Welcome to this week’s RTC Podblast, hosted by Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114). It was a week of big rivalry games from Michigan-Michigan State to Duke-North Carolina to Kentucky-Florida and UConn-Syracuse. We hit on a few of these during this week’s podblast, while also finding some time to discuss the MVC and Creighton and looking ahead to what can only be described as a fairly miserable lineup of games over the weekend. Oh well, there’s always next week… this week’s outline is below.
0:00-7:45 – Sparty Establishes Itself as the State’s Best Team
7:45-10:20 – Syracuse Drops Last Big East Game vs UConn
10:20-12:45 – Creighton Struggling in MVC Play
12:45-15:44 – Thoughts on Randy’s NorCal Night (UCLA-Cal/Gonzaga-St. Mary’s)
15:44-18:55 – There Should Be More Games to Preview This Weekend
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
Back in January, there was a time where we thought we actually knew what was going on in the Missouri Valley Conference. We were confident that Creighton was a top-10 team and that Wichita State was nearly as good as the Shockers of a year ago. Surely Illinois State had been exposed as a fraud, a once trendy sleeper pick to win the league before losing their first six conference games. And our early January convictions on Missouri State? Entering conference play without a D-I win, the Bears looked like one of the worst teams in the country, much less the Valley.
Jake Odum And Company Took A Loss Tuesday Night That They Really Could Not Afford
Well, at least Evansville and Northern Iowa have avoided confusing us too much over the past month. The constantly evolving complexion of the conference took on yet another look Tuesday night, as Indiana State suffered a costly 67-65 loss at the hands of Missouri State. The Sycamores had been one of the league’s positive stories of late, as a recent surge had them entering Springfield as MVC co-leaders. If you are looking for narratives from the other side of the ledger, look no further than those of ISU’s fellow top-of-the-Valley dwellers, Creighton and Wichita State. The Bluejays have toiled through multiple losing streaks in the past month, and in what should be a daunting task, will take the floor at the McLeod Center tomorrow night seeking to avoid stretching their current losing streak to three. Wichita State can tell the Jays all about three-game losing streaks, as a mind-numbing loss to Southern Illinois highlighted the Shockers’ recent skid. Wichita and Creighton are still far closer to being in the field of 68 than out, but if current trajectories hold, it won’t be long before these losses become as crippling as Indiana State’s was tonight.
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), an Oregon-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.
WINNER: Miami (FL)
Miami Fans RTC’d the Blue Devils Wednesday Night (credit: WaPo)
Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes, by extension the subject of an NCAA inquiry regarding the alleged payment of former player DeQuan Jones, had one of the best weeks on and off the court of any school this season. First, the NCAA botched its investigation so much that it has to investigate its own investigators, according to CBS Sports. Then the ‘Canes went off and destroyed No. 1 Duke by the score of 90-63 on Wednesday, putting the third-worst beating ever onto an AP top-ranked team. Wednesday’s game also marked the return of gargantuan center Reggie Johnson (listed at 6’10”, 292 lbs.), who scored two points and grabbed five rebounds in his first game back from a broken thumb that was supposed to leave him out for up to another month. Miami now has a two-game lead on the rest of the ACC, although a return trip to Duke does remain. You know you had a good week when knocking off the top team in the country isn’t even the best thing that happened to you.
(Related winners: Miami guards Shane Larkin and Durand Scott, who combined to shoot 17-of-28 from the field on their way to 37 total points. Related losers: Duke guards Quinn Cook, Seth Curry and Tyler Thornton, who combined to go 1-of-29 from the field on their way to six total points; the NCAA – see below.)
LOSER: The NCAA
This was all set to be Frank Haith’s spot, as his Missouri team got shellacked by Florida 83-52 on Saturday, barely escaped at home Tuesday against South Carolina, and then news broke that Haith could face unethical conduct charges from the NCAA relating to the aforementioned DeQuan Jones issue. But instead, the NCAA now must review its own investigators’ conduct, particularly related to the release of Haith’s supposed looming punishments. So Haith is safe for now, and all of a sudden NCAA President Mark Emmert has another public relations maelstrom on his hands. Bummer.
(Related winners: Florida, because it still shellacked Mizzou. Related losers: Ethics.)
Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Sunday afternoon’s game between Illinois State and Indiana State.
Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Illinois State’s Jackie Carmichael have deservedly received the acclaim of being the two best players in this year’s Missouri Valley Conference, but Indiana State guard Jake Odum is quietly emerging as one of the league’s best as well. The junior, who is a local product out of South Vigo High School in Terre Haute, Indiana, provides the senior-less Sycamores with a calming presence who can also effectively score and distribute the basketball.
So far this this season, Odum has been instrumental to the Sycamores’ 8-4 start, which has included victories over Ole Miss, Miami (FL) and Illinois State. In an 87-85 overtime win over Ole Miss at the Diamond Head Classic, Odum displayed his ability to contribute to the offense when he is not shooting the ball particularly well. Finishing the game at just 3-of-9 from the field, the junior still managed to finish with 16 points to accompany his eight assists and eight rebounds. The Sycamores’ win over Miami was also an overtime victory at the Diamond Head Classic, but this one was defined by both squads’ ineptitude on offense. Despite shooting just 27% from the field, Indiana State was able to battle to a 57-55 victory as Odum banked in a 15-footer to seize the victory with just 0.8 seconds to play. Sunday’s win over Illinois State was of great significance for the Sycamores as it opened conference play on the right foot against a squad that was almost unanimously selected to finish in the top three of the conference. Once again, it was Odum who filled the stat sheet for the Sycamores finishing with 17 points, six assists, and five rebounds.
Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is is an RTC correspondent and Night Line columnist. He filed this report after Thursday night’s Wichita State – Tennessee game in Knoxville.
The 2011-12 college basketball season was a breakout year for the Wichita State Shockers. Sure, college basketball enthusiasts had taken note of an NIT title run in 2011, but Gregg Marshall’s bunch didn’t truly enter the national consciousness until that 27-5 season a year ago which included a 17-1 stretch to open the calendar year. They became a trendy March sleeper pick pre-Tournament, but ultimately met the fate that so many five seeds before them have suffered – an opening round loss, this one at the hands of a dangerous VCU squad. It was a bitter end to a banner year, and the conclusion was undoubtedly worsened by the fact that WSU’s top five scorers would all be lost to graduation. From an outsider’s perspective, there was a real sense that the window had closed for Wichita State; Marshall’s program had grown up along with Murry, Stutz, Kyles and co., so it stood to reason that their departures would force a step or two back this season.
Despite Tonight’s Loss In Knoxville, Wichita State Has The Look Of A Program Here To Stay
Well, so much for reason. Wichita State opened this season with nine straight wins, and despite suffering its first loss of the year tonight at the hands of Tennessee, has started to prove that last year was far from a once-in-a-blue-moon dream season. Role players of a season ago have proven capable of hoisting a greater burden, newcomers have stepped in and produced from day one, and the head coach has to have the feeling that he is in the process of building a program with true lasting power. Maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise that Wichita State has reloaded so quickly, as the past two offseasons have seen Marshall turn down overtures from power conference schools (most notably Nebraska this past summer). Have the proposed fits simply not been right, or does Marshall believe he has something special going at Wichita State? We can’t know for sure, but it’s quite plausible that Marshall is simply content in Wichita, and even harbors notions of turning Wichita State into a reliable mid-major power. The concept of an established coach settling in at a mid-major program is no longer a novelty, as recent years have seen coaches like Mark Few, Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart stay put at smaller schools, eschewing opportunities at larger programs in the process.
Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.
Wichita State chugging along, or are they? The Shockers are sitting at 8-0 and the only team in the league without a loss after a tight victory over Air Force in the MVC/MWC Challenge. But how strong is that 8-0? The Shockers may now be in the Top 25 rankings, but at this point it is hard to tell how legitimate that record is when you look at their schedule so far. Wichita State survived bad free-throw shooting by VCU to get that early victory on the road. The Shockers beat DePaul and Iowa in Cancun to take that tournament, but both of those teams have been at the bottom of their leagues for a few years now. A win over Tulsa? The Golden Hurricane are not where they used to be either. And the aforementioned Air Force is not exactly UNLV or New Mexico. The silver bullet might be at Tennessee on December 13. You do have to give the Shockers credit, though, as they are off to their second best start in school history.
Carl Hall (22) has given Shocker fans plenty to be excited about.
Creighton stumbles but makes a statement: Creighton came back from Las Vegas with big victories over Wisconsin and Arizona State. The hangover from those wins must have taken the toll on the Bluejays as they didn’t recover in time to take on Boise State. On the other hand, Boise State might be better than everyone expected this season, especially after taking Michigan State to the wire. We’ll have to see how the season plays out to determine if this turns out to be a bad loss. Creighton responded by getting off early against a highly anticipated match-up with St. Joseph’s where they were up by more than 20 points early in the first half. The lead extended to as much as 34 in the second half as the Bluejays did a total 180 from the game before. Highlights from both show it. With St. Joseph’s expected to win the A-10 this year, the victory and the way in which it was done was impressive.
Great matchups, but disappointing results: The Valley, though getting a lot of positive reviews, has already left a lot of important games on the table. It is one thing to schedule big games, but it is another thing to go out and win some of them. Outside of Creighton, pretty much the rest of the Valley has come up with goose eggs against teams from the power conferences. Notre Dame, Louisville (twice), Michigan, Stanford, Memphis, South Carolina, San Diego State, Northwestern, New Mexico, UCLA, Cal, and Xavier have been on Missouri Valley schedules and the league is a whopping 0-13 against them. In 2006, the Valley won a lot more of these games. The non-conference resume sets up the conference season and how far teams can go in the postseason. Opposing coaches, including Rick Pitino, have given some great praise to the conference, but the victories against those conferences are few and far between so far. There are still a few weeks left for the MVC to pick up some bigger wins, but the positive look is that Valley teams are winning the games they should which will also help in the long run.
Creighton (7-1)–The Bluejays stay at the top after rebounding from their loss against Boise State by demolishing St. Joseph’s. A key to Creighton’s success has been having Doug McDermott AND Gregory Echenique to have good nights down low. Echenique struggled in the loss against Boise scoring nine points, but only getting three rebounds, but turned things around to score 16 and grab six rebounds in the win against the Hawks. Echenique leads the MVC in field goal percentage at about 74%. When the frontcourt is going, the Creighton outside game can bury opposing teams. Creighton leads the nation in 2-point shooting percentage at 61.2%. Read the rest of this entry »
Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.
Wichita State Enjoys Quiet 4-0 Start: Coming into this season, Gregg Marshall had a lot of components to replace with the graduation of five seniors who had significant playing time and scoring. The Shockers have started the season 4-0 (three games in the last five days) including a win at VCU that went down to the wire. However, Marshall wasn’t necessarily happy with his team’s play in its latest game against Howard. They are second in the MVC in scoring defense, giving up 55.2 points a game. The thing about Wichita State will be its schedule — there is a good chance that we may not know how good the Shockers are until their December 13 showdown with Tennessee. Wichita State owns the nation’s best road record since the 2010-11 season. The Shockers are 20-3.
Creighton is More Than McDermott: In Creighton’s first game of the season, Doug McDermott scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the win over North Texas. However, against UAB, McDermott got saddled with two fouls early, sat the bench for most of the half and finished the game with only five points. Creighton was down by as many as 10 against the Blazers in the second half but 18 points from Josh Jones and a beast of a game from Gregory Echenique with 13 points and 16 rebounds pushed the Bluejays to a 17-point victory. So while teams will try to stop McDermott, there is a lot more to the Bluejay offense than him.
Surprise Starts, Conference Record in Non-Conference Play: Heading into this week, there are six Valley teams still undefeated. Creighton, Illinois State, Wichita State, Northern Iowa, Bradley, and Southern Illinois are all sitting with perfect records. As a whole the MVC is 24-5 in non-conference play. Three of those losses have come against Top 25 opponents: Notre Dame (Evansville), UCLA (Indiana State) and San Diego State (Missouri State). At the same time however, five of the conference’s wins have come against non Division-I competition. The MVC cannot let opportunities against top opponents slip through their fingers. This upcoming weekend of holiday tournaments will be a great opportunity for the MVC to continue to rise its RPI stock.
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the rest of the season. Feel free to leave your takes below in the comments section.
This Week’s Topic: With conference play heating up, what conference race are you most excited about this year and why?
Danny Spewak, Big 12 Microsite Correspondent
A one-bid conference since 2007, the Missouri Valley may finally regain its status this winter as college basketball’s premiere non-BCS league. And that’s not just because of Doug McDermott and his ranked Creighton Bluejays. This league has more substance than that. Only 0-5 Bradley is more than two games out of first place right now, where Wichita State, Missouri State and Creighton each sit at 4-1. Indiana State, which won at Vanderbilt earlier this season and represented the MVC in the NCAAs a year ago, will also surely recover from a disappointing 2-3 start in conference play. Same goes for Northern Iowa, which rolled through its non-conference schedule before losing four of its last six. That’s five teams right there with a shot to win this whole thing, and Evansville, Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Drake aren’t going away without a fight either. If you’re still not convinced that somebody could knock off CU, consider that reigning POY Kyle Weems already outplayed McDermott in Omaha in a 77-65 victory on December 28. And you wonder why we’re all so fascinated by the Missouri Valley Conference on a yearly basis.
Brian Otskey, Big East Correspondent
When I first thought about this question, the Big 12, Pac-12 and Missouri Valley came to mind. Then I took a closer look at the Big Ten. Preseason favorite Ohio State has two losses already and Michigan State sits atop the league at 4-0. That two game lead over the Buckeyes in the loss column is significant and Ohio State’s loss at Illinois on Tuesday night officially opened the door. The Big Ten has five teams that can contend (six if you include a good Purdue team). With home court advantage being historically more significant in this league than others, anything can happen. There seems to be something missing from this Ohio State team. The easy answer is it doesn’t have Jon Diebler anymore but there may be something deeper. With the Buckeyes losing two of their first five league games, this conference is up for grabs and may be the best race.
I. Renko, Columnist
West Coast Conference – Gonzaga and St. Mary’s now have some company atop the WCC, with BYU having joined the conference and showing very little letdown after the departure of The Jimmer. All three teams are in the Pomeroy top 25, and a true round-robin schedule — something only one power conference can boast — ensures that they play each other twice, home and away. Four of those five remaining games are on ESPN2 on late night Thursdays, where they will have little competition for the eyeballs of college hoops fans. While there isn’t the star power of an Adam Morrison, Patty Mills, or Jimmer Fredette, it’s fun to watch each team work to be more than the sums of their parts. Plus, there’s just enough depth in this league for one of the big three to suffer an upset loss and add more intrigue to the race for the top.
Tonight’s Lede. It wasn’t just any other Tuesday night, as a number of ranked teams were in action and there was more than enough intrigue around the country to keep everyone interested. Whether it was a team few people seem to believe in slowly swaying hearts and minds, or a much-maligned former prep star bringing forth the game of his life, or an acerbic coach showing his true colors in a postgame interview, there was a lot to cover tonight. Let’s jump right in…
Will Some Pundits Begin to Take Baylor Seriously Now? (AP/C. Riedel)
Your Watercooler Moment, Part I. Baylor Stakes a Claim of Legitimacy. One of the knocks against Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears to date has been its lack of exceptional road wins this season. Apparently the non-believers did not take seriously wins at BYU and Northwestern, although neither the Marriott Center nor the Welsh-Ryan Arena these days are the easiest places to escape victorious. Still, Kansas State’s Bramlage Arena is universally regarded as a tough-as-nails venue, borne out most recently by K-State’s dominant weekend victory over an unbeaten Missouri squad. Baylor’s mid-second half run to come back from seven points down behind several eye-popping defensive transition dunks, along with its ability to hold K-State to a single bucket in the last four minutes of the game, showed America how things have changed. Last year, Drew’s Bears hardly played defense, generally preferring to use that end of the court to rest before another wild LaceDarius Dunn field goal attempt. This year, long green-and-yellow-clad arms and legs seem to cover all four corners of the court, and in fact, the two game-saving plays on this night resulted from a strip from behind of Angel Rodriguez with three seconds remaining, and a deflected pass on the ensuing inbounds play. The Bears are not going to win every game this season, but they’ve already won 16 and have survived one of their four toughest road tests on the schedule. With Pierre Jackson (10/11 assts) running the show, Brady Heslip (13/4 stls) providing scoring punch, and an elite corps of forwards in Quincy Acy, Perry Jones, III, and Quincy Miller wreaking havoc defensively, it’s time to stop questioning Scott Drew’s team and take the Bears seriously as a national title contender.
Your Watercooler Moment, Part II. Brandon Paul Hits Everything, Leads Illini Over Ohio State. In two-and-a-half seasons at Illinois, Brandon Paul has been better defined by what he is not rather than what he is. The former Chicago-area prep star who came to Champaign with sky-high expectations has largely disappointed, gradually improving his scoring output over three years but never shooting the ball efficiently (career 37.2% shooter) nor becoming an effective distributor (2.0 APG). Paul must have eaten a full bowl of his Wheaties this morning. The 6’4″ junior literally took over tonight’s game against OSU, scoring his team’s last 15 points en route to a career-high 43 points on 8-10 shooting from behind the arc. Unless you saw the game, you cannot comprehend just how ridiculous a couple of the late threes that Paul hit were, perhaps none more so than his final trey which gave Illinois a four-point lead with 43 seconds remaining.
Charlie Parks is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Creighton vs. Tulsa game on Monday night.
If you don’t know about Doug McDermott yet, then get ready, because you are about to. I didn’t know much about McDermott myself before the game Monday night. I knew the 6’7″ sophomore from Ames, Iowa, was second in the nation in scoring with 25.2 points per game, and that his play has put Creighton in the Top 25 and positioned him as the early favorite for Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. What I didn’t expect (but quickly found out) was that McDermott just might already be one of the best players in the country. He has a different type of game than last season’s mid-major darling from BYU but he’s equally effective, even more efficient, and still has two-and-a-half more seasons of eligibility in front of him.
Get to Know Him Now... (AP)
McDermott not only dropped a career high 35 points in 34 minutes on the road against Tulsa, but he put together one of the most complete and fundamentally sound basketball games I have ever seen. He finished the night shooting 16-of-23 from the field (.695 FG%) with seven boards (four offensive), and he was automatic within ten feet of the hoop. But what was the most impressive about McDermott’s game was the way in which he put up those numbers.
This Weekend’s Lede. Every Week a Playoff… Until It Isn’t. No matter your opinion on whether Oklahoma State or Alabama should have the right to play LSU for the BCS national championship next month, can we at least come to an agreement that college football’s tired meme of “every week a playoff” has once again been blown out of the water as farcical? Look, we all know that the NCAA Tournament system is far from perfect in terms of anointing the best team as the champion, but like every other major American sport, at least every team that has a reasonable claim to the crown gets a chance to prove its worth on the hardwood. The old saying goes, “in order to be the best, you have to beat the best,” but as this comical CFB playoff scenario shows, at least one deserving school will get no such chance to do that. On to basketball…
Your Watercooler Moment. Anthony Davis’ Game-Saving Block.
Kentucky vs. North Carolina. North Carolina vs. Kentucky. What else could it be? Saturday afternoon’s tilt in Lexington was one of those rare fulfilling games where the action on the floor not only lived up to the hype, but exceeded it. And the hype for this game was extraordinary, especially considering that it took place on the first Saturday in December rather than sometime deep in March. Our post-game takes on what we’d seen in the one-point Kentucky win are located here, but the long and short of it is this: Carolina should feel as if they were only a play away from winning a difficult road game that didn’t cater to its strengths (61% on threes, but only 33% on twos), while Kentucky should feel that its extremely young but talented team stood toe-to-toe with the other most talented team in America and didn’t blink. Both UNC and UK should be playing in New Orleans next Spring, and if we’re lucky they’ll tip off for the fourth time in just over 16 months with nothing less than the national championship on the line.
Five More Weekend Storylines.
Big East Dominates SEC in Challenge. Coming into Friday, the SEC was tied with the Big East at 2-2 in this year’s Challenge. The Big East then won the next six games before dropping the final two Saturday evening to finish at 8-4. The most impressive wins over the weekend were Pittsburgh and Cincinnati’s road wins at Tennessee and Georgia, respectively(the Big East had four roadies), and as we noted in our commentary on Saturday, the Big East appears to be an eight- or nine-team NCAA Tournament conference, whereas the SEC seems to deserve roughly half that. Nothing too surprising here, just further confirmation that the Big East, along with the Big Ten, are the top two conferences in college basketball this season. Read the rest of this entry »
Tonight’s Lede. Big Ten Does It Again. Day two of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge finished in the same way as the first — with a Big Ten beatdown. The midwestern-based conference rode wins from Michigan State and Minnesota at home along with Penn State and Indiana on the road, to notch another 4-2 night and win the event convincingly, 8-4. Four of those eight victories this year came on ACC hardwood, showing that Big Ten teams can pick up victories in hostile environments regardless of location. It’s difficult to draw too much from late November events like these, but the eye and sniff test in watching pieces of the twelve games over the last two nights is highly suggestive that the Big Ten appears to go seven or eight teams deep this year for NCAA Tournament consideration, while the ACC looks to be in the neighborhood of five or six. As our columnist Evan Jacoby wrote in Night Line last night, the Big Ten has unquestionably earned the right to hold the mantle as the top conference in college basketball a few weeks into the season. The ACC appears to be in the mid-pack, perhaps as high as third but also maybe the worst of the five power conferences (the Pac-12 has some work to do to earn our good graces again).
Your Watercooler Moment. Double Overtime in the Thunderdome.
How Jacked Up Does the ThunderDome Look? (h/t @amurawa)
That’s right, we’re passing on the #4 North Carolina vs. #7 Wisconsin snoozer in favor of a high-intensity, mid-major game that went two overtimes and featured enough twists, turns and amazing plays to outdo the entire ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Luckily, our man Andrew Murawa was there for all 50 minutes of the action. Here’s his report (and some highlights from the UCSB side here).
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Arizona is still undefeated, thanks in part to dunks like this from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Dude’s got hops. #DunkOfTheYear