ATB: Illini Come Up Huge, Wolters Drops 53 Points, and Missouri’s Plight…

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 8th, 2013

ATB

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

Tonight’s Lede. Stay Away From Number One. My best advice for teams trying to avoid losses: stay out of the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll. Every team should take the floor on a given night with that underlying objective – winning games is a generally good thing, I’d wager – which makes that logic a really interesting counterfactual. The only way to reach the top is by winning games, but if every team to inherit No. 1 dating back to January 7 (when Duke opened up the week at No. 1 for the fourth consecutive week) has gone on to surrender the ranking in the seven days that followed, it begs the question: are teams better off avoiding the coveted weekly AP crown? Of course not. That preamble was, in essence, a roundabout way to introduce you to the latest slain No. 1. On Monday, upon the AP poll’s customary afternoon release, it will be official – especially if Indiana falls at Ohio State Sunday. The Hoosiers were the main storyline from Thursday night, but they weren’t the only one.

Your Watercooler Moment. A Win Illinois Needed.

There is only one way to go about discussing Illinois’ win over No. 1 Indiana Thursday night. It is a season-defining moment. The Illini were fading fast in Big Ten play, descending into NIT territory far quicker than anyone could have imagined after an excellent nonconference season, but as we’ve seen time and again this time of year, one win can change everything. This win – which saw Illinois rip off a 13-2 run with under four minutes remaining after being down by double digits for most of the second half – changes the conversation around Illinois. It brings renewed optimism to a conference season that, up until Thursday night, had done more harm than good to the Illini’s Tournament chances. The road ahead doesn’t get any easier, and Illinois will need to improve its still-lacking 3-7 league record. But with a win of this magnitude in your back pocket, Illinois’ view on the rest of the season changes considerably. The final eight regular season games and Big Ten Tournament are no longer about hunting upset wins. The Illini got that Thursday night. From here on out, John Groce’s team needs to handle business against equal-to-inferior competition (Purdue, at Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska, at Iowa), watch the bubble soften up around them and sit back as its solid computer figures and stable of marquee wins carry them over the finish line. Those above games aren’t guarantees – such games don’t exist in this year’s Big Ten. But Illinois is more than capable of handling all of them. Few wins will mean more on Selection Sunday than this one; Illinois is back in the discussion, at the very least, and depending on how the at-large picture shakes out over the next month, the Illini could look back to Thursday as the night they sealed their Tournament fate.

Your quick Hits…

  • Wolters Goes For 53. Few mid-to-low major players in today’s college game hold as much national appeal as Wolters. Not to the casual post-Superbowl Hoops crowd; rather, he is something of a college hoops nerd’s cult fascination, for reasons understandable and not. On Thursday night, he did something memorable. Something that will stick with Wolters for the rest of his basketball-playing career. He scored a Division-I season-high 53 points. He converted nine three point shots, and 17 total field goals. He expanded the Wolters legend into a tangible and largely appreciable concept for college hoops fans previously unaware of his brilliance. Wolters is an excellent basketball player, but no one – not even the most ardent Wolters’ supporters – saw this coming.

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Set Your DVR: Week of 02.04.13

Posted by bmulvihill on February 5th, 2013

setDVR

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

With only a month to go in the regular season, the conference pictures are still not 100% clear. Let’s take a look at six match-ups this week that will continue to clear things up as we head towards March. Let’s get to the breakdowns!

#12 Ohio State at #3 Michigan – 9:00 PM EST, Tuesday on ESPN (****)

  • If you break games up into ten minute segments as KenPom does in his box scores, Michigan has only played two poor ten minute segments this season. The first ten minutes against Ohio State and the first ten minutes against Indiana. Both games were on the road in very hostile environments. In their last game in Columbus, Ohio State punched the Wolverines in the mouth in those first ten minutes with tenacious defense. Michigan recovered by limiting mistakes and forcing the Buckeyes to execute their half-court offense, which is virtually nonexistent  Don’t expect Michigan to be rattled like they were in Columbus but they still need to be careful with the basketball. If Ohio State wants to win in Ann Arbor, Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott are going to need to be even more disruptive on defense. Also, keep a close eye on Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III for the Wolverines. Stauskas had zero points against the Buckeyes and GRIII was virtually nonexistent in both of Michigan’s losses. If Michigan is going to win the Big Ten and make a deep run in the tournament, these two need to be at their best every night. The addition of those two as scoring threats is what makes Michigan so tough to beat. If the scoring sits squarely on the shoulders of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan becomes much easier to beat.
Round Two of OSU-Michigan Will Be Another War

Round Two of OSU-Michigan Will Be Another War

#21 Minnesota at #6 Michigan State – 7:00 PM EST, Wednesday on BTN (****)

  • After four straight losses, the Gophers have steadied a bit with wins against Nebraska and Iowa. They have avoided an Illinois-like tailspin, which is keeping them in the hunt in the Big Ten. Michigan State is sitting one game back of Indiana and is looking to avenge their New Year’s Eve loss to Minnesota. The difference in that game was offensive rebounding, free throws, and 60% two-point shooting from the Gophers. The Spartans are still having a tough time defending the two, so keep a close eye on the interior defense they get from Adreian Payne, Derrick Nix, and Denzel Valentine. These three players need to lead the way for Michigan State, if they want to win this game. In the last meeting, Nix went 5-15, Payne had 4 points, and Valentine had 5 points. All three players need to be more productive for Michigan State to keep pace not only in this game but the rest of the Big Ten season. For Minnesota, they need to stop turning the ball over and play better defense without fouling. Keep a close eye on turnovers and free throws for the Gophers throughout the game. If they can limit both, they can beat Sparty again.

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Morning Five: 02.05.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 5th, 2013

morning5

  1. Yesterday the match-ups for the last BracketBusters were announced and given the lack of enthusiasm generated by the announcement we can understand why the event is ending. In the past it seemed like there were at least 3-4 games that we could point to as “can’t miss” games. This year the only game that measures up to that is Creighton at St. Mary’s. The game is bigger for St. Mary’s in terms of getting an at-large bid since most would consider Creighton a near-lock for the NCAA Tournament, but a road win would be a big boost for the Bluejays in terms of their NCAA Tournament seeding. On the other end of the spectrum is Wichita State, who is scheduled to play at home against Detroit in a game that would be huge for the Titans if they could pull out a win, but it could also be potentially devastating for the Shockers if they were to lose at home and might push them on the wrong side of the bubbble on Selection Sunday. Outside of that there are a few moderately interesting game, but nothing that we would plan our day around.
  2. We have covered some of the recent legal proceedings in the San Diego sports betting case and now we can provide you with an update on the Toledo point-shaving scandal (a case we first discussed back in 2008). Yesterday, Mitchell “Ed” Karam pleaded guilty to bribing basketball players to shave points in several games played between 2004 and 2006 as well as fixing horse races and defrauding others in Detroit real estate deals. Karam along with his partner, Ghazi “Gary” Manni, bet approximately $331,000 on the basketball games, but as Karam’s attorney claims his client was the unlucky individual who happened to associate himself with Manni. With Manni set to go to trial on March 12 we suspect that his attorney will be telling a vastly different story than Karam’s attorney did.
  3. Murray State  guard Zay Jackson, who was suspended from the team for this horrific hit-and-run incident in September, pleaded guilty yesterday to second-degree assault and wanton endangerment with a sentence of 60 days in jail of which he still has 49 more days to serve before being on probation for three years. Before the plea deal was reached Jackson was looking at five years in jail before he entered the plea deal. In addition to the jail time and probation Jackson will pay for the victims’ medical expenses. Interestingly, Jackson had originally been sentenced to 30 days in jail by a previous judge who subsequently admitted to having ties to Murray State before recusing himself from the case. While we find it hard to believe it is expected that Jackson will return to the team next season. We are guessing this will be brought up by more than one group of opposing fans.
  4. We have all heard plenty of stories about unsavory scouts so it is refreshing to read The New York Times‘ profile on Tom Konchalski, a New York City scout who is well-known in recruiting circles for his HBSI Report which he bought from Howard Garfinkel after initially working for Garfinkel. Konchalski’s knowledge of the high school basketball scene in the New York City metro area and beyond borders on encyclopedic and as the article notes on several occasions Konchalski can recall meeting players and the circumstances of their meeting almost instantaneously when meeting them again even it was over 30 years ago. Perhaps the most refreshing thing about Konchalski is that we have never heard his name mentioned in any scandals (or maybe that fact that we find it refreshing is reflective of the state of scouting). If you are looking for a more in-depth profile on Konchalski check out this 2010 feature from New York Magazine, which is goes into his life and passion in more detail.
  5. We focus almost exclusively on men’s college basketball, but on certain occasions we will venture over to the women’ game for particularly notable events. Unfortunately this time the reason is a sad one as Monica Quan, an assistant coach at Cal State Fullerton, and her boyfriend were killed in their apartment late on Sunday night. As of late Monday night no leads into the double-murder had become public. We don’t know much about Quan or the women’s program at Cal State Fullerton, but we want to send our condolences to the family members of these two individuals and any others who may have known them as this appears to be yet another senseless act of violence.
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The Other 26: Niagara Rushes Forth

Posted by IRenko on February 2nd, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

When you hear the word “Niagara” you’re not likely to think of basketball. But in the shadow of one of the world’s natural wonders, something is percolating on the hardwood. After a thrilling 93-90 overtime win over Iona that included a rally from a late 15-point deficit and a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win the game, Niagara sits atop the MAAC standings at 10-1. A win over Loyola today would cap a tremendous week for the Purple Eagles, giving them a perfect 3-0 record against the next three teams in the standings — Iona, Loyola, and Canisius — over the past seven days.

Juan'ya Green Capped Niagara's Thrilling Win Over Iona With a Last-Second Three-Pointer  in Overtime (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Juan’ya Green Capped Niagara’s Thrilling Win Over Iona With a Last-Second Three-Pointer in Overtime (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Last year, Niagara finished 14-19, the first time in head coach Joe Mihalich’s 10-year tenure that he suffered consecutive losing seasons. Mihalich had taken the Purple Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and 2007 and to the NIT in 2004 and 2009, but the team had fallen behind the pack in the MAAC in the three years since. The seeds of a resurgence were planted during last year’s losing campaign, as a host of young players started to find their footing in Division 1 college hoops. Having lost no one to graduation, Niagara was predicted to finish fifth in the MAAC in the preseason coaches’ poll. That seemed a fair, perhaps optimistic, assessment, but the clear light of hindsight makes a mockery of it.

What accounts for the turnaround? Mostly the maturation of Niagara’s all-sophomore backcourt: Juan’ya Green, Antoine Mason, and Ameen Tanksley. Last year, the trio showed that they had talent. This year, they’re showing that they can channel it into efficient offense.  Green is actually averaging fewer points (16.5) than he did as a freshman (17.6), but that’s in part because he’s managed to corral his considerable talents and become a more effective facilitator. Coming out of high school, Green was known for his prodigious scoring ability, but questions lingered about his ability to create for his teammates. He’s answering those questions this year, increasing his assists (5.2 per game) and decreasing his turnovers (2.8 per game). With Green deferring more to his teammates, Mason, the son of former NBA player Anthony Mason, has stepped into the role of lead scorer. He’s upped his per-game average from 15.1 to a team-leading 18.7, but more importantly, he’s become a much more efficient scorer.  He’s increased his field goal percentage from 38.2 to 44.6. He now shoots almost 80 percent from the free throw line, after shooting less than 65 percent last year, a significant development because of his knack for getting to the charity stripe. Tanksley, for his part, has also boosted his field goal percentage, from 38.6 to 45.7 and upped his scoring average into double-digits.

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The National Spotlight Is Gone, But Murray State Is Playing On

Posted by BHayes on January 27th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC correspondent. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. He filed this report from Saturday’s game in Jacksonville, Alabama between Murray State and Jacksonville State.

A year ago, I was one of the many that made the journey to tiny Murray, Kentucky, to catch a glimpse of the team that was capturing the imagination of the college basketball world. By the time I arrived in Murray, the Racers had suffered their first loss (after 23 consecutive victories to open the season), but the hype machine was still steadily churning. College basketball’s most notorious hype generator was even in town that weekend; Dick Vitale screamed his way through a fantastic promotion of the Murray State basketball program, but the Racers really needed no help.  Isaiah Canaan boosted his All-American campaign by turning in an utterly brilliant display of marksmanship, the Racers improved to 26-1 by soundly defeating a battle-tested St. Mary’s team, and the 8,500 in attendance felt like it was closer to 20,000 strong that day. Murray had long been a town that loved college basketball and its Racers, but never had it been so articulately announced to the nation as that February afternoon.

Isaiah Canaan’s Presidential Campaign Had More Legs A Season Ago

Fast forward to today. The Racers were once again on my agenda, but this time a long ways from Murray. Jacksonville, Alabama – a small, sleepy town nestled in the Appalachian foothills – was where I had to drive to find Murray State. Steve Prohm’s team arrived with a 15-4 record but left 15-5 as Jacksonville State decided it was finally time to score its first victory over the school since joining the Ohio Valley Conference in 2003. The Gamecocks are no pushover (now 6-4 in a sneaky-good OVC), but Murray State losing conferences games is still a relative novelty. On this day, a Saturday loaded with scores all across the country, the 65-64 final that flashed across tickers went largely unnoticed. When you consider the shock waves a January 26 Murray State loss would have delivered a year ago, it begs the question – where did everyone go?

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ATB: Bruins Win On The Road, Richmond Gets VCU, and Marshall Henderson is Awesome…

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 25th, 2013

ATB

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

Tonight’s Lede. Good Hoops, But Not Like Wednesday Night. There were so many good games last night, so many wacky outcomes and thrilling finishes, asking for a repeat performance was as unreasonable as it was delusional. Nights like Wednesday don’t come around on a weekly, monthly, perhaps even yearly basis – the number of stunning upsets, in the time frame in which they went down, was not something me, you, nor any obsessed college hoops observer was ready for. If March Madness exists in January, it was Wednesday night. By necessity, the clock ticked, the calendar flipped and Wednesday became Thursday, where – you got it – more games were played in campus gyms across the country. I’ll be honest right off the bat: Thursday night’s slate has nothing on what you witnessed Wednesday. Even so, it was still college hoops, and it was still Gonzaga-BYU and Ole Miss-Tennessee and VCU-Richmond and UCLA-Arizona. It was still a good night. Here’s what stuck out.

Your Watercooler Moment. Bruins Defense Overlooked. 

Defense has helped UCLA solve its early season chemistry issues (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Defense has helped UCLA solve its early season chemistry issues (Photo credit: AP Photo).

The key to UCLA’s December revival, when the Bruins ripped off 10 straight wins, five of which came in Pac-12 play, was widely diagnosed as a product of offensive firepower and a correspondingly poor attention to defensive detail. It was all about Shabazz Muhammad’s offensive explosion and Jordan Adams’ continued development and Larry Drew’s stewardship at the point – or some fuzzy mixture of positive offensive growth. Ben Howland was eschewing tradition, it was widely and casually assumed, as if the Bruins were a fundamentally flawed, offense-only team that couldn’t defend a lick. Tempo-free enthusiasts knew better; UCLA, in fact, ranked first in the Pac-12 in adjusted defensive efficiency heading into Thursday night’s crucial road test at Arizona. The Bruins have been giving up 0.94 points per trip in conference play, compared to Arizona’s 0.98, good for fifth among league counterparts. So when the Wildcats got off to a ghastly 1-of-10 shooting start, and UCLA blew open a 17-3 lead in the first half, the Wildcats couldn’t find a way back. It was smooth sailing in the second half, despite Arizona’s and a super-geeked fan base’s best efforts to rally for a comeback push. UCLA wouldn’t be here without its offense – without the natural talents of Muhammad, the Wear Twins’ old-school finesse and Kyle Anderson’s instinctive play-making. The Bruins are and will continue to be identified by what they do on that end of the floor. But their improved defense brings UCLA to a whole different level. Without it, they are a high-flying, explosive, fun team to watch – something like the college analog to the Los Angeles Clippers (yes, the Clippers defend; I’m speaking strictly in terms of offensive visuals). Now that Howland has gotten his team up to par defensively, the Bruins are able to do some pretty good things – things like beating the No. 6 team in the country on the road in the biggest regular season game UCLA has played in the last five years.

Also Worth Chatting About. Another A-10 Newcomer Goes Down.

In the rugged A-10, road losses are par for the course, even for teams as strong as VCU (Photo credit:  AP Photo).

In the rugged A-10, road losses are par for the course, even for teams as strong as VCU (Photo credit: AP Photo).

On Wednesday, Butler had its undefeated conference record ruined on a full-court drive and finish at the buzzer from La Salle guard Ramon Galloway. It was karmic justice for the Bulldogs, who just days earlier rushed the court after knocking off Gonzaga at Hinkle Fieldhouse thanks to Roosevelt Jones’ last-second runner. The road to VCU’s downfall followed a similar narrative. One week ago, the Rams fended off a feisty St. Joes’ team in overtime. The Hawks played Shaka Smart’s team down to the final possession, but they fizzled out in the extra period, overcome by the Rams’ high-paced style. Then came Thursday night’s rivalry game at Richmond. A win at the Robins Center would have sealed the Rams’ temporary spot atop the A-10 standings. Instead, the Spiders coughed up a modest 11 turnovers, dealt with VCU’s HAVOC full-court pressure and smothering half-court D, and after 40 minutes of hanging tough and keeping within striking distance, Richmond leveled the score in the final seconds to send the game to overtime. VCU was not as fortunate in the extra period this time around. It’s a great win for the Spiders. For VCU? Sigh. Beyond the coincidence of the league’s two best teams falling on back-to-back days, the Rams won’t come away from this loss doubting its ability to compete for a league title. Teams lose road games in conference play, and even more so against bitter city rivals. This is a tough, tough league, and the Rams – like every team at some point or another – hit a wall they couldn’t break through.

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The Other 26: The New A-10 Asserts Itself

Posted by IRenko on December 21st, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

When the A-10 added Butler and VCU to its ranks this past offseason, we knew that the two teams would strengthen the now 16-team conference. The two schools, each of which has had recent improbable Final Four runs, were expected to join the ranks of Xavier, Temple, St. Louis, and Dayton, and, along with a resurgent St. Joseph’s, UMass, and LaSalle, make the A-10 the deepest and, arguably, most exciting non-BCS conference in the country. But after the past week, it’s become clear that not only are these two programs going to add depth to the A-10, they may very well conquer it in their first year.

Rotnei Clarke’s Sharpshooting Helped Butler to a Big Upset of Top-Ranked Indiana (Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)

Rotnei Clarke’s Sharpshooting Helped Butler to a Big Upset of Top-Ranked Indiana (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)

By now you know that Butler took down top-ranked Indiana 88-86 in a thrilling overtime win last Saturday. What was most surprising about the win, though, was how Butler did it. It wasn’t their vaunted defense, which gave up 1.13 points per possession to Indiana’s full-throttled attack — the second most this year for the Bulldogs and well above their averages during the Brad Stevens era. Rather, it was Butler’s efficient offense, which registered 1.16 points per possession. Part of that was their three-point shooting (11-24, 48.1%) with Rotnei Clarke leading the way (5-11). We have come to expect that from Butler, which often relies on the three-point shot as a great equalizer. But the more surprising, and perhaps more significant, elements of Butler’s offense were its willingness to attack the basket and its prodigious output on the offensive glass.  Sophomore wing Roosevelt Jones led the attack, often exploiting a favorable matchup against Jordan Hulls, en route to 16 points on 6-10 shooting (no threes). And the Bulldogs rebounded nearly half of their own misses — 48.7%. To some extent, the Bulldogs took advantage of sloppy block-outs by Indiana, but this reflects a season-long strength and a marked shift from the early years of Brad Stevens’ tenure. In Stevens’ first four seasons, Butler never averaged an offensive rebounding percentage of more than 32.8 percent. But last year, the Bulldogs hauled in 35 percent of their misses, and this year, it’s up to 39.4 percent.

As impressive as Butler’s win was, VCU quietly made waves of its own this past week as they pummeled Alabama and Western Kentucky by a combined 51 points. In both games, VCU went for the kill early, jumping out to big leads on the strength of their Havoc defense. The Rams did not allow Alabama to score a field goal until 10:44 had elapsed, en route to a 33-18 halftime lead that they would convert into a 73-54 final score. Alabama finished the game with 18 turnovers — a season high, as it often is for teams facing VCU’s defensive pressure. Four days later, VCU suffered no letdown from its BCS beatdown, whipping on Western Kentucky, one of the Sun Belt’s top teams and last year’s Tournament participant. After jumping out to 15-3 lead, the Rams would head into halftime up 42-16, cruising the rest of the way to a 76-44 win.  VCU forced a whopping 32 turnovers, including one on each of Western Kentucky’s first three possessions.

The old Bulldogs may be learning new tricks while the Rams thrive on the tried-and-true, but regardless of how they’re doing it, both teams have vaulted themselves to the top of A-10 heap.  Don’t take my word for it, ask the computers. Any of them — Butler and VCU are the A-10’s two highest ranking teams in the RPI, Sagarin ratings, and Pomeroy ratings.  The A-10’s mainstays have not distinguished themselves. Temple was routed badly by Duke in its first real competitive game of the year and just lost to Canisius at home by 10 points; Xavier is trying to replace five starters; St. Louis is trying to get their feet under them after losing their coach and then their star point guard to injury; and St. Joe’s, UMass, and Dayton have struggled to find consistency. As a result, there is a good chance that the A-10 will crown a champion it has never crowned before.

On to this week’s Top 10 and more …

Top Ten Rankings

RTC -- TO26 (12.21.12)

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Who’s Got Next? Karl Towns Chooses Kentucky Over Duke, Stevie Clark Signs With Oklahoma State…

Posted by CLykins on December 4th, 2012

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Chad Lykins, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions dedicated solely to Duke Basketball at Duke Hoop Blog. You can also follow Chad at his Twitter account @CLykinsBlog for up-to-date breaking news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: ESPN Recruiting used for all player rankings

Kentucky Lands Top Sophomore Karl Towns, Jr.

Right on cue. Tuesday was considered decision day for Karl Towns, Jr. and as expected by virtually everybody that follows high school basketball recruiting, Kentucky was the choice. Previously the nation’s No. 1 sophomore, Towns also revealed that he would be reclassifying into the class of 2014, a move that had been speculated upon for the past couple of weeks. The 6’11” center out of St. Joseph High School (New Jersey) unofficially visited Kentucky for its game against LIU-Brooklyn on November 23, just days after revealing his announcement, further enforcing the belief that Kentucky was the front-runner in this recruitment. Towns had limited his list down to eight in the coming weeks before narrowing it down to two just prior to the announcement. He chose the Wildcats over Duke, with the likes of Florida, Indiana, Michigan State, North Carolina State and Seton Hall also in the mix. “The first thing I have to say is that I’m going to reclassify to the year 2014,” the 17-year old Towns said. “The second decision I have to make is my university. The university I’ve decided to play for in the year 2014 is the University of Kentucky.”

Standout sophomore Karl Towns, Jr. becomes the fifth Kentucky commitment in the last two months

Towns has already gained valuable tutelage under his future collegiate head coach John Calipari while he was a member of the Dominican Republic national team over the summer. His participation allowed him the opportunity to hone his skills and to strengthen an ever-growing post game against players at the professional level, including Dominican Republic teammate and Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford. Along with a refined post game, what really grabs the attention of analysts is Towns’ ability to play on the wing. With arguably the best outside skill set of any high school prospect at his position in the country, he is a constant threat from deep. He is consistent from three and is capable of taking opposing defenders off the dribble with either hand and scoring from the mid-range. His all-around game has drawn many comparisons to that of NBA superstar Kevin Durant.He is currently in tremendous academic standing at St. Joseph High with a 4.0-plus GPA and his move to the junior class was discussed at length in the last two weeks.  Towns decision to reclassify will immediately impact the class of 2014 rankings as he will now be slotted behind the No. 1 and No. 2 prospects, Tyus Jones and fellow center Jahlil Okafor.

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Big East M5: 11.30.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 30th, 2012

  1. The SEC/Big East Challenge got off to a competitive start last night with the conferences splitting four matchups and each conference scoring a decisive and impressive victory. St. John’s and Notre Dame each scored easy victories for the Big East while Marquette was blown out by Florida and Seton Hall lost a competitive tilt with LSU. The game of the evening was Notre Dame’s thorough dismantling of No. 8 Kentucky, 64-50. It was billed as a battle between youth and experience, athleticism and discipline, and after the Wildcats got off to a quick start, it quickly became apparent which traits would prevail. The young Wildcats struggled to find a rhythm in their first true road test and really look nothing like last season’s juggernaut, at least in the early part of the season. Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish rebounded from a slow start and finished the game shooting 48 percent from the field and 53 percent from behind the arc. The low point for the Fighting Irish may have been when their fans RTC’d as the final buzzer sounded. The Fighting Irish are an experienced and talented team, so beating a bunch of freshmen still figuring out how to play together doesn’t count as a true upset, especially when they won so handily. Even guard Jerian Grant lamented the post-game celebrations telling reporters that the team expected to win the game. The fans should have expected that too.
  2. On the flip side, after Notre Dame handled Kentucky easily, Marquette had a chance to really put the Big East in the driver’s seat as they squared off against No. 7 Florida, and unfortunately, they ended up falling flat on their face. Coach Buzz Williams, ever the candid quote, called the 82-49 drubbing the worst loss of his career and said his team was “really bad in every way.” Williams knows his team better than anyone else, but some credit should go to the Gators, who look like one of the best teams in the country in the early part of the season. Yes, the Golden Eagles, with the exception of junior guard Vander Blue (20 points and four rebounds), were dreadful on both ends of the floor. But Billy Donovan’s club has experienced talent and depth up-and-down the roster, and Marquette is still trying to adjust to life without stars Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. It is clear Marquette is not as good as it was last year, and I think if the two teams played again in February the Gators would still win, but I would also bet that if that were to happen, we would see a different MU team than the uninspired club we saw last night.
  3. The other statement win for the conference came when the Red Storm stomped coach Frank Martin and South Carolina, 89-65 in New York. The Gamecocks’ lackluster defense allowed D’Angelo Harrison (26 points on 8-of-13 shooting) and his teammates to shoot nearly 57 percent from the floor for the game as the Johnnies controlled the game from the opening tip and overwhelmed the undermanned South Carolina squad. Steve Lavin‘s club is making noise like it could be a really good team as the season progresses, especially if Jakarr Sampson continues to blossom into a star and talented forward Orlando Sanchez gains his eligibility. The team’s two losses (to Murray State and Baylor) are respectable ones, especially for a team full of underclassmen just starting to play together, and the talent and upside of the roster is tremendous. They are deep and athletic across the board, even more so if Sanchez comes back, and they will only get better as the season goes on. Maybe the Lavin rebuilding project is further along than some think.
  4. The national contender that no one is talking about amidst this conference realignment hullabaloo is Georgetown. It makes sense since the Hoyas fields an FCS football program, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that while the Big East is crumbling, one of the most storied programs in all of college basketball remains. Coach John Thompson III didn’t seem too worried when he was asked about the changes, saying that change was inevitable in this day and age and that he didn’t want to get too caught up especially with Tennessee coming to town tonight. He also deflected questions about whether Georgetown would consider breaking off from the conference with other basketball-first programs like Marquette and Villanova to form their own conference built around basketball supremacy. It’s perfectly fine for Thompson III to focus on basketball since he will have very little influence on the direction the school takes, but school administrators and decision-makers should be very concerned about what the next step for their program is. They have a compelling product on the basketball court and multiple excellent athletic programs — albeit ones that don’t make as much money — and riding out the storm in a show of loyalty to the Big East sounds nice and all, but it could leave Georgetown in an unenviable situation should other programs like Connecticut and Cincinnati defect as they so desperately want to.
  5. DePaul appears to be on its way to another NCAA Tournament-less season, something that has become all too common in the last two decades for the Blue Demons, and to make matters worse, they still play in an outdated Allstate Arena that apparently is a real hassle for students and city-dwelling fans to get to. This piece is an excellent look at not only DePaul’s options when it comes to switching arenas when the lease with the Allstate Arena runs out after 2015, but also whether that will make any difference in the program’s long road back to respectability. One option being championed by the likes of Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf is a rent-free stay at the United Center, which seems nice until you start imagining what the United Center would look like for an early season thriller between DePaul and Austin Peay. The other, more tantalizing option is a new arena closer to campus that has the backing of none other than city mayor Rahm Emmanuel. The idea is the definition of preliminary and as the article pointed out, the new arena doesn’t solve the on-court woes, but it opens the door for improvement in student and fan turnout at the very least.
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ATB: On Dieng’s Injury, Tennessee’s Redemption, and Notre Dame’s Long Range Shooting…

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 27th, 2012

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

Tonight’s Lede. The Inevitable Letdowns of the Non-conference Season.  The college hoops non-conference calendar is a frenetic joyride of excitement and disappointment. You get action-packed stretches filled with tasty match-ups between powerhouse teams, like last week, where the Maui Invitational and B4A and PNIT brought served up a nonstop dose of high-stakes fun. Powerhouses battled – some took their licks, while others triumphed. Whatever your rooting interest, those early season tournaments – most of which have now passed us by – were as good as early season tournament basketball gets. Then you get days like last night, a lull of a slate featuring few (if any) intriguing games, and the end result is a drastic letdown on the hoops viewing interest meter. Disappointment is unavoidable. Boredom is inevitable. Never to disappoint us in an extended context, the schedule ramps up tonight with the ACC-Big Ten challenge, and if you haven’t poured over those matchups yet, believe me when I say that you won’t be disappointed. So rejoice in surviving night’s lifeless slate is past us, and prepare for a the thrill of top-25 outfits engaging in inter-conference warfare. In case you’re interested in the little that did go down Monday, here’s a breakdown of the night’s most important action.

Your Watercooler Moment. Dieng’s Broken Wrist Spoils UK Matchup, And That’s About it.

Not Having Dieng could give Kentucky the frontcourt edge over Louisville when they meet in four weeks (Photo credit: Getty Images).

If Gorgui Dieng follows his projected healing trajectory, the broken wrist he suffered in Friday’s B4A semifinal win against Missouri is merely a minor hindrance – but nothing a team as talented and deep as the Cardinals can’t overcome – for every game over the next six weeks. Don’t get me wrong: Lousville faces no cupcake slate over the next six weeks. But with the emergence of hyper-athletic forward Montrezl Harrell, and reliable backup pieces like Stephen Van Treese and Zach Price, the Cardinals are more than capable of getting by the likes of Illinois State, College of Charleston and Memphis. There’s one huge exception: Lousville’s Dec. 29 date with Kentucky. Barring a medical miracle, college basketball’s most heated rivalry (ok, ok. Duke, UNC fans. Here’s your obligatory mention) will not be played with both sides full strength. That’s a massive disappointment; the UK-UL test is one of the best nonconference dates in any given year, and to know that one of the nation’s best defensive players won’t partake in the festivities is downright discouraging. And after last year’s Final Four defeat, where Lousville gave the one-and-done thoroughbreads from Lexington as strong a defensive test as they faced all season, the Cardinals are in a rare position of advantage heading into this year’s rendition. Louisville would do well to seize the moment – considering the generational crop of freshman talent coming to Lexington next season – but the loss of Dieng may level the playing field. Besides that one-game handicap, though, Louisville shouldn’t worry all that much about their ailing center. He’ll be back in time for the majority of league play. The Cardinals may lose the state crown for a year – or at least be severely hampered going in – but other than that, the long-term impact isn’t exactly season-altering.

Also Worth Chatting About. Withey Records Second Triple-Double in Kansas History.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Tipping Off the Big East Countdown: #9 St. John’s

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 26th, 2012

Few programs in the country went through the adversity that St. John’s found itself facing last season.  Head coach Steve Lavin underwent surgery to treat prostate cancer in October of last year, and he was only able to coach four games in early November before deciding to sit out for the rest of the season. Multiple key players left during the season for various reasons, and at times the Red Storm were only able to play with a six-man rotation of scholarship players. This year should prove to be a challenge for the Johnnies, especially after the departure of Moe Harkless following last season, but they return a solid nucleus and add a number of talented freshmen who look to continue the restoration project that is Steven Lavin’s St. John’s basketball program.

2011-12 Record: 13-19, 6-12

2011-12 Postseason: None

Steve Lavin returns to the St. John’s bench in 2012-13. Can he bring back the success of the 2010-11 campaign?

Schedule

St. John’s non-conference schedule is fairly light. The Storm open with Detroit and the ever-dangerous Ray McCallum at Carnesecca Arena before heading to Charleston, South Carolina, for the DirecTV Charleston Classic. In the opening round of the tournament the Storm take on host College of Charleston before facing either Auburn or Murray State. The field also features Big 12 power Baylor, Boston College, Colorado, and Dayton. St. John’s will also host South Carolina in Queens in the Big East/SEC Challenge.  St. John’s plays one non-conference game in Madison Square Garden, against Fordham, and will play one game in Brooklyn’s new Barclays Center against St. Francis. In the Big East, the team opens at Villanova on January 2, and has home-and-homes with Rutgers, Georgetown, Notre Dame, and DePaul.

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Ohio Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 23rd, 2012

David Changas is the RTC correspondent for the OVC.  You can follow him on Twitter @dchangas.

Top Storylines

  • Can Murray State Repeat Its Success?  Last year, the Racers took the college basketball world by storm by being the nation’s last remaining undefeated team after starting 23-0. They lose several key contributors, but another run to a second-round NCAA Tournament win is realistic, and coach Steve Prohm proved he can coach in his first season at the helm. Should Murray State win the league’s automatic bid, it likely will not come with a lofty five-seed as it did last year, but any team with potential All-American Isaiah Canaan leading it in March will be dangerous.

Isaiah Canaan Is The Early Favorite For OVC Player Of The Year And Has A Shot At Even Higher Accolades. (Getty Images)

  • Belmont Arrives:  In an effort to raise its overall profile, Belmont left the Atlantic Sun and certainly will add cachet to a league coming off its best year in recent memory. The Bruins have been a dominant force in the A-Sun for the past dozen years, earning the conference’s automatic bid in five of the last seven. Their addition to an already formidable league raises its profile that much more, and though Murray State is the league favorite, Belmont will draw attention to the OVC in this and years to come.
  • Who is Robert Covington? With all of the hoopla surrounding Canaan and Murray State, plus the arrival of Belmont, the player who isn’t the subject of enough discussion is Tennessee State big man Robert Covington. The 6’9″ senior finished third in the league in scoring and second in rebounding last year, and is projected by some to be a second-round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.  He scores, rebounds, and shoots the three proficiently, and has an NBA physique.  A player of the year caliber season should be expected from Covington, and the presence of NBA scouts will be commonplace at Tiger games.

Reader’s Take

 

Predicted Order of Finish

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