Despite all the struggles that the Pac-12 went through this season, the conference came into Tuesday night with the most teams of any conference in the nation still playing basketball. Unfortunately, none of those teams were in the NCAA Tournament, with two in the NIT and one in the CBI. And, the results last night trimmed the number of Pac-12 teams to just two. Stanford is among those two, as it took care of business in the matinee at Madison Square Garden, knocking off Massachusetts 74-64 behind 13 second-half points from sophomore wingAnthony Brown, part of his game-high 18. However, in the nightcap, Washingtonfell in overtime to Minnesota, nixing the chances of an all-Pac-12 final. Terrence Ross led the Huskies with 21 points, but now UW fans have to hold their collective breath as they wait to see if he and/or freshman Tony Wroten will enter their names into the NBA Draft, as expected. The Gophers move on to face the Cardinal for the NIT title on Thursday night.
While Pac-12 teams are shut out of this weekend’s Final Four in New Orleans, there is some representation in the weekend’s festivities, as Oregon’s Devoe Joseph and California’s Jorge Gutierrez will both play in the Reese’s Division I College All-Star game on Friday. Meanwhile, Duck fans will also be able to root for Olu Ashaolu in the State Farm Slam Dunk content, on Thursday night.
Despite a difficult season but as we expected all along, there does not appear to be any forthcoming changes in the head coaching positions at any of the Pac-12 schools. Still, every time a new position opens up, certain Pac-12 coaches are mentioned in connection with those jobs. Dana Altman’s name was floated in relation to the Nebraska job, Johnny Dawkins has been suggested as a possibility at Illinois, as has Lorenzo Romar, and now Tad Boyle is rumored to be a possibility at Kansas State. Luckily, most fan bases around the conference can see right through these rumors. The Husky Haul takes umbrage at the idea that Romar’s name gets mentioned seemingly every time any other big position comes open. And likewise, The Ralphie Report laughs off the notion that Boyle is going to walk out on a young and talented Colorado team with a bright future. While either of those guys may leave their respective institutions at some point in the future, Illinois and Kansas State are not going to be the places to steal them away.
There is a possibility, however, that there could be some shakeup on the Colorado bench. In the wake of Tim Miles’ move to Nebraska, Colorado State is in search of its next head coach. Assistants Jean Prioleau and Mike Rohncould each be considered by CSU for its open position, and while Boyle is in no hurry to see either one of them go, he would “love for them to get an opportunity.” There has been a lot of talk about Weber State head coach Randy Rahe landing at CSU, but until the coaching carousel stops spinning, either of Boyle’s main men could be candidates elsewhere.
Lastly, we’ll wrap up a Colorado-heavy Morning Five by pointing you to The Ralphie Report’s third part of its look ahead to next year’s Buffalo team. This part focuses on the six newcomers to the program, making up a Top 25 recruiting class for Boyle. The argument begins as to who is the most anticipated of these newcomers; is it Josh Scott, the 2012 player of the year in Colorado, or maybe Xavier Johnson, another southern California kid stolen by Boyle out from under the noses of UCLA and USC? Maybe it is super bouncy forward Wesley Gordon who could be an excellent backup to Andre Roberson, or versatile wing Chris Jenkins?Xavier Talton is the team’s fifth recruit, an in-state combo-guard who may be a work in progress, while Boyle just added guard Eli Stalzer, a teammate of Johnson’s with the reputation as a pure point guard. With plenty of talent returning for the Buffaloes, getting contributions from a few of these guys could turn CU into a national player next season.
While the NCAA Tournament may be a fading memory for Pac-12 teams, the conference is alive and thriving in the NIT, as Stanfordbecame the second team to clinch a trip to Madison Square Garden by demolishing Nevada 84-56 on Wednesday night. They will face Massachusetts in the semifinals next Tuesday. The win was highlighted by four different players scoring in double figures and nine of the 15 players who saw action getting in the scoring column. The win was the Cardinal’s 17th home win this year, good for a school record, quite an accomplishment given the elite Stanford teams of the past.
Washington State’s season continues as well, as they handled Oregon State pretty easily themselves in Corvallis last night. The surprising thing is that Washington State was able to take care of the Beavers without the services of Brock Motum, who left the game after playing just two minutes (and scoring four points on three field goal attempts in those two minutes) due to an ankle injury. But Abe Lodwick and Reggie Moore picked up the slack for their fallen comrade, combining for 45 points, with Lodwick adding 12 rebounds and five threes. The Cougs now face Pittsburgh in the three-game CBI championship series.
On the heels of yesterday’s announcement out of USC that Curtis Washington and Alexis Moore would be transferring out of the program, Trojan fans got news today that Evan Smithwould be leaving the team as well due to an ongoing issue with his shoulder. He’ll say at the school and remain on scholarship, but he won’t count against the team’s scholarship limit. That now makes four players from this year’s roster that won’t be back next year. Still, for a team that just won six games this season, there is quite a bit of hope around the program. Kevin O’Neillreleased an open letter to Trojan fans on Wednesday thanking them for their support and offering his signs for hope in 2012-13. He also noted that the Trojans are all lined up to play a rough schedule, with teams like San Diego State, Long Beach State, New Mexico, Minnesota, Nebraska, Georgia, and Dayton on the schedule, along with a trip to the Maui Invitational.
We got some other news about future schedules this week as well, as Arizona announced that they have completed a contract with Michigan to begin a two-year home-and-home series beginning in 2013-14. The Wildcats still have five open spots on their schedule and are looking to potentially fill one of those spots by buying a game with Oral Roberts. Of the four other remaining games, it is likely that one of them would be either an away or neutral-site game against a quality opponent.
Lastly, we discussed after the California season ended just how much longer Mike Montgomery would continue to coach. While we don’t have an answer to that question yet, it appears that the 65-year old veteran of 15 NCAA Tournaments isn’t considering hanging up the whistle anytime soon, as he is in talks with athletic director Sandy Barbourto ink an extension to Montgomery’s contact. The coach still has two years remaining on his original contact, so all indications are that his time in Berkeley is still quite a ways from being done.
16 Seeds: LIU Brooklyn, UT-Arlington, UNC-Asheville, Stony Brook, Mississippi Valley State, Savannah State
Cincinnati is one of the more difficult teams to seed in recent memory. It really boils down to how much you believe the committee is going to weigh RPI/SOS relative to RPI top-50 wins. I tried to find a happy medium at a #9 seed. The Bearcats computer numbers are appalling (74 RPI, 114 SOS, 319 non-conference SOS) but no teams behind them in today’s S-Curve boast the same abundance of quality wins: at Georgetown, Louisville, at Connecticut, Notre Dame, Seton Hall with a 6-4 true road record and a 10-5 mark in the Big East. That’s an impressive portfolio for a supposed bubble team without even glimpsing at the RPI. One has to believe Cincinnati is in at 11-7.
Missouri dropping from the third number one seed to the first number two seed after one loss may seem a bit harsh, but it’s more about what Duke and Michigan State have done than what Missouri hasn’t done. Duke and Michigan State played much more rugged non-conference schedules and currently lead their respective leagues. For example, Duke beat Michigan State, Kansas, Michigan, Washington, NC State, Belmont and Davidson along the way, not to mention true road ACC wins at North Carolina and Florida State. Duke may be the most flawed top seed in recent memory, but that shouldn’t alter any objective analysis of their resume to date. Missouri is hampered a bit by a #269 non-conference SOS and fewer quality wins throughout the season than either the Devils or Spartans. That can change with a win at Kansas on Saturday.
All Oregon and Arizona can do is keep winning and let the dominoes fall as they may. Until a potential Pac-12 tournament meeting with either Cal or Washington, there’s no opportunity for even anything resembling a quality win remaining on the schedule. The Ducks visit rival Oregon State before finishing at home with Colorado and Utah while Arizona topped USC last night and end their schedule with UCLA and Arizona State. Playing in the Pac-12 this season limits chances to pick up scalps, especially after squandering nearly all of their marquee non-league games in November and December. Washington’s sweep of Arizona looms mighty large at the moment.
The opposite is true with South Florida. The Bulls back-loaded schedule brings Cincinnati to Tampa this Sunday. Depending on how other bubble teams fare, USF may move into Monday’s field with a victory. A trip to Louisville and a home date with West Virginia prior to the Big East Tournament present even more opportunities. If Stan Heath’s team can win two games, it would be awfully hard for the committee to leave a 12-6 Big East team out of the field despite non-league losses to Auburn, Penn State and Old Dominion. USF boasts a 48 RPI, 28 SOS and 49 non-conference SOS.
Past Imperfect is a series focusing on the history of the game. Every two weeks, RTC contributor Joshua Lars Weill (@AgonicaBoss|Email) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the dominance of Kentucky’s 1996 ‘Untouchables,’ and the banishment of Rodrick Rhodes.
Rodrick Rhodes was a very good college basketball player. He was versatile, athletic, long and skilled. He was good enough as a teenager that most folks who knew of him figured he wouldn’t be in college very long, that one or maybe two seasons at Kentucky, his college choice, would be all that was necessary for Rhodes to showcase the game that would make him an instant NBA millionaire. A month into his freshman season, it looked like those lofty expectations were spot on. The Jersey City, NJ, native wowed national audiences, had ESPN’s Dick Vitale preaching his impending stardom and was set up neatly to slide in as the Wildcats’ next mega-star, following in the imposing footsteps of another former New York City-area prep star, Jamal Mashburn.
But Rhodes wasn’t Mashburn, either in internal strength or in shooting touch, and somewhere along the way to getting his name in the rafters, something changed. Rhodes showed some flaws, and by the end of his sophomore season, Kentucky coach Rick Pitino seemed to sour on Rhodes and on dealing with Rhodes’ older brother, Reggie, who Pitino felt was whispering NBA dreams nonstop into his brother’s ear.
Before Kentucky's run to the title, Pitino parted ways with Rod Rhodes.
Finally, following a series of disappointing showings by Rhodes in his junior season, including a miserable game in UK’s Elite Eight loss to North Carolina, Pitino had had enough. After the enigmatic junior forward opted to enter his name into the NBA Draft pool, Pitino moved on. When Rhodes bombed an audition for pro scouts and decided he wanted to return for his final season at Kentucky, Pitino reportedly told Rhodes he could redshirt if he wanted to return, but whether out of pride or exhaustion with his situation, Rhodes demurred and instead asked for his release to transfer. Pitino obliged and Rhodes the next great Kentucky star became the Rhodes the ex-great Kentucky recruit.
Pitino’s replaced Rhodes with Ron Mercer, a five-star small forward from Nashville who arrived in Lexington as the anti-Rhodes, preaching a willingness to play whatever role the team needed, never gripe about playing time and learn from his more seasoned teammates. The addition of Mercer and fellow recruit Wayne Turner completed Kentucky’s 1995-96 roster, which was built around senior All-America candidates Tony Delk and Walter McCarty, junior Derek Anderson and sophomore Antoine Walker.
Mercer’s attitude was just what Pitino needed for this, his best chance to win a national championship. Always an ace recruiter and at the time arguably the best cultivator of professional-grade basketball talent in the college game, Pitino had assembled a team for the ages, one whose dominance would be matched only by its remarkable cohesion, especially on the defensive end. The Wildcats would work with a rotation of about 10 players, most nearly interchangeable in their ability to shoot, run and press their opponent and in their unmistakable talent.
The result of all that ability was an onslaught of skill and length that observers and pundits touted before the season as among the best ever assembled at a college program. There appeared to be no flaws. The Cats had shooters and big men and length and coaching. How fascinating, then, when just two weeks into Kentucky’s season this supposedly unbeatable basketball machine in blue would go down in defeat at the hands of a Massachusetts squad in many ways Kentucky’s mirror opposite: slow where UK was fast, frontcourt heavy where UK was not, reliant on a short rotation where Kentucky featured depth. It was an unlikely rivalry that would continue the entire season to college hoops fans’ delight.
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the A-10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @(vbtnBlog)
The Week That Was:
Points per Possession Margins Through February 12
Temple and Saint Louis continue to “walk away” from the rest of the conference, leaving the next four teams in the upper division (Xavier, Massachusetts, La Salle and Saint Bonaventure) clustered on the “plus side” of the points per possession margin. Though nine of the conference’s 14 teams have .500 or better records, only those six (and Saint Joseph’s with a 0.000 margin) have offenses that scored more points per possession that their defenses yielded, suggesting that some of those .500 or better teams suffered one or more blowouts in conference games this season.
Though Fordham and Rhode Island have firm holds on the bottom two spots in the conference standings, their negative points per possession margin is still not large enough to suggest they are uncompetitive with their conference mates. The gap between top-ranked Temple and bottom-ranked Fordham remains at about 1/3 of a point (0.337), well below the half-point gap last season. With nearly 37% of the conference games still to be played this season these margins can shift.
Conference Realignment: Does the Road to the Big East Go Through Irvine, Texas?
The Big East filled out their dance card for the 2013 football season last week and Temple, one of two schools who have vigorously lobbied for a spot in the power conference over the past four seasons, was passed over for the other long-term applicant, the University of Memphis. The conference negotiated a 20 million dollar early exit fee from West Virginia, and promptly invited C-USA member Memphis to join for 2013-14 season.
Passed over for the second time since last October, Memphis is the fourth C-USA school to accept a Big East invitation in 2011-12 and the ninth C-USA member to be invited since 2004-05. CBS Sports writer Brett McMurphy reported that Temple had been contacted by C-USA officials about possible membership. The membership is rumored to be for all sports, and with the proposed C-USA merger with the Mountain West Conference and a planned two round playoff system for the conference championship (that would, I assume, culminate with a BCS bowl bid). Though the Owls have a 55 year relationship with fellow Big 5 and A-10 members La Salle and Saint Joseph’s, the prospects (and money?) may be too good to pass on.
Despite Consistently Producing Quality Teams and Players Such as Ramone Moore, Temple Was Passed Over For A Spot in The Big East (AP)
Massachusetts is expected to join Temple in the MAC – like the Owls for football only – when the Minutemen move up to the Bowl Division in football. Temple signed an agreement to continue play in the MAC just last summer. No details concerning an exit fee were disclosed at the time of the signing.
Temple continues to roll through their conference schedule but has yet to regain a spot in the AP or USA Today Top 25. Saint Louis and Massachusetts continue to nip at the Owls heels, while five others (Xavier, La Salle, Saint Bonaventure, and Duquesne) battle for the conference’s last bye seed. Most bracketology sites put either two or three teams in the field (Temple, Saint Louis plus one other…), so games played between Xavier, La Salle, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Joseph’s, Massachusetts, and Dayton will carry extra-conference implications.
Temple (19-5, 8-2) – Temple continued their run with another 2-0 week, beating George Washington by just enough, then answering the bell against Xavier on Saturday night. Ramone Moore again earned conference recognition, in no small part from his game versus the Musketeers. The strength of schedule (table above) may suggest an easier path than most for Coach Fran Dunphy’s charges, but even with the Xavier hurdle cleared, the Owls still have rematches with city rivals: a road game with Saint Bonaventure and a tilt with Massachusetts. If the Owls keep winning, no one can catch them.Temple takes a mid-winter road trip to one of the least hospitable stops in the conference on Wednesday — Saint Bonaventure in a western New York winter. They return to Philadelphia for a home game with Duquesne on Saturday (2/18). Read the rest of this entry »
Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
There aren’t too many big time matchups on the schedule this weekend but it’s still a decent slate of games to keep you occupied.
Mississippi State @ #12 Florida – 1:30 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (***)
Florida May Struggle to Contain the Mississippi State Big Men
It has gone largely unnoticed but Florida has won six of its past seven games since losing at Rutgers in December. The Gators bring the top-rated offensive efficiency to the table and are a threat to win any game they play because of it. However, Billy Donovan’s team is thin up front and lacks the lockdown defense elite teams exhibit. Against Mississippi State, Florida could very have major problems dealing with the Bulldogs’ front line. Patric Young attempted double figure shots for only the fifth time this season against Mississippi on Thursday. Without a go-to guy in the post, Florida’s offense revolves around Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton with Brad Beal and forward Erik Murphy, a pick-and-pop specialist. Florida will attempt plenty of threes, connecting 40.7% of the time. Scoring from outside shouldn’t be a major problem against Mississippi State but stopping the Bulldogs inside will be.
Rick Stansbury has a huge advantage in this game with Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney in his frontcourt. Florida can’t match those two players and the Bulldogs should be pounding the ball inside all day long on Saturday. However, Dee Bost has to be able to create and get into the lane in order to get Moultrie and Sidney going early and often. If Bost isn’t able to penetrate Florida’s defense, the Gators can pack it in and dare Mississippi State to beat them from the outside. Of more concern to Stansbury has to be his defense. In SEC play, the Bulldogs are allowing opponents to shoot 43.4% from beyond the three point arc. If Florida shoots anywhere near that percentage, it’s likely going to be a long afternoon at the O-Dome for the visitors from Starkville.
In order to steal an important road win, the Bulldogs have to rebound and score in the paint as well as in transition off long rebounds since neither team turns the ball over much. Fast break points will be at a premium in this game but whichever team wins that category will have an advantage. However, the most important part of Mississippi State’s game plan has to be defending the three point line. If the Bulldogs can’t, they won’t win in Gainesville. Even with all that said, this is a game Mississippi State can win with a strong effort. Florida needed a second half rally to defeat Ole Miss in its last game and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Mississippi State could spring the upset.
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @(vbtnBlog)
The Week That Was
No A-10 Teams in the Top 25, Again: The latest round of the AP and Coaches polls (January 2) show no Atlantic 10 team that gathered enough support nationally to be ranked … for the second consecutive week. Saint Louis missed a good opportunity to impress when the Billikens dropped a four-point decision to New Mexico on Saturday, picking up their second loss in the process. With the next six teams showing three or four losses, the conference is out of the Top 25 conversation for the next few weeks. The other name brands, Xavier and Temple, did not help their causes this past week. Xavier dropped their third game in the last four, this time to Gonzaga in what might have been a good “comparison” game for the Selection Committee. Temple won their third straight, but the last two have not been especially impressive. The Owls may get the conference’s last good chance for some noise when they host #3 Duke tonight.
Conference Comparisons: Nearly 90% of the out-of-conference games are on the books and the Atlantic 10 has posted a 62.6% winning percentage:
Against the six power conferences, the conference has logged a respectable 22-26 (0.458) record. Highlights include .500 or better records against the ACC (7-6, 0.538 – note Temple hosts Duke tonighit, see below), the Big Ten (4-4, 0.500) and the SEC (4-1, 0.800). Conference members logged their strongest numbers against the teams within the conference footprint – those traditional opponents during the out-of-conference portion of the schedule, posting a 63.8% (30-17) winning record against teams located throughout New England, the Middle Atlantic and upper Midwest regions. Against those conferences most likely to compete for the at-large bids not allocated to the power conference teams, the A-10 posted a strong – but deceptive – 23-12 (0.657) record, largely at the expense of the CAA (15-5, 0.750) and C-USA (4-3, 0.571); both show improvement over the 2010-11 season when, through the end of December, the A-10 went 7-10 versus the CAA and 2-5 with C-USA.
Conference Play Commences: The conference maintains their traditional “opening night” tipoff with five conference games and a sixth game to be played on Thursday night. Saturday will feature six conference games with the seventh game to be played on Sunday. By next Monday, every member will have logged at least one conference game.
Despite A Tough Start, Tu Holloway And Xavier Will Be A Major Challenger For The A-10 Crown (AP)
With only a few games scheduled, and those yielding mixed results for the teams at the top of last week’s power ranking, the conference appears to be sliding sideways. Massachusetts disposes of their last out of conference opponents fairly easily to move up a spot, while Temple finishes the month 6-1 and Fordham upsets a ranked team.
Saint Louis (12-2) – The Billikens ended the week 1-1 — the loss coming at the hands of New Mexico (WAC) at the notorious Pit, UNM’s homecourt. Rick Majerus’ crew smothered Texas Southern with defense in a 71-39 win on 12/27, limiting the Tigers to a paltry 0.57 points per possession (or PPP, with 68 possessions per team calculated), about half a point per possession, just over half of the Division I average. Saint Louis’ own 1.04 point per possession hints at the ongoing point production problem with Saint Louis, but when a defense holds an opponent under 0.6 PPP, the team does not need a very efficient offense to win. Brian Conklin earned an Honorable Mention for his 35-point performance over the two games which yielded an average of 17.5 points per game with an eFG% of 68.4%. Very impressive numbers indeed. The Lobos were a different matter, as the Billikens were down two at the half, and gave up another two points in the second half.Saint Louis opens conference play at Dayton Wednesday, then returns home to host George Washington on Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »
When the season began, it was taken for granted that Florida State would be the third-best team in the ACC. On the cusp of conference play, I am beginning to wonder if Florida State is even in the top half of the conference. Despite lining up some decent challenges in their non-conference schedule, the Seminoles haven’t been able to prove they even belong in the conversation. Until last Friday, FSU had basically beaten bad teams and lost to very good teams and remained an enigma. Losing to Harvard, Connecticut, Michigan State, and Florida on the road isn’t shameful. Nearly every team in the country would lose to those teams under these circumstances. On the other side of the coin, when your best victories are against Massachusetts, Central Florida, and Charleston Southern, you haven’t really demonstrated anything either. These teams, while talented, should be handily beaten by a team that is supposed to be the third best in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Then, on Friday, Florida State loses by two points at home to Princeton in triple overtime. What do we make of this loss? Princeton isn’t great (with losses to Elon, Siena, and Drexel already), but they are pretty good. What conclusion can be reasonably be drawn from this performance? Is Leonard Hamilton’s team anywhere close to last year’s tournament team?
Leonard Hamilton Has Won With Bad Offensive Teams Before, But Can He Do It This Year?
It’s really hard to say. The Seminoles are an enigma this year. Without a signature win or a horrible loss (Princeton is #134 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings), the team just seems middling and undistinguished. As always, the defense is excellent, with Ken Pomeroy ranking the Seminoles as fifth best in the entire nation, the best mark in a conference that includes the other excellent defenses of Virginia and North Carolina. The difference, this year, seems to be that even an elite defense can’t make up for a truly dreadful offense. Read the rest of this entry »
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter (@vbtnBlog)
Ed. Note – This post was written prior to Wednesday night’s action.
The Week That Was
No A-10 Teams in the Top 25: The release of the AP and Coaches polls on Mon., December 26 showed no Atlantic 10 conference member for the first time in 12 weeks (going back to January 31, 2011 – week #13). A Xavier three-game losing streak, coming on the heels of the bench clearing brawl in the “Crosstown Shootout” dropped the Musketeers from #15 in the December 19 poll right out of the Top 25. Saint Louis’ own five-game winning streak includes a win over Division II Illinois-Springfield, Alabama State and Arkansas State — not a slate of opponents that will wow the voters.
Early Season Invitational Tournaments – Final Tally: The only good news out of the Diamond Head Classic was that the Musketeers finally broke their three-game losing streak with a win over Southern Illinois in the invitational tournament’s seventh place game. Invitational tournament formats frequently match A-10 teams with power conference opponents on neutral courts, giving the conference their best opportunity for quality wins. Results for the 2011-12 season:
At the end of the first cycle, the conference held a promising 21-13 (0.600) margin with six first and third place finishes, suggesting the team either swept the field or won the first two games (before dropping the final). The brightest lights were Dayton (winner of the Old Spice Classic) and Saint Louis (who beat three power conference schools on their way to the championship in the 76 Classic). Temple may have disappointed slightly, but the Owls, along with Richmond, George Washington and Saint Joseph’s, posted very respectable results in their tournaments.
Free Todd O’Brien? Attention to the resurgence of the Saint Joseph’s program was diverted two days after the Hawks’ best win of the season, a 16-point drubbing of Big 5 rival Villanova, when Sports Illustrated released fifth year senior Todd O’Brien’s side of his attempt to take his post season eligibility at Alabama-Birmingham instead of Saint Joseph’s. Buzz about Phil Martelli’s squad notching 10 wins before the start of conference play (virtually certain given their last two out of conference opponents) was pushed aside with the details of the Todd O’Brien imbroglio. The fifth year senior, a transfer from Bucknell who started 28 games in the 2009-10 season and was a serviceable rotation player last season, completed his undergraduate course work over the summer and enrolled in one of Alabama-Birmingham’s MBA programs and play for Mike Davis in his last season of eligibility. Saint Joseph’s, however, denied O’Brien’s application for a Graduate Student Transfer Exception (a release from his athletic scholarship) with no explanation given. O’Brien went public with his version of events, and so far, Saint Joseph’s, and specifically Martelli, has cited student confidentiality as the reason for not responding.
Fordham (Dereck Whittenburg and Jio Fontan), Providence (Keno Davis and Joseph Young) and Siena (Fran McCaffery and Kojo Mensah) were warning signs that Saint Joseph’s ignored. Though Martelli, as did McCaffrey, Davis and Whittenberg before him, may feel justified in denying O’Brien his release (fans and “program insiders” floated three variations of “Todd O’Brien is a bad boy” in the first 24-48 hours after the story was released), the veteran coach has to understand that the notion of a coach and program were gamed by a scholarship athlete never gets much traction with the public, and the university’s strategy of not talking about it gives O’Brien all of the air time on this issue.
Todd O'Brien (right) and Phil Martelli (left) Have Been Caught In A Verbal Tug-Of-War
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @(vbtnBlog)
The Week That Was
Rivalry Week – the Out of Conference Edition: Throughout the East, in the years before the rise of the conferences, the season was the warm-up for the season ending finales – games with the local rivals. The conferences changed that dynamic, as teams from the same media markets found themselves locked in races for conference titles that increasingly translated into NCAA postseason bids. And local rivals find their matches relocated to the earliest parts of the season. As the fall semester (or quarter) winds into final examinations, the weeks leading in have become the non-conference equivalent of “Rivals Week,” and had ESPN looked at the A-10 schedule, they would have found over one-third of conference members squaring off with their most-often faced local opponents.
Brawl City: Xavier and Cincinnati have played 79 times, meeting annually since 1947, in what has become known as the “Cross Town Shootout”. Though Xavier won three of the last four meetings, last season’s 66-46 Bearcat rout at Fifth Third must have gone to Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick’s head. In what will no doubt become a teaching point for future Mick Cronin teams, Kilpatrick, in the run-up to the game, opined on local radio that Xavier’s All-American candidate, senior guard Tu Holloway, was probably not good enough to start on the Cincinnati team. Bad move, Sean. The 2011 A-10 Player of the Year responded with a stellar 17-point performance that include going 5-for-10 (1-of-5 three-pointers, 4-of-5 two-pointers) from the field and a perfect 6-for-6 from the line to go with a game-high six dimes. In the post game press conference the clearly agitated Holloway told the assembled scribes that “you do your talking after the game, not before…”. If only Holloway had followed his own advice. With less than 30 seconds to play, during what most likely would have been Cincinnati’s last possession of the game, the obviously incensed Holloway, still in the game for reasons unknown, passed by the Cincinnati bench (the 1:30 mark in the video below), and taunted the Bearcat bench with, “this is MY CITY”.
Additionally: As Cincinnati freshman guard Ge’Lawn Guyn, Holloway’s defensive assignment, put himself between Holloway and the bench, the two went chest-to-chest and Holloway raised his arms as if to strike Guyn. Xavier freshman forward Dezmine Wells, however, beat him to it, throwing the first punch in a bench clearing brawl that has to be the low point in this season. Xavier senior center Kenny Frease suffered a black eye (and no doubt a ripping headache the day after), the result of a sucker punch from Cincinnati forward Yancy Gates and a kick to the head delivered by Cincinnati center Cheikh Mbodj. Both Cincinnati players were suspended for six games. Cronin and the Cincinnati AD also suspended freshman forward Octavius Ellis for four games, and Guyn for one game. Xavier doled out suspensions to Wells (four games), Landen Amos (four games), junior guard Mark Lyons (two games) and Holloway (one game). Cincinnati holds a 58-41 edge in the series. The other four rivalry games may have been every bit as intense, but no centers were harmed in the playing of the games. Read the rest of this entry »
Early Season Performances – The Oooh Aaaah Variety (Teams & Individuals)
The A-10 evened the record versus the six power conferences again last week, largely on the strength of performances by Xavier and Richmond. Xavier needed overtime to beat Vanderbilt in Nashville. Down by two with just under four minutes in regulation, Xavier held Vanderbilt scoreless and managed to tie on a Mark Lyons jumper with six seconds remaining in regulation. In overtime the Musketeers took the lead for good 68-66 on two Dezmine Wells free throws and Tu Holloway put a large enough margin between the teams (about eight points) when he hit two threes in successive possessions to absorb a Commodore mini-run. Vanderbilt chipped the Musketeers’ lead down to four, but could get no closer. Forced to foul, Holloway and Travis Taylor went a perfect 6 for 6 from the line to stretch the lead to 10 and suck the life out of the Commodore comeback.
Hosting Purdue five days later, Xavier again went down early, allowing Purdue to take the lead at the 18:49 mark of the first half and hold it for the next 37 minutes of play. The Boilermakers took an 11-point lead into the intermission and stretched it to 15 in the first 6:30 of the second half. Over the next 12:24 Xavier outscored Purdue 29-13 to take the lead for only the second time in the game. Once in control, the Musketeers did not let the Boilermakers back in, pushing their lead out to three in the last minute of the game.
Those numbers are more interesting, however, when you break up the game. For example, with 3:30 left in overtime against Vanderbilt, Holloway had just 14 points on 4-17 shooting. That stat line looks much more impressive after he hit back-to-back threes on the next two possessions and four straight free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Likewise, against Purdue, Holloway had just 10 points and six turnovers in the first 38 minutes of the game, but in the final two minutes he hit a three on three consecutive possessions (video of the last two below) and followed that up with two free throws, completing the most impressive comeback of the young season…in the final three minutes against Vanderbilt and the last two minutes against Purdue, Holloway had 21 points, went 5-6 from beyond the arc and knocked down all six of his free throws attempts.
The Richmond squad had to replace 59% of their minutes and 68.6% of their scoring from the squad that won the A-10 conference tournament and ran to the Sweet Sixteen last March. Freshman point guard Kendall Anthony, three times designated Rookie of the Week by the conference, has picked up a load of time and scoring responsibilities for the Spiders so far. Richmond leaned heavily on Anthony along with sophomores Cedrick Lindsay and Derrick Williams for offense. Both chipped in double digit points to complement Anthony’s production. Lindsay was a serviceable back-up to senior point guard Kevin Anderson last season, but Williams, who has started all eight games for the Spiders, saw very little action as a freshman.
Overlooked Temple off guard Aaron Brown turned heads the summer before coming to North Broad, but had few opportunities to show Temple fans and the A-10 what he could do. Brown scored 21 points in 22 minutes in a display during Temple’s 86-74 win over Central Michigan. Ken Pomeroy would find hard to ignore his performance, as he hit 7-11 (4-7 from three point land, 3-4 from inside the arc) shots from the floor while getting to the line for five free throws, of which he hit three. That computes to an 81.8% eFG% with a 1.57 points per weighted shot, an outstanding outing for the sophomore, who was pressed into action due to the injury-depleted squad.
Early Season Performances – The What the !@#!@@!# Variety (Teams & Individuals)
After winning their early season invitational tournaments, beating four power conference opponents (two each) during the tournament, both Dayton and Saint Louis stumbled in post tournament games. The losses are puzzling because for both teams, the games were winnable. Saint Louis took an “and-one” game with Loyola Marymount of the West Coast Conference, losing by seven with a performance that had team observers scratching their heads. Dayton compounded the first post tournament loss (by 29 to Buffalo of the MAC) with a second loss, this one by 17, to Murray State of the Ohio Valley Conference. The opponents were beatable, making the scoring margins downright consternating. Dayton was pegged to finish in the middle of the conference, but the two unexpected losses (albeit the Racers will most likely contend for the OVC title this season) could damage the Flyers chances for a post season NIT bid. Other inexplicable losses go to Saint Bonaventure’s home loss to Arkansas State of the Sun Belt Conference, a 3-4 team no one expects to make noise this season. The Bonnies were not helped by a lackluster six-point, nine-rebound effort from Andrew Nicholson.
The Power Rankings are shuffled again this week in response to the Ooohs, Aaaahs and What the heck games listed above. For the Atlantic-10 the post season margin for error is exceedingly slim. Three losses going into the first or second week of December can take a school off the RPI short list pretty quickly.
1. Xavier (6-0) #8 AP – Xavier took down two more power conference programs last week in fashion impressive enough to climb three more spots in the AP poll. I listed many of the impressive details in the impressive performances section above, but in addition to the video link below that shows two of Tu Holloway’s three “last two minute” three point field goals below (h/t to Dana & Victory Blog for the link). I should also mention that in Nashville Mark Lyons (19 points) and Travis Taylor (11 points) chipped in more than 10 apiece to go with Holloway’s 24 point performance, while Antoine Walker collected 14 rebounds in his return to Vanderbilt where he played for three years. Versus Purdue three Musketeers, Lyons (14 points), Walker (10 points) and Kenny Fraese (10 points) chipped in double digit points to complement Holloway’s 21 point outburst.
Xavier will travel to Indianapolis Wednesday for a game with Butler, then return home to host this season’s Crosstown Shootout versus Cincinnati on Saturday. Win these next two and Chris Mack’s squad deserves something special, like Christmas in Hawaii…wait.
2. Saint Louis (7-1) –Their top 25 ranking proved surprisingly short, the penalty for stumbling against the Lions last Tuesday. St. Louis recovered to beat another WCC team, Portland by 20, 73-53 at the Chaifetz. The Billikens’ defense limited Portland to 0.90 points per possession, much as they had Boston College and Oklahoma. Scoring centered on Brian Conklin and Cody Ellis, with Kyle Cassidy and Mike McCall providing efficient long-range scoring. They will host Vermont on Wednesday and Division II Illinois-Springfield on Saturday.
Some Saturdays just demand a little extra attention. This Saturday certainly qualifies. Aside from the marquee matchup, five other ACC teams are in action early this afternoon. Most of those games have a certain spice to them, so kick back, relax and see how the teams of the Atlantic Coast Conference play in the middle of the day.
Some Boring Low Stakes Game That No One Cares About
The Cats and Heels Will Tip It Off in Lexington Today
North Carolina at Kentucky at 12:00 PM on CBS
It’s shocking to me that this game is even on television. I mean, who cares? Do people even know that this game is happening? I’m sure if you look hard you might be able to find somepreview of this game.
Mid-Major Heavy vs. Power Conference Lightweight
Richmond at Wake Forest at 1:00 PM on ESPN3.com
If Richmond pulls of a win, it’s more than likely that the word “upset” will be thrown around. Just so that we are properly oriented, it’s important to note that Richmond is pretty good this year while Wake Forest is still recovering from last season’s disaster. Ken Pomeroy’s ratings put Richmond at #60 while Wake Forest is currently ranked at #162. With the game going down in Winston-Salem, there is a strong chance that the teams will be pretty evenly matched. Also worth watching is the contrast of offensive styles: Richmond plays slow and launches a barrage of threes while Wake Forest has an up-tempo but more balanced attack. I am particularly curious about what happens when Wake Forest misses a shot. So far this year, the Demon Deacons have shown little to no interest in crashing the offensive glass while the Spiders are among the worst in the country at collecting defensive rebounds. The potential is here for the most indifferent battle of the boards on the season.