Rushed Reactions: Creighton 68, Wichita State 65

Posted by dnspewak on March 10th, 2013

rushedreactions

Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Scottrade Center following Sunday’s Missouri Valley championship game.

Three Key Takeaways.

Creighton Will Get To Strut Its Stuff In the NCAAs

Creighton Will Get To Strut Its Stuff In the NCAAs

  1. The Last Hurrah: Rumors have swirled all weekend about Creighton’s departure to the Big East, and there’s a widespread feeling here in St. Louis that the Bluejays will never make this pilgrimage to Arch Madness ever again. That’s sad for the nostalgic and sentimental folks in the Valley, but if it’s the last time Creighton ever competes in this tournament, it could not have exited in more memorable fashion. After Doug McDermott shook off a poor first half to help his team open up a double-digit lead late in the second half, Wichita State nearly erased a 13-point deficit with 4:21 remaining in regulation. Malcolm Armstead, the hero of the afternoon with a career-high 28 points for the Shockers, had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer but missed wide left off the rim with a hand in his face. “I didn’t get a good look like I should have,” Armstead said. And so the Creighton faithful stormed the floor, One Shining Moment played a few minutes later, and the Shockers once again walked away from St. Louis without an Arch Madness title — they’ve never won this championship in this city. The Bluejays, on the other hand, have owned this league, and they’ve now won two straight MVC Tournament titles. “It says a lot about how special a group of guys we have,” Creighton’s Gregory Echenique said. “I’m just glad we were able to accomplish this and prove a lot of people wrong.” Heck of a way to say goodbye.
  2. Defensive Battle: It’s the old chicken-or-the-egg argument: Was Sunday’s title game a display of good defense or bad offense? The two teams both shot just south of 35 percent from the floor, and the first five minutes of the game were nothing short of brutal on the offensive end. Creighton and Wichita State combined to start 0-of-14 from the field, even though they warmed up after releasing a little nervous energy. The physicality had to have taken a toll. The officials allowed the players to play what looked like a controlled brawl. “To me, it felt like we were Muhammad Ali out there, boxing the whole time,” Wichita’s Ron Baker said. “Went through all the rounds.” That’s a pretty accurate description of the game. Everybody got on the floor. Everybody hacked each other, call or no call. In the end, it facilitated a rough but entertaining basketball game. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

ATB: Bluegrass Battle Produces Drama, UNC Steps Up Against UNLV, and One Excellent Day For Kevin Ollie….

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 31st, 2012

ATB

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

The Weekend’s Lede. Commonwealth Rivalry Lives Up. It doesn’t get any bigger than Louisville-Kentucky. There are little rivalries that make for great shows of organic competitiveness and bitterness, but they have nothing on what took place Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center. Each year, no matter the disparities in talent or experience, these teams come to play in this rivalry game. The emotional baggage makes the Commonwealth clash an event in itself. When you get two Top 25 sides trading jabs, two coaches with well-established personal gripes – one of whom has navigated the delicate balance of a blue-to-red partisan conversion – there’s added drama to throw on top of the natural hatred. One side (Louisville) entered with more talent, experience and depth, but as is the case in most rivalry games, the final outcome was decided based on who could execute better in crunch time (and who could convert from the free throw line). Whatever your allegiance, or if your viewing interest was of the impartial variety, it’s hard to begrudge the sheer quality and entertainment factor of Saturday’s contest. Louisville-Kentucky was the massive event overshadowing the rest of the weekend, but there were a few other interesting games on tap. Time to wrap up the final weekend of non-conference play.

Your Watercooler Moment. Harrow Doesn’t Break Under Pressure.

Considering he was facing the most relentless ball-pressuring backcourt in the country, Harrow managed the big stage with unexpected poise (photo credit: Getty Images).

Considering he was facing the most relentless ball-pressuring backcourt in the country, Harrow managed the big stage with unexpected poise (photo credit: Getty Images).

The biggest question mark looming over Kentucky’s slow start was the comfort and progression of point guard Ryan Harrow. No one ever said he was going to be Derrick Rose, or even Marquis Teague – the Calipari point guard dynasty is a tough standard to maintain – Harrow simply needs to operate at a level that allows the Wildcats to maximize the talents of Kyle Wiltjer, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin on the perimeter, and enable Nerlens Noel to capitalize on easy lobs and putbacks. Even that seemed like a pipe dream for Harrow following a mysterious four-game absence in November. He’s made huge strides over the past three weeks, and had his best game (23 points on 10-of-17 shooting) just over a week ago in an 82-54 win over Marshall. That was a small step. In Louisville, Harrow was walking into one of the best defensive backcourts statistically-speaking in NCAA history (its 80.0 adjusted defensive efficiency entering Saturday’s game ranks among the best marks in Ken Pomeroy’s database, dating back to 2003), and few believed he was ready to handle the type of pressure Russ Smith and Peyton Siva were going to throw at him. Harrow jumped into the biggest spotlight of his career and performed like a point guard of Calipari’s recent vintage. Not only did Harrow score 17 points and help spearhead a furious second-half rally, but he committed zero turnovers, found ways to ward off the active hands and smothering pressure of Siva and Smith, and commanded Kentucky’s offense with aplomb. The scoreboard reflects a Kentucky loss, a short-term disappointment. In the long term, if Harrow’s performance is a barometer for his development and maturation in Calipari’s system, Saturday was a huge win. With a capable point guard puppeteering the offense, the future is bright for Kentucky.

Also Worth Chatting About. Don’t Count Out UNC Yet.

The Tar Heels Looked locked-in defensively against the talented Rebels (photo credit: Getty Images).

The Tar Heels Looked locked-in defensively against the talented Rebels (photo credit: Getty Images).

If any team needed a statement win heading into conference play, it was North Carolina. Besides a puzzling loss at Texas (and even that, given the Longhorns’ defensive chops, is not a fatal misstep) The Tar Heels hadn’t exactly dropped the ball in non-conference play – they lost to two very good teams from the state of Indiana, one an offensive juggernaut (IU) and one a vaunted perfectionist (Butler) in the art of sizing up and beating down more talented opponents – but they hadn’t exactly looked like the ACC front-runner many expected them to be. The visiting UNLV Rebels offered a prime opportunity to hold court against a top-20-level outfit, and build some serious momentum for ACC play in the process. UNC’s stifling defense and balanced scoring overwhelmed the Rebels, who suffered a brutal five-minute field goal-less streak in the second half and received an uncharacteristically inefficient showing from freshman wunderkind Anthony Bennett (15 points on 6-of-16 shooting). Neither team was at full strength – Mike Moser played just 12 minutes in his return from an elbow injury, and Reggie Bullock was scratched with a concussion – but UNC seized its last big chance to make a splash before ACC play. And with a brutal six-game stretch featuring games against Virginia, Miami, Florida State, Maryland and NC State up next, the Tar Heels needed a momentum boost in the biggest way. The proud fans in Chapel Hill can breathe, for now, and feel better about this season not mimicking a 2009-10 campaign that saw the Tar Heels follow up the Hansborough-Lawson-Green-Ellington supergroup with an NIT appearance.

Your Quick Hits….

  • Santa Clara Tests Duke. It is a fundamental truism of the 2012-13 college hoops season that Gonzaga will win the West Coast Conference. In fact, I’m willing to go ahead and bet the Zags will have created enough distance from other challengers by February 1 to have rendered the word “race” completely and utterly moot. The rest of the league is far less certain. St. Mary’s is the logical favorite to claim the No. 2 spot. Loyola Marymount is always a tough out. And you can never discount BYU and the daunting road trip that is Provo, Utah. Time to insert a new name in the conversation: Santa Clara. The Broncos went into Cameron Indoor Saturday night and put a scare into the No. 1 Blue Devils, their upset bid powered by 29 points from senior guard Kevin Foster. That’s the kind of confidence-building performance that pays dividends in conference play, when you can rest assured Santa Clara will ride into any road environment exuding confidence and poise.
  • Ollie Gets First Win With New Job Title. Hours before Cincinnati’s Saturday night tipoff with visiting Washington, ESPN’s Andy Katz reported UConn had signed Kevin Ollie to a five-year contract extension, thus eliminating the interim tag and granting the long-term security most believed Ollie had earned after leading the Huskies to a 9-2 start and creating a smooth transitory bridge from Jim Calhoun’s fiery coaching style to a new era of UConn basketball. Losing your first game after receiving a big financial commitment from AD Warde Manuel would have been a bad look. The Huskies’ talented backcourt trio of Shabazz Napier, Omar Calhoun and Ryan Boatwright ensured their new coach had a win to back up his new job title, with each posting double-figure scoring totals in an eight-point victory over Washington. UConn may not have postseason motivations on its side, but what it does have, thanks to Saturday’s extension, is a huge incentive to help lay the foundation for Ollie’s tenure and a return to national relevance. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Set Your TiVo: 02.01.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 1st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent and regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Two previously Top 10 teams (UConn and Indiana) are in major slides right now and have a chance to regain confidence with road wins tonight, though both are in very difficult spots. Also, perhaps the biggest game of the C-USA season takes place this evening. Here’s what to look for:

#22 Indiana at #20 Michigan – 6:30 PM ET on Big Ten Network (****)

Can Indiana Stop Trey Burke's Dribble Drive Tonight? (AP Photo)

  • The Hoosiers have lost four of six games and are rapidly descending in the rankings. However, they are coming off a 103-point scoring performance in a win over Iowa and they hung tough at Wisconsin in their previous game before coming up short. If Tom Crean’s team is really turning the corner in the Big Ten, then they need to prove it tonight with nothing other than a victory. Cody Zeller has been outstanding in conference play and will be the go-to man tonight against a suspect Wolverines interior defense that allowed the freshman to go 8-10 with 18 points in their first meeting, a slim Indiana win at home. IU has been efficient offensively lately without being overly reliant on the three-point shot, which is a good formula on the road. But their chances at winning tonight really boil down to  their ability to stop Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.’s penetration, as both players have the ability to carve up soft defenses. Indiana has an insanely high 110.4 defensive efficiency in conference, which will not cut it tonight. An improved defensive effort, however, will give them a great chance to win.
  • The Wolverines have held serve at home this season at 12-0 and will look to feed off the Ann Arbor crowd. As discussed above, this game is all about Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. for Michigan. The two guards are the only players in double-figure scoring (14.1 PPG and 15.2 PPG, respectively) and should have plenty of opportunities to penetrate a weak Indiana half-court defense. If they are making plays and setting up Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Evan Smotrycz for open threes, UM is right where they want to be. Michigan has played much better defense at home this season and should not allow Indiana to shoot the lights out like they have been able to in some games.
  • It’s probably getting repetitive, but this game completely comes down to Indiana’s defensive intensity in the half-court. Michigan has the advantage at home and is a four-point favorite, but this would be no upset if Indiana won. If early in the game you see Burke bouncing the ball for 20 seconds during possessions and struggling to get into the paint, you’ll know IU is doing a good job on the perimeter. Prediction: Michigan comes through with a slim victory.

Connecticut at #15 Georgetown – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The Missouri Valley’s March Back to Prominence

Posted by dnspewak on January 19th, 2012

Danny Spewak is an RTC correspondent. You can find him on Twitter @dspewak. He filed this report following Creighton’s 66-65 victory at Missouri State in Springfield on Wednesday. 

No need to remind Paul Lusk about the strength of the Missouri Valley Conference this season. During the past five days, his Missouri State team has lost three games by a total of four possessions. “It’s just one tough game after another,” Lusk said. “You have to go play good basketball in this league.” That’s a theme across the Valley in 2011-12, as the conference looks poised to earn multiple bids in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.  Even in a 66-65 loss, the Bears’ game against Creighton at JQH Arena Wednesday night serves as a prime example of the MVC’s rise. Missouri State forced the Bluejays into 11 first-half turnovers, held the nation’s second-leading scorer to just 15 points and kept an animated home crowd involved by playing the #19 team to the final possession. Had Anthony Downing’s jumper at the buzzer fallen, a middle-of-the-pack team would have completed a sweep of the league’s top contender and Wooden Award candidate Doug McDermott. 

And nobody would have blinked an eye. “I think parity is a sign of strength in a league,” commissioner Doug Elgin said. “Absolutely, I think the league is much better this year than it was a year ago. And I think if you look at the talent that’s coming into the league, we’re going to be stronger next year still.”

Creighton's Nailbiter on Wednesday is an Example of MVC Parity (photo by the Associated Press)

The results from non-conference play support Elgin’s opinion. Thanks to a strong performance against other leagues in November and December, the MVC ranks eighth in conference RPI right now, above the Pac-12, Conference USA and the West Coast Conference. Wichita State, the other main contender for a league title and an at-large bid, embarrassed UNLV by 19 points at home. Illinois State beat Rutgers on a neutral floor, while Drake and Northern Iowa both beat Iowa State. But the best example of the MVC’s parity may be Indiana State, which lost again on Wednesday to fall to 2-6. Yet the defending tourney champs still won at Vanderbilt earlier this season and represented itself well on national television with two victories in the Old Spice Classic during Thanksgiving week.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

O26 Primers: America East, Missouri Valley, and Northeast Conference Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 3rd, 2011

RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.

Three more conferences get underway this evening with teams in the America East and NEC all gunning for the coveted automatic-bid to the Tournament, while the Missouri Valley is vying to send two teams to the Dance. Boston University is all of a sudden the favorite to win the America East with the uncertainty of Evan Fjeld‘s ankle, while Missouri State and Long Island are the favorites in their respective leagues. Something tells me though that the Wichita State Shockers will be looking for vengeance following their two losses to the Bears earlier this year.

America East

The Favorite: Vermont appears to be the favorite, but a lot depends on the status of Evan Fjeld’s ankle that he injured in UVM’s final regular season game against Boston University. In what very well could be the America East championship game, BU went on to defeat the Catamounts in overtime. Allison Shepherd told John Fantino of the Burlington Free Press Blog that: “[Fjeld] is receiving daily care and treatment for the injury. We will have a better idea regarding his playing status for the upcoming America East tournament as the weekend approaches.” Something tells me that even if Fjeld and his ‘Stache are able to go, he will not be at 100%. I like Boston University.

Dark Horse: Behind senior Tim Ambrose, Albany is a team that has come on strong as of late and is capable of making a run in the A-East tournament. The Great Danes have won four straight to end the regular season, but getting by Stony Brook will be no easy task in the first round.

Who’s Hot: Boston University has not lost in February and is 8-0 during the month. They defeated Vermont to conclude the regular season and are flying high with John Holland—arguably the league’s best player—leading the way.

Player to Watch: John Holland has been a staple in BU’s rotation since the day he stepped on campus. The senior has averaged double-figures in scoring for all four years, and his 19.2 points a game this year is tops in the league.

First-Round Upset: Hartford over Maine. The Black Bears were an intriguing team and story to follow early on in the season. They beat a solid Penn State team and began league play with an 8-1 record, but since then they have fallen flat on their faces. Although their date with Hartford is technically not in the first round—the America East essentially has a play-in game between the #8 and #9 seeds to begin the tournament—fourth seeded Maine will have their hands full with Hartford who has already beaten them twice.

How’d They Fare? As a 16 seed last year, Vermont could not handle the athleticism or shooting ability of Syracuse as they lost 79-56.

Interesting Fact: Not an interesting fact, but simply one of my favorite NCAA Tournament highlights of all-time:

Easily the best part of the clip is Tom Brennan’s reaction after T.J. Sorrentine swishes home the three from about 35 feet away, and if you look even further past Brennan the reaction of the guys sitting on press row are priceless too. This is what makes March so Mad!

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Ten Tuesday Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on March 1st, 2011

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

Some bad news for those of you expecting the bubble to shrink in the next two weeks: the number of potential bid stealers is smaller than I can ever remember. The most likely candidates in previous years were out of Memphis-dominated Conference USA, Butler-dominated Horizon or WCC-dominated Gonzaga, but this season none of those three perennial powerhouses are locks for the dance, rendering each conference a one (or two in the WCC with Saint Mary’s) league. In fact, all three likely need to win their respective tournaments to feel safe on Selection Sunday. The Missouri Valley is also shaping up as a one-bid league for the fifth straight year and BYU, San Diego State and UNLV (playing the tournament at their home floor in Vegas) are so far ahead their Mountain West competition it’s highly unlikely any major upsets come to fruition. The same theory applies to Utah State in the WAC. One team that I do feel could snag a bid from a mediocre bubble team is Southern California out of the Pac-10 in a replay of 2009 when the #6 seed Trojans at 9-9 in the league rode DeMar DeRozan, Daniel Hackett and Taj Gibson to a surprising automatic berth. With 12 losses overall on the season – including black marks against Rider, Bradley and TCU from early in the campaign– Kevin O’Neill’s squad clearly needs to complete a sweep of the conference tournament to go dancing. Depth and consistent scoring has been a recurring issue all season, but the talent is in place with a frontcourt duo of Nikola Vucevic (17.5 PPG, 10.3 RPG) and Alex Stephenson and the growing comfort level of point guard transfer Jio Fontan, who tied a season-high with 21 points in Thursday’s upset win over Arizona. USC also has the highest defensive efficiency in the Pac-10 and limited Arizona star Derrick Williams to just eight points. Watch out for the Trojans in two weekends as a sneaky candidate to turn the Pac-10 a four-bid league.

Nikola Vucevic and USC is a possible bid stealer in two weeks

A tip of the cap is in order for Frank Martin and his Kansas State Wildcats. Most skewered the hard-nosed coach for losing control of his program during K-State’s numerous low points –from the loss in Kansas City to UNLV sans Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly to the embarrassing blowout at rival Kansas with Gameday in the house to once-heralded recruit Wally Judge leaving the team – but it’s my opinion that Martin’s demanding style may have actually kept this team afloat while coaches that run their program with a softer hand may have had a total implosion on their hands. The combination of Martin’s constant yearning for focus, effort and execution out of his players and a senior in Pullen who flat-out refused to let his team hit rock bottom has led to a resurgence that would have been unfathomable three weeks ago. If you told me in early February that Kansas State, amidst all their turmoil and turnover, would win in Austin against what appeared to be a powerhouse Texas squad, I’d never have believed you. The Wildcats now shape up extremely well not only to make the NCAA Tournament – stellar RPI/SOS, wins over Kansas, Texas and Missouri and an ascent up the Big 12 standings – but also to make a Sweet 16-type run behind Pullen, the improving play of Curtis Kelly and the underrated contributions of Rodney McGruder.

BYU doesn’t exactly have the most glowing NCAA Tournament history. In fact, their first round victory over Florida last year was BYU’s first tournament win since 1993. The same reprieve is often played out under the bright lights of March: the softer, finesse, untested Cougars face a tough, physical, athletic opponent from a power six league and go into the fetal position. My admiration for Fredette was the singular reason I chose BYU as my second round upset pick last year to beat K-State. After an opening 10-0 run, BYU was thoroughly dismantled by the springy Wildcats and Jacob Pullen outplayed his counterpart Fredette. This trend was precisely why I believed San Diego State would take care of business last Saturday. Sure, the Cougars took care of business in a building they rarely ever lose in late January, but the Aztecs are that nightmarish matchup – a team full of bouncy, athletic, board-banging skilled players like Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas – that give the Cougars fits historically. Then BYU came out and blocked seven shots. They were barely out-rebounded. Thomas scored nine points and Leonard was limited to six field goals. Along with Fredette’s wizardry and the jump shooting ability of his teammates, I was doubly impressed by BYU’s attitude and toughness in such a raucous environment against an opponent I perceived as a matchup problem. Their zone defense was fantastic and their offensive execution – both in the halfcourt when Fredette was constantly doubled off of ball screens and in transition opportunities – was picture perfect. I’m a buyer.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ATB: Super Tuesday For Some Middies

Posted by rtmsf on February 9th, 2011

The Lede.  The second night of Rivalry Week continued, but frankly those games were rather boring.  The juiciest matchups occur on Wednesday night when a few old, bitter rivals re-acquaint themselves with each other.  We thought that this gave us a chance to explore some of the lesser-known teams who played on Tuesday and are having excellent second halves this year.

Another Mason Miracle in Store in 2011?

Your Watercooler MomentCelebrating Surprise Teams in the Mid-Major World: George Mason, Princeton and Xavier.  Tonight gave us a good opportunity to discuss three teams that people didn’t necessarily expect to be playing so well at this point in this season, but each continues to win games.  First, how about Jim Larranaga’s George Mason Patriots?  Could it be Mason Madness all over again?  With a win tonight at UNC-Wilmington, 78-63, GMU won its tenth CAA game in a row and has started the whispering around Fairfax about another big-time March run for the small school in northern Virginia.  Their remaining big CAA game is a week from tonight at 11-2 VCU.  A little up the coast in New Jersey, the Princeton Tigers defeated their rival Penn tonight, 62-59, in overtime, the Ivy League school’s seventh win in a row and fifth in the conference.  The Tigers’ key win, of course, was last Friday over expected Ivy champion Harvard, but with that win and the Penn victory, Sydney Johnson’s team is off to a 5-0 start for the second consecutive year.  The caveat is that all five of their Ivy wins have come at home, but with no Cornell juggernaut to compete with, Princeton is well-positioned to make a run at the Ivy title for the first time since 2004.  The last name, Xavier, may surprise you.  After all, the Musketeers are always good, right?  But having lost stars Jordan Crawford and Jason Love from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team and a rough non-conference slate, not many folks expected XU to once again rise to the top of the Atlantic 10.  Yet here they are, sitting at 8-1 in league play and going into a hostile environment tonight in Athens, Georgia, and coming out with a big-time win over a power conference team.  Tu Holloway has been outstanding, and his 18-point second half ensured that the Musketeers of two months ago who lost to every good team they played is no longer wearing the same uniform.  These three teams may not get a lot of press the final month of the season, but they’re definitely worth keeping an eye on the rest of the way.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Clemson as the Fourth ACC Team.  The Tigers have gotten virtually no attention this season at all, but Brad Brownell has done a tremendous job in his first season in South Carolina and Clemson could be well-positioned to finish behind Duke, UNC and possibly Florida State as the fourth NCAA team from the conference.  The Tigers have been outstanding at home this season, going 5-0 in conference play and appearing a different team in the friendly confines of Littlejohn Coliseum.  The key has been offensive balance, as Brownell is getting between 8.0 and 13.7 PPG from six players, led by seniors Demontez Stitt and Jerai Wright (12.8).
  • Kentucky at Home.  The Wildcats are simply a different team than they are on the road this season, and it’s in large part due to how the Wildcats’ role players play much more comfortably in Rupp Arena.  The crystal-clear case in point is DeAndre Liggins, a guard who averages 11/4/4 APG and shoots 46% at home and contributes 5/3 and shoots 26% on the road.  Tonight he was arguably John Calipari’s most effective Cat, going for 19/5/3 assts/5 stls in a complete floor game where he missed only a single field goal and free throw on the evening.  In SEC play, UK is 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 20.0 points, but on the road they are only 1-4 with a margin of -0.8 points.  If the Cats can get just a little better production from the likes of Liggins and company, they would be a much better team.

… and Misses.

  • MVC Leaders.  Does anyone want to win this conference this year?  After Missouri State ran out to a 9-1 record, the Bears lost two games last week; meanwhile, UNI won eight games in a row to get to 9-3 before dropping a game over the weekend to Drake and tonight against Evansville.  Wichita State moved to the forefront with an 11-2 record only to get dropped by a weak Southern Illinois team tonight.  With five games left, Wichita and Missouri State appear to be in the best position to win the league, and the two teams will play each other on the last day of the regular season three weeks from now.

Tweet of the Night.  It was a light night on Twitter, but Wolken brings up a good point that will much discussed in the early offseason not that long from now about the NBA lockout and its (possible) impact on students leaving school early.

m

Share this story

ATB: JaJuan Leaves Penn State Wanting…

Posted by rtmsf on January 20th, 2011

The Lede.  It was a big night of college basketball around the landscape, but there wasn’t much too surprising among the top teams; no, tonight’s focus is mostly on the unranked folks — teams like Colorado State, Marshall, Indiana State and Memphis.  Oh, and a 6’9 senior who some are touting as a NPOY candidate — him too.

JaJuan Johnson Gets It Done (AP/M. Conroy)

Your Watercooler MomentJaJuan Johnson Saves Purdue, Enters NPOY Debate.  The hope for players who make it all the way to their senior season is that they improve their game every year.  Purdue’s Johnson has shown exactly that kind of progression, going from a spot-minute backup to a dominant force in the paint in three-plus seasons.  Oh, and also outside the paint — you see, JJJ has added a jumper to the point where he’s taken 22 threes and made seven (31.8%) this year, which may not seem all that impressive until you realize that he had put up an oh-fer in his previous three seasons (0-10).  In tonight’s game against Penn State, with his team desperately needing to avoid a three-game losing streak, Johnson received a pass on the right elbow just a shade inside the arc.  In years past, he may have hesitated or looked to pass; this year he confidently shot the ball at the rim where it found nothing but net, giving Purdue a one-point lead and essentially the win with three seconds left.  With his season averages of 21/8/2 BPG on 51% shooting, Johnson has re-opened his consideration as a serious NPOY candidate.  We’re certainly not against the idea — other than perhaps Jared Sullinger, there’s probably no better big man in the country.  With six weeks left in the season, if the impressive young center can put the Boilermakers on his back and lead them to a Big Ten title, he’ll certainly be right there with the others in a wide-open field.  Check out his superb evening in the clip below.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Ohio State at #1.  The Buckeyes wore it well.  After several closer-than-expected games in the last two weeks, Ohio State dominated Iowa tonight by turning up the defense and holding the Hawkeyes to only 48 points tonight in an easy win.  Things will change quickly, however, as seven of OSU’s next nine opponents are currently ranked beginning with a trip to Champaign this weekend where we predicted earlier today that Thad Matta’s team will take its first loss of the year.
  • Texas.  Wow.  We knew there was a reason somewhere inside our head why we threw $10 on the Horns to win it all last weekend.  When Texas is hitting shots like they were tonight against Texas A&M — and especially Jordan Hamilton, who was 10-14 — they’re an excellent basketball team.  Among the teams hovering around the top ten, we’d argue that Rick Barnes’ team might have the most upside of any team in the second half of the season.  They already defend like crazy, holding TAMU to 42% tonight but ultimately winning the game in the first five minutes by running out to a dominant early 20-5 lead; the only issue is the occasionally spotty offense, but with Hamilton, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Gary Johnson all capable of putting up numbers, we’re slowly starting to really warm up to this team.  Big time home win tonight against the streaking Aggies.p
  • Louisville’s Resilience.  We’re not sure how they’re continuing to do it, but they’re continuing to do it.  Louisville has been banged up and rotating new players into the lineup all season, and yet they continue to win games in remarkable ways.  Just a few days after the amazing comeback win over Marquette, the Cardinals ripped apart St. John’s, using Pitino’s trademark pressure defense and (what else?) three-point shooting (13-26) to terrorize Steve Lavin’s guards.  We’ve said it before, but this Louisville team reminds us more and more of some of Pitino’s early Kentucky teams — you wondered where the talent on the floor was, and before you knew it, you were down fifteen points after a barrage of turnovers and threes.  At 4-1 already in the Big East, you have to give him credit for another tremendous start under duress.
Share this story

Monday’s Check-Ins…

Posted by rtmsf on December 7th, 2010

Here’s what we had go up on Monday…

  • Big 12: The lone winner from the Big 12 on the day was from Colorado, who will soon be departing for the Pac-10. Tad Boyle’s team looked like a group turning a corner in a 26-point win over Oregon State. The Beavers are far from a good team, but Colorado might just be getting closer to being the team that many expected.
  • Colonial: One: That’s the number of free throws Richmond attempted against Old Dominion in ODU’s 77-70 victory December 1. Conversely, the Monarchs attempted 20 shots from the charity stripe, hitting 15 of them. This is more than likely a statistical anomaly, but even so, it speaks to Old Dominion’s discipline and ability to limit the number of ways its opponents can score.
  • Conference USA: What a start it has been for Donnie Jones’s Knights. UCF is out to a 7-0 start after beating in-state foe Florida 57-54 last Wednesday in Orlando. Jones, a first-year coach, defeated his old boss, Billy Donovan, in his first signature win since taking over the program.
  • Horizon League: Fans unfamiliar with the Horizon League would assume that Butler is the team to find at #1 in this week’s Mid-Major Top 25. They’d be wrong. Butler has given way to Norris Cole and Cleveland State, who are all the rage as they take no prisoners.
  • Missouri Valley: The Missouri Valley Conference is still showing signs that it has not risen up to a multiple bid conference once again.  Over the past two weeks, the losses against the Power Six conferences have continued to mount— Purdue,  St. Johns,  Notre Dame and Connecticut, to name a few.  The Valley is 3-11 against the power conference teams.
Share this story

ATB: Thank God We’re Not the BCS Weekend Recap

Posted by rtmsf on December 6th, 2010

The LedeThankfully We Decide Our Champions on the Court.  And we don’t use awful naming conventions when doing it.  Imagine if the First Four was actually called the Toys “R” Us First Four, or the Final Four became the Batesville Casket Company Final Four?  That’s essentially what we’re looking at with some of these absurd bowl names — our favorites: the Beef “O” Brady Bowl and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.  Maybe the two bowls should morph together and then they’d have the whole eating thing figured out.  On to more serious issues, though.  For seemingly the fourteenth consecutive year, the BCS national title game featuring Auburn and Oregon is not without controversy, as there are three unbeaten teams left standing with only two spots available.  Perhaps you’re of the opinion that a school like TCU (12-0), with its weak schedule and lack of gridiron pedigree, is not worthy of playing in that sports’ marquee event.  To this we say: neither was Butler.  Yet somehow the small college from the north side of Indianapolis that didn’t belong there found itself capable of beating two of basketball’s best coaches (Jim Boeheim and Tom Izzo) and come within a hair of beating its best (Mike Krzyzewski).  It’s an absurd system that if used in basketball would guarantee that Duke would have won at least ten “mythical” national titles in the last twenty years, while robbing us of the magic of schools like George Mason and Butler along the way.  Critics of the system correctly point out that FBS college football is the only NCAA sport that does not have a playoff system to determine its champion, but it’s also the only American sport that becomes less interesting as the season progresses.  The single most exciting time is kickoff weekend, when anything seems possible.  Enjoy your BBVA Compass Bowl featuring a 2-6 SEC team, folks — we’ll be over here watching games that actually build up to something.

This Weekend’s Marquee Games.  For additional analysis on the major games from Saturday check out our Instant Analyses from Saturday (part 1, part 2, part 3).

Zeller Was Great Against UK on Saturday (AP/G. Broome)

  • Over 4,000 Wins in Chapel Hill. But it was the embattled Tar Heels of North Carolina who added win #2009 on this day, as Tyler Zeller reminded us how good he can be when he asserts himself (27/11/5 blks).  In a wrinkle we’ve never seen before, Zeller fouled out the entire Kentucky frontline with his play inside; his length (along with teammate John Henson’s) frustrated UK star forward Terrence Jones for the first time all season (3-17 FG for nine points).  The Carolina guard play still left something to be desired, shooting 6-24 from the field and totaling 21 points, but this is a known commodity — Carolina’s rise and fall this season will generally rest on how well their big men play each night out.  We came away from this game thinking that we were viewing two flawed teams — Kentucky on the inside, and UNC on the perimeter — but that Kentucky, despite losing the game, has the greater upside.
  • National Title Rematch. Butler proved for more than a half that it wasn’t going to quietly skulk away into the night after its run to the national championship game and a shaky start to this season.  As our correspondent Matt Patton wrote from the game: “First off, Butler can play: people have been down on the Bulldogs after they were blown out by Louisville and upset by Evansville, but they showed that they still have some star power and one of the smartest coaches in the game in Brad Stevens.  I thought Stevens really kept Duke on their heels the first half, giving the Blue Devils fits with a triangle and two zone and expertly controlling the tempo during the first half.  Butler also showcased some impressive depth, outscoring Duke’s talented bench 33-13 (a large amount of that credit goes to Shawn Vanzant, who had a spectacular second half).  If the Bulldogs take care of the ball like they did today and keep their stars on the court (i.e. minimize fouls and injuries), they can still surprise some people come March.”  We don’t disagree at all.  Butler isn’t a top ten team, but they will always play legitimate defense, and once they get their sea legs under them, nobody will want to face the Bulldogs (again) next Spring.
  • Battle of Seattle.  We haven’t been as high as many others have been on Gonzaga this year, and any injury to Elias Harris notwithstanding, the reason was fully on display Saturday in the Battle of Seattle game against Illinois: the Zags don’t defend.  Illinois has never traditionally been a high-octane offense under Bruce Weber, but against a Gonzaga defense that would rather reach than move, Illinois repeatedly picked Mark Few’s team apart for wide-open threes (12-23) and dunks.  Giving up twelve treys is a problem against any team, and this is the second time this season that the Zags have done so in a loss (Kansas State was the other).  This definitely appears to be Weber’s best Illini squad since the 2005 national runner-up, and it helps in that Illinois has six players capable of putting up double figures any given night.  The maturation of Brandon Paul in particular from a gunner incapable of taking a good shot in the flow of the offense (33% last year) to a disciplined shooter (52% this year) has been a pleasure to watch.  This Illinois team is capable of big things this year.

SoCal Upsets. The most surprising upsets of the weekend came at the very end of it, as the two biggest Los Angeles programs made news in one way or another.  First, UCLA, coming off a loss against top-five Kansas on Thursday night that universally slammed the officials for bailing the Jayhawks out, must have still been feeling the effects.  They allowed Montana (without Anthony Johnson, mind you) to come into Pauley Pavilion and shoot 52% in a 66-57 victory that must have UCLA fans scratching their heads perplexed.  The two stars of the Kansas game, Tyler Honeycutt and Joshua Smith, combined for 4-20 shooting and 15 total points.  Meanwhile, on the other side of town, USC, a team who had already racked up bad losses against Rider, Bradley, TCU and Nebraska, managed to completely flummox the young Texas Longhorns for an easy 73-56 victory.  If you saw either one of these results coming, then you’re well beyond the scope of this site.  Unbelievable.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The Other 26: Week Three

Posted by rtmsf on December 4th, 2010

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.  For an introduction to this series, please click here.

Introduction

Maybe Not the Pac-10, But Some Good Ball Out West

A common phrase that is often thrown around by all sports fans—not just college hoop junkies—is that of “East Coast bias.” This concept has morphed into such a phenomenon in the world of sports that it has developed its own Wikipedia page. To copy verbatim the definition from Wikipedia (gosh, I love this site): “East Coast bias is an expression referring to the alleged tendency for sportswriters in the United States to give greater weight and credibility to teams on the East Coast of the United States.” I consider myself an objective viewer of college basketball — and sports in general — but even if there was a degree of “East Coast bias” in me while ranking, discussing and analyzing the teams that comprise the Other 26, the performance of several teams out West are simply impossible to ignore. Watching the relentless defensive pressure of UNLV, the unselfish play of St. Mary’s, the potent offense of BYU, and the shooting ability of San Diego State is a thing of beauty. Among many of the Other 26 teams, three teams in particular are worth paying very close attention to the rest of the year: SDSU, BYU, and UNLV. These are veteran-laden teams with superior coaches who simply know how to win — the perfect recipe for a successful run during March.

What team impressed the most?

It would be easy to declare that the Central Florida Black Knights were far and away the most impressive team of the past week. After all, they defeated a ranked Florida team who had only one loss (Ohio State) entering the game and figure to be a top team in the SEC this year. While the victory against the Gators was certainly impressive — it was, in fact, the first win against Florida in the history of the program — I would argue that UNLV’s performance this past week was more impressive. The Runnin’ Rebels coasted through the 76 Classic Tournament (against formidable competition, mind you) as they defeated Murray State and Virginia Tech both by double digits. Following these wins, one may expect UNLV to come out flat against Illinois State after having traveled across the country, but they took it to the Redbirds right from the tap en route to an 82-51 victory. What makes this UNLV team all the more scary is that Tre’Von Willis, arguably the best player on the squad, is not even playing up to his full potential after being suspended for the first two games. Once Willis finds his stride, UNLV becomes an even better team. Look out.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ATB: Mid-Major Tourney Sunday

Posted by rtmsf on March 8th, 2010

Conference Tourneys.  Given the propensity of conference tournaments this weekend, we’ve divided up the ATB this weekend so that this post will cover only the eleven mid-major tourneys that were in action today, while our other ATB post will discuss the end of the regular season for the major conferences.

Missouri Valley Championship – Northern Iowa 67, Wichita State 52.  When Northern Iowa held Drake without a field goal for 28 minutes during their quarterfinal matchup on Friday, many people on press row who were unfamiliar with their stingy defense dismissed it as a statistical anomaly made possible by an inferior opponent. After holding #2 seed and NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch team Wichita State scoreless for 12 minutes during a 23-3 second half run today, those same people became believers. The Panthers had the second best defense in the country this year, and over three days in St. Louis, they showcased that defense in winning their second consecutive Arch Madness title.  In a 67-52 victory over the Shockers, UNI got big contributions from their bench: 25 points and a contagious energy level that gave their starters a chance to breathe easier in their third game in as many days. “Our bench stepped up huge for us tonight just like they did the night before,” commented Ali Farokhmenesh. “I think our bench was the biggest difference in that (23-3 run) and then probably in the entire game overall. They made huge plays for us and they wore down the starters for Wichita.” Jack Koch was the chief contributor off the UNI bench, hitting three clutch treys and finishing with 13 points.  Kwadzo Ahelegbe, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, led the way with 24 points, which included 12-14 from the free throw line. He also hit two big three-pointers for the Panthers, whose other starters struggled for most of the day. “I have an easy job,” Ahelegbe told reporters after the game. “When you can get to the basket and nobody’s there because you have two great shooters, it’s easy, easy money.” Along with Ahelegbe, teammate Jordan Eglseder was also named to the All-Tournament team. Eglseder had remarkably consistent lines all weekend, scoring 10 points in each game, and grabbing 4, 5 and 5 rebounds in the three games while blocking five shots in the final.  Northern Iowa earns the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, where they haven’t won a game since a 1989 upset of Missouri in an era before they joined the MVC. They’ll almost certainly be favored to win their game this year, however, as the 28-4 Panthers should be a “protected” seed when the brackets come out. Can the Panthers stay motivated over the 12-day layoff between now and their first round game, though? “The players get to decide as a team what their goals are, and there are a couple still on there that we have not gotten,” noted coach Ben Jacobson after the win. “So there is a lot of motivation still. I really like how we played here. I knew today was going to be a close game, so that momentum helps as we go into practices getting ready for this. That’s an important part and we’ve got momentum and confidence.”  As for Wichita State, they’re a bubble team that likely finds itself on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday. Coach Gregg Marshall tried to make a case for them after the game to reporters. “We’ve got 25 wins, a couple of top 25 victories, we were undefeated at home. We’re a very talented team…we’ve got size, we’ve got 7-footers, we’ve got long, rangy athletes. We’re going to defend.” He then defended the league itself. “This is a pretty good basketball league. We had to play a team with 20 wins in the quarterfinals that was getting top 25 votes for December as a 2 seed. So that goes to show you the depth of the conference.”  In the end, what Northern Iowa showed against a good Wichita State team is that their defense is for real, and that they’re one of the better teams in the country. As Marshall noted afterwards, “Northern Iowa’s a great team. They’re well coached, they’re seasoned and they’re experienced. They’ll win games in the NCAA Tournament. Period.”

Back to Back Championships for UNI (WCF-Courier/M. Putney)

Colonial.  The CAA semis resulted in two excellent games, and RTC Live was there for both this afternoon in Richmond.  Top seed Old Dominion survived a tough-minded attack by VCU, whose campus is merely a few blocks down the road from the Richmond Arena.  Gerald Lee was awesome, scoring 26 points on 10-13 FGs, but it was his teammated Ben Feeney (11/6) who saved the day down the stretch as the Monarchs came from behind in regulation to tie VCU and send the game to overtime.  In the other semifinal, #3 William & Mary held on to outlast #2 Northeastern in a game that also came down to the last shot of regulation.  The Tribe’s David Schneider hit a three with 35 seconds remaining in the game — his only field goal — giving W&M the lead on a clutch shot for the second consecutive night.  Northeastern had seven chances on the final possession to tie or win, but none of them dropped for the Huskies.  ODU and W&M played twice previously this season, with the Monarchs winning both, and as you probably have heard, the Tribe will play for their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid tomorrow night.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story