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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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.20.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 20th, 2012

  1. Normally, when players work hard and earn individual accolades, it’s an enjoyable accomplishment and a vindication for the sacrifices that they’ve made to reach that point.  But for Draymond Green, all the talk surrounding his outstanding season actually had the opposite effect.  Green admitted to reading media articles, listening to what folks had to say on Twitter, and it affected his game.  Instead of making things happen, he was worrying about what could happen, and that’s no way to lead a team through the NCAA Tournament.  Fortunately, the Michigan State senior has been able to lean on his coach, Tom Izzo, as he’s learning how to handle all his personal success.
  2. Plenty of attention is being paid to the Illinois coaching search, but there is another seat open in the Big Ten, and that belongs to Nebraska.  After parting ways with Doc Sadler, the Huskers are taking their time trying to find a new man to lead the program.  While it’s not the most high-profile job in college basketball, there still are expectations, and any viable candidate is going to be expected to compete and win in the Big Ten.  The latest coach to interview for the job is Oral Roberts head man Scott Sutton.
  3. While fading down the stretch and ultimately losing to Kansas was certainly disappointing enough for Purdue fans, watching Robbie Hummel play his last game as a Boilermaker was equally tough. Hummel’s career may be most remembered by outside fans because of the injuries he suffered while at Purdue, but the legacy he leaves is one of hard work and passion for the game. Hummel’s commitment to the program and to his teammates is unmatched, and that will be what he’ll be remembered for by Purdue fans, in addition to being a pretty good player when healthy.
  4. With all the talk of brackets, matchups, and dreams of Sweet Sixteen success, it can be pretty tough to remain a student-athlete.  Travel during the NCAA Tournament is hard enough from a physical standpoint, but add in school work, and you’ve got a lot of things weighing on young men’s minds. For Wisconsin, keeping up with their studies is obviously a priority for the players, and the coaching staff has been crafting practice schedules in order to accommodate the extra workload.
  5. Minnesota remains alive in the NIT, and the Gophers came out REALLY ready to play against Miami last night. Minny came out on a 12-0 run, and never trailed throughout the contest. Star forward Rodney Williams led the attack with 21 points.  Up next for the Gophers, they’ll head to Middle Tennessee on Wednesday night to try and continue its run toward an NIT championship.
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ATB: Wild Weekend Full of Tournament Tickets Punched And Regular Season Finales

Posted by EJacoby on March 5th, 2012

This Weekend’s Lede – What makes the official start of March Madness? Saturday, March 3, which included 105 total games, three conference tournament championships, and 15 ranked teams playing their regular season finales definitely felt like the appropriate start date. Sunday saw eight more ranked teams play and one more conference tournament decided. It was a wonderful start to Championship Week that included both the usual (Murray State won the OVC) and the unexpected (Wichita State, Iona, and Middle Tennessee all lost before the title game) that makes our sport so much fun to watch. All regular season games but one Ivy contest are now completed, so the power leagues start up their own conference tournaments in the next couple of days. Over the course of the next week we will find out 27 more automatic bid winners and the 37 at-large teams to fill out the NCAA Tournament bracket. Let’s start by rehashing what took place over the weekend, and who looks good to go dancing. We start in the Big Ten…

Your Watercooler Moment. Buckeyes Victory Means a Three-Way Tie for Big Ten Supremacy 

Who said that Ohio State blew its chance at a Big Ten title last week with its loss to Wisconsin? Well, we were actually guilty of thinking the same, as Michigan State had built a two-game lead with two games to play in the conference season. But after losing at Indiana, the Spartans needed to defend their home court and defeat Ohio State in Sunday’s regular season finale if they wanted the outright Big Ten championship. The Buckeyes had other ideas, as they came back from down double-digits in the second half to eventually win on a game-winner with one second remaining. William Buford’s jumper not only evened Ohio State with Michigan State at 13-5 in the conference, but it also means that Michigan’s 13-5 record holds up as a third team atop the Big Ten. These three teams all slipped up at home late in the season, but none was more costly than this Michigan State loss with the outright title and a likely NCAA Tournament #1 seed on the line. The Big Ten Tournament will be as great to watch as ever before, with so many teams jockeying for postseason inclusion or seeding position, and three teams all as co-favorites. In the tiebreaker scenarios, Michigan State comes out victorious as the regular-season champion and #1 seed, but all three split their season series and can stake a legitimate claim as league champ.

Top Storyline – North Carolina Exacts Revenge on Duke. If it weren’t for Austin Rivers’ buzzer-beating three on February 8, then North Carolina would currently be on a 13-game winning streak in ACC play with a +13.6 average scoring margin in those games. The Tar Heels got revenge on Duke for that shot and made sure everyone remembers how great this team is as UNC throttled Duke from the outset of Saturday night’s regular season finale. The Tar Heels jumped out to an 18-5 lead in under four minutes, wound it all the way up to a 24-point advantage at halftime, and finished it off with an 88-70 blowout victory going away. Duke has struggled in Cameron Indoor Stadium this season, but nothing like this, in which the road team was superior in every facet of the game. The Tar Heels’ entire starting lineup finished with at least 12 points, Kendall Marshall dished out his usual 10 assists, and John Henson and Tyler Zeller each had 10 rebounds. Carolina is the ACC champion and peaking at the right time of year.

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Checking In On The… Sun Belt Conference

Posted by dnspewak on February 10th, 2012

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can find him Twitter @dspewak.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was

  • Florida Atlantic’s season may be the strangest in recent memory in the Sun Belt. The preseason favorites dropped games to South Alabama (February 2) and Florida International (February 4) by a combined 31 points, appearing to hit rock bottom during this miserable 2011-12 campaign. And then, something funny happened: the Owls recovered from a blown 15-point lead to edge upstart Denver on Thursday, moving above .500 in Sun Belt play. With five games remaining, Mike Jarvis‘ team is essentially eliminated in the East, but perhaps edging the Pioneers will offer it a little late-season momentum.
  • North Texas may have lost two starters due to eligibility issues, but Tony Mitchell is single-handedly carrying the Mean Green right now. Lately, he’s showing flashes of his NBA potential as the league’s leading rebounder. He shoots 53.6% from three-point range, he has five double-doubles already and he’s dropped 30 points on two teams — as a freshman. Last week, Arkansas State became his latest victim. Mitchell went for 21 points and 15 rebounds in UNT’s 76-64 win.

Don't Count Out Mike Jarvis And Crew Quite Yet, FAU Is Showing Some Fight

Power Rankings

East

  1. Middle Tennessee (22-4, 11-1):  It was bound to happen at some point. Facing an especially energized crowd at Denver thanks to an ESPN2 telecast, the Blue Raiders were no match for the intensity of the building. Unable to impose its will on the boards or defend at its normal level, Middle Tennessee also turned the ball over 17 times and looked rattled for the first time, well, ever. It carried over to Thursday night, when Western Kentucky forced the Blue Raiders to miss 18 of their first 20 shots. Eventually, they recovered for a fairly easy win, but we’re finding out that MTSU is human after all.
  2. Florida Atlantic (10-14, 6-5): At this point, Mike Jarvis has to focus on getting better in small increments in order to make a run in the Sun Belt Tournament next month. With his veteran team’s collapse this year, FAU can now only share an East title if a) Middle Tennessee loses out and b) the Owls win out. That would have seemed like a ridiculous situation just a few months ago, but that’s the nature of sports and college basketball in general. Much has been made of Ray Taylor‘s subpar season, but this team has a lot of problems that extend beyond his play. Kore White never showed up this year, nor did any other forward on this roster. Jarvis has to wish Brett Royster could gain a little eligibility these days. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 02.03 – 02.05

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 3rd, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are lots of good games on Saturday, highlighted by the big one in Columbia. Overall it’s a very nice day of hoops despite only a handful of truly terrific games.

#4 Kansas @ #6 Missouri – 9:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (*****)

KU Needs Taylor To Be Good Tyshawn on Saturday (credit: Missourian)

  • It doesn’t get much better than this. Two teams that don’t particularly like each other and a Border War rivalry with roots in the Civil War era. Missouri enters this game after surviving Texas in Austin on Monday. The Tigers have perhaps the best offense in the nation with incredible balance at the guard and wing positions. The question for Frank Haith and his team will be how effective Ricardo Ratliffe can be against Thomas Robinson inside. Ratliffe shoots almost exclusively in the paint and converts an astounding 75.1% of the time. However, Ratliffe will be going up against a front line of Robinson and Jeff Withey (3.1 BPG) in this one and needs to utilize his patented pick-and-roll more in this game. Ratliffe won’t have great success going one-on-one against either Robinson or Withey inside. Kansas’ defense ranks #4 in two-point percentage against but the Jayhawks are vulnerable to the three-ball. That’s where Missouri and snipers Marcus DenmonKim English and Michael Dixon can really take advantage of Bill Self’s team.
  • The Jayhawk offense is essentially a two-man operation. While players like Withey and Travis Releford contribute offensively, Kansas’ fortunes depend on Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Taylor has taken his game to another level over the last month, highlighted by the back to back 28-point efforts against Iowa State and Baylor. The Kansas senior hasn’t shot under 40% from the floor since January 4 but will be the focus of Haith’s perimeter defense. Taylor is prone to turnovers and you can bet the Missouri guards will be ball hawking him all night long. If Taylor has a good ball handling night, Kansas will be in very good position to grab a road win. Robinson will get his points but it’s up to Taylor to put the Jayhawks in a position to win this game.
  • It’s hard to pick against Missouri at home but if any team is going to win in Columbia, Kansas is the one. With ESPN in the house for the top two teams in the Big 12, this will be as charged an environment as you will see all year in college basketball. Despite Ratliffe’s stellar shooting percentage, Kansas should win the battle inside. The duo of Robinson and Withey is incredibly difficult to score against and Robinson is obviously a load on the offensive end as well. However, the friendly confines of Mizzou Arena and the Tigers’ perimeter attack and balance should be enough to put Missouri over the top.

#3 Ohio State @ #23 Wisconsin – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (****)

  •  Ohio State can take command of the Big Ten with a win in this game. The Buckeyes hold a one game lead over Wisconsin in the loss column heading into Saturday’s matchup. If Ohio State has one weakness, it’s three-point shooting. Thad Matta is not going to beat Wisconsin, a team that shoots well over 20 threes a game, from outside. Matta has the best player on the floor in Jared Sullinger and he needs to use him early and often in order to set the tone. Ohio State is not going to turn Wisconsin over and fast break points will be at a minimum. The Buckeyes must execute their half court offense in order to win this game and the way to do that is through the big man in the middle.
  • The Badgers have righted the ship with six straight wins but will need a big game out of their supporting cast if they are going to make it a seventh. Jared Berggren in particular must contain Sullinger on the low block or else Aaron Craft can feed him all day long with no consequences. Offensively, Wisconsin will run everything through Jordan Taylor but guys like Josh Gasser and Ben Brust need to be hot from deep in order for the Badgers to pull off the win. Wisconsin will be limited to one shot per possession most of the time as it loves to run the shot clock down and shoot threes. Ohio State ranks fourth in defensive rebounding percentage, mostly thanks to Sullinger.
  • This game features the top two defensive teams in the nation in terms of efficiency. It’s likely to be a low scoring, low possession affair that comes down to the final minutes. Players like Ryan Evans for Wisconsin and Ohio State’s Lenzelle Smith could be the determining factors. The battle at the point guard position between Taylor and Craft will be phenomenal but the complementary players usually put a team over the top in matchups like these. We think that’s what will happen at the Kohl Center on Saturday.
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March’s Top Cinderella Candidates

Posted by zhayes9 on January 31st, 2012

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

Did you think last year’s NCAA Tournament was chaotic? That was nothing.

That’s right, the tournament that saw two out of eleven Big East teams reach the Sweet Sixteen, #10-seed Florida State face #11-seed VCU in a regional semifinal and two mid-majors provide the undercard on Final Four Saturday could pale in comparison to what we’ll witness in 2012. Never before have the perceived top teams in the nation been more flawed. Never before has the soft underbelly of every power conference been more susceptible. Never before have the upper echelon mid-major schools been as viable and competitive. It’s a distribution of wealth that would make Bernie Sanders blush.

Which Mid-Majors Have the Best Shot to Celebrate Like This?

By the time we reach New Orleans, the cream may rise to the crop. A Final Four consisting of Kentucky, Ohio State, North Carolina and Syracuse wouldn’t stun me. It’s during the first weekend where a handful of non-BCS schools could knock off inadequate power-conference at-large teams. Don’t say you weren’t prepared.

Who are the mid-majors (a designation that excludes the Atlantic 10, Conference USA or Mountain West) most likely to crash the party? Here’s a good place to start:

  1. Saint Mary’s: The Gaels performed an offensive clinic best saved for instructional videos in a difficult road environment at BYU on Saturday. After watching that display (and two prior destructions to both BYU and Gonzaga on their home floor) it comes as no surprise that St. Mary’s assists on nearly 62% of made field goals. Their offensive assault is led by face-of-the-program Matthew Dellavedova, who plays almost 92% of the teams’ minutes, ranks in the country’s top 50 in assist rate and provides another shooting threat. What gives the Gaels the sustainability to win multiple games in the Tournament is dominance inside the arc. Randy Bennett’s team shoots 55% and holds opponents to 44% despite employing just two regular rotation players taller than 6’7”.
  2. Creighton: We know all about Doug McDermott’s All-America caliber season: an unfathomable 65% from two and 50% from three to match his 23.5 points per game. Now he only needs a sexier name to reach Jimmer-like cult status. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a one-man rodeo. What’s carried the Bluejays to a 10-1 record in the Valley is a formidable supporting cast with all of the ingredients for a deep March push: an athletic big man in Greg Echenique who can hold his own against power-conference frontlines, a heady senior point guard in Antoine Young with a more than 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, stat sheet stuffer Grant Gibbs and two rangy shooters in Jahenns Manigat and Ethan Wragge. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Sun Belt Conference

Posted by dnspewak on January 28th, 2012

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can find him Twitter @dspewak.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was

  • Now off to the best start in program history, Middle Tennessee has its sights set on more than just a Sun Belt East Division title. Instead, the Blue Raiders have positioned themselves for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, especially if they can win at Vanderbilt in an out-of-conference tilt this weekend. At 20-2, MTSU has not lost in league play yet, and it leads preseason favorite Florida Atlantic by four games in the win column. Joe Lunardi from the vaunted four-letter network has the Blue Raiders in the NCAAs as a #12 seed, so they may actually have a little breathing room if they fail to win the SBC tourney. Of course, this is all moot if they stumble down the stretch in conference play.
  • A lot of teams have beaten Lousiana-Monroe this season — 19, to be exact. But during the Warhawks woeful 2-19 season, no team has come close to what Troy did to them last weekend. The Trojans, never shy to jack up three-pointers under coach Don Maestri, tied an NCAA record by making 11 straight three-pointers in a 91-63 victory. Overall, Troy made 15 threes, and that streak of 11 threes ties marks set by Niagara and Eastern Kentucky in 1997. The statistics get better and better, too. Troy made almost as many threes (15) as twos (15), and Justin Wright tied his career-high with four made treys. And as for the Warhawks? They made a measly six three-pointers.

Power Rankings

East

  1. Middle Tennessee (20-2, 9-0):  Nothing has changed since our last update two weeks ago. The Blue Raiders, who entered the season as a questionable pick in the East because of offensive concerns, are far and away the best team in the Sun Belt Conference. It’s to the point where Middle Tennessee can no longer judge itself purely by the wins it amasses. Rather, it looks as though this team could beat just about anybody when March rolls around. That’s because the Blue Raiders hound opponents on the defensive end and have the size of a major-conference squad. Bruce Massey has also played terrific basketball on both ends of the floor, as he’s been a catalyst for this team’s 20-2 start.

    Bruce Massey (13) Has Been A Catalyst For Middle Tennessee

  2. Florida Atlantic (9-12, 5-3): With a few close victories over rival FIU and Western Kentucky, the Owls are back on track. Unlike North Texas last season, which fell from preseason consensus favorite to middle-0f-the-pack, FAU actually has a chance to turn this thing around in 2011-12. It’s not dead yet, but it may need to run the table from here on out to have any chance of catching Middle Tennessee. Point  guard Ray Taylor still doesn’t look like the Player of the Year candidate he should be, but he’s starting to play better after a tough start to the season. If he gets his game going, this team could make a late push. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 01.27 – 01.29

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 27th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There aren’t too many big time matchups on the schedule this weekend but it’s still a decent slate of games to keep you occupied.

Mississippi State @ #12 Florida – 1:30 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com  (***)

Florida May Struggle to Contain the Mississippi State Big Men

  • It has gone largely unnoticed but Florida has won six of its past seven games since losing at Rutgers in December. The Gators bring the top-rated offensive efficiency to the table and are a threat to win any game they play because of it. However, Billy Donovan’s team is thin up front and lacks the lockdown defense elite teams exhibit. Against Mississippi State, Florida could very have major problems dealing with the Bulldogs’ front line. Patric Young attempted double figure shots for only the fifth time this season against Mississippi on Thursday. Without a go-to guy in the post, Florida’s offense revolves around Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton with Brad Beal and forward Erik Murphy, a pick-and-pop specialist. Florida will attempt plenty of threes, connecting 40.7% of the time. Scoring from outside shouldn’t be a major problem against Mississippi State but stopping the Bulldogs inside will be.
  • Rick Stansbury has a huge advantage in this game with Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney in his frontcourt. Florida can’t match those two players and the Bulldogs should be pounding the ball inside all day long on Saturday. However, Dee Bost has to be able to create and get into the lane in order to get Moultrie and Sidney going early and often. If Bost isn’t able to penetrate Florida’s defense, the Gators can pack it in and dare Mississippi State to beat them from the outside. Of more concern to Stansbury has to be his defense. In SEC play, the Bulldogs are allowing opponents to shoot 43.4% from beyond the three point arc. If Florida shoots anywhere near that percentage, it’s likely going to be a long afternoon at the O-Dome for the visitors from Starkville.
  • In order to steal an important road win, the Bulldogs have to rebound and score in the paint as well as in transition off long rebounds since neither team turns the ball over much. Fast break points will be at a premium in this game but whichever team wins that category will have an advantage. However, the most important part of Mississippi State’s game plan has to be defending the three point line. If the Bulldogs can’t, they won’t win in Gainesville. Even with all that said, this is a game Mississippi State can win with a strong effort. Florida needed a second half rally to defeat Ole Miss in its last game and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Mississippi State could spring the upset.
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