up.
  • First, sometime in the middle of the MWC season I wrote that San Diego State junior point guard D.J. Gay was holding his team back and that head coach Steve Fisher should make the move to freshman Chase Tapley at the point. Well, Gay proved me wrong and Fisher right more or less from that point on. While Gay still doesn’t shoot a great percentage from the floor, he has really cut down on the turnovers over the back half of the schedule, and more important than anything the numbers show, he is the leader on this team. Guys like Leonard and Billy White and Malcolm Thomas and even senior Kelvin Davis are all major cogs for this Aztec team, but it is Gay who makes this team go. Look at his numbers over the tournament, and they’re nothing special (in fact, they’re downright awful): less than 8ppg, six of 26 from the field, 10 assists, five turnovers. And yet, they probably don’t get out of the quarterfinals without him (when he hit two clutch free throws at the end to provide the final margin), they certainly don’t get through New Mexico without him and his seven assists and zero turnovers, and tonight it was Gay’s big three in the face of Oscar Bellfield under six minutes that extended the Aztec lead above one possession for the first time since very early in the second half. Throw in the fact that the guy played 119 of a possible 120 minutes in this tournament (and the minute that he was out the Aztecs looked lost) and its clear Gay brings more to this team than his numbers would indicate. And, just to extend my praise of the guy, he is also a well-spoken, funny kid.
  • The other place I was wrong is about Fisher. For several years now, I have been critical of some of Fisher’s in-game coaching and even his ability to bring along talent. While I thought his decision to open the second half in a zone for a couple of possessions was a similarly goofy decision, there’s really no questioning what he has done with this team. The vast improvement this team has made since opening night when they were absolutely drilled by St. Mary’s is clear and he has really gotten a talented team to buy into team over individual fully. Now, I’ll admit some of this may be because Fisher was just so charming and effusive in his press conferences that he won me over (tonight’s great Fisher quote, on winning the recruiting battle of Leonard over some Pac-10 schools: “we don’t need to get down on kneepads to recruit against the Pac-10.”), but the fact that he has taken a SDSU program with little history and put them in the postseason in seven of his 11 seasons, including now three NCAA visits, says all that needs to be said about Fisher’s ability to coach. The fact that he is just so likable is only a bonus.
  • I chose Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Leonard and Gay as my five for the all-tourney team, with Leonard as my MVP, although I felt awfully bad about not writing down White, Chase Stanback or Dairese Gary. The official tournament team was Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Stanback, White and Leonard (no fair they got to pick an extra one – I wanted my all-tourney team to have eight guys), with Leonard the MVP.

Atlantic 10 Semifinals

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