RTC Live: Dayton @ Murray State

Posted by rtmsf on December 4th, 2011

On a lazy Sunday, we’re going mid-major this afternoon with a tilt between two schools who have more pride and tradition between them than many of the power conferences basketball schools. Join us for our live coverage this afternoon, after the jump.

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The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Ken Pomeroy

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 8th, 2011

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the year. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

One of the great things about college hoops is that with nearly 350 Division I teams, you can find any and every playing style under the sun. Some teams push the ball at frenetic paces in an effort to wear down the opposition, while others prefer to slow down and make every possession count. Smaller teams rely on outside shooting and bigger teams assert their dominance down low, so in comparing teams to one another, how do you account for such widely varying styles of play? This is the question that cult hero and statistician Ken Pomeroy longs to answer. The solution isn’t always simple, but it boils down to evaluating how teams fare on a possession-to-possession basis, rather than using the commonly-held method of measuring events from game to game. At KenPom.com, fans can track the performance of all 345 Division I teams in his tempo-free style. Over the last few years, his approach has moved from the underground into the mainstream, mentioned by media outlets such as ESPN.com and The Wall Street Journal during the college hoops season.  He is also a regular contributor to Basketball Prospectus and you can follow him on Twitter (@kenpomeroy). In this interview, Ken took a few minutes to talk with us about his methodology and the growth of his website.

RTC: For our readers who are used to the more traditional “counting stats,” what makes your analysis different and worthwhile?

Ken Pomeroy: In all of the statistics I use, I’m trying to equalize opportunities. If you’re going to compare one offense to another, it’s not fair to look at raw points. North Carolina, for instance, has more opportunities to score (than an average team). It’s also not fair to compare defenses for the same reason. We look at rebounding percentage, for instance, which takes into account how many rebounds are available to a player when he’s on the floor to get an appreciation for whether he’s a good rebounder or not. Those are the things I try to do with all these stats.

RTC: One thing that makes your analysis easy to digest is that most of the teams that excel in traditional stats and occupy the top spots in the rankings also excel according to your tempo-free analysis. There are some exceptions, though – what are some schools in recent years that may not have had those alluring traditional stats but were more eye-catching in your analysis?

KenPom darling Belmont compensated for a lack of size with a brigade of long-range shooters like Mick Hedgepeth. (Getty Images)

KP: Wisconsin played at the second-slowest pace in the nation (ed. note – 58 possessions per game, compared to the national average of about 67), but had a very effective offense. They weren’t effective all of the time — they obviously had that ugly game against Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament which called into question just how good their offense was.  Georgetown in their Final Four run in 2007 had an outstanding offense, but played a very slow pace. North Carolina’s 2005 championship team was criticized for their defense based on the points they allowed, but tempo-free, their defense was one of the best in the country. If you win 90-75, it looks like you gave up too many points, but when you factor in that the game was 80 possessions, it reveals a better defensive performance. Read the rest of this entry »

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Belmont Leaves Atlantic Sun for OVC

Posted by rtmsf on May 16th, 2011

You may have thought that after last summer’s seismic shifts of conference realignment (or the threat of it) involving nearly all of the major conferences, we’d have an uneventful offseason in that regard this year.  So far, that’s generally been true.  With the the moves pending at Nebraska, Utah, Colorado, BYU, Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada and TCU, and the television dollars already in place for the new Pac-12 and Texas/ESPN deals, it’s generally been all quiet on the realignment front this year.  The ridiculous incentives and free-for-all mentality that drove last year’s posturing and maneuvering among the major players of the sport have now settled; but at the lower levels of Division-I basketball, the party never ends.  Schools are always looking for ways to upgrade from one conference to another, and Friday’s announcement that Belmont University will switch from the Atlantic Sun to the Ohio Valley Conference beginning in 2012 should surprise nobody.

Belmont is a Mid-Major Hoops Powerhouse These Days

The driving force behind this move is, what else, money.  Belmont, located in Nashville, is in the northwestern hinterlands of the A-Sun’s footprint, a league that stretches from Tennessee east into the Carolinas and all the way down to south Florida.  The OVC, on the other hand, is clustered in Tennessee and Kentucky, with the majority of its schools located within a couple-hour drive of Nashville.  As Belmont AD Mike Strickland noted, the school stands to save at least a quarter-million dollars a year on travel costs alone.  Even with the $200,000 buyout required to leave the Atlantic Sun, the program expects to have that cost more than covered in its first year within the OVC.

While we certainly understand the financial incentives and the better “fit” aspect of this move, we’re not as convinced as to the benefit to Rick Byrd’s basketball program.  The Bruins have made four of the last six NCAA Tournaments out of the A-Sun, and it will be joining a top-heavy OVC led by Murray State, Austin Peay and Morehead State.  The problem is that even with the inclusion of Belmont into the Ohio Valley, the league is still going to be a one-bid conference, so it appears to us that Belmont’s move will only make it more difficult for the school to earn its way into the Big Dance.  In a comment relating to the move, Byrd stated that Belmont will now have a “one in twelve” shot to make the NCAAs, whereas it was “one in nine” in the A-Sun — notwithstanding the probability error inherent in his analysis, why would viewing your odds of going dancing as less likely ever be a good thing?

Byrd’s team will bring back nearly everyone from a 30-5 (19-1 A-Sun) team that made the NCAA Tournament in 2010-11, losing to Wisconsin, 72-58, in the Second Round.  The methodical ball-control style of Bo Ryan’s Badgers was a bad matchup for the Bruins, but they’re already getting some buzz as a team to watch next season.  As you’re well aware, the OVC’s Morehead State upset Louisville last season, and Murray State knocked out Vanderbilt the season before, yet despite Belmont’s considerable hype, Rick Byrd’s program is still awaiting its first-ever NCAA Tournament win.  As a final encore in a league they’ve owned the better part of the last half-decade, perhaps 2011-12 will be the year, serving notice to its future OVC brethren that their treasured automatic bid will be significantly tougher to secure in the future.

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Texas A&M Goes With Billy Kennedy

Posted by rtmsf on May 15th, 2011

The coaching carousel continued to spin this weekend in the domino-falling aftermath of Gary Williams’ retirement from Maryland ten days ago.  After swinging and whiffing on several names including Marquette’s Buzz Williams, Memphis’ Josh Paster, and former Knicks head coach and current broadcaster Jeff van Gundy (really?), Texas A&M has reportedly gotten its man — Murray State head coach Billy Kennedy.

Kennedy Moves on to Texas A&M

Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson was also in the running for the position, as both up-and-coming coaches interviewed with the school on Saturday.  Much like AD Bill Byrne’s last two hires for the Aggies, Kennedy is a coach who has put in his time in the lower reaches of Division-I basketball and demonstrated success at every stop along the way.  The 47-year old originally from Metairie, Louisiana, has spent the last five seasons at Murray State, keeping the Racer program among the elite of the OVC.  His MSU teams finished first or second in the conference regular season race all five seasons, and his last two teams — including 2010’s NCAA round of 32 entrant — played in the postseason.

The Texas A&M head coaching position has become a stepping-stone job under the steady hand and guidance of Byrne, as the last two coaches — Mark Turgeon and Billy Gillispie — parlayed their success in College Station to big-time basketball jobs at Maryland and Kentucky, respectively.  This is not to suggest, however, that Kennedy can’t have massive success at TAMU; the school’s athletic department budget ranks in the top thirty nationally, and its relative proximity to talent-rich Houston (two hours) and Dallas (three hours) make the program fully capable of moving beyond borderline top 25 status.  Kennedy may not have brought the enthusiasm that a brand-name hire would have, but so long as he keeps the program moving forward and breaks through to that elusive second weekend of the NCAA Tournament (Gillispie took the Aggies there once, in 2007), TAMU fans will be satisfied.

A big opportunity will await Kennedy in his first season in College Station next year.  The Aggies return five of its top seven players from a 24-9 (10-6 Big 12) team, and with conference powerhouses Kansas and Texas gutted by early defections this offseason, there’s a sense that A&M could be poised to move to the top of the Big 12 standings with its existing roster and a little good fortune.  Of the five returning players from the 2010-11 all-Big 12 team, Texas A&M is the only school with two — star forwards Khris Middleton (14/6) and David Loubeau (12/5).  If the perimeter players led by senior Dash Harris and incoming four-star recruit Jamal Branch come through in 2011-12, Kennedy may be in position to do something never before done in these parts: win a Big 12 basketball championship.

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ATB: Zags Seem Wobbly While Washington Does Not

Posted by rtmsf on January 21st, 2011

The Lede.  To give you a sense of what tonight’s basketball landscape looked like, it was a Pac-10 game that commanded the most national attention.  A lot of games out there, but few that were all that interesting.  Still, it’s our job to find those nuggets, so here goes…

Santa Clara's RTC Was Delayed by the Players' RTCrowd (h/t DLeung)

Your Watercooler MomentGonzaga in Trouble.  Hear us out, first.  We’ve seen Gonzaga play at least a half-dozen times or more this season, and the excuses made for Elias Harris’ injury notwithstanding, we’re still waiting to be impressed.  Tonight’s loss at Santa Clara where Kevin Foster went all kinds of crazy for a career-high 36 points did not help Gonzaga’s standing in our eyes.  Given that this was their first true conference road game and SCU isn’t very good, we’re starting to wonder if Mark Few’s team could be on the verge of a giant letdown this year — yes, to the point where the Zags don’t even make the NCAA Tournament.  Consider that coming into tonight’s game, GU was #46 and Pomeroy has them at #36, neither spots what you would call in the true safety zone for an NCAA bid; then, also consider that we think the Zags are looking at one, possibly even two, losses to St. Mary’s in addition to whomever else rises up to defeat them on the road this year (USF again?  LMU?  Portland?).  Another problem is the non-conference schedule — in a different year, wins over Baylor, Xavier, Oklahoma State, Wake Forest and (projected) Memphis would be more meaningful than they are this season.  The Zags’ only true quality win this year was way back in November over Marquette at the CBE Classic.  Pomeroy projects Gonzaga to go 12-2 in the WCC this year, which means a single loss more at St. Mary’s, but frankly, we think they have a few more stinkers left in their queue this season.  Call us crazy, but we think there’s a better-than-even chance that the mainstay program from Spokane will be sweating bullets come Selection Sunday this year.

Tonight’s Quick Hits….

  • Isaiah Thomas’ Slide Save Into the Tunnel.  After this season is completed and in the books, if there’s a single play that will define the success that Washington enjoyed, it will be the incredible dive and save behind his back that Isaiah Thomas made in the second half of tonight’s game against Arizona that resulted in his body sliding at least twenty feet into the corner of the arena as well as a bucket on the other end for his team off the break.  It was one of the most fantastic hustle plays we’ve ever seen in the collegiate game, and needless to say, we’ve logged quite a few hours over the years.  The play epitomized why this Washington team has a chance to do something special this year — since Abdul Gaddy’s ACL injury, Thomas has stepped into the point guard role assiduously, upping his scoring to just over 20 PPG and his assists to over 9 APG, including double figure dimes in his last two games.  The guy is simply giving an all-out effort each night and, as Sean Miller said after the game, Thomas should be getting more credit for his play than he is getting.
  • Klay Thompson’s Near Trip-Dub.  Washington State’s Klay Thompson was all over the place in the Cougars’ win over struggling Arizona State tonight.  The 6’6 junior is no stranger to filling up the stat sheet, but this evening’s performance was particularly exceptional.  Not only did he shoot his way to 22 points, but he also grabbed eight rebounds, dished out nine assists, ripped three steals, blocked a couple of shots and committed four fouls just for good measure.  The assist total tied a season high while the rebound total was two off, but it was the closest he’s gotten this season to an elusive triple-double.  With Reggie Moore back tonight, we still believe that Wazzu is one of the better teams in the Pac-10, but they have some work cut out for them to catch cross-state rival Washington.
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RTC Live: WKU @ Murray State

Posted by rtmsf on December 18th, 2010

Game #77.  A regional rival rekindles tonight as mid-major power Western Kentucky visits mid-major power Murray State.

Western Kentucky and Murray State will meet on Saturday night for the 148th time, and it could be the last for the foreseeable future. Murray coach Billy Kennedy told reporters earlier this week that the series wasn’t likely to continue past this season. WKU coach Ken McDonald refuted that, saying instead that official talks haven’t happened in regards to continuing the series. Either way, meeting No. 148 could mean a lot to the Racers (6-4) or the Hilltoppers (5-5) when the teams meet at 8:30 p.m. ET at Murray. Forward Juan Pattillo, WKU’s leading scorer and rebounder, has practiced this week but might not play, as McDonald said Pattillo is “going through some personal things that he has to handle right now.” Enter Teeng Akol, an Oklahoma State transfer who at 6-foot-11 is the tallest player on the Hilltoppers’ roster. Akol will be eligible for the first time for Saturday’s game. The Racers feature a balanced attack, as only two players average double figures, and at 12 points per game, guard Isaiah Canaan leads the team.

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RTC Live: 76 Classic Finals

Posted by rtmsf on November 28th, 2010

Games #46-#47.  It’s been a long week of feast, but we’ll wrap it up in Anaheim with the consolation game and the finals of the 76 Classic.

Coming into Feast Week, UNLV and Virginia Tech had to be the favorites to advance to the 76 Classic Championship game, and when it tips off at 6 PM PST, those are the two teams who will be fighting it out for the title. While Virginia Tech had to finish strong in their semifinal matchup with Oklahoma State to move on, UNLV has advanced through Tulsa and Murray State with solid workmanlike efforts. Both squads will rely on their strong backcourts and defensive pressure, with the matchups between the Running Rebels’ Oscar Bellfield and Tre’Von Willis and the Hokies’ Dorenzo Hudson and Malcolm Delaney definitely worth keeping an eye on, but it may be the performance of some talented and skilled front court players, namely UNLV’s Chace Stanback and Virginia Tech’s Jeff Allen, that will decide the outcome. We hope you’ll come and join us for what should be a very entertaining matchup in the championship, but you’re welcome to show up early too, as we’ll be keeping an eye on the third-place game between Oklahoma State and Murray State, with both teams hoping to avoid a second loss on the weekend, beginning around 3 PM PST.

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RTC Live: 76 Classic Semifinals

Posted by rtmsf on November 26th, 2010

Games #39-#40.  Back in Anaheim with Mickey and Friends for the semifinal round of the 76 Classic.

It’s Friday of Thanksgiving week, and while you could join the rest of the lunatics out braving crowded parking lots and jam-packed stores, you being the faithful college basketball fan,  you’re hanging out on the couch and catching up on your hoops-watching time while working your way through your turkey-day leftovers. If that’s the case, you may as well join us as we take in the 76 Classic all day long. We’ll start with the first semifinal (Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State) at 11:30 am PST and wrap up the night with Murray State and UNLV somewhere around 8:30 pm PST, but we’ll be here the whole day long breaking down the action from courtside. The Hokies coasted through their opening round game with CS Northridge, while Oklahoma State had to put in a full day of work to handle DePaul, behind 27 outstanding points from senior forward Marshall Moses. But the Cowboys figure to have their hands full with a strong Virginia Tech backcourt on Friday and will need to get more out of their starting backcourt who were a combined 2/17 from the field against DePaul. In the nightcap, Murray State’s backcourt will also have the spotlight firmly upon them as they will have to hold up under UNLV’s non-stop defensive pressure to give the Racers a chance to advance to the championship game. In between the two semis, we’ll keep in touch regarding the consolation games, so we’ll hope you’ll join us for a long and exciting day of basketball out west.

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After the Buzzer: Paul Hewitt Provides Season’s First (mini) RTC

Posted by rtmsf on November 16th, 2010

Your Watercooler Moment.  Yes, Paul Hewitt is still at Georgia Tech, and yes, the Ramblin’ Wreck is still one.  If your memory was hazy as to why major conference schools don’t like visiting mid-majors on their home floors, Kennesaw State’s blitzing of Georgia Tech tonight, 80-63, is your reminder.  But be honest — have you even heard of Kennesaw State before?  The Owls joined Division I a mere five years ago and its best win in five-plus years of basketball at the highest collegiate level was a two-point victory over conference rival Belmont in 2007-08.  It’s quite a leap to go from sneaking by a mid-100s RPI conference opponent to obliterating an ACC foe from start to finish, even one as generally unpredictable and disappointing as Georgia Tech, but the sellout crowd at the school a half-hour north of Atlanta loved it.  Kennesaw State took a fourteen-point lead into the half, and except for a couple of minor pushes by the Jackets, they were never truly threatened tonight.  Paul Hewitt reportedly has a huge buyout in his contract, but we figure eventually Georgia Tech is going to tire of year after year of mediocrity despite the lure and promise of star recruits coming onto campus, right?  We think there’s no greater tell of the abilities of Hewitt to get it done at Georgia Tech than the fact that he’s never in ten years in Atlanta finished better than 9-7 in the ACC — and he’s only done that once (in 2004).  And consider the players who have come through GT: Chris Bosh, Jarrett Jack, Will Bynum, Javaris Crittenton, Anthony Morrow, Thaddeus Young, Derrick Favors, Gani Lawal.  Only a handful of schools nationally have put more players into the NBA than Paul Hewitt, yet this surfeit of talent simply hasn’t translated to success at the collegiate level.  He needs to go, and this loss may have been the ugly slap to the face that Tech administrators need to finally cut him loose.

Hewitt Has No Answers (AJC/C. Compton)

Tonight’s Hits…

  • Mini-RTC at Kennesaw State.  Honestly, we’re not sure when a school like Kennesaw would get another shot at something like this, so we’re somewhat shocked that the entire student body wasn’t immediately on the floor after the final buzzer.  Maybe they’re still new to this whole basketball thing.  Nevertheless, there was a mini-RTC of which we found photographic evidence.  If anyone has a better photo or can show more students filling the floor, we’ll count it as a full one, and the first of the 2010-11 season.

There Was a Mini-RTC at Kennesaw Tonight

  • Clarence Jackson. During several portions of tonight’s Siena game at Minnesota, it appeared that the confident Jackson was going to win the game all by himself.  He had 29/5/4 assts including five threes and if he’d gotten any help from his teammates — he had more FGs and points than the other four starters combined — Siena may have been able to walk out of the Barn with a big win.
  • Fordham’s Streak. It took 322 days and 23 games but the nation’s current longest losing streak ended tonight when Fordham defeated Sacred Heart, 69-51.  Good for those guys, and even better that they really did it in a convincing fashion.  Chris Gaston had 12/17/4 blks.
  • Nikola Vucevic. Could be one of the more underrated and unknown big men in the nation — through two games the USC forward is averaging 21/13 against not-terrible competition (UC Irvine and Santa Clara).
  • Double Your Morris Trouble. The Kansas twins Marcus and Markieff Morris both had dub-dubs tonight — Marcus went for 22/11 while his brother dropped 12/13 in an easy win over Valparaiso.  The win was also KU’s 61st consecutive home victory, one short of its all-time record.  Watch out, North Texas (Friday night’s opponent).
  • Atlantic Sun! Just a few days after Stetson took out Wake Forest, Kennesaw State did the same to Georgia Tech.  What’s the lesson here?  Maybe yellow and gold teams shouldn’t play A-Sun squads?  Or maybe those ACC teams are really struggling right now.
  • Oakland.  The Golden Grizzlies going into the MAC favorite’s gym and easily dispatching them after getting rolled up over the weekend by WVU was an impressive win, and the kind of thing that will be very helpful come March.  Keith Benson didn’t even play all that well (10/6/3 blks while in foul trouble), but OU was still able to win easily.
  • Steve Lavin. Lavin gets a nod here for having the cojones to schedule his team to play 3,000 miles away in a bandbox gym at 2 am ET.  This was going to almost assuredly be a loss for his team, but we have a sneaky suspicion that putting his players through this will be a good learning and bonding experience for them that will help come the rigors of Big East play later this year.

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RTC Live: ETSU @ Murray State

Posted by rtmsf on November 15th, 2010

Game #11.  RTC Live makes its inaugural trip (a recurring theme this season) to Murray State’s CFSB Center tonight.

After last season’s 54-52 heartbreaking loss to eventual national runner-up Butler, host Murray State will have a bad taste in their mouth as they return to the court tonight, looking to kick off the 2010-11 season right. Standing in their way will be last season’s Atlantic Sun Champion, East Tennesse State, who travels to the CFSB Center with a chip of their own. ETSU, who fell to John Calipari and the University of Kentucky 88-65 on Nov. 12, will look to overcome the early setback behind the play of junior forward Isiah Brown whose 25 points and 14 points led the Bucs. Murray State will enter the contest with an Isaiah of their own, boasting sophomore guard Isaiah Canaan, whose 18 points led the Racers over Freed-Hardeman in their only exhibition game. All in all, it should be a good one as two 2010 NCAA teams square off. The game starts at 7:30 C.S.T. so we’ll get things kicked off from Murray 15 minures early. We hope you’ll join us.

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