Make Your Case: USC Trojans

Posted by jstevrtc on March 11th, 2011

It’s back. Around this time of year we like to yield the soapbox to representatives of bubble teams and give them the opportunity to explain to the hooping nation why their team should be granted admission into the NCAA Tournament. We encourage them to be as irrational and nonpartisan as they want. As always, feel free to tell us how you think they did  in the comments section. If you’d like to make the case for your school, send us an e-mail at JStevRTC@gmail.com and we’ll hear your preliminary arguments.

Taking up the argument for USC is Joey Kaufman (twitter feed) of the USC blog Conquest Chronicles. Joey, the floor is yours.

I find the question of whether USC is deserving of an NCAA tournament at-large bid to be self-evident. Of course, our Trojans do!

After all, they don’t always get a chance to play past the regular season. Last year, self-imposed sanctions prevented ‘SC from participating in the Pac-10 tournament and possibly earning an at-large bid. Not that a team composed of players such as Mike Gerrity and Dwight Lewis (no offense) would have earned one anyway, but still. They never even had a chance (holding back tears). And heck, our football team has been barred from postseason participation for two years.

The Increased Effort On the Defensive End Is the Causative Factor of USC's Late-Season Improvement

So, obviously, we’re deserving of a bid to the Big Dance, because well, we don’t always get a chance to play into March. Sometimes the basketball program isn’t eligible, and other times, it just isn’t good enough (see: Henry Bibby-coached teams).

But this current USC hoops team is playing surprisingly well late in the season. A year ago, the Trojans, plagued by similar depth issues, dropped the final five games of the season, finishing just 16-14 overall after once appearing in contention for the conference title. Presently, Kevin O’Neill’s group has won six out of its last seven games, including yesterday’s 14-point victory over California in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament.

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Summer School in the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 24th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences.

Around the Pac-10:

  • Down Times: Last season was clearly one of the low points in Pac-10 basketball history. It took a late-season run out of Washington to ensure two NCAA Tournament bids from the conference, with California earning the other after a strong but somewhat disappointing season. The conference had just one player (the Huskies’ Quincy Pondexter) picked in the first round of the NBA Draft, and just two players picked overall (with Stanford’s Landry Fields somewhat surprisingly being drafted by the Knicks, much to the chagrin of New York fans in attendance, with the 39th pick). The two total players drafted were the lowest total for the league since 1986.
  • Returning Fire: Despite the lack of players picked in the NBA Draft, just nine of the league’s top 20 scorers from last year return, although Rihard Kuksiks is still uncertain whether he will return for his senior season at Arizona State. Likewise, just 11 of the league’s top 20 rebounders return.
  • Fresh Blood: But not to worry, plenty of excellent new talent is headed the Pac-10’s way. Or not. Actually, out of Scout’s Top 100 list, just ten players (and just four out of the top 50) committed to Pac-10 institutions, with the highest ranked player, Washington’s Terrence Ross, checking in at #26. According to ESPNU’s projections, the outlook is slightly rosier, with the Pac-10 accounting for 12 of the top 100 players, five of the top 50, and UCLA’s Josh Smith checking in at #20. Either way, while there is some new talent, it is not of the caliber of the other BCS conferences. There was some intrigue here, however, as Enes Kanter (Scout #3 overall recruit, ESPNU #25) originally verbally committed to Washington before backing out and heading to Kentucky. Additional salt in the wound came when Washington’s top recruit, Terrence Jones (ESPU #9 overall, Scout #8) announced at a press conference that he would be committing to Washington, but then failed to sign a letter of intent and wound up changing his mind and committing to Kentucky as well, giving Husky fans an entirely new Cal to dislike.
  • Head Honchos: While a lot of familiar players have moved on, there is consistency in the hot seat for all but one team: Oregon ended the Ernie Kent era and will welcome new head coach Dana Altman, formerly of Creighton. While Altman wasn’t the sexy hire that Pat Kilkenny and Phil Knight wanted to start the new era in Oregon basketball, he is an excellent coach who will likely have the sleeping giant in Eugene back in the thick of things in the Pac-10 very quickly.
  • Home Cooking: The coaching change isn’t the only big news in Eugene, as the Ducks will break in a new arena this season, when the brand-new gleaming Matthew Knight Arena (named after Knight’s son who died prematurely in a scuba-diving accident) replaces the venerable old McArthur Court in January. The Ducks had planned to kick off the Pac-10 season in the new venue, but the move-in date has been pushed back for a variety of reasons.

Newcomer Terrence Ross will look to keep Washington atop the Pac-10.

Power Rankings:

  1. Washington: The Huskies lose last year’s lone Pac-10 NBA first rounder in Quincy Pondexter, but just about everyone else of consequence returns. Pint-sized point Isaiah Thomas (no, not the suspiciously crazy one who ran the Knicks into the ground) leads the way in a talented backcourt, with energetic pace-setter Venoy Overton back for another season of annoying opposing guards. Also keep your eye on sophomore Abdul Gaddy, who was at one time considered the second-best point guard in the ’09 high school class. He struggled as a 17-year-old freshman, but Lorenzo Romar will certainly give him plenty of chances to earn more playing time this season. Up front, senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning will need to take a big step forward as the frontcourt scoring threat for this squad, with Tyreese Breshers and Darnell Gant doing the dirty work in the paint. Additionally, Romar welcomes three freshmen, including Terrence Ross to add some more talent to the backcourt and 7’0 juco transfer Aziz Ndiaye to add size, if not a polished offensive game, to a relatively small frontcourt. Senior Justin Holliday and junior Scott Suggs will add depth at the wings. The Huskies suffered from lapses in concentration last season, but an additional year of experience for a veteran roster should fix that problem.
  2. Arizona: The Wildcats are on their way back from their struggles at the end of legend Lute Olson’s regime. But while I’ll nab them as my number two team here, this is not a Wildcat team that is going to make any McKale denizens forget the 1988 or 1997 teams – this ranking is more of an indication of the conference’s weakness. However, sophomore forward Derrick Williams is the conference’s fourth leading returning scorer and second-leading returning rebounder and an absolute beast in the paint. Senior Jamelle Horne will start alongside Williams, and he’ll be called on to improve on the nine points and six rebounds he provided nightly last season. Shooting guard Kyle Fogg displayed some nice offensive punch last season, and he’ll be asked for even more, but the most pressure will be felt by sophomore point Lamont “MoMo” Jones, who will be tasked with taking over for departed fixture Nic Wise. The development of frontcourt sophomores Solomon Hill and Kyryl Natyazhko and incoming freshman guards Daniel Bejarano and Jordin Mayes will be important for team depth. This is still an undersized team, which hurts them a bit on the boards and on defense, two areas where they will need to improve from last season.
  3. UCLA: While the 2009-10 season was a nightmare for the Bruins, the cupboard is not completely empty in Westwood. There are a lot of unanswered questions here, however, and the biggest one is at the point. Malcolm Lee got plenty of time there last season, but he is more ideally suited to play on the wing, and if all goes well for the Bruins, that’s where he’ll be this season. With the Jerime Anderson era justifiably considered a failure to this point, Ben Howland has brought in juco transfer Lazeric Jones to man the point, with any positive contributions that Anderson might provide just being bonus. Sophomore Tyler Honeycutt is a skilled ball handler and passer at the three, so he’ll be around to add an additional guard when necessary. Up front, Reeves Nelson was perhaps the biggest bright spot for UCLA in his freshman season, when he averaged 11 points and six rebounds a night in just over 20 minutes per game. He’ll need to keep out of foul trouble to gain additional minutes, and he’ll need to improve his horrid free throw shooting as well, but he looks ready for a big leap forward, especially considering he’ll be joined by UCLA’s big (and I do mean big, once listed at 320, now working towards approaching 270) freshman Josh Smith, a skilled and soft-handed center. Freshman wing Tyler Lamb will also get some early run. But the fact is, there is plenty of talent here, and if the Bruins get nothing more than a caretaker at the point, Howland will win games in a weak Pac-10 with this team. Read the rest of this entry »
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USC Hoops Should Be Thanking Gerrity, Johnson, and Lewis

Posted by jstevrtc on June 10th, 2010

USC received the official response from the NCAA regarding penalties to the men’s basketball team.  Jeff Goodman from FoxSports.com posted a good succinct rundown of USC’s self-imposed penalties plus what the NCAA added today.  The penalties as described below are paraphrased from his article, but you should check out his article by clicking the link above.

Was it worth it?

Here is how USC stuck it to itself in the middle of last season:

  • They ditched one scholarship from last year and this upcoming season,
  • They reduced by one the number of coaches who could hit the road recruiting,
  • Took 20 days off their allowed recruiting time this year,
  • Vacated (a concept we hate) any wins in which O.J. Mayo played,
  • Gave back just over $200,000 they earned by being in the 2008 NCAA Tournament,
  • Let three kids out of their LOIs for the next season, and
  • Took a year off from both the Pac-10 and NCAA Tournaments.

More on that last one in a bit.  Here’s what the NCAA tacked on as far as basketball penalties today:

  • Four years of probation. It starts today, and it ends in exactly 1,461 days on June 9, 2014.  In other words, the NCAA  acknowledges you were bad.  It added some penalties.  But if you screw up any time in the next four years, they’re really going to be ticked.
  • Vacate all those post-season wins from the 2007-2008 season. USC won their first game in the Pac-10 tourney that year over Arizona State, then lost to UCLA.  Then, as a 6-seed, they lost to #11 Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament first round.  Total penalty there?  One win. Crippling.
  • Hold the Mayo.  USC must “disassociate” itself from O.J. Mayo and the guy who provided illegal benefits to Mayo, Rodney Guillory.  USC can’t take any donated money from him, can’t have him helping with recruiting, can’t have him do anything on behalf of the school.  That was probably happening anyway.  We can’t imagine that USC would have him out trumpeting the virtues of USC basketball.
  • If you’re not part of the team, get out. “Non-university personnel” can’t fly on charters, donate money, help with camps, go to practices, or hang out in the locker room during/after games.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences.

Standings

  1. California    (12-5, 20-9)
  2. Arizona State     (10-6, 20-9)
  3. Washington     (9-7, 19-9)
  4. USC     (8-8, 16-12)
  5. Arizona      (8-8, 14-14)
  6. UCLA     (8-8, 13-15)
  7. Oregon State    (7-9, 13-15)
  8. Stanford    (7-10, 13-16)
  9. Washington State    (6-10, 16-12)
  10. Oregon     (6-10, 14-14)

It may not have been the type of season that Cal head coach Mike Montgomery envisioned at the start of the year when his Golden Bears and their five returning starters were ranked in the top 15, but as the calendar page gets flipped to the only month that really matters in college basketball, his team has just finished clinching at least a part of the Pac-10 regular season title and the top seed in next week’s Pac-10 Tournament. What could be very interesting for the Bears, however, is a scenario that Montgomery has no interest in seeing happen: the Bears failing to win the Pac-10 Tournament and its automatic bid, leaving Cal — a team with an RPI in the 20s but no wins against top-50 RPI teams -– squarely on the bubble for NCAA at-large consideration.

Team Rundowns

  • California – The Bears wrapped up their portion of the Pac-10 title by sweeping the Arizona schools behind strong play from their seniors. Over the course of the weekend, the five Bear seniors (Jamal Boykin, Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson and Nikola Knezevic) combined for 129 of the 157 Cal points. Boykin led the way and took home Pac-10 player-of-the-week honors behind averages of 17 points and 8.5 rebounds. Cal still needs either a win at Stanford or a loss by Arizona State in one of their games against the Southern California schools to wrap up sole possession of the regular season crown.
  • Arizona State – The Sun Devils hung around for a half at Haas Pavilion on Saturday, but ice-cold second half shooting (just 7-26 from the field) and a complete inability to hit from range throughout the game (only 3-22 from behind the arc) doomed ASU. Only senior Jerren Shipp was able to get off against the Bears, hitting six of his nine shots (including two threes) for 14 points. Senior center Eric Boateng tied a Pac-10 record by hitting all 11 of his field goal attempts (on his way to 24 points) in their win over Stanford on Thursday. The Devils still have the inside track on the number two seed in the Pac-10 tournament, with a one-game lead over Washington.
  • Washington – The Huskies completed a season-sweep over intrastate rival Washington State on Saturday by getting out to a big first half lead (they led 35-21 at the half) and then fighting off a charging Cougar squad for a seven-point win. Sophomore point guard Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 22 points and junior forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning continued his recent tear by adding 17 points and 12 rebounds. Bryan-Amaning has now averaged 13/7 over the past six weeks. Washington will head to the Oregon schools to wrap up their regular season, needing to win both games and get some help out of the Southern California schools in order to take over second place.
  • USC – Coming into the week, the Trojans still had an outside shot at winning the regular season Pac-10 title. Those hopes died Thursday night when they scored 12 points in the second half (6/25 FGs, 0/13 3s in the second half) against Oregon. The Trojans followed that up with a similar performance against Oregon State on Saturday, shooting just 25% from the field in the second half (and 29% for the game). Coach Kevin O’Neill will lose senior starters Mike Gerrity, Dwight Lewis and Marcus Johnson off a team that has leaned heavily on its starting five, assuring that things will look different around the Galen Center next season.
  • Arizona – The Wildcats split their trip to the Bay Area this weekend, stealing a game from Stanford on Saturday on a 15-foot bank at the buzzer by freshman guard Lamont “Momo” Jones. Jones had a career high 16 points for the ‘Cats and fellow freshman Derrick Williams added 24 points to push Sean Miller’s club into a three-way tie in the middle of the conference. While senior point guard Nic Wise will be wrapping up his college career this weekend, the Wildcats boast a young team (five freshmen get playing time) that will likely be considered one of the early favorites in the Pac-10 next season.

  • UCLA – Senior day summed up the UCLA season pretty well. Before the game started, senior forward Nikola Dragovic, a couple of days after having his shoulder pop out against Oregon State, tripped over a basketball during warm-ups and sprained his ankle. And then, after battling back from a 10-point halftime deficit to tie the game late, sophomore point guard Jerime Anderson had two bad turnovers in the last minute and the Bruins sank back to .500 in the conference. Senior Michael Roll did go out in style, knocking down six three-pointers on his way to 25 points in his last regular season appearance in Pauley Pavilion.
  • Oregon State – The Beavers shot just 4-31 from 3-pt range this week, hit only 37% from the field, turned the ball over 30 times, and still got a split in Southern California when they forced 20 USC turnovers and held the Trojans to 29% shooting on Saturday. Senior guard Seth Tarver led the Beavs with 15 points in a game that was ugly enough to deserve special mention in a season of ugliness in the Pac-10. Oregon State still has a chance to finish the Pac-10 season at .500 with wins over the Arizona schools in the final weekend of the season.
  • Stanford – Despite senior Landry Fields’ strong last weekend in Maples Pavilion, the Cardinal dropped both games this week and are destined for a lower-division Pac-10 finish. Fields averaged 21.5 points and seven rebounds this week, but against the Sun Devils on Thursday he received very little help. Sophomore guards Jeremy Green and Jarrett Mann combined to score just six points on 2-15 shooting (and, to be fair to Mann, he only accounted for one of those field goal attempts – a miss). They both bounced back against Arizona on Saturday, going for 19 and 13 respectively, but the Cardinal lost a heart-breaker on a shot at the buzzer.
  • Washington State – The Cougars stumbled out of the gate on Saturday and by halftime were down 14 on Senior Night in Beasley Coliseum. But sophomore forward DeAngelo Casto led the Cougars on a second half run to get back in the game and even take their first lead of the game in the middle of the second half. However, the Cougars were unable to contain the Huskies’ Thomas late and the Cougs faded down the stretch. Casto wound up with 19/6, but the Cougs’ leading scorer, sophomore Klay Thompson, struggled all day, missing 12 of his 14 field goal attempts and turning the ball over five times. The Cougars will close the season with a road trip to Oregon.
  • Oregon – The Ducks went on the road to Southern California and swept UCLA and USC, breaking a five-game losing streak in a big way, and now have put themselves in position to climb out of the cellar with a strong closing weekend of the season, as the Ducks host the Washington schools while saying goodbye to senior Tajuan Porter as well as MacArthur Court. Porter averaged 22.5 ppg in the LA sweep and threw in seven threes in the win over the Bruins, leaving him just eight threes behind former Arizona star Salim Stoudamire for the all-time Pac-10 mark.
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RTC Live: USC @ California

Posted by rtmsf on January 9th, 2010

RTC Live is making a habit of heading over to Berkeley for games at Cal, but if we keep getting games like we had on Wednesday night at Haas Pavilion versus UCLA — a 1-pt game UCLA won with 1.8 seconds remaining — we’ll keep going back.  Tonight the Bears welcome the surprise team of the Pac-10, Kevin O’Neill’s USC Trojans.  As you know, USC learned earlier this week that, despite their surprisingly strong pre-conference record, they would not be playing in the postseason this year as a result of the OJ Mayo/Tim Floyd/Rodney Guillory fiasco.  Somewhat predictably, they immediately lost their next game by one point at Stanford.  Now that the players have had a little more time to digest the news, we’re expecting a much more focused Mike Gerrity, Alex Stepheson and company tonight.  As for Cal, they’ll try to recover from a game against the Bruins that they obviously felt they should have won.  Jerome Randle will try to get his shooting touch back, as he only had 11 points on 2-11 shooting in 41 minutes of action, and they will undoubtedly have their hands full with the sticky USC defense as both teams seek to avoid a second loss in the conference. Join us tonight (late-night on the east coast) for some Pac-10 hoops!

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What You Missed While Watching College Football…

Posted by zhayes9 on January 8th, 2010

Zach Hayes is RTC’s resident bracketologist plus author of the weekly Ten Tuesday Scribbles and Bubble Watch columns.

With college football crowning another faux-national champion Thursday night in Pasadena, the college sports scene can officially shift its axis to basketball. While a number of college basketball diehards such as yours truly were knee-deep in mid-major box scores and enthralling non-conference tournaments since the season tipped off in mid-November, it’s perfectly understandable for our college football-fan brethren out there to have been entranced in the gridiron scene during this time. For many folks out there, college basketball truly begins when a football champion is crowned and conference play heats up, when Rece and the gang show up on our TVs every Saturday morning at 11 AM and the bubble begins to take its early shape. For those people, you sure missed plenty of exciting hoops action. To get you caught up in what has gone down thus far on the hardwood, here’s a summary for your enjoyment, divvied up into the six major conferences and all the rest:

ACC

What we’ve learned: There was much back-and-forth debate entering this season whether Duke or North Carolina represented the class of this conference. After two solid months of play, it’s fairly evident Duke has separated themselves from their bitter rival as the class of the ACC. While the Tar Heels may top Duke skill-wise up front, Carolina simply does not boast the backcourt to even contend with the Dukies’ tandem of Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith. The primary knock on Duke heading into this season was point guard play with Elliot Williams transferring to Memphis. As a true sharp-shooting 2-guard who creates his shots coming off screens in Redick-like fashion, could Scheyer handle the responsibility of running the Duke offense? The answer has been resounding in the affirmative: 19.7 PPG, 46% FG, 92% FT, 43% 3pt and an otherworldly 4.8 A/TO ratio that currently leads the nation. Another key to Duke’s early season success has been Coach K’s willingness to adjust his defense to fit his roster. Rather than employing the normal Duke on-ball pressure attack, Krzyzewski is utilizing more of a sagging defense that plays into the frontcourt depth Duke enjoys with six players that receive time at 6’8 or taller.

Scheyer Has His Devils Looking Great This Season

What’s still to be determined: After Duke and Carolina (and let’s not go overboard following the Heels loss to Charleston, they’re still clearly the second best team in this conference), who will emerge as the third contender behind the top two dogs? An ever-shifting proposition, the current edge probably goes to Florida State despite their utter lack of point guard play. The Seminoles are one of the tallest teams in the nation and have a few capable long-range shooters that get open looks when defenses collapse on Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton. Plus, they’re off to a head start with a December win at ACC foe Georgia Tech. Plenty of folks think Clemson could be that team behind powerful big man Trevor Booker, but they lack a second scoring option and I can’t stop thinking back to their collapse at home to an inexperienced Illinois squad. It would be unwise to count out Gary Williams, and the jury’s still out on Virginia Tech and Miami due to their soft schedules, so I’ll give the current edge to Wake Forest as that third team. The road win at Gonzaga’s on-campus arena stands out, Ish Smith has turned into a fine point guard and Al-Farouq Aminu has as much pure talent as anyone in this conference.

NCAA Locks: Duke, North Carolina.

Likely bids: Clemson, Florida State, Wake Forest.

Bubble teams: Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami (FL), Virginia Tech.

Make other plans for March: Boston College, North Carolina State, Virginia.

Big East

What we’ve learned: The NCAA picture is shaping up quite similarly to last season when Louisville (regular season champion), Pittsburgh and Connecticut all received #1 seeds. There will be much back-and-forth debate about whether the top three teams this season — Syracuse, West Virginia and Villanova -- holds the edge in this conference, but does it really matter? Right now you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think Kansas, Texas, Kentucky and Purdue are the likely #1 seeds (of course plenty could change, we have two months of games left), while those top contenders in the Big East are likely all on the second seed line. Even of greater importance though is the obvious revelation that Jamie Dixon can coach basketball. You wouldn’t be alone if you counted out Pittsburgh following a near-loss to Wofford, a 47-point output at home vs. New Hampshire and a second half butt-kicking at the hands of Indiana, but those losses came without their most athletic player, Gilbert Brown, and their best defender, Jermaine Dixon. Those two have returned to action with the most improved Big East player Ashton Gibbs (who recently broke the all-time Pitt record for consecutive free throws made) as a fearsome trio that has carried the Panthers to road wins over previously-undefeated Syracuse and fringe-top 25 Cincinnati. If Dixon is able to coax his Panthers into a NCAA Tournament team after losing such enormous production and leadership in Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields, there is little debate on his merits as National Coach of the Year.

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RTC Live: USC @ Stanford

Posted by rtmsf on January 5th, 2010

Can USC keep its spot atop the Pac-10 Conference following its self-imposed ban on post-season play? Can Stanford shake off a 92-66 pasting by archrival Cal last week and even up its own Pac-10 record? These questions and others will be answered when 6-7 Stanford hosts Southern Cal and its eight-game, Mike Gerrity-led winning streak on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. PT. The game will be the first since USC announced its own punishment for recruiting violations concerning departed star O.J. Mayo. Before the ban was announced USC ran the table last weekend on Arizona and Arizona State to go 2-0 in conference play.  Stanford has been up and down all year, beating Virginia and taking Kentucky to the wire earlier this year, but coming into this game having dropped four of five.  It’ll be very interesting to see how the Trojans respond to their disappointing news at Maples Pavilion this evening. 

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on January 5th, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.

1. More than the countless Big East tournament runs at the Garden, or the contention for conference regular season titles on a yearly basis, or reaching upper-echelon status in college basketball playing with no flashy All-American recruits, Jamie Dixon is proving his worth as a coach this year more than ever. Few teams lost as much talent, leadership, and production as senior point guard Levance Fields, dominating big man DeJuan Blair and outside threat Sam Young. The departure of these three mainstays plus two projected starters for 2009-10, Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown, beginning the year MIA prompted many preseason prognosticators (including myself) to deem Pittsburgh a non-contender in the rugged Big East. My mistake, Jamie. The Panthers just finished one of their most difficult Big East road stretches of the year with two statement victories at previously undefeated Syracuse and at fringe-ranked Cincinnati. Sophomore Ashton Gibbs is taking his experience from playing under Dixon at the U19 Games to good use, running the Pitt offense with superb efficiency, shooting the ball lights out from deep and breaking the all-time Pitt record for consecutive free throws made in the process. Brown has his academics in order and used his athleticism to make a few back-breaking baskets against Cincy last night. Dixon provides stellar defense and outside shooting. It remains to be seen whether Pitt can stay at the top of the Big East with less talent than the other squads, but we do know that Dixon’s team will play smarter and tougher than any opponent. And that always gives them a fighting chance.

2. The most significant win this New Year’s week had to be Purdue running away from West Virginia to remain unblemished and surpass the Mountaineers as a projected #1 seed at this stage of the season. Purdue and coach Matt Painter have constructed their program unlike many of their other counterparts atop the rankings on a weekly basis. There’s no Xavier Henry, Avery Bradley, Devin Ebanks or John Wall walking through the doors of Mackey Arena to play for the Boilers for one or two years; instead, their 2009-10 highly ranked squad features a group of players that have been together for three straight seasons, such a rarity in the age of one-and-done players and the glorification of NBA riches. This specific group of players- Robbie Hummel, Chris Kramer, JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Keaton Grant- have practiced and played together for three straight years now, stepping up the ladder slowly but surely in the college hoops landscape. They took the Big Ten by surprise in 2007-08 before falling in the second round to Xavier and climbed up another step by reaching the Sweet 16 a season ago. This year they hope to reach the top and cut down the nets in nearby Indianapolis with a group of kids that have been through the ups and downs of a college basketball season together more than once- a group of lightly-recruited but tough-minded individuals that will utilize defensive intensity and offensive efficiency to reach the ultimate goal Hummel, Johnson, Moore and others been striving for since arriving in West Lafayette.

3. Think about this for a second: Despite losing three four-year starters that all played 30+ MPG and notched 10+ PPG, Marquette coach Buzz Williams would probably tell you that his Golden Eagles should be staring at a 12-2 (2-0) record with wins over top-ten Villanova and West Virginia and another top-25 team in Florida State. Typical of young, inexperienced squads, Marquette has simply been unable to close games this season against stellar competition. If Darius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler don’t miss two front ends of 1-and-1 opportunities, Da’Sean Butler’s game-winning shot never happens and Marquette has the second most impressive road win in the country this season (just behind Pitt stunning Syracuse). Up two Saturday against Villanova, Johnson-Odom again stepped to the line up two points and 2:35 left on the clock. Both of those attempts bricked, and, couple that with a bunny missed by Butler at the buzzer, the Golden Eagles again fell just short. Rewind back to November in the Old Spice Classic where Marquette held a 30-18 lead at half against FSU and a 10-point cushion midway through the second half, but squandered the lead. I haven’t even included the NC State game where Marquette lead by 11 at the intermission. Closing out games has been a devastating problem for Buzz Williams’ squad this season, and these close losses could very well cost Marquette a spot in the field come March if they’re sitting on the bubble.

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Morning Five: New Years Day Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 1st, 2010

  1. Happy New Year, everyone! Everyone here at Rush the Court hopes you had a safe and fun evening last night which will be followed by the best 2010 you can hope for.  We feel blessed here with the growth in readers, notoriety and access that RTC continues to have, and we’re certain that this will be our best year yet.
  2. A late Xmas present for Jay Wright and his Villanova Wildcats today, as freshman center Mouphtaou Yarou will be back to play after being diagnosed with hepatitis B earlier this year.  It will undoubtedly take Yarou a while to get his sea legs back, but even if he can provide 15-20 minutes/game in hustle, rebounding and defense, that would be a tremendous benefit to VU throughout Big East play.
  3. Here’s a nice piece from George Dorhmann on USC’s Mike Gerrity, who is without a doubt making the single biggest impact as a transfer player this season anywhere.  USC was barely a D1 program when he was on the bench.
  4. We’d agree with Goodman’s sentiment that UConn is overrated this year, but part of the problem is that there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of difference between teams in the #10-#30 range.  Interesting about Calhoun’s recruiting, though.
  5. Kevin Laue, the Manhattan College player with only one arm who was featured here as well as many other places in the past year, got the first point of his collegiate career Wednesday night in a game versus Vanderbilt.  He played a season-high seventeen minutes and hit one of four free throws while also totaling eight rebounds!  A great story just keeps getting better.
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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on December 31st, 2009

Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference.

Boy, that was a rough non-conference season, huh? Everybody and their mom jumped on the Pac-10 for underachieving, and there is certainly some merit to that. The teams that were expected to compete for Top 10 spots sometimes looked like they shouldn’t be ranked at all. As a whole, the conference won very few quality games and for the most part waltzed through laughably easy opponents. Then, of course, there were the downright embarrassing losses that began to pile up one after another.

But don’t think for a second that there aren’t dangerous teams in the Pac-10 Conference. We expected California and Washington to be good, but the past few weeks have seen the impressive rise of Arizona State and USC, who now look like at-large bid candidates. And for as dreadful as we all made UCLA out to be, their losses came against good teams and the Bruins are still hovering around .500. In fact, they’re the only sub-.500 team in the Pac-10, so how bad could the conference really be?

Things will get sorted out as conference play begins tonight, and as the weeks go on the cream will likely rise to the top. Let’s catch up on how everyone has been doing, and analyze their chances at winning the league as we get started with play within the ‘family.’

Player of the Week: Quincy Pondexter, Washington – The 6’6 forward scored 47 points in two wins this week to get the #16 Huskies on track heading into Pac-10 play, and is looking like one of the clear frontrunners for conference Player of the Year. Without a third scoring option to complement he and Isaiah Thomas, Washington will need everything Pondexter’s got if they’re going to win the conference.

Power Rankings

#16 Washington (9-2): You have to wonder about the Huskies heading into their conference opener tonight. They’ve played just two games away from home, their two biggest wins are against Wright State and Texas A&M and they still haven’t found a suitable offensive weapon save Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas. They’re talented enough to win the league, sure, but without really challenging themselves in the non-conference it’s tough to know exactly what Washington is all about.

Arizona State (10-3): Similarly, the Sun Devils have played away from home just three times and dropped two of those games. Those losses to Duke and BYU came against good squads, but otherwise their schedule has been soft as cotton candy. They’re riding a three-game winning streak that began with a big win over hot San Diego State, but that is literally Arizona State’s only win of substance. WARNING: leading scorer Derek Glasser has gone cold in the past month after a very hot start.

California (8-4): The Golden Bears have rallied after a surprisingly rough start to win four out of their last five games; the one loss coming in a valiant effort against #1 Kansas and the four wins each coming by 19 points or more. With the return of 6’6 forward Theo Robertson – Cal was 3-3 during his absense – there’s another wing threat to keep defenders honest and give stars Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle a chance to do what they do. Heading into the conference schedule tonight, Cal still has a great chance at winning the Pac-10.

Washington State (10-2): It looked like the Cougars were a fluke thanks to an easy schedule, but they just kept on winning so you’ve got to give them credit for winning the games they should. Still – and this is a definite theme for the Pac-10 so far – they literally have no quality wins unless you count last Tuesday’s overtime victory over a struggling LSU (I don’t).

USC (8-4): Without a doubt, the Trojans are the most dangerous team in the entire conference right now. It looked like USC was off to a terrible season with a 2-4 start, but they’re now riding a six-game winning streak that includes three quality, double-digit wins over Tennessee, St. Mary’s and UNLV. Senior guard Mike Gerrity has become the team’s leading scorer in just four games and lit a fire under the Trojans, who now boast a potent scoring attack to balance one of the conference’s stingiest defenses.

Stanford (6-6): The Cardinal have faltered a little bit, dropping three of their last four games to Oklahoma State, Northwestern and Texas Tech. Shoot, at least they played somebody! You’ve gotta give Stanford credit for a tougher schedule than most. Senior forward Landry Fields leads the conference in scoring and has put up 20 points in each of the last eight games. Watch for Stanford to shock some Pac-10 opponents this season.

Oregon (8-4): The Ducks open their conference season tonight in what is actually one of the most compelling matchups in the Pac-10 against Washington State. Neither team boasts a difficult non-conference schedule and we’ll get to see whether either of them is for real when they face off. Oregon rides a four-game winning streak that featured nary a quality win, so facing the 10-2 Cougars will be a good barometer for the progress of both teams. Leading scorer Tajuan Porter has battled an ankle injury but may finally be getting back into a rhythm after a recent five 3-pointer effort.

Oregon State (6-5): In all truthfulness, this should be a 9-2 Beaver team. I know what you’re thinking, their offense is such a jumbled mess that they might as well just punt on most possessions. But their defense is stellar, even against excellent opposition, and if they get freshman guard Roberto Nelson back (currently ineligible) then Oregon State will be dangerous down the stretch. Still, there was that home loss to Sacramento State; shudder…

Arizona (6-6): You just don’t know what to do with Arizona. Heading into the conference opener against streaking USC tonight, the Wildcats have suffered several losses to good teams – which is more than most of the Pac-10 can say – but still don’t have a defining win and just gave up a 49-point effort to BYU’s Jimmer Fredette. On the other hand, point guard Nic Wise is playing like a conference MVP contender and he makes ‘Zona dangerous on any given night. Then again, a one-point home win over Lipscomb (in overtime!) doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

UCLA (5-7): The head-scratching continues in Westwood as Bruin faithful try to digest exactly what is going on. Yes, UCLA’s losses have all come against quality teams, but the Bruins hardly put up a fight in any of them. They get a tough opener tonight hosting Arizona State. Let’s see if Malcolm Lee and his merry band of underachievers can put up a better fight in the conference season.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on December 29th, 2009

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.

1. The most competitive conference in the land this season should spark the most competitive Player of the Year race come March. Top-seeded Kansas boasts three potential candidates once center Cole Aldrich starts to play with a more aggressive mentality on the offensive end. Senior point guard Sherron Collins has the skill set to explode come conference play and should provide the Jayhawks with more than one clutch play the season wears on. Freshman Xavier Henry has surpassed everyone’s expectations early in Lawrence as the Jayhawks early scoring leader. Nipping at the heels of #1 Kansas is #2 Texas and their all-time rebounder Damion James. James has exploded onto the scene the last week-plus with two masterful performances against North Carolina (25/15/4 stl on 8-22 FG) and Michigan State (23/13 on 10-18 FG). You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that argues James isn’t the current frontrunner for Big 12 POY and deserves definite consideration for first team All-America honors. Kansas State has been one of the bigger surprises in college basketball through the first month and a half behind sharp-shooting guard Jacob Pullen. The junior went on a tear recently scoring 28 in a big road win at UNLV then topping himself with 30 points at Alabama. In his last three games, Pullen has nailed an incredible 16 of his last 25 threes. Lurking in the shadows is Oklahoma State’s James Anderson (21.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG) and Iowa State forward Craig Brackins (17.5 PPG, 8.1 RPG) with Baylor’s Ekpe Ugoh and Oklahoma’s Willie Warren also making large impacts on their respective squads.

2. It’s fairly clear the top two teams in a weaker Pac-10 conference will be Washington behind Isaiah Thomas and Quincy Pondexter and California behind their big three of Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher. While both teams have encountered their early season struggles, Washington knocking off an emotionally scarred Texas A&M squad at home Tuesday and California hanging in with Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse should convince most critics that those two will compete for the Pac-10 title. Prior to the season, many believed UCLA would be that third team in the Pac-10 to cause some damage and sneak into the NCAA field. But with a week that included wins over Tennessee, St. Mary’s and UNLV, it’s becoming quite evident that USC might very well be that team. Even with early season home defeats at the hands of Loyola Marymount and Nebraska and blowout losses at Texas and Georgia Tech, the Trojans are coming together behind newly-entrenched point guard Mike Gerrity and coach Kevin O’Neill. The two-time transfer Gerrity is already the Trojans leading scorer and far and away their best assist man. He won’t blow anyone away with flash and speed, but he knows how to run an offense and play the position with efficiency. A starting five of Gerrity, Nikola Vucevic, Alex Stepheson, Dwight Lewis and Marcus Johnson all of a sudden doesn’t look too shabby, does it?

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ATB: Holiday Hoops (what little there was)

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2009

A Weekend So Quiet, Not Even a Mouse...  Yeah, it was a holiday weekend filled with high-calorie food, insane family members and yet another sweater that we don’t need, but college hoops was on the back burner with only a smattering of games throughout.  There were, however, a few games that we need to get you caught up on, so here goes…

Game of the Weekend/RTC Live#6 West Virginia 90, Seton Hall 84 (OT). A modern arena packed with hometown fans so hungry for a win you could hear it in their cheers and see as they stood and cheered for their heroes. The host Seton Hall Pirates, a team of stitched-together scrappers made of overlooked local high school ballers, transfers and JUCOs nipped at the heels of the West Virginia Mountaineers all game long, but never quite able, despite the high-energy encouragement from the partisan crowd to close the gap. Down by ten with 57 seconds left and the fans slowly trickling towards the exits, Seton Hall put on a 12-2 run that put the fans back into their seats (or better put, in front of their seats) cheering like banshees,  knotted the score at 77 apiece and sent the official Big East opener into overtime. This was a script CBS could only have prayed for (see the amazing comeback in the second half of this video).

Too bad Coach Gonzalez’s band of Pirates could not close out the shaken but still confident Mountaineers. Playing off of each other’s enthusiasm, the West Virginia squad mounted an 8-0 run to open the overtime. No more miracle threes left, the Pirates worked the ball into the paint for Herb Pope to put away on a layup. Too little too late however, as Coach Huggins’ squad responded with a pair of free throws from Devin Ebanks to push it back out to eight for the remainder. Jeremy Hazell’s last field goal was a two, and brought his point total on the afternoon to 41 on 14-33 (10-14 FT, 4-19 3FG) and 9-12 FG shooting. West Virginia’s Devin Ebanks logged a double-double with 22 points and 17 rebounds. “He was 3 turnovers away from a triple-double” joked Coach Huggins in the post game press conference.

What to Make of USC? USC 67, #20 UNLV 56. It can’t just be the addition of Mike Gerrity, right?  After a 40-minute, 13/3 asst performance, the MVP of the Diamond Head Classic could be the most important unheralded player of the season.  But what has changed since he’s taken over the reins of the Trojan team?  Many will point to his team-leading 15 PPG and 4 APG as the primary reason, and no doubt that helps on a team struggling with offense, but where he’s really been beneficial is making an already-good defensive team even better.  In the four games where Gerrity has played, USC’s defensive points per possession has been a stellar .795, which would rank in the top ten in America for the entire season (as it stands their .851 defensive PPP is still a staunch #18).  In this game against UNLV, the USC defense held the Rebels to their season-low in FG% (34%) and points (56), while getting their typical production from their seven-man lineup.  Marcus Johnson led the way with 19/9, while Dwight Lewis added 14, and Oscar Bellfield with 17 points was the only UNLV player to reach double figures.  This four-game winning streak over two ranked clubs (UNLV and Tennessee), in addition to a solid team outside the rankings (St. Mary’s) makes us wonder if USC isn’t the second-best team (behind Washington) in the weakened Pac-10 this year.  Stay tuned…

Other Games of National Interest.

  • #11 Connecticut 93, Iona 74. UConn got 29/5 from Stanley Robinson while his two young daughters watched him play, and the Huskies will enter conference play leading the nation in blocks/game (nearly ten per contest) after nine again tonight.
  • #19 Washington 86, San Francisco 71. Quincy Pondexter continues to make his case for all-american honors with 22/5/3 blks on 10-12 shooting, and why not?  Even though many people haven’t seen QP play much this year, he’s currently the fifth most efficient player in America, dropping 22/9 on 56% shooting for his team, currently 9-2 and trending positive.  UW managed to put this one away even without a good game from its other star Isaiah Thomas, who had four points on 1-9 FG tonight.
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