Conference Tournament Primer: Conference USA

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 11th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with another conference tourney tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the next week of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, Conference USA gets started.

Dates: March 11-15
Site: Haskins Center (El Paso, Texas)

2014 cusa tourney bracket

What to expect: Four teams tied for first during the regular season at 13-3 — Louisiana Tech, Tulsa, Middle Tennessee, and Southern Miss — and they’ll be seeded in that order here. Without much of a chance for at-large bids, the C-USA tourney should be a dogfight between those top four. Semifinal Friday should be a doozy if the chalk holds. The automatic bid winner could be a potential Cinderella in the big bracket.

Favorite: Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs are the top seed, having won four straight and eight of their last nine games. Tech gets it done on the defensive end, ranking 22nd in the nation in defensive efficiency (94.8 points allowed per 100 possessions). The Bulldogs aren’t too shabby on offense, either, ranking second in Conference USA in league games with 110.1 points scored per 100 possessions.

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ATB: An NIT Marvel, Gaels Cruise and a Fitting Conclusion For Florida State…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 20th, 2013

ATB

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

Tonight’s Lede. NIT Invades National Spotlight. For months we’ve awaited the commencement of college basketball’s premier postseason event. Countless sentences were typed in this space praising teams for their pre-tournament momentum or berating them for their postseason urgency, or lack thereof, and all of it comes to a head this week. The ceremonial opening – the one fans across the country yearn for every year around this time – is Thursday. Employees call in sick for work; online game streams become a fixture on desktops and PCs around the country; brackets are ripped and flicked into nearby garbage cans. None of this stuff begins in earnest until Thursday. Tuesday night was the technical commencement of the NCAA Tournament – the first half of the First Four. It is called the “first round,” but that moniker serves more to frustrate and annoy fans and writers like yours truly than actually signify an additional round of games. In what universe does four games constitute a “round” in the same way that the second “round” includes 32? Ugh. Minor complaints. The point is, the tournament we’ve all been waiting for is finally here, and guess what? The biggest college basketball story of Tuesday night had nothing to do with the bracket sitting on your work desk. Don’t worry, a bracket was involved, alright – just not the one you’re thinking of.

Your Watercooler Moment. Down Goes UK. 


Around this time a year ago, Kentucky was relaxing in Lexington, maybe playing a casual game of ping-pong or two in UK’s famed lockerroom-turned-sports-mancave, occasionally turning around to check up on eventual first-round opponent Western Kentucky’s First Four game and cracking jokes about all the doubters who believed the Wildcats’ SEC Tournament championship game loss to Vanderbilt had revealed some sort of exploitable flaw that would lead to an early-round upset. Number one seeds that good don’t lose, and Kentucky didn’t. Things couldn’t be more different one year later. Thanks to one of the NCAA hosting sites being placed in Lexington, Kentucky was forced to travel to Moon, Pennsylvania, for a #1/#8 match-up with Robert Morris. Before we dive in, it’s important to preface the conversation with one important fact: the Colonials are good. They’ve been to the NCAA Tournament in two of the past five seasons, force turnovers at a top-20 rate and have not registered anything worse than a third-place NEC regular season finish since 2006-07. Being good within the NEC and making a few trips to the NCAAs every now and then is admirable for any small-league program. Knocking off Kentucky is a whole ‘nother level of “good” – and not even in the sense that the Wildcats are some national juggernaut. Because they aren’t, not this season. For RMU this win was as symbolic as it was impressive: Kentucky has dropped its share of games badly this season, and RMU can and did pick them off in its biggest game of the season. But it’s the spectacle of not only hosting, but knocking off, court rushing, and showing up John Calipari and his NBA-loaded Wildcats in Cal’s hometown, that makes this an unforgettable experience for the Robert Morris players, coaches and fans. The Colonials didn’t just win an NIT game. They beat Kentucky in their own 3,000-arena gym to add insult (and finality) to a painful UK season. Divorce the competition label from the singular feat. This was as massive (or close to it) as any NCAA Tournament triumph could ever be for RM.

Tonight’s Quick Hits.

  • Saint Mary’s Moves On. A frequent motif in the pre-Selection Sunday discussion was the idea that Saint Mary’s was one of the threshold outfits likely to get left out of the field, that the Gaels hadn’t accomplished much outside of a BracketBusters home win over Creighton, that they missed on all three opportunities to take out WCC king Gonzaga, along with all the usual power conference disdain that comes hand in hand with small-conference at-large discussion. St. Mary’s didn’t have one of the better at-large resumes in the field, and the Tourney rightfully slotted it into a First Four game with Middle Tennessee, another controversial non-Power-Six at-large inclusion. The Gaels proved Tuesday they very much belong in the field, and that if you were ever opposed to seeing Matthew Dellavedova spread the floor and slice into the lane off a high screen to dish to an open man or float a teardrop over two frontcourt defenders– well, you’re just no fun. Delly’s here, at least for one more game, and you should savor every last moment of his brilliant career. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Tuesday Night

Posted by BHayes on March 19th, 2013

The First Round/Opening Round/Play-In Games/Mild Annoyance of the NCAA Tournament begins tonight, getting under way at 6:40 PM tonight on truTV (go ahead, try to remember where that channel is again). From 68 to 16 in the next six days… let’s analyze the first two games this evening.

#16 North Carolina A&T vs. #16 Liberty — Midwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 pm ET on truTV.

John Caleb Sanders Continuing His Hot-Shooting Ways Would Be A Huge Boost For The Flames In Dayton

John Caleb Sanders Continuing His Hot-Shooting Ways Would Be A Huge Boost For The Flames In Dayton

Nothing says NCAA Tournament like a match-up between North Carolina A&T and Liberty now, does it? Like it or not, the First Four is the official tip-off for the Big Dance, and this year’s opening act pits the tournament champions from the MEAC against one of the unlikeliest Big Dance participants ever –- the 15-20 Liberty Flames. The Big South Champs aren’t the only party crashers here, however.  Having entered the MEAC tournament under .500 and as the #7 seed, A&T was nearly as long a shot to make this field. The Aggies are easily the worst offensive team in this field of 68, choosing instead (a generous explanation) to hang their hat on the defensive end, where they rank 81st nationally in defensive efficiency. Springy senior Austin Witter is the key to the stingy defense, having blocked 11.8% of opponents two-point field goal attempts, the 16th highest rate in the country. Unfortunately for he and the Aggies, Liberty does most of their offensive work from beyond the arc and at the line. With guards John Caleb SandersDavon Marshall and Tavares Speaks all averaging at least 13.0 PPG, Liberty has proven to be a capable offensive unit, especially of late. The same praise cannot be afforded their defense, however, as LIU-Brooklyn is the only team in the field with a worse defensive efficiency rating than the Flames. So yes, it will be a titanic battle between Liberty’s 303d ranked defense and NC A&T’s 317th ranked offense. Ultimately though, I think the difference-making happens when Liberty has the ball. A&T’s tough defense notwithstanding, we like the Flames to continue their hot shooting and extend a postseason life that they could have never expected to have.

The RTC Certified PickLiberty

 #11 Middle Tennessee vs. #11 Saint Mary’s — Midwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 9:10 pm ET on truTV.

If Middle Tennessee Has Anything To Say About It, Matthew Dellavedova Will Be Donning The Saint Mary's Jersey For A Final Time Tuesday Night

If Middle Tennessee Has Anything To Say About It, Matthew Dellavedova Will Be Donning The Saint Mary’s Jersey For A Final Time Tuesday Night

The nightcap on Tuesday features two of the final teams to make the NCAA Tournament field, with Middle Tennessee and Saint Mary’s facing off for the chance to meet Memphis on Thursday in Auburn Hills. The Gaels are no strangers to the big stage, as Matthew Dellavedova and company are making their third appearance in the last four years. Saint Mary’s shoots the ball both well and often from deep. The Gaels convert on 37% of their tries from distance, with those points accounting for nearly a third of their total points scored this season. Dellavedova is the leading scorer and unquestioned leader of this bunch, but Stephen Holt and Beau Levesque are both double-figure scorers capable of carrying the offensive load for a night. Middle Tennessee is not a bad offensive team in its own right (73rd nationally in offensive efficiency), but Kermit Davis has concocted a decidedly different recipe for success. Do not be surprised if you see 11 different Blue Raiders touch the floor on Tuesday night, and among that group are seven players who average at least six points a contest, with just one (Marcos Knight at 12.5 PPG) in double-figures. The Middle Tennessee depth is clearly impressive, and it has also helped the Blue Raiders on the defensive end. Middle Tennessee is 20th nationally in defensive efficiency, also ranking in the top-25 in a slew of important defensive categories. The most relevant of those metrics for its match-up with the Gaels is three-point percentage defense, where MTSU ranks 14th nationally, allowing just 29.5% shooting from behind the arc. It’s a particularly damning piece of evidence for believers in the Gaels, and the Middle Tennessee statistical profile would suggest that the Blue Raiders have more than just a fighting chance in this one. Call me a sucker for the sentimental story, but despite the aforementioned statistical evidence, I can’t pick against Saint Mary’s here. A brilliant career lives to see another day, as Dellavedova is the difference in what could be a thriller in Dayton.

The RTC Certified Pick:  Saint Mary’s

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by BHayes on March 18th, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), Midwest (11 AM), South (1 PM), West (3 PM). Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCmidwestregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Bennet breaking down the Midwest Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

Midwest Region

Favorite: #1 Louisville (29-5, 17-4 Big East). It stands to reason that the top overall seed in the field is also the favorite to emerge from the Midwest Region. No team enters the NCAA Tournament hotter than Louisville, winners of 10 straight games and 13 of 14. Consider the Cards’ dominant second half of the Big East Tournament championship game a final warning for this field of 68 – there is no scarier team in this tournament.

"No Sleep Until Atlanta" For Siva, Pitino And The Rest Of The Louisville Cardinals, Your #1 Overall Seed

No Sleep Until Atlanta For Siva, Pitino And The Rest Of The Louisville Cardinals, Your #1 Overall Seed

Should They Falter: #2 Duke (27-5, 14-5 ACC). It’s been a quiet few days for the Blue Devils, as the weekend’s ACC discussion largely revolved around Miami. But there they lurk at the bottom of the Midwest Region, poised as ever for a March sprint. Let’s not forget that the Devils’ ACC Tournament loss to Maryland was the first time Duke had lost with a healthy Ryan Kelly, and the senior’s clean bill of health is a far greater blessing for the Blue Devils than a #1 seed ever could have been. Duke also owns a victory over Louisville from back in November, albeit one with an asterisk attached – Cardinal big man Gorgui Dieng missed the Battle 4 Atlantis title game. For now though, Coach K and company are happy to let Louisville absorb all the buzz as the region’s favorite, while the dangerous Blue Devils attempt to navigate a manageable road to Indianapolis.

Grossly Overseeded: #6 Memphis (30-4, 19-0 Conference USA). Bracket projections had the Tigers anywhere between a #6 and a #9 seed. Josh Pastner’s team maxed out its seed line by receiving the #6, but now comes the hard part – beating an NCAA Tournament team. Memphis did that just once in the regular season (a win over #14 seed Harvard), a rare gap in the resume for any team in the field, much less a team so highly seeded. Let’s put it this way — Middle Tennessee, the most controversial at-large selection in this field and a potential Third Round opponent of the Tigers, had two more victories over NCAA teams, and just one more loss than Memphis. That’s not to say that the Blue Raiders are a better team than Memphis (although perhaps we will get to find that out), but you get the point.   

Grossly Underseeded: #12 Oregon (26-8, 15-6 Pac-12). Likely the most underseeded team in the entire field. Sure, the Ducks slogged their way to the finish line of the regular season, but the return of Dominic Artis and an impressive three-game run to win the Pac-12 Tournament had most bracketologists predicting a spot in an #8/#9 game for Oregon. Committee chair Mike Bobinski admitted that the Ducks were actually on the #11 seed line and had to be moved down as a result of logistical issues elsewhere in the bracket, but either way, this team is better than their double-digit seed would indicate.

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Pac-12 Bracketology: Final Update and Bubble Predictions

Posted by Connor Pelton on March 17th, 2013

After four months of basketball, the NCAA, NIT, and CBI fields will be released later today. In this piece, I project how each Pac-12 team fits into the field and where the national bubble stands. To review last night’s post, click here.

Category Team Projected Seed Projected Opponent P12 S Curve Rank
Definitely Dancin’ Arizona 5 Boise State/Middle Tenn 18 – Down One Spot
UCLA 7 Minnesota 25 – Down One Spot
Oregon* 8 San Diego State 30 – Up Four Spots
 
Bubble In Colorado 10 Colorado State 38 – No Change
California 10 Creighton* 39 – No Change
Bubble Out Arizona State 2 (NIT) Stephen F. Austin* No Change
NIT Locks Stanford 3 (NIT) Northern Iowa No Change
NIT Bubble Out Washington N/A UTEP (CBI) No Change

*Conference Champ

We’ll just run through this quickly and address the changes from last night. Arizona drops one spot as a result of Saint Louis’ win against Butler. That means the Wildcats now face the winner of the Boise State/Middle Tennessee First Four game. UCLA drops one spot as well after losing to Oregon. They also get a much tougher match-up in Minnesota than what I projected last night (Bucknell). Oregon climbed four spots after upsetting UCLA, but because North Carolina got a good win as well, the Ducks are still in the dreaded #8/#9 game. They face San Diego State in my projections. There are no changes on the bubble, as Colorado and California didn’t move at all after last night’s action. Both teams remain #10 seeds and still face Colorado State and Creighton.

In the NIT, Arizona State remains a #2 seed but gets a new first round opponent after some NIT auto bids were handed out last night. They now get Stephen F. Austin at the Wells Fargo Arena early next week, a dangerous club that finished the regular season 27-4. Stanford is just behind the Sun Devils as a #3 seed and gets a very tough match-up in Northern Iowa.

Due to the increase in NIT automatic bids over the past couple of days, Washington won’t make the field of 32. They are my seventh team out of the field and host UTEP in the first round of the CBI.

National Bubble Watch – NCAA

  • Last Four Byes: Wichita State, Temple, La Salle, Virginia (last bye)
  • Last Four In: Boise State, Iowa State, Villanova, Middle Tennessee
  • First Four Out: Kentucky, Mississippi, Southern Miss, Iowa
  • Next Four Out: Alabama, Arizona State, Tennessee, Baylor

Some think Villanova and Boise State are locks, but I just don’t see it that way. The Wildcats have an RPI rank of #51; far from a team locked into the field. Both will make it, but with a rough Championship Week, they’ll be going to Dayton. La Salle, meanwhile, should avoid the First Four. Finishing tied for third in the Atlantic 10 is no small task, and the Explorers finished with quality wins over Villanova, Iona, Butler, and VCU. The only other pick that is widely disagreed with is the exclusion of Mississippi, but I ask you this; just count the wins. Count the wins in which the Rebels have beaten a solid team, and compare it to the list of Villanova, Iowa State, or even Kentucky. They don’t even come close. Ole Miss could still make the field if they knock off Florida later this morning, meaning Middle Tennessee would likely drop to the NIT.

Kentucky and Iowa will be closer to the field of 68 than you think. And so will Alabama and Arizona State. With the softness of the bubble this season, anyone can make the case that the Wildcats should be in over the Blue Raiders, or that the Crimson Tide could beat Iowa State.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Virginia, Middle Tennessee, Stony Brook and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 12th, 2013

tuesdayscribblesBrian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Does Virginia want to make the NCAA Tournament? Since beating Duke almost two weeks ago, the Cavaliers have lost to Boston College and Florida State and barely escaped Maryland in overtime on Sunday in a game that each team tried to give away multiple times. The more and more I look at Virginia’s resume, the more I think this team will be in the NIT. It has gotten to the point where there are too many bad losses to overcome, barring a run this week in the ACC Tournament. The Hoos have a couple things going for them, mainly the win over Duke and the victory at Wisconsin in November. Home wins over North Carolina, NC State and bubble buddy Tennessee also help but Tony Bennett’s club has a stunning EIGHT bad losses on its resume. Virginia went 11-7 in the ACC but went 0-3 against Colonial Athletic Association teams. Go figure. From an efficiency perspective, this is a strong team that plays stifling defense, has a couple of great players in Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell to go along with a solid supporting cast. The resume lacks some punch though and Virginia has a lot of work to do this week in Greensboro. The Cavs will likely open with NC State on Friday, a game they really need to win.

    Tony Bennett will sweat it out this week

    Tony Bennett will sweat it out this week

  2. One team fighting with Virginia for a tournament berth is Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders were eliminated from the Sun Belt Tournament by Florida International on Sunday and now have to sit and sweat out the next five days. Kermit Davis’s team finished with an impressive 28-5 overall record and lost just once over a 20-game conference schedule, on the road in overtime to Arkansas State (the next best team in the league). Davis has been with the program since 2002 and has built it up to respectable mid-major status. Is this a team worthy of a chance at a bid? Absolutely. The question is, will it get one? If I were on the selection committee, I’d probably have to say no unfortunately. Despite doing what it was supposed to do in its conference, Middle Tennessee didn’t do much out of conference. Yes, it beat two SEC teams (Mississippi and Vanderbilt), but neither of those teams is making the NCAA Tournament (unless the Rebels have a great conference tournament). But the real reason why I’d leave Middle Tennessee out is the fact that it was not competitive against Florida or Belmont, two of its better non-conference opponents. A competitive showing in either game would likely have changed my mind. In addition, the Blue Raiders lost a tough one in overtime to Akron. Those are missed opportunities that may end up costing this team a chance to dance.
  3. The fact that Stony Brook had to go on the road in the America East Tournament is a travesty. The Seawolves won the conference by three full games and their reward was a road trip to face #4 seed Albany in its own gym. It’s not right. I realize these smaller conferences don’t have the budgets that the power leagues do but would it be so difficult to host the tournament at whichever school wins the regular season title? Is that too much to ask? Instead, the America East picked Albany to host the quarterfinals and semifinals with the championship being hosted by the higher seed. The final part makes sense but the rest of it seems like bizarro world. Stony Brook had a stellar year, going 23-6 (14-2) in regular season play. Hopefully Steve Pikiell’s team will be rewarded with a nice seed in the NIT and maybe even a home game! Read the rest of this entry »
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ATB: Buzzer-Beaters Galore, Conference Tournament Aplenty and Bubble Consolidation…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 11th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC C0lumnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The Weekend’s Lede. Regular Season Finale. The end is here. Sad, isn’t it? When I say end, I don’t mean the real end. That comes later, at the end of the greatest tournament in American sports. No, what I’m referring to is the regular season, the five-month long slog that took us through the uncertain fall months of non-conference play, across the New Year into a rugged conference landscape, and finally, into the brink of league tourney season. Other than the official crowning of regular season conference champions, select NCAA bids handed out in smaller leagues and a spate of meaningful bubble movement, nothing really happened over the weekend. It was sort of ordinary – if ordinary means a continuation of the craziness we’ve witnessed all season. So without further ado, I present your final regular season weekend ATB. Let’s have at it…

Your Watercooler Moment. The Big Ten Title Bout. 

A Big Ten Title was just one of the benefits Indiana will enjoy in the wake of a huge win at Michigan (Gettty Images).

A Big Ten Title was just one of the benefits Indiana will enjoy in the wake of a huge win at Michigan (Gettty Images).

The Big Ten regular season championship was up for grabs when the league’s five top teams (Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State) began action Sunday afternoon. The basic expectation was that Indiana, after being manhandled at home by Ohio State earlier this week, would lose at Michigan to open up the conference crown to all kinds of contingencies and x-way split scenarios. The Buckeyes wanted a piece of the pie; Tom Izzo’s team didn’t want to be left out; and the Wolverines, well, their fate was in their own hands. The thinking was absolutely on point – the Buckeyes showed Tuesday night in Bloomington what grit and defensive focus and physicality can do to the nation’s most efficient offense, how it can throw Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford into a funk and render the Hoosiers’ hot jump shooters mostly impotent for large stretches. The optics of IU’s postgame celebration – a major national talking point the next day, oddly enough – only increased the wackiness of the entire situation. IU had fallen in a game it was widely expected to win, and the postgame ceremony was expected to include not just a celebration of Indiana’s seniors, but also the official honoring of the Hoosiers’ first outright Big Ten title since 1993. It took another five days before checking that second box, but Indiana got its long-coveted conference title. The Hoosiers sunk Michigan (and its conference title hopes) in the final minute on a debilitating string of missed UM free throws, six consecutive IU points, a crucial layup from Cody Zeller and a whole lot of late-game savvy in front of a deafening Crisler Center crowd.

An outright conference title is just one of the prizes IU shored up Sunday. Another? The inside track on landing the Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis) hosting site for the NCAA Tournament, where red-and-white partisans will turn any IU game into a virtual home court advantage. Then there’s the NPOY implications – the fact that Oladipo, in the biggest game of the season, came up huge with 14 points, 13 rebounds (not to mention Zeller’s 25/10, if you still believe in Zeller’s outside shot at the POY awards) and his usual brand of supercharged defensive disruptiveness, and that Trey Burke just couldn’t get his team over the hump when it mattered most. Yes, Indiana won a lot more than standings supremacy over the nation’s toughest league. Just days after a puzzling loss, the Hoosiers now roll into postseason play with utmost confidence in their ability to make good on the preseason No. 1 ranking.

Also Worth Chatting About. Wildcats Buck up in Must-Win Finale.

The Wildcats seized the biggest resume boost available in the SEC by knocking off Florida at home (Getty Images).

The Wildcats seized the biggest resume boost available in the SEC by knocking off Florida at home (Getty Images).

Like any historically dominant sports entity, Kentucky has its share of location-agnostic dissidents within its sport. It is one of two teams, along with Duke, to drown in the national hatred. The Wildcats are blue, well-funded, a self-generating news cycle and in most seasons, good. Kentucky is good; oceans hold water; the sky is blue (you get the point). Making that argument would have seemed a bit silly for much of this season, with the possible exception of a mid-season stretch where the Wildcats tore off five straight wins, watched Nerlens Noel develop into a bona fide defensive star and potential lottery pick, and laid waste to most of the NCAA Tournament doubts heaved their way during an uninspiring non-conference performance. When Noel lost his season to an ACL injury in a road defeat at Florida, the stakes changed. Kentucky needed to show the selection committee that it belonged in the Tournament without its best and most important player. It needed to prove it was good, again. The only sign of goodness prior to Saturday from this current UK team came in an inspired overtime win over Missouri. The rest of the Wildcats’ Noel-less work, including road losses at Arkansas and Georgia, was less than inspiring. Kentucky had work to do before its at-large credentials could be considered even reasonably acceptable by selection committee standards.

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The Other 26: Saturday’s Top Five Bracketbuster Games and More…

Posted by IRenko on February 22nd, 2013

other26

This weekend marks the end of the decade-long Bracketbuster era — or experiment, depending on your perspective. Sadly, if appropriately, it looks like the event will go out with more of a whimper than a bang. Not a single game features a top 25 team, resulting in little hype for this year’s slate. But for true mid-major basketball fans, no top 25 ranking, or lack thereof, is going to dissuade them from devouring the late season, inter-conference action among the country’s best, under-the-radar-until-March teams. Here’s a preview of the five Bracketbuster games we’re most looking forward to, followed by an updated Top 10, our weekly honor roll, and the most compelling non-Bracketbuster games of the coming week.

Can Matthew Dellavedova And His Prominent Mouthpiece Lead the Gaels to a Much-Needed Win Over Creighton? (Las Vegas Sun / Sam Morris)

Can Matthew Dellavedova And His Prominent Mouthpiece Lead the Gaels to a Much-Needed Win Over Creighton? (Las Vegas Sun / Sam Morris)

  1. Creighton at St. Mary’s (6 pm, ESPN) — Both teams enter what is perhaps the premier Bracketbuster matchup with a great deal to prove. Creighton’s hot 17-1 start has given way to a rough 5-5 stretch, as the depth of the MVC has taken its toll. In four of those five losses, Creighton’s once unstoppable offense slowed to a pace of less than a point per possession. An at-large Tournament bid remains a safe bet, even with a loss to St. Mary’s, but the Bluejays are no doubt looking to this game to reignite their offense and their season. St. Mary’s, on the other hand, is in desperate need of a quality win for its Tournament resume. Having been swept by Gonzaga, Saturday’s matchup is a virtual must-win for the Gaels. Both teams have highly efficient offenses that rely heavily on the three-point shot. Whichever defense can step up its game may emerge with the win.
  2. Ohio at Belmont (10 pm, ESPN) – This should be a really entertaining game between two teams who love to run and gun. But for the colors of their jerseys, it may be hard to tell the two apart, as the Bobcats and Bruins have remarkably similar statistical profiles. Both are high-possession squads that shoot more than 40 percent of their field goals from three-point range and rank in the top 20 nationally in forcing turnovers. Both have high effective field goal percentages, but rebound poorly and allow their opponents to shoot far more free throws than they do. Toss in a great point guard matchup between seniors D.J. Cooper and Kerron Johnson, and you have the ingredients for a great nightcap to the day’s action. 
  3. South Dakota State at Murray State (8 pm, ESPN2) – Neither team is as good as it was last season, but both returned their star player. And it’s their matchup at the point guard spot, with Nate Wolters squaring off against Isaiah Canaan, that makes this a must-see game. The two players are the heartbeats of their respective team’s offenses. Each uses roughly 30 percent of all possessions, ranking them in the top 50 in the country. Wolters has been on a particularly nasty tear of late, averaging more than 33 points over his last five games, though two of his 30-plus efforts in that stretch were in defeat. Canaan, meanwhile, is coming off his own 35-point outburst in a win over Morehead State.
  4. Detroit at Wichita State (4 pm, ESPN2) — Wichita State has bounced back from a recent three-game swoon with a four-game win streak that includes two close victories over Illinois State and Indiana State this past week. They’ll be the favorites against Detroit, but his game has definite upset potential. Detroit is on the upswing, winning six of their last seven, and developing a potent offensive attack with a multitude of options, from Ray McCallum’s attacking ability to Jason Calliste’s three-point shot to Nick Minnerath’s versatile inside-out game to Doug Anderson’s physical interior play. The Titans will try to push the tempo, while the Shockers will try to slow things down and pound the ball inside to their big men Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, who may find success against Detroit’s mediocre interior defense.
  5. Denver at Northern Iowa (8 pm, ESPN3) — After a rough 4-6 start to MVC play, Northern Iowa has righted the ship and fought its way back to where we thought it would always be — at the top of the league standings, just a step behind Wichita State and Creighton. They face a Denver team that has flown a bit under the radar, recovering from a slow start to the season to win 13 of their last 14 games. A trip to Cedar Falls will be a test of just how far the Pioneers have come. Expect a low-possession, halfcourt-oriented game, with a steady barrage of three-point shots. The Panthers have a balanced attack, with five players averaging between 9 and 13 points. Denver will turn primarily to Chris Udofia, the versatile forward who is the hub of their Princeton offense.

And now on to our updated Top 10 rankings, weekly honor roll, and the (other) games we’re keeping an eye on …

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ATB: Cal Edges Oregon, a Bleak Outlook For Cincinnati and a Major Big 5 Match-up…

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 22nd, 2013

ATB

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

Tonight’s Lede. Preparing For A Packed Weekend. Tuesday night and Wednesday night stole most of this week’s college hoops goodness. They brought us the Kansas-Oklahoma State double-overtime nailbiter, Indiana’s show-me victory in East Lansing and an expected and enthralling Mountain West showdown at UNLV. Thursday night didn’t feature as diverse a selection of intriguing games or storylines, but one bad night of hoops – taken alongside a loaded weekend slate, which includes the last-ever BracketBusters event – is probably not going to fly over the high-level hardwood drama that played out over the past two nights. If anything, a one-night dose of relative mediocrity (at least schedule-wise) will whet your appetite for the weekend ahead.

Your Watercooler Moment. Justin Cobbs Lifts Cal.

A huge last-second shot by Cobbs lifted Cal over Oregon in Eugene (Photo credit: AP Photo).

A huge last-second shot by Cobbs lifted Cal over Oregon in Eugene (Photo credit: AP Photo).

The national media spotlight directed at Cal coach Mike Montgomery following a controversial second-half sideline encounter with star guard Allen Crabbe dwarfed the positive aspect of the Golden Bears’ eight-point win over USC. Cal was winning, and winning against solid Pac-12 competition (USC regained its competitive edge since getting ride of Kevin O’Neill; they are unequivocally a nuisance to play). Their three-game winning streak, which began with an eye-opening eight-point victory at Arizona, was extended Thursday night by a gutsy two-point win at Oregon, who had only lost once beforehand at Matthew Knight Arena. The Ducks were without freshman point guard Dominic Artis, and Cal’s superior guard play only magnified Oregon’s shaky backcourt. But for as much as Artis’ absence may or may not have altered Oregon’s backcourt functionality, you can’t disabuse the fact that Cal picked up another huge win in a late-season surge full of them. This team’s recent rise has been a steady climb into the thick of Pac 12 contention; as of Thursday night, the Bears sit just one game back of Arizona and Oregon (and 0.5 games back of UCLA), with a manageable closing schedule that should allow the Bears to close the gap should the Duke or Wildcats slip the rest of the way. Justin Cobbs’ last-second heroics are just the latest evidence; right now, Cal is the best thing the Pac-12 has to offer, full stop. The only question is, why didn’t we see this the first, I don’t know, three months of the season?

Also Worth Chatting About. This Could Get Ugly For Cincinnati.

This has been a disappointing set of games for Cronin and Cincinnati (Photo credit: AP Photo).

This has been a disappointing set of games for Cronin and Cincinnati (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Let me start by saying this: I don’t envision any realistic scenario where Cincinnati misses the NCAA Tournament. Entering Thursday night’s game at UConn the Bearcats owned a top-40 SOS and RPI figure, nonconference wins over Oregon and Iowa State and commendable league triumphs against Marquette and at Pittsburgh. There are bubble teams that would give anything for that collection of wins and computer power. The Bearcats remain in decent bubble shape, but Thursday night’s overtime loss in Storrs brought to the surface a potentially grim reality for Mick Cronin’s team. Dating back to a February 6 loss at Providence, the Bearcats have now dropped four of their last five, the lone win coming against Villanova. Looking back and rattling off the factors (individual and schedule related) behind the losing skid is simple. It’s what most optimistic fans would do after watching their once-formidable Big East favorite endure the toughest portion of its conference schedule. Here’s where that logic falls flat. If you look at Cincinnati’s remaining games, the only one that you can honestly qualify as anything remotely resembling “easy” is the season-finale against South Florida. In the meantime, Cincy has to play at Notre Dame, a revenge game with UConn and at Louisville. Best case scenario: Cincinnati splits the final four, carries a totally respectable .500 Big East record into the league Tournament, and reboots for a postseason push. The Bearcats have already damaged their seeding prospects beyond what anyone could have reasonably imagined. Botching this final stretch could really diminish their stature in seeding and locational committee discussions.

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ATB: Butler Stumbles, Arizona Underwhelms and Illinois Shows Flashes…

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 1st, 2013

ATB

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

Tonight’s Lede. Top 10 Teams Hit The Road. Two top 10 teams hit the road Thursday night with disconcerting challenges on tap. One team, playing and succeeding beyond expectations in its first year in a new league, ran into a defensive death trap it couldn’t overcome. The other did what its been doing all season – what has caused many to doubt its merits as a real national or (even conference) favorite. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the first team is Butler. The second is Arizona. On a night packed with boring match-ups, the above two – Butler at Saint Louis and Arizona at Washington – stood out. The Big Ten also gave us something to talk about, even if the end result fell in line with the most basic team assumptions about the nation’s best conference. Thursday was a little light on intrigue, but don’t fret, a promising weekend awaits. 

Your Watercooler Moment. Encouraging Signs From Illinois In East Lansing.

Another conference loss wont lift the spirits of Illini fans, but Illinois flashed the three-point shooting that made it one of the most dangerous teams in the country in the nonconference (Photo credit: USA Today Sports Photo).

Another conference loss wont lift the spirits of Illini fans, but Illinois flashed the three-point shooting that made it one of the most dangerous teams in the country in the nonconference (Photo credit: USA Today Sports Photo).

They weren’t going to stay cold forever. We had plenty of evidence suggesting otherwise. The Illini built a reputation in the non-conference season on three-point shooting. John Groce’s team not only shot a bunch of threes, for a good two-month stretch it also sank a high percentage of those long-range shots. Illinois stormed through the Maui Invitational, picking up a blowout win over Butler in the process, then barraged Gonzaga in the Kennel with – what else? – 11 threes and 35 points from Brandon Paul in an 11-point win. At the time, Illini fans were rightfully thrilled about their newfound offensive explosion and about Groce’s ability to unlock the upper reaches of his team’s offensive parts in just his first year on campus. Illinois was winning, times were good in Champaign, but all the while the Illini’s hot start was taken with a token of skepticism. Devoting so many possessions and shot attempts to three-pointers is fraught with risk, and once the conference season arrived, Illinois was swiftly introduced to the repercussions of that strategy by losing five of its first seven Big Ten games. Entering Thursday night, the Illini had posted the Big Ten’s worst three-point field goal percentage in conference play (24.5%). A little bit of three-point fall-off was a realistic expectation, what with all the rigorous defenses throughout the Big Ten. But 24 percent? The worst mark in the conference? Something had to give.

The Illini lost their sixth conference game at Michigan State Thursday night, but unlike most of its other league losses – the majority of which were downright ugly – Illinois had a brief re-encounter with its nationally-relevant self of 2012.  The Illini stroked five three-pointers in the first half and committed just one turnover to stake a 10-point lead at the break, kept it close throughout the second half thanks in part to Tracy Abrams’ three-point shooting, and hung around long enough to very nearly spring one of the most surprising upsets of any team in any league. Keith Appling’s season breakout – 24 points, eight rebounds, seven assists – stemmed the tide in the waning moments, and the Spartans, a legitimate Big Ten contender, held on at home. Taken together, despite leaving the Breslin Center with another conference L, John Groce and his staff can’t walk away with any real complaints. To the absolute contrary, he should be measurably encouraged. A hot-shooting Illini team is a dangerous one. The Illini may never recapture their lights-out form of November and December, but anything close would be good enough to turn around the Illini’s thus-far ugly league season.

Also Worth Chatting About. For Arizona, Winning Isn’t Enough.

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The Other 26: Week One

Posted by IRenko on December 1st, 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.

Greetings, readers, and welcome back for another year of The Other 26, RTC’s weekly foray into the mid-major world, now securely ensconced on a microsite that shares its name. College hoops seemed to start earlier this year than it ever has, producing a November that was packed with much more action than the few preseason tournaments to which old geezers like me are accustomed. That means that there is quite a bit of ground to cover, and precious little time to waste. Let’s get right to it after the jump, with our first installment of the TO26 Top 10, a look back at which teams caught our eye with strong (and not so strong) starts, and a look forward to this week’s most compelling TO26 match-ups.

Looking Back:  Strong Starts

  • The Rest of the Mountain West – Coming into the season, UNLV and San Diego State received well-deserved hype and top 20 rankings.  But it’s clear that they’re going to have quite a bit of competition in conference play. New Mexico has barely shown the effects of losing their frontcourt tandem Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman. They have notched several solid wins en route to a 7-0 record, defeating UConn, George Mason, Davidson, and Mercer — all teams with realistic NCAA Tournament hopes. Fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years, and with a cast of strong returnees and transfers, Colorado State entered the season with reasonably high expectations. But their ability to adjust to new coach Larry Eustachy remained an open question. Well, question answered. The Rams are undefeated at 5-0, posting wins over strong mid-major teams Montana and Denver and pounding the Washington Huskies by 18 points on the road. But, wait! The MW’s depth does not end there. Leon Rice’s Boise State squad, which plays just one senior, is off to a 5-1 start and is coming off of a 13-point win over Creighton on the road. Meanwhile, Wyoming and Air Force are a combined 13-1 on the season.  Throw in competitive newcomers Nevada and Fresno State, and UNLV and San Diego State may not have an easy conference game all year.

Elias Harris Leads a Potent Gonzaga Frontcourt (US Presswire)

  • Gonzaga – Gonzaga came into the season with a Top 25 ranking, so they’ve not exactly snuck up on anyone. But they’ve nonetheless impressed, collecting wins over West Virginia, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Davidson by an average of more than 20 points. Throw in three more lopsided victories, and the Zags are sitting pretty at 7-0 and little sweat to show for it. Kelly Olynyk has emerged from his redshirt year as a genuine frontcourt force. Along with Elias Harris and Sam Dower, he gives the Bulldogs three skilled, athletic bigs. Throw in freshman post anchor Przemek Karnowski, and the Zags have four big men averaging nine or more points. While this frontcourt foursome has managed to outshine the heralded backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell on the offensive end, what’s been most impressive about Gonzaga’s start is its defense. Mark Few’s teams have steadily improved at that end of the floor over the past few years, and it could be the key that finally unlocks their door to the Final Four. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.21.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 21st, 2012

  1. The news just keeps getting worse for Arizona State and Herb Sendek, as on Tuesday it was announced that leading scorer Trent Lockett had asked for a release from his scholarship in order to transfer to a school closer to his home. The news isn’t very good for Lockett either, however, as the reason he is headed out is to be closer to his mother who recently found out she has cancer. Lockett is well on his way to graduating, having taken 20 or more credits in recent semesters, so he should be able to play immediately at the school of his choice next year. We speculated as far back as the end of November that this might be an eventuality for Lockett and the Sun Devils, but the manner in which this has gone down is certainly a sad one. We wish nothing but the best for Lockett and his family. But, as for ASU, this is now three players from this season’s already significantly undermanned squad who have just since the end of the season announced their intentions to transfer, making it 12 players in four seasons who have left Sendek’s program early.
  2. ASU isn’t the only school dealing with multiple transfers. USC announced on Tuesday that Alexis Moore and Curtis Washington would both be transferring out of the program. Moore was a freshman this season who played in every game and came into the year with a reputation for being an excellent three-point shooter, although he struggled mightily with his shot this season, especially in conference play. Washington did not play at all this season after injuring his shoulder on that fateful Trojan trip to Brazil, a trip that also saw senior point guard Jio Fontan go down with a season-ending injury. Washington played a total of 11 minutes in three games in his freshman season at USC. Of the two, the loss of Moore is the bigger issue, as he earned plenty of experience as a frosh and could have turned into a nice asset for Kevin O’Neill in later years. With the previous announcement that Garrett Jackson would also be transferring out, a USC team that was expected to be deep next season is suddenly hemorrhaging players.
  3. Utah also has some transfer news, as point guard Anthony Odunsi becomes the first Ute to announce his intention to transfer out of the program. Odunsi played in all but two Ute games as a freshman this season, averaging 15 minutes, three points and putting up the lowest offensive efficiency rating on the team (74.0) as a result of poor shooting, too many turnovers, too few assists, and bad decisions all around. He’ll be better off at a low- to mid-major program. As for head coach Larry Krystkowiak, given that he’s in the middle of rebuilding the program from the ground up, don’t be surprised to find additional outgoing transfers in the near future.
  4. Washington kept its season going on Tuesday night, as it held off northwest rival Oregon 90-86 in the quarterfinal of the NIT to earn a trip back to Madison Square Garden, where it played two unsuccessful games back in December. Freshman guard Tony Wroten awoke from his postseason slumber with a 22-point performance on 15 field goal attempts, while Terrence Ross continued his strong play, chipping in 24 points. Oregon’s season ends with a 24-10 record, as Devoe Joseph wrapped up his collegiate eligibility with a disappointing 4-for-15 performance. Now Duck fans get to hold their breath until Nebraska hires a coach for fear that they may poach Dana Altman. Back to the Huskies: They’ll face the winner of the Middle Tennessee/Minnesota matchup in the NIT semifinals next Tuesday night. Massachusetts has already qualified for another of the spots in the semifinals, with the winner of the Stanford/Nevada matchup taking the fourth and final spot.
  5. Lastly, back to the transfer circuit, but this time contemplating a potential incoming transfer. Two years ago, Trey Zeigler was a four-star recruit in the class of 2010, considering schools like Michigan, Michigan State, Duke, UCLA and Central Michigan. That last school on the list didn’t seem to fit with those other big-time schools, but CMU had a pretty good in: Trey’s dad Ernie was the head coach there. But, two years later, a 21-42 record has earned the head coach a pink slip, and the younger Zeigler is on the move as well. While he already intends to visit Duke this weekend, UCLA, Michigan and Michigan State are among the other schools that could be in on the Zeigler sweepstakes, part two. UCLA could sure use the athleticism and defensive ability that Zeigler provides. I saw him play earlier in the season at Pepperdine, and while his jump shot is certainly still a work in progress, he has plenty of other tools and was easily the best player on the floor in that matchup.
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