Can Georgia State Separate From Muddled Sun Belt Pack?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 16th, 2014

Preseason expectations for the Sun Belt ranged anywhere from Western Kentucky winning the league and Georgia State tying Louisiana-Lafayette for fourth to Georgia State grabbing the top spot just ahead of the Ragin’ Cajuns. And while there wasn’t much agreement on the order of finish, almost all pundits and prognosticators acknowledged that several teams had enough talent to make it a hotly contested conference race. It’s played out that way in the early going — six teams are .500 or better and even some in the bottom half of the league have beaten contenders. Only one squad stands undefeated, though, and if its 23-point road thrashing of Western Kentucky last week is any indication, Georgia State might be poised to emerge as the Sun Belt’s clear-cut best.

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers have looked dangerous in the early going. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Wade)

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers look dangerous in the early going. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Wade)

After suffering a couple heart-breaking losses and beginning the season with a disappointing 3-6 record, Ron Hunter’s team has won seven straight games, at times playing stretches of dominant basketball. Along with the one-sided showing against WKU, the Panthers also beat East Carolina on the road and pounded South Alabama on its home floor in recent weeks. The key for Georgia State is (and will continue to be) its offense, which features multiple scoring options who each have the ability to erupt for huge nights. Point guard Devonta White and off-guard Ryan Harrow — a Kentucky Wildcat a year ago, if you remember — are quick, skilled ball-handlers capable of beating defenders off the dribble and penetrating the lane with regularity. Once there, Harrow can finish or draw fouls like few other guards in the Sun Belt, while both he and White are excellent distributors: Each maintains a sparkling 28.2 percent assist rate, good enough to be ranked in the top 125 nationally. A main contributor to that rate is the fact that they often kick the ball out to two of the best wings in the conference, coach’s son R.J. Hunter and former Virginia Tech transfer Manny Atkins. R.J. — a highly recruited player who received offers from Cincinnati and Iowa, among others — is a dynamic scorer, expert from the outside and able to use his size and fluidity to shoot over smaller guards, while Atkins plays a bit more physically but is equally well-equipped from behind the arc.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Hawaii, Javon McCrea, Leon Rice & Loyola Marymount

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 1st, 2014

Aside from some Diamond Head Classic fun and a solid slate on Saturday, the past week in college basketball was probably the lightest we will see all season, thank goodness — there were two entire days (before and after Christmas Day) that featured zero games. Luckily, the sheer quantity of contests will pick up dramatically as conference play starts up across the country this week. Despite the lack of hoops action, though, there were still several impressive performances and exciting finishes that caught our attention during the holiday week, so let’s ring in the New Year by passing out a few awards to some worthy O26 recipients.

Hawaii had a fine week at the Diamond Head Classic. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Hawaii had a fine week at the Diamond Head Classic. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

O26 Team of the Week

Hawaii. Maybe because it’s the only thing on at that time, but the Diamond Head Classic has become something of a beloved Christmastime tradition for college basketball fans in recent years. Last season’s tournament featured an awesome, tournament-winning blocked-shot by Arizona, and the two years prior included top-15 upsets against unranked opponents. It’s a fun event. This year, the Classic’s host — a Hawaii team already outperforming expectations in non-conference play — made the most of its home-court advantage, nearly beating eventual runner-up Boise State and then winning back-to-back hard-fought games over quality opponents.

Last Sunday, the Warriors were a Garrett Nevels three-pointer away from knocking off the Broncos, ultimately falling 62-61 to a team that will likely compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament come March. It was a close-but-no-cigar kind of defeat. So how did Hawaii respond to the disappointment? By coming out the next night and winning an equally close game against Saint Mary’s, another squad with legitimate postseason potential. In a back-and-forth contest throughout, senior forward Christian Standhardinger was the eventual hero, answering a game-tying basket by the Gaels’ Beau Levesque with a baseline jumper of his own to give the Warriors a thrilling 76-74 victory. Then, on Christmas Day, Gib Arnold’s team did what it does best on the defensive end, forcing 17 turnovers and beating Oregon State in decisive fashion — the six-point margin does not indicate how much better Hawaii was — to win the consolation title. The victory was the Warriors’ first over a Pac-12 opponent in seven years and moved their record to 9-3. After handling Norfolk State on Monday night, Hawaii reached double-figure wins before January for the first time since 2001-02… the last season it reached the NCAA Tournament. A program appears on the rise in Honolulu.

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Will Florida Be Middle Tennessee State’s Next SEC Victim?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 20th, 2013

It was “one in, one out” for Florida last week, as the Gators got Dorian Finney-Smith back from suspension only to lose Kasey Hill to a high ankle sprain two days later. It appears the freshman point guard will be out at least a month, and Billy Donovan has said reserve Scottie Wilbekin will not be back just yet either. That leaves Donovan without a true point guard for Thursday night’s game against Middle Tennessee State, a program that beat both Ole Miss and Vanderbilt last season en route to an NCAA Tournament invitation. Should Florida be on upset alert and wary of being the Blue Raiders’ next SEC victim? It says here that, despite the Gators’ ongoing point guard issues, probably not.

Dorian Finney-Smith's rebounding is a big boost to Florida (courtesy usatoday.com).

Finney-Smith’s rebounding is a big boost to Florida. (Credit: USAToday.com)

Middle Tennessee State has started the season 4-0, but the two things that can lead less talented teams to upsets — offensive rebounding and three-point shooting — are not this team’s strengths. The Blue Raiders are not a good offensive rebounding team, in particular. Senior forward Shawn Jones is having a good season (16.0 PPG; 9.0 RPG) but his 13.9 percent offensive rebounding rate is the best on the team. Neiko Hunter at 10 percent is the only other player in double figures in that metric. The Blue Raiders face a tall task against a team stocked with frontcourt talent if they can’t generate second-chance opportunities. In that vein, the return of Finney-Smith and his astronomical board numbers (22.4% ORB, 27% DRB) is important for the Gators, and should allow his team to control this game on the glass. The Blue Raiders have been solid from three, shooting 38 percent as a team, but no player other than Kerry Hammonds has yet proven to be a consistent threat, and Florida has been equally good in holding its opponents to 31 percent this season, so this seems like a wash.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Saint Mary’s 67, #11 Middle Tennessee State 54

Posted by IRenko on March 19th, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Dayton after Tuesday’s play-in game between Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee State. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Steve Holt

Steve Holt and the Gaels Move On to the Round of 64

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Same as They Ever Were – Despite manning the mid-major beat for RTC, I’ve spent a good part of the season overlooking Saint Mary’s in favor of newer, fresher flavors of the month… like Middle Tennessee State. For much of the year, the Gaels’ schedule (three games against the number one team in the country plus a litany of wins over a litany of unaccomplished teams) provided little clarity on their quality. Only when they toppled Creighton in the Bracketbuster game did I really sit up and notice. And tonight, they made clear that I should’ve been paying attention all along. It was an impressive performance, and one that the Gaels may well repeat against Memphis in a couple days.
  2. Beating MTSU At Its Own Game — Through the first 10 minutes, it looked like MTSU would have the edge, as they imposed their bruising, physical style of play on Saint Mary’s. But the Gaels adapted, ultimately beating Middle Tennessee at its own game. They clamped down on defense and patiently exploited opportunities on offense. Saint Mary’s seemed to gain a certain confidence after the initial adjustment period. They closed the first half with an 11-2 run, taking a 29-20 lead into the break. They went on to a relatively comfortable win, never leading by fewer than three points in the second half.
  3. There Were No Easy Points for the Blue Raiders — Through the first 25 minutes of the game, MTSU had taken just two free throws and scored just two points in transition. These are deadly numbers for a team struggling to score in the rhythm of the half-court offense. The Blue Raiders  managed to bolster their transition game later in the second half, adding seven more points on the break, but they remained unable to get to the free throw line, ending the game with just seven free throw attempts. MTSU typically scores more than 22 percent of its points from the charity stripe, but tonight, they scored just 11 percent of their points from the line.

Star of the Game:  Matthew Dellavedova is the centerpiece of the Gaels’ offense in a way that few NCAA Tournament-quality point guards are. That brings a tremendous amount of pressure, particularly when facing a team with a cadre of physical, defensive-minded guards. But the Aussie veteran took it all in stride, never getting rattled even when his teammates seemed to be early in the game. His calm and composure set the tone for the Gaels, and his abilities as a ball-handler, scorer, and passer fueled their offense. Dellavedova finished with 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting (including 5-of-7 from 3-point range, breaking a 1-of-18 shooting slump), six rebounds, and four assists. And that doesn’t count all the other baskets he created with his penetration, where his pass led to the assist that led to the score.

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Morning Five: 03.12.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 12th, 2013

morning5

  1. One of the undersold stories of March is that for every Cinderella that surprises in their conference tournament to earn an automatic bid there are nearly as many dominant teams that suffer crushing defeats that relegate them from being potential threats in the NCAA Tournament to the NIT. As Jeff Goodman points out there are a number of people who feel that the system is unfair. Goodman points to the example of top-seeded Middle Tennessee State (won its conference regular season by five games before losing in the conference tournament) and Stony Brook (won its conference regular season, but lost in the conference tournament playing a lower seeded team on the road). Although we can sympathize with these teams this sudden change of fortunes is part of what makes March so memorable and to undermine it with Goodman’s strategy of having the tournament champ play the regular season champ in a playoff undermines the appeal of March to a degree. Now if they want to offer the regular season champ more advantages such as hosting the conference tournament we would not mind that, but it should not take away some of the randomness that makes March so tantalizing.
  2. By now you have all seen and heard about Tom Crean‘s exchange with Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer (a former Indiana assistant under Kelvin Sampson) where Crean yelled “You helped wreck our program!” at Meyer after the game. Like everybody else we are all familiar with the back story of Sampson committing NCAA violations that put Crean in the place to rebuild Indiana. What we are not sure of is what triggered Crean to unleash his wrath on Meyer at this time. Crean and Meyer have since spoken on the phone about the incident and Crean apologized so it would probably be best to consider the incident closed, but it is unfortunate that this unseemly incident took away some of the spotlight from Indiana’s impressive road win (aided of course by some late mistakes by Michigan).
  3. Teams across the country may be fighting for spots in the NCAA Tournament, but at least the field for one tournament–the 2K Sports Classic (benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project–is set. The Gazelle Group announced yesterday that the semifinals (this is one of those fake tournaments where they have regional rounds where the winner does not necessarily advance) would feature IndianaConnecticutBoston College, and Washington on November 21 with the winners (we are going to pencil in Indiana and Connecticut even though we don’t know what the semifinal match-ups are) playing on November 22. The other 12 teams that will complete the 16-team regional rounds will be announced at a later date.
  4. With Victor Oladipo‘s rise from a complementary piece in Indiana’s machine to a legitimate national player of the year candidate we have seen plenty of columns analyzing his growth as a player and how he went from a relatively lightly recruited prospect to the star at one of college basketball’s premier programs. The one thing we had not seen was an in-depth feature on him until The New York Times profiled him on Sunday. Outside of the usual inane comments about how Oladipo “fills a stat sheet with the zeal of a locavore at a farmers’ market” the piece is actually filled with interesting information about Oladipo’s background and his relationship particularly with his father who has never attended an Indiana game.
  5. One of the biggest driving forces in the popularity of college basketball and college sports is the passion its fans have for the games. Usually that passion is directed in a positive way (camping out for games, etc), but sometimes that passion is based in hate. That hate can go too far sometimes (see European soccer fans), but at times that hate (or intense dislike if you are into semantics) can make the games more interesting. With the NCAA Tournament just around the corner the folks at Grantland created their Hate Bracket, which is comprised of 32 players (perhaps longing for the 1975-1978 NCAA Tournaments), with regions for Duke, the 1980s, the 1990s, and 2000s (actually post-2000 for the last group). The field is fairly evenly split in terms of race with 15 Caucasians and 17 African-Americans even if the former is probably too heavily represented given their relative impact on college basketball during the period being voted on, but we will leave that discussion to someone else.
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The Other 26: Five Intriguing Championship Week Storylines

Posted by IRenko on March 9th, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

With regular season action having wound down, we’ll dispense with our standard format this week in favor of a streamlined focus on five key Championship Week storylines, along with, as always, our updated top 10 rankings.  I joined the RTC Podblast crew on Wednesday for a full-fledged preview of TO26 conference tournament action, talking about the most exciting tournaments, the most anticipated matchups, potential bid stealers, and more. Rather than repeat myself, I’ll refer you to the sweet, dulcet sounds of my voice for more on those big picture topics, and instead offer five less obvious storylines to follow. 

Will Kendall Williams Lead the Lobos to a Number 2 Seed? (Maria Brose / Albuquerque Journal)

Will Kendall Williams Lead the Lobos to a Number 2 Seed? (Maria Brose / Albuquerque Journal)

  1. Will Cinderella Show up Early? — If you love to cheer on Cinderella squads as they try to knock off highly-seeded favorites, there’s no need to wait for the Big Dance. The conference tournaments comprise more than two dozen Little Dances, in which a Cinderella run is as likely as it is later in March. Last year, Western Kentucky managed to snare the Sun Belt’s automatic bid, despite entering the postseason tournament with a #7 seed and an 11-18 record. Can anyone manage the feat this year? Already, we have a great underdog story brewing in the WCC, where Loyola Marymount, which went 1-15 in regular season conference play, has won two tournament games to secure a semifinal berth. It will take a true miracle to overcome their next obstacle — the number one team in the country, Gonzaga — but miracles are what March is for.
  2. Can New Mexico Secure a #2 Seed? – Gonzaga appears poised to plant the TO26 banner on the top seed line, but is it possible that another TO26 team could find itself just one line down? Our latest bracketology hands the Lobos a #2 seed, though many other projections predict a #3 seed. A run through the MW Tournament — on the heels of a two-loss regular season in what is the conference’s deepest, most competitive year in memory — would, one would hope, be enough to give the Lobos their highest seed in school history (they twice notched a #3 seed, including in 2010). And it would be the first time that two TO26 squads landed two of the top eight seeds since 2004, when St. Joseph’s and Gonzaga each managed the feat.
  3. Will Akron Regroup? — A week ago, Akron was riding a 19-game winning streak, was undefeated in MAC play, and was two games clear of Ohio in the East Division standings with three games left. The Zips fell last Saturday in a surprising 81-67 loss to Buffalo, in which they were torched by Javon McCrea for 28 points. But that was a mere bump in the road compared to what happened next. On Thursday, it was announced that junior point guard Alex Abreu had been indefinitely suspended after being arrested on felony charges of marijuana trafficking, and in their first game without him last night, the Zips fell at home to Kent State, 66-61. Worse than blowing their lead atop the East Division (if Ohio wins Saturday, the teams will end the regular season tied), the Zips are now limping into the postseason with little chance of an at-large bid and needing to win three straight MAC tournament games without Abreu to make good on their once-promising March prospects. How important is Abreu to this team? He’s third in scoring, at 10.3 points per game, and shoots a team-leading 39.4 percent from three-point range. But more than that, he is the facilitator that makes Akron’s offense go, notching six assists per game, for which he ranks in the top 20 nationally. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Other 26: Niagara Rushes Forth

Posted by IRenko on February 2nd, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

When you hear the word “Niagara” you’re not likely to think of basketball. But in the shadow of one of the world’s natural wonders, something is percolating on the hardwood. After a thrilling 93-90 overtime win over Iona that included a rally from a late 15-point deficit and a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win the game, Niagara sits atop the MAAC standings at 10-1. A win over Loyola today would cap a tremendous week for the Purple Eagles, giving them a perfect 3-0 record against the next three teams in the standings — Iona, Loyola, and Canisius — over the past seven days.

Juan'ya Green Capped Niagara's Thrilling Win Over Iona With a Last-Second Three-Pointer  in Overtime (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Juan’ya Green Capped Niagara’s Thrilling Win Over Iona With a Last-Second Three-Pointer in Overtime (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Last year, Niagara finished 14-19, the first time in head coach Joe Mihalich’s 10-year tenure that he suffered consecutive losing seasons. Mihalich had taken the Purple Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and 2007 and to the NIT in 2004 and 2009, but the team had fallen behind the pack in the MAAC in the three years since. The seeds of a resurgence were planted during last year’s losing campaign, as a host of young players started to find their footing in Division 1 college hoops. Having lost no one to graduation, Niagara was predicted to finish fifth in the MAAC in the preseason coaches’ poll. That seemed a fair, perhaps optimistic, assessment, but the clear light of hindsight makes a mockery of it.

What accounts for the turnaround? Mostly the maturation of Niagara’s all-sophomore backcourt: Juan’ya Green, Antoine Mason, and Ameen Tanksley. Last year, the trio showed that they had talent. This year, they’re showing that they can channel it into efficient offense.  Green is actually averaging fewer points (16.5) than he did as a freshman (17.6), but that’s in part because he’s managed to corral his considerable talents and become a more effective facilitator. Coming out of high school, Green was known for his prodigious scoring ability, but questions lingered about his ability to create for his teammates. He’s answering those questions this year, increasing his assists (5.2 per game) and decreasing his turnovers (2.8 per game). With Green deferring more to his teammates, Mason, the son of former NBA player Anthony Mason, has stepped into the role of lead scorer. He’s upped his per-game average from 15.1 to a team-leading 18.7, but more importantly, he’s become a much more efficient scorer.  He’s increased his field goal percentage from 38.2 to 44.6. He now shoots almost 80 percent from the free throw line, after shooting less than 65 percent last year, a significant development because of his knack for getting to the charity stripe. Tanksley, for his part, has also boosted his field goal percentage, from 38.6 to 45.7 and upped his scoring average into double-digits.

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The Other 26: The Mountain West Enters the Spotlight

Posted by IRenko on December 29th, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

The action was light during this past holiday week, but the Mountain West’s finest took advantage of the lull to thrust themselves into the spotlight with two exciting contests, a pair of one-point games against top 10 teams decided by last-second blocks. In the final of the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, San Diego State fell just short against third-ranked Arizona, losing 68-67 when Xavier Thames’ potential winning shot was blocked by Arizona’s Nick Johnson as time expired. Two days later, New Mexico visited eighth-ranked Cincinnati and emerged with a hard-fought 55-54 victory that was sealed by a last-second block from sophomore Alex Kirk. What was most impressive about these hard-fought contests is how both teams showed that even if you take away some of their key weapons, they are deep and versatile enough to compete.

(Getty Images)

Alex Kirk Led a Tough New Mexico Performance Against Cincinnati (Getty Images)

The Lobos distinguished themselves not just with a victory, but the way they earned it. They are accustomed to racking up points at the free throw line, but reached the charity stripe at only a 20 percent rate, far below their season average and good enough for just six points. But they gritted out the win by patiently moving the ball against Cincy’s high-pressure halfcourt defense to find open shooters and cutters. Junior point guard Kendall Williams turned in a performance befitting of a team leader, stepping up to hit several big three-pointers and finishing the game with a team-high 16 points. But it was Kirk who set the tone with his lunch bucket performance, fearlessly hurling himself into battle against Cincinnati’s imposing frontline and surviving with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds, and three blocks, including a game-clinching rejection of a Sean Kilpatrick three-point shot.

The Aztecs, too, can be proud of the fight they showed in Honolulu despite coming up short. Leading scorer Jamaal Franklin was held to just nine points, his lowest output of the season.  But Franklin found other ways to contribute, pulling down eight rebounds and dishing out six assists. And San Diego State found other players to carry the scoring load. Chase Tapley, who had already poured in 46 points in the first two games of the tournament, dropped 19 against Arizona to push his season scoring average to 15.8 PPG. And the Aztecs showed how strong their defense is, holding the Wildcats to 37.3 percent shooting.

This Saturday, UNLV will have a chance to intensify this week’s spotlight on the Mountain West when they travel to North Carolina. In a year when the conference seems as deep as any in the country, the only lingering doubt heading into this past week was whether they had the heavyweights to compete with the nation’s best teams. But as the final week of non-conference play comes to a close, the conference’s top teams are leaving little doubt that they can.

Top Ten Rankings

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Morning Five: 11.29.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 29th, 2012

  1. The announcement that Louisville is heading to the ACC should not come as too much of a surprise given how far the Big East has fallen, but it is still huge news when one of the top 10 programs historically in college basketball and a top 25 program in college football (for now) moves conferences. The loss of Maryland to the Big Ten will have an impact on the conference (mainly the loss of the Duke-Maryland rivalry even if some members do not view it as much of a rivalry), but we cannot really view this as anything other than a major upgrade on the playing fields for the ACC. With the reported size of the Big Ten’s upcoming football contract it makes you wonder why they wouldn’t go after Louisville instead of Maryland (we think the impact of the D.C. media market is highly overrated).
  2. With the power conferences fighting over the marquee programs and the losing conferences pillaging the lower conferences for their top programs, the lower-tier conferences are often forced to do what essentially amounts to dumpster diving. Such is the case of Conference USA, which is reportedly set to add Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee State in 2014 to offset the losses of East Carolina and Tulane to the Big East. From a basketball standpoint this could be a slight win for Conference USA given the strength of the Middle Tennessee State program right now, but from an overall financial standpoint it is a considerable downgrade. Given all the movement we have seen in the past few days we would not be surprised to see much more in the near future.
  3. There has been so much going on with conference realignment and the NCAA’s investigations into incoming freshmen that we had almost forgot that Myck Kabongo was still sitting out until we heard that the NCAA is expected to release a statement about his eligibility later today with the likely punishment being a 10-game suspension. Kabongo’s eligibility issues stem from a trip he took to Cleveland earlier this year that was reportedly financed by a professional agent. If Kabongo is given the 10-game suspension he would not be able to return until the team’s game on December 19 at home against North Carolina and would allow him to play the entire conference schedule, but would mean he would miss the team’s upcoming games against Georgetown and UCLA.
  4. Normally we would have plenty of jokes about Joshua Smith, who has decided to stop playing for UCLA, but with all that has been going on with the Bruins lately we are seriously questioning whether Ben Howland has any control over this program. Outside of the recent ugly losses, this is the second high-profile departure from the program in the past week (Tyler Lamb was the other). Smith has apparently not decided whether he will stay at UCLA or transfer to another school to finish up his basketball career. If this is in fact the last that we have seen of Smith on the basketball court, this sequence will be his enduring legacy.
  5. We didn’t expect Clemson to be very good this year and their hopes of surprising us and other analysts took a hit when senior guard and leading scorer Milton Jennings was arrested for possession of marijuana early yesterday morning and he was suspended by the team for the third time in the past 13 months. From the details we have seen (he was arrested after police noticed the smell of marijuana when responding to a call about someone removing a smoke detector), it sounds like a relatively small violation in comparison to some of the other drug arrests that we see, but since it is Jennings’ third suspension in just over a year we are inclined to believe that this may be the last that we have seen of Jennings in a Clemson uniform.
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RTC 2012-13 Top 25: Post NBA Draft Deadline

Posted by KDoyle on May 1st, 2012

It’s never too early for these, right? We all love the debates, projecting who is too high or too low, and taking a closer look at the upcoming college hoops season — six months goes by quickly, promise. In quickly looking at the Top 25, one would surmise that having five of a team’s top players forgo the remainder of their college careers in favor of the NBA Draft would absolutely kill that team’s prospects for the upcoming season, but that is simply not the case for Kentucky. Last year’s National Champions check in at #2 in the Top 25, proving that John Calipari doesn’t rebuild, he reloads. It would not behoove us to let Kentucky steal the storyline, however, as Tom Crean’s Indiana Hoosiers are the top dog in what looks to be a banner upcoming year. In what was arguably the most exciting and high-flying game of last year’s Tournament, the Hoosiers fell to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen, but have nearly all the pieces back. Just two years ago this was a 12-20 team with no postseason experience, and now they are the top team in the land — according to our group of experts, at least. What a tremendous job Tom Crean has done. The usual Quick ‘n Dirty after the jump…

Whether it is through an exceptional recruiting class, or an impressive finish to the 2011-12 season coupled with a strong nucleus returning, the following five teams surged upward—and for good reason:

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The Other 26: Week 13

Posted by IRenko on February 25th, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Ah, the sweet smell of February Madness in the air.  Who says we need to wait until March to start cracking open the brackets?  Six TO26 conferences kick things off in February:  the Big South (2/27), Horizon (2/28), A-Sun (2/29), Ohio Valley (2/29), Patriot (2/29), and West Coast (2/29).  And several other conferences will kick things off just as soon as the calendar turns, including the MVC in what’s sure to be another great iteration of Arch Madness. No automatic bids will be awarded until March 3 (though Harvard is in position to clinch the Ivy bid as early as March 2), but with a number of top 15 TO26 teams with at-large aspirations kicking off tournament play next week (Wichita State, Murray State, Creighton, St. Mary’s, Gonzaga, BYU), there are heavy implications for the nationwide Bubble.  Speaking of the top 15 …

Looking Forward:  What to Watch

In addition to the conference tournaments that kick off over the next week, here are a few regularly-scheduled games to keep your eye on:

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The Other 26: Week Ten

Posted by IRenko on February 4th, 2012


I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Given this past week’s special Bracketbuster edition, this week’s regular column will be a bit shorter than usual.  We’ll hit the highlights of what you should be watching for this week right after the updated Top 15.

Looking Forward:  What to Watch

  • Xavier at Memphis (2/4, 1 PM) — What looked like a premier non-conference matchup in November has lost its luster, but will still be a critical game for two teams looking to bolster their at-large resumes.
  • Middle Tennessee State at Denver (2/4, 4 PM) — The Blue Raiders put their undefeated Sun Belt mark on the line against a tough Denver squad.
  • Dayton at St. Louis (2/4, 5pm) — At various points, each of these teams has looked like the A-10’s best, but neither has been consistent enough to hold on to the claim.
  • Oral Roberts at North Dakota State (2/4, 8:30 PM) — ORU looked invincible just a few days ago, but after a 15-point whipping at South Dakota State, they lead the Summit League by just one game.  Their tough road trip continues at the league’s third place team, and the pressure will be on, as a loss will drop the Golden Eagles into a tie with South Dakota State for first.
  • Iona at Manhattan (2/4, 7pm) / Iona at Loyola (MD) (2/10, 7p PM) – This may not be known, given the relative hype for Iona this year, but the Gaels are in a three-way tie for first in the MAAC.  And this week, they will travel to play their co-leaders on the road.
  • Valparaiso at Cleveland State (2/9, 7 PM) — The Horizon League’s top two teams square off, with CSU trying to avenge a six-point loss at Valpo a few weeks ago.
  • St. Mary’s at Gonzaga (2/9, 11 PM) – A bit of a role reversal from years past, as the Zags will be trying to catch the ranked Gaels in the standings.
  • Harvard at Penn (2/10, 7 PM) — This may be the toughest league game the Crimson play all year.  If they lose at one-loss Penn, the race for the League title may be tougher than they hope.
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