Rushed Reactions, Maui Style: #11 UNC 95, Mississippi State 49

Posted by rtmsf on November 19th, 2012

rushedreactions

Some quick thoughts from today’s Maui Invitational quarterfinal game between UNC and Mississippi State…

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The UNC Guards Are Big, Deep and Talented. This is a completely different type of North Carolina team from the last couple of seasons, and frankly, given a Roy Williams’ system that looks to get into transition at every available opportunity, it may work a little better. With all the size along the Tar Heel front line last year, it sometimes felt like the Heels got bogged down in the half court, but this year’s group doesn’t seem to have that same problem. At least not today, when a Mississippi State defense gave them every opening they wanted — to the tune of 15 threes (the fourth most in school history) and 21 assists — Roy Williams found a reason to be upset with his defense in the postgame (UNC held MSU to 27% shooting), but the fortunes of his team are going to ride on PJ Hairston, Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock, and Dexter Strickland (combined for 65 points today).
  2. Carolina’s Young Size is Raw But Promising. It won’t show up on the stat sheet as very impressive, but the trio of Joel James, Brice Johnson, Desmond Hubert and JP Tokoto is a collection of raw talent whose size, springiness and hustle are going to win Carolina some games this season. The seven-foot James is somewhat reminiscent of a young Brendan Haywood, while the beauty of the others is that they aren’t expected to score in favor of hustling and protecting the rim. Williams’ teams are at their best with featured guard and wing play, so this team’s interior corps, already seeming to already understand its role in the scheme, will serve the Heels well going into the heart of the season.
  3. Mississippi State Has a Long Way to Get Back to Respectability. Rick Ray seemed rather disappointed after this game, and why wouldn’t he be? The realization that his team is roughly 40 to 50 points worse than a top 10 opponent is humbling to say the least. His group of inexperienced players were clearly shaken by the match-up at the opening tip, finding themselves down 9-0, 29-6, and 40-15 at various parts of the first half. They were never able to figure out how to find a good shot in the UNC defensive creases, and turnovers (21) were a major problem. The one bright spot was the hustle and play of Gavin Ware off the bench — he contributed eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks against a much bigger front line.

Star of the Game. PJ Hairston, North Carolina. Hairston had the shot of the game (not the week, thanks to Rotnei Clarke) when his 60-footer at the buzzer of the first half found net. But his all-around game set the pace for the Tar Heels with 18 points (on 7-11 shooting), four rebounds, and three blocks this afternoon.

Quotable. We asked Roy Williams what he thought about Maryland leaving the ACC for the Big Ten, and this was his response:

  • “Stunned, shocked… Didn’t see it coming… Strange what’s going on with college athletics… Hate to see them go, but if they don’t want to be there… [hand motion waving goodbye].”

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Rushed Reactions, Maui Style: Butler 72, Marquette 71

Posted by rtmsf on November 19th, 2012

rushedreactions

Some quick thoughts from today’s Maui Invitational quarterfinal game between Marquette and Butler

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Rotnei Clarke Redeems Himself With a Buzzer-Beater for the Win. We were prepared to write about how much of a chucker Butler’s transfer senior can be with the basketball, but his off-balance, one-footed, double-covered leaner from well beyond the three-point arc as time expired won the game for his team. Those are the kinds of shots chuckers make simply because they’re so comfortable shooting the ball… from anywhere. Clarke finished with seven makes versus 14 misses on the afternoon for a 20-point outing, but his last trio of points were the difference for the Bulldogs, and the reason that they will advance to play in the semifinals tomorrow.
  2. Marquette’s Sustainability. In a game where it felt that Marquette was always just a play or two from putting away always-scrappy Butler, it was a missed free throw by Junior Coudagan followed by a prayer of a leaning three from Rotnei Clarke that let the game get away from the Golden Eagles. But take nothing away from Butler, as the Bulldogs hit 57% in the second half and committed zero turnovers in keeping the game close — Butler’s greatest deficit was twice at six points, but Marquette in both cases gave up an easy layup and was unable to sustain enough momentum to put the Bulldogs away.
  3. Khyle Marshall Breaking Out? His teammate Clarke will get all of the press for today’s win, but junior wing Khyle Marshall spent most of this afternoon looking like the best player on the floor. He found his spots all over the paint, going for 24/9 in an efficient 11-15 shooting performance. In the past Marshall has struggled with inconsistency (case in point: his seven-point game against Elon last week), but if Butler expects to ride Clarke’s shooting back to the NCAA Tournament, they will absolutely need Marshall’s abilities on the wing to come to fruition.

Star of the Game. Rotnei Clarke, Butler. Clarke’s 20/6 line on 7-of-21 shooting was not something to write home about, but um, this shot certainly was…

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Big East M5: 11.19.12 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 19th, 2012

  1. It’s a sad state of affairs in college sports when the most urgent news is determined in a boardroom rather than a gym or stadium. Just when it appeared as though the Machiavellian engineering of conference realignment had subsided for long enough for fans to actually enjoy a full season, we learned over the weekend that Maryland will likely become the next shoe to drop when its Board of Regents deliberates whether to move to the Big Ten this morning at 9 AM. Pete Thamel reiterated in Sports Illustrated last night that Rutgers will join the Terrapins in the corn-fed dominion of Legends and Leaders. According to his media sources, the rationale for the Scarlet Knight’s inclusion is the $100 million annual windfall promised by the expansion of the Big Ten Network onto cable packages in the New York City market. But one executive issued a warning that should resonate with any fan who’s ever searched for a New York bar screening a college game before March: “Hey, it could be big money… But it’s a lot of risk. Rutgers isn’t the Yankees.”
  2. While it would be a bummer to lose Rutgers, their move could accelerate a far more calamitous result for the Big East if Connecticut is tabbed to replace Maryland in the ACC. The departure would exacerbate a year of chaotic discontinuity for the Big East and completely undermine any bargaining leverage the conference currently wields in its media negotiations. On an experiential level, it would make Big East basketball a lot less fun to follow, with few remaining powerhouses and very little remaining tradition to unify the disjointed reaches of the ragtag Big East tapestry. John Rook at The UConn Blog touches on these points and reflects on the commercial desecration of hollowed college basketball icons from the nuanced perspective of a fan of a school that is, ostensibly, benefiting from this sea change. Rook makes the point that realignment destroys not only traditional rivalries and geographic continuity, but also erases individual program’s accomplishments from our collective memory: “Now, if the Big East no longer exists, UConn’s dominance over it matters less. Do you know how many Conference USA titles Louisville has? Neither do I. You know why? Now that they are in the Big East all that matters is what they do in this conference. The moment UConn goes to the ACC they are no longer the dominant program of the Big East but simply the really good program with no ACC titles.”
  3. Big East teams face two high-profile non-conference tests away from home tonight, as Georgetown takes on #13 UCLA in Brooklyn and Marquette meets Butler in the Maui Invitational. The Hoyas’ odds of pulling off the upset took a hit last Friday when the NCAA cleared star freshman Shabazz Muhammad to suit up for the Bruins. Despite not stepping on the court yet this season, teammate Kyle Anderson predicts Muhammad won’t miss a beat, “because in practice, he’s a beast.” The Hoyas’ wings will have their work cut out for them defensively.
  4. Marquette, for its part, looks to avoid a letdown when it plays a Butler team coming off a crushing defeat against Xavier. Cracked Sidewalks put together a very cogent explanation of why the game is such a watershed moment: a loss could spell “a neutral court loss to a non-top 50 team come Selection Sunday, and would saddle MUs RPI with the record of consolation opponent Mississippi State (#132 in Value Add).” A first-round stumble would also deprive Marquette of a shot at North Carolina in the winner’s bracket.
  5. Last Friday, the M5 mentioned four-star Union, NJ, forward Tyler Robinson’s impending college decision between Syracuse, Villanova and Kansas. Robinson ultimately cast his lot with Boeheim’s crew, which came as somewhat of a surprise after his final visit to Villanova seemed positive enough to inspire him to cancel a scheduled recruiting trip to Lexington. Robinson cited Boeheim’s coaching reputation and the program’s upcoming move to the ACC as major attractions in committing to the Orange. Syracuse appears poised to reload with what’s sure to be another top-15 recruiting class, highlighted by Robinson and four/five-star point guard Tyler Ennis.
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Big East M5: 10.26.12 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 26th, 2012

  1. Connecticut’s basketball’s academic woes have reared their ugly head once again, this time in the form of the team’s graduation success rate (GSR). The Huskies’ GSR dropped from 36% to 11% this year, representing the lowest such mark in all of Division I basketball.  The score, which reflects how many of the team’s players were able to graduate within six years of their enrollment at school, is different from the APR, the Academic Progress Rating that is currently preventing UConn from participating in the 2013 postseason. On the bright side for the Huskies, their APR is on the rise. Academic success is one of the major black marks on the end of the Jim Calhoun era at Connecticut, and as the NCAA’s APR requirements continue to increase every year, it needs to be a major focus for Kevin Ollie or whoever has control of the program in the long term.
  2. Big time non-conference series are always fun, and yesterday we learned that Georgetown and Kansas have agreed to play four games starting next season.  The series will open at Allen Fieldhouse on December 31, 2013 and continue on for three successive seasons home-and-home until 2016-17. Georgetown and Kansas have only faced each other twice, including last year in the Maui Invitational, a 67-63 Kansas victory. The all-time series is tied at one win apiece.
  3. Pitt’s J.J. Moore may be a bit rusty on the court after missing months of basketball from an April surgery to repair his fifth metatarsal, but he spent his summer wisely. After living in the weight room during his rehabiliation, Moore put on around 15 pounds of muscle, and is now a stout 6’6″ and 215 pounds. Moore was not a major part of Jamie Dixon’s rotation last season, sitting behind Lamar Patterson and Nasir Robinson at the forward slots, but with his added size and strength he should factor in at both small forward and power forward this year. Moore adds some added quickness and versatility at the four when Dixon wants to go with a smaller, more athletic line-up: ”I’m definitely ready to make that transition and play power forward,” Moore said. “We’ve been practicing right now with me being the power forward. It’s looking good. I think it’s looking good for the team, as a matter of fact. With me as a power forward, the guys can get open because we can space the floor.”
  4. Marquette blog Anonymous Eagle is running a player preview series for the start of the 2012-13 season. Today featured “silky” freshman forward Steve Taylor, whom Buzz Williams has called the best freshman he’s ever signed at Marquette. While Taylor has a ton of potential, he is going to start behind Jamil Wilson and Juan Anderson in the rotation, and the AE guys don’t foresee him seeing a lot come Big East play, especially with Williams’ penchant for leaning on experienced players down the stretch.  There is also an excellent photoshop done involving Taylor, Williams, and a 1995 Chevy Chase film, so the full profile is definitely worth your time.
  5. Having spent four years in Syracuse, I can verify that there are a number of notable food spots in town. Dinosaur BBQ is the first place to roll off of most tongues, but Jim Boeheim’s favorite hot dog joint Heid’s and the nearly-90 year old Varsity on the SU hill both deserve all the recognition that they receive as well.  However, there is one particular Syracuse food item that is particularly legendary – the Mother’s Cupboard frittata.  This six-pound heap of egg, pepperoni, home fries, sausage, and vegetables has been finished by few and has conquered many, but another brave soul was able to put down the entire dish on Monday: Syracuse basketball walk-on Russ DeRemer. DeRemer utilized a strategy that allowed “Man vs. Food” host Adam Richman to overcome the mighty frittata, and he was able to put away the entire plate in 25 minutes. DeRemer was quite humble about the accomplishment, but fellow walk-on Albert Nassar was more candid about his teammate’s impressive feat: “Honestly, he didn’t even struggle,’’ Nassar said. “Until the last bowl, he didn’t pause once. He just kept going. Then on the last bottom, he paused for like a minute and then knocked it out.’’
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Pac-12 Team Previews: USC Trojans

Posted by AMurawa on October 24th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the USC Trojans.

Strengths: Fresh blood. You know the old legend about Keith Richards getting a complete change of blood in order to beat a heroin addiction prior to the Rolling Stones 1973 European tour? Well, if you’ll indulge a tortured analogy for a second: If Keith Richards is the USC basketball team, and his heroin addiction is SC’s 1-17 finish in a historically bad Pac-12, that blood transfusion is USC’s almost completely remade roster. With transfers, freshmen and players returning from seasons lost to injury, head coach Kevin O’Neill will likely only run a player or two out there who was around and active at the end of 2011-12. Instead Jio Fontan, J.T. Terrell, Eric Wise, DeWayne Dedmon, Aaron Fuller, Ari Stewart, Renaldo Woolridge and others will give the Trojans a chance to start anew, and with certainly a larger collection of offensive talent than has ever been assembled in the O’Neill era in Los Angeles. To reference the apocryphal story even further, it should be noted that even if Richards did undergo such a transfusion, it wasn’t his last run-in with addiction. But, nevertheless, that ’73 Stones tour was an undeniable success. And this Trojan team is capable of going from one with no expectations a year ago to one who could get some serious satisfaction this season, so long as that relapse can be withheld until after the tour.

Jio Fontan, USC

Jumpin’ Jio Fontan Is Back For The New Look Trojans, Who Hope A Complete Change Of Blood Will Reverse Their Fortunes

Weaknesses: While the Trojans have been strong defensively in each of O’Neill’s three years as head coach, they’ve been a plodding mess on offense, ranking no better than #93 in the nation in offensive efficiency (as always, per KenPom.com) before dipping to a putrid #326 last year. While he’s got tons of new pieces that could fit perfectly into his team’s jigsaw puzzle, KO’s got to prove that he can get it done with plenty of guys on this squad who have a history of bombing their way to unacceptably low field goal percentages (Fontan’s never even approached a 50% eFG rate, while Terrell, Stewart, Wise and Woolridge all had similar struggles at their previous stops). A newer concern for O’Neill is that, with the departure of last year’s point guard Maurice Jones, there is no margin for error at the point guard position for Fontan. If, god forbid, his surgically repaired knee causes him to miss any time again, the Trojans could be playing with fire.

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Breaking Down the Five Best Non-Conference Tournaments

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 22nd, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

For the first time this offseason, thanks to new NCAA legislation allowing coaches to work with their teams over the summer, coaches began official practice with a good grip on what to expect from their teams this season. This is a generally positive development. It helps eliminate some of the rust players typically carry into fall workouts, allows coaches to begin formulating and implementing tactical tweaks earlier than usual, and gives incoming freshmen a chance to leave a positive first impression while benefiting from a longer and more relaxed transition into their college careers. Sadly, this takes some of the luster off Midnight Madness, which is traditionally viewed with excitement and anticipation as the official start of hoops practice and the symbolic commencement of another season-long slate of hardwood drama. But from a coaches perspective, getting an early look at your team before the usual date would seem like a positive change of pace, if nothing else.

All the Hoosiers need to do is sneak by Georgia to do battle with a promising UCLA squad in the Legends Classic final (Photo credit: Sandra Dukes/US Presswire)

With teams starting preseason preparations early this year, some of the usual sloppiness of non-conference play should be replaced by a more crisp and disciplined brand of basketball. This hypothesis may or may not bear fruit, but whatever the effect of the rule – whether it better conditions teams for promising starts, or eliminates the intensity of fall preseason workouts – the value of an extended offseason program will be put to the test in rather abrupt fashion with the annual slate of non-conference tournaments. These little events spring up stateside just as much as they do in island states and commonwealths, from Las Vegas to Brooklyn, Hawaii to Puerto Rico, and pretty much anywhere with a basketball court, hotels and some bleachers. It’s awful hard to keep track of them all, so I’ve chosen five events to narrow your focus. Each fixture is intriguing in its own way, and a variety of factors went into constructing the list. Exciting games between top teams carried the most weight.

On a side note: I decided to exclude mega-events such as the ACC/Big Ten and SEC/Big East Challenges, as well as the Preseason NIT. Those are great events, no doubt, but they’re great events each and every year. Plus, they don’t fit the categorical purpose of this exercise, so listing them here is unnecessary. I also excluded mini-events such as the Gotham Classic, Jimmy V Classic, Champions Classic and Wooden Classic in favor of actual tournament-style events.

1. Legends Classic 

  • Where: Barclays Center; Brooklyn, New York
  • Teams: Indiana, Georgia, UCLA, Georgetown
  • When: November 19-20
  • Bracket

Before we get to breaking down the matchups, the venue – the state of the art Barclays Center, which offers a cutting-edge food-ordering app, free wi-fi and the very real possibility you might spot hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, 2013 Super Bowl halftime diva Beyonce, or both – is a spectacle on its own, an urban hoops palace taking a lead role in modernizing the sports viewing experience with unprecedented technological amenities. Watching basketball played on that court is exciting no matter what teams inhabit it. Then you take a shiny new stadium and put two Top 25 squads on the floor, both of whom will still be figuring out their lineups and rounding into form, and it’s hard to envision anyone being disappointed by the end product. If Indiana can get by Georgia in one semifinal and UCLA takes care of business against Georgetown in the other (which, admittedly, is far from a guarantee), the championship game could make for one of the upcoming college hoops calendar’s best non-conference games altogether, let alone the bracketed tournament variety. Indiana will get its first real test of the season, while UCLA may still be feeling things out with an expected freshman-heavy lineup. If I had my druthers, I’d rather see this game played later on in the  schedule, mostly because of the very real possibility that No. 1 recruit Shabazz Muhammad won’t be available due to an ongoing NCAA review of possible violations committed during his recruitment. With Muhammad, the potential Indiana-UCLA Final is a Final Four-worthy bout. Without him, it’s exciting but incomplete, insofar as it won’t accurately gauge the Bruins at full strength against another legitimate national title contender.

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Pac-12′s Five Most Important Non-Conference Games

Posted by KDanna on October 10th, 2012

The best thing about October isn’t watching football or the MLB playoffs; no, it’s all about analyzing college basketball non-conference schedules. Where are the potential RPI boosts? Trap games? Guarantee ones? So many possibilities for those ’12 or ’13 tilts!

But way out west, promise has quickly turned into embarrassment in November and December for the Pac-12 in recent years. Last season, the Pac went 9-38 against teams that finished the regular season in the RPI Top-100 and 3-28 against those finishing 50th or above, according to realtimerpi.com. Numbers like those are why Washington didn’t get an at-large bid even as the conference’s regular-season champion. So, it goes without saying that the first two months of the season are HUGE for a conference like the Pac-12 to regain respect around the college basketball world. With that in mind, we’re ready to begin circling some dates to keep an eye on in the conference calendar. Here are my choices for the five most important non-conference games for the Pac in 2012-13, in order of appearance:

Maui Invitational

USC Will Represent The Pac-12 At The Maui Invitational This Year (Alex Prosperi, EA Sports Maui Invitational)

1. USC vs. Illinois (November 19) - Talk about the ultimate RPI-boost game. Illinois is the Trojans’ first-round opponent of the Maui Invitational, which means a certain D-II team will be lurking in the consolation bracket. If the Trojans beat the Illini, they get to play Texas, another high-quality RPI opponent. If the Trojans lose… that’s right, Chaminade is up next (assuming Texas doesn’t Oklahoma 2010-11 it). In case you were wondering, the Silverswords are not a high-quality RPI opponent. Neither the Trojans nor the Illini are coming off storybook seasons (USC went 1-17 in an extremely down Pac-12, while Illinois absolutely imploded, finishing the season 2-12 after a 15-3 start), but a little early-season karma can do a body of work good. And, we’ll get a chance to see just how much difference USC’s new faces (like Ari Stewart, J.T. Terrell and Eric Wise) and newly healthy returnees (with senior point guard Jio Fontan exhibit A) can make.

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The Sponsored Tournament Sticker Scourge Is On Its Last Legs…

Posted by rtmsf on May 15th, 2012

There are few things in college basketball where you will find consensus among coaches, players, fans and the media, but if you ever want to see unified outrage in action, check in with Twitter in the immediate moments after a player slips and falls awkwardly on one of those sponsored decals that populate floors around the country during the preseason November tournaments. From Maui to Kansas City to Madison Square Garden, these plastic logos that adhere to the hardwood have long been decried by just about everyone as dangerously slippery, needlessly intrusive, and a horrific accident waiting to happen. Fervor against the corporate sponsorships reached a fever pitch last season during the Carrier Classic when Michigan State’s Branden Dawson twisted his right knee awkwardly on one of the Quicken Loans decals and writhed around in pain for a couple of minutes while everyone in attendance watched in horror.

Luckily Dawson Was OK, But His Near-Miss Clearly Exhibited the Problem

Luckily for everyone involved, most notably Dawson (who ironically tore his ACL in March against Ohio State when he knocked knees with another player), he walked away uninjured from that slip, but his scare along with another one a few days later when Memphis’ Chris Crawford slipped on an EA Sports Maui Invitational logo at FedEx Forum crystallized the need for the NCAA to get involved. On Monday, the governing organization did the right thing and made a clear recommendation to the Playing Rules Oversight Panel (which meets in June) that “the court be ‘of a consistent surface’ so student-athlete safety is not compromised.” If approved, and there’s little doubt that it will be, this means that corporations sponsoring tournaments like the Coaches vs. Cancer, the Preseason NIT, and others, had better look into hiring some contract painters next winter.

The NCAA is nothing if not reactionary, but luckily in this case, the near-injuries of several players last season were enough to inspire the reaction. Now… back to our lair to figure out a way to tie player injuries to the 1-and-done rule, inconsistent block/charge calls, and the lack of a true opening night.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.26.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 26th, 2012

  1. The Pac-12 in the NCAA Tournament may be a distant memory, but conference teams continue to play on in lesser postseason tournaments. Washington State kicks off a three-game series for the championship of the CBI tournament tonight against Pittsburgh, but will likely have to do so without its most valuable player, Brock Motum. Motum sprained an ankle early in the Cougars’ semifinal game against Oregon State last week, but his teammates were able to step up and cover for him. While he is questionable for tonight’s game, head coach Ken Bone claims that there is a stronger chance that he’ll be able to return for Wednesday night’s game in Pittsburgh.
  2. Meanwhile, Washington heads back to Madison Square Garden for the third time this season as the Huskies face Minnesota in the NIT semifinals on Tuesday night. The first time UW played at MSG this season, freshman guard Tony Wroten put on a show for a national audience, scoring 24 points, including 14 in the final 10 minutes as he tried to will his team back into the game. Now, after a disappointing end to the Huskies’ NCAA Tournament chances when Wroten missed multiple free throws down the stretch of a Pac-12 tournament game, he is back to reprise his starring role in one of the nation’s best basketball arenas. And it is possible, given Wroten’s chances of becoming a high draft pick in June’s NBA Draft, that his time in the spotlight as a collegiate player will be book-ended by appearances in the World’s Most Famous Arena.
  3. Stanford is the other Pac-12 team still alive, also in the NIT semifinals, facing Massachusetts on Tuesday night. This will also be the Cardinal’s third appearance this season at Madison Square Garden too, after they beat Oklahoma State and dropped a tight game to Syracuse at the Garden in the Preseason NIT during Thanksgiving weekend. But Stanford is also in the news lately because head coach Johnny Dawkins is reportedly a possible candidate for the head coaching job at Illinois. Dawkins denies the reports, but with Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens having already turned down the Illini, Dawkins is supposed to be considered along with Leonard Hamilton, Jeff Capel and Anthony Grant for the position.
  4. Elsewhere around the Cardinal program, with associate head coach Dick Davey retiring at the end of the season, should Dawkins return (which, really, is to be expected, not only because Illinois can probably find someone better than him for their position, but also because he would probably rather be at Stanford that in Champaign), he’ll need to fill a spot on his staff. And, among the candidates for that seat is former Cardinal star Mark Madsen. Madsen has limited coaching experience, and Dawkins can certainly find somebody with a more solid resume, but the case can be made that snapping up Madsen now would be good for the Cardinal program in the future.
  5. Lastly, we missed this back at the start of March, but California will be among the eight teams playing in the 2013 Maui Invitational. The Golden Bears will join Syracuse, Baylor, Gonzaga, Arkansas, Dayton, Minnesota and, host Chaminade in Maui in November 2013. It’s too early to prognosticate the strength of any of those teams, but Syracuse, Baylor and Gonzaga have been consistently solid in recent years, while the Bears could feature Allen Crabbe, Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon as seniors, with David Kravish as a junior.
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Be My Valentine – 14 Iconic Moments We’ve Loved This Season

Posted by EJacoby on February 14th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

Are you riding solo this Valentine’s Day? If you can’t have a significant other, you can always love sports. What is more beautiful to watch than a buzzer-beating shot, an unlikely upset win, or a swarm of students rushing the court? Here to cheer you up, we present a reminder of 14 lovely moments in college basketball this season, in honor of the 14th:

Be Our Hoops Valentine...

1. Racers’ Pursuit of Perfection (December 11) – Murray State beat then-ranked Memphis on the road to improve their record to 10-0, and fans and analysts immediately began to take notice of this OVC school. This win set off the idea that the Racers could perhaps run the table this season, and while it did not happen, it would be two full months before they lost a game.

2. Teach Us How to Dougie (January 7) – Creighton has now lost three straight games to drop out of the Top 25 rankings for the first time in weeks, but they’d been providing a great story all season in the form of Doug McDermott. The sophomore forward, son of Creighton head coach Greg McDermott, and former teammate of Harrison Barnes in high school, went for 44 points and eight rebounds in a road win over Bradley that kickstarted his campaign for National Player of the Year. His candidacy for the award has since died down, but he’s still third in the nation in points per game (22.9).

3. Watford’s Buzzer-Beater (December 10) – Indiana got off to a fast start this season, but the Hoosiers took it to another level when they knocked off #1 Kentucky at home to improve to 9-0 back in December. Down by two, it took this shot by Christian Watford to beat the buzzer and provide us with one of the most memorable highlights of the year. The shot signified that IU basketball is officially back. See it below.

4. Rivers’ Buzzer-Beater (February 8) – Perhaps the only more recognizable moment of this season than Watford’s shot was a similar one from Duke’s Austin Rivers. Down by two at Chapel Hill on the final possession, the freshman provided this season’s iconic moment thus far by nailing a game-winner at the buzzer to beat North Carolina. The main difference between the two shots? Rivers’ came on the road, silencing the UNC crowd and sending them into shock.

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Night Line: Duke Resembling Its 2010 Championship Team?

Posted by EJacoby on November 25th, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanJacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

The Maui Invitational finals played to an instant classic last night, with Duke leaving the island as champions yet again. Coach K and the Blue Devils are now a perfect 15-0 in their five trips to Maui. Duke has won the first seven games of this season, and a team that nearly lost its season-opener at home to Belmont is starting to establish an identity. Upon further review, the 2011-’12 Blue Devils might just begin to resemble the 2009-’10 team that cut down the nets as NCAA Tournament champions. Just to be clear — no, this is not to say that Duke is the title favorite this season — teams like Ohio State, Kentucky, North Carolina, and UConn may be better built for long-term success. But the 2010 Blue Devils were a surprise champion, and this Duke team has a similar make-up.

Duke Doesn't Look Like a National Champ, But It Didn't in 2010 Either (Kemper Lesnik/B. Spurlock)

Duke started five upperclassmen (Smith, Scheyer, Singler, Thomas, Zoubek) in 2010 and turned to their bench for youth and energy. This year’s team starts four upperclassmen (Curry, Dawkins, Kelly, Mason Plumlee) and brings sophomore Tyler Thornton and freshman Quinn Cook off the bench, along with senior Miles Plumlee, to provide a spark. The biggest difference here is that freshman Austin Rivers is starting on the wing where the 2010 team had a junior leader, Kyle Singler, filling that role. But Rivers (14.4 PPG) is so far having a similar scoring impact on the game that Singler (17.7 PPG) did, and the rookie will no doubt continue to improve as the season goes along. While this year’s backcourt of Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins are not the big-name stars or volume scorers that Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer were, the two have seen tremendous improvements from last season and are playing at a very high level. This year’s team makes up for the small backcourt-scoring gap with Mason Plumlee’s offensive contributions down low. Plumlee averages 11.4 points per game so far, while no inside player averaged more than 5.6 PPG for the champions.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: Thanksgiving Day Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 24th, 2011

  1. We have to start our Turkey Day post by getting right to the team that Pac-12 fans are currently thankful for, the last remaining undefeated team in the otherwise underachieving conference, Stanford. The Cardinal continued their strong start Wednesday night with a thorough 15-point handling of a solid Oklahoma State squad in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score. Senior forward Josh Owens continued his strong start with 21 points on 10-12 from the field, while below-the-radar point guard Aaron Bright had 15 points on 6-9 shooting, with three three-pointers mixed in there.  Further exciting Cardinal fans is the continued emergence of freshman guard Chasson Randle, who played his best game of his young career, scoring 17 points, including three threes of his own. However, while OSU was a step up in competition for Stanford, they should be prepared for another big jump in the talent level of their opponent, as they face RTC’s #5 team in the nation, Syracuse, on Friday afternoon in the championship of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
  2. Elsewhere in the conference Wednesday night, there were two more losses coming from among the four teams considered to make up the top tier of the Pac-12 prior to the season, as UCLA continued its disasterous season with its fourth loss on the young season and Arizona dropped its second straight. The Bruins lost by 16 to Michigan in Maui to mercifully end their trip with only a throw-away win over Division II Chaminade and some Hawaiian Airlines frequent flier miles to show for their effort. Meanwhile the Wildcats had their 22-game home winning streak broken by a game San Diego State squad. If there was a bright spot for Arizona, it was their freshman backcourt duo of Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson turning in double-digit performances. While Johnson has been solid from the get-go in Tucson, Turner has had his much publicized struggles. However, he is improving almost every time out and could have his breakout performance in the near future. On the down side for the Wildcats, however, Sean Miller spoke about the Sidiki Johnson suspension following the game and noted that Johnson did not return with the team to Tucson and remains in New York. Miller said that he and Johnson “have an agreement and if he meets this agreement, he could potentially be reinstated.” However, Miller then added, “he could also be dismissed.” Asked later is he was optimistic about Johnson meeting the agreement, he simply said, “no.”
  3. After California’s 39-point loss to Missouri on Tuesday night, Golden Bear fans had to be asking themselves: “Does this really look like a team capable of winning the conference championship?” Upon further research by Jeff Faraudo, no team from any incarnation of what is now the Pac-12 conference (i.e., the Pac-10, Pac-8, AAWU or PCC) dating back to 1950 has ever lost a non-conference game by as many as 39 points and gone on to win the conference championship. Maybe, given the possibly historic weakness of this year’s Pac-12, that streak can be broken. And maybe Tuesday night was simply a matter of a Cal team playing a poor game against a Missouri team that could do no wrong. Still, that was just another in a long line of black eyes for conference teams this season. After Wednesday night, the conference is 33-20 thus far on the season.
  4. There is not a whole lot of hope around the conference thus far, but one team that has inspired confidence among its followers, Oregon State, will get its own dash of hope this weekend. The Beavers and head coach Craig Robinson are in the Washington, D.C. area this weekend for a match-up with Towson on Saturday, and, of course, will be spending some time visiting with Robinson’s brother-in-law, some guy by the name of Barack Obama. The Beavers spent some time Wednesday with the First Family working at a food bank in the D.C. area, and will get a chance to visit the White House likely on Friday. And, while we’re on the topic of the Beavers, I would be remiss if I didn’t point you in the direction of Rob Dauster breaking down Jared Cunningham’s defensive work against Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins the other night. Great read and great analysis.
  5. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m going to make sure I keep this post relatively positive. I’m not going to link to Bruin fans absolutely losing it over their team’s oh-for-Division-I start. I wouldn’t possibly send you in search of those same Bruin fans ripping Ben Howland’s personnel decisions (like Norman Powell, Anthony Stover and Brendan Lane are going to turn this team back into a Pac-12 front-runner). And I certainly wouldn’t encourage anybody to take a look at SB Nation’s power rankings of the eight Division I programs in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, in which UCLA is a distant sixth, behind (among others) a Pepperdine team that may finish last in the WCC, a Cal State Fullerton team that already lost to Houston Baptist this season, and a USC team that scored 36 points in losing to Cal Poly. Nah, you don’t want to read those. Go enjoy some turkey instead. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
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