Conference USA Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2011

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. With the C-USA tournament set to tip on Wednesday, RTC has you covered on the regular season wrapup and postseason preview.

Postseason Preview


  • Who’s Hot: UAB - The Blazers are red hot heading into the postseason and they match up favorably against all the teams in their part of the bracket. If they play Memphis in the semi-finals, which they may not considering Southern Miss is the No. 5, UAB has an advantage in the backcourt with Aaron Johnson. The point guard has proven to be the top passer in the conference, and that has to make any team comfortable heading into the postseason.
  • Memphis Skids Into No. 4 Seed – The Tigers can’t be a team anyone wants to play due to their previous success and overall young talent, however the team enters the postseason as one of the colder teams and despite a first-round bye will be challenged in every contest.
  • Tulsa Nabs No. 2 Seed. Tulsa doesn’t have big bodies, which could prove to be a problem when they host either SMU or Rice at 8 p.m. on Thursday night. The Golden Hurricane is playing its best basketball of the season, but that could abruptly end.

Predictions:

First Round:

  • UCF 82, ECU 72
  • Southern Miss. 73, Tulane 51
  • Marshall 88, Houston 69
  • Rice 77, SMU 73 (OT)

Second Round:

  • UAB 83, UCF 77
  • Memphis 75, Southern Miss. 71
  • UTEP 90, Marshall 81
  • Tulsa 73, Rice 62

Semifinals:

  • UAB 76, Memphis 71
  • UTEP 73, Tulsa 62

Final:

  • UTEP 75, UAB 69

NCAA Tournament Outlook:

Although many have UTEP out of the Dance right now, a C-USA championship game run would give them 25 wins, including victories over Michigan and Memphis. Their losses hurt, but they should be credited for playing BYU, even if not well. They lost in triple OT to conference-winner UAB and came within one at Tulsa, the No. 2 team in conference (1-1 on the season).

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 9th, 2011

 

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

  • Memphis Edges Gonzaga in Non-Conference Showdown: Despite faltering in the conference standings, the Tigers squeaked out a four-point win against Gonzaga in a non-conference game. Both teams have enjoyed success at the mid-major level, however both programs are battling for an opportunity in March. For Memphis, the win does help their overall record of 17-6. Although their conference record is not flashy (5-3), they still have half a conference schedule ahead of them.
  • UTEP Ward Off Rice on Kazemi’s Career Night: Arsalan Kazemi grabbed a career-high rebounds against the Miners, however it wasn’t enough as UTEP topped Rice 59-53 last weekend. Kazemi is the only player in conference who is currently averaging a double-double (15 ppg and 11 rpg). Although it was in a losing effort, the sophomore’s efforts only help him gain attention. He ranks fourth nationally in rebounding.
  • UCF Continues Struggle, Falls to ECU: Frustration can be the only feeling in Orlando these days, especially following the Knights’ loss to ECU. Despite a great effort from Marcus Jordan (game-high 24 points), UCF lost to lowly East Carolina and descended to the bottom the conference with a 1-7 record. The game was hard fought, at least in the first half, as the clubs exchanged seven lead changes and tied five times.
  • Tulsa Tops Houston in OT Action: Tulsa completed their best week of the season, knocking off Houston in an overtime battle. Once again, senior guard Justin Hurtt led the Golden Hurricane, draining a game-tying three with 8.6 seconds remaining in overtime. Hurtt teamed up with Scottie Haralson, the young transfer guard, and they each scored 22 points.
  • UAB Hurdles Tulane in Defensive Brawl: Tulane simply couldn’t score, as the Green Wave tried out-defending the Blazers, but their efforts fell short. The big performance came from junior forward Cameron Moore, who scored 14 points and grabbed 16 boards in the win. UAB improves to 8-1 against Tulane in the Mike Davis era.
  • So. Miss Holds On Over Marshall: Senior Gary Flowers continued to be a force for the Golden Eagles as they notched their eighteenth victory of the season. In a battle of player of the week representatives, Flowers outdid freshman DeAndre Kane of Marshall .

Power Rankings:

  1. UTEP (18-5, 6-2) –The Miners don’t have No. 1 wrapped up by any means. However, they share the best conference record with Southern Miss, and they are playing solid basketball. Seniors Jeremy Williams and Randy Culpepper are enjoying strong final seasons. However, the senior that may be enjoying himself the most is guard Julyan Stone, who led the team with a career-high 23 points. He has been playing his best basketball of late, and the Miners have thrived from it.  
  2. Memphis (17-6, 5-3) – The Barton brothers seem to be anchoring this team as Antonio scored 17 points against Gonzaga. Will Barton, his brother, finished with 12 points, seven rebound and six assists. The Tigers improve got to 5-2 in their all-time series against Gonzaga.
  3. Southern Miss. (18-5, 7-3) – Senior Gary Flowers led by example in the Golden Eagles win over Marshall, scoring 20 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Freshman D.J. Newbill followed nicely with his own double-double, which included 12 points and ten rebounds.  This team is rising fast, especially after their win over UAB last week.
  4. UAB (16-6, 6-3) –Dexter Fields converted on eight three-pointers in the Blazers 75-71 loss to Southern Miss last Wednesday. Fields’ great individual effort wasn’t enough to help the Blazers as they dropped a pivotal conference standings, which has them outside the top 3 for the first time in a while.
  5. Tulsa (13-10, 6-3) –Tulsa has emerged thanks to Justin Hurtt. The senior, who averages 20.5 points per game, has solidified a First Team All-Conference USA spot at the end of the season. He has cemented himself at the top of the conference in terms of scoring, recording 20 or more points in 11 games this season. Tulsa has a three-game winning streak heading into the most important stretch of the season.
  6. SMU (14-8, 5-3) –Four wins in a row and the Mustangs seem to be the hottest basketball team in Dallas right now. Papa Dia and Robert Nyakundi continue to be one of the best duos in the conference over the past three weeks. Dia, a senior forward, had been a force in the post, scoring 13 points and 13 rebounds (his ninth double-double of the season) in the Mustangs win over East Carolina.
  7. Marshall (15-8, 3-5) – The name DeAndre Kane is becoming synonymous with the Thundering Herd program. The freshman guard has started off his career with consistent stellar play for a team that is still very much of the things. He led all scorers with 24 points against Houston and did the same a few nights later against Southern Miss, dropping 20 points on four threes (a career high). Kane is the best freshman in the conference at this point.
  8. East Carolina (13-10, 5-4) – Senior Jontae Sherron finished with 23 points against UCF as the Pirates rose above .500 in conference play, which is unusual considering the last time they were above .500 this late in February was 2002-2003.
  9. Houston (11-9, 3-4) –Their game this weekend against Tulane is a must win as the Cougars seems spiraling out of control.
  10. Rice (11-12, 3-6) –The Iran native Arsalan Kazemi is one of the more interesting stories in college basketball. He averages 15.8 points and 11.9 rebounds a night, but his back story transcends those numbers. And fortunately for the Owls, the numbers have been enough to move them out of the conference cellar.
  11. UCF (14-7, 1-7) –The Knights have forgotten that there are two parts in a college basketball season—the non-conference schedule and the conference schedule. UCF cruised early on, but their season may not be savable at this point.
  12. Tulane (12-10, 2-7) – UCF belongs here at the bottom, however it is hard to tell which team is worse at this point. Tulane went from a top 3 team in early January to dead last before the middle of February. Not much has gone right for the Green Wave, their 47-39 loss to UAB says a lot about where this club is at right now.

A Look Ahead

  • UAB Travels To Marshall: On Wednesday night, the conference schedule gets started for the week as the Blazers and the Thundering Herd square off. The Herd need a nice resume win and could get one tonight.
  • UCF Goes For Second Win On Nationally Televised Game Against Memphis: The UCF ballclub that went 14-0 to start the season has disappeared. However, this team could somehow still make their resume look better by beating Memphis. In desperation, any win counts and a chance to drop the Tigers to 5-4 makes it even more intriguing.
  • SMU and Tulane Square Off in Dallas: SMU hosts Tulane tonight in Dallas as the Mustangs look to continue their winning streak while keeping Tulane down. The Mustangs would be tied for the third best record in conference with the win. Papa Dia should have his way with the weak Tulane low-post defense.
  • Houston Hosts Tulane in Battle of Bottom-Dwellers: With both team’s reeling, Houston and Tulane each need a win badly. Both have losing streaks—Houston’s at five and Tulane’s at seven—however, they can retain some pride by ending the season on the right foot and entering the postseason with whatever hope there is left to salvage.
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Set Your Tivo: 01.18.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 18th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

A few teams face key road tests tonight, one night after the home squads went 3-1 in the season debut of ESPN’s Big Monday. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#19 Michigan State @ #18 Illinois – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

A Top 50 Rebounder, Green Has Been Solid Of Late For MSU (Excepting That 2-10 Against Penn State)

The Spartans needed overtime to dispatch their last two opponents at home, Wisconsin and Northwestern. Michigan State is doing just enough to get by as Korie Lucious and Durrell Summers have struggled lately. Lucious went 0-8 from the floor against Northwestern while Summers has scored just seven points in the last two games. For MSU to have any sustained success going forward, Tom Izzo must get these two players going somehow. Luckily for them, Draymond Green has stepped up, averaging 21/8.5 over the last two games.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.14-01.16

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 14th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Another action-packed weekend awaits grateful hoop fans as we’re about two months away from March Madness. Conference play is really heating up and races are beginning to take shape. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#23 Vanderbilt @ Tennessee – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)

Often Overlooked, Ezeli Is A Workhorse For the Commodores.

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Checking in On… The Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2011

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten conference.

RTC is interested in learning how to improve our Checking In On… series in each conference.  Let us know in the below poll where we can improve this weekly piece (feel free to add specific comments).  Thanks.

A Look Back

  • The Big Ten powers continued to dominate this week, as Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State are a combined 10-0 in conference. The other teams though are starting to look very vulnerable. Michigan State’s loss at Penn State revealed some problems with the Spartans’ attack, while Minnesota doesn’t seem to have the firepower to hang with the top teams in the conference. And where is Wisconsin going to be when this all shakes out? The Badgers are the conference’s biggest enigma.
  • Oh and Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament hopes? They were probably dealt their deathblow on national television at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Illinois. Matt Norlander wrote a lovely obituary over on CBS’ new college basketball blog. That said, maybe life support is the better analogy as the Wildcats did beat a reeling Indiana team on Sunday night.
  • Team of the Week: Purdue – Two blowouts over inferior opponents get the Boilermakers the team of the week award this week. If Saturday showed us anything it’s that winning on the road in conference isn’t easy and Purdue won at Penn State, where Michigan State went on to lose, and also blew out Iowa at home. This team is really coming together and looks to be a dangerous NCAA Tournament style squad.
  • Player of the Week: Rhyne Smith, G, Purdue: Smith scored a team-high 18 points on 6’9 three-point shooting in Purdue’s victory over Iowa. He also was leading scorer in the Boilermakers’ victory over Penn State with 20 points on 5-5 three-point shooting and 5-7 free throw shooting. He’s a catch-and-shoot scorer who thrives off the open looks that come from playing with two All-Americans.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Melsahn Basabe, F, Iowa – Basabe went for 22 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks on Tuesday against Ohio State. He was held to eight points, with four turnovers, against Purdue.

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (16-0, 3-0) – The Buckeyes are showing a disturbing trend of letting teams back into games. Iowa and Minnesota both played them close before falling late. This could come back to haunt Thad Matta’s team at some point. Jared Sullinger had a double-double in both games this week with 24 and 12 against Iowa and 15 and 12 against Minnesota. The first team to stop him is going to have a legitimate chance to knock off the Buckeyes.
  2. Purdue (15-1, 4-0) – Check out the player of the week section about Ryne Smith. Players like Smith, Lewis Jackson and Terone Johnson are starting to step up for Purdue and are making this team even harder to beat.
  3. Illinois (13-3, 3-0) – If the Illini continue to shoot as well as they have in Big Ten play, they’re going to be unbeatable. Northwestern got shellacked at Assembly Hall as Illinois shot 70.5 percent from the field. The one weakness for Bruce Weber’s squad is that they turn the ball over too much. Even in the 25-point victory, it was evident, as the Illini turned it over 22 times. Of course, Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey both had seven assists on the way to a team total of 25.
  4. Wisconsin (12-3, 2-1) – Jon Leuer gets a lot of the press, but Jordan Taylor is the guy that drives the Badgers’ offense. He’s in the mold of other Wisconsin point guards like Devin Harris and Trevon Hughes where he just gets his points. Taylor scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds in Wisconsin’s 66-50 victory over Michigan. That’s 66 points in 54 possessions, by the way. This offense is absolutely deadly.
  5. Michigan State (10-5, 2-1) – It’s time to accept that this Michigan State team isn’t that good right now. The Spartans barely escaped at Northwestern and then lost to Penn State. Kalin Lucas had an okay week scoring the basketball, but the assists aren’t there right now. If he doesn’t have more games like the one against Minnesota where he had seven assists and two turnovers, the Spartans are going to struggle in league play.
  6. Minnesota (12-4, 1-3) – While a three-point loss to Ohio State isn’t a big deal, the Golden Golphers suffered a bigger loss off the court when Devoe Joseph, who started 25 of 76 games in his Minnesota career, was granted his release by the team on Wednesday. Joseph clashed with head coach Tubby Smith. The versatile guard had averaged 11.2 points per game this season and his departure will prove to be a big loss moving forward. The team needs a lot of depth to play Smith’s system and doesn’t really have it right now. One player benefitting is freshman Maverick Ahanminsi, who had a total of 25 minutes of time in the games versus Indiana and Ohio State after just three total minutes in the games against Wisconsin and Michigan State.
  7. Michigan (11-5, 1-2) – Man are the Wolverines going to be wishing they beat Kansas come Selection Sunday, but still, a 67-60 overtime loss to the No. 3 team in the country isn’t bad. Zack Novak played a strong game with 12 points and 11 boards to follow up on a 15-point performance in the loss to Wisconsin earlier in the week.
  8. Penn State (9-6, 2-2) – Penn State seems to be a dangerous team in league play. The Nittany Lions really struggled in the non-conference, but they’re slowly getting better. Even though Talor Battle didn’t have his best game against Michigan State, Penn State still won because Jeff Brooks stepped up with 17 points and 12 boards. Of course, Battle eventually hit the clutch shots down the stretch that allowed Ed DeChellis to get a big league win. Big Ten teams are locking in on Battle, who shot 6-22 against Purdue and 3-14 against Michigan State, so someone else will have to continue to step up for the Nittany Lions.
  9. Northwestern (10-4, 1-3) – John Shurna’s ankle is still bothering him, but he did manage to drop 24 on Indiana. I’m sure all the Wildcats want to forget the game against Illinois, but freshman JerShon Cobb did score 18 points in that game and followed it up with 11, on 3-4 three-point shooting, against the Hoosiers.
  10. Iowa (7-8, 0-3) – While the Hawkeyes can be dangerous at home, they’re going to struggle on the road, especially when teams like Purdue can shut down Matt Gatens and force other players to score points. Before Penn State’s victory over Michigan State, Iowa near miss, 73-68, against Ohio State was the most shocking score of the week.
  11. Indiana (9-8, 0-4) – Not much is going right for Indiana right now. The Hoosiers were down big to Northwestern before making the margin more respectable. Freshman Will Sheehey played well against the Wildcats with nine points and another freshman Victor Oladipo started and scored 13, but it’s hard to win Big Ten conference games relying on freshmen. The game against Northwestern was Oladipo’s fifth in a row in double-figures.

A Look Ahead

While every game is big in conference play, here are the key match-ups to keep an eye on in the upcoming week (all times EST). It also includes one special non-conference CBS Sunday afternoon treat.

  • 1/11 – Wisconsin at Michigan State, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/12 – Ohio State at Michigan, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/12 – Northwestern at Iowa, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/13 – Purdue at Minnesota, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/15 – Illinois at Wisconsin, 3 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/15 – Michigan at Indiana, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/16 – Purdue at West Virginia, 1:30 p.m., CBS

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: Three teams, Purdue (0.27), Illinois (0.18) and Ohio State (0.13) have efficiency margins greater than 0.10 during conference play. That’s very impressive.  Of course, those numbers will come down once they start playing each other, but each has been dominant thus far. The Boilermakers are just tearing things up on a per possession level.  On the other end of the spectrum are three teams: Indiana (-0.17), Michigan (-0.18) and Iowa (-0.19), all below -0.10 per possession. Michigan is at the level even with a win because of two blowout losses. The Wolverines’ game against Wisconsin is especially troublesome because the 16-point loss came in just 54 possessions as the offense disappeared in the second half. Michigan has shown in non-conference play that it can be very competitive against elite teams, so maybe this is a hiccup that will be corrected as the conference plays some more games and things even out.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.06.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 6th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

After Jimmer Fredette stole the show late last night, what does Thursday have in store for us hoopheads? Two in-state clashes lead the way, one of them a heated city rivalry. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Xavier @ Cincinnati – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Mick Cronin And His Bearcats Are Ranked And At Home Against a Depleted Xavier Squad

The Crosstown Shootout is always fun but there’s a heightened sense of importance this year for one team. The Cincinnati Bearcats have the upper hand in the city for the first time in years, undefeated and ranked in the both the AP and coaches polls. Xavier has won the last three meetings, and eight of eleven, though Cincinnati leads the series 47-30. The Bearcats will look to snap their losing streak and show the nation they’re legitimate in front of a national audience this evening.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.22.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 22nd, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Tonight you’ll catch three really good games (including two heavyweight Big 12/Big Ten clashes) if you sit down, relax, and watch ESPN2 all night. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#25 Texas @ #12 Michigan State – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Like It or Not, Izzo and the Spartans Need This One

It’s always fun when two name-brand programs go at it and this one is no exception. This is a big game for both teams but especially so for the homestanding Spartans. A loss here would drop Michigan State to 7-4 against D1 competition and once again ignite the questions about this team’s ability over the long haul, regardless of Tom Izzo’s history. Speaking of Mr. Izzo, he’s back after serving a one-game suspension for employing someone connected to a recruit at his basketball camp. Sparty had no problems against Prairie View A&M but Texas poses a stern test for State. The Longhorns look like a better team this year, playing with good chemistry and stronger defense. Both of these teams rank in the top 15 nationally in defensive efficiency with Texas in the top three in defensive effective field goal percentage. Rick Barnes has a cohesive unit this year that can score as well. With Jordan Hamilton draining threes and Cory Joseph taking over at the point, Texas may just be starting to hit their stride. The key matchups in this ballgame are Hamilton against Durrell Summers and Joseph versus Korie Lucious. When he’s on, Summers can match Hamilton shot for shot. Izzo has moved Lucious to the point many times while shifting Kalin Lucas off the ball. It is essential that each point guard control the ball and get others involved, plus we’re curious to see how the freshman Joseph reacts to the intense environment of the Breslin Center. Each team is deep and talented so the point guards cannot expect to be the stars of the show. The problem for Michigan State all season has been turnovers, something Texas will be eager to force. The Longhorns are deadly when they get out in transition and Michigan State just can’t afford another game chock full of giveaways. Pay attention to the three point line tonight. Michigan State is a very good three-point shooting team, the least we’d expect from what Izzo called a “pretty-boy jump shooting team” after their loss to Syracuse. However, Texas is very good at defending the arc and even better inside it, ranked seventh in two-point defense. The Spartans have three legitimate deep threats and will look to put Texas on notice early and often. On the other end, Michigan State is not good at defending the three. That’s a potentially lethal situation when you have a gunner like Hamilton on the other side. This would seem to be a great time for Michigan State to turn the corner and re-establish itself as a contender with a convincing win over a solid Texas team. We see this game as a closer contest however and Texas can put themselves on the map for good this year with a strong road win. Michigan State is the favorite at home and we’ll take the Spartans by single digits.

#10 Missouri vs. #21 Illinois (in St. Louis) – 9 pm on ESPN2 (****)

The annual Braggin’ Rights game between these two border state rivals is always a must-watch, especially when the teams are good as they are this season. Plus, don’t you love seeing that dividing line right in the middle of the arena separating black and gold from orange? Each team is in the top 25 for the first time in seven years but both programs are dealing with a bit of adversity. The Illini are coming off a brutal loss to Illinois-Chicago while Missouri lost freshman Phil Pressey to a broken hand and will welcome Michael Dixon back from suspension in his place. The story of this game will be pace, essentially who establishes their style of play. Everyone knows Missouri loves to get out and run but Illinois can control this game by protecting the ball against the aggressive Mizzou defense, running efficient half court sets and playing to their strength, defense. Ranked #18 in efficiency, the Illini defense needs to always have a man between Missouri and the basket to stop the ball, otherwise the Tigers will carve them up in both the half court and in transition. Illinois will have success if they force Missouri to play half court offense, taking time off the shot clock and limiting possessions. The most important player in this game is Demetri McCamey. The Illinois senior runs their offense and can shoot the lights out from three. He has to take advantage of Missouri jumping the passing lanes and make good passes to his teammates leading to open looks. Bruce Weber’s team has to take advantage of the mismatch on the perimeter when they have the ball. Illinois ranks #19 in three point shooting while the Tigers are #215 in defending the trey. Meanwhile, Missouri can exploit a weak spot in the Illinois defense inside with Ricardo Ratliffe. Illinois’ interior defense is ranked #118 and the Missouri big man should be able to get Mike Tisdale and/or Mike Davis into foul trouble. Missouri has a bunch of scorers on its roster but, remarkably, they don’t get to the foul line often. Illinois is even worse when it comes to free throw rate but they may get there more often against the foul-prone Tigers. Expect a very close game between two fierce rivals with the outcome in doubt late into the second half. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a determined and focused Illinois team rebound from the UIC loss by knocking off Missouri this evening.

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten conference.

A Look Back

The Big Ten went out and got the necessary victories to win the ACC/Big Ten Challenge 6-5 for the second season in a row. While Minnesota almost screwed things up by losing to Virginia, Purdue winning in overtime over Virginia Tech and Michigan upsetting Clemson on the road bailed out the Gophers. Also, Michigan State acquitted itself well against Duke, making the power rankings even more of a jumble.

Team of the Week

IllinoisThe Fighting Illini got two good victories this week over North Carolina and Gonzaga. Both teams are talented, but Bruce Weber got his team prepared for the young Tar Heels team and then got them back up for a game in Spokane with the Bulldogs. Illinois started bombing threes in the game against Gonzaga (12-23 from three-point range), which probably has future opponents a bit worried.

Player of the Week

John Leuer, F, Wisconsin – Sometimes, Leuer’s stats don’t look so great because he plays for Bo Ryan, but this week, they were off the charts no matter how you measure them. The 6’10 senior forward had 22 points and 11 boards in a blowout of North Carolina State and then added 29 points, including 6-11 from three-point range, and nine boards against South Dakota.

Newcomer of the Week

Tim Hardaway, Jr., G, Michigan – Hardaway scored 15 points, including 7-9 from the free throw line, in Michigan’s road upset over Clemson. He then followed it up with a 1-7 shooting, three-point performance against Harvard, So he’s still got quite a bit to learn. For the season, he’s averaging 10.7 points per game.

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (6-0) – Another week, another victory. This time, it was a 58-44 win at Florida State. There’s not much left to challenge the Buckeyes on the non-conference slate; A home game against South Carolina on December 18 is the toughest one left before Big Ten play begins.
  2. Illinois (8-1) – See the Team of the Week section. Mike Davis had two good games in the victories with 20 points and 10 boards against North Carolina and 10 points and six boards against Gonzaga.
  3. Michigan State (6-2) – Give credit to the Spartans for hanging with Duke in an 84-79 loss. It was a “good” loss if there ever was one. Tom Izzo’s team then went out and shellacked Bowling Green, for whatever that’s worth. Draymond Green had two solid games with 16 points, six boards, three steals and three blocks against the Blue Devils and then 10 points and 12 boards against the Falcons.
  4. Wisconsin (6-2) – Bo Ryan’s team delivered an absolute shellacking to North Carolina State in the challenge, 87-48. Now a more experienced Marquette team is waiting at the Bradley Center as the Badgers begin the Wisconsin part of their schedule.
  5. Purdue (7-1) – The Boilermakers got some rough news when they found out that John Hart is going to be out for a month with an injured foot. The sophomore guard was averaging 8.4 points per game this season, third best on the team. The team has played stifling defense thus far this season, including locking down the perimeter. Opponents are shooting just 25 percent from beyond the arc, which will be very helpful in conference play.
  6. Minnesota (7-1) – Al Nolen was missing for the week as the Golden Gophers went 1-1 overall, including a surprising loss to Virginia in the challenge and an escape against Cornell. He’ll probably miss another week at least, so Tubby Smith needs to find a way around the problem. Trevor Mbakwe had one the oddest double-doubles you’ll ever see against Cornell, with 12 points and 16 boards. Why is that so weird? All 12 points came from the free throw line as he shot 12-20 from the charity stripe and 0-3 from the field.
  7. Northwestern (5-0) – The Wildcats shot the lights out in the first half against Georgia Tech and had everyone raving about the NCAA Tournament. Since then, Northwestern hasn’t played a game. Bill Carmody’s squad doesn’t play again until Monday, December 13, against Long Island.
  8. Indiana (7-1) – The Hoosiers are ranked 60th overall in Ken Pomeroy, but after losing to Boston College on the road by 12, they sort of look like paper tigers. Tom Crean’s team has built up a nice record against really soft competition. Indiana gets another test on Saturday when it takes on Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
  9. Michigan (5-2) – The Wolverines pulled off the surprise of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge by winning at Clemson, 69-61. Michigan then came back to Ann Arbor and survived an upset bid by former head coach Tommy Amaker’s Harvard squad 65-62. It’s possible that John Beilein’s team might be better than people thought coming into the season. Sophomore Darius Morris is one of the top five point guards in the league. He’s averaging 13.7 points and 6.9 assists per game this season.
  10. Penn State (6-2) – Once thought to be an NCAA Tournament bubble team, the Nittany Lions are looking more like an also-ran. Maryland went to University Park and rocked Penn State, holding them to just 39 points. Talor Battle scored 31 points to make sure the Nittany Lions didn’t lose to Duquesne. They get another chance to prove they’re legit with a game at Virginia Tech on Sunday.
  11. Iowa (4-4) – Iowa actually plays two of the more interesting games this week. Tuesday, the Hawkeyes take on last season’s NCAA Tournament darlings, Northern Iowa, and then on Friday, Iowa State comes to visit.

A Look Ahead (all times EST)

  • 12/7 – Michigan State vs. Syracuse, Jimmy V. Classic from Madison Square Garden, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • 12/7 – Purdue at Valparaiso, 9 p.m., ESPNU
  • 12/7 – Iowa vs. Northern Iowa, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 12/8 – Illinois vs. Oakland, 8 p.m.
  • 12/8 – Minnesota at St. Joseph’s (PA), 7 p.m.
  • 12/10 – Michigan vs. Utah, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 12/10 – Iowa vs. Iowa State, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 12/11 – Wisconsin at Marquette, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2
  • 12/11 – Indiana at Kentucky, 5:15 p.m., ESPN
  • 12/12 – Penn State at Virginia Tech, 1 p.m.

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: Conference play is just a few weeks away, but Ken Pomeroy’s numbers are already singing the praises of the Big Ten. The conference has five of the Top 20 teams overall, five of the Top 20 offenses and five of the Top 20 defenses. Most of those are the Top 5 teams in the Power Rankings, but Northwestern has the #11 offense in the country.

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One Man’s Opinion: Contenders After One Month

Posted by zhayes9 on December 6th, 2010

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

After engulfing myself in a nightly binge of college basketball over the first month of the season- taking in games from the Big Apple to the Little Apple and from Cancun to Maui- here is one man’s evaluation on some of the top teams in the country and where they stand heading into the final weeks of non-conference play:

Kyrie Irving has surpassed expectations thus far

Duke- It’s going to take a near perfect effort to beat Duke this season. Being able to lure Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler back to campus coinciding with a severe down year in the ACC was truly the perfect storm of circumstance. One chance a team may have to dethrone Duke is if they lure Mason Plumlee into two early fouls, keep them in the halfcourt and the Blue Devils become three-happy, but Duke does have five players who can catch fire from deep at any time. Kyrie Irving has surpassed any and all expectations during the first month of the season. His court awareness is reminiscent of a 10-year NBA veteran rather than an 18-year old college freshman. His use of the hesitation dribble, ability to split screens, explode to the basket and display innate court awareness has vaulted Irving to stardom. What makes Duke so lethal is that they have a plethora of options that can explode for 25 points on any given night, just as Plumlee did against Marquette or Singler against Oregon or Irving against Michigan State.  There’s three potential lottery picks on this team, but selfishness is never an issue and they flow together seamlessly on the court. I have a hard time pointing out exactly where Duke slips up this season; after all, they don’t face a currently ranked team the rest of the slate.

Ohio State- Here’s the one team I feel would have a good shot at knocking off Duke on a neutral floor right now. They can come close to matching the Blue Devils at every position on the floor if William Buford runs the point. Jared Sullinger has been overrated a bit in the early going. Most of his production has come off easy dunks and layups and I haven’t seen an array of post moves quite yet, although I trust that they exist in his arsenal. It’s his fellow freshmen that should be receiving more attention. DeShaun Thomas is scoring 13 PPG in just over 17 MPG of play and shooting 56% from the floor. I’ve also been wildly impressed with the headiness and intelligence of Aaron Craft at the point. He’s compiled a near 2/1 assist/turnover ratio in the early going and has done a fantastic job finding shooters Diebler and Lighty off screens or Sullinger in low post position. David Lighty is this team’s MVP. He’s a lockdown defender and has really improved his outside jumper, while Buford may have the best mid-range game in the Big Ten. One should always anticipate Tom Izzo’s team to improve as the season wears on, but the Buckeyes have to be the odds-on favorite to win this conference as of now.

Pittsburgh- I know it’s horribly cliché when talking about Pittsburgh, but “tough” is the first word that comes to mind. Jamie Dixon’s teams are never outworked and currently lead all of college basketball is offensive rebounding percentage. Pitt seemingly has an assembly line of big men they can trot off the bench to give Gary McGhee, Nasir Robinson and Talib Zanna breathers. Dixon loves to run Ashton Gibbs off screens for open looks and the junior sharpshooter is connecting better than ever, although he still lacks true point guard skills. Although the rotation will eventually be trimmed down, Dixon has the luxury of digging 10-deep into his bench that Big East rivals like Georgetown and Connecticut simply do not have. McGhee is the type of bruiser inside that every team would love to throw out there for 20 MPG. He gives Pitt’s offense extra shot opportunities and shuts down opposing big men inside. Pitt doesn’t necessarily have the star power of other Final Four contenders, but their toughness and execution as a unit may be enough to carry them to Houston.

Kansas- I think we all need to take a moment to applaud the job Bill Self has done in Lawrence. This program lost two lottery picks and an All-American and have taken maybe one step back. This is a credit to the tremendous depth Self has compiled at Kansas and his staff’s ability to develop players. When Josh Selby is eligible on December 18, this team becomes Final Four good. He could be lumped into the same category as Irving, Walker and McCamey come March. I’ve been wildly impressed with how well the Jayhawks know their roles. The Morris brothers complement each other with Marcus as the inside-outside scoring threat (18.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 65% FG, 9/15 from deep) and Markieff perfectly content with doing the dirty work on the boards and in the paint. In and out of Self’s doghouse during his tenure at Kansas, Tyshawn Taylor has done a quietly solid job filling in for Selby at the point distributing the basketball.  A player who also flies under the radar is Brady Morningstar. Most just view him as a spot-up shooter, but he’s a valuable cog for Self ushering the fast break and setting up teammates for open looks.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.04-12.05

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 4th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The biggest hoops weekend of the year thus far features a blueblood clash, a national championship rematch, a good mid-major battle, a key top 25 Battle in Seattle and a bunch of other quality matchups. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#14 Kentucky @ North Carolina – 12:30 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

The UNC-Kentucky Game Is Always Special

Two of the three members of the 2,000 win club meet in Chapel Hill with the Tar Heels holding a 21-11 edge in this series. Even better, Gus Johnson is calling this game for CBS in its first nationally televised game of the season. North Carolina has won five of the last six meetings and could really use a quality win after starting the year 0-3 against major conference opponents. The story for North Carolina will be turnovers. Roy Williams must be going crazy over his backcourt, which committed 14 of UNC’s 18 turnovers in a loss to Illinois on Tuesday. Carolina ranks #217 in turnover percentage but Kentucky, surprisingly is just #305 in forcing turnovers. That could help North Carolina’s confidence in a home game where the place will be sold out and the fans really fired up. If Harrison Barnes can break out of his slump, North Carolina has a really good chance to win this game. Tyler Zeller and John Henson have been the only reason UNC has been competitive. With everyone else on the team having a hard time, Zeller and Henson have combined to average 26 points and 18 rebounds per game. They’ll face a different kind of challenge against Kentucky star freshman Terrence Jones. The 6’8 Jones has been on a tear to start the season, averaging 21/10 while blocking over two shots a game and stretching his game to the perimeter as well. It’ll be interesting to see whether Roy Williams puts Henson or Barnes on Jones defensively as neither comes close to Jones’ strength and athleticism for his size. A better strategy might be to let Jones get his points and focus the defense elsewhere, specifically on getting turnovers from Brandon Knight. The freshman point guard has played well for John Calipari, but his 4.5 turnovers can be a major problem against an up-tempo team like North Carolina. UNC ranks #19 in tempo which is the quickest pace Kentucky has seen since Washington in Maui. Against the Huskies, Knight had eight turnovers and no assists, though he did score 24 points. North Carolina’s guards must be ready defensively against a Kentucky team that shoots 41% from long range, good for #25 in the nation. The Tar Heels have not been good defending the trey, ranking #185. This matchup could tip the balance of this game towards UK if UNC doesn’t defend well. North Carolina gets 61% of its points from inside the arc, something to watch against Kentucky’s tough interior defense which ranks #8 in block percentage. Expect a fun to watch game with a lot of talent on the floor and intensity on the sidelines and in the stands. It’s hard to predict a winner here because UK has the edge overall but UNC is at home where they enjoy a nice advantage. Best to call this one a toss-up.

#1 Duke vs. Butler (IZOD Center, East Rutherford, NJ) – 3:15 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)

The rematch of last year’s epic title game doesn’t have nearly the same feel. Duke is better than last year while Butler has had a rough start to the season with point guard Ronald Nored suffering a concussion against Siena. He’s day-to-day according to Brad Stevens and may miss this game. Butler’s do-everything star from last year’s team, Gordon Hayward, is gone too, averaging just two points a game in less than ten minutes for the Utah Jazz. The Bulldogs were shredded by Louisville and upset by Evansville at home last week, two disappointing losses for a team that came in with high expectations again this year. Look for Duke’s shooters to dominate this game as Butler really struggles on offense and is mediocre defensively inside the three-point line. Butler ranks #171 in two point defense and is one of the worst teams at blocking shots, #312. Duke’s opponents get most of their points inside the arc but Butler is just #246 in two point percentage. Leading scorer and rebounder Matt Howard is making 55% of his shots but as a whole the team is just at 43.5%. Shelvin Mack is back too and has done a nice job distributing the ball, especially with Nored out. Howard’s foul problems are still there but he has yet to foul out of a game this season. Going up against the athletic Mason Plumlee and company inside, it would be naïve to think Howard won’t have foul problems in this game given his history. Duke is the top ranked team in offensive efficiency and should be able to pile up the points against Butler. Kyrie Irving, coming off his spectacular 31-point performance against Michigan State, makes his return to his home state of New Jersey and will surely be ready to play well in front of the home folks. Duke simply has too much for Butler this time around. While it’s sure to be nostalgic for most college basketball fans, don’t expect this game to be close especially if Nored is still out.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.03.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 3rd, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

After an unexpectedly interesting game last night in Lawrence complete with controversy, your Friday night slate features a clash in the deep south and an intriguing battle out west. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

UAB @ Georgia – 7 pm on FS South/ESPN3 (**)

Georgia Needs a Healthy Thompkins to Reach Its Goals

Georgia had a very disappointing trip to Orlando last week for the Old Spice Classic, coming away with only one win. Even that win was a struggle, 61-58 over a bad Manhattan team. The Bulldogs did get Trey Thompkins back but he’s still trying to work himself back into game shape. Thompkins averaged 15/7 in the three games but turned the ball over almost four times a game. Georgia is not a very good defensive team, rated #104 in efficiency and #328 against the three. That will be a problem against a UAB team that features a 65% three-point shooter in forward Cameron Moore (18/9). Granted he’s only taken 17 treys so far this year, but he is a threat that could pull Thompkins away from the basket and open up the inside for point guard Aaron Johnson to distribute the ball. Johnson is averaging 10 points and a superb nine assists per contest this season. At 5’9 he really struggles shooting but makes up for that deficiency by getting others involved. UAB has only given up 61 PPG and is #14 in defending the three so Georgia is going to have to work hard for points. The Bulldogs are not a good three-point shooting team (29%) so they get most (62%) of their points from inside the arc. The good news for Georgia is that while they’re turnover prone, UAB doesn’t force many turnovers at all because they play a slower style. The rebounding battle will be important in this game and might very well determine the winner. Travis Leslie is an excellent rebounder for his size, pulling down nine a game. He’ll need to be on his game along with Thompkins for Georgia to control the glass, though UAB is a poor offensive rebounding team. Coach Mike Davis plays four guys at least 30 minutes per game so tired legs are something to watch for in the second half. The Bulldogs are the favorite at home but this really could be looked at as a toss-up game. UAB has some talent and they’ll certainly give Georgia a game tonight at Stegeman Coliseum.

#5 Kansas State @ Washington State – 11 pm on FSN (****)

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Set Your Tivo: 11.30.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 30th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

After Virginia’s upset of Minnesota last night, the ACC is off to a good start in the ACC-Big Ten challenge. Will that continue tonight as the games ramp up? We also have a really good Big East/Big 12 clash on tap this evening. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#2 Ohio State @ Florida State – 7:30 pm on ESPN (****)

Chris Singleton Has Been Mostly Outstanding This Season

Ohio State’s last journey to the state of Florida was a rousing success, a 93-75 shellacking of Florida in Gainesville. The Buckeyes face an opponent with a much different style, but also a team that was beat by the same Florida team that lost to Ohio State. We said this was a crucial week for Florida State and now it becomes even more important as the Seminoles are in danger of going 0-2 at home against two quality teams in a span of three days. FSU star Chris Singleton was held in check by the Gators, shooting just 2-12 on the night. Singleton must get back on track for Leonard Hamilton and his team to have any chance against Ohio State, it’s as simple as that. This game features two of the top five teams in defensive efficiency but Florida State’s offense has held them back. The ‘Noles rank #94 in offensive efficiency, a far cry from the Buckeyes lofty #4 perch. Florida State has to have a strong defensive game against an explosive Ohio State offense but it doesn’t stop there. A solid performance on the other side of the ball is imperative. Florida State can play all the defense it wants but they won’t win without better scoring. Michael Snaer had a great game against Florida, going 5-6 from beyond the arc. He’ll need more of that against an Ohio State perimeter that can match or better him with guys like Jon Diebler (48% from three) and David Lighty. Singleton versus Jared Sullinger in the post will be one heck of a matchup. Perhaps the best defensive player in the nation goes up against one of the best offensive post players (62% FG) and whoever gets the edge could lead their team to victory. Two key areas bear watching in this game: turnovers and rebounding, especially on the offensive end for Ohio State. The Buckeyes rank #6 in forcing turnovers while FSU is #276 averaging 18 turnovers a game. If Florida State is turning the ball over that much they can essentially forget about getting a win tonight. Ohio State is #10 in offensive rebounding percentage while the Seminoles are #187, not doing a good job on the defensive boards. Ohio State is the favorite here but it would be hard to imagine them playing so well again away from home. Florida State isn’t desperate but they are in need of a big time win. They may not get it tonight but we think they’ll come out with a strong effort and make this a very interesting game.

#10 Georgetown vs. #10 Missouri (in Kansas City) – 9 pm on ESPNU (****)

Both teams tied for tenth in our latest RTC Top 25 released yesterday, though their playing styles could not be any more different. Missouri uses Mike Anderson’s version of “forty minutes of hell,” acquired from his time spent as an assistant under Nolan Richardson at Arkansas. The Tigers rank #16 in tempo and are second in the nation at forcing turnovers. That could be a problem for a Georgetown team that likes to play at a slower, more deliberate pace. The Hoyas average 15 turnovers per game and rank #222 in turnover percentage. Georgetown gets most of its points behind the three point line from the trio of Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark. All three shoot at least 45% from the arc with Freeman checking in at an astounding 58%. As a unit, Georgetown is the sixth best three point shooting team in the nation. Missouri, #196 in defending the three, is going to need its taller wing players such as 6’6 Kim English (two steals per game) to harass the Hoya shooters with his length and athleticism. Missouri as a whole is not very good at three point defense (#196), but neither are the Hoyas (#189). Marcus Denmon and Michael Dixon Jr. are Missouri’s best deep threats and will need to minimize the pain of the Georgetown three point attack by making shots of their own. Coach Anderson uses a deep bench to rotate fresh players in and out in order to keep the defensive pressure strong throughout the game. No Missouri player averages more than 26 minutes per game. While Georgetown is almost exclusively a perimeter oriented team, they’ve received good contributions from Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson up front, combining for 19/14 a game. Missouri holds an edge in the front court behind Ricardo Ratliffe (11/10) and Laurence Bowers (12/7). The Hoya big men need to rebound the ball effectively against a solid Missouri front line that will stay fresh with two other contributors coming off the bench for Anderson. Georgetown is going to need something good off the bench from a few other players in order to keep their starters fresh against the relentless Mizzou pressure. This should be a tremendous basketball game and whoever holds the edge in three point shooting or rebounding should come out on top. Expect a forty minute battle with the outcome not determined until very late.

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