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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Colorado Week: Breaking Down The Schedule

Posted by AMurawa on July 26th, 2012

While Colorado has not released an official schedule yet, they’ve released a tentative schedule with times still to be announced and dates to be finalized. Today we’ll take a quick look at their slate and figure out which games we’re most excited about.

Early-Season Tournament: After kicking things off with Wofford on November 9, the Buffaloes head to South Carolina for the Charleston Classic, an ESPN-sponsored tournament whose field this year features maybe four interesting teams. The bracket was just announced this morning and CU will open with Dayton, giving them a chance to score a solid, potentially resume-boosting win in the opening round. If things play true to form in the rest of the bracket, Colorado could get a chance at Baylor in the semifinal there, with Murray State potentially waiting in the championship game. All told, the way the bracket lays out, the Buffaloes have a chance to score three really good wins in Charleston. Of course, the flip side of that is that if the drop their opener with Dayton, they could be relegated to playing teams like Boston College and Auburn in their final two games, matchups that will do no good come March. That Dayton game will be a seriously important game for the Buffs to win.

Toughest Non-conference Game: While their early-season trip to Charleston could give them a couple good challenges, by far their toughest non-conference test will be their trip to Lawrence on December 8 to face Kansas. While Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor are gone, the Jayhawks return Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson from last year’s Final Four team, while adding a strong 2012 freshman class and gaining the services of a couple highly regarded youngsters who were ineligible last year. Roberson and the rest of the young Colorado frontline will get a serious challenge from Withey, freshman Perry Ellis and company, but it is possible the Buffs will have the advantage in the backcourt. But, as always, regardless of who will be wearing the KU uniforms, the trip to Allen Fieldhouse alone makes it a tough trip.

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Morning Five: 05.21.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 21st, 2012

  1. Over the past few weeks we had mentioned players transferring to new schools, but thanks to the NCAA requiring most players to sit out a year before being eligible to play most of those individuals will not be able to don their new uniforms any time soon. If you are looking for the new transfers who will be in uniform next season, Andy Glockner takes a look at the ten biggest impact transfers for next season. Most of these names will be familiar to college basketball fans, but we suspect that many of you may have forgotten about one or two of the m during their season waiting to be eligible.
  2. Details on the night club fight involving a Cincinnati basketball player (or more than one) are sparse right now, but we have our first punishment as the school dismissed Octavius Ellis from its basketball team. Fortunately for Ellis that appears to be the extent of his punishment as the school also stated that no formal charges will be filed. It appears the school dodged a bullet on this one as any arrests would have been a big blow for a program that has dealt with behavioral issues well before the events of this past season’s Crosstown Shootout. In the end, they will lose Ellis, a solid, but undistinguished high school recruit and his on-court production was marginal at best (25 minutes all year after injuring his hand). Given the fact that his biggest moment as a Bearcat was his involvement in the Crosstown Shootout brawl resulting in a six-game suspension we do not think they will miss him too much.
  3. We are not exactly sure why a report from last year is getting noticed now, but on Saturday The New York Times ran a piece on the 2010 College Racial and Gender Report Card and it appears to have generated some discussion despite the original analysis being published on March 3, 2011. The basic parts of the report (college basketball has more minorities working as head coaches than other sports, but having a declining percentage) are not particularly noteworthy especially since we already know about them. The part that may be more interesting is the numbers of African-American coaches in the SEC (7) versus the rest of the BCS conferences combined (11). It is possible that this is just a transient phase, but given the stereotypes applied to that part of the country by other regions it is cause for some interesting quotes by well-known individuals.
  4. Looking forward to seeing what mid-major powers Creighton and Murray State can do next season against the BCS powers? You may be out of luck as the two schools are having difficulty finding opponents willing to play them during the upcoming season. For teams from major conferences there is relatively little benefit in playing these schools as they can already rack up quality wins against teams within their own conference and without the potential “embarrassment” of losing to a mid-major even if it is one of the better teams in the country. Throw in the nightmare of having to contend with a preseason All-American and you have a match-up that almost no opponent wants.
  5. Many of our readers will have no idea who Bob Boozer was (no, he was not the father of former Duke star Carlos), but historians of the game will remember the former Kansas State star who was the #1 pick of the 1959 NBA Draft, a two-time 1st team All-American, and a member of the famous 1960 US Olympic team. Boozer passed away on Saturday following a brain aneurysm. Although his season-high points per game average of 25.2 points per game was topped by Michael Beasley in Beasley’s only season there you could make a very strong case for Boozer as the greatest Kansas State player of all-time. Not only did he achieve the individual accomplishments we listed above, but he also led the team to the 1958 Final Four and in 1959 led them to the #1 ranking in the final regular season poll before losing in the Elite Eight to Cincinnati and some guy named Oscar Robertson. It may be of interesting to fans that Boozer’s coach at the time was Tex Winter, who refined his Triple-Post Offense (later known as the Triangle Offense) at Kansas State before eventually passing it on to Phil Jackson who utilized it with a pair of accomplished guards–Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
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2011-12 Season Recap: Top 12 Storylines of the Year

Posted by EJacoby on April 6th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

Yesterday we captured the most iconic moments of the college basketball season, and today we highlight the most fascinating storylines from the year. What’s the difference? Yesterday’s list comprised of the “WOW” memories, the single moments in time that could be captured in recognizable photos and videos. Today’s list is a more encompassing review of full season narratives, which usually don’t culminate into a single visual. These are the defining stories that will be chronicled in history books to describe the season’s summary. Here are our 12 biggest storylines from 2011-12, in no particular order:

‘One-And-Dones’ Get it Done.

Kentucky's Collection of Youngsters Combined for the National Championship (AP Photo)

We’ll always remember 2011-12 for the Kentucky Wildcats’ start-to-finish domination that began with a #2 preseason ranking and ended with a National Championship as the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Big Blue Nation will remember it as UK’s eighth national title, while the national story focuses more on how coach John Calipari secured the championship with a starting lineup of all freshmen and sophomores. The team’s two best players were freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, both of whom are surely headed for the NBA Draft after just one season. Plenty of detractors didn’t think that a team full of ‘one-and-dones’ could mature quickly enough into a championship team, but the Wildcats proved them all wrong. Kentucky was the best team from start to finish, thanks mainly to the play of a bunch of 18- and 19-year-old star players.

Injuries and Suspensions Cost Top Contenders. Kentucky may have been the best team throughout the season, but there were several other elite squads that could have given the Wildcats a run for their money had it not been for costly absences. In fact, all of the other #1 seeds suffered crucial injuries at the very end of the season that may have cost them a chance to win it all. Michigan State lost its best athlete in freshman forward Branden Dawson to a torn ACL injury in the regular season finale, and the Spartans missed his ability during a Sweet Sixteen loss. Syracuse suspended its seven-foot center and best defensive player, Fab Melo, right before the Big Dance and clearly missed the big man during a loss in the Elite Eight. And perhaps the most devastating, North Carolina lost its Cousy Award-winning point guard, Kendall Marshall, to a fractured wrist at the end of its round of 32 victory. The Tar Heels could not recover without their lead guard and lost in the Elite Eight. As a result, Kentucky did not have to face a single other #1 seed en route to its National Championship.

Connecticut’s Title Defense Turns Tumultuous. Selected as the preseason Big East Conference favorites, Connecticut was expected to have another strong season as defending National Champions thanks to all but one starter sticking around combined with a very strong recruiting class. But the presence and leadership of departed star Kemba Walker proved to be invaluable. No Huskies player stepped up this season to lead by example, and a super-talented team struggled through an 8-10 record in conference play and a loss in its first game of the NCAA Tournament. UConn suffered multiple suspensions, the loss of its coach Jim Calhoun for several games due to health concerns, and an overall underachieving season whose results were the complete opposite of the year before.

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Morning Five: 04.06.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 6th, 2012

  1. After months of waiting Connecticut finally heard from the NCAA regarding its appeal against their 2013 NCAA Tournament ban for low APR scores. Unfortunately for the Huskies, the response was not the one they wanted to hear as the NCAA rejected the appeal so now the Huskies will be forced to sit out the NCAA Tournament. Outside of the immediate impact of the team not being able to play in the Big East and NCAA Tournament next year, this will likely have a significant influence on the NBA Draft decisions of Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond as well as the inevitable retirement of Jim Calhoun (he has to retire sometime, right?). And of course, as we have mentioned several times before this also means that Alex Oriakhi would be able to play for the school that he transfers to for next season without having to sit out a year. Although the Huskies do not have any other players who would appear to be in urgent need of going to a program that could play in the NCAA Tournament next year, it will be interesting to see if other players try to leave the program too.
  2. While some of Connecticut players may be leaving school early, there are at least a few notable names that will be staying in college. Yesterday, James Michael McAdoo, Isaiah Canaan, and Kenny Boynton all announced that they would be returning to their respective schools next season. McAdoo is perhaps the most interesting case as his playing time was limited by a loaded frontline in front of him at North Carolina, but he still would have been a first round pick. Now he will return to a Tar Heel team that has lost a lot of its minutes and McAdoo should be ready to showcase his skills for the nation and the NBA scouts. Canaan, who is coming off a spectacular junior year at Murray State, would not have been a first round pick so his return seems reasonable although we are not sure how much he can improve his stock unless he works on his point guard skills as the NBA is typically not in love with 6’0″ shooting guards. For us, the decision by Boynton to come back for his senior year at Florida seems like a no-brainer. While we have had issues with Boynton’s tendency to jack up shots (he will almost definitely end up as the school’s all-time leader in field goal attempts), his place in the Gator rotation should be more clear next season with the departure of at least one and probably two pieces from what was a crowded backcourt this season. Boynton will still probably end up playing overseas, but at least now he will have a chance to prove himself without a ton of other redundant options available to the coaching staff.
  3. Is this the beginning of the end for the ESPN BracketBusters event? One of the marquee conferences involved in the annual late February series of games, the CAA, has moved on to make an exclusive partnership deal with NBCSports Network starting in 2013, and therefore it will no longer participate in the event. In different-but-same news, the Mountain West’s television arm, The Mountain, will cease operations at the end of June as the league figures out its next step with a pending merger with Conference USA. This news undoubtedly will be received well far and wide for those of us who hated tuning into the fishbowl otherwise known as The Mtn’s production values every weekend. To whoever killed this network: Thank You.
  4. We’ve heard of a lot of crazy recruiting stories over the years — some true, most not — but we’re not sure that anything approaches what Nerlens Noel reported that a Kentucky fan offered him over Final Four weekend: the man’s wife. At this point, it’s just hearsay, but Noel seemed to have enough belief in the offer to state, “nah, [he's] good,” so we’re generally tending toward belief on this one. Regardless of whether the surely fine young Mrs. was offered to a 17-year old, this much is true: Noel will choose between Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown in the coming week.
  5. While on the subject of recruiting, and really, what else is there at this time of year… the nation’s #1 recruit, Shabazz Muhammad, is considered a must-get for Ben Howland’s UCLA program. His list of schools is down to UCLA, Kentucky, and Duke, but there hasn’t been more pressure on a single coach to get a single player in recruiting circles since Cody Zeller inked for Tom Crean’s Indiana program a year and a half ago. As the recruiting analysts all preach, it isn’t even about the single year that Muhammad would spend in Westwood as much as the future cachet that he would provide. John Calipari was able to lock down he likes of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist through his work two and three years ago with John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.
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